IT’S early Sunday afternoon on the Clyde walkway in Glasgow, the sun is scorching the pavement and a group of mini-Neds, taps aff of course, are no doubt scheming for their next bottle of Buckie when a female cyclist pulls up. She’s wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap and she asks them in an American accent if they’d like to go to a concert tonight. “Whose concert?” one inquiries. “Katy Perry’s. I’m Katy Perry,” which elicits the obvious response. “Naw you’re no.” Katy, for it is she, whips off the cap and glasses, revealing herself to be that pop superstar and is engulfed in cuddles.

Cut to the SSE later that evening with our young team ensconced in the best seats in the house. Midway through the concert Perry stops and recounts the tale of ticketing the youngsters. Pre-arranged, the spotlights home in on the lads in the gallery and, these being toatie Glasgow Neds, and this being their 15 seconds of fame, the leader stands up, waves to the crowd, drops his jogging bottoms and flashes to Perry and the audience.


No one ever accused the Russians of having a sardonic sense of humour, but here’s the evidence they do. Socchi, on the Black Sea, is where the Soviet elite went to spend their summers. Since the fall of the USSR the place has been punted to foreign tourists and as a sporting venue. The 2014 Winter Olympics were held there and in this World Cup the magnificent Fisht stadium hosted Uruguay playing Portugal yesterday and one of the quarter-finals will also be held there.

One of the highly-recommended places on the World Cup website for visiting fans to eat is the La Punto, a lavish gastropub with two swish dining rooms. But what diners may not know is La Punta’s previous history. For it was in this building that Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the chemist who ran Russia’s dope-testing regime for a decade, spent overnights at the Olympics tampering with more than a hundred urine samples of Russia’s athletes to conceal the widespread use of banned, performance-enhancing drugs.

The only giveaways to the place’s dark past are in the names of the cocktails, which most diners may not pick up on. One is called the B Sample – Tequila, Sambuca and tabasco – which is the name of the second sample required in drug tests. And yes, it is yellow-coloured. Then there’s Meldonium, an absinthe-based cocktail, and the name of the drug which got Maria Sharapova banned for two years. That’s a drug only manufactured behind what we used to call the Iron Curtain, used to treat coronary heart disease, but which boosts blood supply to the muscles in fit people.

As far as I know there isn’t yet one called The Duchess. That was Rodchenkov’s special cocktail – three anabolic steroids mixed with Chivas Regal for men, vermouth for women.


My pal Hughie, who lives in London with his partner – Hackney born and bred – and their three kids, is one of the “anyone but England” camp. To make the games more interesting (apart from the bets) he has adopted all the most famous products of their opponents. So far he’s munched couscous watching against Tunisia, donned a Panama hat (although I think they were first invented in Ecuador) and downed lakes of Belgian beer. (And here’s a sobering thought England fans, cricket was actually invented in Belgium.) But now Janice, his partner, is threatening to call the police if he goes through with it against Colombia!


The World Cup provides another point of departure. Watching the abysmal Denmark-France game my attention wandered (yours did too, if you watched) and the place where the disappointing Danish star Cristian Erikson grew up, Mittelfart (no sniggering), jolted my memory of the legendary French entertainer Joseph Pujol. He was, if you’re being polite, a flatulist supreme. Joseph was better known by his stage name, Le Pétomane, and his remarkable abdominal and sphincter control enabled him to fart at will. He performed at the Moulin Rouge and was hugely popular with some of the crown heads of Europe taking in his show, as did Sigmund Freud, which might say a lot about the psychiatric theories he later developed.

Highlights of Le Pétomane’s show involved sound effects of cannon and thunderstorms and he could play the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, on an ocarina through a rubber tube in his bum. He could also, apparently, blow out candles on a birthday cake from yards away. The interesting thing is that his rectal emissions were odourless so he didn’t stink the place out, unlike the Danish and French teams.


Buckingham Palace spin doctors pulled off a brilliant PR coup the other day that Malcolm Tucker would be f*****g proud of. The press, ITV, BBC and just about every other outlet carried their line that the Queen (or the Royal Family, depending on what you watched or saw) cost each person in the UK just 69p a day, up 4p on last year granted, but pretty successfully massaging that Her Maj had a 13 per cent pay increase. Trouble is, it’s arrant nonsense. You don’t have to accept the campaigning group Republic’s claim that the real cost is more than £350 million to poke holes in the figures. The Queen received £76.1m from the Sovereign Grant, which is basically a quarter of the profits of the Duchy of Lancaster and which, as the Panama Papers revealed, invests in some pretty rum offshore tax havens. Presumably the 69p figure comes from subtracting the £28.7m which the Queen put into her reserve fund for Buck House upkeep (£4m spent on the current figures) and dividing by the 65 million of the population? Just try telling HMRC that you should only be taxed on 60 per cent of your income because you’re doing up your house and see where that gets you.

Notionally the Queen pays tax on her income but we don’t know what it is because it’s a state secret. Neither the Duchy of Lancaster nor the Duchy of Cornwall, from which Prince Charles trousered more than £20m, pay Corporation Tax. And the bald figures do not take in other substantial costs, like security and policing (picked up by the Metropolitan Police and the taxpayer) or internal state visits, paid for by local councils (and the taxpayer) because there is not full transparency. As the Queen and the Royals are not subject to Freedom of Information requirements we’ll never know the true cost nor be able to make an informed judgment on value.