Diary

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The Independent Online
Sunday afternoons usually find me taking a brisk constitutional around Battersea Park, that leafy haven under the shadow of the SW11 gasometer and the Battersea Bridge Bungee Club. Here one can stroll at leisure, one's tranquillity broken only by the cries of (a) the Chelsea supporters humorously ramming each other in the boating lake, (b) the striped mongoose howling in the adjacent zoo and (c) the children demanding ruinously expensive Mivvis from the van beside the Sri Chinmoy Universal Peace'n'Harmony Shrine. A haven, indeed. But I may have to give it a miss this Sunday; for at 1pm Battersea Dogs' Home will be holding a Grand Dog Reunion. They've written to hundreds of mutt-sentimentalists who've acquired pets in the last few years, and are bringing them all together. The prospect of a thousand wayward mongrels prowling the park like a convention of bottom-sniffing muggers is a little hard to take (as is the sight of 2,000- plus indulgent canophiles swapping stories of distemper and mange). There'll be a group photo of the dogs, in their various years ("Class of '87"), giving the lowlife crossbreeds a chance to swap tales of sexual conquests and crippled postmen in Peckham Rye. They'll probably start giving each other "high-five" paw salutes around teatime, and looking for cars to steal. You can take the dog out of Battersea, but ...

Michael VerMuelen is dead? I mean (as he'd say), c'mahn. It doesn't seem possible. He's been a fixture, a bollard on the landscape of media London, for years. When I first met him I thought him impossibly cocky, egomaniacal and self-deluding. This was partly because he claimed to have started "a few theatre companies with David Mamet"; lots of Chicago art hustlers might claim acquaintance with Mamet, might even plausibly pretend to have formed a company with him - but "a few"?

But the more you saw of him, the more his swagger, his endless supply of one-liners ("Doesn't blow up my skirt," was his reply to a feature idea that didn't appeal) and his curiously courtly manner grew on you. He could come on like a monstre sacre, but I suspect he did so to make life more interesting. "All these British journalists going to New York to run magazines," he once said to me, "and they're all missing the Big Story." Which was? "ME!" he snarled.

His sexual braggadoccio was toe-curlingly frank and discussed in wonderment ("He asked her to do what with what?") around London. His taste in clothes and grooming was doctrinaire - because he liked the way they cut his hair at the Fourth Floor in Holborn, all his staff were sent there. But you knew he was enjoying being caricaturally American, because it amused the Brits so much.

And he was very funny. As he limped into the Groucho Club on crutches, leg set in plaster, a couple of years ago (time of l'affaire Mellor) we asked, "Michael, what happened? Gout? Black ice at Val d'Isere?" "Worse," he replied, "Toe-sucking experiment went disastrously wrong."

With a couple of autumn christenings looming, one ponders the mystery of why one is called what one is. I've always resented my Christian name for its boring ubiquity: J Major, J the Baptist, J Selwyn Gummer,

J Milton, J Jorrocks, J Donne,

J Bunyan - see what I mean? It's the most popular (or predictable) English boy's name since naming began.

Ah, but when it comes to good fortune, we dull Johnnies have it nailed. According to my colleague Catriona Luke, whose magisterial guide to babies' names is out next month, "... if you wish to make money, it is an advantage to have a simple, straightforward name and one which does not mark you out from your peer group". To prove it, she's gone through the most recent Sunday Times guide to the nation's 500 wealthiest (self-made) people to see which names recur. Amazingly, half of the 360 new-money fat cats are called one of the following: John (36 of them), David (28), Peter (24), Michael (22), Robert (15), Paul (10), Richard (9), Thomas (8), Alan (8), Nigel (7), George, Tony, William, Ian and Anthony (6 each).

Any Nineties parents heading for the font determined to call their offspring Hrothgar or Nebuchadnezzar should reflect that such a name will cut precious little ice when its owner is signing on in a DSS office. Be sensible. Stick to John.

I went to the Proms this year for the first time. Oh, I've tuned in umpteen times to the larks of the Last Night, the beefy matrons singing all the verses to Rule Britannia and the ranks of specky musicologists drowning Walton's Fantasia on English Sea Shanties with their eloquent stamping; but I never checked out the real thing before. I found myself in a box, between Michael Green, the ebullient boss of Radio Four, and Harry Enfield's parents, who are the very antithesis of Enfield Jnr's Old Gits, and a very jolly time we had, what with the Chardonnay and the salmon nibbles.

I came away filled with curiosity, however, about the moment when the Promenaders shouted at the conductor. A rum bunch they were, loitering around the Albert's central arena; some spent the evening lying on the floor on their rucksacks, as if they were at the Monsters of Rock festival in Castle Donington. But right at the start, as the Philadelphia Orchestra was tuning up, a claque of them started to yell out some question in chorus. It looked like a well-practised routine - perhaps it happens at every Prom - but the conductor was not in on the wacky rituals of British musical, and looked well discomfited. I'm still puzzled by it. Why and what were they calling out? Any Promenader who can enlighten me will be amply rewarded.

Britain's answer to Paul Newman Salad Dressing hit the nation's supermarket shelves this week. Loyd "Masterchef" Grossman's smiling face and trademark specs beam out from the packaging of a new selection of sauces, modestly entitled "The Loyd Grossman range", which have found their way to my desk. I'm taking home the Tomato and Chilli Sauce (running through my head, for some reason, is a voice explaining that this is "loike, rilly spoicy") to astound the family. I like the way Mr Grossman explains on the back of the jar that "Italians describe this kind of sauce as 'angry' ". It's one of those random oxymorons that perk up one's day: Loyd Grossman's Angry Sauce. Next week: Jo Brand's Mild Crumpet.

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