Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3643 Set by George Cowley

You were asked to choose two unlikely authors and produce 200 words that they might have written together.

Report by Ms de Meaner

I suppose, like any co-authors, you had to decide whether you would keep them completely separate a la Eric Swainson's Richmal Crompton and Colin Dexter ("I'll thcream and thcream till I'm thick!" announced Violet Elizabeth. "Lewis," said Morse, "take the young lady to the station and ask . . . her some questions") or produce a more subtle melange where the joins were harder to see. A goodly set of entries this week. I'm afraid Gerard Benson, W J Webster, Anne Du Croz, Connie Yapp, Peter Lyon, Will Bellenger, Cynthia Hall, Watson Weeks, Adrian Fry, Ian Birchall and Eric Swainson can only have hon menshes. £20 to the winners; the vouchers go to Margaret Ounsley.

After breakfast, a mild morning promised; Jane resolved to walk over to Buscombe. Charlotte insisted that she take her wrap.

"I must press you, Jane dear; for it is wrought from elfin-flax, both light and strong; and has cost many lives in its capture. None of the shadowlands will touch thee whilst thou wearest it. Take care, for many will seek to wrest it from thee."

Jane chided herself at her impatience at what had been meant kindly.

As she rounded the lane into Buscombe, she noticed coming towards her, and riding with some urgency, the familiar figure of Edmund Collins. She was glad of a minute to compose herself.

"Miss Spence; an unexpected pleasure."

"Mr Collins; you seem agitated."

"With good cause, Miss Spence; the Carn-Weevils were heard about their filthy work last night. The rumours are true, Malron has stirred; and his legions gather strength. I fear I have delayed too long. I must go far, even to the marshes of Pencanroth; call up those of us left; awaken those that have slept. But you are well protected; you have the Wrap of Greyfoot."

Jane hid her disappointment that he would not be at the ball on Saturday.

(Jane Austen and J R R Tolkien)

Margaret Ounsley

Pier Damiani asserts that God can make what once was into something that has never been. At the Duchesse de Germantes', I glimpsed Mme Evita Verdurin in conversation with the Baron de Charlus-Peron, the man who had abused me as a child. Turning away, I grasped a biscuit and dipped it in a cup of tea. As I swallowed it, I knew that my mother was still alive, and that my grandmother had died in her place, in a public lavatory in the Champs Elysees. As for Charlus-Peron, I had never set eyes on him before. Balbec, Combray, Swann's Way - all these disappeared in a puff of smoke. My past was now a floating, indeterminate object in my head. At that moment it contained a knife fight in the south of Buenos Aires, followed by a ride through the Pampa and through the night.

Freed from more than my past, I no longer needed to write that book whose possibility had stayed with me, like a piece of grit in an oyster, for so many years.

(Jorge Luis Borges and Marcel Proust)

Robin Oakley-Hill

The Chief was looking at a painting, something by one of those fancy Japanese guys, when I went in.

He frowned. "Really, that dreadful Colt revolver does so spoil the line of your jacket. Might I suggest a more discreet Luger in the future?"

I started polishing my knuckle-duster. Yeah, sure, I know they're strictly against the rules - but when did you last see a hood read the rules? In Sunday school?

"Fats Molloy is holed up in Chicago," I told him.

He waved a weary hand at me. "Then we don't need to do anything. Merely being in Chicago is sufficient punishment for any man, whatever he's done in the past."

I inspected the edge on my switchblade. "Word is, he's planning to knock off the Central Bank."

"That vulgarity? We can only hope that he knocks it down, not merely off."

I hefted my lead-filled sap. Nice balance. "It's your call, Chief."

He nodded. "And I've made my decision. A white carnation, not red, with a black velvet suit, I think. Hmmm? . . ."

(Mickey Spillane and Oscar Wilde)

Michael Cregan

A hot dry summer breeze was blowing. The kind that comes through the sierras and shakes the bullrushes standing proudly in the osier bed. The kind to make your skin itch and your nerves jump, and sufficiently strong to rustle the fur of all the little creatures in the Wildwood.

In his snug underground apartment, Mr Badger had fallen asleep before the crackling log fire. Suddenly, he was awakened by a knock on the door. Badger shuffled along the hallway in rather down-at-heel carpet slippers. Underneath a long dressing gown he wore yellow silk pyjamas with initials embroidered on the chest pocket. He opened the door - a big mistake.

Two guys in overcoats with shoulders not quite as wide as a flower-field meadow confronted him. One had a little brown face with whiskers, small ears and silky hair. The other had a long muddy snout and paws that looked as though he chewed his fingernails. Badger noted something else - a .22 automatic pointing at his capacious stomach.

"Real nice of you to drop by, Ratty," he murmured. "Who's your sidekick?"

"Mole's the name. He organised the tunnelling on the River Bank heist. Ain't you gonna invite us in?" (Raymond Chandler and Kenneth Grahame)

Derek Morgan

No 3646 Set by Margaret Rogers

So the girls have outsmarted the boys in their A levels! We want verses from the girls (or boys) celebrating (lamenting) this event. "Their is nothing like a dame", perhaps? Or what about "We don't need no education"? To be in by 14 September.

E-mail: comp@

This article first appeared in the 04 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Cheated of their vodka and cake

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.