Charles Nevin: Who can ever replace his boyish charisma?


So, that is that. The end of the charismatic, boyish figure, always full of tricks, after 10 years of unparalleled success and unstinting admiration, with only a few tiny quibbles about the failure to tackle a more challenging agenda and an over-reliance on tried and tested formulas. Yes, he might be having a film premiere tomorrow, but later this month the last Harry Potter is published.

Who on earth, or anywhere else, is going to replace him? I see that his publishers, Bloomsbury, are a bubbling cauldron of confidence about overcoming the loss, and I suggest we should also look at this as a market rather than a mourning opportunity.

All we have to do is come up with a wizard character with the same appeal. You might argue that neither I nor you have quite as much imagination as JK Rowling, but I don't see that necessarily as a problem. Life is full of larger than life characters and plots, as David Cameron, for one, could tell you.

We just need to look around, and select a likely candidate for the new zeitgeist. I was, for example, immediately taken by the analysis showing that honey continues to push ahead of marmalade in the tussle for spreading supremacy across the nation's bread and toast.

While most commentators have argued that this dash for sweetness is either in compensation for, or reinforcing, the current mood, I could see considerable book potential here, until better-read colleagues pointed out that both preserves had already been nabbed as props by loveable bears.

Still, this did alert me to the current paucity of any really good anthropomorphic stuff. Old hat, you say? It's all cyclical, you know. And then I read the report about the Western Isles police sniffer dogs with a problem. Go on, ask me how they smell. Terribly. The police are on to their third since May. Perfect. Relevant, drugs, illegal immigrants, etc. Teamed with a boy detective - always popular - the Sniffer Dog Who Couldn't Smell could be the perfect metaphor for not judging by appearances.

But the piece of news that excited me the most was the report that President Ahmadinejad keeps in touch with economic matters in Iran by consulting his local butcher. This presumably was the inspiration for this new Business Leaders' Council, featuring Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and Stuart Rose of M&S, which is going to advise Mr Brown over here.

Truly, a Government of all the Talents. But with one glaring omission. So, I thought, how about a book with a hero who is a youngster so unusual and so gifted that he ends up running things far better than the fuddy-duddy old people? And then my better-informed colleagues pointed me in the direction of the Foreign Office.

Further consultation revealed that the new Government also numbers a moody Scot who has had to fight for his birthright (Kidnapped), an eerily competent woman who seems to have come from nowhere (Mary Poppins), a sparky young couple (101 Dalmatians), a hero with a butler (Artemis Fowl), a jolly policeman (Noddy), and a wooden puppet at the Treasury.

I then wondered about a white-haired old seer, but was told that the Environment Secretary could probably ask his father.

Hmm. In my defence, I note that when she was in that famous coffee shop, making it up, JK Rowling was allowed to smoke.

Nice weather for ducks

I'm not surprised that the 29,000 toy ducks that have been floating round the world since they were washed overboard in the Pacific in 1992 are heading this way; it's their kind of weather. The ducks have provided much seized-upon symbolism as they keep bob, bob, bobbing along, defiantly ridiculous, while serious tides in the affairs of men come and go. Interesting for any observing aliens, too. I didn't know that most ducks don't quack: it's only female mallards and the domestic ones, apparently. Given current conditions, you might consider getting some: they rival hens at laying; a duckling will set you back £4; you can buy a duck house for £185. But it can be too wet for ducks: duck races at York, Droitwich and Burton Latimer were all postponed this weekend. St Swithin's Day is a week on Sunday.

* Consolation, as we know, is an elusive helpmate, particularly when all is cloudy, queuing, alerts and stress. I find, though, and not always for the best of reasons, that considering the plight of those less well off can help. Did you notice, for example, the warder in Brixton Prison who managed to lock himself in the exercise yard? Or the chap, thankfully now all right, who slipped on a carp left on a bank of the River Medway and fell in? Are you taking part in the Henley Regatta? I trust not, as the Thames is running so fast that a couple of strokes will see you off Canvey Island.

You might be a magician, and thus well aware that all the tricks in your act involving a cigarette - including the Self Smoking Cigarette and the Disappearing Cigarette - are now illegal. And you're certainly not James Richards, a New York vet specialising in treating cats who has died after swerving to avoid a cat. Better?

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