Diary

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.

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