John Walsh: Beware letters from fictional civil servants


It would be rude to call presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich a hypocrite, but it's hard to find another word. While in charge of the Republican investigation into Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, Gingrich was enjoying an affair with a young colleague called Callista Bisek. Confronted recently on Christian TV about this double standard, he said: "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate." So there: he wasn't shagging Ms Bisek at all; he was expressing his passion for America.

* Number 10 staff, when replying to letters from members of the public, sign them with made-up names. Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP, discovered this when he tried to telephone "Mrs E Adams" who had answered one of his letters, only to discover she doesn't exist. It's a security measure, apparently, to stop staff members being targeted by nutters. But isn't a letter on Downing Street-headed writing-paper a serious official document? And if it's signed by Mr D. Duck doesn't that render the contents worthless?

* Boom time for estate agents in Rivonia, Johannesburg. A house in the grounds of Liliesleaf Farm is for sale at £430,000. Prospective buyers will bid high; it may be the house built over the hole where Nelson Mandela buried his Makarov gun, the first ANC weapon, in 1962. The firearm's worth £2m. Don't worry if you're outbid, though. Several other houses were built in the Liliesleaf grounds since 1962. It could be under any of them. But don't tell the punters...

* Good to hear a trove of Anthony Burgess writings has been found. Among them are short stories, plays, film scripts and musical compositions along with ambitious projects like a ballet score about Shakespeare's life and a musical about Trotsky. Since Burgess's death in 1993, only A Clockwork Orange, of his 33 novels, has stayed in bookshops. We need reminding of his rumbustious creativity and fruity loquaciousness. Asked once how he'd enjoyed hanging out with "the beautiful people of Monaco", he reportedly replied: "I have no time for those irrelevantly gilded with adventitious photogeneity."