Diary

Last Wednesday I felt like a proper international jetsetter as I set off after a morning's work in London to fly to New York, speed to a Manhattan hotel, change into glad rags and dash to the 50th birthday party of the Mystery Writers of America. All went according to plan apart from one tiny snag. I thought the event was at the hotel and my hostess, Priscilla, thought I knew it was at the New York Public Library.

I had no means of finding out the location of the party and I couldn't go out on the town lest Priscilla ring, so I settled for a quiet evening and an early night. Just after I went to bed, at around 10pm (UK time 3am), Priscilla rang, bewailed my fate and suggested I join her at the Algonquin. "No," I responded primly. "I'm being sensible." I was dozing when at midnight she arrived in our bedroom. "Do you mind that I've set the clock for 3.20am?" I asked. "I have to telephone someone at 8.20am London time." "You won't wake up," she said firmly. "We'll go across to Rosie O'Grady's bar until it's time to make your call." So that is why last Wednesday went on for more than 24 hours. It reminded me of the occasion when Lord Palmerston, a notorious nocturnal raver, was summoned to attend his prime minister at 8am. "How will you manage to keep such an early appointment?" asked a friend. "I shall call upon him on my way home," explained the great man.

At the Edgar Allan Poe banquet on Thursday, the award of Grand Master was made to Micky Spillane. Though he is one of those people one assumes died years ago, he turned out to be only 77. He chortled happily as he told us the story of how, at the height of his fame, someone remarked to him contemptuously that it was an obscene indication of the deplorable taste of the masses that seven of his books were among the 10 top sellers. "Just be grateful I didn't have time to write another three," was Spillane's response.

Before I start whining about American political correctness, I would like to forestall protest letters by saying that I too was angry and depressed last week at the revelation that Bernard Manning and some policemen are amused by the kind of puerile racist "swinging-through-the-trees" jokes that 16-year-olds used to tell in the 1950s. However, I'm glad that though the Greater Manchester Chief Constable has made it plain to his force that he is furious, he is taking no disciplinary action over an off-duty happening. I applaud, too, Kamlesh Bahl, the chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who did not lose her cool when, at a committee meeting, a colleague described something as "the nigger in the woodpile"; presumably she believes that a slip of the tongue is forgivable. Naturally, that is not the case in the Land of the Free. Even though my American publishers are braver than most, fear made them cut that very phrase out of their edition of my last book, even though it was there to provide the occasion for a protest walk-out. Yesterday, an American apologised to me for employing the adjective "feminine" and later confided that he is so fearful of misusing "girl" that he has excised the word from his vocabulary.

In olden days, before rights became big business, a companion and I once boarded a plane to find ourselves seatless. It was not until the mystified cabin staff did a body count that it emerged that two monumental American ladies had confused the computer by buying two seats each. We could, we thought afterwards, as we returned to our friends' for the night, have insisted that it would be fairer to turf out one fat lady to make room for both of us, but unfortunately at the time we were laughing so much that we failed to insist on natural justice. Nowadays, I learn from a New York friend, as a result of complaints of discrimination from the obese, and in order to avert a demand that by law all seats be made large enough to accommodate anyone, some airlines are now automatically upgrading the very fat to first class. It's only a matter of time before thin people sue for equality of treatment.

I have received some more practical suggestions for the continuing debate on the new unit of European currency. Adrian Brodkin asks, reasonably enough, "If the Germans are seeking to impose the 'EuroMark' on the rest of Europe, why can't we counter with the 'EuroThatcher'?" Dan Gold favours deviousness in pushing the "EQ": "It sounds French enough to placate our Gallic friends, but we shall know that it really stands for EuroQuid." His cunning suggestion for adornment involves a Janus-type head with Marianne facing one way and John Bull the other. Above this should be the letter M. The Germans will think this relates to the Mark, but we shall know that it stands for McDonald's, shan't we?

I am touched, if not remotely enlightened, by what can only be described as duckggerel, which was sent by Pat Keane in response to my ornithological queries.

"When ducks feel the need

To continue their breed

And yearn for a son or a daughter

As well as duck and drake

They need also a lake

Or anything that will actually

hold water"

Now to some particularly ridiculous rhymes re the "lady from Bantry/ Who kept her false teeth in the pantry": "For want of a thing/As for mugs, shoes or rings,/One might loosely describe as a 'fang-tree' " (Catherine Owens); "While she slept through the night/They continued to bite/And her food was pre-chewed post-dormantly" (Patsy Riley); "She stepped in one day/ Finding to her dismay/ Her choppers with fruit fool in flagrante" (Mary Smith). Sheila Dodds's contribution requires the lady to speak American, Scottish or Northern English: "When Raymond her spouse/Threw her out of the house/Shouting, "Wear them," she answered, "I can't, Ray."

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