Diary

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At a dinner on Friday in Dublin to do with the Irish Times literary prizes, a fellow judge and I were whingeing companionably about having too many commitments. "The trouble is," she said, "that things come up that one can't resist. For instance, I've been invited to Estonia." "How marvellous!" I said. "You couldn't say no to that." I then caught sight of the horrified face of the woman opposite us. Concerned questioning elicited the fact that she thought we were enthusing about attending a stoning.

This is capped by EK Wilson's report from North Yorkshire. Efficiently carrying out his duties as secretary of his parish council, he dictated minutes of discussions about a suitable memorial to a recently deceased vicar. A suggestion that a device might be installed to assist the hard of hearing turned up in type as "the provision in church of a death loop". I would point out, however, that though this seems a touch draconian, it would certainly solve the problem.

Judging might seem a serious business, but if you have the poet Brendan Kennelly as your chairman, it is impossible not to have a good time. Summing up one debate about the literature under discussion, he remarked: "We are a race of ironic primitives."

Mind you, as sweeping judgements go, I think Brendan had been outdone earlier that morning on CNN by the New York clothes purveyor Donna Karan. "The soul of the person is in the shoes," she said, adding: "A belt is about your emotions for the day."

A more practical piece of sartorial insight was given to me a couple of weeks ago. Having been invited to attend in my journalistic capacity a Royal Black march (Black as in Orange) in Co Tyrone, I asked a friend what clothes would be appropriate. "Frock. No rocks. No crucifixes," she responded instantly. This proved to be excellent advice; a diamond- studded cross would definitely have raised eyebrows last Saturday week in Aughmacloy.

My friend Una is deeply impressed by the hard work so many of you put into my column and now refers to contributing readers as "Ruth's little elves". Two new recruits are Matthew Duckett, who explained that the diary's papal illustrations have been in a state of "Pius confusion", sent me several mugshots to prove it and from memory thought the featured pontiff in the "Two Infallible Powers - The Pope and Bovril" advertisement was probably Leo XIII. Magically, the next envelope I opened contained confirmation of this from Elf PJ Sherry of the Department of Religious Studies at Lancaster, who enclosed a Xerox of the ad, which I compared with Matthew's photos. So I can now pronounce infallibly that the Bovril sipper was indeed Leo XIII (1878-1903), and a very good likeness it was, too.

"If you were toasting absent friends at the VJ parade," writes Fred Balgarnie, "you must be, minimally, 65-70 years old. Hello, old dear, do you remember when dresses cost 11 clothing coupons and knickers were made of hemp?" This confirms my long-held view that concealing your age just leads to people adding years to you, so I have decided to follow the precedent set by the television celebrity Michael Barrymore and come out. I'm 51. If you find this information worrying, I would refer you to the response from the tenant of my affections when I asked if a colleague was younger than him. "Only if you're measuring age in years, or according to some such ridiculous criterion."

Now judging by the extreme courtesy you display in correspondence, even if you suspect it, none of you will ask if I am using an old photograph. The photo is, in fact, only two years old, but I admit it is flattering. Yet what do you expect? Even trouts have their moments of vanity. Mind you, there are drawbacks in using a becoming photograph. I once arrived at my father's house in Dublin to find him sharing a bottle of whisky with a neighbour whom I had never met. Lying on the table was a copy of a newspaper with a large photograph of me. With commendable honesty the neighbour gazed from me to the table and back. "I'm disappointed," he said. "You're not half as good looking as your photo."

Speaking of trout, Maurice Walsh's contribution to our piscine debate is to confide that he has long wondered if the well-known Old Trout pub at Windsor commemorated Queen Victoria. Mike Bradshaw's rhyming contribution is apropos my suggestion that readers might save time by addressing me by my first name:

"Dear Ruth" as you last week attested,

Should suffice and not be misdirected,

But the casualness

Of informal address

Could give rise to a trout being molested!

This is unlikely, Mike, now that you all know I'm 51 and worse-looking than my photo.

Rita Bailey has introduced yet another fish into the pond by reminding us that in Room at the Top Joe Lampton calls Susan "a dear kipper", a term his mother had applied to him when he wanted something that cost more than she could afford. Rita assumes this must be an expression from John Braine's part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, although she never heard it in the East Riding, where she was born and bred. Elves, please get delving.

I hope those of you to whom I sent Maurice Walsh's rude limerick liked it and benefited also from Michael Abley's coarse revelations about a lady called "Three-minute Sadie", which I added as a bonus. Bob Frederick has been ruminating about what is permissible in the limerick form and concludes wisely:

Limerick writing's a very crude art.

You're allowed to say tit, bum and fart

And if really silly

Can even say willy:

Rhyme and scan's the compulsory part.

I fear the listowel "While crossing the Alps on a tusker/ Hannibal espied a young busker" has been too much for you. There were some brave efforts, but since they were not up to the usual standard I'm keeping them to myself. Don't be downhearted.

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