Competition - Win vouchers to spend at any Tesco store

Competition No 3711

Set by John Crick on 10 December

You were asked for sensible prose that contained the words: carbuncle, Alastair, diva, manicure, limerick, erysipelas, hostess, cappuccino, laissez-faire, twins, vouchsafe, trolley and Beretta.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Lots of lovely new names (welcome David Makin, David Sharp, Pat Butler, Robin Kidson, Rosemary MacKenzie, Jose Mendez, Tony Graham, Gerald Vinestock, Philip Wilson and Phyllis Kepner). I do so hope you keep this up - if I've missed someone, my apologies. I had a query from one comper ("Do you mean a Beretta or a biretta?" Answer: I mean what I say, sir), which seemed to confuse a lot of you. I got "purple Beretta", "has stained my Beretta", "cardinal's red Beretta" and "the guy in the beretta [sic]". I toyed with similar automatic rejection of Derek Morgan, with a "battered cardinal's Beretta", but as he also had Alastair draining "his glass of vintage laissez-faire", then getting up "from the comfortable diva he had been sitting on" to water "the flowering erysipelas", I felt he had put himself out of the frame for this particular criticism. I did, however, reject him for writing nonsense, albeit charming nonsense. I also filed in the bin all those who cheated with "twin peaks", "vouchsafed", "hostesses" and "manicured". And I reserved particular scorn for people such as George Cowley (and there were a few) who sent in something like the following: "Certain words make me feel I want to vomit. A few examples are carbuncle, Alastair, diva . . . " Need I go on? £20 to the winners, hon menshes to Watson Weeks, Robin Oakley-Hill and Will Bellenger. The vouchers go to Peter Lyon.

Alastair Phipps Babbaclough, who died yesterday, will perhaps be best remembered as the "old friend" whose monstrous carbuncle so inspired Prince Charles's comments on the extension to the National Gallery. Born the eldest of three twins - a paradox never satisfactorily explained - he was educated at Eton and Oxford, earning both plaudits and rustication for introducing the dirty limerick into Mongolia during an anthropological expedition. Broke, jobless and 21, Alastair naturally married the diva Ocelot Parnassus for her money, much of which he spent on a Soho nightclub hostess called Mimsi. Venturing into the City, Alastair made his fortune speculating in cappuccino futures, coming to the attention of Prince Charles when he invested his profits in an experimental farm at Babbaclough Hall. Now clearly off his trolley, his goats were paid to manicure the lawns as a sign of good faith, and endangered words such as "vouchsafe" and "nostrum" were preserved through compulsory use. But Alastair's laissez-faire approach to livestock management proved a disaster when erysipelas on his finest cows was found to have been caused by their abuse of absinthe privileges. He spent the remaining years of his life as a recluse, talking only to Hello! and to the Beretta with which he took his life.

Adrian Fry

As they wheeled away the sweet trolley, she gazed at me with that look I knew so well. It was like looking down the barrel of a Beretta.

"Alastair," she said, "what do you want of me?"

"I want you. In various ways: in bed, presiding like a diva over the chorus of my friends . . . "


"For coffee," I said, "I shall have cappuccino. Stop looking at me as if I were an incipient case of erysipelas, and vouchsafe your sweet a glance."

She looked away at last. "You see, Alastair, anyone can be a mistress or a hostess. A good body, a manicure and some smart talk. Life with you is too easy. Do we go on in this state of laissez-faire?"

I began:

"There was a young girl of Cape Cod,

"Who thought babies were fashioned by

God . . . "

"I don't want to hear the rest," she said.

"It was about twins," I told her; "though that's not in the limerick. I mean, I should like twins."

Suddenly, she relaxed. "Aha! Now you're talking," she said.

For the moment, I had ceased to be a carbuncle upon her life.

Peter Lyon

"My dear Miss Rodway," leered the Ofsted English inspector, the carbuncle on his nose standing proud amid the rosy erysipelas, "you should not have given Alastair a detention. You should have quelled his interruption with a sharp word. Or, were your classroom skills as well developed as your person, I vouchsafe a freezing look would have sufficed. His impromptu recitation of the limerick was in some sense apposite: patently he appreciates your charms as much as I do. Heloise is quite the little diva, isn't she . . . sitting there bold as brass on the back row giving her pearly nails a manicure throughout. You were right to let that go. But as for sending the twins outside the door for leading the clapping and cheering . . . a collusive smile, a touch of laissez-faire, and you might still have saved the day. And next time you're reading Raymond Chandler to 4C, remember the weapon is a Beretta: a biretta is not the same thing at all. Aha! Saved by the bell. Let's be off to the staff-room. Mrs Ellsworthy, our hostess in the brogues and flowered pinny, will have a cappuccino or two waiting on the trolley."

Anne Du Croz

No 3714 Set by Margaret Rogers

The practice of recycling Christmas presents is not dead. Can we have thank-you letters from famous people (dead or alive) letting the sender know that their recycling has been spotted.

Max 200 words by 24 January (to appear in issue dated 4 February.E-mail:

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, A kosher conspiracy?