Patrick Cockburn: I thought if I let go he might topple forward

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic parties in London and other capitals notoriously stand alongside a night in the local cemetery in terms of general jollity and entertainment. Diplomats view the giving of these ghastly functions as part of their professional duty and are unworried by the fact that nobody enjoys them.

Irish embassy parties have always been an exception to this. Journalists and others regard them as enjoyable. They also have a reputation for heavy drinking. But there did not seem to me to be more drink on offer on 5 December than at most such occasions. It had the advantage of being held in the beautiful reception rooms upstairs in the embassy.

Even so as I was leaving at around 8.15pm I said to somebody that I thought the party was losing its edge because I had not seen anybody incapably drunk all evening - aside from one bulky newspaper columnist.

I was standing at the top of the stairs, saying goodbye to the ambassador Daithi O'Ceallaigh, when Dr Butler appeared behind me. The ambassador introduced me, adding: "Patrick has just come back from Iraq."

The bishop grasped me by my shoulder. "What is the solution in Iraq?" he said.

I said I did not know. I thought also that any discussion of the situation in Iraq might be lengthy and I was already late for dinner. I tried stepping backwards. The bishop's grip tightened. "I want to know the solution in Iraq," he said again in a rather impatient voice. This went on for several minutes.

I thought that if I detached too abruptly the bishop might topple forward. He has since said that he had only a couple of glasses of wine so it is possible that I misunderstood his ailment. When I finally got to dinner I explained that I was late because of my bizarre encounter with the bishop. I only realised days later that this meeting was the beginning of his night's adventures.