Oh for the good old days of inflation]

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OH HAPPY DAYS - inflation could be on the way back. It's the only sort of economy I've ever understood or enjoyed; I still thrill to the idea of people pushing wheelbarrows of banknotes to buy a loaf of bread. I became a serious consumer just when inflation was breaking into a gallop and believe me, it was fun, fun, fun.

My parents had brought me up on tiresome lectures about thrift and how neither a borrower nor a lender you should be. They actually said it was immoral to get into debt. And then, yippee, just when I left home and really needed it, along came Access to take the waiting out of wanting. Instant gratification] Open sesame]

Moreover, my friends who understood economics reassured me that it was really sensible to buy the flat, car, dress I fancied because it would cost twice as much next year. Then, the pay rises] Socking great 10 per cents or even 12 per cents delivered automatically every year without a quibble. Talk about morale-boosting: it made you believe your career was taking off like a rocket, however much your duller friends told you it was really standing still. Apparently there were a few pensioners who didn't like it, but old people will always find something to whine about.

Let me preach here my simple guide to economics: it is always better to spend than to save; anything that politicians tell you to the contrary is a lie; actually, anything at all that politicians tell you is a lie; anything that is good for the City is bad for you; anything that requires co-operation from the French or Germans is a complete non-starter; inflation is the best thing that ever happened to you.

The only thing wrong with this argument is that the Daily Mail said essentially the same thing on Friday - 'Happiness is a Falling Pound' - so there must be a fatal flaw in it somewhere but I can't think what.

LAST WEEK I asked if any reader would care to lend me a chauffeur-driven Mercedes for a while (I was trying to make a point about David Mellor's attitude to favours), and blow me, a reader took me up on it. Dr Leslie Morrish, consultant psychiatrist of the Cardinal Clinic, Windsor, wrote to offer me the loan of a lovely little 1961 white Mercedes 230 SL with himself as chauffeur.

Unfortunately we at the Independent on Sunday have much stricter rules than mere Cabinet ministers about accepting freebies (we aren't allowed to, under any circumstances) so I had to decline, but I rang Dr Morrish to thank him anyway and to ask whether it was the brilliance of my prose or the beauty of my photograph that had moved him to generosity. Amazingly, it was neither: he wanted me to use my column to publicise the plight of small private psychiatric clinics like his own now that the private health insurers are trying to exclude psychiatric care from their policies.

Pish and tush] It is quite extraordinary how some people imagine that they can influence you with gifts when as David Mellor and I both know it is perfectly possible to accept free holidays, Mercedes, flats, etc without ever giving anything in return.

Meanwhile what, I wonder, can we do for the poor Mellor family? It is really shameful that, even on a free holiday, when all his family's flights, accommodation and meals are paid for, a British Cabinet minister still has to rely on his hostess to buy ice creams for his children because apparently he can't afford them. What is to be done? I suggest that for a start we divert all aid from Somalia to a special Mellor fund. Secondly, we ask Bob Geldof to organise a Dave Aid concert, and thirdly, we beg Mother Teresa to devote her fund-raising energies to the cause.

If this is still not sufficient to appease Mr Mellor's terrible need, the Prime Minister will simply have to levy a special Mellor tax on every man, woman and child in the country. Tough measures, I know, Mr Major, but he is your friend.

I HAVE been trying desperately to get a job on French Vogue but my ignorance of French or fashion has been against me. I just wanted to be there for the Dalai Lama's first editorial conference. Shall we go for Gaultier, Your Holiness, or murder Moschino? Ou sont les hem-lines d'automne? Actually it turns out he isn't really editing the Christmas issue of Vogue at all; he won't interfere with the fashion pages, so we won't all be forced to wear that particularly nasty maroon colour that Tibetan monks go in for ('Maroon is the navy blue of Tibet' - Diana Vreeland). All he's doing is choosing the articles for a Tibet supplement, and he's doing it from his home in India, whither all the Vogue 'team' are flying this month. Huh, call that editing? Meanwhile I learn from Esquire magazine that, 'even among top designers, obsolescence is obsolete. Longevity is becoming more important than making a bold new statement each season . . . It is seriously unfashionable now to be too interested in fashion. Dressing well is OK, wanting quality is great, but trying to be trendy is out'. Try putting that across in Vogue, Your Holiness.

YOU WON'T believe this, but the photograph at the top of this column was taken exactly 27 years after the photograph at the top of last week's column, and you see I look exactly the same. It is all thanks to this new face cream called Smegma 2000 and absolutely nothing to do with lighting, make-up, retouching, airbrushing or cosmetic surgery. Time has just stood still; the ageing process has passed me by. The only reason I don't look like Elizabeth Taylor - who also posed for a 27-years-before-and-after photograph this week - is because of a design fault in the original concept.