It's been a fascinating if confusing week on the emblems front. The Canadian High Commissioner has been mobbed in Cornwall by cheering crowds waving his country's flag; the western coast of Ireland is alive with the maple leaf; Spanish ships flying under British and Irish flags of convenience have been arrested by both navies; French customs have detained for five hours one of the hundreds of British fishing vessels which - like their Irish counterparts - was flying the Canadian flag instead of British Red Ensign and courtesy French tricolour; and British trawlermen have burned the European Union flag. In an interesting counterpoint, John Cocklin, a Devonian who wanted to fly four Union Jacks from the front of his hotel on VE Day, has been refused permission by South Hams district council on the grounds that they would be visually obtrusive.

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".

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own