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Neil Kinnock, as we told you yesterday, is blooming now he's out of office. But what of his erstwhile deputy, Roy Hattersley? He continues to plough his usual furrow, journalising and lunching, but some of the Labour activists in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, reckon that Roy's new-found leisure could be better spent with them. A copy of the minutes of the constituency Executive Committee's meeting of 10 November reaches us, with an item resolving that Roy Hattersley should be invited to a future meeting 'to discuss his future role and relationship' with the General Committee. It adds, ominously, 'a standing agenda item should henceforth be a report from the MP'. The same minutes report a Hattersley donation of pounds 200 to help with travel costs to last month's demonstration for the miners. A committee member tells us: 'He's like a neglectful parent - can't be bothered to attend, but sends money instead: he's even paying for our Winter Solstice party'. Our informant adds that there was wrath when Hattersley failed to turn up to a meeting on 24 November, saying he had unavoidable parliamentary business - 'and then we all saw him on Newsnight discussing the Royal Family'. Hattersley's office says, quite reasonably, that their man did indeed have a three-line whip that night, and could not feasibly have attended the 7.45pm meeting. Flicking through his diary, Hattersley tells us that he works in Sparkbrook 'normally every other weekend', and that his last effort to do a 'report-back', on a Sunday morning, as agreed, was frustrated because only he showed up.

KEEP this under your fedora. The pounds 240m new home for MI6 at Vauxhall Cross in London will drain spies' waste through four- inch pipes made of copper. (Most folk make do with plastic.) 'You've got to win the pools to get it in copper]' says our man in building supplies, who'd sell you plastic piping at pounds 14.34 (plus VAT) for three metres, copper at pounds 111.28. Why copper-bottomed loos? Can't tell you. Ssssh]


THE new publishing conglomerate born of a merger of Orion and Chapman Books has a cruel disappointment on its hands: Jack Higgins, author of The Eagle Has Landed, and a major Chapman asset, has decided to depart. He has now signed up with Michael Joseph for his next novel, Thunder Point, 'an underwater thriller'. It is thought that Higgins fell out rather badly with Anthony Cheetham, Orion's chairman, when he was managing director of Century Hutchinson. 'It's a sadness for him to be leaving Chapman's,' Ed Victor, Higgins's agent, said yesterday, 'but he does not want to be part of Orion. It is a problem with authors sometimes that they are treated a bit like indentured servants, they can be sold on to a new publisher.'

ANXIOUS that nobody should venture too close to the failed firecracker the IRA left in Tottenham Court Road last night, the police instructed the producers of Jack Dee's Christmas Special to keep the 200-strong audience holed up in the nearby New Empire theatre until the area was safe. Tom Jones was called on to keep everyone happy - which they were, until Tom launched into 'It's not unusual . . .' And just then there was a loud (controlled) explosion.


'Love may be the answer, but sex poses some pretty interesting questions,' was the motion in front of Oxford Union on Tuesday night. Supporting this rather baffling proposition was Jim Bowen, presenter of the ITV quiz show Bullseye ('What do you do, then? 'Er, I'm unemployed, Jim.' 'Smashing'). Mercifully, he spent more time discussing Bullseye than debating: 'They won the car this weekend. Bloody mistake that, the bastards. You can see the faces of their families in the front row saying, 'Take the f---ing money'. Who wants a speedboat when you live in Walsall? People ask me, 'What happens when contestants gamble and lose?' and I tell them, 'We try not to piss ourselves'.' And straight from Gerald Ratner's Good PR Guide, he said that most of his contestants' IQs barely reached room temperature: 'Last year we had 64,000 letters requesting to come on the show, and a lot of them were written in crayon. Because where they came from, they weren't allowed to use sharp implements.' Super, smashing, great.


3 December 1838 Frederic Chopin writes to his friend Julien Fontana from Palma: 'I have been as sick as a dog for the last fortnight. I had caught cold in spite of the 18 degrees centigrade, the roses, the orange trees, the palms and the fig trees. Three doctors - the most celebrated on this island - examined me. One of them sniffed at my spittle, another tapped to find out where I spat from, the third felt me, listening to how I spat. The first said I was going to die, the second that I was actually dying, the third that I was dead already. I had great difficulty in escaping from their bleedings, vesicatories and pack-sheets, but thanks be to Providence, I am myself again. But my illness was unfavourable to the Preludes, which will reach you God knows when.'