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The Independent Online
Noises off at Waterloo

Salute Albert Beal, private citizen, commuter, and a man who knows his by-laws. While Railtrack's chairman, Robert Horton, may be confident that nothing, not even a Labour government, will prevent the glorious march to privatisation, it has suffered a setback at the hands of Mr Beal.

He happened to be strolling on the concourse of Waterloo station earlier this week when he chanced upon a stall-type structure emblazoned with the Railtrack logo, flashing lights, and video screens and staffed by Railtrack employees handing out glossy brochures singing the company's praises. If this were not enough for weary commuters to stomach at the end of a hard day's work, high-pitched martial music was emanating from the stall.

Mr Beal, an editor of environmental journals, heard the martial music and marched straight to the transport police station to demand that it be turned off under by-law 22 part 2 section of the Railways Act, which forbids the playing of music on station platforms if it annoys others.

"The music is annoying me," Mr Beal explained to Colin Masters, the Railtrack manager for Waterloo and Paddington. "Therefore I would like you to stop it." Mr Masters consulted legal advisers, the music was stopped, and Mr Beal and the rest of us can travel without propaganda blaring in our ears.

Male whiskers only

Members of the Atheneum club - one of those fogeyish all-male establishments on London's Pall Mall - are in a quandary over what to do about one of its newer drawing room habitues - a dormouse, a sweet little thing apparently, which has become something of a celebrated in-house pet.

As yet unnamed, it has developed a habit of punctually appearing in the drawing room at the dinner hour, whiskers straight and fur well-groomed. As such its presence was generally accepted.

Last week, however, one member made an unfortunate discovery. He picked up the dormouse and examined its nether regions. "It's a girl," he gasped. "What are we to do?" The matter, apparently, is still undecided, but female dormouse protectors are scarce. "We have a no-women policy," said a member "therefore, quite simply, she just has to go".

Friend or foe?

There was a nasty moment in the Commons yesterday when during Northern Ireland questions, the Independent Unionist MP Bob McCartney addressed Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as "the right honourable and learned friend". This untraditionally matey form of address alarmed Mr McCartney's neighbours on the Labour benches, who feared he may be about to defect to the Tory lobbies. Kate Hoey gave him a dig in the ribs, and whispered: "No, no, surely you mean `gentleman' - not `friend'." McCartney realised his mistake and confirmed he had made an error. Phew. The Labour front benches relaxed once more.

Bad sex, bad example

I am mystified by a report in yesterday's Guardian which says that bad sex scenes in films are the exclusive property of Americans and Brits. The Europeans do it much better, runs the thesis. But it goes on to say that "the worst sex ever on film was in Damage"? Of course Damage was set in London, based on a British novel and starred the very English Jeremy Irons, who humped his way through some appallingly embarrassing steamy scenes. But it was a joint Anglo-French production, co-starred the French actress Juliette Binoche and was directed by the distinctly French-sounding Louis Malle.

Eagle Eye

Sorry, Blur, I'm not feeling myself today

Eagle Eye, as you have no doubt learnt by now, is omniscient. Which is why I can clear up this week's greatest Britpop mystery - no, not is Jarvis Cocker man or beast - but where was the Blur bassist, Alex James, on Tuesday night? He was meant to be performing in San Remo, Italy with his fellow band members, but instead they had to make a cardboard cut-out of his chiselled features. The Italians were unamused.

The tour manager Ivan Thomas could only say: "We don't know where he is.... I can only assume he overdid it the night before." (You may recall Blur had ample reason to drown their sorrows after the disappointing Brits.)

Allow me to enlighten Mr Thomas. Mr James did indeed recover in London on Tuesday night. In fact, he recuperated so well that he appeared on sparklingly good form the following morning at the opening of the Spellbound exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, where he strolled around with his pals Damien Hirst, the artist, and Keith Allen, the actor. Which only goes to show, I guess, the notion of "lying low" when one has "pulled a sicky" are well and truly over.

Damon Albarn (right) was in fine form but Alex James was a bit flat