The Third Leader: Pass notes

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It's a tough world, and increasingly unsentimental. One of the casualties of this, I notice, is compassion. Politics, religion, business, sport: all seem noticeably short of the consoling word, the wry grimace of fellow feeling, the arm round the shoulder. Even comedy has taken on an unforgiving edge.

So: a small test. When you saw that Steve Wynn, a very rich American casino owner, accidentally put his elbow through the Picasso he had just agreed to sell for £75m, did you feel pity, or a disdain unmoved even by the hampering eye condition which you believe he should have considered before gesticulating too near the canvas?

As you are an Independent reader, I like to think I know the answer, once, of course, you had been reassured it could be restored. But we all nod; I myself yielded to a slight rise of the eyes and a Homeric (Simpson branch) grunt before quickly remembering myself and quietly intoning, "there, but for the grace of God, and £75m, go I".

Next, Simon Curtis, who has achieved the lowest-ever score in the specialist round on Mastermind, rivalling Ernie Wise, who, you will recall, also managed just the one, when he was asked a question, about a famous Asian landmark, ending: "It is the Khyber What?".

No, Mr Curtis, and Mr Wynn, and the chap on the radio quiz who gave Hitler's first name as Heil, deserve the sympathy of the rest of us, safely out of the withering spotlight. And should you ask whether they have also provided my sense of superiority with a rare (if fanciful) boost, I have only one reply. Pass.

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