Lindy McDowell: Secrecy a hard habit to break
Great headline in the Irish Independent this week - Is Martin McGuinness Addicted to Secret Talks? Actually we could expand the question - Are All of Our Politicians Addicted to Secret Talks?
Martin McGuinness is not, so to speak, the only local Amy Winehouse of clandestine negotiation.
And they've been off again, some of them, this time to Finland where Mr McGuinness and Jeffrey Donaldson have been among the participants offering the breadth of their peace processing experience to the Iraqis.
It is an ambitious and slightly comical concept that after 40 long years of conflict and carnage, and despite the fact that we're still not actually out of the woods ourselves, Northern Ireland politicians now feel they have the key that might help halt the juggernaut of sectarian horror in Iraq.
Adding to the farcical nature of it all is a report that during the talks the Iraqis, who presumably could do with brushing up on their diplomacy skills, asked that Mr McGuinness adopt an English accent for the duration of talks.
Apparently they could make neither head nor tail of what he was saying.
The idea of the former IRA commander preaching peace in a Bertie Wooster accent to a group of Iraqis in Finland is beyond parody.
But is there any point to any of this?
It would be a brave onlooker who would call it all a waste of effort, for the current consensus is that world conflict operates according to a particular template. The Middle East is just like South Africa, South Africa is just like Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland is just like Iraq ?
The thinking therefore is that players from each process can provide others with valuable insights and advice.
On the face of it, that seems a reasonable point.
Our problem here is that the local political addiction to Talks has now spiralled into a Class A habit.
We've had Talks About Talks, Talks About Why There Are No Talks, Talks About Why There Should Be Talks, Talks About Arranging Further Talks ...
And now there's all this talk about Talks About How Other Places Can Learn From Our Talks.
And the first rule about all of these Talks?
They should take place in an agreeable setting.
Down all the years of the many faceted Talks about our own Troubles, it has not gone unnoticed by the long-suffering electorate that they've tended to take place in pretty salubrious surroundings.
Nice work if you can get it.
Of course, that you can't argue with the logic of getting away from it all.
The likes of Finland are so much more, well, conducive to conversation than say, war-torn Iraq. As a Talks addict might put it: "Tried to make me go to Baghdad, I say no, no, no ..."
Beauty Keira would look good in a sack
The beautiful actress Keira Knightley is tipped for an Oscar for her role in Atonement, the movie of the best-selling novel by Ian McEwan.
It is a brilliant part. But it is not just Ms Knightley's acting skills that dazzle. There's also the spectacular early 20th century fashions to which the streamlined star (right) is so suited.
And it's not just evening gowns she looks good in. In one scene she wears a button-under-the-chin rubber bathing cap.
It's the sort of thing that would make any other mortal look like Roy Chubby Brown.
Yet Ms Knightley looks stunning in it. That alone deserves an Oscar.
Tenor giant leaves the stage poorer
The great Pavarotti is dead. His public life may have been opera but his private life was essentially soap opera.
He left his first wife and took up with a newer model. He obviously liked his grub more than the health lobby would currently deem advisable.
He got himself into a mess over unpaid tax bills. He ended up working much longer than his outstanding success should have made necessary.
But through it all he seemed to be someone who, for all his troubles, had a good time while he was here.
His first visit to Belfast in 1963 was his UK debut. By the time he came to Stormont in 1999 he was a legend.
His great talent was to reach beyond the confines of opera and reach out to the masses.
He made opera accessible.
He leaves behind his family, a worldwide legion of fans - and his voice.
The great Pavarotti?
Compared to today's two-bit celebs, truly a giant.
Right tout of Orde
In a report about how Sir Hugh Orde is resisting moves that could see informers named, it's revealed that police believe it's getting harder to recruit touts.
You don't say?
And never mind the informers. I would also have thought that it might be getting harder to persuade police officers themselves to 'handle' the same.
Why should they, after all, put themselves in a position where in future they will be under constant 'investigation' - possibly even tainted with allegations of collusion.
And not only here ...
For the experience of officers in Northern Ireland has doubtless not gone unnoticed by their counterparts in Britain.
In the war over there against a different type of terror, it does not exactly augur well for the future collection of intelligence.
There is not a channel you can turn to on TV of an evening now but someone is showing you how to cook.
Either that or they're showing you where you can avail of liposuction and colonic irrigation in the event that you may wish to parade naked on national telly.
It's a constant case of out of the frying pan - into the spare tyre.