Diary

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The Independent Online
I got home around midnight on Tuesday to find it ransacked in an intellectually challenging fashion. Priscilla, my American house guest, and I are reasonably knowledgeable about the criminal classes. We understand why they up-end drawers and containers and pull things out of cupboards and we accept, too, that their values are not necessarily ours; we were not surprised that the video and portable computer had gone but not the Dictionary of National Biography. But as we inspected the scene, we kept asking questions like: why would they take the tape out of the answering machine? Transfer a duvet from the linen cupboard on the landing to the bottom of the stairs? Place the duty-free whisky and cigarettes they had found upstairs beside the kitchen sink? Take the bottle of champagne from the fridge and leave it on the kitchen table? Why did the little bastards not make my life easier by stealing the portable television that had fallen the previous day and sustained expensive internal injuries? We mused over these perplexities as we drank the champagne, which we feared they might come back to collect.

The morrow revealed evidence that what the plunderers had been up to was taking the swag into the kitchen with a view to removing it via the back gate, but having discovered that that was impregnable, they had had to confine themselves to that which would not attract comment if taken out the front in a suitcase.

But some questions still remained, and friends applied themselves to answering them. The view in the newspaper shop was that they had taken the answering-machine tape because they had checked in advance to see if I was at home and feared call recognition techniques might track them down.

"Nonsense," said Henry, who reads my political journalism. "It's the IRA checking on your sources." This sounded even more implausible to me but later, as I spoke to Una and mentioned that my callers had brought with them two cans of soft drinks to sip as they laboured and had left my alcohol untouched, she said: "That's it. They're definitely Provos. Provos don't drink."

This, however, conflicts with the views of Carol and Nina: Carol suggests that the visitors must belong to a west London gang who use soft drink cans as a calling card, and Nina's response to the news that they had stolen an undistinguished pair of jeans was to pronounce that they must therefore be Russian.

Nina, who is a neighbour and had recently sustained a burglary herself, warned me to expect a call from the local victim support group. An embodiment of stiff-upper-lippery, she disdains the fashion for therapists, counsellors and the like. While I take a less harsh line, see the point of many self- help groups and recognise why frightened, lonely people would benefit from support, I dislike victim culture and the notion that none of us can cope with the normal blows of fate. So when a kind woman rang to sympathise with me on "suffering a burglary", I thanked her politely but declined her services. Una applauded this, observing that her sister, who though ill is fed up with unsolicited help, had just announced: "These days, if you fart you have a support group." Now how would such a group have coped with Le Petomane?

I know the French are arrogant, shameless, superior and all those other things, but I have a sneaking regard for their chutzpah and am becoming increasingly fed up with their more sanctimonious critics. I have been irritated that the men of the otherwise excellent Brackenbury in west London announce: "Due to nuclear testing in the Pacific, we are trying to boycott all french [sic] produce". Am I unreasonable in feeling that customers should be allowed to do their own boycotting? And should I found a victim support group for President Chirac?

All last week, owing to a steady influx of politically incorrect visitors, the house has been full of cigarette smoke and the ashtrays full of stubs, and although I have not smoked for nine years, I don't mind. I owe this to Gillian Riley, who in four mornings made it possible for me to give up smoking almost without pain and not turn into an anti-smoker. I appear as a case study in her How to Stop Smoking and Stay Stopped for Good (Vermilion), explaining: "I began smoking when I was about eight but did not take it up seriously until I was 14 or 15." She has asked me to mention her similarly titled audio tape (Random House Audiobooks) and my gratitude to her is so heartfelt that I am breaking my almost invariable rule of never giving plugs. Hounded by evangelical converts, my smoking friends are indebted to her, too.

Kingsley Amis was one of the few writers whom I bought in hardback and I mourn him. In addition to being funny, he was also a man of great wisdom. For many years now, I have been passing on to other drinkers one of his great truths: "If you feel all right the morning after, it means you're still drunk."

Michael Portillo continues to attract anti-Hispanic ire, this time from Philip Jaggard:

Conservative warlord

Xenophobe and arrogant,

Spitting bile at Europe's

Homogenising pain.

Shooting at white doves

Wheeling out from Brussels,

An immaturely blustering

Franco out of Spain.

Much erudition pours in on verse forms: PG Robinson bewilders me by alleging that in our original Eurolimerick "Gela" should have been "Gala", rhyming with "parlour" rather than with "sailor", but I like his new third lines so much I won't argue.

Una bella ragazza de Gala

Had a torrid affair with a sailor

Who was Maler not Mahler*

(Ansi prononce-t-on "Gala")

Wie war denn das fur ein fehler!

*or "Who was maler than Mahler", "Norman Mailer, not Mahler" or "Monsieur Mailer, pas Mahler".

Hello! magazine had an arresting interview this week with Larry Hagman, from which it emerged that throughout all those years when he was playing the wicked JR Ewing in Dallas he was permanently stewed. His cirrhosis was brought about by a daily regimen of three bottles of champagne during the working day, several vodkas with orange juice on arrival home, and plenty of wine with dinner. What I found splendidly Californian was that throughout his drinking years he went daily to a gym to work out with a personal trainer.

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