Mad, bad and fully qualified

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'THE TROUBLE is, the more you knew Beverly Allitt the more normal she appeared in every way,' said Mrs Eileen Jobson, mother of Allitt's lesbian lover, Tracy. Allitt stayed with the Jobsons for four months while the attacks at Grantham Hospital were under investigation. During those four months Allitt left a knife stuck in Mrs Jobson's pillow, tried to poison her dog, stole money from her purse, set fire to her curtains and poured bleach on her carpet. (She was acquitted of trying to murder Mrs Jobson's son, Jonathan, by giving him insulin.)

The knife in the pillow was, Mrs Jobson thought, 'quite sinister' but still, she told the Sun: 'It never once occurred to me then that if she was doing these things here she could have done the things at the hospital.' Obviously everyone has their own definitions of 'normal', but Mrs Jobson's does rather stretch the imagination: I would dearly love to know what kind of behaviour she considers abnormal.

Similarly, is it 'normal' for student nurses to be allowed to qualify after smearing excrement on the door of a nursing home, leaving ditto in the bath and the fridge and cooking a lump of it under the grill till it bursts into flames? Is it normal for them to take time off every week to pester casualty with a new set of self-inflicted wounds? What would you have to do as a trainee nurse in Grantham to be told that you could never, ever, make the grade? I shudder in retrospect to think that, when hiring childminders or babysitters, I always asked the agency for qualified nurses on the grounds that this would, I thought, guarantee their sanity. It is quite outrageous that the Grantham inquiry should be conducted in private: the Government owes it to the nursing profession, let alone the poor parents, to investigate every possible aspect of this case, starting with how Beverly Allitt ever managed to qualify.

AND TALKING of qualifications, it has often puzzled me that 'SAS-trained' is generally used as a term of approbation and that directors of adventure holiday camps, like the one in Dorset where the teenage canoeists died, advertise their SAS background as though it were some sort of recommendation. To me, the term is equivalent to 'barking psychopath - avoid at all costs' but I would have had trouble, till now, in justifying my prejudice.

Let me therefore quote Sir Ranulph Fiennes's memories of his SAS training, as told to Ross Benson in the Daily Express. Sir Ranulph recounted that as an 'initiative test' he was ordered to steal pounds 186,000 from the local branch of Barclays Bank. He managed to con a bank employee into giving him the security plans of the premises, but then left them in a restaurant, whence they were handed in to the police. As a result, police forces in two counties had their weekend leave cancelled while they checked all the banks in the area. Sir Ranulph added: 'The final irony was the SAS thought I had left the plans behind on purpose to cause trouble and, because they like that sort of person, I passed.' I rest my case.

ACCORDING to Today, Kitty Kelley has given up her plan of writing a royal book 'in the wake of concerted opposition from the powerful Buckingham Palace courtiers'. Really? I met her at an Esquire lunch last week and she seemed pretty hot on the trail. Although she affected not to understand British titles (she kept referring to Lord Palumbo as 'the Lord'), she was asking me some very beady questions about obscure former ladies-in-waiting. So dazzling was her charm and so shameless her flattery, I was soon babbling phone numbers, ready to divulge everything I knew. I reckon there is no danger of her being easily deterred.

Meanwhile the big problem facing all royal book writers, myself included (yes, I am writing one, but very slowly so don't all rush to the bookshops), is that we are running out of titles. The absolutely ideal one that everyone wanted was The Fall of the House of Windsor, but that was snapped up last year by Nigel Blundell and Susan Blackhall and thrown away on a completely forgettable book. Consequently, A N Wilson was forced to call his offering The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor - a title that would make more sense if he had anything to say about the House of Windsor's rise. Stephen Haseler has stuck his neck out with The End of the House of Windsor, while Anthony Holden has gone all soppy and purple with The Tarnished Crown. However, the tautology prize for naffest title of the year goes, unquestionably, to Lady Longford for Royal Throne. I shall call mine Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Decline and Fall and Probable End of the Royal House of Windsor. That should cover it.

THERE IS A lot too much rus in our neck of the urbe these days. Perhaps it's because we're on a hill and on the flight path for Hampstead Heath, but our garden teems with inappropriate fauna. I have already mentioned marauding packs of non-hibernating squirrels; they have now been joined by a sinister party of tea-time owls, who start going too-whoo at about 4pm, totally ignoring all the rules in the bird books about only hunting at night. Then there is the army of magpies who head-bang all day on the roof and the dawn chorus of (I think) blackbirds who compete in imitating car alarms. The birds you are supposed to see in London, namely sparrows, starlings, and feral pigeons, seem to have packed up entirely, and the commonest species in our garden are now magpies and jays, with surprisingly frequent flurries of long-tailed tits. The other day my husband got up on a stepladder to clear a stack of ivy and came across an old bird's nest, fairly small, maybe a robin's, about 7 feet from the ground, which was entirely filled by a large, fresh doughnut - exactly the sort that we buy every Saturday. This confirms my suspicion that the squirrels are coming in through the catflap and raiding the kitchen, though my husband maintains that a bird must have dropped it. Some bird]