Diary

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Two 19-year-olds have been staying with me, Tim in the spare room and Francis on a living-room sofa. Now I know adolescents are good at sleeping, but Francis's Rip Van Winklery left me awe-struck. Yesterday morning he remained immobile during, inter alia, the ringing of the doorbell (close to his ear) three times; people walking through the living-room to or from the kitchen on perhaps 25 occasions; two hours of animated conversation in the kitchen (the door is mostly glass), punctuated on several occasions by loud laughter; the telephone ringing four times and the ensuing conversations; three outgoing chatty calls.

When I reported this to my friend Reg, he observed: "It's the only aspect of adolescence I envy. When they wake, they look at the clock, see it's midday, turn over and instantly go back to sleep. When I wake up it's eight hours earlier and I'm praying I won't stay awake the rest of the night."

When Francis was awake, he was sometimes to be heard passionately declaiming the story of how, while digging spuds, his father's insistence that he marry the Widow Casey drove him to murder. So when he asked me if I had a beret he could borrow for his audition, I was slightly perplexed. " 'Fraid not. But I've a green tweed cap that's just the job."

Francis is very polite: "That's very kind of you, but I don't think it would quite work."

I am no producer, but I knew this cap was authentic. It took a few more exchanges before we discovered I thought he was equipping himself for The Playboy of the Western World, whereas he was trying to find something slightly military for his Iago monologue. Mind you, when you think of what modern directors routinely do to Shakespeare, maybe Iago in Donegal tweed is only slightly ahead of its time.

My readers' conspiracy to take over completely the writing of this diary gallops ahead. Keith Flett's contribution is: "Aside from the objection that my fellow letter writer Nicolas Walter wouldn't know what to do with himself if there was no religion, there is a predictable omission from his T-shirt copy. The lines to be added should read: "Historical materialism: we can overthrow this stuff."

George wrote to me from Yorkshire about his 47-year-old son, Joe, who after a long jobless period turned to studying. The other day Joe had his six-monthly interview at the Jobcentre under the Restart programme.

Interviewer: "We notice you are still unemployed after six months."

Joe: "11 years six months, to be exact."

"Where are you willing to work?"

"Anywhere."

"You're not allowed to say `anywhere'. What was your previous job?"

"Van driver."

"What kind of work are you looking for and what have you been doing to get work of this kind?"

"University lecturer and I read the appointments pages."

"Have you any qualifications?"

"Diploma in Art and Design; BA (Hons) Humanities; MA Local History; Certificate in Business Information and Technology Skills; Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. And I'm doing a PhD part time."

"What have you been doing to find work?"

Joe produces details of certificates and three years of job applications. After reading these, the interviewer comments that there are not many lecturing jobs. "You must be prepared to work in other fields. What jobs are you prepared to apply for?"

Joe: "Administrative and clerical."

"Have you any administrative and clerical experience?"

"No."

"What work are you experienced in?"

"Eleven years ago I was a van driver."

"We'll put your first choice as van driver and your second choice as clerical/administrative. Do you agree with this?"

"Yes."

"Thank you. Bye bye."

"Bye bye. See you in six months."

What really impresses me about this story is George's comment that it gave the two of them a good laugh.

My enjoyment of the debates in my west London newsagent's diminishes rapidly when capital or corporal punishment are in the news. I am distressed less by the inevitable ferocity of most customers' opinions than by their effect on the tender-hearted proprietor, Kuku, who has to listen for anything up to 14 hours a day to people saying, "Serve 'em right", " 'anging's too good for them", "Wha's wrong with cutting their 'ands off?" and so on. This week has borne particularly hard on him, since the Nick Ingram saga had many customers not only hotly recommending his execution, but indulging in various ghoulish debates about the merits of rival methods of killing people.

All this bloodthirstiness comes in a week when the lead story in the free local newspaper concerns Marty, an indigent kitten in need of heart surgery, for whom readers have raised £1,000.

Murder, retribution and the rest of it reminds me that in my wanderings around the graveyard composing a crime novel, there is one Victorian tombstone whose stern legend keeps forcing itself upon my attention:

As you pass by, so once was I.

As I am now, so you will be,

Therefore, prepare for eternity.

This started off a memory train that led me to request from Dublin the verse a friend found long ago in a death notice. He demanded full attribution, so thanks to Professor Ronan Fanning for

The Heavenly trumpets sounded,

St Peter called out "Come",

The Pearly Gates flew open

And in walked Mum.

That's enough death. Now here are some more conclusions to the lines about the lady in Bantry/Who kept her false teeth in the pantry:

"A national hunt jockey,/She'd once been unlucky,/And spattered her own all round Aintree" (Gordon Jones); "When asked why she did so/She said, `Don't be so slow,/My dear Watson, it's quite alimentary!' " (Diana Briscoe); "Twice, embedded in Stilton,/They bit old Lord Wilton/Greatly taxing his inborn gallantry" (Diana Dunwoodie); "Locked inside with a Kraut/He bellowed, `Get out!/Vot you do is verboten. Unhant me!' " (Jill Neville).

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