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Bit sniffy over a health warning

AS THE drinking of port leads to gout, so (according to some experts) is snuff liable to cause cancer, although Britain's 750,000 addicts are unlikely to agree. But within the next few days, the addicts will be told by the Tobacco Advisory Council that their snuff tins will be forced to carry the warning that 'tobacco seriously damages health', from 1 January. After 300 years of peaceful sniffing, the august group of men and women represented by the British Snuff Society is on the point of


The society, composed of Britain's remaining 12 snuff manufacturers, who meet 'from time to time, wherever we feel like it', is proud of its product which, the makers say, is distinct from foreign snuff, which contains additives. 'We use just tobacco and essential oils,' says Chris Mercer, of G Smith & Sons - London's only snuff shop, particularly renowned for its pungent Grand Opera and Irish High Toast brands. 'In 50 years I have never encountered anyone who was ill from it.'

Doubtless the late Magnus Pyke and James Robertson Justice, both snuff takers, would have agreed, although, it seems, the younger generation is less vociferous. 'Current 'takers' don't like broadcasting their habit,' says Arthur Albin, secretary and president of the society. 'None the less, increasingly those working in no-smoking environments are turning to it . . . and there are still takers in the House of Commons.'

LAST April I noted the disappearance of a plaque on a park bench in Stanmore, Middlesex; not a surprising event, given the name (Myra Hindley) on the inscription. Most unfair because Ms Hindley was a mere Stanmore Park rambler who had probably never been anywhere near Saddleworth Moor in her life. To avoid any further misunderstanding, a new plaque has been attached to the bench with the woman's full name: Myra Nahum Hindley.

Root of plant life

FOLLOWING in the footsteps of William Donaldson (aka Henry Root) is an American businessman, James C Wade III, who has just published a collection of hoax letters and some of the rather po- faced replies. For example, Wade asked the Natural History Museum whether a person could evolve directly from a plant and, if so, 'would the person show any signs (strange complexion, roots, etc)?'. The museum was not aware of any evidence to support this idea, the Keeper of Botany, J F M Cannon, solemnly replied.

Equally solemn was a Swiss vet, asked by Wade whether he could extend the nose of his dog by 2ft 'in order to reach the ground and assist him in bringing me my slippers, the newspaper, etc'. The vet said he would get on with the job although he did ask for some assistance. 'I need the exact weight of your slippers to prepare the implants to build up an adequate neck.'

AS THE countdown to Christmas begins, Physiotherapy magazine has alerted its readers to the dates of public holidays, pointing out on its industrial relations page that 'any physiotherapy work during the holiday period should be emergency work only'. However it adds, rather surprisingly, that 'this year, Christmas Day and Boxing Day will fall on a Saturday. This is causing some confusion . . .'

The party's over

WITH John Birt's purge on BBC wastefulness continuing apace, the latest excess to get under Birt's skin is the number of senior executives parading themselves at the Conservative Party conference. The D-G has bashed out a memo (as yet unseen by the BBC press office) that points a finger at those executives partying in Blackpool who were not involved in producing programmes. Meanwhile, the man they were all there to pillory, John Major, was his usual abstemious self. Staying at the Imperial Hotel, he was asked by the manager whether he had any special requests for his room. 'Yes please,' replied the PM. 'A week's supply of Twiglets.'


13 October 1870 The Rev Francis Kilvert writes in his diary: 'Webb emptied the cesspool, and shot the contents into a deep pit in the garden. Yesterday evening Richard Williams sent his little boy Johnny into the garden to pick up the pears fallen in the high wind. Some had fallen into the pit half full of night soil and lime which was all in a soft slabby state. The boy, not knowing what was in the pit, jumped in to pick them up. Immediately he began to sink and was getting deeper and deeper by his struggles. He was too much frightened or too stupid to cry out and in a few minutes would have been smothered, if rain had not come on heavily and driven Webb into the garden to fetch his mackintosh when he found the boy lying on his side half immerged, floundering and struggling deeper just like a fly in a basin of treacle. He was struggling silently and holding fast to three pears.'