Diary

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I look down on my fiction publisher, the exquisite Julia Wisdom, for though I am short, she is tiny. (If it is true, as she alleges, that she weighs seven-and-a-half stone, her brain must be extraordinarily heavy.) When she left her last job her successor decided there was little chance of persuading me not to follow her, for he had found in the files a letter from me that began: "Darling Midget".

Last week Julia and I found that our political incorrectness extended to having since early childhood been steadfastly pro-Cavalier and anti- Roundhead - and not just on sartorial and joie de vivre grounds. We reject the 1066 And All That compromise that Cavaliers were "Wrong but Wromantic" and Roundheads "Right and Repulsive". I declared myself thrilled at having a new ally, for in many of the circles in which I move the Wrong and Wrepulsive Oliver Cromwell is a hero. "How extraordinary," said Julia. "I've never met anyone pro-Roundhead." Has she led a sheltered life, or have I just been unlucky?

Una, another vertically challenged cavalier, rang from Dublin to report the following.

On her way home last week she spotted at a roundabout a sign saying "Fresh New Potatoes and Strawberries from Wexford". Delighted that so late in the season her favourite fruit could still be acquired locally, she took the detour and eventually came across a stall of potatoes.

Una: "You've no strawberries?"

Stallholder: "Ah God, no. They've been finished for a while."

U: "But your sign still says you have them."

S: "That's because I'm still selling potatoes and the sign has the two of them."

U: "Why didn't you cross off the strawberries and save me from wasting 20 minutes?"

S: "I'll be needing the sign next year."

U (crossly): "I won't come back next year."

S: "But I'll have some of them then."

The Tory MP Dudley Fishburn is abandoning Parliament because he feels there isn't enough worthwhile work. Since he used to be a senior Economist person, and I seize any excuse to quote its greatest editor, Walter Bagehot, here is a contribution to the debate from 1872: "The greatest defect of the House of Commons is that it has no leisure. The life of the House is the worst of all lives - a life of distracting routine."

Another political poem has arrived. As Stephen Cang is one of my most erudite friends, I was not surprised that his "Guns, not butter" is based on Thackeray's parody of Goethe's "Werther".

Adams had a way, with Mayhew -

Few the words he'd ever utter.

Would you care to know this method?

In his mouth there'd melt no butter.

Adams kept ahead of Mayhew,

Who could only fume and splutter,

By being bland and quite outrageous

In his use of Irish butter.

Kerrygold is Blarney Adams

Making many minds a-flutter,

While the mind of Patrick Mayhew

Cuts with all the edge of butter.

Is there no one there as crafty,

Who could flick his mental shutter

Twice as fast as Gerry Adams

And make IRA make butter.

This makes the fourth poem reflecting on Conservative ministers. Can't anyone come up with some verse about the Opposition?

The story so far: stung by a jibe about the Welsh, Andrew Lewis denounced me as a "pompous English trout" and set off much discussion about trout as a term of abuse. Peter Everall (who has Welsh blood but has lived in Ireland) suggests Andrew "was mindful of the old English quip that Welshmen are Irishmen who couldn't swim".

I know Andrew will not take offence at this, for we have made peace, and having as instructed by George Hummer checked up on the derivation of "trout" and "fish" in Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy, he withdraws his insult. I'm relieved at this, since I have now consulted Partridge myself and find that when applied to a woman, "fish" means "prostitute", and the explanation of "groping for trouts in a peculiar river" is too rude even for this adult column. As Andrew points out, these researches put a whole new interpretation on "tickling a trout".

Simultaneously, Jim Murphy, a resident of London who is seeking the appropriate epithet for those Irish who speak well of the English, has been kind enough to reject "Aunt Biddy" as the female Irish equivalent of "Uncle Tom", on the grounds that a biddy was a prostitute. He has opted instead for the "gender-neutral 'Uncle Tim' ". "No Uncle Tim chamber of horrors," he observes flatteringly in the Irish Post, "would be complete without Ruth Dudley Edwards."

Ladies of easy virtue came into conversation the other evening as I sat with an American outside a Soho pub, studying passers-by. He was unable to throw any light on why even in the hottest weather young women persist in wearing heavy boots with their micro-skirts, but he volunteered the information that to say "Your mother wore army boots" was a fearful insult in his native mid-western town.

I am still looking for an explanation as to why my friend Jill and I were recently accosted by a dishevelled chap clasping a pair of stout brown boots, which he offered to sell us. Did he think we were young? Or friendly with GIs? I think it was more probably a smart ploy, for of course he got a quid and kept the boots.

Now further news of the young lady of Sestos/whose knickers were made of asbestos: "Despite my desire/She'd never catch fire/Unless the Greek gods had undressed us" (Andrew Belsey); "She said with some ire/'That'll dampen his fire,/If he comes back again to molest us' " (Bob Frederick); "The additional lagging/came in handy when shagging/Men over-endowed with testestos" (Peter Jack); "She felt it was worth/The increase in her girth/To be fireproof when dating Hephaestos" (Audrey Sainsbury); "In the event of fire/she would lift them much higher/Saying 'These things are just sent to test us' ". (Geoffrey Stead).

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