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The Starr Report: Hope loses patience with the homeboy made good

WHEN BILL Clinton first semi-apologised to the nation on 17 August, the God-fearing folk of his little Arkansas home town - population 11,201 at the last count - were not really listening. They were attending the town's biggest event of the year, the four-day Hope Annual Watermelon Festival.

As always, the Bright family won the top prize, with a melon that at 200lb-plus weighed more than the President. But there was a sense of disappointment that Jason Bright, grandson of the legendary Ivan, could not match his 1985 Guinness Book of Records watermelon of 260lb.

When the festival was over, folk got to talking about the town's most famous son, William Jefferson Blythe IV (his real father, William Blythe of Texas, died in a car crash three months before young Bill was born). They have been talking about young Bill ever since, mostly in the City Bakery, the centre of the action in a town that is very Protestant and very dry. Alcohol is banned.

The President's birthplace ("Well, he was actually born in the Julia Chester hospital, now a funeral parlour, but he was brought here a couple of hours later," I was told) is a two-storey wooden house, white with dark-green trim, at 117 South Hervey Street, surrounded by a white fence.

It is now a museum, refurbished and furnished (with the help of the President's late mother, Virginia Clinton) in the style of the early Fifties, including a cot that replicates the one where the future president slept.

"I'm extremely disappointed in him but I'm a Christian. And my Christian teaching is that God is a God of forgiveness, a God of second chances," said Beckie Moore, who runs the museum. "He told his mother at an early age he was going to be President. He loves people. He's a brilliant man, probably the best president we've ever had. At first I didn't want to believe the allegations were true. I was really, really hurt.

"But he's apologised 5,000 times. It breaks my heart that he continually has to say that to the American people."

In a town without cabs, and very rainy, Ms Moore took pity on me, shut down the museum and drove me around. She told me the President still had a few cousins here and lots of schoolfriends. His nurse and nanny, Wilma Booker, now in her seventies - "the first woman ever to touch him," she said, without any hint of irony - still lives here, but was not home.