Once upon a time there were far more political bookshops around the country than the handful left today, including several right in the heart of central London's bookselling zone around Charing Cross Road. These shops were very convenient to help the Met Police's Special Branch keep track of things - they could (and did) short-circuit a lot of research into the political scene by simply strolling up the road and buying armfuls of the radical papers and magazines on sale.
But the problems which caused the closure of so many radical bookshops over the last 20 years eventually did for all the Charing Cross Road ones too. And this posed a problem for our plain clothes friends at the Yard. But as they say, it's an ill wind... Housmans (the PN bookshop, which was itself sited just yards from Charing Cross Road for the first few years of its life in the 1940s) has long stocked one of the widest ranges of radical mags and papers of any shop around. And once all the political magazine stockists down in the West End had closed, where else was there for the secret police to turn to? And sure enough, though Housmans's Kings Cross base isn't quite such a convenient waddle from Scotland Yard, magazine sales increased usefully some years back.
The sport was, of course, for shop staff and other frequenters of the premises to guess which of the regular buyers of lots of political papers might be from the Branch - as opposed to, for example, being one of those obsessive politicos who specialises in following the internecine warfare within the left. One helpful guide was to see which of these people always wanted a receipt, though that wasn't quite definitive.
But at last, one of the current official mag collectors has been pinned down. Someone involved with the PN/Housmans building was recently at the Yard on official business (as one of a group negotiating the route of an anti-war demo with the police) when they spotted a rather familiar face walking past. It took them a while to remember where they'd seen him...
Tesco washes greenest
The latest corporate monster to pretend it has the interests of the planet at heart is Tesco. The new issue of their free glossy is billed as a “Green Issue”, but somehow it doesn't really convince.
Discussion of transport issues is written on the assumption that everyone reading the magazine has a car (and without floating the idea that you shouldn't have). They encourage glass containers to be recycled (which saves almost no energy compared to making new ones) rather than reused. And so on.
And they end the magazine with a full-page ad for that other saviour of the world, Nestle.
Irony all round
What's got into students these days? Admittedly, the Pope's recent lecture in Germany was in an academic environment rather than a more straightforwardly political one - but even so, how could the audience let him get away with quoting an ancient criticism of Islam for being a violent ideology without somebody coming up with a rather obvious heckle about the Inquisition? More to the point, how did the Pope himself have the chutzpah to try to get away with it?
But the Pope's irony bypass is obviously shared by many a Muslim. All those placards denouncing the Pope for doubting the peaceful nature of Islam - and saying that, in consequence, he should be strung up (or, in some cases, beheaded). It really is time for a sequel to one of the greatest films of its generation - anyone up for scripting Monty Python's Life of Mo-brian-hammed? Actually, it'd pretty much write itself.