Diary

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The Independent Online
A friend who lives in the badlands of London's Herne Hill (but so, he comforts himself, does the Governor of the Bank of England) had a prowler in the back garden last week, or so the police informed him when they'd stopped trampling his dahlias and scrambling over his fencing. They chased the intruder through a dozen patios before they got him, with the help of a snarling Alsatian. Calling the beast to heel, the uniformed handler muttered "Good boy, Oser". "Oser?" [said my friend] "What kind of name is that for a dog?" "You're not saying it right," said the policeman, "It's spelt with an Xh. Xhosa".

Why, my friend inquired, have you named a police dog after a Bantu tribesman from the Cape Province of South Africa? (Visions of reversed racism coursed through his head: weren't they taking this community-policing thing a little far? Would the Brixton force soon own a German shepherd called Marley?). "It's not like that," said the cop. "We call each new dog litter by a different letter of the alphabet. By the time we'd got to X, there was a litter of 12. Caused the inspector's wife no end of trouble. She 'ad to look in the dictionary: X-ray, Xylophone, Xanthippe ..." He considered. "Then we ran out and we 'ad to call the last one Excalibur, but that's cheating, of course ...". Something wrong with Xenophobe?

The cream of Italy's fashion houses will stand in the dock in Milan next week, accused (like every other citizen of Italy between 25 and 65) of fiscal corruption. Gianfranco Ferre, the cummerbund-bursting Dior director; Giorgio Armani, designer-in-chief to the BBC boardroom; Santo Versace, brother of Gianni and president of his jockey-shirted empire; and Mariuccia Mandelli, who runs the Krizia label, must all explain how they came to slip a bung to the tax authorities five years ago. Their defence is that they were victims of extortion and had no choice. I wish them buona fortuna, natch. But I was scandalised to learn how little the fashion nobs seem to know about the etiquette of bribery. Signor Armani, it seems, has confessed to handing more than 80 million lire in person, the money wrapped in a carrier bag, like some delivery boy from Harrods with a pound of asparagus.

Stronzo! Nobody, Giorgio, slips a bag or an envelope across a table any more, with that old I-think-these-documents-may-be-relevant routine. Totally passe. More subtlety is needed, a dash more panache. The fashionable briber offers a three-piece suit to each grim-faced economist, pointing out its lovely seams and flaps and so on, and letting them find the money for themselves. What d'you think back pockets are for, if not for back-handers?

While we're talking Italian, I'm fascinated by the newspaper war that has broken out between L'Unita, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, as reported by m'colleague Andrew Gumbel. It seems the warring papers, instead of dropping their prices or co-opting sexy new talent, have started giving away elaborate free gifts, from cassette movies to encyclopaedias, to inspire their readers' loyalties. Cuore magazine, the Roman Private Eye, derisively offered its readers a free journalist with each issue, somebody who would tell them amusing stories, then go outside and cut their hedge.

Call this satire? It's a marvellous idea. There are many people in this country, newspaper readers all, who would give a lot to have, say, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne come round to their modest abode and patronise their taste in furnishings for the day. And who would turn down the chance of having Mr Piers Morgan, late of the News of the World, delivered with their Daily Mirror, ready to run errands, mow the lawn and do the washing up?

A little local row between two journalists is efflorescing nicely. On 1 August, Catherine Bennett, the Guardian's most witheringly scornful media commentator, wrote an interview with David Thomas, the ex-Punch chap whose book Not Guilty: In Defence of the Modern Man was published to abuse a couple of years ago. While alluding to this work, Ms Bennett took a sideswipe at Neil Lyndon, author of that other classic of "masculism", No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism, which had received similar treatment to Mr Thomas's. Ms Bennett suggested that both men "seemed to be motivated by distinctly personal anxieties and interests". Why, she asked, "did Lyndon seem to hate women so much?".

To you or me, this might seem a passing thrust, a glancing blow, a drive- by pea-shooting. But Lyndon was incensed. He wrote to Bennett in tones of cold fury, demanding that if, having looked through all his published works, she could find any evidence of such "hatred", he would pay pounds 1,000 to the Justice for Women charity. "I gave her a month," Lyndon tells me, "and her time's up. If she can't find anything to back up her claim, she should admit it and pay the pounds 1,000 herself." In your dreams, mate, one is tempted to reply; but Lyndon is serious. "Otherwise, there seems to be no other course for me to take except litigation" - which will mean suing the Guardian and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, as well. "It's time someone did something about these casually damning remarks," says Lyndon darkly.

From Bill Wyman's smelly backyard to the new Gilbert and George art show, the whole country is drowning in ordure. Further evidence comes from North Humberside, home of the pig-farming industry, a vast and lucrative concern vigorously championed from the Commons's back benches by John Townend, the Tory MP for Bridlington.

Now look what's happened. A company called ACMC has applied for permission to build a sow-breeding facility, churning out torrents of piglets yearly. The trouble is the by-product, the fallout, the, ah, Number Twos - oh, for God's sake, the piles of pigshit everywhere. There being no dumping ground nearby, they propose to spread the manure across the fields surrounding the factory. Unfortunately, they also surround four villages, and the villagers are out in rabble and riot. The company looks around embarrassedly for its MP to come and argue the necessity of piglet-output - to find he has joined the protesters. Perhaps if they had studied the electoral role of the village of Sigglesthorne, one of the hamlets about to be enveloped by a tidal wave of pig poo, they'd have discovered the name of Townend, J, towards the bottom.

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