DIARY

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The meaning of the term embarrassment de richesse has been brought home to me by receiving the physical consequences of giving Independent readers a limerick challenge. Clearly there's nothing you like better on a Monday morning than to start your week's work composing rhymes for Bantry. Looking through your 150 or so limericks, I find the front-running rhyme by a long way is "gantry", followed by "san't'ry"/"insan't'ry", "chantry", "infantry" and "pedantry". Choosing the best of this outpouring of talent will not be easy.

Brian Stynes, not content with addressing the Bantry issue, has also given thought to my habit of dictating while perambulating in a graveyard. "A piece of string knotted slightly above your waist," he suggests, "together with a bottle of British Sherry pushed prominently into your coat pocket will result in complete `invisibility'. Mumbling about `bloody lowing herds' is of course optional." He followed up this helpful hint with an elegiac limerick entitled "Locus classicus":

There once was an authoress muse/Who rambled that churchyard by day/But try as she might/To depict black and white/She achieved only shades of Gray.

Needs an extra syllable (?fine, ?pale) before "shades", Brian, but otherwise it's terrific and I'm deeply honoured.

I have been fascinated by the proposal of that fetching MP Mrs Elizabeth Peacock to make Britain more civilised by caning criminals on television before or after the National Lottery programme. Should this inventive woman not take this idea further? Could not the two events be run together, by giving previous lottery-winners the honour of being allowed to do the caning (thus adding interest to what I understand is a dull programme) while saving the state the cost of hiring professional flagellators. This would, so to speak, solve two problems at a stroke.

The way things are going, this diary is heading to be the first in history entirely written by its readers. We have not yet exhausted the problem of stuff and how to encapsulate the Church of England on our comparative religions T-shirt. I enjoyed all your suggestions, but I must be brutal and today as a finale select just a few of those that remain, ignoring all tho se along the lines of "Stuff it!" (Tsk, tsk!): "Put this stuff on the Synod Agenda" (Sue Minton); "39 Articles and all that stuff" (Joan Terry); "Stuff is the problem of the State" (Peter Titley); and "One feels this stuff may not be entirely appropriate" (Susan Wheatley), which conveys lovable woolliness so well that I recommend it for the T-shirt. I cannot resist adding Anne Daniel's Protestant Evangelical definitions: "I take my stuff to Jesus," or "Jesus loves my stuff." Next week, the non-religious strike back.

Diplomats tell me that when they come home after years abroad, no one shows the faintest interest in where they've been. "Ah, India? How interesting. You must tell me about it sometime. Now have you heard about the latest disgraceful education cuts?" While it's particularly rough to find that a long period of your life is a yawn to everyone, all returned travellers are frustrated by their friends' lack of interest in the places they've been. I heard a nice example last week, made more striking by what I had to assume was a congenital lack of curiosity about anything except weather. Elderly woman: "Haven't seen you for a long time. What's the news on the family?" Elderly man: "Jennifer's in Australia." EW: "That's nice. You should visit her." EM: "I have." EW: "What's it like? Hot?" EM: "Yes". EW: "Going again?" EM: "No, I'm going to Morocco." EW: "You certainly like your holidays." EM: "I'm going there to work". EW: "Hot, is it?" EM: "Yes." EW: "That'll be nice." Pause. EM "Well, I must get on." I almost rushed out of the shop after him to ask why Morocco. At his age? And to do what? Sometimes I wonder why people bother to go through the motions of conversation at all.

Before piling some more censure on the benighted Mary Ellen Synon, I should declare two interests. First, I know and like Rupert Pennant-Rea. When he was editor of the Economist and I was writing its history, he was a pleasure to do business with - approachable, helpful, honest and utterly scrupulous about my freedom to write anything I wanted. He could also take jokes against himself; not everyone would laugh at being described in print as a "Robespierre among economists". Second, I deeply resent the way female kiss-and-tellers let women down by strengthening chaps' conviction that we cannot be relied on to behave like gentlemen.

One aspect of the performance that has won Miss Synon a high place in my Hellcats' Hall of Fame and which has been ignored in the acres of comment I have seen, is that she had the brass neck to explain in an Evening Standard article that she "did not much want Rupert to lose his job". She probably also did not much want to damage his children (though she went to some trouble to cause his wife maximum pain). I am reminded of Miss Synon's fellow Irish-American Annie Murphy, whose revelations about their affair drove the Bishop of Galway into exile, who then colluded in a squalid book exposing every rumple on the illicit bed, and who later arrived back on the airwaves begging the people of Ireland to welcome Eamon back because he had so much to give. I dislike Sarah Keays, but at least she's consistent. No "Ooops, sorry, I only meant to slap Cecil on the wrist."

Miss Synon has annoyed me additionally by explaining that "if Rupert was looking for a woman with an even temper, he should not have looked in Ireland". One of the problems with Americans is that their image of Irish womanhood is Maureen O'Hara tossing her red hair angrily as she engages in yet another shouting match with John Wayne. Miss Synon is lucky American law does not operate on this side of the Atlantic or some of those myriad Irish women who, like me, are even-tempered, might take out a class-action against her for defamation. The lady, incidentally, is certainly not regarded in Ireland as Irish: apart from the disqualifications of her American birth and upbringing, she's a non-smoking, teetotal vegetarian.

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