A family with a fad for funerals

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The Independent Online
LAST week many of my fellow hacks were busy caring about which royal should or should not have gone to the memorial service for the Warrington bomb victims. The Princess of Wales wanted to but didn't, Prince Philip might not have wanted to but did, Prince Charles was previously booked for King Juan Carlos's father's funeral in Spain, and the Queen - wise old bird that she is - said that she never went to funerals anyway.

Several of the papers condemned Buckingham Palace for not allowing the Princess of Wales to go to the memorial service though it is hard to see how it could have prevented her if she had just turned up, while the Mirror agitated 'Guess where Prince Charles went?' and snorted that he 'chose to grieve yesterday for an obscure Spanish nobleman - rather than join the mourning for the Warrington victims'. Oh come off it. He could hardly cancel his commitment to the funeral of Don Juan (a relative, after all, and the father of a friend) on the grounds that a better funeral had come up.

What baffles me is why any royals thought they had to attend the Warrington service anyway. They didn't go to the funerals of the Birmingham pub victims in 1974 or any other funerals of IRA victims, apart from Lord Mountbatten's, as far as I know. One doesn't want to prevent them doing anything that might comfort the bereaved parents, but then every week there are parents who lose children, and they can't all expect a royal at the obsequies. As for the Princess of Wales's phonecall . . . well, it certainly could have been more wisely timed. Whatever happened to the good old custom of writing letters of condolence?

I LOVE grand hotels and spent last weekend at one of the grandest, the Ritz in Madrid. The ostensible purpose was to take my daughter to the Prado art gallery (for 'education') but mainly I wanted to lie in hand-embroidered linen sheets watching CNN and summoning teams of waiters to wheel in a trolley of this or that.

Although the hotel is owned by Forte, it still hasn't been tainted by portion control so that a vague request for 'more croissants' produces a whole baker's shop. I thought the restaurant staff might not be too keen on my daughter's Doc Martens but they were as sweet as pie and said they 'liked to see teenagers'. Liked to see teenagers? What an extraordinary notion. No one in the world likes to see teenagers apart from other teenagers but I suppose readiness to fib in several languages is part of the Ritz's brilliant service.

We flew back by British Airways which, despite its marvellous new advertising campaign, has still not mastered the art of brilliant service. The last few times I've flown to New York I thought it was showing signs of improvement, but of course on the New York route it has Virgin to keep up with. This flight from Madrid was more your average BA effort, ie lousy food, long waits for service, irritating announcements, ratty cabin staff and a very obvious contempt for steerage passengers.

When the drinks trolley came round, a foreign woman in front of me asked for 'white' and the stewardess went through an elaborate eye-rolling routine punctuated with 'I don't understand you' and 'Don't you speak English?' Perhaps this is some new British Airways policy - don't travel with us if you don't speak English - but if so, I think they should advertise it so that foreigners don't inadvertently buy tickets.

A fellow called 'David, Your Cabin Service Director' had been sharing his little thoughts with us on the tannoy for what seemed like most of the flight, so I went in search of him when we landed and told him I was not impressed. 'Well you'll just have to write to the marketing director then, won't you?' he said in tough-titties tones. Is this what they teach them at BA's charm school?

WHAT ON earth has come over the Spectator? The other week it carried an impudent - and interminable - readers' profile questionnaire asking what brands of scent you wanted to know about and whether you bought designer luggage. Then this week it contained a leaflet saying, 'Discover a new and very special world of pleasure: The Journal of Erotica.' Erotica] Now there's a word that takes me back. It was what we were supposed to call what we published when I worked on Penthouse, and every time I called it porn, Guccione made me wash my mouth out with soap.

But just when Spectator readers are being urged to 'explore the varied world of sexuality', dear old Penthouse has announced that it is cleaning up its act and putting the clothes back on its models so that it can go on the same newsagent's shelf as Esquire, GQ and the Spectator.

I wonder if a merger would be fruitful? The Penthouse Spectator has an exciting ring to it and it would certainly represent a new 'niche' in the market. It could feature, say, Lord Archer and Virginia Bottomley in tasteful lingerie on the cover. Who knows - it might even attract all those ads for expensive luggage they're all so keen on.

CAN I SEND my Apple Macintosh back? I bought it six months ago, and have already mastered it enough to write this column on it. I was even beginning to grow quite fond of it. Not any more. Apple this week ran full- page ads in all the newspapers with a picture of a boring businessman and the headline: 'Research says this man should be a hippie.'

Reams of turgid copy then explained that when most people think of an Apple 'they think almost exclusively of graphic artists, eccentric designers, freewheeling creative types and even hippies' whereas the computer is also attractive to 'no-nonsense' businessmen. Yeah? Well as one of those old-style freewheeling creative hippie types, I know when I'm not wanted. Back to my typewriter.

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