Diary

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Normally in Dublin I stay with convivial friends, but on Friday I was being a judge of the Irish Times literary competition and thought the wise move was to stay in the proffered hotel room and keep well out of temptation's way. Unfortunately for my health, as judges and hosts left the restaurant midnightish, and I said idly (as I tend to do) "We really should go to a night-club," I found a couple of volunteers. "Take us to a club with music for wrinklies," I cried gaily to the taxi driver. "Rock and roll and so on."

So he did, and it was very jolly, and I danced a lot, and we went round St Stephen's Green in a horse-drawn carriage in the small hours and I was still enjoying myself at 4am sitting in the hotel lobby having an impassioned argument with two fellow judges about the merits of one of the shortlisted poets. I bet the Booker judges didn't have half as much fun.

From Dublin airport I rang Una, a stalwart of this column, who related a story she had heard told on Irish radio by the singer Finbar Furey. She said to tell you to read it aloud slowly, and bear in mind that Chap B was a Corkman and they have trouble with their tee haitches.

On a plane, Furey overheard one of his entourage, A, who was engaged in writing a postcard, asking: "How do you spell 'wattle'?"

"What do you want to write 'wattle' for?"

"Because I have to tell the wife to have six T-shirts ready wattle fit me."

"You don't have to write 'wattle'," observed B reprovingly. "What you should say is 'dattle'."

Were I the worrying type, I'd have been alarmed that it was in the Independent that the story broke of a brawl in the Crime Writers' Association between what are known as the cosy and hard-boiled schools, for I am a member of the CWA committee and therefore a likely mole. Fortunately, because of the nature of their occupation, my colleagues instantly realised that since I was the obvious suspect, I must be innocent.

Some of you will remember that the row began because in the dead of night Chaz Brenchley overheard the Baroness (PD) James telling the World Service that "in the pits of the worst possible inner-city area ... you don't get moral choice". Chaz wrote to our organ, Red Herrings, to protest, and sparked off a controversy that in a couple of weeks had secured more publicity for crime writing than it normally attracts in a year. One highlight was the declaration by Mark Timlin, a prominent member of what Tim Heald has christened the "arriviste yobbo" tendency and a hard-boiled writer whose hero apparently spends much of his time throwing up in public conveniences, that rather than be a member of our organisation he'd stick needles in his eyes. Lady James complained vociferously about being a misunderstood victim of political correctness. Although I'm a squeamish cosy-perpetrator myself, who would rather do almost anything in the whole world than stick needles in my eyes, unlike Tony Blair I believe in a broad church, so I am rushing to the defence of Chaz on the charge of being the sort of chap who rushes around roughing up respectable matrons. Admittedly the thrillers are so violent I won't even read the blurbs, and Chaz looks and dresses like something you wouldn't want to meet in a shopping precinct in broad daylight, let alone in a dark alley, but he is really a baa-lamb.

We became pally a few years ago at a crime convention in Toronto when my friend Priscilla and I discovered him one morning quivering with fear because he was to appear on a panel with what he expected to be a coven of rabid feminists. We got maternal, brought him champagne and gave him helpful advice like: "Get a grip, lad, and don't be such a wimp." It is time the ladies stopped handbagging him: "Sorry", his teddy and constant companion since he was three, is getting very upset.

A contribution to the Great Conversations of our Time department comes from my friend Bert, who made the mistake of ringing railway inquiries in Newcastle to ask for train times from Darlington to Brighton. Having been asked what time train he wanted to travel on, he explained that he wouldn't know that until he knew what time the trains left Darlington. His interlocutor responded that she couldn't tell him any train times until she knew on which train he wanted to travel.

"I explained to her that my reason for ringing train timetable inquiries was to find out what time the trains ran. This did not help. She insisted that she could not tell me the time of the train until I told her the time of the train that I wanted to travel on. So I made a guess and said 'mid-morning'.

" 'What time is mid-morning?' she asked.

" 'Ten o'clock,' I said.

" 'The 10 o'clock leaves Darlington at 9.58,' she replied.

"Is it me?"

Several of you are bleating about the low quality of some limericks and the need to move on to a new verse form: John Parkes even sent me The Lure of the Limerick in the hope that it would act as aversion therapy, so I'm trying to break away.

However, having won my heart with "Dear Ruth, may I please come and play in your gang?" Pat Gould ensured I'd publish his Ganesh verse:

The Pachyderm God without guile

Is not - I declare - "milkophile"';

The Elephant Frolic

Is pure Lactoholic -

That's surely the classical style?

Nor can I forsake limericks without offering you AJ Godden's suggestion for the promotion of "amicable Eurosentiments" through a Eurolimerick competition. Here is his model, about a resourceful lady from Ravenna coping with a shortage of men :

Le donne di vecchia Ravenna

Die sagen wir brauchen kein Manne

On fait tous pour soi-meme

Und es gibt kein Problem

Except for the following generation

To get you started, he suggests you fill in the lines between "Una bella ragazza di Gala/Had a torrid affair with a sailor" and the last line, "Wie war denn dass fur ein Feheler!"

To your dictionaries! There will be a prize, though I can't yet think what.

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