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In the world of John Major as seen by Private Eye, there is one cabinet minister we almost feel sorry for - the chap who collects the teacups at the end of the meetings ('Ah, Waldegrave, make the tea, there's a good fellow, and while you're out there, scout around for some Danish pastries, and one of those cakes your wife bakes so well.')

Until now, we have closed our ears to the gloom and doom merchants who have been calling for William Waldegrave's removal, but I fear we can do so no longer. Ministers are now saying the time has come for the teaboy to become just that - not as envisaged by The Secret Diary of John Major aged 47 3/4 , but as the Prime Minister's real life bag carrier, his parliamentary private secretary (PPS).

There are precedents for this. Peter Bottomley became Peter Brooke's PPS after Brooke lost his job in the Northern Ireland office. And Waldegrave should be consoled: Brooke was also sacked from the Cabinet but returned as the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

WE SEE President Clinton has budgeted pounds 75.4m for Lust next year. Alas, further reading of the Environmental Protection Agency budget provides a damper: 'The Leaking Underground Storage Tank (Lust) program supports timely and effective responses to releases from underground storage tanks.'


The man who told us five years ago that Hizbollah would not free Terry Waite until President Reagan left office has produced another scoop. Gordon Thomas reported in the Sunday Express that Eamonn Casey, the former Bishop of Galway, had emerged from his convent in Central America to discuss his love affair with Annie Murphy.

When Thomas interviewed Sheikh Mohamed Fadlallah, the taciturn Hizbollah leader, for the same newspaper (he simply rang him up, he tells us, with a bit of help from an Arab interpreter), the sheikh's office in Beirut described the ensuing report as 'fabricated, false and unfounded'. Now the same thing has happened again - Casey told an Irish radio station at the weekend that he had not spoken to Thomas, let alone told him that Annie Murphy, his former lover, was 'that evil woman'.

To assist any lawyers dealing with this disagreement, Casey is, I fear, wrong in one respect: he did describe Murphy as evil, but not while speaking to Thomas. Casey uttered those words to Murphy's former flatmate, Dympna Kilbane, a friend of the former bishop's, who had accompanied Thomas to Mexico City. From there she had phoned Casey and the call was taped.

A PLAQUE on a park bench in Stanmore has been stolen, according to the local council, because the thief was 'worried' by the name it bore. So, we assume, was the woman commemorated on the plaque who bore no relation to her better known namesake - Myra Hindley.


In retrospect, Sheikh Fadlallah was right: Terry Waite was not freed until President Reagan left office. We would have been more impressed, however, if Waite and company had been released before Reagan's successor was about to leave. But forecasting is a tricky business - ask the authors of a book out this week that updates a controversial reinterpretation of the prophecies of Nostradamus.

When J V Hewitt and Peter Lorie brought out their hardback version of Nostradamus: The End of the Millennium: Prophecies 1992 to 2001 two years ago, they went for the broad sweep, hoping some of their forecasts would stick. So far, the strike rate is low - Israel would be destroyed by its Arab neighbours, Catholic priests would be devastated by Aids and so on.

But a few revisions have sneaked into the paperpack, we see. The cover of the original version announced that George Bush would be re-elected; this has now been replaced with the (equally alarming) prospect of a Californian earthquake due to take place at 7.05am on 8 May. The authors seem to have a penchant for May - they told us Prince Charles would be crowned on 2 May last year.


13 April 1816 Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes to James Gillman, a surgeon, accepting treatment for his opium addiction: 'No sixty hours have yet passed without my having taken Laudanum, tho' for the past week comparatively trifling doses. I have full belief that your anxiety will not extend beyond the first week, and for the first week I shall not, I must not be permitted to leave your house, unless I should walk out with you. Delicately or indelicately, this must be done; and the servant must receive an absolute command from you on no account to fetch anything for me. The stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts my mind; but when I am alone, the horrors I have suffered from Laudanum, the degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwhelm me.' (Coleridge arranged to stay with Gillman for a month, but in fact remained until his death 18 years later.)


IN OUR item about William Waldegrave on Tuesday, a finger slipped on the keyboard, demoting Peter Brooke from the Northern Ireland office, rather than Peter Bottomley, who then became Brooke's parliamentary private secretary. Brooke was, of course, later sacked as Northern Ireland secretary, but that's another story.