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Stand fast against the black tie tendency

Having been at my first ever Guildhall dinner only a couple of weeks ago, I was distraught when I found last week that the City of London was selling the pass on white ties. One of the many pleasures of that evening for me was the chaps' clobber. I paid little attention to the women, but savoured every detail of pikemen and knee britches and funny cloaks and what Americans call panty-hose and seeing my friend Niall - whom I've never seen wear anything other than businessman's suiting - grappling with how to keep his CBE from messing up his white tie or falling into his soup. Quite apart from anything else, it's a welcome novelty to have men being required to put serious effort into their appearance. Bob Geldof, who on the other occasions I've seen him in person appeared to be dressed from the reject box of an inner-city jumble sale, was on this occasion washed, brushed-up and almost shaved. He resembled not only a dandy, but a happy dandy.

But now mad radicalism has struck the City and, in a welter of excuses about efficiency, they announced the acceptability of black ties just in time to let Kenneth Clarke of all people off the hook at the Mansion House. I fear this signals that the British Establishment hopes it might be possible to buy off with feeble concessions the puritan Labour tendency.

I wish to make it clear to Tony Blair that he has absolutely no chance of getting my vote unless he commits new Labour to preserving our flummery intact. I expect it's only a matter of time.

I'm delighted that the daily postcard from the Institute of Contemporary Arts, giving you an insight into the thinking of the avant-garde, is so apposite. Called "Untitled, 1981", it shows seven chaps kitted out festively in morning dress: six are laughingly pushing around the one in the middle. The legend reads "YOU CONSTRUCT INTRICATE RITUALS WHICH ALLOW YOU TO TOUCH THE SKIN OF OTHER MEN."

Elves are bursting with topical verse. Andrew Boyd offers:

Too bad about Marmaduke


And his birthday honours


He was riding high as the

BBC's duke

But now he'll be merely a


And William Hazell:

Yasuo Hamanaka ("Mr


came a cropper.

The reason?

Trying to go one better

than Nick Leeson.

From the Department of Swings and Roundabouts: On Saturday I read that boys from Christ Church Cathedral School are upset because the evangelical Reverend David Marshall, the chaplain of Exeter College, is seeking to replace them in the college choir with female undergraduates.

On Sunday, at a Bloomsday lunch, there was a reading from James Joyce's The Dead which included the following: "I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it's not at all honourable for the pope to turn the women out of the choirs that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers of boys over their heads. I suppose it is for the good of the Church, if the pope does it. But it's not just, Mary Jane, and it's not right."

Department of Constructive Criticism! I am used to being told that my hair is in disarray, but what finally forced me to have it cut was my friend Mairin's comment that I was beginning to look like Benjamin Franklin in a high wind.

For those of you who missed yesterday's column, you have until Wednesday night to fax me at 0181-932 4629 a limerick beginning "The chief delectation of summer". There will be a bottle of pink champagne for the winner.

Waiting my turn in a make-up studio on Sunday (yes, I know that sounds grand, but it was a just prelude to pronouncing on something late at night for about three minutes), I was riffling through the News of the World when I learned that a well known "TV chef" was "enjoying secret sizzling nights of passion with a sausage-maker's daughter." I read this to the veteran PA correspondent, Chris Moncrieff, then undergoing powdering. He responded: "She was only a sausage-maker's daughter, but she..." I would be delighted to receive, any endings that occur to you, though I expect they will be unsuitable for inclusion in this - or indeed any - respectable column.

Miles Kington returns from holiday next week.