Union leader in hotel minibar shock]

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The Independent Online
IT'S SILLY, I know. What else can one expect? But I can't help being irritated by the press coverage of the rail dispute. 'Union baron jets off with divorcee, 48,' thundered the Daily Express on Wednesday. It pictured Jimmy Knapp's partner, Eva Leigh. 'This is the woman sharing rail strike leader Jimmy Knapp's Swiss hotel room while Britain struggles to work today,' the paper revealed. 'Mr Knapp left his wife Sylvia for German-born divorcee Eva Leigh four years ago.'

Jimmy and Eva were, reported the Daily Mail, 'on a 10-day trip paid for by the union'. The bill was 'nearly pounds 100 a night'. Ms Leigh was 'relaxing in jeans on a sun-drenched balcony'. Their room contained 'a minibar, radio and TV and safe'.

It's hard to work out exactly which is the greatest of Jimmy Knapp's crimes. Attending an important conference of the International Transport Workers' Federation, which takes place once every four years? Not managing to find a hotel without a minibar? Staying in a hotel that was less than half the price of the Geneva Holiday Inn? Being divorced? Having a relationship with a German woman who is also divorced? (She was, incidentally, attending the conference as an interpreter.) Or - surely not - holding out for a fair settlement for rail workers?

Perhaps it is something to do with the British attitude to being Abroad. During a crisis, particularly one involving a strike, ministers and union leaders are not supposed to go Abroad, even on important business, previously arranged. Remember the fuss about Jim Callaghan attending a conference in the West Indies during the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79? Yet nobody seemed to bother about Bob Horton, chairman of Railtrack, being Abroad (in France) at the beginning at the rail strike. Is this because Mr Horton has been married, since 1962, to someone with the impeccably English name of Sally Wells? Or because on pounds 120,000 for a three-day week - not to mention his pounds 1.5m golden handshake when he left BP - he wouldn't need to stay in a cheap hotel or think of charging it to his employer?

I AM delighted to learn that, at a cost of pounds 50,000, Jockey, the Y-fronts people, have reinterpreted the male torso. Since the 1930s, their designers have assumed that the distance between the navel and the groin increased with girth. The bigger the waist, they reasoned, the deeper the Y-front. Now the company has found that fat men's navels are roughly the same distance from their groins as thin men's navels. So no more baggy crotches and no more John Major syndrome, in which the Y-front rides high above the belt.

This is wonderful news. I am, however, slightly more interested to learn that Jockey makes men's underwear in waist sizes 26 to 54. Yes, fifty-four: four and a half feet] Inexplicably, this news has not caused any commotion: no features on the 'new fat man', for example. Meanwhile, it is impossible to find women's clothing above size 14. Will I get pounds 50,000 for revealing that not all women are shaped like straws?

WHAT IS it about building societies? They are supposed to be desperate for business, loaded with special offers. But, seated in a small chair on the wrong side of a large desk, I feel like a stroppy fourth-former, angrily defending my blue hair/Anti-Nazi League badge/brown socks.

'How would you describe your attitude to investment?' asked Mr Parker, politely, when I went for a mortgage interview recently. 'Conservative, speculative or balanced?'

'That's a loaded question]' I snarled. 'It's like a Cosmo quiz: you know which is the right answer] Balance is the right answer, because the other two categories imply imbalance] I'm supposed to say balanced] So my attitude is balanced]'

Mr Parker gave an embarrassed smile and pressed on. 'How much do you earn, Ms Picardie?' he ventured. 'I'm a freelance,' I snapped. 'Well how much did you earn last year?' said Mr Parker. 'Not as much as I expect to earn this year]' 'Can we take an average over the past three years, perhaps?' 'It would not,' I sneered, 'be a particularly meaningful average]'

Mr Parker, I apologise. I'm not usually that rude. It was the big desk which timewarped me back to 1979. And I promise to pay my mortgage because, honestly, my approach to investment is conservative.

YES, YES, gardening is the new rock 'n' roll. Conran shop stuffed with chrome watering cans. Rob Newman, comedy sex god turned moody novelist, now spends his spare time digging in the allotment. Gardeners' Question Time gone populist.

Gardening crime, however, keeps letting the image down. This week: 75,000 gallons of prize liquid manure nicked from Aberdeenshire storage tank, sniffer dogs not ruled out; Guardian insurance offers pounds 20 policy to cover gnomes; three-man 'shed squad' set up by Thames Valley Police.

No good for the image at all. Need SWAT-team led by Keanu Reeves lookalike; helicopters; matt black weapons; baddies with eye-patches and foreign accents. Somebody call Lynne Franks, quick.

MIND YOU, rather gardening than the real rock 'n' roll. Non-television specials on sad folkie anniversary. Non-stop reviews of Rolling 'Not Fade Away' Stones merchandising tour. Non- stop Sixties survivor Marianne Faithful, huskily flogging her autobiography: 'Those were the years when all life revolved round the bed. Listening to records, talking on the phone, rolling joints, playing guitars . . .'

Sex, freedom, drugs, rebellion, freedom, drugs, it was better then, idealism, sex, blah, blah, blah. Those of us who were at infant school at the time note, with relief, that the next decent Sixties anniversary is not until sometime in the 2010s.

Geraldine Bedell is on holiday.

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