8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 13

B limey. You can't trust even an authorised biographer to draw

a discreet veil these days, can you? In Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Ni yen Graham Lord — previously the biographer of Dick Francis and Jeffrey Bernard — exposes his subject as a philandering fantasist with the sexual equipment of a blue whale (Patrick MacNee testifies on this point) and the morals of an alleycat. At the age of 64, Mr Lord writes, while filming Paper Tiger, Niv entertained at least five ladies in ten weeks, before having to be flown home on a stretcher because he put his back out in conversation with a pair of Australian air-hostesses. Will he rest in peace alongside his second wife Hjordis in the graveyard at Chateau D'Oex in Switzerland? Apparently not. 'Under Swiss law,' writes Mr Lord, 'Niv may lie in his grave only until 2047,50 years after Hjordis's death, when his body will be dug up and the space used for someone else.'

The admirable Oliver Poole — the only British reporter to have been embedded in a front-line US tank company during the Iraq war — has produced a riveting account of his experiences, Black Knights: On the Bloody Road to Baghdad. Among its selling points are no fewer than 14 photographs of the handsome Mr Poole. I can't help noticing that this rather overshadows the efforts of my colleague Boris Johnson, whose account of his election campaign, Jottings from the Stump, includes only nine photographs of its author. In Mr Johnson's defence, I might point out, he has less space than Mr Poole, having only the dust-jacket to work with.

T s there no limit to the range and resource1 fulness of my fast-food correspondent? Hogg this week brings news from Iraq, where, he says, excitedly waving a copy of the Washington Post, that desert land's only branch of Burger King has become one of the top-ten-selling BK franchises in the world. US soldiers, reports the Post, have been known to travel 220 miles by plane from Mosul to pick up onion rings. One soldier told them: 'It's $2 of heaven. It's the only thing getting us through this deployment.'

After being stabbed in the back by his parliamentary party, and stabbed in the front by the sneering and supercilious reviewers of his book, IaM Duncan Smith took symbolic revenge at the weekend. The Quiet Man turned up the volume on

Saturday night with £60 worth of high-explosive fireworks — a jumbo family pack augmented by some specially selected DuncanSmith ordnance. As he let them off, he gave each individual rocket the name of one of his tormentors. Boom! Bang! Happy little faces bathed in the glow of destruction, the Duncan Smith clan found comfort.

At long last, the French theorist Helene Cixous (crazy name, crazy gal) is being honoured with a three-day conference on her own writing at University College, London. For many,' reads the publicity material for the conference, 'Helene Cixous is the French feminist theorist responsible for devastating critiques of phallogocentrism, which helped to revolutionise the academy. However, she is also a "Jewish", "Francophone", "woman" poet born in Algeria, author of some 50 novels and plays that are forever challenging the limits of literature.' My cynical friend Henry asks: 'Why no quote marks around poet, which is surely the most contentious claim?'

Jacques Derrida has no such quibbles. He endorses Ms axons thus: 'Whoever has not seen the very line of Helene Cixous's handwriting will miss something essential of what corn

municates to the body of the published text this inspired life and this animality, this supple rnanualness of the quill, this patient acceleration of the letter, fine, lively, agile, sure, economical, clear, readable, carried off in an uninterrupted and unimaginably curious cursivity, which is to say concerned with finding quickly, with not losing an instant and not letting itself be outpaced by what it finds itself finding before even having searched for it, even if we know it has been searching for centuries and has always known where it searched for what it has just found in the right place at the angle of a certain branch. Her writing reminds me of all the squirrels in the world.'

My Welsh-language correspondent, Evans, who has no truck with squirrels, describes conniptions of embarrassment in the valleys as newsreaders struggle to pronounce Michael Howard's hometown, 'Llanelli'. As a service to spittle-spattered newsdesks everywhere, he offers to tell us how it's done. 'First, cover nearby foodstuffs in clingfilm,' advises Evans. 'Remove small children and uncaged pets to a distance of ten metres. Eat a dry biscuit to keep oral fluids to a minimum. Ready? Here goes. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. Keep it flattish, so that the sides are not quite touching the inner perimeter of the upper molars. Then relax. Now inhale. Here comes the hard part. Extend your lips horizontally, as if you were smiling, then calmly and steadily exhale, letting the air rush between the sides of the tongue and the teeth. A soft and distinctive Welsh whistling noise should stream forth from your mouth. Continue daily practice,' he concludes, 'and within a decade you'll sound like a native.' Coming presently, this admirable phonetician promises: `gogogoch'.

Admired though he is for his bonhomie, his political maturity and his enjoyment of pie and pint, the career of Ken Clarke provides an exemplary lesson in the value of humility. Had he had the team spirit to muck in and serve the party by accepting a frontbench job in 1991 — as Michael Howard did — he would undoubtedly by now have become the leader of the Conservative party. It's not true,pace Milton, that they also serve who only put on weight.

rom men of Harlech to bums of Hackney. One hundred green leather chairs in Hackney Council chamber have worn out. Cost of replacement? £60,000. Who says our council tax isn't being spent on the things that really matter?