The estimable Pushkin Press has just published an English translation of Envy, a gripping tale by the celebrated Italian novelist Alain Elkann. Set in London, the novel concerns a writer's obsessive quest to interview an eminent British painter called Julian Sax. A wealthy, reclusive and difficult man, Sax lives in Notting Hill and is known for his "erotic episodes" with young women whom he seduces, paints and then dumps. Just in case that doesn't ring a bell, the priapic paint-flinger is "the grandson of Ludwig Sax, the most important scientist of the last century". At the book's launch last week, in the opulent surroundings of the Italian embassy, I asked Elkann who the painter might be. "He is Julian Sax," the novelist replied, smiling enigmatically. As the old publishers' disclaimer has it, any resemblance to persons ...
* Those of us who maintain that Facebook is a serious journalistic tool (no, honest, even the fresh-faced editor of a rival daily is on there) have suffered a bit of a setback. Some wag called Freya Valentine has started a Facebook group called "On May 15th 2008, everybody needs to go out and panic buy CARROTS" – and has already recruited more than 90,000 members. "If everyone does this," says Valentine, "we can make this global shortage of carrots happen." Er, why? "It's all a bit of fun," apparently. Not that the British Carrot Growers' Association are too upset about it. "Purchasers can be assured they'll have a fine product in the middle of May," says David Martin, the association's vice-chairman, "as long as they buy British carrots. Bring it on!" Well, he would, wouldn't he?
* Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn ... We'd just turned out the light when that familiar whine moved into earshot like a heat-seeking missile. Not another bloody mosqui – hang on, it's January, for pity's sake. After blundering around the house with a rolled-up newspaper, I eventually slew the blighter in the hall. I've heard of global warming, but this is ridiculous. Friday 21st broke the record for the warmest night in January, with a temperature of 13.2C in London – and it needs to fall below zero to kill off the mosquito larvae. Let's hope the cold spell we've been promised sees the buggers off – and the carrot fly larvae too, or Mr Martin may have difficulty meeting demand.
* Global warming is also behind the EU's proposed ban on patio heaters, which has sent a chill through the hearts of publicans anxious to hang on to the custom of nicotine-fixated regulars. One enterprising German host has come up with a novel solution. According to a report in Der Spiegel, Michael Windisch, landlord of the Maltermeister Turm in Goslar, Lower Saxony, has knocked three holes in an external wall so smokers can stick their heads and arms through and puff away to their hearts' content while their nether regions remain warm and dry indoors.