Weed that grows like, er, weeds

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The Independent Online
DARK DOINGS in Ambridge and I feel I should warn the nation that Eddie Grundy is up to no good. On Tuesday he announced on The Archers that he was planning to grow cannabis on his set-aside land. He said that he was allowed to do it under new EC regulations provided he had Home Office permission. I checked this out with the Min of Ag who put me on to Melvyn Askew, head of cropping and horticulture at ADAS (don't ask) who confirmed that yes indeed they had already grown an experimental crop of cannabis at Wolverhampton and 'it grew over four metres, it grew like weeds'. (I could have told him that: back in the Sixties we all grew pot plants and they all grew like weeds - it was the drying and curing that was the problem.) Anyway, thus far Eddie Grundy's story is sound. But, he told Brian Aldridge, he was planning to sell his cannabis to the Government to make into banknote paper. Ha] It just so happens that I am in a position exclusively to nail this heinous lie because my brother-in-law Charles Cardiff is Mr Banknote - or at any rate, he's the managing director of Portals who make the paper for the Bank of England - and he says he has no plans whatsoever to buy cannabis from Eddie Grundy or indeed from anyone, because he makes his paper from waste cotton. So why is Eddie Grundy lying and who is he really selling his cannabis to? My little friend the Weasel believes there is some illicit trade among dog breeders to cure canine nerves, but I can think of more obvious uses for the weed than that. At all events, I hope that future episodes of The Archers will clear up this worrying mystery.

IT'S BEEN SUCH a bleak season for parties I began to think I'd never taste champagne and canapes again, but thank heavens, the merry whirl began again this week with parties for Jilly Cooper, Deborah Moggach and Hatchards' mega-bash for Authors of the Year. Moggach's was the jolliest, and Hatchards' the most star-studded, but I had a nasty moment at the latter when my old colleague Graham Lord, formerly literary editor of the Sunday Express, greeted me by saying 'It's dogged, charmless Graham Lord.' Huh? Apparently I used those words when reviewing his biography of Jeffrey Bernard and of course they are engraved on his heart. How silly of him to be so sensitive, I thought - but then next day I ran into Howard Jacobson at Deborah Moggach's party and wondered whether I could legitimately kick him in the shins for calling me, two years ago, the Gypsy Rose Lynn of interviewers. At the time I fantasised about becoming a fiction reviewer so that I could demolish his next novel, but anyway he tells me he has now given up writing fiction - no money in it, he says, and 'it's such a nasty backbiting little world'. Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

NOW we know who Martyn Lewis is: the dimply one who writes books about cats, who grapples mano a mano with Hugh Scully for the title of Chippendale of the small screen. And, lest we forget, also the man who boasts that when his 76-year-old mother comes to stay he makes her go into the garden to smoke. Anyway, he wants us to change our news habits and have only nice news in future. So does Anne Diamond. She carolled in the Mirror that she wanted the news to consist of 'funny stories, a touch of glamour, a bit of gossip, and a touch of human interest' - well she would, wouldn't she?

Lewis's good news argument - addressed elsewhere on these pages - is hardly new. What is new is to find anyone with any experience of news espousing it. It is one of those ideas - like developing Docklands or building a rail link to the Continent - that sounds tickety-boo till you try to put it into practice. Then you find that good news of the lift-up-your-hearts variety simply does not exist. Of course there are plenty of PR firms eager to pretend that it does and to put out chirpy little bulletins - 'Hooray] Purple widgets are back]' - but they seldom inspire editors to hold the front page.

The only recent examples I can recall of stories that were both genuinely news and genuinely cheering were the Group 4 prisoner escapes, and Hoover's free fares fiasco, but I doubt whether those were exactly the sort of morale-boosters Lewis had in mind. Indeed, the pure joy of those stories lay precisely in their anti-social, subversive tendency and the fact that they embodied the British love of cock-ups usually illustrated by the story of the firemen who rescued a cat from a tree and then ran it over with their fire engine.

Anyway, why doesn't the BBC give Martyn Lewis his own little slot where he can chatter about cats and cheery centenarians and where he can tell us every single day that the economy is booming and there are no beggars on the streets? Come to think of it, put Anne Diamond on the sofa with him. It could be called the Happy Hour and we could turn off in droves.

JAMES WHITAKER is very worried about the Queen - she's had flu three times already this year, and her staff all say that she's run-down. But he was glad that Princess Di bought a pounds 50 Turnbull & Asser shirt for Ken Wharfe's 45th birthday - Ken is her favourite detective. 'That's what's so nice about Diana,' James goes on, 'she buys the same presents for her staff as she buys for friends. She's the least snobby person I know.' There is more, much more of this sort of stuff on James Whitaker Confidential, a new phoneline from 'the Man Who Really Knows The Royals' and it is totally addictive. My only qualm is that I can't help remembering that the Man Who Really Knows The Royals is the one who told us last September 'Charles and Di: No Split Up.'

WHICH REMINDS me . . . Egg on Face Award of the week goes to Today's 'Insider' who announced on Thursday: 'Businessman Roland 'Tiny' Rowland will not be selling the Observer newspaper imminently.'