DIARY

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Diary

In Puerto Rico, the neighbours of my octogenarian host, John, are mostly pleasingly elderly. For while I would find it challenging to expose much body in the company of the young and perfect of limb and tan, among my swimsuited seniors there is no need to care about imperfections. Flab, broken veins and surgery scars abound, and their owners don't give a damn. So neither do I, which is just as well, since within 24 hours of arrival, my face was bright pink and I had a kaleidoscope of bites on my legs.

I recall that years ago Bernard Levin investigated the question of whom biters like to bite. His conclusion, as I remember, was that - except for B Levin - they prefer women to men. Well, they've certainly always been mad about me. Not only am I devastatingly attractive to little flying creatures - an unwilling Pied Piper of the insect world - but I am also allergic to the tiny rascals. No doubt that knowledge gives them a special frisson as they get out their cutlery and tuck in.

My host and I have been enjoying the refreshingly frank row between the US Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), which has been holding itsannual convention here, and the local homophobic police spokesmen. Chief Superintendent Toledo explained that "You can't enforce mano duro (tough-on-crime crackdown] with a limp wrist." Jos de Jesus, president of the United Front of Organized Police, asked the public to "imagine a dainty homosexual officer trying to arrest a 6ft, 250lb man''. (We detect some illogicality here, for if they are right about their stereotypes, they should want their policewomen to be lesbian). However, to confuse the issue, de Jesus has been fingered as a closet homosexual by the president of the Puerto Rican Police Association.

GOAL is demanding that Janet Reno (right), the US Attorney General, force the cops to implement federal anti-discrimination standards, though it is difficult to see how this can be easily reconciled with local laws making sodomy a felony punishable with 12 years. An extremely popular local evangelist opposes GOAL's attempt to impose on Puerto Rico the "degenerate lifestyles" of "those Sodoms of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco". Boy, am I glad not to be Ms Reno.

Now a good-news story about Britain. There is mild concern here in Puerto Rico about corruption in politics, which is on a scale undreamt of in our Parliament. The Senate vice-president denies having salted away $26m in foreign banks; and what the San Juan Times refers to as a "recent flap" concerns another senator who travelled to the British Virgin Islands to seek the release of six Puerto Rican drug-traffickers. He was allegedly paid $250,000 by a drug baron to bribe British officials to release the six. Our officials, God bless them, said "No" - and the six went to jail.

As I sit on the verandah, 15 yards from the Caribbean, there is high drama going on in what my pedantic host insists I call a palm plant. An energetic chap has shinned up 30 feet, and is cropping coconuts vigorously. An American visitor darts out of his apartment, takes a photograph, and goes back inside. Another emerges with a video-camera and records for 20 minutes with tremendous concentration, thus missing out on all the interesting carry-on with the cropper's family, various onlookers and so forth. Why, I ask John, do people need to record the moment rather than enjoy it? "So when they go home they can bore the arses off their friends," he explains helpfully.

I have myself gone so far as to have a photograph taken in my holiday finery, for at the Mayaguez flea-market, for $3, I procured a magnificent hat. Made of imitation straw, it is heavily ornamented with gilt, much of which dangles from the brim. I believe this is deliberate, but others claim it has come loose and needs fixing. My firm contention is that in Calamity Jane, Doris Day had a hat along similar lines, but my memory may be at fault. I admit to a tendency to go considerable lengths to prove things don't need mending.

My hat got many admiring looks - well, many looks - when we went to sea for an eco-touristically-correct whale watch. John and I blinked three times, so failed to see the humpbacked whale, but the trip was nice and I did enjoy the barman's hat, a baseball cap with a plastic simulacrum of a whale's tail attached to the back and of a head to the front. It brought to mind a cap I once saw in a small Irish town, worn by a young man en route to his stag party. On the front it was adorned by a representation of one component of a gentleman's private parts; on the back two. On top it bore the simple and incontrovertible legend: "I am a dickhead."

I can't after all announce this week the champs of the common cold competition, for some new and worthy entries have followed me here by fax. So a mention for the nastiest of David Hanna's offerings in his filofax of phlegm: "A head like a boil-in-the-bag fish supper". And to Graeme Giles's friend's: "The inside of my head feels like a peat bog in Kildare on a wet winter Wednesday afternoon". As for your Nietzsche quote, Graeme, it serves to confirm that the chap was fundamentally unsound.

On the grounds that I'd like it, my host booked me a pedicure. Appositely, I was reading Alan Bennett on inhibitions ("[I] Can scarcely remove [my] tie without first having a police cordon thrown round the building"), when Mari Lourdes asked me which nail polish I should like. Normally, I would have explained that I've never sported the stuff and didn't intend to do so now. This time I chose a colour for my toes to match my brightest insect bites - I'm sure if Bennett came here he'd be skinny-dipping in no time.

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