Diary

I had a few blissful days in the Cotswolds last week, which included one morning of restorative slump watching the soap opera Dynasty, for I have a weakness - which I can rarely indulge - for really bad films and television series. Years ago, while Dynasty was a weekly event, I was tempted to watch an episode, but having heard it was truly abysmal, I refrained lest I become hooked. Last Tuesday, the BBC presented the soap's final two episodes and I cherished every minute.

I won't try to tell you the story, but here's some dialogue: "Aren't you woman enough to understand?"; "My plane or yours?"; "He had a European accent"; "I got caught up - seduced - by the power of money"; "None of that alters the fact that you are my son"; "Who are you?" "I'm whoever you want me to be."

In the very end, all the bad people - with the exception of the man with the European accent - saw that the good people were right and that all that mattered was love. God bless America!

Watching Dynasty reminded me of an episode concerning my late father, an innocent scholar. During the heyday of Dallas, on a car journey with my then husband and me, he asked, "Why do many car windows have notices saying `I shot JR'?" John and I gazed at each other wildly, for at that time even the Pope would not have needed to ask such a question. "Do you know what a soap opera is?" I asked, with little hope. "No."

John, a pedagogue, began at the beginning. "Now, Dudley, you know what television is?" "Certainly. I have occasionally been shown someone on it." Doggedly, John took him through the televising of fiction, soap opera as the modern equivalent of the Victorian serialised novel, its addictive nature, the story outline of Dallas, the mesmeric character of JR Ewing, the mystery surrounding the attempt on his life and why this had become a defining moment in popular culture. It took an hour or so before his pupil announced that he thought he understood.

A week later I asked, "Do you remember what `I shot JR' means?" "No", he said simply, for - as Sherlock Holmes recommended - he retained in the attic of his brain only the furniture he was likely to use.

In the course of our gallivanting last week, my companion and I spent a few hours in Stow-on-the-Wold, which although tourist-orientated sticks stolidly to many of its traditions. Thus the window of the sweetie shop would have held no surprises for a child of the 1950s, being full of such unpackaged delicacies as Cherry Nougat Dainties, Jelly Babies, Liquorice Cuttings, Orange and Lemon Slices, Pontefract Cakes, Rock and Sugar Mice. A few yards along the road, a newspaper placard for the Cotswold Standard read, "Queen to rule on new Parish". (Mind you, we were stunned to find another newspaper shop offering Algemeen Dagblad,L'Equipe, France Soir, Le Figaro, La Repubblica, and Die Welt.)

The town was awash with red, white and blue and there were widespread advertisements for forthcoming VJ celebrations. I would love to be in town on 19 September to see what the hundreds of tourists - including many Japanese -are going to make of the "Dance to Glenn Miller-type music in The Square".

Not everyone was on holiday last week. Quite accidentally, having dropped into a hotel for a drink, we found it inhabited by directors and senior executives of National Power (one of those much-maligned utilities) who were slaving away in a conference about future strategy. If cost-cutting was on their agenda, I have a tip: don't hold staff conferences in stunningly luxurious and expensive country-house hotels. Wyck Hill House offers bed and breakfast from around pounds 160 and even the most frugal National Power executive will have found it hard to keep the price of dinner with a few drinks under pounds 100.

But perhaps cost-cutting is not the issue. It may be that they are concerned to reduce profits to a level that will not worry Professor Stephen Littlechild, the industry's cruelly criticised regulator.

In the light of the crass Safety Council campaign featuring the Pope announcing "Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Wear a Condom", I bear from Chipping Campden important news of a precedent. In a dim corner of the captivating Woolstaplers' Hall Museum, which specialises in "Artefacts" and "Bygones", there is an advertisement which reads:

THE TWO INFALLIBLE POWERS THE POPE AND BOVRIL

and features a Pope in full regalia, surrounded by candles, sitting on an ostrich-feathered throne drinking a mug of Bovril.

"Which Pope, do you think?" I asked my companion. "Pius IX, of course. This ad will have been trading on the publicity surrounding the declaration of papal infallibility in 1870 or so." "But was Bovril around then?" "Of course. It was made from cheap Argentinian beef that began to arrive around the middle of the century." I was deeply impressed, for although I am supposed to know all this stuff, I have an awesome talent for forgetting anything I can look up. It is not for nothing that I am known to my friends as "the non-retentive historian".

David Lennard has come galloping to my rescue on the political poetry front with no fewer than seven verses about the Opposition. Here is a sample:

I do not love thee, Tony Blair,

Despite your smile and coiffeured hair:

Although you're young and debonair

I cannot love thee, Tony Blair.

Next week I hope to address a dispute about the form of limericks. Meanwhile, Fred Balgarnie's request for a rhyme for ashtray produced from Sandra Palmieri the suggestions: "(canteen's sausage and) mash tray"; "bash tray - where one puts party invitations" and "tash tray - where one puts false moustaches" and from Andrew Belsey "brash tray", "clash tray", "crash tray", "gash tray" and more. Other helpers include Mike Cox:

Tapping his pipe out into the ashtray

He said, "Was it Sylvia Plath, pray,

Who put into the churchwarden's

cash-tray

One necklace and two earrings from

Asprey?"

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