Last week I had a call from an Orange friend who out of curiosity had attended in Belfast the "Spirit of Dumcree" meeting, an event organised by the reddest of redneck (orangest of orangeneck?) elements within the Order. Their purpose was stoutly to oppose any attempts at modernising, compromising, reassuring Catholics or doing anything else that might have raised an eyebrow in the 17th century. My friend became upset when one doughty citizen - to widespread applause - began his speech with: "I'm a sectarian bigot and proud of it." Is it too late to revive Alf Garnett, equip him with sash and bowler and resite his sitcom in Portadown?

Though I greatly enjoy my friend Val McDermid's private eye series, as soon as she told me the subject matter of her new book, The Mermaids Singing, I assured her that nothing would persuade me to read it; I take no pleasure from being terrified. However, affection made me weaken and acquire the book and last Monday I addressed myself to it gingerly and was gripped by page two. Four hours later I was on the last page and had turned into a quivering wreck; twice I had failed to respond to the doorbell lest I be confronted by a psychopathic torturer. I read the last sentence with some bewilderment and rang Val in order tactfully to ascertain if by any chance a page had been left off the end.

Through a red haze, she told me that only that afternoon she had discovered that in an absent-minded moment the printers had omitted the last five pages; the entire print run would now have to be retrieved from bookshops, wholesalers and ships and then pulped. "Beats your trouble," she said, apropos two pages in my last book having been transposed so that all copies had to be returned to base for the pages to be cut out and restuck. Then we spoke of our friend Chaz Brenchley, whose book had been published without his substantial proof corrections being incorporated, so that whole passages of dialogue made little sense.

"I've never heard of this kind of thing happening before," snarled Val. "Seems sinister. Why all of a sudden? And only to us mates?" "Because we're all on the Crime Writers' Committee?" I proffered. "Perhaps there are enemies of the genre about? Romantic novelists, perhaps?"

Those responsible should be warned. I murder my people pretty humanely, but Chaz's victims have a horrid time and these days, Val's die screaming .

A socialist mole reported on a meeting in Euston Square to discuss 25 years of radical journalism, at which the 300 strong audience was addressed by inter alia Channel 4's Darcus Howe, who spoke reverentially of the merits of "Minister Farrakhan" and Hilary Wainwright, whom the mole described as the non-conformist La Passionara of English left-wing politics. Wainwright told the audience sadly of how hard and financially unprofitable were the lives of freelance left-wing journalists. She cited one unfortunate who was forced to subsidise his principled journalism by writing travel articles; recently he had had to waste his time travelling first class to Japan. Alas, the materialism of the Eighties appears to have left its mark on the brotherhood, for her tragic tale elicited the heckle, "I'll do it," and the audience dissolved in laughter.

On Wednesday, with another journalist, I was on an after midnight radio programme with three MPs to discuss an alternative Queen's Speech. The Conservative Alan Duncan has argued forcefully in print for decriminalising drugs, but as he is now a PPS he can no longer dissent from party policy and had to leave me to argue the case alone: he had been, as the presenter, Vincent Hanna, put it, "Clareshorted". This useful new verb means that if you want to avoid the sack you may doggedly have to refuse to state the views everyone knows you have. As Tony Walton explains:

Clare Short

Had to be taught

In the belly of the whale

You mustn't inhale

At dinner on Friday night I asked Micheal O'Siadhail how a full-time poet ensured he had something to write about. "I'm gregarious," he said. "And I draw a lot of inspiration from people I meet on my poetry reading tours here, in Ireland and America." I looked at him dubiously, imagining the sameness of the audiences at universities and cultural centres. "Who's next?" I asked. "On Monday," he said happily, "I'm reading at Broadmoor in the morning and Eton in the evening."

In a fit of petulance, the US blocked the appointment of Ruud Lubbers as secretary-general of Nato, so naturally France has savaged the other declared candidate, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen. Bishop PC Rodger comments wisely:

When members of Nato get stuffy

It's easily misunderstood

Why the French become huffy with Uffe

And Americans rude about Ruud.

And David Shields has composed a clerihew for viewers of The Final Cut:

Each Sunday night, John Major

is glued to the box, I'll wager,

in his eagerness to work at

emulating Francis Urquhart.

"Who wrote that?" asked Andrew Boyd about this dactyl concerning the admission of the first consignment of girls to an Ivy League campus:




Fun is in store.

"If you lift the baying pack of correspondents that you have now mustered on to the scent, they will surely run it to earth and maybe even kill." Please do. And while you're at it, I want advice on how properly to describe the working readers of the column: "hounds" seems less than respectful.

Ace contributor Una O'Donoghue some weeks ago suggested "elves" - and some of you have picked up the theme in correspondence - but she became worried when she looked it up and found all sorts of dwarfish and malignant connotations. However Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says the malignant kind of imp is passe and has given way "to those airy creatures that dance on the grass in the full moon, have fair golden hair, sweet musical voices, magic harps, etc." Well, delvers that sounds just as I imagine you all. Shall we go elfish?