John Walsh Column

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We all knew that Americans were a barkingly credulous bunch, but this is getting out of hand. The other evening I was dining with the screenwriter Delia Ephron, the deeply lovable sister of the more renowned Norah Ephron. (They represent a sibling talent of Bronte-esque proportions. Norah wrote When Harry Met Sally; Delia wrote Sleepless in Seattle, which Norah directed. Delia is in town to promote her first adult novel, Hanging Up, which is all about sisterly and daughterly rows but wittier than Little Women, while Norah is in Los Angeles directing John Travolta in a movie called Michael, written by Delia. Still with me?) Learning that the Travoltular character is an angel, I asked how she would handle the necessary suspension of disbelief that would let the audience share her fantasy. "No problem," she said. "Sixty-eight per cent of Americans believe in angels."

Come again? "People believe in parking-lot angels who get them spaces - it's a big problem in LA - and shopping-mall angels who stop them buying foolish things, and angels who look after them in dangerous circumstances ...." There are also, it appears, special angel shops with angel key-rings and plaster statues, and "angel experts" describing their encounters on television.

As a prerequisite of going into production, the cast of Michael were asked if they believed in the newly trendy cherubim and seraphim. Gosh yes, they all chorused, of course we do. And Ms Ephron, did she believe in flying babies and winged mannequins in Westwood frocks? "I was asked this a lot and I learnt to say, `Absolutely', with conviction," she told me. "Until I was on a radio show and said it and the DJ said, `You're lying'." What did she do? "I just laughed." If ever a girl needed a guardian angel on her shoulder ....

Fans of exotic beer, among whose number I cannot count myself, received a blow lately from an unexpected source. Fidel Castro, the well known dictator, has apparently taken umbrage at the appearance, in fashionable dives around London, of a bottled lager called Che, bearing on its label the handsome features of his former colleague, Comandante Guevara. His objection, however, is not that the saintly ex-freedom fighter is being roped into flogging booze. What he deplores is that none of the ingredients is remotely Cuban. The distributors of the beer, meanwhile, counter-insist that the liquid is stuffed with fruit from the Cuban Workers' State Fruitery.

It is heartening to see a chap of Senor Castro's global clout taking an interest in the drinking habits of the Covent Garden crowd. And he is quite right to be concerned about the authenticity of "special" brews. A few years back, I was in a bar in London WC2 where virtually the only thing to drink was a bottle of that urinous Mexican beer with a wedge of lime sticking into the neck which you are supposed either to poke into the bottle or suck enthusiastically after each swig. I met a chap from Honduras, who was passing through London, and as we chatted he said, "I knew the English like to drink warm beer. But now you stickin' fruit in it?" Listen mate, I replied, it wasn't our idea, it's borrowed from your culture. "No way, man," he replied, "you'd never catch a Central American puttin' fruit in his drink. Poison lizards in the tequila, sure; fruit in the beer, forget it." But wait, I countered, what about margaritas, when you .... And so we went on for half an hour, trying to find someone to accept responsibility for the Citrus Beer Explosion.

The gifts with which the rich and famous court each other have never impressed me much. The His 'n' Hers mini-submarines from Macy's? Ho-hum. The super-rich advertising man who directed his wife, on her birthday, to look in their barn, where two vastly horned Aberdeen Anguses were waiting for her (she had hoped for a Ferrari and was livid)? Yeah, right. But now I find that two friends with imminent birthdays have unaccountably become multi-millionaires, and I am stuck with the old question of what you buy for etc. One is a writer with an acquisitive streak, so one gives him parody presents - a foreign-exchange calculator to hang round his neck, a new wallet the size of a rucksack. But the other is a rock musician with fleets of everything, from premier cru clarets to first editions of Dante to Sopwith Camels. The bastard - a collector, an epicure, a visionary - really has got everything. Luckily, a friend has news of the perfect gift: a truffle-slicer. Now all I need is the pounds 60 for a truffle to go with it.

Listlessly aquaplaning over the Internet the other day I encountered a remarkable item. It was the reply to an application form by an American student seeking to get into New York University. The form inquires: "Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realised, that have helped to define you as a person?"

The reply is nine paragraphs long. It starts: "I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations in my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees. I write award-winning opera." Then it gets really silly and achieves, in its rather classy barminess, a kind of poetry.

"I woo women with my sensuous and god-like trombone playing. I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love and an outlaw in Peru.... Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants ... Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire.... My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy...." and so on and on until the final, plangent sign-off: "But I have not yet gone to college."

This beats boasting about charity work and film club membership on your Ucca form. How did it go down at NY University? They practically begged him to come.

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