IÕve got a new toy, what every woman wants.  ItÕs about nine inches long, works with batteries, fits satisfyingly into the palm of your hand and provides hours of solitary pleasure.  Admittedly, itÕs probably better enjoyed in company Š itÕs the kind of toy that will make any party go with a swing, but it depends on how much noise you make when you get carried away.  If like me, you are a bit of a screamer, then it makes sense to do it alone where no one can hear you.  It is, of course, my very own karaoke machine Š an ingenious little gadget that comprises a microphone which plugs into the television, with a chip imbedded inside that automatically calls up any one of hundreds of song lyrics on to the television screen, ready for a sing along.  Be still my beating heart, what more bliss is there in the world?  Me, a microphone and the complete Elvis songbook.


It seems everybody is bursting into song.  Across the pond, no night out in LA is complete without a visit to a karaoke bar and every film from Cameron Diaz in Very Bad Thing, Gwyneth PaltrowÕs Duets to Britney SpearsÕ teen blockbuster Crossroads just has to have an obligatory karaoke scene where the heroine gets up on the stage, wiggles her bum, and belts out a sizzling torch song.  Karaoke bars were originally most beloved of Japanese business men who lose face if they sing badly, but the home grown variety, usually found in suburban pubs, are where most pop idol wannabes get the first taste of stardom and where singing badly is part of the fun.  Here in London, Yo Sushi, the conveyor belt fast food chain, are also jumping on the boy band wagon and have turned the basement of their Farringdon restaurant into a sing along a sushi bar, complete with transvestite compere called Scarlet.  Further plans are afoot to open another in Soho. 


I did go along with every intention of treating half of North London to my own, special version of Peggy LeeÕs fever, but that was before I had considered the bum question.  Too much wiggling of mine and weÕd have to clear the building.  ItÕs probably a fire hazard.


An old guy with silver hair gave a fair rendition of Born to Run, a prepubescent in Adidas classics lost the plot on Revolution and everyone at my table sang Killing me softly with his song, which they were.  The great thing about public Karaoke, however, is that if you pick a popular song everyone will join in and drown you out, and in Yo Sushi, the lissom staff also sing, wiggle and strut, just to put your vocal chords in their proper place - In a cab homeward bound where you can get off in your own time with your personal Super Karaoke Master Blaster.  Retailing at £295 itÕs probably cheaper than the ignominy of being asked to get off the stage before you break it.


Admittedly, in the hand-held version, the background pictures which flash up on the television screen superimposed with the words, feature a vista resembling a picnic spot in Eastbourne, closely followed by a seascape of downtown Kuala Lumpur and the botanical gardens in Brooklyn, which do get a bit tiresome after seventeen straight hours of singing your way from song 100 to 9746.  But the menu does allow you to adjust the key Š useful for the vocally challenged amongst us who canÕt hit the high notes as well as for those of us with the range of a flatline; and you can slow down the tempo for soulful renditions, or speed it up so you donÕt have to linger any higher than C if youÕre having a bad song day.


ItÕs fantasy time par excellence.  Closet divas can belt out ballads to their bleeding hearts content Š Bonnie Tyler, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin, and the whole of the Best of Bread, which my husband thinks is surely an oxymoron.  You can be Britney without undulating around like a PaedophileÕs wet dream in your girlish underwear or

even Lisa Tarbuck as TVÕs Linda Grant without the need to gain twenty pounds, wear golden cardigans, sleep in your silky bras in bed at night, or sing in a nightclub.  Though there is a distinct possibility that overuse of the microphone can make you go blind, deaf, and Northern.


But weÕve already set a date for Sunday in the Soho Yo Sushi where I have vowed to sing ŅSomething Stupid, with my friend Ed, and which I have no doubt, definitely will be.  Trouble is ŠIÕm just not sure thereÕs enough sake the world to get me sufficiently drunk to do it public.  Some things are better kept  - in the words of Charlie Ritchie Š Ōbehind closed doorsÕ.