So how about a New Year's Eve kiss, ma'am?
Monday 20 December 1999
She will presumably kiss the Duke of Edinburgh, while Tony Blair will snog Cherie ("Whoa there, tiger..."), then Tony will peck the royal cheek, and Cherie will beamingly sling an arm around the Archbishop Canterbury in his full-fig robes, while the head of the Metropolitan Police will offer Lord Derry Irvine a swig of his vodka and Red Bull cocktail and an irrepressible William Hague will let off party poppers all over the Queen Mother. The Chief Druid will take Vanessa Feltz on the dance floor, while Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit ascend the podium steps to ask Prince William if he's ever wanted to be in the band.
And then the entire complement of guests will form a huge queue to get their chance of assuring the Queen of their fondness. The more oiled among them may overdo the sentiment ("Oi bloodyloov you, Liz") but where's the harm in that? New Year's Eve is nothing if not a great leveller, with all those amateur drinkers seeking the nirvana of the sloshed at the same time, and all the participants empowered to monster each other at midnight.
But I've just learned that I'm quite mistaken. Blow me down if the Palace commissars haven't got all the kissing stuff etc nailed down. The Queen will not be kissing the Duke. She will restrict her intercourse with the fecund Mr Blair to a simple, courtly handshake.
There is only a limited chance of anyone being allowed to get off with the Archbishop. A chap called Rupert McGuigan, with the title "Head of Protocol at the Dome" has appointed a chap to advise all the 10,000 guests how to behave under the immemorial fibreglass. So no, I'm afraid you cannot barrel up to the nation's Top Pensioner and say, "I got you this plate of chicken and rice salad, that OK? Mind if I sit here...?"
One alarming detail worries me, though. The Dome bosses have told television companies not to show close-ups of the royal couple, in case the Queen might look a bit glum. Someone at the BBC explained: `The Queen has never been seen at midnight on New Year, and she will not be seen this year."
Never seen at, or presumably after, midnight? Why ever not? Has she some regrettable habits that make themselves known only on hogmanay? Does she insist on the DJ playing Glenn Miller numbers all night? Does she always try to lead the conga line? It can't be something to do with tequila slammers, can it?
WHEN I asked you to supply some new linguistic coinages along the lines of the Washington Post's "Definitions" game, I'd no idea what I was starting. Suggestions came flooding in on every post.
I heard from peers of the realm, consultant veterinary surgeons, senior citizens who'd been losing sleep over it (sorry about that) and a handful of famous writers who presumably saw it as a blissful form of displacement activity. Some of you sent a single entry, some sent a score - and frankly, Mr John Hobson of Rugby, no good will come of your stated intention to work your way through the entire dictionary "from abacus to zoology", supplying humorous neologisms. There must be more fulfilling things to do with your retirement.
The rules, you'll remember, were simplicity itself - choose a word from the dictionary, any word at all and, by adding, removing or substituting one letter, invent a new word which you must then define in a relaxed and witty fashion.
I had no idea, though, what a curious parallel universe we'd all be entering, where interface becomes inyerface ("a breakdown in essential communication"); people endure partyrdom ("a severe surfeit of social gatherings"); therrapin is defined, in a brilliant triple pun, as "acupuncture for amphibians"; where imagination mutates into magi-nation ("the country preparing its royal Christmas gifts") and myopic becomes myopict, meaning "a shortsighted Scot". Other ones I liked were G-spat ("a post-coital argument"; cherlatan meaning "old woman pretending to be young by means of plastic surgery"; puniversity ("the college at the bottom of the list in the league tables of British seats of learning"); bhajin ("queue jumping in a curry house"); fangshui ("tooth reconstruction job, usually in California") and clogistics ("traffic chaos theory").
Lots of you came up, apparently simultaneously, with binvention ("a new, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art piece of technology which nobody actually needs" was the best gloss) and I feel sure that Jonathan Haldane's invention of tubiquitous ("the people who are on the box every time one switches the damn thing on - Anthea Turner, Carol Vorderman, Gaby Roslin...") will become standard usage in a year's time. Joyce himself would have been impressed by Mr J Turner's word cocklesshell to describe the parlous state of crustacean sex life. Sister Judith Blackburn came up with two handy new words, insoupciant ("indifference to the slurping sounds that are made whilst eating one's cream of tomato") and intrainsigent ("rail companies' failure to understand the dissatisfaction of their customers").
I was impressed by Chris Wood's cool coinages of Piaffle as "incomprehensible foreign songs" and Saabath as "Swedish car wash". But since I must choose a winner, it has to be Adam Addis, from HInksey Hill, Oxford, whose list of 20 definitions suggests a man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder or a lot of time on his hands. There are too many definitions to quote in full, but would it give a flavour if I mentioned slothario ("a man who tries to attract women by hanging in a tree chewing leaves") and vesperado ("an outlaw attending evensong on a motor-scooter") and jerboam ("a large bottle of champagne containing a dead rodent for extra flavour") and incompoop ("anyone fool enough to pay income tax")? Mr Addis has a surreal cast of mind that's ideal for this competition, and is a worthy winner. The bottle of Jack Daniels will be whizzing to Oxford this very day.
Thanks to all who took part, but please don't send me any more. I can no longer mistype a word on my computer screen without wondering if something facetious could be made of it...
THE NOVELIST and polymath Anthony Burgess once got himself fired for reviewing one of his own books. Inside Mr Enderby, one of the five novels he wrote in the early Sixties when he thought he had only a year to live, was published under the nom de plume of Joseph Kell. The books editor of the Yorkshire Post sent it to Burgess to assess, though the author had forewarned him about its imminent appearance. Presumably, the Yorkshire literatus was having a laugh. So Burgess obliged. It wasn't the most enthusiastic notice in the world ("This is a dirty book... It may well make some people sick, and those of my readers with tender stomachs are advised to let it alone") but it caused a furore.
Some sneak at the Daily Mail disclosed that Kell and Burgess were one and the same, and the great man was briefly consigned to the literary doghouse. The books editor even went on Granada TV to denounce him. What a shame Burgess isn't around to earn a crust from Butterfly magazine, a handsome and expensively mounted new journal devoted to "fiction, photography, interviews, reviews" and edited by a brash young cove called Dan Crowe. In the review section that follows the predictably zany layouts and the Chris Ofili-ish illustrations, Mr Crowe has had the bright idea of asking writers to review their own books. It's an idea so deliciously post-mod, so brilliant a statement on the self-ingesting nature of modern literary society, you could practically enter the review pages for the Turner Prize.
As for the entries, Alan Davidson, editor of the vast and magisterial Oxford Companion to Food, finds fault with his own book, but does it in style: "In a book which is strong on insects as human food," he writes, "it is remarkable that there is no reference to the classic French work Insectes Comestibles: Peuples Entomophages by Dr Emile Bergier."
More ambiguous when it comes to self-assessment is the divine Zadie Smith whose first novel White Teeth is published on 27 January and comes garlanded with praise from Salman Rushdie. Reviewing her debut work, she seems uncertain whether to commend her own jewelled prose or deprecate her cleverness. "This kind of precocity in so young a writer," she tells herself sternly, `has one half of the audience standing to applause [sic] and the other half wishing, as with other child performers of the past (Bonnie Langford, Shirley Temple et al), she would stay still for a minute and just shut up. White Teeth is the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired, tap-dancing 10-year-old..."
Don't be so hard on yourself, young lady. There's an awful lot of very unprecocious sharks out there who'll be happy to do the job for you.
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