What do you say to a multi-squillionaire?

FAR be it from me to take issue with one of this fair land's fairest and most accomplished, but I really do think that JK Rowling is taking herself a wee bit too seriously and should, perhaps, get out more.

Her diatribe - she conceded that it was a rant - against the cult of the skinny woman was given a mass of column inches in our national and local press over the last few days.

Her phenomenal accomplishment as the country's most successful author ensures that the world waits upon her every word. And quite right too. We have few enough A-list celebrities in this country and so we should listen to what they have to say.

But only up to a point, for I fear that Harry Potter's inventor lost the old magic touch on this occasion.

She, quite rightly, hoped that her two daughters would find things to occupy their minds other than their weight, and as a father of daughters myself I could not agree more.

But the trouble with her onslaught is that it appears to have been sparked by an innocent comment from a friend she hadn't seen for a while.

"You've lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you," were the seemingly innocuous words that lit the blue touch paper.

Our heroine felt slighted that this person didn't mention the fact that Ms Rowling, in the interval since the two last met, had given birth to a second child and had also written another blockbuster book.

Why hadn't this person mentioned either of these great events, mused Ms Rowling.

I don't know about you, but my acquaintance with the really rich is strictly limited, and what sort of small talk this 'person' was supposed to offer to one of the world's most famous authors I cannot imagine.

Was she supposed to ask Ms Rowling: "Christ, have you really trousered another six squillion quid since we last met?" Or how about: " Hi, JK... bought any more castles recently?"

People just don't talk like that... certainly not 'nice' people and certainly not in Edinburgh. In general, when stumped for something of a neutral nature to say, friends and acquaintances fall back on the tried and trusted position of being pleasant. They say things like: "You're looking good." Or: "You got a nice tan on holiday." Or even: "You've lost a bit of weight."

They don't mean anything nasty by it. They just don't know how to talk to multi-millionaires. Does anyone?

A serious MP, and you can quote me

TONY Beaumont-Dark, who died last week, was for a long time the king of the Commons' rent-a-gobs and his reputation suffered accordingly. The gangly Tory from Birmingham Selly Oak succeeded, in 1979, another loudmouth in Labour's Tom Litterick.

To my mind there was no comparison between the two. The latter was a self-regarding little twit who once famously bunked off on holiday when he should have been voting in the Commons. When told by a chastened West Midlands whip that Litterick had sneaked off to Crete, Walter Harrison, Labour's magnificent deputy chief whip, roared: "When I get my bloody hands on him, he'll be in f****** conCrete!"

Beaumont-Dark, on the other hand, loved to see his name in print and generally did - every other day, on every subject under the sun, so much so that Fleet Street news editors eventually banned this prolific rent-a-quote from their columns. For all his publicity-seeking, however, he was still a serious, if jovial, politician who eventually came to despair of Margaret Thatcher's grip on the Conservative Party.

It's Corporal Finnie to the rescue

IT'S really hard work protecting this land from the scourges of Avian Flu, but I reckon we're in especially safe hands with Ross Finnie.

After all, with Jack McConnell swanning around in the US and saying he couldn't come home because the Americans would miss him (as if they'd even noticed he was there in the first place) and with Nicol Stephen, the Deputy First Minister, having a hissy-fit and point blank refusing to come back from his holiday, it was up to Ross to man the barricades.

Even Alex Salmond couldn't be tempted away from that ludicrous cowboy hat.

Incidentally, Labour loyalists couldn't believe their luck when they saw Wee Eck's get-up at that Dressed to Kilt event. For years they've been trying to live down Jack's dressing up in a skirt and now Alex has scored a spectacular own goal to even things up.

Still, I digress. It was not so much the mantle of his doppelganger, Captain Mainwaring, that old Finnie donned last week; more that of Corporal Jones, what with his strident cries of "Don't panic, don't panic", as more and yet more of the country was sealed off.

Ross chaired a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet's Contingencies Committee and told John Prescott that everything was under control and that he (Finnie) was in charge.

Not that he had managed to get all of his Scottish cabinet colleagues round a table - it is a holiday, after all, crisis or no crisis.

However, Mr Finnie insisted to a bemused press conference later that there had been "telephonic linkage" with all of them.

I think that means that he telephoned them.

Timetable that reshuffle in education, Jack

WHEN he eventually gets back from his toils on our behalf in the USA, I think it's high time that Jack McConnell (pictured) got cracking with the reshuffle we all know he's been planning for months.

And there is no more important vacancy to fill than that of education minister.

Yes, I know that Peter Peacock is currently drawing the salary for that post, but the reality is that it is essentially the EIS - or the Educational Institute of Scotland, to give it its Sunday name - that calls all the shots.

While Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, albeit from differing standpoints, try desperately to improve state education in England, nothing, but nothing, seems to be happening on this side of the Border.

Money continues to be poured into schools - in Glasgow alone there has been a 40% increase in resources in recent years - without any corresponding increase in standards.

Just as Malcolm Chisholm had to make way for a more dynamic health minister in Andy Kerr, so Mr Peacock needs replacing. Urgently.

Both Margaret Curran and Johann Lamont have the pizzazz and drive to make things happen in that moribund department.

Me? I'd put them both in there. Immediately.

The informer, the assassins and the terrorists' deadly solution

FOR as long as there's been an Irish Republican Army, there have been informers - or touts, to use their description - in its ranks. And for as long as there have been informers, there have been hit squads and assassins ready to liquidate them. That's always been the murderous way with that bunch.

That another tout has been killed in the most squalid of circumstances comes as little surprise to anyone with an inkling of understanding about their history. What does surprise me, however, is that anyone gives any credence to the risible claims by the likes of Mitchel McLaughlin and Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein that the killing of Denis Donaldson might have somehow been the work of the British security forces. They know, possibly better than anyone, that the IRA has a way of looking after its own.

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