Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 23 November 1995
What could anyone object to about that? "I think it's the word gnomon," says Kerr suspiciously. "It means the bit that sticks up from a sundial and casts a shadow. Perhaps Bron [Waugh] and Co object to someone using words they don't understand."
The evening after the Princess of Wales's spectacular (if over- rehearsed) confession, I found myself in Downing Street. Not, you'll be surprised to learn, briefing the Cabinet on the constitutional position vis-a-vis the royal succession, but at No 11, at a party for the Arvon Foundation, of which the Chancellor's wife is just one of numerous starry mates. Lords Jenkins and Gowrie, Jung Chang and Doris Lessing, Maurice Saatchi and Josephine Hart processed up the Exchequer-minder's staircase under the stern gaze of Pitt, Palmerston, Disraeli and Stanley Baldwin, arrayed on the pink silk wallpaper. Ted Hughes complained about the deadening effect of universities on the creative temperament and Patricia Hodge read a poem. It was, of course, a money-raising venture; they're looking for pounds 1m to subsidise courses for teachers, to invigorate them with a passion for teaching the craft of writing.
I myself had a modest success in Arvon circles a few years ago, when I tutored a throng of 16 mutinous students in "Creative Journalism" down in Totleigh Barton, a Hardyesque bothy in the middle of hayseed Devon, where you were thought lucky if you had the Second Pigsty to sleep in and the students took turns in cooking cataclysmic lentil dishes for all to share. At the time, it cost pounds 100 for five days' board, lodging and creative peace and quiet.
Now it's pounds 260, a farcically small price for such a treat. My only regret is that they don't do Creative Journalism any more. Sounds a bit too close to "Lies", I suppose.
What do you call a gathering of cartoonists? A strip? A punch line? A friend spotted a convention of gagsters on the Eurostar as it thundered home from Paris on Monday afternoon. Arrayed on the table before the artists were several rapidly emptying bottles of French Trappist beer, a uniquely sticky brew that plays hell with your clothes. As the train thundered across the absinthe-flavoured meadows, the genial band drank and joked and everything was right with the world. Then they hit the tunnel and a minute later, without warning or ceremony, the train screeched to an emergency halt. Lights flickered out, bottles flew and a tidal wave of Trappist beer landed all over Nick Newman (Sunday Times, Private Eye). When the lights came on again he was a sodden mess, wailing "I'm completely drenched!"
The neurotic French tourists and stoic Brits in the carriage laughed nervously. (Why had the bloody thing stopped?) That was when David Austin (Guardian, Private Eye) decided to capitalise on the lightness of atmosphere. "Not half as drenched as you're about to be," he bantered, indicating the ceiling, above which lurked 150 feet of seawater.
A score of heads swivelled upwards. Hearts missed beats. Pulse rates soared. Embolisms raced hither and thither. The carriage fell as silent as Davy Jones's Locker.
Marvellous chap for cheering you up, the professional humorist.
Call for Miss Marple! Agatha Christie's homely solver of provincial whodunnits would, I've always thought, have had a fine time in Hampstead, where white-collar crime and poison-pen letters are a familiar part of the diurnal round. But what would she make of the news that Fay Weldon, the superstar novelist, was burgled the other day? And that the only thing the miscreants seemed to take was a file containing all her correspondence with her former agent, Giles Gordon, discussing contractual arrangements for books recent and forthcoming?
"We updated the filing system only recently, so there's no question about it," says Ms Weldon, who called in the police. "It's very peculiar". Mr Gordon, who until recently represented such classy scribes as Peter Ackroyd, Sue Townsend and the Prince of Wales but has now moved up to Scotland, was not around to comment on his new status as sought-after letter-writer. Can it be possible that Ms Weldon's records of her agent's endeavours on her behalf have touched the heart of a devoted, if misguided, reader, and that he has decided to purloin these worthless documents for his own (and posterity's) use? It's the only explanation I can think of.
"We didn't set out to discredit the Duke of Windsor," explained the producer of Edward VIII: The Traitor King on Greater London Radio yesterday morning. "Why would we want to do a thing like that?" A hard question to answer, although the words "Because it would make a good telly programme" occur to me.
What, though, did it remind me of? Ah yes, the Princess of Wales, when answering the biggest question of all on Monday. "Once or twice I've heard people say to me, you know, 'Diana's out to destroy the monarchy', which has bewildered me, because why would I want to destroy something that is my children's future?" Another good question, to which there are at least a dozen incendiary replies.
And that, in turn, reminded me of someone else: Michael Jackson, who, when interviewed by Oprah Winfrey two years ago, answered every difficult question the same way. "Did I buy the bones of the Elephant Man? No! Why would I want to do that?" "Do I sleep in a coffin? Naow! Why would I ... ?"
You get the idea. The rhetorical question - a sure sign that its user is hiding something - is well and truly flourishing.
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