Just another way of speaking the same language

I MET a woman on Tuesday who insisted on calling Michael Heseltine "Mr Heselteen" so that it rhymed with Ovaltine rather than Newcastle upon Tyne. Perhaps this was her logic, that the spelling suggested "teen", rather than "tine" that rhymes with "time". However, as I've so cleverly demonstrated with my "tine" "time" comparison, there is no logic to English spelling, and everybody knows that Heseltine is not Heselteen. Everybody, that is, except this woman, who repeated it at least four times for good measure, just so that we all got the picture. It was a funny conversation really, because none of the others present corrected her outright, but we did repeat the right pronunciation several times in the hope she'd get the message, which she didn't.

"What did you think of Mr Heselteen's attack on Lady Thatcher?"

"Oh, Michael Heseltine?"

"Yes, Mr Heselteen."

"Well, I suppose Major can't attack Thatcher outright, so he has to get one of his henchmen to do it for him, and Mr Heseltine is the most articulate."

"You think Heselteen's loyal to Major?"

"No one's more loyal than Heseltine."

"I think Heselteen has another agenda. If Major goes, who most wants to step into his shoes?"


"Heselteen, precisely!"

It was a no-win situation. I find people like this quite sad really. She was an elderly lady, still very beautiful, but she seemed to find the world frightening. One sensed that she didn't hold herself in very high regard, and thought that pronouncing the occasional word incorrectly would make her seem more interesting.

I know another person like this, who insists on saying St John's Wood as one would say St John Stevas. Whenever he feels left out of the conversation, you can see him looking tense and nervous, and then he'll suddenly come out with some made-up story about something happening in "Singen's Wood". Then he looks happy again for a bit. Strange really.

IT IS, of course, the beginning of the season of silly pronunciations, as people begin to tell each other which obscure French or Tuscan village they are renting a villa in for their summer holiday. The trick is to announce that you are going on holiday in your perfect English accent, and then suddenly drop in the name of the village in a perfect French or Italian accent, and then suddenly, and there must not be a moment's hesitation, you go back to perfect English to complete the sentence. So "we're renting a place in St Marie de la Mer for two weeks, what what?" becomes "We're renting a place in Saa Machrie doo lah Meechr for two weeks, what what?" I am always tempted to say: "Really, are you going via the Channel Tunnel from Laandan to Pachrie? Myself I'm off to Noo York."

TONY Blair says he doesn't want to tax the rich more, which is good news for me, as I'm quite rich, although it's all new money so it doesn't really count. As Alan Clark would say, I'm the sort of chap who has to buy his furniture. It's difficult to know whether taxing the rich more is a good idea.

Evidence suggests that when the rate for the highest earners was lowered from 60 per cent to 40 per cent the Inland Revenue collected more from that bracket in real terms than it had done previously, presumably because rich people have brought their money home. But world circumstances are different now. Whereas in the good old days when Labour put taxes up us nouveaux riches would scarper abroad nowadays our traditional hideaways aren't so attractive.

Australia won't have us unless we're skilled carpenters, Spain isn't the nice cheap Fascist dictatorship it used to be and South Africa has gone the way of the rest of the Dark Continent. Not that we liked apartheid, of course, but you get the picture. Even the US is no longer as attractive, what with the latest crime statistics showing that over 90 per cent of all Americans are murdered with firearms at least twice a year.

So it looks like we may have to stay put. But what Labour needs to understand is that the rich, once rich, just get richer, even if they do no work at all. This is because they have good accountants, and even the mention of tax rises makes these accountants shovel rich people's money into Swiss bank accounts faster than you can say "only a 5 per cent rise for those on over pounds 200,000 a year". So Tony Blair is probably right. It's a pity we can't have progressive indirect taxes, though, like 40 per cent VAT on posh cars and second homes and Georgio Armani suits and polo ponies. This seems like a good idea to me, but it probably isn't, otherwise someone would have thought of it before.

A BRILLIANT thing happened the other day. I was in a cafe trawling the papers in a desperate attempt to get ideas for this column and overheard two brainy types talking about the war that split Pakistan: "Well the ideas of the, er, first president of Bangladesh, um, what was his name?" said one. The other shrugged. I lowered my paper. "Sheikh Mujib Ali Rachman," I blurted nonchalantly. "Gosh! Thank you," said the surprised brainbox. I gave him a very cool slight smile and returned to my paper. I only know this stunning piece of information because I was a schoolboy of nine at the time of Bangladesh's independence, and for some reason a teacher told us the name of the president, and for some other reason that only schoolboys will understand, we found the name rather appealing, and would whiz around the playground being harrier jump jets shouting: "Sheikh Mujib Ali Rachman! Dvv! Dvv! Dvv!" as we shot each other. Mine was not an unusual school in this way. There is a Scottish pop group called Del Amitri, which a friend of mine is a member of. He tells me that the name comes from the group's lead singer and his chums whizzing around their school playground being hawker hunters, yelling: "Del Amitri, Del Amitri! Dvv! Dvv! Dvv!" Boys are strange things.