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CAN there be something the matter with the Pope? Last week, we gather, the BBC's religious affairs programme, Everyman, recorded a film in which John Paul II was very firmly consigned to history. Whether the BBC is privy to information about the health of the Holy Father, 72, that the Papal Nuncio in Britain is not (Archbishop Luigi Barbarito's office was holding a firm 'business as usual' line yesterday), we wouldn't like to say. What we do know, however, is that last week's update of the archives included interviews with, among others, the theologian Peter Hebblethwaite, Mary Kenny, Cristina Odone, editor of the Catholic Herald, and Pat Jones, the assistant general secretary of the Bishops' Conference. 'The principal difficulty,' explains Hebblethwaite, 'was putting it all in the past tense and looking suitably solemn.' To help with the latter, the programme dimmed the studio lights and told the guests to avoid wearing bright colours - the lighting was altered to make Kenny's purple dress look suitably sombre. As for the Pope, Joanna Bogle, a writer on Catholic affairs, thinks there is cause for concern: 'He has not been well since the assassination attempt and I don't know if this travelling does him any good. He's been looking very thin about the neck.' The BBC has not yet decided on a date for broadcast.

JOHN GOLDRING, the QC prosecuting Beverley Allitt, the nurse accused of murdering several infants in her charge, has incurred the wrath of reporters at Nottingham Crown Court. He has singulary failed to produce a tasty epithet to describe Allitt - though this did not stop the Daily Star from dubbing her 'Angel of Death' yesterday. (Allitt has not, of course, been found guilty of anything.) The pack, meanwhile, is considering a delegation to ask Goldring to slip something into his address on their behalf. Best suggestion so far? 'The Slim Reaper'.


Job spot: professional opera bouquet-throwing. This is the preferred activity of Donald Layton, a 43-year-old amateur singer from San Francisco, who has made it his business for 20 years to design and throw the perfect bouquet. This takes some expertise in aerodynamics, and, of course, a knowledge of botany. The flowers, says Layton, must be heavy enough to 'survive a long pitch'. Heavy stems and narrow heads are crucial, otherwise the bouquet will fall short. 'If it's all blooms, the bassoonist will get it in the head. I try to get a nice arc on it so the singer has plenty of time to see it coming. I aim just to right or left of them, but once I got a real dirty look from Helga Dernesch, who was playing Fricka in The Ring. I hit her right between the boobs.' But Layton's friend Robert Parks, a 27-year-old bookkeeper, is the champion flower-thrower at San Francisco Opera House. Last season he threw 300 bouquets at 53 performances to divas, ex-chorus members making their debuts and, once, a horse. He was responsible for 10 of the 35 bouquets Dame Gwynneth Jones received for her final performance there of Elektra: 'She looked like a giant hedge,' said one witness. Our own Royal Opera House, meanwhile, tells us that all bouquet-launching at Covent Garden is strictly spontaneous.

ANOTHER example of the remarkable business acumen of Lloyd's emerged yesterday when the insurance brokers said that the profitable souvenir shop in their London headquarters is to close. The shop, where tourists can buy Lloyd's pens, Lloyd's mugs and (we hope) 'My husband is a Lloyd's name and now they want this lousy T-shirt back' clothing, may revive as a travel agency - but who can afford to travel, these days?


A London taxi driver (clearly no slouch when it comes to European affairs) had that Lord Plumb, former president of the European Parliament, in the back of his cab the other day. The conversation went like this: Cabbie: 'It's never going to work.' Plumb: 'Um, no?' (Stay cool, he might not have recognised me.) 'Well, it's the Germans, innit?' 'Really?' (Oh God, he has]) 'They've never forgiven us, have they?' 'Well . . .' (Help]) 'They've never forgiven us for the '66 World Cup.'


17 February 1907 Stephen McKenna writes in his journal: 'In all reading undertaken for other than historical, critical or purely fancy-feeding and joy-giving purposes, one should merely skim and put by. Some little will always hold, enough to breed thought, not enough to stifle it; what one takes in mingles, instead of crushing down in a hard lump; the reader will be an original, not an echo. The more temptingly a writer lures the more swiftly one should flee him - except, always, for the poets, for the pure artists of poetry and prose. Every writer, who has other ends than to paint pictures and tell stories, is plotting against the freedom of every reader: the thing is to take from him not what he wants to force on you, but what you yourself need: if you don't cheat him he cheats you.'