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Cloak and stagger train mystery

IN KEEPING with its tradition for the unexpected, the Orient Express has experienced not a murder this time but (unprecedently, I'm assured) a streak. As yet, the streaker can only be identified by her first name (Stephanie), the colour of her hair (dark) and a portion of her wardrobe (black velvet evening cloak and black court shoes).

According to reports as yet unconfirmed by the company, the streak took place one evening in the dining car as the London to Venice special was speeding through the French countryside. Urged on by three accomplices, Stephanie waited until the aisle was clear, pushed open a glass- panelled door, then charged (sans shoes and cloak) down the carriage, to the astonishment of all.

More astonished than most, I gather, was a waiter emerging from the kitchen bearing a tray of soup who came across the streaker half-way through her run. An adroit body-swerve notwithstanding, Stephanie collided with the tray, crashed to the floor, struck her head on the oak leg of a table, and lay temporarily dazed, covered in soup Julienne.

There was, I'm told, no shortage of willing hands swiftly offering assistance, with the waiter and a ticket collector (who had appeared from nowhere) winning the race to escort her back to her room. Stephanie and her accomplices were not seen again for the rest of the journey. Meanwhile, one elderly gentleman was impressed with the event. He has now vowed to book another trip on his return to England.

COLIN JOHNSON is a presenter on BBC Radio Kent, although for how much longer will depend on the charity of Chris Burns, his new boss. 'Now,' he told listeners the other night, 'there's a new man in charge of BBC Radio Kent and in a minute we will be talking to him . . . er, no - actually it's a woman. She's the new station manager. Er, no, actually she's the managing editor.'

Brought to book

'BENT'S Notes', the diary column of Bookseller, the publishing industry magazine, is normally benevolence itself, but the following letter in this week's issue is the exception to the rule. Writes Philippa Bach, of Philippa's Bookshop, Marbella, Spain: 'A few months ago, a couple came into our bookshop in Marbella, briefly looked around the children's section, then left. The visit stayed in our memory because of the arrogant demeanour of the man . . . We never saw this couple again, but lately, watching television, we discovered who they were: Mr and Mrs Tim Yeo.'

FANS of that most urbane of authors, Will Self, may be surprised to learn that he has temporarily relocated - to the isolation of the Orkneys no less. 'I haven't moved for good,' he warns quickly. 'I just need the peace to finish a book - but I do like the country. I'm not quite as urbane as I pretend.'

Gone to the dogs

DAME Barbara Cartland has taken a shine to John Major, claiming credit for the Prime Minister's 'back-to-basics' policy (although she had advised him to make it 'back-to-romance'). However, her affection for Mr Major is as nothing to her fondness for dogs.

Following a recent television interview, the romantic novelist invited the crew to stay for high tea. Presiding over the silver service and a spread of cakes and biscuits at the head of the large dining table, she cut the first slice of a large cream cake, placed it on a delicate china plate and offered it, not to the sound recordist or cameraman - but to her pooch.

THE CURRENT best-selling, non-fiction book in Japan? The Complete Manual of Suicide.


26 January 1833 William Charles Macready, actor, writes in his journal: 'Employed my day in examining Colonel D'Aguilar's translation of Fiesco, settling my accounts, making up arrears of entries etc. Felt the happiness of my home in seeing the health and comfort of the family around me. If men could but unlearn the lessons of vanity which are taught by dictation, example, and the influence of current events to their youth, how truly happy could they make themselves by industry and charity. But to be certain of our own good, we calculate our neighbours' possessions or expenses instead of inquiring of our own wants, and are only contented by that vain and envious standard of comparison. Is not health, an income beyond my necessities, a beloved family, a quick imagination, considerable acquirements, and the knowledge of the value of these blessings enough to enforce content and inspire gratitude?'