Chris Schuler: btw

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The Independent Online

I had the good fortune this week to attend a lunch addressed by the amiable and indefatigably entertaining Gyles Brandreth, who was promoting his new book Oscar Wilde and the Candlelit Murders, the second in a series of Victorian mysteries in which the flamboyant man of letters engages in a spot of sleuthing. Recalling how an elderly teacher at his school had once known Lord Alfred Douglas, Brandreth shook the hand of the diner seated next to him, exclaiming: "You are shaking the hand that shook the hand that shook the hand that shook the hand of Oscar Wilde." I was inevitably put in mind of the story of how James Joyce, approached by a fan who asked, "May I have the privilege of shaking the hand that wrote Ulysses?" replied: "I wouldn't if I were you. It's done a lot else besides."

Ooh, er. Carla Bruni, lissom consort of the President of France, can be seen disporting herself in her scanties while strumming a guitar in a new advertisement for Lancia that was, ahem, unveiled at the European Motor Show in Brussels on Thursday. The previous weekend, Tony Blair drew enthusiastic applause from a gathering of Nicolas Sarkozy's party, the UPM, when he described their great helmsman as "very active in all areas". Now, there's no better way to win over a French audience than by praising the manly vigour of their elected representative. And no doubt there will have been those among them who, recalling Cherie's "five times a night" boast, will assume that our former prime minister knows whereof he speaks.

While we're on the subject, the manufacturers of Marmite are launching a special St Valentine's Day limited edition of the popular savoury spread, with an added dash of champagne. Aficionados will be relieved to hear that it's packaged in the traditional glass jar, not the disappointing new squeezy version, with a label that reads "For my lovely Marmite lover". Am I missing something here? I can't quite see the romantic potential of yeast extract. Perhaps M. Sarkozy can enlighten us.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the 84-year-old Estonian opera-goer who spent a night locked in the lavatory at the opera house in Tallinn last week after a performance of Rossini's Cinderella. The retired music teacher went to spend a penny after the three-and-a-half-hour Sunday matinee, and was only discovered 20 hours later when staff arrived to reopen the building on Monday morning. "This is very embarrassing," said a spokesman for the Estonian National Opera. "It's not the first time that an opera-goer has been locked in the lavatory in Tallinn. The last occasion was in November when an American who was very drunk got locked in."