Would you feel more or less secure if there was a policeman parked outside your house day and night? I've been wondering because, for the last three weeks, I've had what seems like half the Met hanging about, in relays, outside my flat in west London.
One day I came home to find two policemen standing outside my neighbour's house. He, or somebody close to him, has put up a sign saying "Diplomatic Cars Only" on the railings, and the roadway in front of his house is criss-crossed in yellow paint. Tactless cars were evidently banned. Had he enlisted the police to protect him from the imprudent and the indiscreet?
Next evening, there were two different cops outside, one male, one female, plus a white van-load of officers reading the Evening Standard, their breath clouding the windows. They kept the engine running all night, as if they were likely to be scrambled, like fighter pilots, at three in the morning. Next day, two more policemen, more serious-looking and superior in their flat caps, arrived to get an in-depth briefing about what had occurred. Apart from one officer completing a fiendish Sudoku puzzle at 5.23am, there didn't seem much to report. Eventually I summoned the courage to ask them what was going on and learnt we were standing outside the private home of the Libyan ambassador.
Initially, there was concern that anti-Gaddafi protesters would clamber onto his roof. Then, after the ambassador resigned in protest at the Colonel attacking his own people, there was concern that pro-Gaddafi supporters would do the storming and clambering. What the police didn't say, but what was wildly apparent, was that there was nobody at home to be stormed or clambered over.
So there they've stayed, guarding an empty house, pointlessly changing shifts, greeting their superior officers with non-updates every morning. Over the weeks, we've become quite friendly. We nod and smile and say "Morning" to each other. My leaving for work used to be greeted by swivelled heads and alert looks, as if I might be (O please, God...) a violent Gaddafi-ite arriving with mad eyes, crampons and clambering tools. Now, they hardly look round.
Parking the car at night under the eyes of two bored coppers used to be fraught with paranoia; even if you were innocent of alcohol, you felt they were bound to come over and find something arrestably offensive about your reversing technique. Now, I could do a screeching handbrake turn in a cloud of dust and they'd hardly raise an eyebrow.
They were still there yesterday morning. Familiarity had bred boredom, rather than contempt, in both of us. They clearly wish a few protesting students would show up, begging to be kettled. I wish I could watch society's guardians do something more interesting than scratch their unhelmeted heads, and flirt with the lady from No 24 in her pink Juicy Couture tracksuit.
One star not obsessed with having the perfect body
Elizabeth Taylor was the actress about whom my parents' generation most gossiped and clucked and flapped in the 1960s. In Catholic church-going circles, she was spoken of as the classic film-star-sinner, with her multiple divorces, her brazen sexiness, her shameless diamond-worship. Her films weren't the point (Cleopatra, in 1963, was 243 minutes of leaden dragginess, in which La Taylor seemed to remain completely still from start to finish); the point was her peerless violet eyes, her body and her reputation.
Everyone went on about her body, seldom politely. Richard Burton, her big love and her husband twice, described her thus in 1966: "At 34 she is an extremely beautiful woman, lavishly endowed by nature with a few flaws in the masterpiece: she has an insipid [he probably meant incipient] double chin, her legs are too short and she has a slight pot belly." Cheers, Richard.
But the lady herself liked to join in the criticism. She was constantly hard on her physical shortcomings. Only five years ago, she reported from hospital, "My body's a real mess. If you look at it in the mirror, it's just completely convex and concave. I've become one of those poor little women who's bent sideways. My X-rays are hysterical. The bone doctors just throw up their hands and say, 'Sorry, there's nothing we can do!' Which is so cheery." Was there ever a Hollywood goddess so abused and so self-deprecating?
Couldn't she at least have found a uniform that fitted?
Among the 20,000 pages of the prosecution case against Silvio Berlusconi are some photos taken at the parties held in the Italian premier's house in the district of Hardcore, sorry, Arcore, near Milan. One of them is of Ms Barbara Guerra, described in the papers as a "showgirl" though I can find no evidence of her having a career as a singer or dancer.
Ms Guerra has been criticised as a wicked hussy for dressing as a police officer, complete with handcuffs, but I can see nothing to object to in her charming tableau vivant. She is obviously helping Signor Berlusconi reflect on the role of the internal security forces under his jurisdiction, as he ponders where public-sector cuts must fall as part of swingeing national deficit reduction. It is of course a shame Ms Guerra couldn't find an Italian police costume to wear, nor indeed a costume that fits her slightly better. But these are details, when compared to the larger picture she so strikingly embodies.