Diary

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The Independent Online
Although we Celts didn't do too well in the rugby match at the weekend, it didn't appear to spoil the fun of the thousands of male-bonders with whom Dublin was awash. The fact of such a contest being imminent was brought to my attention by the puz zlingly severe gender-imbalance on the plane from London on Friday afternoon, along with the unusual jollity of the passengers. "They're like seven-year-olds," said the air hostess. "And when they come back on Sunday afternoon they'll be a mess."

"But a happy mess," I suggested. She sniffed disapprovingly.

I'm not long on puritanism, so I sympathise with chaps who make a game the excuse for a wild weekend away from home. It's just a pity that more women don't emulate them. Personally, I don't need an excuse.

Over the past fortnight all those patronising comments about Peter Cook's under-achievement bring to mind the very valuable Irish word "begrudgery". Many people seemed incapable simply of celebrating his genius and his amiability. He had to be ticked offfor letting us down by his lack of drive and his tendency to lower a couple of bottles of wine rather than jog around Hampstead Heath.

The coverage brought to mind a great truth I learned years ago from meeting the businessman and philanthropist, Sir Robert Meyer, when he was a slip of a lad of 98 or so. While we talked about my biographical subject, Victor Gollancz, he answered the phone perhaps half-a-dozen times, held crisp conversations on completely unrelated issues and then effortlessly picked up the thread of the interview.

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him euphemistically how come he was still so lively. "I was a late developer," he explained. "Didn't really get going until my forties." That was when it occurred to me that people have a finite amount of energy which may be expended very unevenly.

Everyone pats the late developer on the head: obituaries speak approvingly of them striving to the end. But heads are shaken over prodigies such as Peter Cook, who sparkled and sizzled in their cots and took it a bit easy later on. Yet in his last major television appearance - re-run a few nights ago - Cook was hilarious, not simply because of his brilliance, but because he was enjoying himself rather than furthering his career.

At a time when poor old Danny Kaye's entrails are being raked over to reveal depression, neurosis, insecurity, faithlessness and the rest of the normal dreary litany of comedians' troubles, I'm delighted to know that the worst the puritans can do to Cookis wag their fingers at his happy, convivial and unthrusting middle-age. I raise my glass to him.

No one could accuse the denizens of my west London village of excessive conviviality. Apart from chats in shops, almost the only public intercourse appears to be between those queueing up for their pensions on a Thursday morning. Whatever the weather, the hard-core begins to gather at around 8.20, 40 minutes before the post office opens. I have pondered long and hard on the reasons for this. Are they fearful of a run on Government funds? Does some creditor call at 9.10? Or do they just want a chat?

Not being old enough to join them without arousing comment, I am short of data about their conversations. But by dint of hanging around one morning posting a dozen or so letters one by one and very, very slowly, I managed to hear a septuagenarian exchange. Woman: "It's my daughter's birthday next week." Man (after pause for reflection): "It's all go, innit?" What Peter Cook could have done with that! In an early morning insomniac moment a couple of Sundays ago, I pointed my remote control at the television and encountered the vision of pensioner Sir Edward Heath, live from Salisbury, wearing one of those sweaters that very unfortunate men are given for Christmas. It was impossible to listen gravely to his passionate words about the European ideal when almost the whole screen was obliterated by a sky-blue woollie, across which stretched a broad stripe that accentuated the wearer's already rather excessive curves.

Combined with his white hair and pink face, it made Sir Edward look like some enormous, cross, if precocious, baby. Who could have been so cruel as to give him this?

Lady Thatcher?

Now, a competition. Nursing various disgusting manifestations of a head cold in bed the other night, I tried to think of amusing summings up of the essential horridness of the condition. I could think of many one-liners about hangovers - from Lucky Jim'smouth with its tell-tale signs of occupation by little creatures of the night, to P G Wodehouse's classification of such varieties of hangover as the Broken Compass and the Sewing Machine - but I could remember no witty and pithy descriptions of the common cold. A medicinal bottle of Irish whiskey for the best suggestion.

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