WHY did the pundits insist on saying that the American presidential election was "too close to call"?

Paddy Power, the bookie, obviously didn't think it was because it paid out on Barack Ohmigod a couple of days before the result was announced. Sure, the polls were close but they showed Mr Ohmigod consistently ahead of Mr Rum-Do.

You can bet on anything these days. A dear friend, a keen student of ecclesiastical form, went into her local bookies to put a few quid on the Bishop of Durham, whom she rightly reckoned would be new Archbishop of Canterbury, only to discover there was also a horse by that name, which she felt she had no option but to back as well. Like him, it romped home. Mysterious is the manner in which the Lord works his magic to perform.

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MY dear friend, Alexei Salmonella, is now the longest-serving first meenister. A moment's silence, please. According to my man with the abacus, he has been 2002 days in office, which is one more than Lord McConnell of That Kilt managed. Rather predictably, Mr Salmonella has been asked how many more days he is likely to chalk up, to which he apparently replied: "I'm not going to go on and on and on and on and on ..."

Historians may recollect that Our Great Leader retired from the fray once before, when he was not first meenister but merely the biggest sporran in the Gnats. One fondly recalls those days when Mr Salmonella and Donald the Dour, aka The Faither o' the Nation, liked nothing better than to toss verbal cabers at each another.

On the night Mr Salmonella stepped down I spotted Mr Dour at an opening at the National Gallery where he did not want to talk about Titian or Tracey Emin but rather what the real reason was for his rival's departure from the fray. As per usual I had nothing of any substance to offer but, eager to please him, I mentioned a few of the wilder rumours I was spreading, including the possibility that a career in showbiz beckoned for Mr Salmonella who, it was said, was going to star in a resurrection of The White Heather Club, possibly as one of the club's nimble dancers, but more probably as "the new Andy Stewart". It was shortly after that, I recall, that His Dourness stopped taking me seriously.

IAN Rankin, crime writer extraordinaire, has starred in a documentary about himself, in which he described in unflinching detail how he writes a novel every year. I commend it to young writers in the hope that it will encourage them to find gainful employment in the service industries.

Mr Rankin mentioned a stinker of a review that his first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, received in the Glasgow Herald, reading from his diary at the time, which thrice used the word "b******" alongside the name of the reviewer, which was redacted. Readers, it was me.

THE Times, a rag, says that Bradley Wiggins, a bicyclist, is this morning appearing on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show: mince. According to the Beebicus Perverticus, the same Mr Wiggins is in hospital, recovering from broken ribs after coming into unwelcome contact with a van. Proof at last of the existence of parallel universes.

MICHAEL Palin is on his travels again. He's gone to Brazil, he says, because he's never been there before and it would be terrible not to grace it with his presence before he shuffles off. I've never been to Brazil either and have no intention of going, not least because I find thongs, the national attire, repulsive. On men, that is.

By spooky coincidence I am reading Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, brother of the lesser talented Ian, creator of 007. The unknown Fleming travelled to Brazil long before Pele was born in the hope of finding a Lt Col PH Fawcett who, in 1925, ventured into the jungle and was never seen again. Why anyone wants to find people who seem wilfully to lose themselves has always mystified me but that's probably because I'm peculiar.

Mr Fleming's expedition, it need hardly be added, was surely doomed from the outset, not least because the maps they used were obsolete and the behaviour of its organiser, a Major Pingle, bizarre.

One theory was that Col Fawcett had been killed by rabid natives and eaten. I don't know about you but that would have put me off. That it didn't put Mr Fleming off suggests that he shared with his brother an uncommon confidence in the ability of a few tall, good-looking white men to overcome odds the rest of us might deem overwhelming.

THIS weekend my preferred howff, Staggs, is having its annual real ale festival, much to the chagrin of dedicated lager drinkers who have been told that their preferred tipple will not be on tap. This has gone down like a flat pint of Irn-Bru. Nor, I have reason to believe, will bottled beers be available.

Dark, dark have been the mutterings, fuelled further by the news that filled rolls, a delicacy hitherto alien to these parts, will be available "while stocks last", which seemed to suggest this was a gesture of goodwill from the management. For a horrible moment I imagined queues forming in the street, as at Greggs, in the hope of a free meal, but was soon disabused of the notion. Any rolls on offer will be for sale and once they've been consumed there will be no more. It was, therefore, perhaps optimistic of my old chum, Stromness Jim, to suggest that Staggs might like to introduce a loyalty card, similar to those issued by coffee shops, in recognition of the damage regular imbibers have done to their livers in order, selflessly, to maintain this noble institution in its present, pristine, vintage state.

DODO MP Nadine Dorries, self-confessed "thorn in the side" of Posh Dave, is to "star" in the latest series of I'm A Tube ... So this is how the whips deal with members of the awkward squad.

The Bishop of Durham cantered to victory in the Archbishop stakes

Michael Palin saunters round Brazil ... but does he wear a thong?