MY name is undoubtedly Robert McNeil and I have never read a Mills & Boon.

In previous columns, I have erroneously stated that I grew up in a book-free household. However, it occurs to me now that there were always a few Mills & Boons lying around. Arguably, these belonged to my mother rather than my dad. Come to think of it, my dad never read one book in his life. Not one. Maybe that’s why he never, ever suffered from existential angst, ken?

Oddly enough, too, my dad had a square jaw. Indeed, ever respectful as children, we used to call him “Bob Square-Head”. Maybe my mother married him because of it.

A voracious reader of anything that I could get my hands, though only if it had pictures, I never even ventured to open a Mills & Boon. The covers were off-putting enough and, indeed, remain so: some uniformed cove with a square jaw standing with dubious intent behind a wispy bint looking half coy, half man-eater.

The hot literary news this week was that the Duchess of York, yon Fergie, has written a Mills & Boon, her first adult novel, though she has penned children’s books before, often featuring her hero Budgie The Little Helicopter. Aye, him.

You can tell which direction this conversation is going when I reveal that Fergie’s Mills & Boon is called Her Heart For A Compass. It concerns a women who “desires to break the mould … and discover her raison d’être”. I might have known if there was filth in the offing the French would show up.

Or is it filth? We’re told it’s a fictionalised account of her great-great aunt, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott (how many names do these toffs need?), daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Yonder Buccleuch.

I don’t suppose they’d consider a semi-fictional account of my Auntie Jean. She worked behind the counter in a bakery, in which capacity, alas, I don’t think she met many square-jawed pilots or doctors. She was pretty generous with her yum yums, mind.

The publisher’s blurb says that this compass malarkey is an “immersive historical saga that sweeps the reader from the drawing rooms of Victoria’s court and the grand country houses of Scotland and Ireland, to the slums of London and the mercantile bustle of 1870s New York”. I’m sorry? I thought Mills & Boon was all about smut. I don’t want to read about slums. God knows, I’ve lived in enough of them.

Mind you, it says here that Lady Margaret is “free-spirited” (uh-oh) and gets banished from “polite society”. In the formulaic spirit of these tomes, she’s bound to be pale (while the leading man is bronzed). Indeed, Lady M has red hair just like her author, who has owned up: “I drew on many parallels from my life for Lady Margaret Montagu Etcetera’s life.”

I wonder if that means the book will also feature her ex, Prince Andrew, twirling his moustache and arching one eyebrow as he plots to seduce … well, anything in bodices really.

It’s said that, every 10 seconds, a Mills & Boon is sold in the UK. It’s a lucrative market, so maybe I should give it a go.

“Tam Gonadson stroked his unshaven square jaw and shouted at the timid but well-upholstered lassie who’d been sent by social services: ‘Hoy, you, with the big bahookey, go down to the shops and get me 10 Regal and a packet of Smoky Bacon.’

“Chantelle-Kylie curtsied demurely, and blushed a little as she entertained lewd and libidinous thoughts about her brusque but attractively square-headed client, who looked so commanding in his zookeeper’s uniform.”

Gosh, this is a doddle.

Bad apples

HOW do you like dem apples? Not a lot, a nation replies. It’s the same half-dozen brands in every shop, and they just don’t seem to have the same tang as in days of old, just as the sun used to shine a lot more.

TV chef Rick Stein has got the pip about shoppers buying the same boring brands and making “dumbed down” choices.

He says: “All we seem able to do is go

to a supermarket and pick up Pink Ladies.”

Correct. But what dumbed down choice do we have? Is there even still such a thing as a fruiterer?

Mr Stein suggest farmers’ markets, but the nearest one to me is 102 miles away. That’s a long way to go for a leathery russet.

As for Pink Ladies, which are Australian, they’re the first thing you see on entering the supermarket. Oddly enough, even they don’t seem as sweet as they used to be.

With a name like that, too, I’m surprised they haven’t been cancelled yet, on grounds of both skin colour and gender.

Truly, the Woke are our new policemen. Never there when you need them.

Five things we’ve learned this week

A couple in Canada have been fined £900 each in British money after police found the woman “walking” her husband on a dog lead. The woman claimed she wasn’t breaking coronavirus curfew as folk were allowed out to walk their pets.

Archaeologists have found a 45,000-year old cave painting in Indonesia. It depicts, as you’d expect, a Sulawesi warty pig, and confirms the subject timeline of human art: animals; folk in peculiar trousers; landscapes; vases of flowers; geometrical shapes; splodges.

US researchers say the megalodon, a 50ft shark on the go millions of years, grew so huge because it started life by eating its siblings in the womb. Just more proof that life on Earth has always been essentially horrible.

Russia is “boiling the West like a frog”, says retired Lt General Sir Graeme Lamb. Rather than just attacking us directly, they’re subverting us slowly so we don’t notice. Sounds far-fetched. By the way, is it getting hot in here?

Naked ramblers in Co Durham claimed persecution after police charged one with outraging public decency, while another was drenched in water by an offended citizen. Perhaps it’d be safer if naked rambling was restricted to the privacy of one’s home.

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