Those of us who take a keen interest in Northern Irish matters are well aware how easy it is to underestimate the vital importance of emblems as a form of emotional shorthand. They can demonstrate pride, solidarity and even act as a safety valve: better damage your opponent's flag than damage him. And, of course, they can also lift the spirits. When last year the Republic of Ireland's soccer team was doing well in the World Cup, the whole country was en fte with flags and bunting in simple celebration. Could someone please explain to the bureaucratic clowns of South Hams that there is more to life than tidiness.
Talking abut emblems and all that, have our readers got any bright ideas for a name and appropriate adornment for a European unit of currency? The best I have been able to come up with is Europhobic: the Jude, bearing a representation of this patron saint of lost causes. Clearly I need help from my readers. Please get cracking. Together we may yet alter the course of EU history.
With the tenant of my affections I was in Gloucestershire for a couple of days last week visiting gardens with bluebell woods. One such was Burnt Norton, where we were given a typewritten handout that entranced us with its account of Sir William Keyt, who in the early 18th century, having attempted to murder his butler, moved into Burnt Norton with his mistress. After massive rebuilding combined with "licentiousness and dissipation", he took to drink, was deserted even by his mistresses and eventually set fire to the house and burnt himself to death. Our garden guidebook was far too earnest to mention this bad baronet, being fixated on the garden's role as inspiration for one of TS Eliot's "Four Quartets". We love English gardens, but we feel that the guidebooks need spicing up.
On Saturday the graveyard in which I compose had lots of such predictable springtime carry-ons as magpies performing mating rituals and sparrows nest building, but a duck and drake were behaving oddly. They have formed a close relationship with a galvanised iron container, about 2ft x 1ft, which holds the only expanse of water in the whole graveyard. Every time I passed, the duck was inside washing herself, while the drake sat outside.
Now bearing in mind that the perimeter of this graveyard is a couple of miles, I cannot work out how this pair found the water. Yes, I know birds can do all sorts of amazing things, and I'm sure ducks are programmed to find water, but is the mechanism really accurate enough to pinpoint a few gallons in an area that size?
It's the equivalent of finding a needle in an EU grain mountain. And if they're so damn smart, why didn't they find the very large lake, with lots of ducks and geese, that is only about 500 yards away as the duck flies?
Or are they refugees from that lake, victims of some obscure form of ethnic cleansing? Did their beaks perhaps not fit? And what's more, while I see that the area is too small for them to bathe simultaneously, why does the drake not take his turn? I'm finding all this very distracting. Can any ornithologist help ?
I have had a minatory letter from Sean South, who, I infer, objects to remarks I made about Gerry Adams in America. "Your English paymasters must be delighted with you," he suggests. "Ignorant circles in England always cherished the sycophantic services of gombeen men and gombeen women like yourself." I can't speak for my Newspaper Publishing paymasters, who have so far neglected to offer a sycophancy bonus, but I have to take issue with Sean's choice of insult for me. I have consulted PW Joyce's great work English as we Speak it in Ireland, and it confirms my belief that a "gombeen man" is a usurer who lends money to small farmers and others of like means, at ruinous interest. No, Sean, this allegation really won't stick. I fear that my financial circumstances are such that - as my bank manager would readily confirm - I have always perforce been a borrower rather than a lender.
I offer another contribution to the punishment debate from a law of the Sultanate of Johore (now part of Malaysia) in the 18th century, which laid down correctional punishment for accessories to a robbery: "The criminal shall be mounted on a white buffalo, have a posy of the shoe flower stuck behind his ear, shall be shaded by a dish cover of leaves in room of an umbrella, and shall have his face streaked with lime, with charcoal and with turmeric, and in this state shall be conducted through the town in mock procession, with the beat of the Crier's gong, and should the stolen property be found it shall be suspended round his neck." Mind you, the last bit seems rather impractical to me. Supposing he was party to the stealing of a cow? Or a lorry load of video recorders?
We are by no means yet finished with "the lady in Bantry/Who kept her false teeth in the pantry," about whom limericks are still arriving. This week I want to pay tribute to a few of those who deserve a mention for the sheer chutzpah of their rhymes. Liberties have been taken, but I accept Peter Bell's assertion that "We should still be able/To choose which syllable/To stress - let us have no pedantry." So thanks to Roger Berman ("pheasantry", "Banyan tree"), Mike Finn ("lavatory", Jean Whiteford ("entre"), several of you for "Lily Langtry" and perhaps most preposterous of all, James Challis, who by introducing a Japanese student into the pantry, enabled the limerick to end with "eregantry".