Andrew Marr's week: Slobby and sentimental, but oh so American

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HE STARTS to look like one of modern history's great escapologists: Bill Clinton's April Fool's Day reprieve from the looming Paula Jones harassment trial was an extraordinary twist. Here is a man who, hemmed in on all fronts, seemed politically dead in the water. And - shazzam! - he's suddenly off the hook, for now at least. The Comeback Kid has done it again.

Yes, there is the Monica Lewinsky matter, which is potentially even more serious, since it involves charges of witness-tampering and the obstruction of justice. That, though, is also weakened by the Arkansas judge's decision to throw out the Jones case as ''unworthy of trial''. No-one should underestimate the load suddenly lifted from Clinton. He faced the court testimony not simply of Jones, but of a string of others with tales to tell. Now, unless this latest ruling is overturned, Gennifer Flowers, cabaret artist, will not sing sweetly from the witness box; Elizabeth Ward Gracen, former Miss America, will not discuss her extra-curricular experiences; the stories of Kathleen Willey and Christy Zercher, former air stewardesses, will not fly; Dolly Kyle Browning, high school sweetheart, will not reminisce in front of the attorneys.

All of this matters a lot to the Clinton team but doesn't, of course, change our perception of the man himself. However many lawyers he has around him, the world now thinks of Clinton as a serious sexual incontinent, a big man of uncontrolled urges, who paws and unzips and says ''c'mon, darling'' whenever he can. Yet he's got away with it legally so far, and also - more interestingly - in terms of American public opinion. Given that Clinton is the head of an administration fiercely dedicated to political correctness and female advancement, and that the US remains a relatively puritanical country, this is, on the face of it, extraordinary.

American friends, however, say that in Britain, we ''just don't get Bill''. Millions of baby-boomers and ex-hippies look at him, see themselves, and adore him for it. His appetites, his slobby tastes, his exasperated wife, his sentimentality and liberal instincts, his lazy, rueful grin when he's nearly caught out yet again, are all a perfect mirror for his flawed, well-meaning generation. America is not a continent, but the sprawling land of large consumption, self-forgiveness and good-natured schmaltz: and ''Bill'' is its chosen emblem every bit as much as Oprah Winfrey.

A philanderer? Perhaps. A potential impeach-ee? He's still that, too. But when they look at the stern and comfortless Kenneth Starr, a man who has never smoked a cigarette or touched an alcoholic drink in his life, or the buttoned-up, prim Al Gore, who'd step into the breach and preach, they'd rather stick with Slick Willy. I'm not entirely sure that they're wrong.

The philosophy and practice of coffee, part one. Douwe Egberts, the coffee people, are now marketing an instant liquid coffee - just add boiling water - which they say tastes very like real coffee. It is called ''Cafinesse'', suggesting essence of coffee, and it will be a failure. Why? Because we have grown accustomed to one drink, real coffee, over the past few hundred years, and another different drink, instant powdered coffee, over the past few decades, and our lives are too busy for a third.

Also, according to those who've tried it, it doesn't taste very nice. Instant essences rarely do. My grandfather Marr was chairman of James Finlay and Son, a tea company, and spent much of his life in pursuit of perfect tea - he could tell from a cup of proper Darjeeling not only which plantation it had come from, but how high up the mountains the tea bushes had been, and whether the season had been rainy or dry. Finlay and Son, like Douwe Egberts, were keen to find the essence of their product, and (this being the Fifties, before the tea bag revolution) worked on a form of instant tea contained in a toothpaste tube.

Grandpa Marr, in a state of high anticipation, visited the firm's laboratory in Switzerland, to be greeted by the most extraordinarily clean, fresh smell of tea in the air. ''Ah,'' he said to the chemist, ''so you've pulled it off.'' ''No sir,'' replied the sad Swiss, ''what you are smelling is our failure.'' The essence wasn't trapped in the Finlay goo, but was floating free. There is a more general lesson here.

Philosophy and practice of coffee, part two. Since the takeover of The Independent, some people have questioned our optimism about going ''up- market''. Are we not all slaves to a dumbed-down, lower-grade world, they ask? One response to bouts of pessimism is: think coffee. Whichever way you look at it, the quality of British coffee is soaring. We have huge choice now in supermarkets. Consumption of real coffee has risen by more than 100 per cent in the past 15 years, while instant coffee use has barely altered. Good coffee shops are proliferating - in Wednesday's paper we profiled Ally Svenson, whose Seattle Coffee Company is growing like topsy around the country (six 18 months ago, 56 now, 120 planned by the end of the year).

And I ask: how can a country that is trading up in its coffee habits - and in its book-buying, musical tastes, magazines - be content only to trade down when it comes to newspapers? It is not possible. Good coffee and good writing go together. Any nation that is drinking as much roast and ground, and is as mad for latte, cappuccino and espresso as this one must, by definition, need a better broadsheet newspaper too.

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