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Decline and fall, or Farce Majeure?

HUNDREDS of you replied to our request for a phrase to capture the horrors of this autumn. We asked Peter Mandelson, former Labour Party communications director, now MP for Hartlepool, to give judgement.

'The test of a memorable phrase is whether it gets picked up and repeated in pubs (and wine bars, in the case of Independent readers). But politicians have also to feel comfortable using it on TV. That's why the 'winter of discontent' was so successful and why one of the better entries, 'British Bummer Time' (anonymous from Bognor Regis) won't really do. My favourite entry is probably too intellectual to catch on, but it's the cleverest: 'Farce Majeure' (Michael Birt). Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister's name features in a lot of the entries. 'The Major Disaster' (M Winstone, W Dunne, A Wells) sums it up nicely, but if the grey man has to be in it, why not go for the full name with 'Major Balls-Up' (W Philpott)? Perhaps not suitable for early evening viewing. 'Bitter Harvest' (P Barden) is good because it is harsh on the Tories and doesn't sound as self-pitying as the most popular entry, 'Autumn of Despair' (W Armstrong, D Gibson, G Barbour, P Bannister, K Patterson). Perhaps this comes nearest to a winner as it most accurately captures the nation's mood. On the other hand, what about 'The Decline and Fall of '92' (not entered)?'

HEADING up the M11, and worried about the new cameras trying to catch you speeding? Here's a solution - simply keep an eye open for John MacGregor (Transport Secretary, so he knows a thing or two) on his way to his Norfolk South constituency, and follow his tail closely. It should be foolproof.

Comet cover THE news from the Anglo-Australian observatory that everything is quite likely to come to an end on 14 August 2126, when Comet Swift-Tuttle comes crashing into us at 60 kilometres per second, does not worry David Icke, the prophet and former Coventry City keeper. 'My information is that the comet will miss the planet.' But the comet will, however, 'speed up the vibrations of subatomic energy fields of which we are all a part.' Comet Swift-Tuttle (named after Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, who saw it in July 1862) does not concern Mission for the Coming Days Church in South Korea at all: the 10,000-strong congregation confidently expects to ascend to heaven before midnight tomorrow. That's 3pm our time. Royal Insurance yesterday told us its HomeShield 2 Gold household insurance provides cover (not literally) from all aerial objects - 'so long as they're not directed by an alien'. But a large number of claims could cause trouble for Lloyd's names.

BETTER ways of saying 'you're sacked', part two. The Health Services Journal tells us that service personnel officers are encouraged to use 'portfolio management'. As in: 'I'm afraid you no longer fit our . . .'

Rocky's wrath ONE Robert 'Rocky' Ryan telephones in high dudgeon to complain about Sunday night's BBC play, Trust Me, a comedy about an inveterate fantasist and newspaper hoaxer. Which is, of course, a pretty good description of old Rocky. He's outraged: 'Even Charlie Richardson - you know, the so-called gangster - rang and said 'Bugger me, Rocky, it's you.' And it was] The bloke even had my catchphrase - 'It's all right, they're from the News of the World.' ' Rocky took particular exception to one stunt pulled by Alfred Molina's character - posing as a mountaineer, he sold a tabloid a story of orgies and drug taking on the upper slopes of Everest. 'That's my story]' says Rocky, 'I did it in 1978 with the Press Association - 'cept then it was about sexual deviants up the Amazon.' Rocky is seeking legal advice: 'I've got George Carman lined up. Oh, all right: Helena Kennedy.' The BBC says: 'Trust Me is a work of fiction. And we haven't had a writ yet.'

CONSERVATIVE Europhobes have adopted 'Say no to no say' as their latest rallying call (the slogan cropped up on anti-federalist carrier bags at Brighton). Sounds familiar? It first appeared in the advertising campaign to save Ken Livingstone's GLC from abolition in 1986.

A DAY LIKE THIS

27 October 1921 Bertolt Brecht writes in his diary: 'Marianne and I had an argument about taste. She stood up for tarts' taste, which I wrote off. Most of the time what tarts are clothing is their physique, not their bodies. They stylise their face till it looks like a flower shop, it looks as if they had pulled it on like a glove, they aren't visions so much as displays. Instead of this, clothes ought to look improvised and amateurish, a bit relaxed yet still orderly, and mainly so out of politeness. One shouldn't see the clothes but the woman. Tarts' clothes are professional cliches, draperies without imagination or humour, something clear and tangible; it's as though a dress had an independent life - a lovely dress rather than the dress of a lovely woman.'

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