Tuesday's launch party for From Wimbledon to Waco, Nigel Williams's droll account of his family's adventures in America, was held in the author's garden and was full of the noise of BBC producers hatching plots. Among them I discovered a tiny snapshot of the zeitgeist. The Beeb's Bookworm show has had the bright idea of asking the nation to ring up on 12 October and nominate its all-time favourite poem in English. Will it be something canonical ("Jerusalem"? "If"? "Ode to a Nightingale"?), boldly demotic (Pam Ayers? the lyrics to the Anchor butter commercial?) or embarrassing? "If everyone votes for Larkin's "This Be the Verse" [with its famous opening line 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad'], I'm in big trouble," said the programme's producer, darkly.

In advance of the broadcast, Bookworm approached a sample of schools, libraries and seats of learning for their suggestions. And the hot favourite is - wait for it - Stevie Smith's glum little squib, "Not Waving But Drowning": "O no no no it was too cold always/(Still the dead one lay moaning)/I was much too far out all my life/And not waving but drowning." This is the United Kingdom's favourite poem? Gosh. That old feelgood factor must be as far off as ever.

Friends in the accountancy world are hugging themselves with glee at the discomfiture of Coopers & Lybrand, the nation's biggest accounting firm. In case you haven't been following the City pages, Coopers was the outfit responsible for checking the accounts of Barings, the stricken merchant bank; and the auditor of all the late Robert Maxwell's companies - 400 of them, worldwide -for the past 20 years. It is thus a significant witness at the current trial of Maxwell's sons.

It's embarrassing enough to be associated with the financial meltdown of a squillion-pound client, albeit at a distant trading post in Singapore. But the Maxwell case is altogether closer to home. Among my acquaintances the most amusing reading over the past two weeks has been the depositions from the Maxwell trial, as reported in Accountancy Age, in which Coopers' unfortunate spokesmen have been grilled by m'learned friends.

What the heartless sniggerers are waiting to see now is whether the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the self-regulating watchdog of the industry, is likely to refry Coopers & Lybrand. The day after the Barings collapse, a colleague rang the Institute and was told it wouldn't get involved, "until someone makes a formal complaint". But given C&L's resources, this would require a mightily determined complainant. The last I heard, Ernst & Young, another premier-league accounting house (who acted as administrators when Barings faced bankruptcy), were considering whether they can sue Coopers, but are said to be wondering if they have the cash, or the balls, to do so. Accountancy-wise, that would be King Kong meets Godzilla.

Goodbye to the girls. This weekend Sheryl Garratt, editor of the Face, is leaving to have a baby; into the editorial hotseat moves Richard Benson, her deputy. And Kathryn Flett is giving up the editorship of Arena, her place taken by Peter Howarth of GQ. GQ used to be edited by Alexandra Shulman, until she quit for Vogue and her place was taken by Michael Vermuelen. The one-time phenomenon of having the top four men's lifestyle magazines run by women has evaporated; only Rosie Boycott, editor of Esquire, remains, to bring a feminine sense of proportion to the blizzard of arty testosterone that is male style journalism.

Saturday afternoons, once spent choosing between different pasta shapes in the local supermarket, now find me taking flying lessons. Instead of Sainsbury aisles, I have Salisbury skies to sail through now, the nose of my ancient, single-prop Slingsby rearing up and down like a bolted mustang's at my expert touch, the wings dropping alarmingly sideways like those of a a dive-bombing Stuka when I try to turn right. On a glorious summer day, you scan the horizon, notice a tiny patch of water in the distance and beyond it some kind of harbour - and you suddenly realise that you're looking at the Isle of Wight; and that it would take less than an hour to get there for tea in Cowes, should such a wild 'n' crazy impulse seize you.

This is the bliss of the Old Sarum Flying Club, a tiny green airfield covered, like wasps on a picnic blanket, with all manner of aerial machines. It's a very raffish operation, the kind of place where you park the car between a spindly red 1988 dragster and a 1930s coffee-and-cream Silver Cloud Roller whose interior (I checked) smells like the Bodleian library; and where microlight wives (the modern equivalent of golf widows) sit al fresco reading Edwina Currie novels as they wait for their errant, begoggled spouses.

Among those who regularly use the place, two extreme tendencies can be discerned. One is the Handlebar Nostalgic, the suckers for Indiana Jones movies, wing-and-a-prayer heroics, curly-moustached charm and trailing white scarves. Their hero is the club's oldest member, Bill Goldfinch, the chap who build the legendary Colditz Glider on the top floor of the incarceratory schloss.

The other lot are the Funfair Acrobatics. These, an instructor wearily informed me, are mostly young executives from Andover, computer programmers and the like, whose only interest in the gorgeous old planes is to loop the loop about a hundred times, shout "Whorrrr!" a lot and film the tumbling sky with camcorders. The urge to equip the planes with non-standard-issue ejector seats is sometimes quite strong, I gather.

Irritating Syntax Department. Now that - according to the Oxford University Press - it's apparently perfectly correct to wantonly split infinitives whenever you feel like it, can something be done about a newer linguistic phenomenon? It's the current metropolitan fad for saying variations of "How nice that is", but inverting the last two words. Thus, on a recent holiday I heard a friend, of hitherto unimpeachable good taste, say "That ruined temple - how lovely is that?". Last week in Notting Hill, I clocked someone murmuring, at the departing figure of some love-object, "Mmm - how chic is she...?" Now on Capital Radio, some spurious medic called Doctor Fox has taken to concluding stories of his listeners' hard times with the words, "How sad is that?" This has got to stop. Conversation is bad enough in this pitiless heat without having to put up with otiose rhetorical questions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Life and Style
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'