Diary

I've had little sleep this week owing to heat, midges (I feature prominently in all their gourmet guides) and Irish novelists, whom I am reading incessantly because I am a judge of the Irish Times Literary Awards and my shortlists (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) are due by 1 August. I had assumed that among the 30-plus novels there would be quite a lot of discardable dross, but alas, no: all deserve to be read. Since many are deeply gloomy, my nights are dominated by images of characters enduring various kinds of mental and physical anguish. When I've been through the lot I'm going to spend a couple of days reading nothing but PG Wodehouse. (Meanwhile, I'm glad of your limericks.)

In the Sun it was an important week for sport. First there was great excitement because Gazza is to become a Dadda, followed the next day by the sad news that, nonetheless, he had been dumped by the pregnant Shezza. (Fear not, the latest word is that they are to be reunited for the sake of what will no doubt be known as the Babba.) Then there was the necessity to mark the British Open Golf championship appropriately. "Doll in one" was the headline to the caption for the Page 3 girl on the opening day. "Wood you believe it? It seems all the hunky young golfers have got their iron [sic] lovely Lisa Bangert, 22. And why not? Our Mansfield swee-tee is the only birdie many of them will ever see." (Two days later I checked again and found "Putterly gorgeous Angela ... with pins like hers they're queuing up to be her sugar-caddy".) Truly the Sun is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Koloss, the American food group, has launched a takeover bid for Red October, the Moscow sweet factory, purveyor since before the revolution of such legendary Russian delicacies as Clumsy Bear chocolates. Privatised last year, the firm's shares are mainly held by its workers, who are being urged by management to hold on to them. Has anyone suggested to the Russians the Chancellor Clarke method of deterring the small fry from selling their shares by harshly taxing their modest profits?

I was fascinated to learn how the royal-watcher Ingrid Seward could manage to cobble together a full-length biography of young Prince Edward. Having perused an extract last week in the Daily Mail, I now understand that the trick is to omit no detail, however slight. We read, for instance, that Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Prince's inamorata, was discovered by Debrett's Peerage to be the sixth cousin once removed of the 11th Viscount Molesworth. This reminded me of a German academic, who when someone dismissed a piece of information as unimportant, reared up in Teutonic horror and cried passionately: "Everyzing is of importance."

Now to bring you up to date with complicated happenings in the insults department. Mike Cox, who accused me of being "a tight Welsh git", now writes: "Sorry you were upset about the Welsh thing; deceptive things, photographs", thus compounding his offence. It was Andrew Lewis who denounced me as a "pompous English trout" and thus bears the responsibility for all the ensuing erudite discussion about trout as abusive epithet, trouts in milk and so on. Two addenda. My friend Roger Leclerc points out that in 1483 "to trout" meant "to curdle", which has implications both for milk and for insults. And the tenant of my affections, who having been abroad has come to the debate late, went to the heart of the matter with his explanation that "trout" was used as a term of abuse for the simple reason that to the human eye it looks particularly fat, stupid and ugly.

Meanwhile, in the immigrants' newspaper, the Irish Post - where I come frequently under stern criticism for being a lickspittle to the British Establishment - Padraig O'Conchuir wishes to find an Irish equivalent to "Uncle Tom" to apply to the Professor of Peace Studies in Bradford for offences to do with speaking well of the English language. Having proposed "Uncle Pat", Padraig continued: "Judging from your correspondence columns, Ruth Dudley Edwards is the feminine example which would spring to the lips of most readers so she would qualify as an 'Aunt Patricia'" - although he offers "Aunt Biddy" as an alternative. "What," he ends disarmingly "does Ruth herself think?"

What I think is that I have to find some way of making money out of being insulted. After all, Alan Bryans, a college lecturer at Northumberland College of Art and Technology has just won a claim for racial discrimination mainly because a colleague called him an "Irish prat". Mind you, I have to admit in his defence that another colleague dubbed him "Gerry Adams". Now that's an insult that might upset even me.

Those of you newcomers who are in agony about the meaning of "listowel" need to know that it derives from a small town near Limerick and refers to the opening two lines of a limerick that the author cannot finish. I'm awash in limericks and related correspondence, but this week, to salute the end of the parliamentary session, Poetry Corner goes exclusively political. First, Mike Bradshaw:

The Right Honorable Michael

Portillo,

Affects a tonsorial billow.

This Iberian whim

May look fetching on him,

But not on an ordinary fellow.

And to show we're even-handed as between Tory Michaels, here is Diana Brazier's "Gathering Clouds":

Michael the archangel,

On cloud of principle he,

Came flying down from Westland,

And made us Thatcher-free.

Michael avenging angel

On cloud as black as pitch,

Drove the miners into hell,

And made our rivals rich.

Michael innocent angel,

Hovering on cloud Scott-free,

Waits in the wings of Major's play,

And "Me-PM" will be.

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