Tales Of The City: Little swash; even less buckle

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How splendid to read in December's Vanity Fair (out tomorrow) that Russell Crowe is a large lady's chemise after all. He is scared of heights. He is not a happy man in rigging or crow's nest. He gets seasick and needed to take Kwells (or their Aussie equivalent) while filming Master and Commander in, and on, the South Seas. In the world of Oz cinema, he says he always wanted to emulate, not Chips Rafferty, but Judy Davis, the gamine star of My Brilliant Career. "I'm not really a bloke," he sniffs into his cambric hankie, "I'm a very interior person... I never really was a very physical person." Did you ever encounter such a capacious maternity smock?

Of course, we've all wondered about Russell for a while. We remember that the reason for one of his big punch-ups was that someone cut his recital of a four-line poem by Patrick Kavanagh about "repelling all women". Ah, diddums. And wasn't there something the faintest bit girl's-blousy about his dramatic line in Gladiator: "At my signal, unleash hell..." Just shut your eyes and try to imagine Dale Winton saying it, and you'll be there.

Now that he's revealed his true, sensitive, essentially interior nature, I hope he'll have the courage to embrace some roles that suit it. It's a shame Gwyneth Paltrow pipped him to play Sylvia Plath in the new biopic. Perhaps he could sign up to impersonate Mrs Ramsay when they get round to filming Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Unless, of course, it involves a distressingly choppy boat journey.

Why I'm starting up a new grammar school

Some years ago the New Statesman ran a weekly column, ridiculing examples of bad grammar and wayward punctuation. It was great fun, those weekly nailings of what they called the Yob's Apostrophe: signs outside jumble sales reading "All books and record's 50p"; the sign outside Ladbroke's shouting "Have a flutter, its Derby Day!" and - an old favourite - the sign in a café offering TEA OR 'COFFEE'. (What did they have against coffee?)

The column was dropped after complaints from readers that it was pedantic, élitist and undemocratic. I was sorry to see it go. Three cheers, therefore, for Lynne Truss, the extremely droll sports-writer and comic novelist, whose book Eats, Shoots & Leaves (out next week from Profile Books, £9.99) makes the history of punctuation a subject at once urgent, sexy and hilarious. She starts with the same NS fury about sloppy usage, reporting how she stood immobilised at a bus stop, contemplating the horror of a film hoarding for Two Weeks [sic] Notice. She feels physical pain when the word "enormity" is used to mean "hugeness" rather than "extreme badness". She hangs out with the provisional wing of the Apostrophe Protection Society, and plots to issue condemnatory stickers saying: "This apostrophe is not necessary." She dreams that the BBC has brought back an ancient wireless panel-game called Many a Slip, devoted to spotting grammatical errors.

She has, with pride, discovered her Inner Stickler, and come out as a purist, pedant and élitist about the correct placing of commas, dashes and colons. Her book is a joyous call to arms for grammatical sticklers everywhere, and I have signed up with delight. This column will henceforth watch for examples of linguistic and grammatical abominations from the greengrocer's shop to the leader columns of The Times, and will gloat, sneer and condescend to it's (whoops) heart's content.

The only disagreement I have with her is about the use of the ellipsis, or the three dots that often end sentences in e-mails and love stories. Ms Truss seems to regard the ellipsis as a lazy and irritating affectation. But, my dear Lynne, try to imagine where the newspaper columnist, who cannot quite work out how to finish a humorous item, would be without it...

Pucker up - it's going to be a bumpy ride

Snog snog snog. What is this endless fuss about same-sex kissing? The august and venerable members of the Independent Television Commission have just passed their solemn judgement on whether a recent gay (male) kiss in Coronation Street was likely to outrage the nation - not the pre-watershed kids, but the show's elderly viewers. The ITC decided that it was probably okay. (Phew.)

The TV soap Brookside has just packed up after 20 years, but its best-remembered moment is still a momentary locking of lips between Anna Friel and her curly-haired girlfriend 15 years ago. In America, the other day, I watched tantalising clips of the new Britney Spears video, which features the young minx writhing with Madonna on either side of a wall. The massive question of whether or not they kiss at the end of it (in a reprise of their snog at the MTV awards) turned up as a crucial item on the 6pm news.

And then there's the gay bishop. You could feel the eyes of 50 million Anglican worshippers turned on Gene Robinson when, after his consecration, he embraced his inamoratus, Mark Andrew. There's something naturally risible about a bishop in full canonicals and gold party-hat grappling with a love object, just as there is about those newspaper captions reading "... the bishop's boyfriend Mark Andrew (above)..." but this was a moment of serious suspense.

They weren't going to kiss, were they? Would they go for it like Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman at the Tony awards, the first full-on snog ever seen at a big American ceremony? From Alaska to Zanzibar, Anglican primates and their disapproving flocks held their breath. The merest suspicion of conjoined lips or tongues, and the promised schism would have burst out there and then, like an overripe guava. Not since the Garden of Gethsemane has a male-male kiss potentially caused such trouble...

A medical student once told me the technical term for it - "the juxtaposition of two orbicular ori muscles in a state of contraction". That's a kiss. Now can we all calm down about it?

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