Base to chopper: down here the crook's escaped

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The Independent Online
ALL BANK holiday peace in our East London street was shattered by a police helicopter whirring round and round our chimney. I thought several times that it was about to attempt a landing on the roof and end up in the bath. The noise woke my two-year-old nephew, who lives across the road, resulting in bad temper for the rest of the day, and drowned our civilised teatime conversation. I wouldn't have minded if this had gone on for say, 10 minutes, but it lasted an hour. A friend in South London rang (inaudibly) in the middle and said (I think) that she's always being buzzed by helicopters and that she assumes they're carrying criminals to Wandsworth Prison. But we don't live near a prison.

I rang the police to find out whether there are any limits on the times they are allowed to circle on houses, or rules about not whipping tiles off people's roofs. They sent me a lot of excitable stuff about police helicopters being used mainly for surveillance when they have 'suspects on' (whatever they are - you'd think suspects might notice an hour of screaming helicopter engine), and how the helicopters have state-of-the-art, only-just-declassified-by-the-US- army imaging equipment, which means they can now bring noise pollution to a street near you at night, as well as all bank holiday afternoon.

All this wheeling about like Rambo didn't help my mum much. She wound down the passenger window of her car to ask directions last week, and a man reached in and stole her handbag from the floor. A taxi driver pursued him to a spot where he was loitering, considering what to keep, and called the police: if they came now, he said, they could catch a villain In The Act. He waited 25 minutes, but no one turned up. The 'suspect-on' threw away my mum's bag, and the taxi driver took it to the police station himself. Where were the helicopters then?

FOR 30 years, Francis Carr has been proselytising for the Shakespeare Authorship Information Centre; to tell the truth, Francis Carr is the Shakespeare Authorship Information Centre, and its office is his flat. Mr Carr sends out fortnightly circulars to journalists and historians arguing his case that Shakespeare is a mysterious figure who may not even have been born in the so-called birthplace, and certainly cannot be assumed to have written the plays. Mr Carr sees himself as a lone voice crying out against Shakespeare zealots everywhere, a view with which there is only one drawback: no one really disagrees with him. Shakespeare scholars accept that no one knows anything about Shakespeare; Mr Carr might as well have founded the Round Earth Society or the Legalise Lager campaign.

I put this to Mr Carr, a retired historian whose most recent book was about Mozart ('I am the only historian,' he says, 'who has stated at length that the composer was poisoned'). He cried: 'Ha] But the Shakespeare scholars then say it doesn't matter who wrote the plays anyway]' Mr Carr thinks it matters very much: if we could only acknowledge that it was Francis Bacon, we would read the plays quite differently. 'Bacon was a classical scholar and a philosopher, and wrote the plays to try to communicate his ideas,' Mr Carr explains. 'A philosopher writing plays is not a very good recipe for success, which is why you have these not very comic comedies and not very dramatic dramas.' (Though try telling that to my 10-year-old, who thinks Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado is the greatest film she's seen). 'A much better recipe for success,' Mr Carr says, 'is people running in and out of bedrooms with their trousers round their ankles shouting 'You've got my wife]' '

WHY are children repulsive? This is the question exercising the nation since two six-year-olds trashed their neighbour's house. The father of one blamed Finders Keepers, a television programme. Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail blamed single mothers (which was odd, given that one of them had this worried father), but of course, Heffer has got a point, because single mothers are always telling their children to go out and trash houses. (I have to say, however, that in my experience it is men who give in first to hysterical demands for sweets or BSE-burgers. Perhaps one shouldn't draw any very general conclusions from this, but I cannot help thinking that men are not the stern disciplinarians that journalists on the right portray them as.) The New Scientist carries the view that these things happen because people are like pelicans. When pelican chicks want attention, they go into convulsions, beat and bite their wings and thrash their heads back and forth. The scientists at University College London who wrote about this say tantrums are also part of evolution for budgerigars and baboons. So the next time someone slams a door and screams that I am a horrible person for asking them to set the table, I shall remember they're just evolving.

BUCKINGHAM Palace points out that the Duke of Edinburgh does not take holidays in the Caribbean at taxpayers' expense, as I reported that republicans had been alleging last week. The Queen's press secretary has sent me the list of Prince Philip's engagements for his 1993 trip: these include attending church in Montserrat, visiting a craft exhibition in St Kitts, and meeting fishermen in Anguilla - not holiday-type activities at all, but hard work.

AFTER the Wonderbra, welcome back to the pantie girdle. Last week, I spotted a commercial of a type I thought may have been gone for ever, featuring those stretch panels and midriff-squashing bits from way back when. A spokeswoman for Playtex, which makes Superlook Secrets, reacted indignantly when I suggested that stuffing your stomach into a girdle might be a retrograde step. 'It's not a pantie girdle,' she said; 'It's shapewear. It's pretty. It's the perfect alternative to holding your breath. And it has a secret panel, so you won't know you're wearing it, and nor will anyone else.' Until you take it off and all your flesh comes splurging out.