It's no wonder that the poor fellow is so odd

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The Independent Online
REPUBLICANISM was everywhere last week. There was a big feature in the Guardian about a seditious dinner at which 40 academics, lawyers and businessmen plotted to do away with the royals. And there was a programme on BBC2 in which Professor Stephen Haseler put the case for turning the Windsors into just another excessively rich family. Suggestions for future presidents included Anne Laurence, sometime princess, and Richard Branson, a president in woollies.

Republicans can muster many and varied arguments in support of their case, among which the pounds 5m spent annually on the Duke of Edinburgh's lone cruise (except for the 270 staff) round the Caribbean seems reasonably telling. But I am increasingly convinced that the overriding reason for being a republican is that the current system is grossly unfair to the Prince of Wales. For many years now, the admirable tendency in this country has been to try to minimise the impact of birth on a person's future. The Welfare State, Thatcherism, John Major's classless society have all inched us towards meritocracy, but all, equally, have passed the Prince of Wales by. He has been entirely left out, discriminated against in an almost racist fashion.

Merely because of his birth, poor Charles has been subjected to seeing his parents only rarely, and then to having to join the armed forces. Supposing he hadn't wanted to? Nothing he could have done. Then he had to marry a virgin, even though he didn't like her much and apparently liked someone else very much indeed. Nowadays other people stop talking when he comes into a room, and become creepily deferential. He's allowed to interest himself in only boring subjects. And he is the only person I can think of whose career depends on his mother dying. No wonder he's odd.

POOR John Major: he hasn't even been able to organise his leadership crisis properly. Other politicians have a leadership crisis, and pouff] they're gone; one minute they're at some European summit, the next they're smudging a tear from their cheeks and leaving Downing Street for the last time. John Major, apparently confused about the appropriate season for leadership crises (autumn, as he should know) has started his several months before the due date. As a result, we will now have to read about it all through the Easter recess, the Euro elections, and probably the summer holidays as well. There will be yet more fervent declarations of support from Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine, and no end of 'secret' right-wing breakfasts.

Perhaps the problem is the lack of elder statesmen (the sort who used to be described as 'men in grey suits', though I don't know why, because politicians rarely wear anything else) who might pack him off to the lecture circuit. The Thatcherite Lords, Tebbit and Young, don't quite have the authority somehow, and Lord Howe was too closely involved with another leadership crisis. Ted Heath is felt to be embittered and a bit of a nuisance. Lord Whitelaw, who was once grey-suit-in-chief, no longer seems able to get through: he tried to tell them the Criminal Justice Bill wouldn't make it through the Lords, but they carried on anyway.

Clubbable Conservatives, who ate well and drank lots of brandy, and hunted and shot and were generally back-slapping, are in sad decline in the new professional Tory party. This may not seem like a great loss, but they provided useful, wordly ballast, and we will certainly be missing them when John Major is still having a leadership crisis in August.

I HAVE held off saying this until now because I don't want to sound like a crusty old colonel with declining powers. But I am going to smash up my kitchen unless someone does something about Gerry Anderson. A fatwa would be a start.

In case anybody has happily managed to avoid him, Gerry Anderson hosts a daily programme called Anderson Country on Radio 4, and is the subject of much derisory publicity and hundreds of vitriolic listeners' letters. The show - a magazine programme with a phone-in - has been attacked as tabloid radio. But this is not what bothers me about it; I am fond of trivia. What bothers me is him. Him and his non sequiturs, and his grammar. Or not, as he would say. 'Well, let's have a look at washing machines. Washing machines are always white,' is how he began one item last week. After five minutes of absolutely nothing about washing machines ('When you think about it . . . all kitchen appliances - I'm trying to think about it here - they're all white') he wrapped up: 'Just a last question: do you think we, as people, are hygienic in the kitchen, even though we want to have everything white?' What is this man talking about? And why?

Every item is like this, except that some are worse (the Anderson way of talking is catching). Some are scripted, although unfortunately not in anything resembling sentences, but he can't read, and takes breaths in all the wrong places. Sometimes he is required to include serious subjects. He asked someone to list the Lake poets last week. 'Well, they sound like a parcel of rogues,' he said at the end. I was at screaming point. 'No]' I screeched dementedly at the radio. 'They sound like poets] Poets' names] A list of poets' names]' Awful to think this is happening up and down the country.

NEXT YEAR I think I shall take the children to Barbados for the Easter holidays. It can hardly be more expensive than staying here. This week they have been to the zoo ( pounds 4 to park the car, pounds 5.50 entrance fee for each child, pounds 6 for their nanny); on a day trip to Kent ( pounds 8 petrol, pounds 15 for lunch, and pounds 7 for hot chocolate and scones); swimming ( pounds 8.60); ice skating ( pounds 9.10); the cinema ( pounds 15); and to a party (costumes pounds 10, present pounds 4). Parents are always complaining about how sad it is that children can't play football in the street any more. They pretend they are worried about the loss of a sense of community and dribbling skills, but I suspect, actually, it's the large amounts of money.

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