CAT'S GOT HER TONGUE

OKAY boys and girls, you can come out from behind the sofa now. The cough monster has gone, the P45 joker is helping police with their inquiries, and from this day forth, wherever there is a need to attach a slogan to a wall, designers will use only the most super-duper of glues.
Will that be enough to calm the terror unleashed by hapless Theresa May in her party conference speech? On the face of it, all that happened in Manchester was a 61-year-old woman with a cold got up and made a speech. She got to the end, her husband gave her a big hug, the audience cheered, and everyone went home. Nobody died. Compared to the storming of the Winter Palace or the fall of Saigon, it was small beer, half a shandy stuff.
Not according to the reaction, though. “Luckless May centre stage in tragic farce” one newspaper hyperventilated. “May on final warning after speech shambles” another declared. “BRUSSELS TO BLAME FOR WEAK GLUE”, shrieked the Express. (All right, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)
The panic spread to Twitter, although, as is always the way, it was hard to tell who was being genuine and who had their sarky hat on. Take Nicola Sturgeon, for example. One would have thought the SNP leader was up to her eyes in prep for her party’s get-together, which starts in Glasgow tomorrow. Yet she nevertheless found time to tweet: “Spare a thought for those of us still to deliver our conference speech and now fretting about all the things that could go wrong.”
If the First Minister’s imagination is working overtime, she should steer clear of the episode of I’m Alan Partridge in which the local radio DJ, played by Steve Coogan, gives a speech to a fireplace company’s awards bash shortly after impaling his foot on a spike. Mrs May should definitely seek it out on YouTube, though. Whatever else happened, Prime Minister, at least you did not vomit on your shoes. So well done.
Do not think for one moment, Prime Minister, that you are the only prominent person to have laid an egg (in your case several) during a speech. When you are done watching Alan Partridge, you may like to look at former Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s “We’re all right!” address to a Sheffield rally in 1992. That remains a toe-curler, as does Clint Eastwood talking to an empty bar stool at the Republican convention in 2012. In 1983, Tory employment minister Alan Clark was accused by Clare Short of being “incapable” (parliamentary speak for drunk) while in charge of a Commons speech. He bluffed his way through, only for it to emerge years later, when his diaries were published, that yes, he had indeed been “muzzy” as a newt from a wine tasting that evening.
So it has happened before, and until we live in a society where politicians really are robots, incapable of malfunction, it will likely happen again.
Yet still the fuss about the speech goes on, particularly among broadcasters. To some degree their over-reaction is understandable. Anyone who makes a living from talking on live TV or radio lives in terror of that seemingly simple task going wrong. Coughing, breathlessness, brain fade, getting names and facts wrong, the sports guy running into the studio naked with his hair on fire. These are all scenarios that visit broadcasters in their nightmares, like Freddy Krueger.
But you don’t have to be a broadcaster to feel for Mrs May. For many people, speaking in public is high on their must-never-do list.  Delivering the best man’s speech at a wedding or a presentation at work, performing in the school play, even asking a question at a meeting: any one of these can bring on a bad case of the cold sweats.
Thankfully, there has been no end of experts coming forward to offer advice on how to avoid a May-style debacle. Neil Nunes, he of the dulcet tones on BBC Radio 4, says on losing one’s voice: “Take a moment, pause, drink and it’ll come back.” (One presumes he means a drink of water.) Use breathing techniques, speak more slowly, warm up the voice beforehand by humming, bend your knees – all sterling advice, to which I can only add: don’t be a leader of a political party who called a General Election when they did not need to, lost their majority, and opted to stay on. That is never going to bolster anyone’s confidence.
But there we are. Mrs May should comfort herself with the knowledge that it is another year till the next autumn conference speech. That’s a whole 12 months to work on her public speaking. Shall we make a date to see you there Prime Minister? Prime Minister? 
Oh dear, cat seems to have got her tongue.

A NOBLE WAY TO AWARD NOBELS

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ONE would think with all the clever people who work for them that the Nobel prize committees might have hit on a smooth system of letting winners know.  A personal emissary maybe, or a Harry Potter owl swooping down with a letter.
But no, all seems to have been happy chaos this year, with literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro hearing the news from a journalist, and Scots scientist Richard Henderson, a joint winner of the chemistry prize, being telephoned while he was in a meeting. Not knowing anyone in Sweden, the Edinburgh-born scientist at first rejected the call.
Ishiguro was in a tizz, thinking he had been the victim of a hoax. On learning that it was official, he phoned his wife and insisted she come home to celebrate. Only trouble is, she was in a salon, about to have her hair coloured.
Still, with £832,000 in prize money coming his way, Ishiguro’s other half can now go mad and have a whole head of highlights done. Even with London hairdresser prices there should be enough left over for two tickets to Sweden.

THROUGH A STONE'S KEYHOLE

OH the joy in newspaper offices everywhere when celebrities put their homes up for sale. 
The latest big name to do so is Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, whose New York penthouse can be yours for the bargain basement price of £9.1 million.
The press love such stories because the accompanying estate agent photos of the celebrity gaff often reveal so much more than any number of interviews. As Sir David Frost knew when he created Through the Keyhole, a a home is a window to the soul. More importantly, it can be a skylight on a subject’s irredeemable naffness.
For all their fortunes and access to interior designers, famous folk seem drawn to the vulgar. 
Richards, for example, has a bedroom with a slogan on the wall. “You’re never too young,” it proclaims, “to rock and roll”.
Embroidered on a cushion this might, just, have been okay. But these were giant white letters on a grey background. One appreciates the old eyes are going a bit at 73, but really. Get busy with the magnolia, Keef, or the joint will never sell.