Diary

Stephen Fry is on the road again. After his springus horribilis - tormented by critics, bitched at by Simon Gray, threatened with ruinous legal action after the closure of Cell Mates, pursued to Belgium, embarrassed by the newspapers and surrounded by rumours that he's giving up stardom and going back to teaching - he's been recovering his composure in America. More specifically, he's been staying until very recently at the California home of John and Alice Cleese in Santa Barbara. Now he's gone for the full existential-hero burn and is driving across America.

Friends report that Fry's chronically restless intellect is currently wrestling with a new conundrum, the morphogenesis of humour - or to put it more plainly: where do jokes come from? As part of his researches, Fry is trying to "plant" a joke of his own devising as he traverses the continent, to see how long it takes for the joke to be told back to him, and how far it will travel. The joke in question is: "What's the difference between Hugh Grant and reveille? Reveille usually gets blown at sunrise." Will it have them in convulsions in Des Moines?

I've just discovered what Hugh Grant was getting up to in an, ahem, lay-by off Sunset Boulevard: it wasn't "lewd conduct in a public place"; it was "dogging". No, honest, I have proof. Glance through your copy of the Encyclopaedia of Unusual Sex Practices, published this October by Abacus and written by someone with the frankly disgusting name of Brenda Love, and you'll discover that dogging is the quasi-medical term by which the act of "having sex in parked cars" is dignified. (Having sex in moving cars, singular or plural, has yet to acquire a defining verb, it seems.) And if the hapless Grant should consult a shrink, it won't be long before he hears the word "xenophilia" (capacity to be sexually aroused by strangers) murmured in his ear.

This is, I'm afraid, the kind of book which, once penetrated, is hard to extract oneself from. Did you know that among the tennis fans at Wimbledon there probably lurks a practising ochlophiliac (one aroused by the presence of a crowd), a condition first noted, apparently, when a convocation of priests got on the London Underground system shortly after it was opened in 1890, and were moved to innocent if climactic rapture when surrounded for the first time in their lives by a press of warm bodies.

Whew. Leafing through these eye-opening pages, from acousticophilia (being turned on by rhythmic music) to zoophilia (a broad concept that explains, among other things, the ancient Egyptians' fondness for female crocodiles), I was surprised to find no mention of a word I've long savoured: melcryptavestimentaphilia: an inexplicable passion for black female underwear.

Strollers by the Thames at Tower Bridge may have wondered what is happening at the London Bridge City site, the half-developed 27 acres of land on the embankment opposite the floating arsenal of HMS Belfast. Something has been going on for at least four years; but what? I've been there a dozen times, I've asked a dozen waiters, strollers and ice-cream sellers, but nobody seems to know what graceful architectural dream will greet our eyes when they take the covers off. Until now, that is.

Inquiries reveal that the site is owned by the St Martin's Property Group, a vast and lucrative developer owned by the Kuwaiti government. But its plans are far from clear, and telephone inquiries are met by stonewalling. A friend in the insurance business, however, sneaked a look at their paperwork the other day and reports disturbing news: "I saw the plans and elevations of seven buildings and at least one of them is a horrendous, fake-renaissance thing in glass-reinforced plastic. At first I couldn't work out what it reminded me of, then I got it: it was the Doge's Palace in Venice. Unless I'm going mad, they're building a pastiche of St Mark's Square on the south shore of the Thames."

So there we have it. A Kuwaiti property developer is constructing a Legoland mock-up of a Venetian piazza on a key site beside the Thames and nobody will have a chance to question the logic or taste of this tacky, Las Vegas- like monstrosity until it's a fait accompli. What next? When the residents of Docklands rise one morning to discover that the Manhattan skyline has been simulated in glowing, polystyrene Technicolor outside their windows by some entrepreneurial Saudi princeling, will it also be a little late to complain?

The oddest sight on television on Tuesday afternoon was not, surprisingly, John Redwood's impersonation of Brutus on the Ides of March, shortly after discovering that the dagger he'd just plunged into Caesar's back was made of retractable indiarubber; it was the sight of the extraordinarily horrible man standing behind him. (Remember him? Werewolf's cheekbones, bouncer's nostrils, mugger's chin.) He was just one of a pack of unscheduled weirdos who descended for the day, presumably to goggle at the "most sophisticated electorate in the world" as the Tory faction-fighters were recently, and farcically, christened. There was the chap behind Jeffrey Archer's shoulder who wriggled out of his Manchester United jersey and waved it mockingly above his head, put it back on, then wriggled out of it again, as if for an encore. There was the robot in the neckbrace, the Ramones roadie in the slicked-behind-the-ears oily quiff, the prospective rapist with the You-talkin'-to-me? staring eyes, the senior citizen with the alarming twitch ... Where had they all come from? (The Daily Mirror? Rampton hospital?) And whom did they support? I can only hope that when the footage of the PM's afternoon of triumph was beamed around the world, our fans in the Colonies and Dominions didn't assume they were the MPs doing the voting.

I rarely bring personal outpourings into this diary. I lead a quiet life and wouldn't wish to bore you with its domestic small change. But it would be perverse not to mention a new acquaintance I recently made at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She has black hair, astonishingly deep-blue eyes, a pout like Jeanne Moreau and the smallest toenails I have ever seen on a human being. She is lissom, soignee, conversationally limited but intensely vocal nonetheless. She is more beautiful than Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson and the entire cast of Crazy for You put together. She is 6lb 14oz. She is, in short, my new daughter, Clementine, and (to pinch a bon mot from Christopher Hitchens) the only thing you cannot say about her is that she wasn't born yesterday.

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