Such women are dangerous

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The Independent Online
MINIHAN arrives in town, fresh from the Croatian front where he has been taking snaps 100 yards from the Serb lines. The Croats put pretty women into battle, Minihan reports, armed with Kalashnikovs and the like. 'Would that be to shame the men out of throwing away their guns and running for it when faced with overwhelming odds?' I ask, quick as a flash. 'That's it,' says he.

There follows some gruesome anecdote about the Balkan custom of removing the eyeballs of dead enemies and using them subsequently for decorative purposes. The Croatian ladies apparently find this practice perfectly acceptable, as part of their war culture. 'The Croats like us,' says Minihan, grinning. 'Maybe it's because we're Catholics.'

Imperfect Catholics - certainly. Minihan, in any case, is no great expert on eschatological matters. He is given to diving into churches in order to address a quick prayer to the Virgin, but when I asked him once had he ever experienced a vision of Her and he answered that he had, I further inquired had She by any chance a tail and two horns and was she covered in fur? No matter. I would not care to be caught behind Serb lines, with or without Minihan, with an Irish passport but, as it happens, I have not got one and have no appetite for war, nor any desire to visit Belgrade at the present moment, so I suppose I am fairly safe.

Many of my friends have functioned as war correspondents, but I have never quite been able to see the attraction of it; on the whole, I prefer cafe society to having bullets whistle past my ears. One brush with the IRA and a couple of tons of gelignite was quite enough. I do not think Minihan's heart is quite in the war business, either, no matter how fetching the Croatian soldierettes.

Minihan and I were colleagures half a lifetime ago (he has just celebrated his 47th birthday; shortly I mourn my 50th) on the London Evening Standard where, on account of our Irishness, we were granted the status, along with Mary Kenny, of licensed eccentrics. Possibly we took too much advantage of it.

He had with him his delightful consort Hammond, who hails from New Zealand, plus the infant Emmet, aged three. It is Hammond who, four years ago, was catching mackerel with her bare hands in the surf at Kinsale while Minihan and I watched admiringly with pints in our hands. I was reminded of Botticelli's Venus on the Shell, but Hammond was better employed. I had never seen the like of it, but she, being from the Pacific Ocean, had never come across mackerel before and did not know that catching them in this manner is akin to stopping a torpedo with your toe.

Young Emmet, I believe, was conceived under my roof about this time, but Minihan will never give me credit for anything, even the loan of a bed. The child is the normal, angelic article; blond, friendly and articulate with it. 'Snot-gobbler,' he lisps, without the least animosity. 'I live in Chipping Sodbury.' Or some such place.

'He will be bald like his father,' says his mother fondly, 'when he grows up.'

KLINKE brought me some chewing tobacco from the Mississippi Delta and I could not resist chewing it. The brand name is Bloodhound and the slogan is 'A Dog-Gone Good Chew'. This I can endorse but, possessed as I am of an addictive personality, I have become dreadfully fond of it. Unfortunately, I discover the sale of it has been banned by Brussels as it is said to cause mouth cancer. If I thought that were the case, I would take a bale of it to the European parliament and distribute it free of charge.

Edward Delaney, the noted sculptor, also informs me that our system of hall- marking precious metals is shortly to be abolished. British and Irish hallmarks are to disappear and be replaced by a uniform European system. Since the new European system will countenance a lower grade of metal than ours historically did, it will encourage the melting-down of artefacts which would better be left as they were made.

Well, what the hell; in the age of European unity, we may as well melt down Bernini or Benvenuto Cellini in the name of concordance and harmony, and stamp the resulting ingots with whatever hall-mark we can come up with.

Klinke says that tobacco is mostly chewed by baseball players and US Marine sergeants. I am determined to join their ranks, even if I have to import the stuff illegally from Memphis.

ATTENDED an exhibition of photographs by Bryan Wharton at the Writers' Museum in Dublin. Now, I do not in principle approve the idea of a writers' museum, for the only significant relics of writers are, in my opinion, unpaid bills, screwed-up manuscripts and broke widows; nor is it possible for a writer to profit from a museum after he is dead.

Still, it is not bad as these thing go. First thing I saw when I got through the door was a portrait of Sam Beckett taken by Minihan. It was I who effected the introduction between the voracious snapper and the notoriously camera-shy Nobel Prize winner. 'Minihan,' said I, 'Sam Beckett is in the Hyde Park Hotel. Take some of your pictures of corpses and Irish wakes and send them up to him. Tell him who you are and precisely what you want to do, but on no account attempt to discuss literature with him, as he loathes the subject. You may, on the other hand, freely discuss cricket.'

This prescription worked, and Minihan wound up as Beckett's chauffeur. I have never been credited with this introduction but, then, the world is littered with ingratitude.

Wharton's snaps include many depictions of ex-girlfriends. They dress in the mode of the Sixties and Seventies. Seductively, endearingly, in other words. Can women really have been so gorgeous, and so willing, in our day? 'Oh God,' says the British ambassador, David Blatherwick, contemplating them. Some powerful memory may have struck him. I fear it struck me also.