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Chrissie Maher, director of the Plain English Campaign, was in London yesterday, furiously plugging National Plain English Day and pouring vitriol on her favourite enemy, the 'gobbledegook monster'. How, we wonder, does Maher fund her commendable crusade? It turns out that the campaign is a commercial organisation employing 10 people to edit documents and run training courses. Three years ago it introduced the Crystal Mark stamp for 'Clarity approved by the Plain English Campaign'. The mark, reproduced at the bottom of documents, has been eagerly seized on by companies keen for the PR kudos of 'winning' this accolade. What both the campaign and the firms too often neglect to mention is that the award is available to anyone, after the Campaign has approved the 'clarity' of their prose, who coughs up pounds 500, plus VAT. Last month the 100th Crystal Mark was awarded to Lloyds Bank for its 'Banking with Us' booklet. Like previous 'winners' including Eagle Star and Yorkshire Electricity, Lloyds' press release proudly announced that the bank had been 'awarded' the mark and explained that the 'award is given (our italics) to publications which are written for the readers' benefit'. The campaign's press release likewise omitted any mention of exchange of money. Jonathan Allman, the campaign's 'editor', yesterday said the campaign literature about the Crystal Mark was changed 'last year' to make it 'absolutely clear that the mark costs pounds 500 for each document. We have never called it an award. If firms use that term, we slap their wrists.'

DISAPPOINTED by Michael Johnson's failure to qualify for the 200m final last night? Here's a crumb of comfort. It makes the writer of the annoying sports shoe ad, reading 'you have just passed Michael Johnson, which is more than most athletes will be doing this summer', look pleasingly foolish.


Bad news. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the country, and probably in charge of the economy. A passenger on an Ipswich to London train yesterday morning saw him shouldering through second class, red ministerial brief case in hand, young daughter in tow. Perhaps it was this last detail that calmed the more violent-minded passengers, many of them on their way to scrape a living in the ruined City, and saved Lamont from a citizen's arrest, or lynching, or worse. We put this news to the Treasury, which did some back- of-the-envelope calculations and concluded that the information was 'quite possibly true'. Like the news of economic recovery? 'Oh, we can't get into discussing sightings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer,' blustered the civil servant, 'it's slightly ludicrous.' Is it? Any tales of further sightings of the Lost Chancellor will be welcomed here.

THE decision of the Terrence Higgins Trust to use Antonia de Sancha to promote its safe sex message provoked a cough of disbelief from Baroness Birk, former Labour minister and a patron of the trust. 'How inappropriate, using someone purely for their publicity value. Now if David Mellor had Aids, then that would be different . . .'


The Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates offered a great prize on his show yesterday: two tickets for the Olympic Games closing ceremony. Listeners had to provide an answer to the question: 'Where does the Olympic flame orginate from?' Doesn't everyone know the torch is lit beside Baron Pierre de Coubertin's monument at Olympia, site of the ancient games, in the eastern Peloponnese of Greece? Not Bates, nor apparently, the winner, one Regina Kelly from Coventry, who confidently answered 'Mount Olympus'. This massif of crystalline schist is indeed in Greece, but is unfortunately a windswept plateau 200 miles north of Olympia where you'd be pressed to light a cigarette, let alone an Olympic torch. So could we have the the prize instead? 'No,' said a very unreasonable spokes-DJ, protesting that two experts had given 'Mount Olympus' as the answer. They need something to enhance their performance.


6 August 1840 John Wilson Croker writes to George Barrow about Louis Napoleon's attempted uprising: 'The story is so extravagant that I am almost ashamed to tell you what looks so like a fable; but I will relate to you what I heard. Our avant courrier left Calais about 2am to order horses for us, but on his arrival at Boulogne about 5, he found the town in commotion; Louis Bonaparte had landed on the shore about 4.30, with about 65 followers. They first marched on the upper town, and attempted the barracks, but the troops shut the gates against; then they assaulted a corps de garde; but they failed here too, and then seemed to have given up the attempt very pusillanimously, and to have hastened to retreat to their vessels. Being fired at from the shore, the boat capsized; the Prince, as they call Bonaparte, was picked up.'