Not even this psychic panacea could get the bloody man to accept his fate

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The Independent Online
A friend who lives at the fashionable end of Islington got a bang on the knocker the other day. Two tough-looking bikers stood there, all leathers and jeans, and explained they were policemen. Could they, they said, ask him about a stakeout? The classy, Ming-and-Meissen antique shop across the road from his penthouse flat was being targeted by local ram- raiding villains, they said, and they needed to use his front room as a surveillance point from which they could organise instant retaliation. Fair enough, said my friend, always glad to help the pigs (he's a reformed student radical).

So the next evening, three of them piled into his living room, bustled him out of the way, set up a camera, zoom lens, ultraviolet filter, tape- recorder, headphones, you name it, and hung out by the curtains, moving discreetly so to conceal the fact that a troika of enormous flatfeet were lurking inside.

Knowing the low habits of the Metropolitan Police (well he'd seen Prime Suspect I, II and III), my chum stopped off at Oddbins for a six-pack of Tennants Extra (the ones with pictures of foxy babes in swimwear on the side) and a pack of pork scratchings for the officers to while away the evening.

Back at the flat, they were settling in nicely, cameras trained, radios crackling. But when they saw the cans of Tennants, they all but laughed in his face. And from out of a capacious tote-bag, they drew two bottles of rather superior Burgundy and three glasses. After a bit of murmuring and sluicing ("mmm, nice oaky finish, not as plummy as your usual pinot noir ... ") they drank contentedly, conversation turned to left-wing politics and, by the time my friend left to stay over at his girlfriend's, the place resembled less a stakeout than a soiree at Granita. When he returned, the flat was spotless. Later, two more bottles of posh Burgundy arrived as a thank-you.

Can this really be the new face of the Met? Not quite. The cops turned out to be from a neighbouring Regional Crime Squad, who consider themselves something of an elite corps, especially in comparison with their thick- ear London counterparts. Why, they never travel anywhere without a corkscrew and a copy of Hugh Johnson's Wine Guide ...

Talking of drinks, have you seen that irritating roadside advertisement, suggesting, as if you cared, "What to do whilst the Wexford settles ... " and encouraging you to try a pint of the "Irish Cream Ale" named after the eastern county of the republic. It arrived only a week or so after the hoardings went up for something called Kilkenny, also advertised as "Irish Cream Ale". Both of them follow a campaign to launch Caffreys, yet another "Irish Cream Ale" that, I understand, makes you terribly drunk very quickly. "Caffreys" is not, as far as I know, an Irish county, nor even an Irish town, but I expect it will soon be renamed "Cavan" or "Donegal", if only to compete with the imminent arrival of Limerick Lager, Ballyhaunis Bitter and Lisdoonvarna Lite. All the new drinks are beery variants of Guinness stout, presumably for people who can't stand drinking black liquids, and I've no quarrel with that. I just wish someone could point out to gullible Celtiphiles that there was never such a thing as "Irish Cream Ale" until this marketing war started; that Irish people generally drink either Guinness or Smithwicks or whiskey, but nothing else, and that I'm willing to bet a fiver to a firkin that you could scour the streets of Wexford and Kilkenny without discovering a thimbleful of either eponymous brew in the hands of the locals. There now. Pint of Liffey, please, Seamus.

Amid all the exciting revelations about the Duchess of York this week - her interest in alfresco groinal conjunctions with Texan millionaires, her extraordinary hope that the Prince of Wales "would not go on much longer in this life" - it saddens me that not everybody feels wholly convinced of the bona fides of Mrs Vasso Kortesis, the talented visionary who has so helped relieve the duchess of psychological stress by tape-recording her secrets and then flogging them to the Daily Mirror. The Times, for instance, with its usual pooh-poohing philistine stuffiness, refers to her ungallantly as "a self-styled clairvoyant". How can they be so blind? A glance at those photographs of Madame Vasso sitting demurely under a blue plastic pyramid - looking somewhere between Mrs Gertrude Shilling, the Ascot big-hat lady, and the madame of an extremely small brothel - would convince anyone of her sincerity. As for her prediction that the Duchess would meet a "stranger" who would be "tall, dark and handsome", well, it's almost frightening in its plausibility. But the clincher comes from an ex-client of Mrs Kortesis, one Theresa Artigues, who paid the Greek oracle pounds 6,000 to bring back her bolted boyfriend Tito. The oracle gave her six mystic candles (from John Lewis, pounds 1.99 each) and told her to burn them in her bathroom as she stood naked in front of a mirror invoking Tito's name. This treatment cost pounds 1,000 (plus pounds 30 for the candles). When the unreliable Tito failed to reappear, Mrs K gave her a black bath-plug and told her to sit cross-legged in the bath burning a bit of it every evening until it vanished. The bill for this was pounds 500. Tragically, not even this psychic panacea could get the bloody man to accept his fate. "I don't believe Vasso has any real psychic powers," says Ms Artigues now. Possibly not. But she's got a wonderful sense of humour.

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