13 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 12

W ith the Hutton inquiry now temporarily in abeyance, and Michael

Meacher taking off the media heat by realigning himself, politically, with David Icke, how are the embattled understrappers in the communications department of the Ministry of Defence passing the empty hours? Why, they have been playing 'corridor cricket' — a version of the international Test game, but played with bins, rolled-up bits of A4 and lengths of cardboard tubing. 'How on earth did you get so good at this?' asked a frustrated bowler, after his umpteenth failed attempt to bowl out Jon French. 'Practice,' replied French. 'I was working at Conservative Central Office in the run-up to the 1997 election.'

Mick Cohen's righteous new book, Pretty IN Straight Guys — a polemic against the cynicism and ghastliness of our political masters, described by one critic as having the invigorating effect of drinking 'a pint of espresso' — includes, fairmindedly, an anecdote which casts a kindly light on Alastair Campbell's departing form. Cohen describes a 1997 lunch at which the PM met the Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, and talk turned to the Cabinet pay freeze. 'Piers . . . was probably earning three times as much as the PM. He had begun his career as Piers Pugh Morgan, but had dropped the Pugh because it was too elitist a name for a man making a career in the masses. Plain Mr Morgan nevertheless relished his class advantage over the PM. He threw a £20 note at the Prime Minister and bellowed, -Hey, Tony, buy the kids some toys". . . . It takes,' Cohen notes, 'a man of extraordinary vulgarity to bring out the hidden grace in Alastair Campbell. Campbell picked up the crumpled note, straightened it out, and handed it back. "Why don't you give it to charity, Piers?" he said.'

As the mysterious, pseudonymous 'Baghdad Blogger' of the Iraq war, the young Iraqi architect Salam Pax was scalding in his daily Internet diary about the US's preferred candidate to lead postwar Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. He has just arrived in this country to promote the publication in book form of his 'Wog', and brings further news of Mr Chalabi. Immediately after the war, you'll remember, Mr Chalabi set up his temporary headquarters in the Baghdad Hunting Club —which, as my colleague Andrew Gilligan reported here at the time, is in 'the swishest

part of the capital, surrounded by heavily guarded luxury villas'. It was a favoured haunt of Uday Hussein. 'The building's symbolism,' Mr Gilligan added, perhaps unkindly, 'is a little off-putting for the average Baghdad voter.' Has Mr Chalabi been shrewd enough to overcome this PR disadvantage? Er. 'He has moved into the house which used to belong to the head of the Mukhabarat [Saddam's secret police]: says Mr Pax. 'You have the whole area surrounded just as it used to be. Checkpoints . . . people with guns.. . '

Study the illustration which accompanies this column. Note the aristocratic bearing; the eyes haunted by an unknowable past; the sense of a once-trim handlebar moustache gone wildly to seed. And ask yourself: 'Is This Lord Lucan? — The End of the Most Baffling Disappearing Act in British History.' Well, is it?

What manner of a man is James Dingemans, QC, counsel to the Hutton inquiry? One of mettle on the rugger pitch, according to my editor, Boris Johnson, the Conservative member for Henley and an Oxford contemporary of Mr Dingemans. 'We were briefly in the Freshmen's XV together,' he reports. 'I seem to remember that I was tight head prop and he was loose head prop.' Mr Johnson — missing the Varsity team by a blond hair — graciously gives Dingemans best. As his offices confirm on his behalf, Mr Dingemans went on to take a blue.

Pthe London Review of Books I though you might, this magnificently august and judicious journal won't be rushed into reviewing a book before it has had time to give it proper consideration. So, the current issue contains a review of Allison Pearson's whimsical mum-lit bestseller! Don't Know How She Does It. Publication date: 4 July 2002. The verdict, let the record show, was that Ms Pearson's novel sends 'conservative, ultimately dispiriting messages about women's lives'. Perhaps if she'd put an exclamation mark at the end of the title.. . .

A boost for the ailing Britart scene.

Twenty-three-year-old James Ford is launching a worldwide appeal for secondhand toy cars, mostly orange, to create a sculpture he proposes to call 'General Carbunkle'. 'In order to complete the piece,' he writes, 'I will need over 1,000 orange toy cars (as well as some black and some white ones). They can be plastic, metal, lead, die-cast, etc., but they must be no bigger than 100x150x5Omm.' Mr Ford, who receives no public funding, intends to glue the cars to the shell of an old Ford Capri in order to produce as close as possible a replica of the 'General Lee', the car driven by the Duke brothers in the 1980s TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. The project is intended as a commentary on '1980s TV shows, nostalgia and the British monarchy' and, he adds, 'I'm sure Saatchi would like to buy it when it's finished!' He deserves our support. Email james@jamesrobertford.com if you can help him with a car.

Will voters in California get what they deserve? After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger rallied from a lacklustre start to his gubernatorial candidacy by telling a press conference that he would not be raising taxes — and then stonewalling questions about how exactly he was going to manage that in the light of a £24 billion deficit. His ratings went up. Then the shrewd appeal to the family values lobby: 'I think that gay marriage,' he told CNN, 'is something that should be between a man and a woman.' Then someone threw an egg at him. It is too soon to tell how that affected his ratings. Still, I'm holding out hope for his catchphrase to be adapted to 'I'll be returned'.

Incidentally, big up to hens. Modern public life would be irredeemably impoverished without the fruit of their wombs (or whatever it is they have instead). Consider recent weeks — first Arnie gets pelted, then that narcoleptic pinhead David Blaine, dangling like a nit from a crane. Was not John Prescott improved by an egging? And aren't omelettes delicious? Go to work with an egg, we say.