ANENT - welcome back!

- the Reeferendum, slowly but surely the No bodies are making their presence felt. In general these are hasbeens whose pasts - sad to say - are longer than their futures.

Indeed, one had heard so little from them of late that one thought they had either emigrated or been cremated.

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One such is my dear friend John Reid, who Tony Bliar invariably enlisted to put sticking plaster over problems large and small. In days of yore the old warhorse was often dragged from his straw pit of a morning to neigh at John Harrumphries on the Today programme. Mr R is of course a No body. "I am a proud Scot," he says, "and want the best for our country."

To get his point across he has taken a full-page advert in the Scottish Catholic Observer, where he signs himself off as a former Labour cabinet minister and chairman of Celtic FC. What are we to make of this? Has there yet been a more cynical intervention?

WATCHING the World Cup - the only game in town - the Home Secretary remarks on the effeminacy of the players. She is referring to their hair-dos, some of which look as if they're the work of a topiarist rather than a barber.

Then there are their tattoos, which course over their bodies like ivy run riot. Some players have chosen words rather than pictures, not all of which are "mum" and "dad" and "Tracy". One fellow appears to have a chapter of a novel written on his back, which must make it difficult to read unless he spends a lot of time in front of a mirror, which by the look of him he probably does.

This was not, I inform the HS, how things were done previously. Did Bobby Charlton bother, like Wayne Loony, to have his hair restored? Did Danny McGrain have Hollywood teeth? I think not. They were real men. "Which is what exactly?" asks the HS. Real men, I tell her, do not wash every day. Nor do they floss, believing that if you can't see plaque it doesn't exist. Real men, moreover, have hair growing where it ought not to and not growing where it ought.

Real men never eat pasta and only eat vegetables when they're mushy. They believe tea without two tablespoons of sugar is dishwater. Crucially, real men never wash their hands after micturating, for how else do you build resistance to germs?

EN route by charabanc from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I spy outside a hotel in the neighbourhood of St Andrew Square two female tourists of a certain age. They're laughing, which is always a cheery sight.

One of the women turns her back to the other and thrusts out her backside. It is not small but neither is it remarkably big. The other takes her chum's buttocks in her hands and gives them a squeeze, which sets off a chorus of laughter. Now it is time to reverse roles and the woman who has not had her buttocks felt turns her back and is rewarded with an examination that is almost medical in its attention to detail. Cue more laughter.

I confess to being dumbfounded, for it is not every day one sees such things in the New Town. What were the women up to? And what relation were they to each other? Lovers? Sisters? Members of WeightWatchers?

BORIS Johnson is 50 today. Why does this so depress me? Could it be because we are unlikely to be rid of him any time soon?

SIR Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools in Ingerland, wants to fine parents who don't read to their weans.

Not surprisingly, this has not gone down well with bien pensant types, who have compared Sir Mike to a North Korean dictator and his pal, Michael Gove, to ET.

I have in front of me a statement from Booktrust ("Britain's largest reading charity") in which its chief executive, Viv Bird, says: "What if the parent has difficulty reading themselves? What if the parent is willing and the child is not, what happens then?"

What happens then, one assumes, is that the parent will be taken in for questioning and, if they do not give satisfactory answers, they will be fined. Should they fail to pay, they will then be sentenced to a night in one of Her Majesty's premier inns. Further sanctions could include a spell in the army or the placing of the unread-to child in the care of social services.

As one of the nation's leading literates I am often asked how best to encourage children to read. Nothing could be easier. First, you show him or her a book. Second, you then tell them that if you ever catch them reading it, you will report them to a bogeyman. Third, you must hide the book in a place where they will easily find it. Finally, give them a torch as a birthday or Christmas present. That should do it.

JEREMIAH Paxperson has left the Beeb's Newsnight show with more with a whimper than a bang. "I hate this place," he said as he exited, dressed in M&S boxers, adding lest anyone misheard him: "I'm not a great advocate of this place." Few, it seems, presently are.

All one has to do at Reeferendum meetings is mention the Beebicus Scotticus and a happy jeer goes up. Irrespective of how the vote goes on September 18, the panjandrums at Pacific Quay are going to have to take stock. Or possibly livestock.

How have we reached this pass? Like many teuchters I rarely watch the Beeb and when I do it is BBC Alba, which is turning me by osmosis into a Gaelic speaker. But I digress. I note that my dear friend Andra Neil has been mentioned in despatches as Mr Paxperson's replacement. To get the gig, however, he must first gazump Evan Davis, about whom I have no opinion whatsoever.