Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3675 Set by Gavin Ross

According to William Hague, Britain will be a "foreign country" if we get four more years of new Labour. Cue a travel writer of your choice.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Excellent. Hon menshes to Ursula Smartt for "Wilhelm Breison" ("Wilkommen to Volkstein" says the sign as he emerges from the Tunnel), El Basilio (The Lonely Planet Guide to Englaterra) and David Silverman's Jonathan Swift ("I was given some vouchers to eat"). £20 to the winners; the vouchers go to R Ewing.

From: Ministry of Truth (Tourism).

To: Editor, The Guardian.

Re: Hunter S Thompson article. Please make following amendments.

Para 1: Delete "Planes were falling out of the mother-fucking sky!" Insert "Privatised air traffic control works extremely well".

Paras 2 to 6: Delete.

Para 7: Delete "They're a nation of angry idiots pushing wheelbarrows full of useless currency". Insert "Everyone loves the euro".

Para 8: Delete "disused London Underground". Insert "pedestrian tunnel network with reasonably priced tickets".

Para 9: Delete "high on drugs". Insert "inspired by Tony Blair".

Paras 10 to 15: Remove references to "Albanian beggars", "Yardies", "Russian Mafia" and "marauding gangs of ex-farmers".

Para 16: Replace "Jack Straw's despised Thought Police" with "the popular PFI Security Force".

Para 17: Remove "Robin Cook's craggy butt".

Para 18: Delete "There were new outbreaks of Leprosy, Galloping Cackwater and two other unnamed diseases, and I was only there a goddamn week".

Para 19: Delete "I'd rather shoot myself!" Insert "I'll definitely be back!"

Finally, Steadman's cartoon depicting Britain as Hell is inappropriate. Replace with photo of traditional English village.

R Ewing

All that long day, we rode on the roof of the train edging ever closer to Snowdonia. I spent that night in the simple house of an old hill farmer named Osama bin Laden. Over a supper of bean sprouts with scented finger-bowls, he told me how he and five and a half million other asylum-seekers had arrived in the UK in 2002, all greeted personally by Jack Straw.

Next morning, I asked Osama where his flock was.

"In 2003, in the great War Against The Countryside, Tony Blair and Polly Toynbee attacked my farm and strangled every one of my sheep with their bare hands. Foot-and-mouth, my arse."

Osama jingled the euros in his trouser pockets in fury. "And," he continued, "they recently banned fox-hunting. Now we can hunt only old spinsters on bicycles riding to church. The last one they chased escaped on to my neighbour's land - Mr Amin's - or was it Mr Milosevic's?"

Later it was time for me to catch the train home. A "platform spin-doctor", name of Branson, helped me into the train.

And I realised just how foreign the UK had become when the train arrived on time. Incredible. (Wilfred Thesiger)

Philippa Legg

Dervla Murphy south from Knightsbridge

A strong tailwind helped me from Peter Jones to Six Bells. A party of Young Lions gave me a heroine's welcome. "From Sloane Square on that bike? Hey, you're some muzungu!" They like action and what they imagine to be daring deeds. On learning I was from County Waterford, they were curious. "How is it with blacks in your country?"

"Ireland has no black communities. We had no empire, you see."

"No blacks! That is a funny country. So that's why you sit talking to us!"

In one-time Marks & Spencer, a surly security officer searched me. "You think only blacks steal?" I looked at him helplessly, too addled by petrol fumes to come up with a soothing reply.

Tonight I fly home. There must be a return, so numerous and well-loved are my friends. I have become inexplicably attached to this crazy city - to use a favourite Chelsea adjective. There is an addictive quality about the paradoxes, the patchwork quilt of disarming unpredictabilities - paranoid suspicions, touching trust, cynicism and a determination to make it work. Will it? I believe so. Out of London, there is always something new.

T Griffiths

Notes from a Micro-Islet, by Bill Bryson

Certain things are mildly dismaying about returning to Britain after an interval: it appears to have shrunk either because of excessive rain or the growing size - in numbers and mass - of the population. The obesity is odd, because vegetarianism is now so universal and obsessive that hardly a steak house remains unconverted to a nut house. Patioisation is now so advanced that scarcely an inch of ground in the provinces is uncovered by paving or decorative brickwork.

"And where are all the sheep?" I asked my fellow patrons of the Snail and Runner-bean Inn.

"Maff called M, Ah me! Beret Tim. Left know hefted sheep," said the most desperate looking of the men at the bar, with a felonious grin.

"I'm sorry?" I said, truthfully, for I hate it when people speak in code. "Who the hefted hell knew the hefted sheep?" A hush fell on the bar, which was decorated in a style so minimalist that it threatened the survival of hard furniture and soft furnishing enterprises everywhere.

"Nick Brown." Several spoke in unison.

"Just show me Brown," I said, "and I'll certainly assist in his arrest."

M E Ault

No 3678 Set by Margaret Rogers

Let's help the Palace with a realistic set of rules for royals to live by. Max 200 words and in by 3 May.


This article first appeared in the 23 April 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Blessed are the pure in heart