Diary

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The Independent Online
The tropical weather is getting to the animal kingdom once more. Remember the heatwave in the mid-Eighties, when cars crashed all over the nation because their drivers were blinded by swarms of ladybirds landing in pointilliste sheets on their windscreens? This summer, along with the usual kamikaze bumblebees and drugged wasps mumbling into the carpet, there's a new phenomenon: upwardly mobile snails.

A sudden drenching of rain brought the little beasts herding across my back lawn in south London as though on some bizarre migratory flight south. (I can understand birds wanting to head for the Equator; but snails wanting to go to Stockwell?) Then they started appearing on the wall outside the kitchen, gliding serenely upwards. Obviously, I reasoned, they've lost their way. They will realise their mistake, consult the snail A-Z map and join the others.

Then I pulled back the bedroom curtains this morning and discovered a bloody great gastropod half-way up the window, showing off its disgusting bottom to my bleary gaze. The bedroom, I should point out, is two storeys above the garden. Was this some strain of high-achieving uber-snail (snailus erectus? snailus Batmanicus?) and where did it think it was going? And once it achieved the roof, would it climb down the other side? Or would it notice the distant prospect of Canary Wharf tower and decamp for bigger challenges?

I think of that curious Frenchman who climbed up the tower the other day but was nabbed by police; if he tries it again, and makes it to the top this time, will he find that an ambitious slug, complete with bulky en suite housing facility, has got there before him?

On behalf of diarists everywhere, let me welcome Hillary Clinton to the brotherhood of quidnuncs, that charming term ("What now? What now?") by which the Romans dignified their gossip columnists. I doubt if her first attempt, although syndicated to 2,400 world newspapers, will have blown up many skirts. It was more a series of pious undertakings ("My hope is that this weekly column will talk about the most immediate issues on people's minds"; "My hope is that this column ... will prompt us all to think more about the human dimension in our lives") than anything you might confuse with interest or wit. But these are early days. I look forward to a series of blinding insights into "the range of activities that are part of my life today, such as defending public television, planning state dinners and visiting the CIA with the President".

More intriguing, though, is Mrs Clinton's avowed desire to emulate the late Eleanor Roosevelt, whose column, "My Day", ran almost daily for 30 years and made her, according to a 1948 poll, "the most admired woman living today in any part of the world". For Eleanor was the most disingenuous of women, politically sophisticated but stridently hands-off ("Nothing under heaven could ever persuade me to run for any public office," she once declared), her diary full of folksy chat behind which she would sneak all manner of kite-flying social agendas which the White House was too nervous to propose in public.

Whether or not this is what Hillary Clinton is up to, I hope she will imitate Mrs Roosevelt's brand of silken bad manners - like the day a very grand southern dame came a-calling and, in the middle of a pompous speech, was bitten on the ankle by the White House dog. Did the First Lady apologise? Not quite. "That settles it, Mamie," she told the black maid. "From now on we have iodine kept in this room ..."

Forget all the fuss about the Sherlock Holmes memorabilia going for twenty grand at Sotheby's this week. The real story was lying, almost unnoticed, under the same roof - a story of romance, heartbreak and rock salmon.

A letter written by Dylan Thomas to his wife Caitlin was sold for pounds 3,910 to a Swansea book dealer called Jeff Towns, who has since resold it to an even bigger fan of the Cwmdonkin Drive cirrhotic. "Dylan virtually proposes to Caitlin in it," says Towns. "It was written when he was 21, the day after he returned from seeing her in London, and he tells her: 'Yesterday was the best day of my life.' There's a poignant bit where he says, prophetically: 'We'll have a bed in a bar. You can teach me to walk on air and we won't have any money, we'll live on other people's and they won't like it a bit ...' "

Very sweet, I'm sure. Far more touching, though, is the detail about how the letter came to light. It was written in 1936, when there was a chronic paper shortage in Britain. Caitlin's family lived in Ringwood, Hampshire in a street with a fish 'n' chip shop. Unable to acquire his usual supplies of wrapping, the local fishmonger appealed to his neighbours to pass on their old papers - and among the bundle of old newsprint thrown out by the Macnamara clan was Caitlin's letter. It was discovered by a woman working in the shop, who smoothed it out, read it, recognised a lettre passionelle when she saw one, and kept it close to her lovelorn bosom for the rest of her life. It must have brought her an odd kind of comfort, whenever she saw Caitlin enter the shop, to feel nestling in her pocket a protestation of love by the muse's doomed husband.

I was driving near Victoria station at midnight on Tuesday - windows open, sweltering heat - quite oblivious to the night's events. It was only when I rounded the corner of Victoria Street that I ran smack into the aftermath of a battle in which 2,000 Kurds had demonstrated at the Home Office about the proposed extradition of their champion, Kani Yilmaz, and 200 of them had attempted to storm the station, before being beaten back in three baton charges. The traffic inched past huge police coaches, past anxious-looking bikers, knackered auxiliary fuzz with squawking mobiles. The streets were puzzlingly streaked with unseasonal rain (from water cannon?) and the air was so full of excitement you had to look round to see where it was coming from. Then I saw the reason: across the road, on a kind of raised knoll, about 20 young policemen and WPCs were having a kind of party in celebration: shirtsleeved and grinning, lying and reclining on their concrete eminence, amazed at having survived a nasty-looking battle, like the Rorke's Drift Welshmen at the end of Zulu. There was no drink in sight, no CDs of dance music; but in every other respect, this score of beaming battle veterans was the picture of a first-night cast party at the Barbican.

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