POPE Frannie is bedding in nicely, having told Cardinal O'B – a whisky and frisky priest – to forget about retiring to Dunbar and head elsewhere, possibly via Ryanair, "for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance".

Clearly the new pontiff is no softie, nor is he tholed to convention. My flea on the wa' in the Vatican tells me he's causing splendid perturbation because he is taking informality to a level previously unheard of among those impressed by bangs and whistles.

Apparently, he cooks his own meals and when he can't be bothered, places his own calls to Domino's Pizza. Moreover, he has moved out of the palatial papal apartments into a modest, modern hotel built to accommodate visiting clergy and pen-pushers.

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This, it seems, spooks the other residents who, partaking of breakfast, find themselves sitting beside the Big Yin himself.

I've been there. Once upon a time I escorted my dear chum Andra Neil to the Hootsmon's Michelin-starred canteen in search of a plate of its celebrated stovies.

Rarely have I seen a chamber empty so swiftly.

TO Siena, where I am instantly poleaxed with a deadly virus, the severity of which surely has the potential to wipe out mankind in its entirety.

Womankind, meanwhile, being made of sterner stuff, carries on as normal. It's freshers' week and by awful coincidence the student headquarters are opposite our hotel, which may explain why it still had rooms a couple of weeks ago.

The students' revels start at lunchtime and go on until four the next morning, day after bleeding day.

When not attempting to better the world record for projectile vomiting, I lie in a bed of sweat, turning and tossing like a salad.

The students have engaged a four-piece band which, whatever its other failings, does not stint on the decibels.

If I felt like it I could make a perfect recording of its set, the highlight of which is The Beatles' Get Back and which I sing along with them in the hope that it will have the desired effect. Fat chance.

I am able to walk and talk as long as no reference is made to food or drink. The Home Secretary suggests a stroll to Il Campo – venue of the Palio horse race– where we find a table in the shade and order omelettes from a waitress who in another existence was Lucretia Borgia.

Nearby is a table of four young folk, two of whom may be Yanks, one of whom is definitely female. As our omelettes arrive their travails are just beginning.

One young man sends back his glass of chianti because it appears to have a foreign body floating in it.

Another beckons Ms Borgia and points out that the soup he has been given is not minestrone as he had hoped but something – ribollita would be my guess – which you eat not with a spoon but with a fork. Can Ms Borgia please take it away and bring minestrone instead?

To which she explains as if talking to a baboon that she can indeed remove the ribollita, though it will of course have to be paid for, but she can't replace it with minestrone because, as she told the young fella earlier, there is none left.

Nothing, however, compares with the kerfuffle that ensues when the final young man is presented with his meal, which is a hamburger without a bun.

This is not to his pleasing and soon Ms Borgia and he are in animated disagreement over the definition of a hamburger.

Unaware of the hospitality trade's dictum – that one's customers are always right – Ms Borgia breezily agrees to provide bread but at extra cost and off she goes, possibly to fetch it.

I say "possibly" because 20 minutes elapse and still the bread is conspicuous by its absence.

When, eventually, it does arrive the young man points out that his hamburger is now as cold as a crypt and that he cannot possibly consider eating it until it has been brought back to life.

Ms Borgia's buttocks clench in her skin-tight white jodhpurs and from her mouth pours a volley of Italian words.

Whereupon the young fella lights a fag, sighs loudly, throws down a 10-euro note and swaggers off, leaving international discord in his wake.

THE Home Secretary has caught what I had and may fairly be described as poorly. Be that as it may, she continues with her holiday reading – Jude The Obscure! – and as soon as she can summon up the syllables, says she wouldn't mind a wee ice cream.

How ill can she be!

There is no respite from the students who, when not blasting out rock music, have taken to touring the town in cars whose engines have been replaced by horns.

I ask Roberto, the receptionist, if anything can be done about the din which is making his guests' lives a misery.

He replies with a shrug of the shoulders, a shake of the head and an inspection of his stainless hands, and mutters: "You could complain to the police ..."

TO the launderette, invariably the high point of any holiday. A couple of elderly Australians are already ensconced and have sussed out how to work the machines, bless 'em!

They have come by boat, which took two weeks.

The voyage took them along the east coast of Africa and Somalia, where pirates attempted to hijack the boat but were repelled, not by gun-toting security geezers wearing bullet-proof vests but by a high-pitched noise that's designed to scramble the pirates' brains, a tactic, I observe, that Sienese students appear to have adopted.

PISA used to be famous for its tower that looks as if it is about to topple. No more. According to a poster at the airport, P stands for "Places", I for "Itineraries", S for "Savours" (!!!) and A for "Art". And M is for "money for old rope".


QUOTE of the week from Jolita Brettler, 9, who witnessed Prince 'Arry's sporting prowess on a visit to Harlem: "Who thinks that a prince is going to play baseball? Princes are usually in castles or doing something important."