JOURNALISTS are not their usual inquiring selves at the moment. Ever since Chris Patten suggested the next hack who asked when he was leaving Hong Kong should give $500 to the Hong Kong Journalists' Association's charities fund, he has found the press has lost interest in putting the question to him directly. The trouble is, there are some of us who have made a bit of a cottage industry out of guessing the date and excuse for his premature departure. Now we are all sitting on our wallets with nothing better to do than spread idle rumours. We have another humdinger for you this morning. Hot off the telephone comes the latest news from Britain: Mr Patten would fill disgraced Tory Nicholas Scott's seat if he were put behind bars for failing to stop after an accident involving a three-year-old boy, when he was driving under the influence of alcohol. Why should this rumour be any more substantial than the other tall tales we have peddled over the years? Well, unlike the previous stories, where no successors were mentioned, we have a name this time for the next governor. It is Sir John Boyd, ambassador to Tokyo, and a former Hong Kong political adviser. He has been talked about before - between Sir David Wilson's promotion to the peerage and Mr Patten's ejection with the Bath-water. And he would be just the sort of chap the Foreign Office would like to see back in Hong Kong smoothing feathers ruffled by the man-of-guilt. The constituency party's already been sounded out. John Major still wants our Chris back in harness salvaging Tory fortunes before the next election. Hmmmmm . . . well Chelsea is a safe(-ish) Tory seat, even in these days of new Labour. On the other hand, do we really think Mr Patten would want to go back and ride the through train to the opposition benches in 1997? Do we really think he would want to be in the same building, never mind the same party, as Defence Secretary Michael Portillo? Let's make a deal. If Mr Patten gives us an on-the-record exclusive for next week's From the Corridors admitting he has been seriously approached to run for the seat and save Mr Major's bacon, we will donate $500 to the HKJA charities. We will make that $600 if he says he has agreed to stand. ALSO back smoothing ruffled feathers is another former political adviser, Foreign Office Sinologist extraordinary, William Ehrman, who has recently re-emerged as private secretary to British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. We do wonder why he forgot to remind Mr Rifkind to raise the provisional legislature with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen? Perhaps he was new in the job and still confusing Hong Kong with Bosnia. Meanwhile, Stephen Bradley, Mr Ehrman's erstwhile deputy in Hong Kong, has now given up working for fund-managers Lloyd George Management and has returned to the Foreign Office. Not so far, we understand, as part of the great feather-smoothing conspiracy. His Chinese and Japanese experience is being put to good use on the Middle East desk. IS China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs chief embarking on a second career, ready for post-1997 retirement . . . perhaps pre-1997? Spotted in the classifieds of the New York Observer newspaper: 'Feng Shui Master - Chinese art of designing an harmonious environment in your home or office. Call Dr Lu Ping. Gift certificates available.' FORKING over millions to an Ivy League university does wonders for the average Hong Kong billionaire's access to Washington's corridors of power. After announcing his gift to his alma mater, Princeton, Gordon Wu this week scored meetings with no less than eight members of Congress, including heavyweights Bill Bradley, Bob Kerrey and FOHK (Friend of Hong Kong) Craig Thomas. Mr Wu was also to be found at a lunch thrown by Hong Kong Commissioner Barrie Wiggham at the exclusive Georgetown Club. There he bluntly regaled assembled State and Energy Department bigwigs with what was wrong with their trade policy. He soon had them squirming in their seats. But, hey, no problem. Mr Wu assured them he had done the same to British Prime Minister John Major and Chinese leaders. So that's all right then.