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Those sophisticated Australians, the inhabitants of the offshore islands called New Zealand, have been very upset by the American travel writer Paul Theroux. Jim Bolger, the New Zealand Prime Minister, called him 'rude and uncouth' yesterday, and warned New Zealanders against meeting him. This is the result of a new Theroux book, published here in September, with the jaunty title Happy Isles of Oceania - Paddling the Pacific. In it he describes a meal with the innocuous Dame Catherine Tizard, Governor-General of the archipelago since 1990. 'Dame Cath had an odd, coarse way of eating,' writes Theroux. 'She scraped food on her fork, but before she heaved (sic) it she nudged more on to the fork with her thumb. And after she ate the forkful she licked her thumb. Once I caught her grinning at me but she was not grinning. She was trying to dislodge a bit of food that had found its way between her teeth and, still talking to me and grinning, she began to pick her teeth. Having freed the food from her teeth she glanced at it and pushed it into her mouth.' Between tooth picks Dame Catherine told Theroux that she had become sick of politics and decided to take the Governor-General job because there was a nice pension deal attached. Appalled at these slurs, the Wellington paper the Dominion, has drenched Theroux in vitriol. 'He apes the grubbiest of gossip columnists,' says the paper.

A NEW novel arrives from Secker & Warburg called Life-size by Jenefer Shute, an anorexic's horrifying account of the progress of her disease. On the front there's a plug from the novelist Fay Weldon: 'Terrific] I devoured it at a sitting.'


The contest to succeed Simon Jenkins as editor of the Times is so wide open that even Ladbroke's aren't prepared to offer us odds. ('There are so many potential candidates, it would be impossible to form a book,' a spokesbookie tells us.) Our man in the bunker puts up John Bryant, one of the paper's deputy editors, Peter Stothard, another deputy editor, and Jonathan Fenby, a deputy editor with the Guardian this time, as the worthiest contenders. Rupert Murdoch is reported to be eager for someone a little less couth to shake up the title: Roy Greenslade, formerly of the Daily Mirror is an idea, and Murdoch might enjoy the cruel joke of imposing Andrew Neil, of the Sunday Times, on the sensitive folk at the former Thunderer. But why not appoint a bruiser from one of the more robust antipodean titles? How about Piers Akerman, currently editor-in- chief on Murdoch's Herald Sun in Australia? Akerman is chiefly known from a stint on the Times's foreign news desk, where he is said to have entertained colleagues with a trick using a telephone, a good overarm action and an offending underling.

MEANWHILE, Liz Smith, the Times's fashion editor, has been administering a good kicking to herself. It was only last week, and after much thought, that she informed Simon Jenkins she didn't like the way her space had been cut back, and resigned. Jenkins could have told her to hold on for a week or two.


Tam Dalyell was prompted to thoughts of his last trip to Czechoslovakia in the Commons yesterday, as he heard Robert Key, the junior National Heritage minister, expound on the problem of stolen Czech antiques and religious artefacts entering Britain. On a trip to southern Bohemia with the all-party arts committee, Dalyell, Lord Crathorne, Gerald Bowden and Patrick Cormack got off the coach to have a look at an enchanting old church in the village of Dubrahnze. No sooner had they entered it, when the doors were locked fast behind them - the priest and the caretaker thought they had caught a team of Western icon market sharks red-handed. It took some discussion before the men were accepted as nothing more rapacious than a pack of British legislators on a freebie.

AND if you happen to see any boy (or girl) racers wandering suspiciously around their roadsters clutching bottles of clear nail varnish - worry not. This, we're told, is an infallible way of beating the new police anti-speeding spy cameras - a varnished numberplate will reflect the camera's flash. Cling film is said to have the same effect. PS: Can any of you tell us whether this works? A DAY LIKE THIS

14 July 1977 Kenneth Tynan records the last day of shooting of Mel Brooks's film High Anxiety: 'Temperature 90 degrees, atmosphere smog-laden. Only performers are Brooks and large flock of trained pigeons. Sequence in rehearsal is parody of The Birds, stressing aspect of avian behaviour primly ignored by Hitchcock: Pigeons pursue fleeing Brooks across park, subjecting him to bombardment of bird droppings. Brooks's 100-yard dash is covered by tracking camera, while grey-haired technicians atop motorised crane squirt bird excreta (simulated by mayonnaise and chopped spinach) from height of 30 feet. Barry Levinson observes to me: 'We have enough equipment to put a man on the moon, and it's all being used to put bird droppings on Brooks.' '