Diary

I shouldn't have sat up talking until 4am, but it had been a good party and I was enjoying myself. Five hours later I was enjoying myself less, as I got ready to go on a laborious journey to observe the Ulster Unionist Party conference in Portrush (it takes two hours by crowded train to cover the 50 or so miles from Belfast). Normally, my natural ineptitude for packing poses little problem, since my assistant, Carol, is calm and practical, but on Friday morning she was out of action, for she had been at the same party and she is not as tough as I am.

A traffic warden was harassing the cab driver so I had to rush, and this helped to ensure that I forgot the transformer for my American portable printer. So I was not in the mood for the Muslim paragon who took me to the airport, explaining all the way how he and his wife led clean lives, how they never went anywhere socially except to visit relatives, how he had never touched alcohol, tobacco or any female save his wife, and how it was the role of the woman to keep a good home.

I wondered if he had noticed the general air of dishevelment that characterises my front garden, as well as the boxes and papers in my hall, and was trying to show me the better way. But he was a nice man so I didn't shock him by telling him why I was tired and had a headache.

Such experiences confirm me in my view that it should be possible - on payment of a modest extra fee - to request or reject specific types of cab driver: "silent", "evangelical" or "convivial and sympathetic man- of-the-world" are the first few categories that come to mind.

President Clinton is not my kind of chap - and not just because of the way he wears his hair - but until Saturday he had done no harm to me personally. However, when I finally found a shop in Belfast that admitted to dealing in transformers, I was told that the whole stock had just been bought by the Europa Hotel. So because Clinton, with an entourage of 500, is whizzing through Belfast on the hunt-the-spurious- Irish-ancestor leg of his presidential campaign next month, I was left seething and transformerless. Some anti-Clinton verse would provide balm.

Incidentally, as David Trimble, the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, pointed out to his followers at dinner on Friday night, if Colin Powell is elected, there really will be an American president with distinguished Ulster ancestry. I look forward to observing Powell's effect on those pockets of Northern Ireland where people still innocently and without malice talk about "darkies".

At tea with my friend Gordon, I was served it in a mug from a Brussels souvenir shop that has gone the whole hog on the old poke about hell being a place where the English are the cooks and the Germans are the lovers. "The Perfect European," it explains, should be:

Cooking like a Brit

Available as a Belgian

Flexible as a Swede

Sober as the Irish

Talkative as a Finn

Famous as a Luxembourger

Humble as a Spaniard

Humorous as a German

Patient as an Austrian

Organised as a Greek

Driving like the French

Technical as a Portuguese

Controlled as an Italian

Discreet as a Dane.

Considering President Clinton recently had to apologise for speaking of "welshing on debts", there should be great scope for offence being taken here. Oh, and while we're at it, what do you suggest for the Scots and the Welsh - and indeed any other nationality you have it in for?

Speaking of cultural characteristics, my new dentist has harnessed what remains in me of the guilt that one can never quite shake off if born both female and Irish Catholic. "Oh dear," he remarks, as he messes about the back top left, "our little friend here isn't looking too happy."

So having always been no more than basically hygienic about such matters, I now feel that each little friend deserves care of the first order and spend what seems like hours on brushing-and-flossing duty. If the little chap about whom the dentist is particularly worried fails to survive, I will be distraught. How fortunate that my doctor doesn't talk like that about my liver.

George Hummer adds to our distinguished Portillo collection:

Michael Portillo

Is not a cigarillo

The emission of smoke and smell

Comes from mention of things Bruxelles.

However, mindful of this column's dedication to political balance, he has also given us:

Robin Cook

Is a proper little dook.

He and his leader Tony Blair

Make a most ignomic pair.

"The real problem with the polylingual limerick," explains a learned new recruit, Lyndon Jones, "is the absence of marked tonic stress in the romance languages, which lend themselves altogether less well to the rhythm of the limerick than do the Germanic languages such as our own."

But he tried anyway, and I particularly liked:

"This Gasthaus is glorious!" said I

Und hesellte ein funfzehntes Ei

Ma lo stomaco esplose

Apres huit de rose

Helaas! Bu is mijn leven voorbij

My friend Sean MacReamoinn, a veteran performer in this genre, offers those of you who are less gifted than Lyndon the comparatively easy exercise of finishing off: "A muchacha hermosa from Spain/In love with fear g as [a young man from] Sinn Fein/Said "Arriba Irlanda!/But I must add, with candour ..."

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