Before setting off to the country last week, I tried to reach the taxi driver who always picked me up when I visited that particular part of the world, but found his number had been discontinued. "Do you know Barry?" I asked the driver at the head of the queue. "Is he here?"

"Better come with me," he said comfortably. "Barry's dead."

"How can he be dead?" I asked indignantly. "He was only 50 and very fit."

"Keeled over," he said. "Goes to show you're a fool to take anything for granted."

On my return I reported my distress to my friend Nina, who expressed sympathy for Barry, observed that life was indeed unfair, but added thoughtfully: "Mind you, considering I drink, smoke and take no exercise, I should be glad that it is."

My East Anglian host's magnificent music collection contains some bizarre items. This time he played me Shostakovich's orchestral version of Tea for Two and a 1903 recording of the last castrato, whose voice I found peculiar and unsettling. Describing it to someone afterwards I quite unintentionally explained that it gave me the willies.

Do not be overimpressed by Tony Kaye, the installation artist, who having exhibited a live tramp as a work of art is now searching for a female Aids victim to become another exhibit. Many years ago - even before Gilbert and George rose to fame - the over-creative Irish fantasist Sean MacReamoinn conceived the notion of an Irish touring group of those husbands who were frequently rebuked at home for "making an exhibition of yourself". If successful, there was to be a religious follow-up composed of those accused of "making a Holy God's show of yourself".

I am deriving some amusement from the growing enthusiasm for privacy laws displayed by members of the Labour Party - although the Tories, who have suffered so much at the hands of the tabloid press, seem stoically determined to suffer the status quo. Could it be that both sides think that most Tory skeletons are now out of the cupboard, and foresee an interesting time when the tabloids lose enthusiasm for a Labour government?

The Independent's computer has been ticked off for twice last week eradicating the names of diarists from the tops of their columns. I was pleased that the culprit was a machine rather than a sub-editor, for as a rule subs receive only criticism, readers are unaware of their contribution and journalists grumble rather than praise. Yet however fair one tries to be, it is hard not to emit a scream of pain and look for someone to blame when an error appears in one's printed prose.

It doesn't really matter with newspapers, but a mistake in a book is for ever and can lead to sleepless nights. I still toss and turn over my observation in the preface to my history of the Economist, that writing it had been "alternately a fearful burden and a job", when of course I meant "joy". The classic example, however, is that about which PG Wodehouse wrote in the poem Printer's Error, which my Economist friend, the journalist Andrew Boyd, sent me recently on the grounds that the heroine shared my name.

The poem tells of the author who was enjoying reading his latest book, when he was suddenly racked with pain:

I'd written (which I thought quite


"Ruth, ripening into womanhood,

Was now a girl who knocked men


And frequently got whistled at,"

And some vile, careless, casual gook

Had spoiled the best thing in the


By printing "not"

(Yes, "not", great Scott!)

When I had written "now".

Like anyone else to whom that error of all errors has happened, I still feel an upsurge of rage at the memory and therefore approve the author's murder of the compositor, cheer on the judge who dismissed his case and would have contributed to the statue raised by PEN in honour of the hero who got:

A gun at great expense and shot

The human blot who'd printed "not"

When he had written "now".

Apropos of the above, a friend reports to me that his typist recently returned to him a piece of work containing the line: "The price of a virtuous woman is far above rabies." (If that appears as "rubies", I will not be responsible for my actions.)

Seeing that rigour is on the agenda today, I must hold up matters on the limerick front to deal with some of the accumulated criticisms, although I assure you that I have no intention of becoming a harsh judge myself. I have no talent in this area whatsoever and am impressed by almost all of your contributions. However, in Memo to RDE Richard Taylor laments:

It's sad to see one of your calling

Find space when the standards are


Inaccurate rhymes

Are signs of the times,

But absence of scansion's


Dave Hickman (to whom I offer a grovelling apology for a missing word in his last limerick) gives the rule of thumb:

The limerick must, in its form

To metre iambic conform

Feet four, four, three, three, four,

And a rhyme-scheme, what's

more -

A, A, B, B, A, as its norm.

Richard Benny was made extremely cross on several grounds, especially about sloppy rhymes concerning Greeks, and has shown us how to do it in his Timete Danaos Dona Ferentes or Not:

The Greeks, so they say, at


Behaved, I'm afraid, quite


When up on the Phyx

They played practical tryx -

And they cheated like mad at


I hope you've all been paying attention.

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