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How to needle the commissioners

LORD O'HAGAN, the jolly MEP for Devon, is about as Euro-friendly a Tory as you'll find. Though he sometimes has a funny way of showing it. Charles O'Hagan's current game is pestering the commissioners over their plans to poke their noses into yet more corners of our daily lives where they have no business. Problem is the corners are places where the EC has hitherto shown no interest in nose-poking. O'Hagan's most recent approach concerned plans to harmonise the length of pine needles on Christmas trees. Previously he has demanded information on plans to introduce standard sizes of keyholes, to put Jacques Delors' head on EC stamps, and on the vexed matter of whether caber-tossing breaches EC health and safety regulations. The pine needle question is, he says, a genuine response to a concerned constituent's query - 'although I admit that some of the questions I am asking the commission are ones I have dreamt up'. But, by awakening these fears, don't you just send more people into the embrace of the Europhobes? Not at all: O'Hagan insists that his questions are helpful. 'The commission loves it: my questions help to clear up some of the ludicrous ideas in the public's minds.' Commissioners are, however, becoming short with O'Hagan. Martin Bangemann, the industry commissioner, recently answered an O'Hagan query about the existence of plans to standardise the size and design of garden gnomes with a flat 'No]'

WHILE BBC high-ups have been locked in conference with their accountants, it is good to learn that Liz Forgan, newly arrived from Channel 4 to run Radio 4, has been keeping herself busy learning her trade on a humble radio editing course.

Phoney war

AND, while the EC plans to harmonise MEPs' mental states, five German psychology students have been trying to test whether their compatriots really are the biddable conformists everyone makes out. According to Der Spiegel, they stuck signs saying 'Men only' and 'Women only' on two adjacent telephone boxes in Trier, Rheinland. They were disappointed to find that, of the sample of 69 people, 75 per cent of the men and all but one of the women used the designated box. The one rebellious woman turned out to be French. She was heard muttering: 'Only the Germans would think of this.' Still, in Britain someone would doubtless have vandalised both telephones and run off with the cash boxes.

IS THAT Kenneth Baker playing himself in Channel 4's dramatisation of the birth of the poll tax, to be screened next Wednesday? No, though it looks remarkably like him. It is in fact ITN's political editor, Michael Brunson, a dead ringer for the former Home Secretary after a load of Brylcreem had been applied to his head. Told of this, Mr Baker says - incomprehensibly - 'Pearls before swine]'

Beating a path

WE ALL know that the child victim of violence becomes, all too often, the adult perpetrator of it. Take Case K, a man prominent, though not wholly successful, in public life. Early in his career he took to threatening his opponents during debates in public places ('Step outside]', he would say). He used to boast that at a conference in Brighton he once 'beat the shit' out of a member of his party in a toilet. Now we learn that when he was a 12-year-old schoolboy in Wales, a gang of older boys would daily hit K on the train to school with a leather strap: 'I was subject to the tradition of being held down and hit with the wooden knot at the end - 40, 50, 60 times.' All because he was 'tubby and ginger'. The bullying only stopped after 'I hit back, literally'. In most cases the talents K learnt fending off those school bullies have been useful. But not always. Two years ago he had a late-night fracas at his Ealing home and ended up flat on his back in a hedge, his feet indelicately flailing in the air.

A NEW title from the US publisher Loompanics offers help in these troubled times. Sell Yourself to Science: the Complete Guide to Selling Your Organs, Body Fluids, Bodily Functions and Being a Human Guinea Pig seems a snip at dollars 16.95.

A DAY LIKE THIS

4 March 1892 Alice James dictates on her deathbed the final entry in her journal: 'I am being ground slowly on the grim grindstone of physical pain, and on two nights I had almost asked for K's lethal dose. I feel sure that it can't be possible but that the bewildered little hammer that keeps me going will very shortly see the decency of ending his distracted career; however this may be, physical pain, however great, ends in itself and falls away like dry husks from the mind, whilst moral discords and nervous horrors sear the soul. These last, Katharine has completely under the control of her rhythmic hand, so I go no longer in dread. Oh, the wonderful moment when I felt myself floated for the first time in the deep sea of divine cessation, and saw all the dear old mysteries and miracles vanish into vapour]'

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