`Alex is an insecure, self-involved, artsy borderline alcohoic

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The Independent Online
This is the tale of two men and one obsession. One man is Alex James, who plays bass with the rock band Blur. Mr James has black hair that flops over his eyes and an air of studied insouciance. On slow evenings in the rock `n' roll calendar, he can be found in fashionable London clubs, acting cool and playing billiards with Stephen Fry and other literary nighthawks. The other man is Dennis Cooper (picutred below), a fortysomething Californian writer with a reputation for shock tactics. He writes short, stark novels with zippy monosyllabic titles (Try, Frisk, Closer) and recurring themes of paedophilia, murder, evisceration, sadistic fantasy and forensically- described gay sex. He's like Bret Easton Ellis but without the, you know, charm.

Now then. In Cooper's new novel, Guide, his usual stock company of priapic junkies includes a chap called Mason, who is obsessed with a musician called "Alex Johns", the bassist in a band called "Smear" (its other members are called Damon, Graham and Dave. Mr Cooper does not tax his imagination when it comes to names). Both Mason and the narrator (who's called "Dennis") enjoy violent fantasies about having sex with Alex. In one dream episode, on page 64, "Dennis" imagines killing the Britpop Adonis at the point of climax ("I bury the blade, then drag it down to his groin ...").

The book is out in March, but proof copies have been available for a couple of weeks. Someone at the publishing house, alert to the correspondences with real life, sent a copy of Guide to the Blur offices, where, instead of ignoring the book as the outpourings of a sicko fan, Alex James became intrigued by it. It's easy to see why. Along with all the fantasy stuff, he could, for example, read whole paragraphs of impertinent character- analysis about himself ("Alex, twenty-eight, is an insecure, self-involved, artsy borderline alcoholic, with a blandly witty manner, passable musical talents, amazing luck and this humungous IQ ...") and a lengthy description of how Mason meets "Alex Johns" in the street one day, invites him into his apartment, spikes his Pepsi with Rophypnol and, when he's unconscious, rolls him onto his stomach and removes his ... But perhaps you get the picture.

Blur, I'm told, passed the book from hand to hand, amazed by such bizarre and intrusive fictionalising. Eventually Alex James, simultaneously flattered and alarmed, expressed a desire to meet the author. And his wish is to come true. Next week, Cooper flies into London for a round of pre-publication interviews. One of them will be with The Idler magazine. The interviewer's name is Alex James. Both men are reportedly "terrified" by the prospect of the encounter.

I've been gazing at photographs of Gaynor Regan for days now, and trying to decide where I've seen her before. Last August, when Robin Cook's tendresse for his Commons secretary was revealed to the world, Ms Regan had the look of a domesticated rock chick. Her long brown hair was swept in a girlish fringe across her forehead. Her expression was one of pleasant if calculated neutrality, as she was snapped beside the Foreign Secretary overlooking the Eastbourne sands during the Labour Party conference. She seemed nervous but rather proud of herself, in a stand-by-your-man kind of way. Five months later, depite a new home in Carlton Gardens, central London, and an assurance of marriage, she looks very different. She looks haunted, pissed off and intensely suspicious of press, politicians, cameras, pundits and well-wishers alike. But where has that combination appeared before - the moony face, the long nose, the pinched little mouth, the shifty sidelong gaze? It's a classically medieval face, one you'd see on Renaissance saints, Piero della Francesca's virgins, or one of Gerard David's serving girls ... Finally I tracked it down. Ms Regan is the living embodiment of the lady card shark in Georges de La Tour's The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, which hangs in the Louvre: the image of a woman who's got all the right cards, the cash, the clothes and the necklace, but who can't shake off the suspicion that she's somehow being taken for a sucker ...

Everywhere you look, people are going on courses. On Tuesday, both the Times and the Telegraph ran long stories about the North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council's useful new course on How to Stuff a Duvet into a Duvet Cover. (Personally I find a small child of about six invaluable in this endeavour, much as the Victorians used to send the little beasts up the manorial chimney to clean the flues). Shocking news comes in about a Scottish College of Holistic Medicine and its lively but expensive (pounds 859) diploma course in Therapeutic Massage, on which all the students have to strip naked on Day One. I myself spent the first week in January on a cookery course, conquering my fears of inadequacy with profiteroles.

It strikes me that, if the Department for Education and Employment were to take the North Yorkshire TEC's example seriously, they could eradicate many of the ills that frustrate us and drive us towards early cardiac arrests. All it would take is a bit of organisation - a word of advice here, or an hour of tuition in certain skills. The most obvious courses to start with are: Finding A Parking Space in Soho (one hour), Opening The Carrier Bags in Safeways While Your Groceries Are Rumbling Towards You In An Unstoppable Avalanche (twenty minutes), Living With The Fear That You Will One Day Be Decapitated By The Overhead Fan In A Wine Bar (two months), Removing a New Toothbrush From Its Box Without Using Your Teeth (three days) and Learning to Enjoy OK Computer by Radiohead (one month). Any more suggestions out there?

From Israel, we hear there are stern discussions going on, concerning the ethics of Jewish people picking their noses on the Sabbath. It's weird but true. A rabbi called Ovadia Yosef has applied to the humble subject of nasal excavation all the rabbinical fury more usually directed at interracial marriage. Picking your nose too determinedly, he argues, may uproot nose hairs, in flagrant contravention of Jewish laws against shaving, cutting or otherwise removing bodily hair on the Sabbath. Eventually, he conceded that compulsive pickers mightn't be sinners after all, and decided, on the whole, not to prohibit their little habit. What absurd weak-kneed, bleeding-heart liberalism. If the rabbi takes the sin of hair-removal seriously at all, he must ban all nostril activity immediately, before going on to ban alopecia, combs, coarse-fibre socks - and, last but not least, the act of tearing your hair out in a frenzy at the foolishness of organised religion.