Only a Sloane could say it

Silly Season
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The big question of the week has been whether the Princess of Wales said the Tory government "was really hopeless" thus threatening the precarious relationship between Crown and Parliament. Diana, presumably speaking from the Mediterranean (swimming costumes pale blue and lemon yellow this time - Daily Mail and Sun) where she is enjoying her fourth or fifth holiday with Dodi Fayed, denied that she'd ever made the comment, published in Le Monde in an interview with Annick Cojean. Ms Cojean sticks by her story.

Of course she said it: "Its predecessor was so hopeless" to be precise. No French journalist could have invented so accurately the inane Sloane- ish inarticulacy of a woman with fundamentally nothing to say about anything.

UNLIKELY sightings (1): Ronald Reagan, reported in the Express. He "seemed alert" said 12-year-old Rostik Danenburg, who joined him on a park bench in Los Angeles. Alert? How did Rostik recognise him?

(2): The Fugee Stars in the Daily Mail on Thursday. This is a football team of refugees and asylum seekers, five of whom are currently waiting to hear if they are to be allowed to stay in Britain. One has just lost his final appeal against being sent back to Nigeria (where he demonstrated against the execution of Ken Sarowiwa) and gone into hiding. The team is due to make its debut in the Langbaurgh Sunday League third division next week, minus a right-back unless the Mail has charmed the Home Secretary as much as it charmed us.

IF YOU want publicity in the summer, organise a survey. The Union Bank of Switzerland's finding that Londoners are the hardest workers in western Europe struck a chord on several newsdesks, particularly when it added that British rail fares were far and away the most expensive in Europe. So, too, did a widely reported survey of 500 organisations by Reed Employment Services which found an increase in "phone rage".

We particularly hate insincere or unconcerned tones of voice, followed by being kept waiting or passed on to voice mail, according to Reed. But what really irks Simon Heffer of the Daily Mail are robotic answering machines. He wrote 1,200 very angry words about computerised help-lines and being kept on hold to listen to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik piped loudly and tinnily through your earpiece", concluding that "with one and a half million people out of work, there is no need for this". Music indeed to the ears of Reed Employment Services. Get down there now before they run out of real live telephonists.

OLLIE exists! New readers may need to know that this column set up an Ollie hotline last week following stories in the national press about a parrot flying into Wormwood Scrubs. We speculated that Ollie flew out once a year while parliament was in recess.

Peter Griffiths of the Richmond and Twickenham Times (owned by David Dimbleby as it happens) called to set us straight. "Ollie was our story. He's our favourite parrot," he said, hinting, we thought, that the bird had done quite a bit for their slow newsdays, but Mr Griffiths refused to be drawn. Mr Dimbleby's staff (average daily pay pounds 23.10 - rather inadequate for this kind of work, don't you think?) are proud to have been the source of the Ollie story, though, and had high hopes of national coverage for a similar scoop they were about to land. This would feature Harry the Hawk scaring away the pigeons in Whitton High Street. How clever of them to know exactly when Harry would be there. A trick of the trade, clearly. Give those newshounds a pay rise, David.

A DEBATE has been simmering in the Letters Page of the Daily Telegraph over the origin of the film title The Full Monty. Jon Balley of Chesham, Bucks, says that it's the name of a Latin American card game where cards are discarded into a pile and the winner takes the "full monte". Michael Lewington of London holds that Montgomery was chief of a medieval free company who kept all the spoils to himself. The film-makers offer two explanations. Either it refers to a three-piece demob suit issued to Second World War soldiers or, and this is the most patriotic, to the full English breakfast preferred by Field Marshal Montgomery before he went into battle.

FIRST-sighting-of-Christmas shock and August not even over. Yesterday's Express gives us a delightful picture of pyjama'd children, tinselled tree and stockings hanging by the fireplace, with the bon mot that "The customs of Christmas give significance to the occasion and help to bind families together." Maybe it's their way of telling us that the silly season is over.

Barbara Gunnell