Diary

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The Independent Online
Last Friday I was about to head for central London to meet a friend for lunch in an informal restaurant when another rang to suggest meeting for a drink at 6pm at my gentleman's club. "OK," I said equably, rushing to change into a skirt, since the Reform does not countenance the wearing of jeans on its premises. It was a nice day and I was just putting on sandals when I remembered that my 8pm appointment was at the Academy Club, which insists on shoes. I think this rule is aimed at bare-footed mystics or sandal-wearing male social workers, and I cannot imagine that our founder and genial chairman, Auberon Waugh, would actually throw me out; but since the Academy has only three rules (no poets; no bores) I feel it polite to keep them. I hurriedly substituted shoes. There are moments when I feel tempted to simplify my life by following the sartorial lead of fundamentalist Muslim women and go everywhere in a black bin-liner.

Just after dawn last Tuesday, as I printed out the typescript due with my publisher that morning, I asked myself why I have never finished a book at a sensible time of day. The answers I proffered myself were that optimism makes me always underestimate how long anything will take; that I'd rather work all night than get up very early; that I can't resist tinkering up to the last minute; and most important of all, that I'm a binge-worker, which is why freelance work suits me. I harbour a fantasy of being one of those writers who keeps to a steady routine of the daily 1,000 words, but my hero is Alan Ayckbourn, who starts writing his plays the weekend before they go into rehearsal.

Lipstick lesbians may be all the rage in media circles these days, but attitudes in my west London village are still somewhat old-fashioned. The other morning I passed three children horsing around good-humouredly on the pavement. Girl (10) was aiming a friendly blow at boy (8) when boy (12) shouted merrily: "If you 'it 'im, you're a lesbian."

I was sorry the British press gave so little coverage to Prince Charles's happy and successful visit to Ireland, which was of tremendous symbolic importance for the peace process and gave the southern Irish an opportunity to show Sinn Fein and other malcontents where to get off. Despite importing many supporters from the North of Ireland, the organisers of Dublin (more accurately Derry) Against Royal Tours were unable to muster more than 1,500 protesters, and when they shouted rude slogans at the Prince the citizens gathered to welcome him shouted them down and applauded him enthusiastically.

The protest was certainly pluralist. Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times had a riveting analysis of its component parts. First there were the rival republicans - Sinn Fein and Republican Sinn Fein (who broke away when the Provisionals recognised the legitimacy of the southern Irish government and who condemn the ceasefire as a sell-out). Their banners included "Para Prince" (he is commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, of Bloody Sunday infamy) and "Prionsa an Bhais" (Prince of Death) and they toted a coffin in memory of the Great Famine of 1845-1849 (Quite why Prince Charles and his ancestors should be blamed for the British government's failure to cope with that calamity eludes me, since Queen Victoria led a fund-raising effort and herself contributed large sums of money).

The Socialist Workers' banner said "Royal Scrounger" but the Trotskyist Spartacists introduced an unexpected element with "Cromwell and the Bolsheviks knew how to end the monarchy". This went down badly with the republicans, since Cromwell's policy of putting everyone to the sword to teach them a lesson has made him one of the most hated names in the Irish nationalist consciousness. Even the spokesman for Militant Labour pronounced himself "disgusted". Unbowed, the Spartacists retaliated by describing Militant Labour as "nuts", the Socialist Workers as being "afraid of revolution" and the rest as "unbelievable".

What I liked best, though, was the thoughtlessness demonstrated by the protesters' fife and drum band, when it chose to play the anthem that honours CJ Haughey, the greenest of recent leaders of Fianna Fail - "Rise and Follow Charlie".

Phew! All is well on the pig front. Verity Lambert - whom last week I chided for contemplating casting a pink pig as Wodehouse's Empress of Blandings - has not only written to announce the signing-up of Gertrude of Tiverton, a "ravishingly beautiful" black Berkshire pig, but has reassured us in verse:

The very fine Empress of Blandings

Was a pig of superior standing

Now anyone who could think

That the Empress was pink

Is completely beyond understanding

Middle England can now sleep at night

And no longer need wake up in fright

So hold up the flak

'Cos our pig is black

And is truly a wonderful sight.

The first verse will elicit a "Tsk tsk" from Andrew Belsay, who was shocked by my slovenliness in offering you a Listowel rhyming "Dunfermline" with "Whirlin". "It is difficult enough," he says sternly, "to get people to appreciate genuine rhyming, without bad examples being set by the 'quality' press." And lest we miss the point, he continued:

A poet who hailed from Thermopylae

Was addicted to playing Monopoly

He'd play with grammarians,

Even barbarians,

So long as they played - and rhymed - properly.

In view of the importance of Verity's message I stretched a point on "Blandings" and "standing", but that aside, I accept Andrew's criticism, apologise unreservedly and hereby encourage you versifiers to live up to the highest of standards in the rhyming department. You might like to practise with Andrew's two Listowels: "The Greek sage, old Anaximander/Decided to visit Uganda"; and "There was a young lady of Sestos/ Whose knickers were made of asbestos".

Nature Queries: the Nationalist and Munster Advertiser reports the tragic death in the Tipperary town of Fethard of Jimmy Ryan's duck. "Jimmy erected a sunken bathtub in his poultry yard. The unfortunate duck got in and could not get out. Jimmy says the fact that the ducks were housed for the winter deprived it of its natural feather oil and it became waterlogged, with fatal results." Is this a common problem? And has it ever happened to a fish?

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