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London Diary

(Editor, David Clee)

17 August 2000
James Bond Hails a Cab

IF YOU don't want to have your skull pierced by a poisoned ice-pick my tip is to avoid London taxis.

According to reports this week, cabbies are the latest front line recruits to MI5, Britain's sinister secret service. Notoriously bigoted in their political views, cabbies can be expected to provide spook chiefs with masses of information on the subversive elements that clog up the back seats of their taxis.

Before it was bad enough having to sit through diatribe after incoherent diatribe against immigrants, students, feminists and bloody red lights but now anyone who fails wholeheartedly to agree with a driver's rant faces a knock on the door in the middle of the night from some George Smilie wannabe. ("We have information you support the right of all men and women whatever their creed to cross the road unhindered by horn-blowing hackney carriages. For that, my limp-wristed friend, you must die.")

Of course, there is some evidence that MI5 has long been staffed by cabbies. Last year's biggest spy case involved Melita Norwood, an old lady who had avoided detection for decades thanks to the ingenious ploy of living in south London, an area famous for its no-go-status among taxi drivers.

The Norwood debacle is evidence that MI5's latest scam could run into trouble. More evidence comes in the flop of the bizarre scheme to use cabbies as living breathing adverts, paid to drop endorsements into their conversations. "See that Tower of London, waste of bloody tax payers money, mate. They want to chuck out the tourists and shove all those asylum seekers in there. Mind you, I'm told Diet Pepsi is the ideal drink for those stuck in the Crown Jewels queue and why not finish your day of heritage hunting with a trip to one of London's historic theatres."

Perhaps aware of cabbies' touching limitations, MI5 are also said to be on a recruitment drive among the capital's pizza delivery heroes. I cannot tell you how much I now regret having ordered extra anchovies the other day. Fishy, Mr Clee, very Fishy.

3 August 2000
Bubble, Bubble, We're in Trouble

From what I can tell, financial types spend half their expensive time wetting their pants worrying about when the hi-tech shares bubble is going to burst, and the other half appearing on radio phone-in shows telling everyone else that things are gonna be just fine.

They scour the world for signs of a turn in the markets and even unrelated happenings are vetted for their universal economic significance. The current craze for chrome scooters is deemed good for business, if not ankles, as it reveals a carefree attitude on behalf of the consumer; the unremittingly hot weather in southern Europe is bad news because it means people will be able to enjoy themselves without recourse to such modern fun products as MP3s, DVD players and clothes; and the way a legion of crumbs has suddenly ganged up under my toaster is presumed troublesome because it means I might spend a slice of my huge income on a kitchen utility instead of a mobile phone compete with unusable WAP technology.

Fine. I'm all for thorough research. But in their desire to leave no stone unturned, maybe the business gurus have missed a great big wodge of useless concrete staring them in the face. I'm referring, of course, to the Millennium Dome, which is to be turned into a hi-tech theme park. When a project as riddled with disaster as the Dome jumps on the hi-tech bandwagon, wise men and women might think now is the time to leap off.

To back up my theory of hi-tech doom, we've been warned this week that London is in danger of power cuts, thanks to surfers - mostly comprised of frantic City boys and girls checking their investments - overloading the system. More evidence is provided by the failure of Greenwich Electronic Time to become the standard for the virtual world and by the sad crash of that icon of hi-tech engineering, Concorde.

Okay, so much for predicting a shares tumble. The clever bit comes in deciding what to do with your pile of funds once released from the hi-tech prison. It would obviously be a big mistake to stick it all in nasty, old fashioned investments such as coal mines and generating plants that help power the internet, bless 'em. No, all that fixed capital is so 19th century.

The answer, as usual, is sex. For returns on capital, you just can't beat it. Before she was put on trial this week, one London madam, wheelchair-bound Josie Daly, made nearly UKP4 million a year with just 20 or so women under her command. Daly is clearly not alone and already there is a growing trend to use, as she did, desperate illegal immigrants with no power and fewer rights. Just make sure you get in there quick, before someone turns the Dome into the biggest den of vice since they opened Channel 5.

20 July 2000
Queen Mum Kicks Ass

I'M A haddock man myself, but it was still with some sadness that I learnt this week of the cataclysmic depletion of cod stocks in the seas around Britain.

There is only one nation on earth with so strong a claim on the soul of the cod as Britain. But while the Basques deserve oceans of credit for following the meaty fish all the way to America centuries before Columbus, they never had the wit to append the famous go-with "'n' chips" to their quarry, nor did they seek cunningly to hide its subtle flavour in layers of fatty batter.

Those achievements required all the eccentric comic talent over which British people like to think they have a monopoly. Why then, has the plight of cod received barely a mention in the nation's otherwise flag waving press? Why has Tony Blair not ordered a double portion of cod 'n' PR from his spin-doctors as a safe way to show his patriotic instincts?

I think you will find a clue in the pageant for the Queen Mum. For the 99 year old's delight and education, a century of history was boiled down to its essence in the form of carnival floats depicting great events and people dressed in funny suits to show we can still laugh at ourselves. Mostly, these get-ups were animal costumes. There were horses, rabbits, camels, dogs… even a zebra made it into the parade despite only having the most tenuous of connections with these isles. But, and here is the sinister bit, as far as I could see, there were no fish-people whatsoever.

An oversight you might say but, commentators never tire of telling us, these events are planned with a military precision. No, it is clear that the lack of walking sea-food was a deliberate act, a vindictive royalist assault on a populist foodstuff. The Queen Mum, you might remember, nearly choked on a fish bone not so long ago and she just had to have her revenge. She might well be everyone's favourite granny, a loving sort who delights all who meet her, but even a blameless life attracts its enemies. One, Princess Diana, took her leave some while back, but the other slippery customer, the poor cod, has only now seen the sharp side of Ma'am's nature. Pitty those anarcho-republicans who will undoubtedly become enemy number three when, as promised, they show their bottoms to the Queen Mum at the next birthday do.

6 July 2000
The Kid Cops It

WHEN Tony Blair revealed plans last week for 100 UKP on-the-spot fines for disorderly behaviour he no doubt thought that he was spinning just the right message.

After all it is less than a month since mindless English fans re-arranged the street furniture in Brussels and Charleroi in full view of the world's media. Adding to the PMs keenness to talk tough on thugs, recent opinion polls suggest the public believe his government is soft on crime. Then, to top it all, CBS London correspondent Tom Fenton filed a report last Monday claiming that cities are more violent here than in the USA.

Good idea, good timing then Tony. Actually, no. Critics immediately slammed the plan. Police officers said it would tie up too much of their ever-so precious time and civil liberty groups squealed that it would be ever-so unjust. Even the most despised skinhead in the nation joined in on the mocking of poor Tony's latest brainwave. Tory leader William Hague, no doubt spitting that he had not suggested this get-tough plan first, said the proposals were government by soundbite.

And so just days after the PM had proudly unveiled his new summary justice scheme in a fanfare of pomposity the idea was quietly ditched.

Not so fast. Where so many of these on-the-spin initiatives have a shorter shelf life than a pack of Pokemon cards this little nugget was destined for an eternity of "Did I really say that" denial.

For last night, in a simple, yet cruel twist of fate, Euan Blair, the Premier's sixteen year old son, was arrested for being "Drunk and Incapable" in London's Leicester Square. Police were so concerned with the young lad's behaviour that they initially called an ambulance. After some reflection they decided a Ford Transit was more appropriate and whisked the inebriated kid to Charing Cross police station. The poor wretch, who had been out celebrating the end of his GCSE exams, was later released without charge.

No on-the-spot fine for Blair Jr, just a touch of common sense policing from the boys in blue.

22 June 2000
Turning A Blind Eye to the Dead

LAW enforcement is a tough old game. Not only do police officers have to wear uncomfortable, starchy uniforms and give dodgy directions to tourists but they also have to use their own eyes. Col Herman Biki, the man in charge of Belgium's anti-football hooligan cops is worried. "It is rather difficult to spot the difference between those who have committed a crime and those who have done nothing," Biki said this week in a commendably frank admission of his own uselessness.

Biki is not the only lawman to need his eyes testing. UK immigration officers find it so hard to spot genuine asylum seekers that they do not usually bother trying and label as many as possible bogus, 95 per cent in the case of applicants from China. The thinking seems to be that if you are fit enough to be standing in front of me asking for asylum, you cannot have been persecuted too much back in your own country, so sod off.

Now Chinese refugees have seen the grim logic of the situation and taken the one course available to them to show the seriousness of their plight. They simply turn up dead. Fair play, mate. No arguments there, we have every sympathy with you. Asylum granted.

This, more or less, was the scenario played out in 21st century Britain this week when 58 Chinese refugees were found dead on arrival in the back of a lorry at Dover. Media pundits and politicians who would have demanded their instant deportation had they been alive queued up to offer wasted words of condolence once the perished were safely confirmed as representing no drain on social security.

The last time this kind of trick was pulled was back in the delightfully civilised middle-ages when the ducking stool had the role now performed by miserable immigration bureaucrats. Suspected wrong-doers were submerged in water. If they drowned, their innocent was proved, if they emerged alive, guilt was assumed and hanging prescribed. But at least back then there was some genuinely held, if idiotic, religious justification; God was taking the innocent to his heavenly bosom.

Nowadays, the innocent have only the indignity of being used as the material with which hypocritical bigots can parade their hastily contrived compassion. Even blind man Biki could spot that.

8 June 2000
Millennium Bridge to the Beyond

PEOPLE often choose the strangest partners, a point worked up to gory effect in Eye of the Beholder, one of the films to open in London this week, where Ewan McGregor takes a fancy to a serial killer. The royal family, too, are past masters at the art of improbable couplings of course, with Henry VIII and Prince Charles but two examples of blue bloods who would have been well advised to have used Dateline.

But, even in a week that marks the opening of the first new crossing - the Millennium Bridge - over the Thames in over a century, perhaps one of the most bizarre unions is that between north and south London. It is not quite Buda and Pest, but the two halves of the city have never really sat well together.

Traditionally the north has always looked down with snobby disdain on the more workaday south but the future looks different, thanks mainly to the massive redevelopment taking place on the South Bank. From the Tate Modern and the Big Wheel to the new London Mayor HQ, and from the IMAX cinema to the Globe theatre, nearly all of the interesting new building is being done in the south. Even once-drab Croydon is leading the way on transport with its hugely successful new Tramlink.

In contrast, north London is stuck firmly in Old Britain territory, smugly reliant on historical (mostly royal and clerical) attractions to pull in the punters.

It will take a while for the all the changes to filter through to general public consciousness, but once it dawns on everyone that the action is to be found in places other than Whitehall and Leicester Square, south Londoners will rise up, take courage from the Eye of the Beholder and continue where the terrorists left off at Hammersmith and start a serial killing campaign on the rest of London's bridges. A clean break is the best way, and there are no kids to worry about. I was a kid once with a mother, an odd couple all in herself, who is ultimately to blame for my malicious meanderings. Only joking Mum. Have a good one. Happy Birthday.

Let Me Wax You Up, Madame

SPARE a thought this week for those talented sculptors over at Madame Tussauds. Thinking they had given Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant enough time, 13 years in fact, to prove their reciprocal affection, the modelling maestros recently decided to knock up a couple of love struck dummies of the love struck dummies.

Doh! Just as the wax was drying, news filtered through that Hugh and Liz would be splitting up. Before anyone has a pop at Tussauds tardiness, it should be said that the wait-and-see approach to celebrity could well have worked wonders in other cases.

Take Ken Livingstone, for instance. Back in the 1980s, Tussauds probably decided to wait for a while until he did something really important before waxing him up; a ploy that proved triumphantly prescient when the old leftie emerged from a 1990s wilderness to claim the London mayoralty earlier this month. And while the music press will bemoan the drying up of a staple news source following the Oasis split, Tussauds can afford to be smug. Their crafty 13 year rule means the mad-for-it Mancs were well short of a good waxing in any case.

No, slowness in the uptake has never been Tussauds major problem, for the simple reason that the museum has always been saddled with an even greater flaw; namely that its models look absolutely nothing like their supposed subjects. When wax models were first all the rage in the last century but one, people had no other reference point so the waxers could get away with anything. But in an age when we are bombarded with images of celebrities all the time it has always amazed me that tourists queue all along Marylebone Road to get a glimpse of a load of over dressed shop dummies.

Luckily, recent events may have provided Tussauds with a way to win over sour faced critics like myself. Death is a powerful theme in any format, but is uniquely suited to wax modelling, so why not feature subjects that are, in real life, stiffs like Sir John Gielgud and Dame Barbara Cartland? Even more of a crowd puller would be a section devoted to sex, especially now that British censors have given the go ahead to hard core pornography.

I would suggest models of celebrity couples (it could have been you, Hugh and Liz) having it off. Okay, you can probably get that sort of thing by the bucketload down at the Tate Modern, but Tussauds have an extra incentive to jump on the sex bandwagon. Genital rich models would at last stop people looking, squint eyed in disappointment, at those dismally inaccurate faces.

Turn Off the Power

THERE are two famous disused power stations in central London, Bankside and Battersea. One is little more than an empty shell containing piles of rubbish while the other is just round the corner from a famous bridge, park and dogs home.

Bankside's reinvention as the Tate Modern art gallery has cobbled together a bizarre alliance of arty types and old school patriots who are in thrall to its new station in life as a power house of, depending on which camp you're talking to, meaning in a meaningless world or richly deserved tourist dollars for the greatest country on earth.

Tate Modern trades on its attachment to the ideals of the avant-garde in general and, as its name implies, modernism in particular. The things about modernism which continue to attract people are its engagement to the world of big ideas, passion for often oppositional politics and commitment to a regime of free, multi-partner sex, at least if the various biographies of Picasso and the rest are anything to go on.

Some of the stuff inside Bankside is seminal but it is pretty clear that Tate Modern itself is a denial of the modernist heritage, not least because many of its boosters say it is great by dint of providing a nice, big space where atomised members of a disparate society can bond in spirit while they contemplate the mysteries of the things around them. The idea was to tear the churches down, dummies, not build new ones.

In any case, the fact that arch representative of everything modern, the Queen, is opening the gallery says enough about the fake nature of the Tate's creed. Her Majesty's presence is also enough to convince patriots to ignore their previous philistinism and back the new tourist sight to the hilt, presumably on the basis that it may be modern, but at least its our modern. See you back in the sticks, hicks.

They'd all do much better to take a trip west to Battersea and stare in awe at its four majestic towers that draw the eye to the incomprehensible emptiness within… but really, Battersea Power Station is a fantastic sight. It is bigger than Bankside, it has big themes staring at you in the face, from vaulting utilitarian ambition to lumpen industrial decay, and you can dump your mutt off at the Dog's Home afterwards.

Caffeine High on Turks' Agenda

"CAWFEE is cawfee," the owner of a traditional diner in New York told me last week, before launching into a bitter tirade on the rise and rise of coffee shop franchises that threaten businesses such as his own.

I'm with the old guy in spirit, but the turning wheel of history is against him, not least in London where the last five years has seen an invasion by chain names like Starbucks and Coffee Republic which trade on the opposite principle that coffee is never just coffee.

You want it cold? We got it. You want it infused with Belgian chocolate? Pick it up at the end of the counter. You want a laughable double shot of espresso with every last millilitre of caffeine surgically removed? No problem you lily-livered pseud.

As in New York, this assault by variety poses serious problems for London's remaining cafes and sandwich bars. Luckily there is an answer.

Starbucks and their ilk will have to come up with ever more bizarre concoctions to stay ahead of the game, thereby sacrificing authenticity along the way. The route to take for the smaller establishment is not to hope that caffeine-heads return to their welcoming arms because, frankly, the watery brews served up by many old-time cafés (including, sadly, my Manhattan buddy's diner) do not justify such loyalty.

Instead, they should show up the big boys' comical dance into novelty by turning serious. Now, the most wonderfully serious coffee you can get is Turkish. One London based Turk I know sees nothing strange in dumping five mountainous spoonfuls of instant into his cup after failing to find ground coffee on my bare shelves.

Better still, Turks rarely resort to supplying the kind of super-heated coffee (Sorry, madam, I appear to have burned a hole through your babies skull) in those accident-prone paper buckets favoured by the big franchises.

Even better still, café proprietors would be making a semi-solid (you'll know what I mean if you've had the coffee) contribution to Anglo-Turkish relations, hit by recent troubles involving football fans of Leeds and Galatasaray. Next week: how to save the World Trade Organisation by drinking China tea.

Eye Spy Hospitality

MASSIVE queues surrounded me as I strolled along the South Bank the other day. The throng was waiting to climb aboard the wonderful London Eye. I looked up and, after quiet reflection on the amazing engineering feat the big wheel represents, was shocked to discover many of its pods were half empty.

How could this be? At first I thought the Eye must have hired the slow motion turn-style staff you get at football, the kind whose time-honoured perk of the job is to make you miss the first five minutes of the game. But then I saw a group of suits emerge from a pod and wander off in the direction of the nearby Oxo Tower for a slap up feed on expenses. Yes, I'm afraid to say that the Eye does corporate hospitality.

As a veteran of countless gentrified sports events, I have learned that the big thing about being offered hospitality is to be cool enough not to take it, hence the half-empty pods. A friend of mine hates tennis but always turns out for Wimbledon where he holes up in a tent with a couple of jeroboams of bubbly and never dreams of trying to find his seat.

Okay, so a few spare places on some revolving folly hardly means cynical waste of the cruellest kind. The snag is the same kind of thinking appears to be shared by those responsible for housing policy. You wouldn't think so, given the welter of anti-asylum-seeker scare stories about there being no room here for the world's poor and wretched, but London, with 40,000 homeless people, has 114,000 empty homes, a third of which have been unoccupied for over a year.

The bitter truth is that for speculators it's just as cool, though a bit more financially rewarding, to let their properties lie fallow as it is for Nigel to smirk from his suite over the river in The Savoy as his desperate PR agency realise their valued client is not going to show.

Hot Air Blows Cold

GLOBAL WARMING has so far involved frightening forecasts of future doom, all crazy images of rising water levels and falling skies but maybe some of its effects are already seeping through into the very air that we breathe.

It is my belief that that air is getting hotter. Take the other night. Indulging in my usual sport of eavesdropping, I was confronted by two Birmingham women spinning tales so tall that a whirlwind threatened to lift them both up and deposit them in the merry old Land of Oz. The first started by outlining her failure to win a sexual partner for the past year. Her drinking pal countered with the news that her parents had just announced their divorce. Ah, says the first, with no little satisfaction, but you haven't heard the reason for my lack in the sack; I've only got three vertebrae! As I was saying, mum and dad are splitting up because of dad's relationship with my sister. You know, once I had to stop him murdering her.

Ordinary people's hot air is fuelled by that of their leaders. Rumour and speculation is now such a staple of political debate that mere facts are viewed by most pundits as too cold to call apon. So we have the London Mayor debate dominated by the unsubstantiated reports that Frank Dobson's unseen backroom staff may have possibly once suggested he shave off his beard, to which he is said to have said "Get stuffed!"

Meanwhile most of our national newspapers are acing each other with increasingly ridiculous claims about the so-called tidal wave (in fact a few hundred) of bogus-asylum seeking Romanian Gypsies to have hit London. The hacks, of course, refuse to look back at their own archives from a few years ago when they were wringing their hands over that same country's brutal treatment of that same ethnic group.

One of the biggest hot air clouds fell over Covent Garden this week when a man from a company called Alchemy (that bit is true) joshed with reporters about the future of one of the major industrial concerns in the UK. Ha, bloody, ha, thought tens of thousands of soon to be jobless Rover car workers. The hot air might be nice for rich Londoners, not least because it helps blow up the internet share bubble, but it appears to be sending a cold wind up to Birmingham in its wake, three vertebrae or not.

Passport to the Jungle

CATS v. DOGS is a contest with a history that stretches back almost as far as the eternal and titanic battle between Noel Gallagher and Robbie Williams.

In essence the war is one of honest, if smelly, endeavour against sly opportunism, an ideological fissure that was once again exposed this week. After years of quiet lobbying through the official channels, the tail-wagging fraternity gave a collective woof of delight on Monday when a leading member of the pack, Frodo Baggins of Battersea, became the first pet to enter Britain under the new animal passport scheme.

But no sooner had dog-mess been deposited in celebratory euphoria, mostly right outside my front door from what I can tell, than news dribbled through that once again those cunning cats had trumped their canine rivals. According to an astonishing police survey, there are at least 100 big cats roaming wild in Britain, a frightening moggie mix of renegade lynx, pumas and leopards.

Owners who think it's a nice idea to set their exotic pets free, global warming and a lack of natural predator have all been blamed for the emergence of the feline throng; theories which won't impress all the sad-eyed dogs now believed to be cowering in their kennels until Lassie comes home to save them.

But it's not only dogs that should be worried about the junglification of the nation. The kitty victory is surely a sign that loyal poodle Frank Dobson faces a drubbing at the polls when canny Ken Livingstone, he of the famous Cheshire cat grin, declares himself an independent runner in the London mayor race. Miaow.

This Way to a Lonely Planet

BEST-SELLING guide books Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have both laid into Londoners recently, calling us a bunch of tight-lipped sour-faces whose idea of a good time is being as unfriendly as possible to foreigners.

Traditionally, Londoners proffer two kinds of comeback when given such stick. We either ignore it, which has the happy consequence of annoying everyone else even more, or shrug it off as we elbow old women and small children aside in pursuit of a taxi willing to indulge our lust for running down tourists who reckon the best place to study a dog-eared map is halfway across Charing Cross Road.

This time round, the reaction has been different. The London media has been full of sorry pieces by pompous metropolitan journalists piqued at their city's treatment by mere travel hacks. Worse still, much has been made of the nationality of the Lonely Planet scribe who is an Australian with the temerity to point an accusing finger at the desperate plight of the many homeless people who still bed down for the night on London's streets.

From being a city happily, crazily, obsessed with itself, is there now a danger of London becoming a city dangerously obsessed with shielding itself from nasty outsiders? We can only hope not, but the hysterical reaction to the plight of the Afghan asylum seekers might suggest otherwise. Virtually every opinion former in town downed pints of xenophobic hemlock this week before spitting bigoted bile in the direction of a few score of people whose crime is to come from a country with one of the most repressive regimes in the world via the terrifying services of a hijacked aeroplane.

The strange thing is that many of those same commentators still want to keep their places at the liberal top-table. Take Late Show pundit Tony Parsons, for example. On the BBC's high brow arts weekly this Thursday, he was having a typically sly pop at the "racism" implicit in Gilbert and Sullivan film Tosy-Turvy, conveniently forgetting his Monday column in The Mirror which accused the Afghans (Parsons wittily tagged them "our chums") of treating "us" like "mugs" who have to "wipe the world's messy bottom."

The vacillations of Parsons and his creepy ilk at least suggest that boorish outsider-angst has yet to conclusively win the day, but it also reveals how much Londoners need the occasional roughly guided kick up our own messy bottoms or we'll deserve to find ourselves isolated on a very lonely planet indeed.


WE ran a piece this week about London actress Sadie Frost being thrown in a Berlin police cell and told to wee-wee on the floor after committing the heinous crime of getting stuck in a lift with no ID.

The story has a number of fascinating angles to it; police brutality, the toiletry habits of the rich and famous, lift maintenance schedules etc. but what sprang to my mind was the old game played by dilettante student debating societies, namely Who Would You Least/Most like to Get Stuck in a Lift With?

For many of us Sadie herself would figure pretty high on the Most Like list - just visit the ladies room first, eh, Sades - along with, in my own case, the voice of Al Green, the smell of the seaside and the fleshy feel of … well, you get the picture. Worst list candidates are legion, though the person delivering the fireworks for this weekend's Chinese New Year celebrations holds particular fear for pyrophobes like myself.

Other strange bedfellows would include new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir John Stevens and the Kurdish actors arrested by London cops for carrying guns as they rehearsed a play about torture in their homeland. "Shall we press the emergency button, Sir John, sir?" "Stop in the name of the law! It might look like a perfectly innocent red button to you moustachioed fugitives, but I have reason to believe it is a fiendishly disguised nuclear detonation switch. So much as lay a finger on that and I'll do the pair of you for genocide, before sending you back to Turkey of course."

David Beckham, linked with a move to Arsenal the other day, and George Best, who belittled the sulky Manchester United man's talent, would obviously make an excellent couple. "Stick your left foot in the door, Davey boy, and we'll be okay." "Left foot? What's that? I'll have to get Victoria to show me when she's getting me dressed."

Best of all we could use the lift-fix to solve the problem of what to do with two of our most despicable criminals, one-time dictator and mass murderer General Pinochet and Dr Harold Shipman, who gave lethal injections to possibly hundreds of his patients. Who would keel over first? Who cares.

New Millennium,
New Conspiracy Theory

While the rest of us were bidding a drunken farewell to the second millennium, Britain's business leaders were apparently staring at their spreadsheets in disgust. Killjoy actuaries have worked out that companies spent UKP5 billion on overtime payments and lost production in the extended holiday period.

In case your brains' hard drives have been fatally damaged by one too many Vodka/Red Bulls, let me be considerate enough to do the obvious sum for you and report that these figures translate as an average hand out of UKP100 for every person in the country. Like you, I never saw a penny, so some other begger must have made off with our loot, presumably while we were staring at the Thames waiting for the Wall of Fire to spark up.

Police have been slow to act but I believe together we can crack the crime of the new century while also starting the first daft conspiracy theory of the new millennium. My own investigations have revealed two candidates already well versed in the practise of fleecing the populace:

First up is our Prime Minister, and the evidence is damning. According to his deputy, John Prescott, Tony Blair worked throughout the entire Christmas period, ostensibly in deference to the threat posed by the non-existent Millennium Bug, but probably because he was desperate for the overtime. How then, do we explain the sudden influx of cash necessary for the Blairs to afford their current break in Portugal?

Then there is Posh Spice who, despite being so poor she has to share her knickers with footballer hubbie David Beckham, still managed to find UKP40,000 to buy a medallion for the be-thonged Manchester United star.

No doubt you can add to this list.
Answers, evidence and lunatic ravings to
Conspiracy Talkback:
Subject heading 'Conspiracy Nonsense In, Real Politics Out'.

New Year Resolutions

Once again, it's been a year of unspeakable sleaze and vicious spin, but enough of the goings on here at LondonNet Towers and enough, too, of the past. What we need to know about is the next 12 months and what our elders and betters will be up to. Luckily, some bizarre mix up at the postal sorting office ended up in my desk being strewn with the New Year's resolutions of some famous London figures …

Tony Blair
I promise to expunge my annoying habit of saying 'actually' and 'y'know' in every sentence I utter and also to actually be, y'know, nice to Ken Livingstone.

HRH Prince Edward
One must endeavour not to use one's family connections to make excruciatingly boring TV documentaries about one's family while bemoaning the way one's family faces media intrusion.

Denise Van Outen
Before I marry Jay Kay out of Jamiroquai, I really should listen to one of his horribly derivative records even though I'd rather eat one of his daft hats.

Sir Norman Foster
I've seen the error of my ways. I've done the Berlin Reichstag, Wembley, the new London Assembly building and virtually every other major piece of architecture in the world but such monumentalism will be old hat in the new Millennium. From now on it's strictly small-scale stuff for me. Anyone got a garden shed they need putting up?

Chris Sutton
I promise to look up the word 'goal' in a dictionary.

Trafalgar Square Pigeons
Cooo. We have all decided, cooo, to stop crapping on that poor motionless Nelson who, cooo, refuses to climb down from his pole. Instead we'll point our behinds at the dirty vermin who keep feeding us that all that sawdust stuff. What do you expect for 20p you cheapskate scum? Cooo, f*****g cooo.

Hugh Grant
I promise to look up the word 'haircut' in a dictionary.

David Beckham
I will never again let Posh Spice start rumours about me moving to a London club as I know you lot despise me as a spoilt, stroppy, over-rated dunce, a so-called winger who has about as much chance of getting past a full back as he does getting past a sarong shop.

Mary Archer
I promise to look up the word 'gullible' in the dictionary, followed by the word 'divorce', and to stop leaving the page of the bloody thing open at 'fragrant.'

20 Marlboro Lights
Enough is enough. It was kinda fun to hang out in Soho for a while but now we've just about had it up to our filters with all these Sloaney, student and media types who insist on sticking us between their stiff upper and lower lips. Next year we're heading for the country. Marlboro man; we miss your kiss.

London Calling to the Faraway

London has attracted fresh jealousy from the rest of the UK after our city was revealed as the richest place in Europe.

Londoners' response when confronted with the fact of their relative wealth has traditionally been to sneer at their unfortunate cousins, be they countryside in-breds or northern Neanderthals. 80s football fans, for instance, enjoyed nothing more than yelling "loadsamoney" while waving wads of cash in the pale faces of their regional rivals. In the 90s, pranksters at the Bank of England have had great sport with the interest rate, hiking it up in order to further decimate whatever was left of boring old northern manufacturing industry.

Nothing wrong with a bit of vicious vandalism, goes the laissez-faire theory, but everything has its sell-by date. Now it's time to move on and show some generosity to our poor relatives and I have just the scheme to help them out. (Hasty note to pampered Londoners: don't worry, there's something in it for us).

My plan is to shift, lock, stock and bureaucratic barrel, all the government departments that currently leech off London into the regions, thereby handing a welcome jobs boost to the needy while emptying our own style-conscious streets and overcrowded transport system of hundreds of thousands of brown-suited commuters. Better still, we'd be rid of a whole swathe of politicians whose past-it pomposity disfigures the capital of cool but which would impress faraway locals who are movingly desperate to bathe in the glow of importance of any stripe.

Frank Dobson, for instance, could quit the London Mayor race, get his old job back at the Department of Health and move the whole operation up to his native Leeds. Good news for friends of Ken Livingstone, good news for Frank who, we have now been told, never fancied the Mayor job in the first place and good news for Frank's facial hair which could make friends with all the moustaches still worn with comical macho pride by those gritty Yorkshire folk.

Education Secretary David Blunkett would high tail it back to Sheffield, led by an army of vanguardist civil servants determined to teach the steel city all about the new, soft service industries that, unfortunately, won't be coming their way. John Prescott, meanwhile, would have a Hull-ava time in his hometown by introducing any number of crazy transport schemes because nobody else would notice anyway. Bus lanes down the Humber? An idea whose time has come, Mr Prescott, sir, and might I ask you to sign this policy document, minister, exempting Jags from your wonderfully well-thought out and immensely popular road pricing scheme?

Home Secretary Jack Straw would be 'dispersed', to use the phraseology he coined for asylum seekers, to a nice former army barracks where he would pass the time with his many friends among the refugee community. Once there Straw would be allowed back to London only after experiencing huge delays in applying for a passport and if he agreed to give up all state benefits including his free NHS glasses.

You might think this fine plan has about as much chance of bearing fruit as the womb of Anne Widdicombe but that is to reckon without the support of Tony Blair. This week, the PM is touring the country, banging the drum for the regions. Don't be fooled into thinking it's just one more PR exercise for I believe that Blair is actually viewing properties on his ministerial colleagues' behalf.

Blair wants them out of the way to combat what he rightly observed this week as London's own severe poverty problems. Housing is one key area of concern identified by the PM, and he bravely plans to use his own family as guinea pigs in a new project to increase living space for Londoners. His growing clan have already found number 10 Downing Street too small for their needs and, with another Blair babe on the way, even their annexation of number 11 is unlikely to provide enough lebensraum. But with the entire civil service exiled to the regions, thousands of square feet of prime office space covering most of Whitehall would suddenly become available - enough to house not only Blair's brood but his vast collection of broken promises as well.

Charles Leads Home
Improvement Movement

LONDON's property prices have taken the headlines recently, as the cost of buying a house continues to vastly outstrip the rest of the country.

The snag is that London exists on a different plane from other parts of Britain, a space occupied in the main by rival world cities. Indeed, real estate is even more expensive in the likes of Amsterdam, New York, Paris and Tokyo.

But they all score in the rented sector which over here is pitifully small.

Now, finally, someone in authority has recognised the problem and is ready to do something about it. Prince Charles has announced that he wants to quit Buckingham Palace if he ever gets his bum on the throne and shift the court to Windsor Castle; a move which instantly creates a hugely desirable central London property ripe for conversion into executive homes soaked in history, family breakdown and corgi droppings.

At the other end of the housing market, there are encouraging signs of movement, too. Notorious north London prison Wormwood Scrubs has closed down one of its wings for refurbishment and, after the inevitable privatisation, could easily earn some extra moola by renting out surplus rooms to hard up northerners down here begging for work.

While people are flocking into London, those already here can't get out. Thanks to a foul up at the passport office, tens of thousands of would be travellers have been queuing for days in the hope of gaining the important human right to have fat border guards sneer at their badly lit mugshots.

Renaissance hits London

IN A WORLD in which increasing specialisation is taken for granted, it is intriguing to bring you hot news that the great and good of London are doing their bit to reverse the process, develop wide ranging interests in the world at large, and become latter day renaissance folk.

An obscure aristocrat led the way. Tom Parker-Bowles, son of the girlfriend of the future king, revealed his talents are not confined to the exacting world of PR when he gallantly offered to obtain cocaine for a winsome undercover journalist. Then there was England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, a man possessed of a renaissance-style name if not, we had thought until now, an Enlightenment-style intellect. But, as NATO bombing blunders have proved over and over again, appearances can be deceptive.

Bovine Dallaglio is an expert in all matters narcotic, is a keen student of national sexual characteristics and can also spot a good business opportunity when one pops into his mouth.

Evidence that these two are but the first examples of the London's neo-renaissance movement is to be found on the Thames as a new river bus service has opened for business, adding a pleasing Venetian flavour to the capital.

Alas, there are always stragglers, even amongst our cultural elite. Yes, we mean you, Hugh Grant. Just once, can you please try to do something else apart from act the nervous, diffident English twerp.

Royals to Kosovo Rescue

A FRIEND took his kids to the Tower of London the other day to gawp at the jewels, ravens and iron-willed patience of the record breaking queues.

Safely in the souvenir shop after an arduous hour of royal tittle tattle the two boys were given permission to choose a momento of their day. One chose a punk mask, the other a model of a tube train.

Obviously, the only bits of the Tower tour that did interest them were the tales of torture and death which leads me to believe the Royals have got it all wrong in their recent bid for a modernising revamp. Evidence of the Windsors laughable attempts to loosen up has arisen with increasing frequency of late.

They try but they can't quite cut it, bless 'em. Only this week, Prince William was spotted with once trendy ethnic bangles around his wrist; meanwhile his cousin Zoe, she of the pierced tongue, is afraid to show off her own royal jewel in public, and great Aunty Margaret managed to burn both feet in what was presumably a botched attempt at S&M bathing.

No, as my friend's kids realise, what our esteemed family need is a return to the good old days of mass murder and crazy killings. That'd bring the bored punters flocking back to the royalist cause. And what better time to effect this cunning change of tack but in the middle of a war?

Step aside Tony Blair, let the Royals take on Milosevic. The Queen could set her corgies loose to fetch the recalcitrant Serb, sister Margaret could indulge in some decadent torture and after his ordeal by hot water Prince Charles could get the poor war criminal to confess and convert to whatever quasi-religion he liked. Hip, hip, hoorah.

Turn Right at The City

LENNOX LEWIS is but the latest sign of east London's punchy new role at the vanguard of the capital's development.

Once upon a time the East End was flat on the canvas; viewed by polite society as a den of vermin, vice and venereal disease, an area to be avoided at all costs unless one fancied a cheap Bengali curry or had to pass through on the way to the office monstrosities of Docklands.

Not any more. Now there's a certain cachet, among the type of media folk who decide these things, to be earned from choosing the east for your home, especially in club and cafe rich districts like hustling bustling Hoxton.

Even the curry places have inched up market with no loss of culinary excellence, basking in the marketing glory of the renamed Banglatown. And just over the river the Dome and the associated Millennium celebrations have attracted world wide attention to Greenwich.

The East End is still the poorest area of London, by quite some distance, but its bit-part renaissance provides yet more evidence that the capital's culture derives most of its raw energy and exciting surprises from the level they call the street. Lewis's fists apart, the other reason for the upturn could well be Tony Blair's departure from eastish Islington to the dull environs of Downing Street.

As yet there are few places to stay in east London for those who wish to explore this fascinating area with its potent mixture of neo-Dickensian poverty, 90s cafe society and gargantuan office development. The best bet could be to hole up in The City and work your way east from there. There are plenty of hotels in the financial zone to choose from; LondonNet's own preference being The Rookery.

Click here for details of staying at The Rookery.

Millennium Meanderings

No one was very surprised this week when London Underground admitted that its much troubled Jubilee Line extension to the Millennium Dome might not be ready on time.

In fact, the Tube's problems only appear to have made people even more keen to get to the huge round thing come witching hour on December 31st. Take the Queen, for instance. Such is her desire to see the Dome, it was reported underlings have arranged for the Thames to be iced over so Her Skating Majesty can whoosh along to Greenwich.

The rest of us might be advised to follow her exquisite tracks, because there doesn't seem to be any other way we'll be able to get there. As well as the debacle underground, plans for loads of river busses appear to have bitten the dust and, in a self-defeating concession to environmentalists, the Dome will have virtually no car parks. But the many would-be visitors to London for the Millennium Eve - tourist chiefs say hotel bookings are already high going on overflowing - have no need to worry.

The good side of the transport mess is that, with the Dome unreachable, pleasure seeking crowds will be forced to whoop it up in central London, an altogether better venue for mass celebration.

LondonNet New Year Predictions

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown deny reports of a rift between them.
Rod Stewart is dumped by wife Rachel Hunter.
Contractors for the tube link to the Millennium Dome refuse to extend lucrative management bonus scheme to engineers.
Arsene Wenger slams reports that his Arsenal side are dirty.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown announce they are a tightly knit team, unswerving in their reciprocal regard.
Newly single Rod Stewart hits the town with Liam Gallagher. Contractors assure worried ministers that the Millennium Dome tube link will be ready on time.
Arsene Wenger complains that opponents are consistently getting away with shoving their faces into his players' elbows.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown announce they have never, ever been closer.
Rod Stewart hits the town with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit.
Contractors bring in extra shifts to speed up work on the Millennium Dome tube link
Arsene Wenger issues his players with elbow pads in a bid to prevent injury.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown share a quiet Easter break in Tuscany, to discuss policy.
Rod Stewart hits Liam Gallagher with a football boot and runs off to LA with Patsy Kensit.
Contractors sack "inflexible" engineers refusing to work the new 23.5 hour shift system.
"Elbow, elbow, we are the Arsenal boys/and we all swallow the Arse lies" becomes favourite chant at Highbury.

Tony Blair calls Gordon Brown "my closest friend, inside, or indeed outside, of politics."
Rod Stewart hits LA soccer bars with Patsy Kensit, who reveals her pregnancy via e-mail to Matt Drudge.
Contractors bring in new team of crack engineers and assure ministers that the tube link to the Millennium Dome will be up and running by year 2000.
Arsenal fans wave elbow pads at their heroes as the team walk out at Wembley for FA Cup final.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are seen shopping together in Notting Hill.
Hip thrusting Rod Stewart stars in new advert for Viagra.
Contractors forced to admit they have systematically laced engineers food with a steroids/cocaine cocktail to boost productivity.
Arsene Wenger drafts in former runner Zola Budd as new running coach, with special reference to sticky out elbows.

Tony Blair praises Gordon Brown's management of the economy, citing his close friend's safe pair of hands, which, he adds warmly, "are also incredibly gentle".
Patsy Kensit admits she doesn't know who the father of her unborn baby is.
Viagra sales hit the floor.
Contractors appoint Sophie Rhys-Jones as their PR chief to combat "unfair" criticism of the project which, they say, is on schedule.
Arsenal players banned from local supermarkets after disrupting shelf displays with their elbows.

Tony Blair gives his friend Gordon keys to number 10 Downing Street, arguing the move will save valuable government time.
Matt Drudge reports that Bill Clinton is the father to the Kensit foetus.
Percentage of people believing the Millennium tube link will open on time plummets when Rhys-Jones gives the project her royal assurance.
Arsenal reveal new strip for season, complete with body armour, red and white knuckle dusters and retractable elbow spike.

Tony, holding hands with shy looking Gordon, delivers key note speech calling for a Third Way in personal relationships.
"Unless I've missed my guess, biology doesn't allow for pregnancy via the mouth," says Bill Clinton, denying paternity in Kensit case.
Contractors sack crack engineers for succumbing to sleep on innovative new 24 hour shift pattern.
Arsene Wenger sends cleaning bill to FA after opponent spills his blood on an Arsenal shirt.

Tony Blair rushes back alone from Tuscany after row with Gordon Brown. Rod Stewart hits DC with Bill Clinton.
Thousands of moles employed on a strictly pay-as-you-dig basis by contractors for the Millennium tube link.
Arsene Wenger refuses to condemn Dennis Bergkamp after the Dutch striker elbows an air hostess to death on flight to European Cup tie.

Gordon Brown poisons Tony Blair with his own hairspray and installs himself as Prime Minister.
Rod Stewart hits Bill with press conference lectern and flees to London with Chelsea Clinton.
Moles demand removal of supervisory hyenas, brought in to improve productivity on Millennium tube link project, now admitted to being "slightly behind schedule."
The revered Arsenal back four announce their retirement, blaming referees, the media and Alex Ferguson for their decision.

In an exclusive interview with The Sun, Gordon Brown describes his dramatic action as "prudent and cautious."
Matt Drudge breaks the news that Bill Clinton knowingly had intimate contact with press conference lectern.
Government hands over billions of pounds in extra funding to finish Millennium tube link on time, praising contractors' "unrivalled efficiency."
Arsenal employ Sophie Rhys-Jones as their new PR guru to combat "unwarranted" criticism of their robust playing style.

Tortured By Time

YOU might have thought that people would want this century, the most bloody in history, to end. But no, in London at least, it looks like we want the good old 20th century to stick around.

The evidence is patchy so far but clear nonetheless; people are trying to defy the venerable laws of the universe and turn back time. According to the latest survey, traffic in London is now stationary more often than it is not and traffic speeds are now officially sub-horse and cart for the first time since

Dobbin and his hay-munching pals retired to the glue factory in deference to the new fangled automobile.

Meanwhile shops in town report that last month saw the lowest November sales figures for years. Put these trends down to economics at your peril. No, here we have a concrete challenge to Einsteinian physics. If we extrapolate the traffic survey's astonishing findings, for example, we see that cars, which are currently able to do 11mph, will soon be tootling along at minus speeds. Yes, they will go backwards.

No bad thing too, you environment lovers may argue, and good luck to you. But there is better news still. At some point, shops, too, will hang up the minus sign over their goods. In other words, they will pay us to take their wonderful wares away.

Some sections of the capital's community are, of course, much further ahead than others in the race to cheat time. Just like the old days, any politics of interest is now conducted in an unelected chamber based on the hereditary principle, and state torturers are handed gracious accommodation for their pains. Not to worry. Pinochet may be tucked away in a sumptuous mansion near Wentworth golf course but maybe someone can club the old murderer out of an upstairs bedroom onto the fairway for us.

A bit harsh? Not a bit. As our time-reversers will soon discover when they head back through the 1970s, one of the favourite methods of Pinochet's henchmen in dealing with their political foes was called fenestration, in which the general's enemies were dispatched to death via high windows.

Blair Snuggles Up to Clinton

Murderous dictators must be brought to book, counsels Prime Minister Tony Blair as he dusts off hi military hardware for another pop at Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, the slippery PM refuses to get involved in the fight to hand over General Pinochet, the bloodthirsty former Chilean ruler to Spanish authorities.

Why the apparent double standards? It's hard to look further than the other side of the ocean where a newly invigorated Bill Clinton is keen to push home his recent electoral advantage and bomb the whiskers off Saddam. Clinton and US big business are also some of the keenest advocates of letting Pinochet head home. Little surprise when a former CIA man revealed last week that it was on the advice of Pepsi that Pinochet was tooled up by the US back in the 1970s.

Blair lies supine in front of Clinton, as creepy crawly as anything you might care to dig up in your garden, but is not daft enough to want to let this lap dog image stick. Hence his rottweiller attack on the ambitions of populist left winger Ken Livingstone to become London's Mayor. In a way you have got to hand it to Blair for he has cornered the market on the politics of the playground; suck up to the big boy and kick sand in the face of the class stooge. But when the rest of the school wakes up to his slimy antics there'll be a queue a mile long to wipe that smug grin off his face. Trouble is first in line for a takeover is Gordon Brown.

Something in the Air

MIMICKING a bizarre plot in a James Bond movie, we can exclusively reveal that a menacing mastermind has been pumping funny stuff into the air over London town. There can be no other explanation for the strange happenings of the past fortnight.

First our spineless Labour government rediscovered its radical roots, sending armed police into a London hospital to arrest a frail 82 year old. Not just any old man recovering from a serious back operation you understand, but the former head of state of one of our longest allies, Chile. It seems even the spin-doctoring party hacks remember their days of student solidarity. The chance to extradite ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet to be put on trial in Spain, for the murder and disappearance of thousands of supporters of Allende's democratically elected government, was just too good to miss.

Then our strange but all consuming cloud drifted east to The Strand where it settled above the Royal Courts of Justice. There, three High Court judges were 'soberly' deliberating over the fate of Thatcher's tea-time buddy Pinochet. They ruled that the strong man enjoyed 'sovereign' immunity from prosecution because he was head of state at the time of the barbarity. Dictators the world over breathed a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that they could continue to make their annual Harrods shopping trip without facing 'unwarranted intrusion' into their human rights records.

By now our funny stuff had spread south to Clapham Common where it induced Welsh Secretary Ron Davies to do "something very foolish", leading first to him being robbed, then having to resign for what he called "a serious lapse of judgement". All is not what it seems of course, but then with just one lung full of this mysterious gas all logic is thrown out of the window.

Take Prince Charles. He starts the week facing embarrassing revelations from his 'friends' in a new work of pap faction by money grabbing author Penny Junor. From nemesis to nirvana in two days for Charlie boy though, for by Wednesday the gorgeous Geri Halliwell is serenading him at a charity bash with a seductive rendition of Happy Birthday.

So my friends this Halloween weekend why not take a stroll, have a deep gulp and see what the London air has in store for you.

Tom Cruise to the Rescue

IT HAS fallen to Tom Cruise, apprehender of a would-be London mugger, to re-light the path of righteousness increasingly left darkened by our rulers.

Make no mistake, the hour of the superhero has come. With some officers on trial for kicking their own police dogs to death, others tearfully admitting that the police are endemically racist, and an orchard full of bad apples in the dock on big time drug conspiracy charges, confidence in the more traditional forces of order is at an all time low.

Nor can we turn to the government for succour, as Prime Minister Tony Blair has more in common with the court-squatting cops than with Tom. Blair wants to give besieged Serbian towns a right good kicking, but when General Pinochet of Chile, one of the all time top human rights abusers, is available for arrest in his own city, he keeps suspiciously quiet, despite being pressed on the issue by the Spanish government and Amnesty International.

So we issue a plea to you, Tom. Stay in town oh avenger of the mighty, and can you begin your Herculean task by nabbing Mickey Rouke for getting his ass out in public? Next stop, of course, should be that Nicole Kidman, who is pulling the same rear-end stunt every night on a London stage.

Tony Blair - Hero of the West

After recently galloping across the ocean to support famous moralist 'Wild' Bill Clinton in his shoot out with the Starrman, this week British Prime Minister Tony Blair rode his pious horse to northern outpost Blackpool, dredging up the old one about family values in his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference.

Happily Sin Sheriff Blair's absence has spurred the capital into an entertaining orgy of sleaze right out of a wild west frontier town.

Straight to jail for smut go London's formerly esteemed theatre critics, whose jaw-dropping reviews of Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room (she shows her ass) suggest they might have spent too many hours hitching their wagons to saloon bars and not enough in the saddle with their better halves.

Maybe the sex-starved scribes should take a trek to Streatham in south London where lusty whores have launched a campaign against police harassment. Or indulge their voyeuristic tendencies at the London Fashion Show, where the quota of bare flesh would make Lilly Langtry blush.

Either way, they might be mighty surprised to find Blair himself saying howdy. Why? Cherie, the prime preacher's eager wife, was spotted fingering a packet of Viagra in a quiet moment in Blackpool. Ride 'em cowboy!

Clinton Hoist by His Own Petard

These were the words that greeted unsuspecting visitors to London's Leicester Square this weekend: "Hi. We're from American television. Could you tell us what you think of the Bill Clinton situation?"

Nice to have you in town, guys, but where were you when it really mattered?

Why wait to ask what we think when the issue in hand is what a distant leader does with the most private parts of his anatomy? When Clinton is up to something that has public reverberations all over the globe, such as sending the killers into Afghanistan and Sudan, or standing idly by while the world economy teeters on the brink of collapse, American TV crews aren't exactly queuing up to garner our choice words.

But let's not be too hard on the media's obsession with individuals over policy. Clinton has brought it all on himself. Not so much because the leader of the West couldn't keep himself out of Monica's north and south* but because he has been instrumental in individualising the whole area of social policy and politics, a strategy he has unfortunately passed on to cooing lickspittle Tony Blair, our own Prime Minister.

Clinton's contribution to progressive political thought has been to sound egalitarian by pushing conservative, middle class ideas of individual responsibility down to the lower orders. In other words he has connived in cutting welfare. Now the man who thinks the rest of society should be run by rewarding talent and effort and penalising sloth and idiocy wants us all to forgive the fact he was a bad husband, a bad lover (surely the only man to offer sore knees as an excuse for lack of performance) and a bad liar.

Abide by your own meritocratic strictures, Bill, give those knees a rest, and stand down. Al Gore might not be good copy for TV crews hoping for expenses paid trips to London, but at least his lack of personality might just force the news hounds to focus on the big issues and might give your party a chance to win the next presidential elections.

* Cockney rhyming slang for 'mouth'.

- Diana Anniversary Special

Al Fayed shops for new explanation

HARRODS boss Mohammed Al Fayed last week amended earlier claims that his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales were victims of some wicked conspiracy in favour of a more prosaic theory blaming a couple of bungling bodyguards for their horrific deaths.

But Al Fayed's betrayal of the conspiracy theorists cause has not put off the suspicious multitudes, still in a majority, who believe the two lovers were sent to their deaths by human design rather than divine will.

It is a subject that is sure to run and run, as LondonNet publisher Peter Clee (that's my brother), tells viewers on German TV channel RTL this weekend. Peter (whose birthday it was yesterday) is one of the leading researchers into Diana conspiracy theories in this country and has already appeared on TV both here and in the US to discuss the various notions behind the princess's tragic death.

Internet abhors a vacuum

One of Peter's excellent insights (okay, so I'm biased) on why Diana's death has attracted so many conspiracy theories on the internet is that people were almost bound to come up with their own ideas to fill the vacuum caused by the almost total lack of information from the official Paris investigation, a deficiency which has mostly been mirrored by the usual media outlets.

Meanwhile, the world's press has gone overboard on grief stricken Diana eulogies, a factor which helps explain the tiny turn out at a walk on August 23rd through her funeral route. Organisers expected 20,000 people on the morbid march but, ignoring the fact the craving for mourning had already been satisfied, had to make do with just 300 sad souls.

When the time comes, they'll get a place alongside their mistress in heaven. But it might take bodyguards of Mr Universe proportions to persuade the maker into accepting a certain department store boss, with or without a conspiracy.

Catch Peter Clee's latest broadcast on RTL's Der Spiegel TV show on Sunday August 30th, 22.00 CET, 21.00 GMT.

The anniversary of Diana's death is on Monday August 31st.

To arranage an interiew on the subject of Diana, or anything else for that matter, contact LondonNet on: [email protected]

Street Goes Down the Gutter

AN enterprising company launches a Night Tour of central London complete with sights of the heartrending and homeless as well as the sleazy and salacious. Sara Phillips, umpteenth in line for the throne of the United Kingdom, gets her royal tongue pierced.

Two trivial events apparently unconnected, right? Wrong. Both pieces of idiocy offer a scary glimpse of the future decline of London's vibrant, much trumpeted, street life.

Street culture has two main features; the first that it draws its vibrance from its spontaneity, the second that it emanates from down there somewhere, that somewhere commonly referred to as the street.

Once you start to stuff all that fizzing and popping into neat boxes, tetra packed for gullible tourists, out goes the spontaneity, and once someone as dull as Phillips dons lowlife accoutrements, the game is surely up for the cultural kudos of the street. Next Sara and her posh pals will take to sleeping in urine infested blankets to gain cred. But enough of boarding school pranks.

Queen Goes House Hunting

The Royals do have a homeless problem of their own for this is the time of the year the Queen and her brood are forced to flee Buckingham Palace in the face of a mass invasion by tourists, who, for a discreet fee, are allowed to gawp at the insides of the regal residence.

Besides the fact she cannot abide sharing her London pile with hordes of visitors, Her Majesty is wise to clear out of town for a while. With the anniversary of Diana's death so close, Liz faced trouble following reports that her first words on hearing of the tragedy were in concern for the family jewels that may have adorned her daughter-in-law's mangled corpse.

On her travels, Her Majesty would be well advised to avoid the cheeky charms of east London where last week experts cleared hundreds of people out of their homes so they could diffuse an unexploded Second World War bomb. Luckily, the Queen has several other residences on which to call.

Mayor Mystery Deepens

Not so London's new mayor, who still doesn't know where his or her new assembly will gather itself. Indeed the whole mayor business finds itself shrouded in ever greater clouds of mystery as Labour hopeful Ken Livingstone and Tory eager beaver Lord Archer find themselves attacked with bitter fervour by their own sides. Such is the climate of intrigue that no one's got a clue who will stand from which party, or what strange powers the mystery person will wield.

What we can say with some considerable confidence is that by the time the long running mayoral saga draws to a close the lucky winner will not have to pierce his or her tongue to gain respect. A stab or two in the back will do.

- The Perils of Diana Pitstop
- Prescott Stinks the Place Out
- Short horror story

- The Perils of Diana Pitstop

Last week many turned their noses up at news that Princess Diana is to be immortalised in cartoon form. But the easily offended should be aware that the tragic royal, in the run up to her death, had already starred in a real life version of Wacky Races .

One chauffeur familiar with the Mercedes 280S in which the Princess died has now claimed that the flashy car was known to have faulty brakes before its chase with a posse of snap-happy paparazzi. Despite that news, my bet is that the vast majority of commuters would take their chances in a plush Mercedes, however dodgy its brakes, over the daily assault course represented by public transport.

- Prescott Stinks the Place Out

A sniffy fate confronts the travelling throng in the rush hour on London's creaking transport system. And now, thanks to the astonishing schemes of Transport Secretary John Prescott, Stuffed Trains Induce Nose Kurl-up (STINK) syndrome is about to get worse as thousands more schnozzes are forced to wrinkle up to the city's armpits.

Prescott, with the kind help of countless focus groups, consultants and lobbyists, has noticed that London's roads are clogged up and has decided to use city centre tolls and car park taxes to coral drivers into leaving their beloved toys at home. The money raised from the reintroduction of highway robbery, claims John, will be used to spruce up the trains and buses but he is careful not to give any dates. In the meantime, presumably, the motored classes will fall gratefully into the waiting armpits of public transport.

In a separate development plans were announced to start up a peak hours hovercraft service on the Thames, confirming my long held adherence to the mathematical law of inverse proportions, which states that as the problem with public transport approaches tragedy, so its solution hovers ever closer to farce.

- Short horror story

Travellers weren't the only ones wishing John had told his researchers to focus off. Backers, including Martin Amis, of new pocket-sized short story pamphlets aimed at commuters, must have been choking on their meal tickets. The prospect of tubes, trains and buses so crowded you can hardly wrench your conk away from your neighbours pits hardly represents fertile ground for sticking your nose between the covers of some wordy masterpiece.

Streets of Shame

"Let me take you through the streets of London," goes the song, to which famous line will soon be added the miserly coda, "but remember to bring a few pounds to pay for your trip," if the tight arses at the Corporation of London have their way.

Corporation bosses, who run London's financial district, are set to charge driving visitors to the area UKP3 for the privilege, a move which is targeted deliberately against less financially well endowed Londoners.

Meanwhile, those even lower down the pecking order who use the city's streets as their home have been handed an apparent boost with the appointment of a so-called 'Streets Czar'. But the suspicion remains that the Czar's main motive will be to clear the alleys and doorways of their human debris so as not to offend tourists and City types, rather than to improve the long term lot of people at the bottom of the pile.

So far, for instance, few clues as to where the homeless will be sent can be gleaned. And in a country which, it was revealed this week, houses its darling Princess Diana on a former dogs burial ground, the homeless can be forgiven for not greeting the Czar's appointment with serf like worship.

Kensington Battleground

Rival fans fought it out on London streets this week with Kensington the surprising choice of battleground.

But this was no hooligan-driven World Cup war, although some London landlords, good enough to install big screens at their pubs, have reported minor trouble between supporters.

Instead, fans of the scheme to plant a Memorial Garden to Princess Diana in Kensington have found themselves attacked by local residents who fear an influx of tourists. So far the attacks have only been verbal in nature but it may not stay that way for much longer. Leading the assault on the Diana garden is Kensington MP Alan Clark, one of the few men in authority to publicly back English hooligans in France. Clark paid tribute to the "martial spirit" of the bottle wielding throng, claiming they were provoked by rival fans, a justification he may well use when the glass (presumably from bottles of bubbly rather than lager) starts to fly down Kensington way.

If future tourists do have a Diana Garden to visit, they will be able to get there quicker than ever, thanks to the new Heathrow rail link which boasts a connection time of 15 minutes to Paddington station in central London. About as long as British interest in this year's Wimbledon tennis tournament, in all probability.

Capital Catastrophe

AS TWO emerging nuclear powers get ready to blow each other to bits on the other side of the world, in London it appears to be sad celebrities who face impending Armageddon.

The last week has seen a huge cull of faces which have adorned the West End celeb circuit for some years. First to go was London Spice Girl Geri Halliwell who pulled the plug on girl power to head out of town for LA.

Then there was Gazza, spat out of the England World Cup squad after eating a kebab in Soho the other week.

Next up the Rolling Stones revealed, to huge sighs of relief all around, that they would not be turning up for planned dates in London, claiming new tax rules gave them no satisfaction.

And the slaughter of the famous is apparently not over yet. Would-be London Mayor Lord Jeffrey Archer looks like getting the elbow from the big race after colleagues from his own party raked over his iffy past, and next many of his fellow lordships, the hereditary ones, are set to be chucked out of Parliament. Now London is living in fear that world leaders, as with India and Pakistan, will impose tough sanctions on this celebrity graveyard of a city, threatening the whole edifice of Cool Britannia, the Blair government, and life in the next millennium into the bargain.

London Looks East

Look East appeared to be London's slogan this week as news in the capital acquired a distinctly oriental flavour. Flying in from points east were two British nurses freed from a Saudi Arabian jail and Japanese Emperor Akihito who shared the unhappy attentions of tabloid reporters keen to dig up past misdeeds.

Unlike the tight lipped Emperor, the nurses were able to cash in on the tabloid interest but it is doubtful whether Akihito was planning to fly back home on new cheapo airline Go!, launched last week, in any case.

Akihito did, however, come under fire from former Japanese prisoners of war who demanded a bigger apology for their war time miss-treatment than has previously been given.

On the same day it emerged that London was planning a cheeky bid to poach the 2002 World Cup final from Tokyo. With economies in the Far East on the slide doubts have been expressed as to Japan's capabilities of hosting the event, a situation immediately capitalised on by British Minister of Sport Tony Banks, a London Mayor hopeful.

While Banks tries to bring the biggest football prize of all to the west, a smaller trophy went the other way when south east London football club Charlton Athletic gained promotion to the Premiership after a thrilling win in the First Division play off final against Sunderland. With Crystal Palace relegated, Charlton's ascent brings the London quotient in the top flight back to six. Something, no doubt, Akihito will mull over as he heads out of town.

PS. Thanks for the letters from our foreign readers re British Tourist Authority Offices (BTAs) abroad. Surprisingly you all had good things to say about the BTAs, from USA to Canada to Holland you all gave them the thumbs up. So fellow AHOY readers may wish to note that the local BTA is worth a call when planning your next trip. Other views? Email us at [email protected]

Hanging On The Telephone
Getting to grips with the arcane world of travel bureaux

This week' s survey by the Consumer Association highlighted some of the difficulties UK tourists face when seeking info about foreign shores. Callers to the Greek office face a wait measuring 105 rings. The Florida office charges serious money just to get a pithy brochure on the Sunshine State. "We were left wondering if some staff really wanted to encourage visitors" said the survey.

Well I am left wondering exactly what visitors to London and the UK are dished up by our representatives abroad. One shudders at the prospect. The image of the average English civil servant working abroad is at best "well-meaning, nice but dim, drinking whisky and gin" and at worst "hey-ho, I travel the world at the taxpayer's expense". As for queues, face it, for us Brits standing in line is a national obsession.

So dish the dirt, put us out of our misery and tell us if our money is being well spent. Do our British Tourist Offices answer the phone, are they helpful and friendly? Do they charge for advice?

Email us at [email protected] with your views and experiences.

Hurry While Stocks Last
- On the crumbling Buckingham Palace

This week's news that Buckingham Palace is having trouble staying in a vertical position should act as a spur to those of you who have not yet tasted the delights of London's most famous royal residence.

It is now only a few months before the Queen opens the majestic doors of her living quarters to tourists, casual visitors and the downright nosy. And, judging by the amount of masonry tumbling down from Palace ceilings, as revealed on LondonNet's news service this week, the annual opening up this August may be your last chance to see the insides of one of the world's top tourist sites.

Just remember to bring your hard hat.

Clinton's Career Choices

Her Majesty the Queen Mother did her best to stand up to the news challenge from across the ocean but to no avail. The Queen Mum's brave attempt to hog the headlines fell down as all eyes in London turned westwards to the travails of poor old Bill Clinton. The old girl might have needed surgery to replace her broken hip but what's that against the story of the guy who needs a woman's gaping mouth to replace his broken zip?

Over here, Clinton's plight has been viewed sympathetically. People have less difficulty accepting the western world is led by a man with serial trouser trouble than they do working out what the word 'intern' means. Internet? International? Internuffalready!mymouth'sfull?

Indeed the sympathy has reached such a pitch that we have an idea for the put-apon President. Sir, you're due to quit the Oval Office in a couple of years. So why not head our way and become London's first elected mayor? Tasteless allegations of a sexual nature would not, we can assure you, dog your every path.

Just look at your main rivals for this coveted post. Richard Branson has been accused of molesting a woman, Jeffrey Archer has admitted handing over brown envelopes stuffed with cash to a prostitute and Ken Livingstone likes newts. Yes, sir, they suck. Get down on it and blow them all away.

The Greenwich Dome

EASTERN promise, a pilgrimage to the home of Mickey Mouse and a huge dome where people will come together in love and harmony ...

1960s retro chic? No, 1998 London reality.

The news from the capital of cool has been warmed over again and again as the Millennium Dome continues to dominate the headlines. First Prime Minister Tony Blair dropped in on his Japanese counterpart, begging bowl in hand. We all knew Tony could lay on the charm, but to win cash for the Dome from the likes of Toyota and Nissan at a time of financial apocalypse on the Japanese markets must have meant Blair outdid even his famously polite hosts in the bowing and scraping stakes.

With Tony out east, chief henchman Peter Mandelson had no option but to turn to the wise old head of Mickey Mouse for advice. Mandy returned from Disneyworld full of ideas but still won't repeat anything that Mickey had to say. Not a squeak.

What Preachy Pete did allow was that the 750 million pound Dome would feature a good, clean Christian theme. On no account, came the word from the New Labour pulpit, would the giant sized man - planned as the centrepiece of the touchy feely exhibition - have an, ooh madam, penis.

No cock. Just one helluva lot of bull.



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