In Ireland last week I told a visiting Englishman that the "Yes" faction in the divorce referendum was boosted by the popularity of the politician Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fail. "Bertie has been separated from his wife for years," I continued, "and he appears publicly with the woman with whom he lives but whom he cannot marry. Apparently the word in working-class Dublin was 'Give the poor hoor a chance'." "What an unpleasant way of describing the lady," responded my shocked interlocuter. It took me a while to reassure him that the "hoor" was Bertie; in Ireland, the term is usually affectionate and almost always applied to a man.

Enjoyable aspects of the referendum included the enraged "No" campaigner who denounced her opponents as "a shower of wife-swapping sodomites". I liked, too, the exchange in the Senate reported by the Irish Times. First David Norris, independent senator, asked that the Pope be officially told that his appeal for a "No" vote had been an unwelcome and intolerable intrusion. He was ruled out of order. Then Senator Roche asked about "the intervention of Princess Diana". "She is another nincompoop," snapped Norris. This provoked Senator Lanigan to announce that he "rejected Senator Norris's suggestion that the Pope was a nincompoop". Norris replied that he "did not suggest that. [He] suggested that Senator Roche was a nincompoop and [he] stood over it."

Which takes us to St Diana, Patron Saint of the Media. My friend Betsy dissents from my view that she is Wodehouses's prissy Madeleine Bassett. "Surely," she writes, "thePoW is Violet Elizabeth Bott?"

Bassett or Bott, she has inspired several poems this week, most of which did not pass the censor.

Among those provided by David Bishop, I have rejected that beginning:

They've changed its name

to Suckingham Phallus

His Highness, the Prince

looks rather embarrassed

in favour of the cruel and unusual "Royal Glue":



Stuck up




Tony Scoffield, however, raises the tone somewhat by quoting Chaucer:

"Ey, Goddes mercy," seyde our Hoste tho,

"Now such a wyf I pray God kepe me fro!"

I have had it in for the Lord Young of Graffham since I had the misfortune of being asked to review his autobiography - a work long on self-satisfaction and cliches, to which I unhesitatingly awarded the distinction of Most Boring Book of 1990. Therefore, when on Saturday I read that he may get a pay-off of more than pounds 2.5m from Cable & Wireless, I was vexed. Since Young:

a) has had an enormous salary;

b) had a very public row with the chief executive; and

c) has always boasted of having no contract, one might have thought he'd go quietly. But I always underestimate the working of business. Cedric Brown, eat your heart out.

Poems, please.

Having been its chronicler, I am annually invited to the Economist's works party, an occasion when the generation gap starkly asserts itself. Everyone there enjoys the excellent food and drink, but while wrinklies and crinklies - working and retired - want to greet each other and catch up with news, the young - being deaf as well as unable to enjoy conversation without music - would be distraught without a din even during the pre- dancing stage. Since youth predominates, it is, of course, right and proper that their tastes prevail.

After an hour or so yelling at old friends, I confessed to a crinkly dear to my heart that I had developed a sore throat and incipient headaches, and, since he was in the same state, we decided to elope to a quiet pub. (Mind you, after trying four that had music much louder than the place from which we had fled, we had to get a taxi to find one where the only music to be heard was almost inaudible Fats Waller.)

This incompatibility is evident at staff parties, weddings and wherever the generations mix. Are there any solutions? Generational segregation? Or Walkmen for those who need music? And what will happen when the young in turn become wrinklies? By then the next generation, having been exposed from birth to constant blaring music, will be even deafer. But perhaps in time everyone over 17 will be stone-deaf and parties will be harmonious events at which people happily converse in sign language.

John Parke provides a summing-up of the ludicrous Turner Prize shortlist:

Mark Wallinger

Spent a day at the races,

Calum Innes

Left imperceptible traces,

Mona Hatoum

Took pictures of her womb

And Damien Hirst

Came first.

George Hummer adds:

Damien Hirst

Scored a first.

He pre-carved the Sunday joint for a


only to discover Mad Artist's Disease.

Reports on elves, Wodehouse, " 'e 'as 'er by Jan" and much else have to be held over to make space to set urgent homework.

First assignment comes from Bronyar Kilbrec, who wants to know if he has coined an "Alter Echo". When composing a lyrical version of the Three Little Pigs he came up with the poignant verse:

The house flew apart

And Little Piggy's heart

Stopped long before it was due.

"Later I made a curious discovery when I switched 'long' for 'short'," says Bronyar, who would greatly appreciate advice as to whether such a quirk in the English language is already documented.

Second, my friend Gordon, who is being stoical about having his left leg amputated under the knee, has just acquired an artificial, mainly plastic substitute, which stands proudly beside him when not in use. Gordon has given this object the temporary name of Egbert, but seeks better suggestions. It may or may not help you to know that his (Gordon's, that is, not Egbert's) primary interests are literary and historical and that his particular passions are military history and Joseph Conrad.