Republican Convention Diary: Blue and just a little deflated on all the hot air

THIS ONE balloon, blue and a little deflated, had had enough. Unable to await its cue at the end of President Bush's acceptance speech, it had somehow escaped its net high in the Astrodome much too early and, carried on the up-draughts of human euphoria and frenzy, managed to float about distractingly in front of the podium for almost an hour. The balloon-drop proper, when it came, was suitably impressive, accompanied not just by a colourful confetti storm and patriotic singing but also by a slightly alarming firework display that shrouded the press platform in acrid smoke.

No one would accuse these friendly folk of Nazi tendencies, but there was something Nurembergish about the last moments of their convention. The podium, a million-dollar extravaganza, was definitely of the Albert Speer school of architecture with its monumental proportions, square arch and fake-granite facing. Just before the appearance of the leader, the arena was plunged into darkness for a film tribute to past presidents, much of it in flickering monochrome with a menacing, drum-rolling soundtrack. Happily or unhappily, Mr Bush did not quite match up to the metaphor. Disappointed with the acceptance speech, one journalist muttered: 'Ein Volk, ein Reich, aber kein Fuhrer.'

The Democrats do not have a monopoly on dressing up and looking stupid. Spotted among the suits and ties on the convention floor were two Abraham Lincolns and at least three Uncle Sams. And there was lots of silly headwear, especially variations on the elephant theme, as the official Party mascot, some with ears and trunks so large that those wearing them were having difficulty hearing or seeing the proceedings. And there were some cute hats, too, in honour of the Vice-President, with life-sized stuffed quails nesting in plastic leaves. Oh, and look over there - an Olly North look-alike. Oops, I'm so sorry, that is Mr North, a guest of delegates from Virginia where he is considering a run for the Senate.

Some were taking the unusually cool weather in Houston as proof that God is indeed a Republican. The city normally gasps through August with temperatures and humidity in the high 90s. But this week, the mercury has generally been about 10 degrees below normal. Few resorted, therefore, to the natty little 'cool bag' given to each of us by the St Luke's Episcopal Hospital for use in case of heat stroke. Squeeze the bag firmly, the instructions said, and the contents would miraculously turn to ice. It still came in handy though for those struck with migraine after hearing the 1,000th exhortation about family values.

Republican sentiment about family values had some hostile competition on the front pages this week. First it was the Woody Allen revelations - the Democrats could hardly have arranged a better news distraction if they had tried - and then word filtering across the Atlantic of the Duchess of York and her suntanned toes. 'Fergie Puts Family Values To Shame', ran the headline on yesterday's Houston Post.

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