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No time for any laughs at the doctor's surgery, as one-handed heroics bring to mind the perfect prank

EDINBURGH'S book festival has survived the weekend deluge, just.

There are deep puddles everywhere and a lochan occupies the road between Bute House, the First Meenister's gaff, and Charlotte Square. The highlight of the morning - indeed, the highlight of the whole shebang! - is Mr Salmonella in dialogue with Shir Thomas Devine, arguably Hamilton's greatest living historian.

There is a packed house among whom - I can't help but notice - are a fair gathering of womenfolk. Received wisdom has it that Mr Salmonella has a problem gender-wise.

Women, it seems, dinnae take to him. Why this should be the case I do not know. Some say he is this, others that, still others something else. This is most unhelpful. But it cannot go on.

I suggest the hour has come for Moira Salmonella to step out of the shadows. As anyone who has had the pleasure of her company knows, she is a woman of wit, chic and substance who could yet persuade those who are still swithering or, worse, have gone over to the other side, to see sense and vote Yes. Or, as one's plummy chums say: Yah!

TO my local surgery for an MOT. A sign on the receptionist's desk says that last month, 154 appointments were not kept. Obviously, this is not good, not least because it deprives folk who might need an appointment. I ask what can be done about this dreadful state of affairs. The receptionist shrugs her shoulders; all human life passes before her eyes, much of it beyond the pale. As ever, I offer an extreme option. "In future," I say, "you could always offer the no-shows a consultation with a witch-doctor." The receptionist, a cheery soul, gives me a look that says: "Are you sure it's a doctor you're seeing and not a shrink?"

AWFUL news about Robin Williams, who has died by his own hand aged 63. Just recently I watched - and wondered at - his performance in the movie Man Of The Year, in which he played the host of a satirical chat show who briefly becomes president. It seemed very plausible. Many have mentioned Mrs Doubtfire, which was adapted by Mr Williams and his second wife from the novel Madame Doubtfire by my dear and revered amigo, Anne Fine. The film bore little resemblance to Ms Fine's fine creation, which in turn was inspired by the New Town bric-a-brac shop and its eponymous owner. Ms Fine was not, I recall, impressed by what had been done to her novel, though the sale of the rights allowed her to purchase a large, Victorian garden in a town in the north of England. Such, alas, are the pacts one must make when in cahoots with Hollywood.

SUDDEN death is the bane of an obituary editor's life. Never knowing when someone is going to shuffle off means there is always a chance you will be caught unprepared. This is why I have long advocated a new style of obituary page. It would have a black, deckled border, gothic script and various departments that would be dependent for their content on observant readers. For example, one department might simply be headed: "Poorly?" Another could be labelled, "Anyone Seen So-And-So (name to be inserted) Lately?" While yet another might be: "Has He Stopped Taking His Pills?" The object of this service is not to pander to the prurient but to reduce the shock when someone finally falls out of circulation. Above all, one does not want to induce panic. Heaven forfend.

NEWS finally reaches me that Simon Barnes, the much-garlanded sports scribe, has left The Times, for which he has worked for more than 30 years. Speculation is rife as to why the rag has dispensed with his services.

Mr Barnes himself says that he was told he had to go because, as its "top striker", The Times could no longer afford his wages.

Others, however, have speculated that there may be more to it than that.

Apart from gracing the back pages, Mr B also wrote a rather lovely column on the countryside in general and bird life in particular.

Of late, he has championed the cause of the hen harrier, which one blogger says darkly may not have gone down too well "with some of the readers of the paper of the establishment".

If true, this is deeply worrying. As readers of this throbbing organ are well aware, I am a bird lover, and am not afraid to say so.

On occasion, I have railed against grouse shooters and would like to see haged, drawn and quartered anyone successfully prosecuted for persecuting raptors.

It may be, of course, that in saying this I have inadvertently upset the powers-that-pay-my-salary. So be it; such are the risks one runs in the pursuit of the truth.

AN airline pilot managed to land a plane safely with one hand after his prosthetic one fell off. Imagine how the passengers might have felt had they been told that when they were in mid-air!

In days of yore, when I was employed at McDonald Road library off Leith Walk, the caretaker was a dinky fellow called Dave, over whom even I towered.

Dave's job was to stoke the boiler, tell tramps to keep their socks off the radiators and collect long overdue books, none of which was without its danger. He wore a uniform, which made him look more like a bus conductor than a sergeant major.

On my first morning I was introduced to him. He offered me his hand and I shook it - too vigorously, apparently. For it came away from his arm.

Dave winced as if in terrible pain while I looked in horror at the hand I was holding in mine. How he lost the real one I know not, but he never tired of tricking the gullible.

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