Diary

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On my bedroom wall I have two pictures of the Hindu god Ganesh, that cheery life-enhancer who is an example to us all: which of us would stay good-humoured if lumbered with an elephant's head after being decapitated by an irascible Poppa who mistook us for Momma's lover? My sceptical Hindu friends Kuku and Aruna tell me that there are boring scientific explanations of why last week a posse of idols apparently went on a milk-drinking binge. Sadly, I am forced to agree. But when I mention that a cub reporter had claimed that his photograph of Ganesh had drunk a spoonful of milk through a glass frame, Kuku, ever mischievous, said sternly: "You are a journalist. Surely, in a spirit of scientific inquiry, you should try the experiment on your Ganesh pictures?" So I did, and he didn't touch a drop. Mind you, as I remarked to Kuku when I reported this, the explanation may be that my Ganesh is the sort of bacchanalian god who drinks only champagne.

Seeing my woebegone expression, the tenant of my affections stopped laughing at your many letters, put his arm comfortingly around me, and asked: "How could they believe this of you?" And it is true that my initial response was to wail like a banshee when I opened this newspaper to read that I was apparently comparing the state of my column (more material coming in than out) with the "Aegean" stables.

But before I began to formulate my response, I thought it wise to check the original. I rushed in terror to the typescript I had faxed to HQ only to collapse in sheer relief at finding it read "Augean". So if I could doubt me, why shouldn't you? And, true enough, the deluge of letters revealed you all to be doubters. One reader, Dick Glover, was kinder than many in offering a limerick ending:

For a woman of wit

To confuse sea with sh**,

Ruth! The error is, frankly, plebeian".

Gerald Corbishley (who began woundingly "Dear Ruth Dudley E/No classicist, ye!") explains: "It was the River Alphaeus that Hercules diverted to cleanse the ordure of 3,000 head of cattle, not the Aegean Sea, and not King Aegeus, who leapt into his eponymous sea - allegedly - when he thought Theseus had died." But Clifford King has the last word:

There once was a King known as Augeas,

Whose oxen's consumption was orgy-ous.

Hercules said "I'm able

To clear out your stable

Until the whole place is quite gorgeous."

Although, bafflingly, while only a couple of you thought I might have been joking about "Aegean", several of you assumed I was being disingenuous in declaring my ignorance of the word "petomane".

Not so. If I ever knew it, I'd forgotten it. The word was coined from the verb " `peter' (to fart) and `mane' (from the Greek `mania')", explains Bernard Sharp, "so `un petomane' is a fart freak/a phenomenal farter [just as `un melomane' is a music enthusiast]." As Ron Winstanley points out, Will Carling would have done better to refer to the RFU Committee as "The Petomane in session". Suzanne Parry provided the best limerick:

Dear Ruth, to you I'll explain

What means the word "petomane".

It's a term rather smarter

Than "trumper" or "farter"

But, sadly, it smells just the same.

The French turn-of-the-century music hall artiste, Le Petomane, about whom I am now extremely well-informed, had the "distinctive ability", as John Miller primly put it, of "exceptional control of his anal sphincter". Through suitably modified black satin breeches, he produced musical notes and blew out candles, gas jets and so on. "Let that be a caution to you never to commit to print words you don't understand," wrote Maeve Friel. 'Fraid it hasn't been, Maeve. I loved the postbag.

Scene: Traffic lights in Sloane Street, London SW1.

Time: Mid-morning last week.

Observed: (by my correspondent Ian Munro): Grand Lexus limousine, diplomatic plate, registration "UK 1". August personage in front passenger seat intent upon scratching his fortune from a newspaper card.

Comment: Innovative financing scheme for emergent Ukrainian economy?

Cue Alistair Morton?

You wrote, too, with plenty of advice about what I should do with the various pieces of Irish ephemera on which I have previously reported. Val Crysell thinks I should wear my newly acquired Orangeman's bowler while drinking from my Gerry Adams mug, "thus preserving impartiality while combining the two". Jon Suthrell is more ambitious, with a solution requiring me first to buy the Adams statuette I saw in the Sinn Fein shop: "Second, place the statuette in the hat. Third, fill the mug. Fourth, empty it over the statuette. Fifth, parcel up the result and send it to Ian Paisley. This will leave you with the mug, for which a use will doubtless occur." Jim Kendrick thinks aesthetically rather than politically, recommending I fill the bowler with good Irish peat sown with four-leaved clovers, drill a drainage hole in the base of the mug, plant it with shamrock from all over Ireland and plunge it into the hat, give the result warmth and light and feed with Irish whisky. At little extra cost this can be converted into a hanging bowler.

I think that's unnecessarily elaborate. Jim F Allen (or is it Jim and F Allen?) has/have the right idea when she/they recommend/s that I make my tea in the mug and then cover it with the hat. "This will a) keep the tea hot; b) allow steam to escape; c) provide a useful piece of symbolism."

That's enough letters. I am surrounded not by ordure but by amusing, concerned, learned and worried contributions about, inter alia, elves, fish, insults, job centres, linguistic horrors, railway staff, scratch cards and, of course, poetry and verse challenges to come. Be patient. We will get to everything in time.

Incidentally, Martin Russell and John Whitaker, I am well aware of what Edwards rhymes with: my father was known by some of his students as `Cuddle me Bedwards". But if you think I'm going to publish the limericks you have sent me on that theme, you've got another think coming. I may not be long on gravitas, but I have my limits.

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