I spent the obligatory sightseeing couple of days gazing at traditional tourist scenes like the Washington Monument, and even managed to take in a brief trip to New York
My host in America is an uncommonly congenial, well-connected fellow. I had hardly been here a trice before he whisked me off to a party given by Katherine Graham, an exceedingly wealthy and influential lady always described as Washington's "Social Queen" - and with whom my host lives cheek-by-jowl. It turned out to be the kind of party where you have to search frantically for a face you don't recognise; even Mr Daniel ("Dan") Rather was there. The bright spot for me, though, was that Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington was not present, it clearly being altogether too exclusive for the likes of her. By far the most fascinating man I met was another neighbour of Mrs G and my host, the man who runs the Oak Hill cemetery opposite Mrs G's.

Now this may sound rather a humdrum job, but it isn't; the man actually left a much more high-powered profession to take it on. He now finds himself continually fending off Washington's most powerful and influential, all of whom want to book a place there - for this is the cemetery that all socially climbing (or, rather, socially climbed) Washingtonians are dying to get into. Indeed, before his awful suicide in 1963, Mrs G's husband used to taunt her that one day she would be looking across to where he lay. Today, indeed, she faces that melancholy view every time she looks out of her house.

I spent the obligatory sightseeing couple of days gazing at traditional tourist scenes like the Washington Monument, and even managed to take in a brief trip to New York. I couldn't help noticing how much fatter ordinary Americans are becoming. Two surveys out last week showed that one in three adults and one in eight children and adolescents are now overweight - and that Americans are consuming two hundred more calories a day than they did just four years ago. Life, clearly, is simply getting too soft for Americans: they don't even have to lift or push their own garage doors any more, pressing a button to do so instead. My British host, I fear, is becoming just as bad as the Americans - but fortunately he won't be reading this!

Immersed in the Brit-hack world of New York - even the Weasel sometimes feels it necessary to mix in such distasteful circles - I found the main talking point to be the future of Miss Tina Brown and Mr Harold Evans, aka Mr and Mrs Harry Evans. Mrs Evans told Melvyn Bragg in a documentary last January that she found London an altogether more creative and exciting city than New York - not something the highly calculating Tina would say unless it had some purpose. Can she really want to be some kind of Minister of Culture in a Blair government? (The very thought makes the Weasel want to emigrate; I'd even prefer Jeremy Paxman in that role.) And would the supposedly proletarian, son-of-a-train-driver Harry really see fit to accept a peerage of the realm? And could it all be true that the couple have their son George down for Eton, in which case he would be heading there shortly? I must remember to ask Sir Antony Acland - the Provost of Eton, of course, and one of the Weasel's closest, dearest friends. (Which reminds me that I simply must send him a birthday card - he was 67 last Wednesday.)

Acland - "Tone" as I always call him - also used to be British Ambassador in Washington. Now here's some good news for Britain: I'm told authoritatively that his successor-but-one, Sir John Kerr, has been more successful than either Tone himself or the fellow who came between them, one Sir Robin Renwick. Finally, apparently, Kerr has forged effective links with the Clinton administration, even convincing them that Mr Gerry Adams may not be the saint they supposed him to be: something poor old Renwick never managed to do. Despite this, I'm told, Sir Robin (now back in London) has also joined the long list of those hoping, waiting, for that call from Blair ...

If the current British Ambassador has any fault in Washington's eyes, it is that he smokes (like a chimney, actually); for it is now certainly Politically Incorrect, if not virtually illegal, to smoke in the American capital. (Every single shop selling cigarettes is now legally required to obtain proof that the purchaser is older than 26.) I was struck by this phenomenon when my host dragged me off to his son's school auction, an event I thought would be a terrible bore but which turned out to be a fascinating glimpse of privileged Americana - proof, if proof was ever needed, that the class system here is alive and well. First, the bad news - Arianna was there. The good news is that, somehow, I managed (on your behalf) to avoid having to speak to her.

The school itself is certainly a fashionable, private establishment, but teaches pupils only up to the age of twelve. Yet the dinner preceding the auction itself (tickets were $300 for two) was a stylish occasion, with the ladies deporting long, exotic, designer gowns; and all this was nothing compared to the actual auction that followed. A glossy brochure listed items - anything from a Labrador puppy to an all-in trip to Thailand - which parents or other wealthy well-wishers, usually, had donated. The puppy, a delightful creature called Snowflake, went for $2,600 (an impulse buy which later led, I gather, to a horrific marital rumpus: a lady bid for the dog without the knowledge or approval of her husband, who put his foot down and insisted that Snowflake find another home.)

There were then a series of "An Evening with..." - one of which was entitled "Insider Dinner" and involved no more and no less than a meal with a Washington hack and hackette ("They will join you and two other couples in your home..."). To my astonishment, the bidding for this doubtful privilege went well into four figures. My ever-knowledgeable host explained that this was a phenomenon illustrating the colossal self-regard Washingtonians have; the hacks not only represent themselves as having some kind of (non-existent, of course) route to Nirvana, but then put a price on it - and, America being America, some clown will duly pay out good money. A week in a house in Maine, recently featured on the cover of something highly desirable called Traditional Home Magazine, then went for a mere $6,000 plus...

My host and I spent the rest of the evening planning an "Anti-Auction" for 1998. We decided, for example, that plenty would dig deep into their pocket for "An Evening Without Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington". And because many of the parents are older men with Mk 2, trophy wives, we decided we would slip in several items to be auctioned such as "A Weekend with Mrs Xxx" - the mere mention of some of the said wives, my host went on, being enough to set Washington alight.

We heard later that the real event raised more than $200,000 - worth it, I suppose, if it enables the school to replace the teacher who "corrected" my host's son's spelling of "witty" to "whitty". But what an odd country America is, subjecting itself to such strange, tribal, class-based rituals as this bizarre school auction. I certainly like Americans and hugely enjoyed my couple of weeks there, but felt a certain sense of exhilaration when I put myself back in the capable hands of the redoubtable Captain Stephenesonnesdottirfloorplug for the long flight home - ready and refreshed to face ordinary domesticity again, even the appalling prospect of Major v Blair '97

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