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Desperate in the Garden

Imagine the surprise of Graham Sheffield, artistic director of the Barbican Centre, as he went through the post with its daily round of applications from unknown small dance and music outfits wanting to try their luck on the Barbican stage when the Royal Shakespeare Company deserts it next year.

There among the wannabes is an application for a three- week stint from the Royal Opera House. According to an insider, the company is interested in booking in for just three weeks next autumn. The House is becoming increasingly frantic for new premises as the ROH in Covent Garden shuts down for renovation next year - and all its much-vaunted alternatives, such as a new theatre by Tower Bridge, have come to nothing. But to book into the Barbican for three measly weeks? It smacks of desperation.

The ROH's marketing director, Keith Cooper, well known super-sacker, would only say yesterday: "It is true that we are looking around, but we have not booked anywhere." That smacked of desperation too.

Tough. You've been chosen

In case you have not yet found a letter on your doormat from the enigmatically named Centre for Consumer Interests, I pass on the following information. "Dear Householder," the letter trills. "What do you want from YOUR post?" The letter talks sympathetically of the "steady flow of advertising mail that sometimes does not interest you", and assures you that you can be relieved of this inconvenience, "completely FREE OF CHARGE".

How wonderful, you say - just as I did. Until I noticed that in order to receive only "the advertising mail you really want", I must fill out a five-page questionnaire with 180 questions, each of which has up to 20 subdivisions. Questions about what I eat, what my dog eats, what pipe tobacco I smoke and whether I am keener on scuba diving than on bowls.

I therefore rang the Centre for Consumer Interests, and asked them by just how much they would be able to reduce my advertising mail? A brief, but only slightly embarrassed silence. "We only filter in. We don't filter out." But in that case, how do they propose to get rid of the "steady flow of advertising mail" that sometimes (sometimes?) does not interest me? "I'm afraid we can't do anything about that."

Only a cynic might suggest these "totally free" questionnaires could be a goldmine for Centre for Consumer Interests, if sold on to other companies.

Old Etonian? See if we care

Perusing the social columns of the press, as one does, I discovered that yesterday was the 44th birthday of Lord Brocket.

However, as his lordship was jailed for five years last Friday for an attempted pounds 4.5m insurance swindle, the birthday, sadly, had to be celebrated with less than customary style inside the walls of Bedford Prison.

Does being an old Etonian peer and a friend of the heir to the throne mean that you get a cake, I asked the Home Office. "Prisoners don't really celebrate birthdays," a prisons desk spokesman told me. "It's not something that we encourage."

That's a big ouch, Danny

Michael Jackson, American chanteur, is to be the star turn at the Brits, a celebration of British pop, next week. Jackson says: "I want to thank all my fans in the UK for their undying love and support. And this is the best way I can do it."

His performance, predict Sony Music and Brits chairman Paul Burger, will be "spectacular". In his last British interview, Jackson told Danny Baker that he had a recurring dream. It was that he was joined on stage by all his family for an impromptu concert.

That would indeed be spectacular if it were to occur next week, though Danny Baker, I suspect, would not be invited to witness it. His follow- up question to Jackson about the dream concert was: "Did anybody come?"

Have they got news for you

It was sobering as always to read the Guardian's media pages yesterday chastising the rest of the press for its mistakes. I decided to turn the page and read the Past Notes, a big story from times gone by. It was, intriguingly: "Funeral Of George V, February 12, 1952". The poor man must have been lying in state for 16 years.

Trial by Harold Pinter

Trials can be hellishly long these days; so what better to keep a juror going than a dose of Eagle Eye? I will immodestly assume that that is what Timothy West is reading as he immerses himself in the Independent during the first rehearsal for Twelve Angry Men, the American jury-room classic, which is being revived next month, starting at the Bristol Old Vic before coming to the West End in April. Harold Pinter, the show's director, tells me he is irritated by people already drawing parallels with either the OJ Simpson or Rosemary West trials. It is about the bigger, vital issues of civil liberties and social justice, he says. McCarthyism is more in his mind than West or Simpson. They obviously don't make court cases like they used to.

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