Monday 13 November 1995
Lord Jenkins's villainies include being critical of other chancellors (including N Lamont), being pompous, preferring Oxford to Cambridge and having a speech defect. But he will have his comeuppance: "How will he explain," sneers Lamont triumphantly, "one notable absence from his party - someone who found time to attend Lady T's celebration - the Queen?" However, my favourite Lamont line was: "What does Lord Jenkins, on his chaise-longue, know of the tiger economies of the East?"
Now for all I know, Jenkins may indeed occasionally loll on a chaise- longue, or even sprawl on a tiger-skin rug, but I am tired of the canard that because he has always made time for reading, writing, eating, drinking and socialising, he is intrinsically lazy. In his time the chap has been inter alia Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, President of the European Commission, leader of the SDP and a distinguished writer and reviewer; in his 75th year he has produced a fine biography of Gladstone. If that's laziness, I'm Norman Lamont.
I am being driven mildly potty not just by my own absent-mindedness but by that of my friends. Quite apart from what I lost through recent burglarious action, in the past few weeks I have mislaid in Belfast, Dublin, Nottingham, Windermere and on various trains, a book, a cheque card, a jacket, my favourite jewellery and my reading glasses, and have four times had to replace my Remembrance Day poppy; and I don't even want to think about the lost pieces of paper. Several of these objects have been retrieved, but it all takes time. In the same period I have returned to various friends two overcoats, two pairs of glasses and a book, as well as being the source of telephone numbers for three who have respectively lost an address book, filofax and Psion organiser. My ever-practical friend Una suggests that objects normally carried should be programmed to follow their owner if abandoned. Thus one would be pursued down the street by one's book or briefcase, but not by one's shoes. It's a tricky area and I see many problems and grey areas, but I offer it as an idea.
There is much about Alan Clark that I find less than edifying - not least his decidedly dodgy notion that Churchill should have made peace with Hitler in 1941. (I would like here to share with you George Hummer's relevant clerihew, but caution confines me to the lines "Alan Clark/Found infidelity a lark".) But I am so passionate an admirer of his diaries that I was thrilled to see him arrive in a restaurant where I was being lunched last week. My expectations were dashed when he drank only water; it was a shock to the system akin to seeing Joan Collins wearing a crimplene frock, Roy Hattersley refusing a second helping or Norman Lamont being magnanimous.
While on anti-stereotypes, as listed on the Brussels mug I wrote about recently, here are my favourite suggestions from William Hazell:
Spendthrift as a Scot
Monotonic as the Welsh
Reasonable as a Serb
Timid as a Zulu
Libidinous as an Eskimo ("Do you remember," he asks, "the frigid midget with a rigid digit?")
Lots of you rushed to put Kate Odgers and her family out of their long- standing misery over their lack of a question for the answer: "One rode a horse and the other rhododendron." Some laboured hard to invent questions. Bill Haskins: "When they went over the sticks why did the jockey become a winner and Charon a bloomer? (Sticks = Styx; Charon = ferryman to Elysium across Styx; rhododendron = `rowed a dead one'.) Geoff Heath: "What is the difference between Anne Phillips (Princess Royal) and an azalea?" "What is the difference between Boadicea and Britannia?" offers Jennie Move, adding: "Admittedly, this is unlikely to provoke uproarious mirth unless told to an audience acquainted with the existence of the rhododendron variety `Britannia' (and perhaps not even then), but I feel it has a certain indefinable 1940s flavour to it."
Michael Leapman - the fate of whose allotment I used to follow spellbound many years ago when he was a Times diarist - is even more learned: "In riddles, the answer to "one rode a horse" is often Lady Godiva. The next step is to find a rhododendron with a similar name ... eg Lady Clementine Mitford. So the riddle could be: "What is the difference between Lady Godiva and Lady Clementine Mitford?"
Several of you sent the correct and much dafter question: "Which would you rather or go fishing?" You heard or read this piece of nonsense at home and at school as early as the Twenties and as late as the Sixties. Among those blamed were the radio comedy show ITMA, the humour of Penge and Beckenham, countless schoolmasters and the vogue for surrealism in Thirties Benenden. Liz Flower thought the culprits might have been the Irish, Gurdjieff, or the Forties Zeitgeist, when such riddles were "a general existential sign of relieved madness post-war". Dick Hughes recalls his mother and doting aunts thinking such riddles hugely funny. "Some ... were designed to be pointless, and therein lay their supposed hilarity." He remembers: "Why is an oven when it's hot?" Answer: "The more you rub it, the faster." Other correspondents offer: "Why is a mouse when it spins? - Because the higher, the fewer"; and "Why is a duck? - Because one of its legs is both the same."
Happy, Odgerses? For myself, I hope fervently that these riddles do not come back into vogue.
The Eurolimerick "A muchacha hermosa from Spain/In love with fear g as Sinn Fein/Said `Arriba Irlanda'/But I must add with candour/..." has foxed most of you; some of the few brave attempts have also foxed me. Best of the printable are Joss Peto's "T me bhean lewd und profane" and Frederick Robinson's "Verwechselst du `sprengen' mit `wehen'."
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