Diary

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The Independent Online
I'm off to Hay-on-Wye tomorrow for the Literary Festival (sponsored by this newspaper) that has more charm per square foot than any other. I shall prowl through the shadowy corn market, hunt for Penguin Modern Classics in the grassy courtyard of the old castle, drink unfeasible quantities of Welsh lager in the garden of the Swan hotel and contemplate the ancient question of why people come to hear writers talk. Some people want to meet Joanna Trollope just to give her a piece of their mind for killing off that nice rector in a car crash. Some want to know what time Ian McEwan eats his breakfast, so that they, by pursuing a similar regimen, will one day also write Black Dogs.

Now and again, through the blanket of predictable Q&A, you hear something different - like Ntozake Shange's outburst the other day at a public reading in London's East End. The New Jersey-born Ms Shange (her name translates as "She Who Comes With Her Own Things", though she was Paulette Williams at the font) finished reading from her new novel, Liliane, and invited questions. A shy woman in the front row said: "Erm, I just wanted to know a bit about, erm, how you write - I mean, is there some sort of special place you sit in your house?" The effect was electrifying. Ms Shange's eyes blazed; her Medusa curls shook. "Hell girl, I don't reveal process," she stormed. "You don't give no one innimate information about yo'self like that. That's how they practise voodoo on you. You tell someone where you sit, the next thing you know, you dayd ..." Whew. Lucky no one asked where her ideas came from.

Have you noticed that, try as you might to take the pronouncements of Gerry Adams seriously, some satirical bug always gets into the system? Take the current issue of Reality magazine, the house organ of the Catholic Redemptorist brotherhood, where the Sinn Fein chief is asked what his faith means to him. His every reply seems to throb with menace.

Does he go to church? "I think it's useful to reflect and be contemplative. And I think some of the Catholic ceremonies actually aid that - you can go in somewhere as part of a crowd but you can sit down on your own and be reflective with a 2lb slab of Semtex concealed in your boot and a razor- edged cosh in your ..." no, sorry I made that last bit up.

Asked about sectarianism, Adams confesses that even as a teenager he had "a difficulty with the notion of Christians being divided into Catholics and Protestants, and with Protestants being divided into Methodists and Church of Ireland or Presbyterian when it's so much easier to divide them into the Top Half and the Bottom Half, the right leg over here, the left knee over there ..." no, no, no, all right, he didn't say that, either.

Pressed to say whom he most admired in the world, Mr Adams named Nelson Mandela. Pause. Oh, and Jesus Christ. Before the thunderstruck reporter could inquire whether he thought the feeling was mutual, Adams retracted the sentiment, saying it "sounds a little bit pious". Heaven forbid. Of all the things in the world you don't want people to associate with you, piety really takes the biscuit.

My colleague the Weasel has recently returned, irritatingly bronzed, from a holiday in west Africa, with a copy of the Gambian Daily Observer. An avid collector of provincial ephemera, I marvelled at its spot-on horoscope ("You are put off by unexpected complications on the job. Thus you aren't able to get as much done as you'd like. Try not to let that mar your mood in the evening"); noted the politically strategic advertisements ("Birthday greetings to Chairman AJJ Jammeh, Head of State and Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council. As the nation celebrates 30 years this year, today you are also celebrating your 30th birthday!"); devoured the sports reportage ("But the hero of the Babun Fatty Arena was the irresistible sturdy wrestler called Jimbo ..."); tut-tutted over syntactically wayward headlines ("Defunct NSS Ex-Boss Stands Trial") and reeled at the bizarre reference to my mother ("Anne Walsh Old Girls Association. The monthly meeting will take place on Friday May 26 ..."). The foreign news section was well on top of things (it had recorded the death of Harold Wilson - "Lord Wilson, as he later became known", as if he'd transmogrified into a jazz trumpeter), though let down by a misprint in which "Bosnian Serbs were trying to dislodge Bosnian government forces from three bankers".

At the end of this tiny paper's 12 pages, I realised I'd derived more enjoyment from its contents than from the entire output of the British tabloids. Should Rupert Murdoch be looking for fresh worlds to conquer, I suggest a flight to Banjul would pay dividends.

Philip Norman's novel Everyone's Gone to the Moon is published today, with all the hoo-haa usually attending the birth of a roman-a-clef. The clef in this case is Sixties journalism, and the plot follows a P Norman figure as he fetches up in Fleet Street, temps de dolly-bird, and works at the Sunday Dispatch, coolest and most ground-breaking of papers, whose editor, the charismatic, Northern-but-no-tripe Jack Shildrick, tries to curb the excesses of the glossy magazine. If the words "Sunday Times" and "Harry Evans" have occurred to you, you're ahead of the pack. Read on and the figures of Godfrey Smith, Meriel McCooey, Francis Wyndham, Robert Lacey and the magazine's other real-life personnel appear, far from opaquely disguised. At the end of the book the high-spending, rule- bending, jet-setting magazine comes to grief after a disastrous fashion shoot. In real life, however, it was something quite different which derailed the Sunday Times magazine's gravy train. "It was when the entire staff went to Yugoslavia in 1971, to do 'A Day in the Life of Sarajevo'," says Norman. "It was just a silly jaunt, but the Yugoslav government was convinced it was important. We were given chauffeur-driven cars. We each had our own interpreter. They supplied us with 20 identical typewriters - never used, except when one of us dislodged a machine in falling, dead drunk, across a table. It got to the ears of Lord Thomson, who was a personal friend of Tito, and that was it. No more trips or silly spending. The end of the Golden Age." And the article? "Never used," says Norman. "It's probably still in a desk somewhere." Couldn't he have put it in the book? "It was the only thing I couldn't use. It was beyond bad taste."

First it was smart bombs. Then smart buildings. Now, I see, a team of Scottish boffins has invented the "smart bandage". It's not quite as radical as it sounds: the bandage is only a kind of molecular double-sided Sellotape that knits together the cells on either side of a wound. Bor-ing. When I heard of the concept, I imagined a flannel-sized object, designed by Romeo Gigli, that wound itself around your arm or leg, sprayed you with disinfectant, lectured you about smoking, inquired about one's waterworks, brought cups of tea at 6.30am, and painlessly removed itself when it started curling up at the edges. Now that's smart ...

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