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Sizing up others is a truly subjective task, so it's good to know that the courts will decide

AMONG the many reasons why I am relieved not to live in the Deep South is that, should I be sent to the clink, I would not be allowed to read a book.

This is the latest wheeze of Chris Grayling, justice meenister and - as his surname suggests - a member of the salmon family. Mr Grayling is apparently worried that books are being used to smuggle drugs into prison.

Henceforth, he says, prisoners who want to read must use money earned while incarcerated to buy books. Mere words cannot express what I think of this nonsense. I have always thought that, were I find myself "inside", it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up on my reading. Now, should I rob a charity shop in Berwick-upon-Tweed or stick the heid on a fella in Noocastle, I could find myself behind bars without any possible means of diversion. Is this how things are done in a soi-disant civilised society? Back in the day, every week a couple of prisoners from Saughton used to visit Edinburgh Central Library, in order to pick up books and relay requests from fellow inmates. Not for one moment did we librarians think there was anything untoward about this. On the contrary it was regarded as an essential part of ne're-do-wells' rehabilitation. What a sad, mad place Ingerland increasingly is.

I may be deluded but have the public prints descended even deeper into the mire? Time was when the more sordid of human happenings were left to the Sunday papers, especially the yellow press, to report. There, one could satisfy one's prurience by enjoying a juicy murder or marvelling at the frailties of the clergy. Now, however, the gates of the ghetto have opened and we are deluged daily with accounts of behaviour the like of which turns one instantly puce. This week, for instance, we have learned of the nocturnal activities of a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and been told - by his own admission - of how Max Clifford, a PR, thought that having sex in his office with someone who was not his wife was "natural".

Mr Clifford is accused of indecently assaulting a number of young women, which he denies. According to his defence team, his case rests on the size of his you-know-what, which his accusers have variously described as "freakishly small" and "enormous". Richard Horwell QC said: "None of these four witnesses is correct. That's because Mr Clifford has an average-sized penis. That will be his evidence."

Moving swiftly on, I am reminded of Giovanni Sforza who, in order to divorce Lucrezia Borgia, had to prove publicly he was impotent. Eneuch! Eneuch!

Early closing.

TALKING of you-know-whats, you may recall that Sarah Vine, bidie-in of my dear amigo Michael Gove, who has been cruelly compared to a meerkat, once said that he was fixated by Sir Mick Jagger's. What had Mr Gove, the bane of the teaching classes, done to deserve that? And in what peculiar context did he make this startling confession? Never a day passes, it seems, when Ms Vine does not disclose further details about her hubby, thus causing the poor fellow stupendous embarrassment. Her latest glimpse into the private life chez Gove - described by the London Evening Standard as "sensational" - reveals that he has taken up golf and drinks gin and tonic. "Is this," asks the Standard, "all part of a cunning plan to distance himself from the Notting Hill Tories?" Dumfoonert? Me too.

AS someone who may or may not receive a "pension pot", I am interested in all suggestions about how best to deal with it. One Dodo suggests it might be wise to splash out on a Lamborghini which, until I consulted Mr Google, I believed was something you might find on a Neapolitan fish stall. Another Dodo - former MP Matthew "Plaster of" Parris - says he's thinking (seriously!) of investing his windfall in a cave-dwelling in Spain. What can we do to speed him on his way? Meanwhile, we plebs may think of paying off mortgages or investing in a corrupt or feckless bank, of which the choice is plentiful. Those who do not trust "silver surfers" with wads of cash say they're worried it will be spent on cruises, leaving nothing to underwrite a sojourn in a care home. Fair enough. But what of the state pension? Given the low life expectancy in some parts of Scotia, could we not have access to it sooner rather than later? As things stand, folk in death's door postcodes are paying royally to ensure that those in leafier parts who live to a ripe old age will be quids in.

SUGGEST to a BBC panjandrum that its coverage of the forthcoming referendum is less than even-handed and you can expect to have your wrists wetly slapped. But as a study by John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland shows, the smug and self-regarding broadcaster is about as impartial as an Old Firm fan. Mr Robertson says that for every two favourable mentions of the Yes campaign there are three for its rival. "Imagine the state broadcaster in somewhere like Ukraine or Nigeria performing as impartially as 3:2 suggests," he says. "We'd probably think that was alright. More important I'd say was the tendency on both channels [BBC Teuchter and STV] to demonise First Minister Salmond, to edit in offensive comments about his honesty and the deferential manner in which 'research' from 'independent' sources, mostly with an interest in preserving the Union, was treated." A case was the recent Radio 4 play Dividing The Union, by James Graham and directed by David Stenhouse. Set in the aftermath of the vote, which fell in favour of independence, it was a none-too-subtle attempt to diss Mr Salmonella while presenting Posh Dave in a positive light. The Beeb is fearful of what independence may bring, not the least of which must be a radical overhaul of its own inadequate operations. But as things stand, it remains committed to the status quo. Which is fine. As is the abolition of the licence fee.

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