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Why polo can cost a mint

THE POLO shenanigans are on again in the Phoenix Park, where one attends in the clubhouse, and outside it, in the company of broke, and not so broke, millionaires and the svelte, beautiful women who, for some reason, seem to be irresistibly attracted to this bruising sport.

It is the commencement of the season and the gentlemen players, not yet fit, come off the field gratefully, some clutching private parts of their anatomies and walking bow-legged for the next couple of days. Oliver Caffrey swears that one of his ponies took a runner when he saw the size of him but no doubt he will soon be in shape.

As it is now winter in the southern hemisphere (and in the northern also, by the look of it) Argentine players are free to join us, as fans of Jilly Cooper will be well aware. These fellows are commonly young, lithe, bronzed and muscular in a wiry manner. Their presence on our teams is rightly considered as crucial, as was the presence of German rocket scientists in Nasa after the war, for victory hinges on one's Argentine's being better than the other fellow's. This requires that they be entertained in some style. Fortunately, there is no shortage of country seats to accommodate them.

'But do you not have to be careful to keep them away from your wives and daughters?' I asked one of their hosts. 'Good Christ, no,' said he. 'What you have to do is keep them away from the telephone. Do you know the price of a phone call to Argentina?'

JOHN MINIHAN and Hammond have brought me some blackberry and apple jam from Wiltshire. It was made by some little old lady in that county who had sold it to them for 90p. It was covered in a thin film of fungus, which I seem to recognise from my school botany lessons as penicillin. No doubt the kindly and enterprising lady who made it has since been apprehended by the health police and flung into prison. I scraped off the fungus and deposited it in the bin. The jam was delicious.

Minihan was here for the purpose of attending an exhibition of his photographs. He is a staff snapper on the London Evening Standard and, incidentally, the greatest living portraitist. He has often got me into trouble. I introduced him to Samuel Beckett and he, in gratitude, introduced me to Samuel Beckett.

I made a speech on his behalf; I am pretty good at speaking at exhibitions, particularly if I have seen the pictures on show before I open my mouth. I was at a show here a couple of weeks ago, which was opened by Mary Banotti, MEP, one of our politicians. She had only half an hour to inspect the paintings, executed by a talented young female artist, before uttering. The content of many of these paintings was distinctly phallic. Confessing to her convent upbringing, she admitted that she had at first mistaken one such image for a tulip, and a second for a black mobile telephone.

'I was faced, you will agree, with quite a daunting task,' she tells me. 'I did not let the variety of activities I was called upon to cover put me off my stroke.' Indeed not. 'You would think,' muttered Sam Stephenson, our most distinguished architect, 'that she could recognise a prick when she saw one, after being surrounded by them all her professional life.'

I RETURN from the horror that is the Eurovision song contest in Millstreet to discover that a bomb appears to have hit my house. My glass-fronted Georgian bookcase has come adrift from the wall to which it was fixed and taken my sophisticated Japanese music system with it. The floor is strewn with shards of glass and Nipponese technology. In such circumstances, there is nothing to do but shut the door and retire to the drinks cabinet. Louis the carpenter says he will have everything back together in no time flat and I am inclined to believe him.

From Millstreet and its attendant Euro-horrors gratefully we escaped to Castle Townshend. Seeking refuge and sustenance in Mary Ann's bar, we discover the television tuned into Millstreet for the ritual of the voting. The Irish present groan loudly whenever we are given a high vote, for if we win, we will have to put it on again next year. Presently it becomes plain that if we do not win, the English will. Attitudes quickly change, and the Irish entry is backed heavily. There is rapture when the English give us douze points, virtually guaranteeing our success.

Until, that is, the realisation sinks in that the English have almost certainly done it in order to avoid the bother of winning, and so being obliged to stage the contest themselves.

Perfidious Albion has sunk us again.