In Maryland at Malice Domestic, the annual convention for writers and fans of those crime novels known in America as ''cozies'' (as opposed to ''hardboiled''), I asked someone if she was a writer or a fan. ''I'm pre-published,'' she said. I took this to mean that she had had a typescript accepted by a publisher, but I was wrong; she had just started writing. Later I learnt that one can only join the Mystery Writers of America as an aspiring writer with proof of labour, such as rejection slips, for it is now common to claim pre-published status and lord it over the common herd without bothering to write a word. I'm thinking of writing to my bank to explain that I'm pre-prosperous.
Recently asked why so many writers of detective stories in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s were women (Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and so on), the great crime-writer Reginald Hill explained helpfully: ''Because all the men were dead.'' The preponderance of women continues; they make up more than 90 per cent of the nominees and 100 per cent of the winners of Malice's Agatha Award for best novel in the six years of its existence, giving rise to the phrase: ''lonely as the men's room at Malice Domestic''.
Saturday's Sun produced the headline: "Gazza's Shazza hazza big new brazza". I tried to interpret this unaided but eventually had to read the story. The footballer, Paul Gascoigne, it turned out - through a mixture of generosity and self-interest - has paid £3,000 to enable his girlfriend, Sheryl, to have her breasts enlarged to 36D. I thought Independent readers should be told.
"Please can we have a different one?" asks Veronica Leach. Absolutely. After two months and 300-plus contributions, I have had it up to here with the "lady from Bantry/Who kept her false teeth in the pantry". So will you versifiers provide a new challenge to come between readers and their work on a Monday morning? Another two extremely difficult first lines of a limerick, please, or an appropriate subject for a clerihew or haiku. Or should we advance to sonnets? I await your inspiration and guidance, for when it comes to verse I am talent-free. And, incidentally, D Mullen, whose limericks about me I am too modest to print, there will be no prizes. The size of my postbag does not suggest that the readers of this diary need to be bribed to correspond.
So now, although I still have excellent specimens in my possession that will blush unseen, I must make the last selection: "They fizzed in their salts/In those marble-cool vaults,/As they swung from an overhead gantry" (Iain Carson); "And her wig in a big/Antique thingummyjig/Bequeathed by the late Elmer Gantry" (Graeme Fife); "A visiting thief/Set on stealing her beef/Affrighted, departed instantly" (R. Fletcher); "Her husband complained/That his cheese had been maimed/It was rude, it was yuk, it was insan'try" (Barry Matthews).
I have reluctantly decided against printing Hugh Mitchell's very funny contribution on the grounds that this is a family newspaper, and I am demonstrating the respectability of this column by concluding instead with a contribution from a man of the cloth: "The power of her gums/Reduced house-bricks to crumbs/She'd a jaw like an overhead gantry" (the Rev Dr Paul Sheppy).
Do not mourn the lady prematurely. She will make a last appearance next week in a revolutionary format.
On the Euro-currency front, Ralph Simmonds makes the entirely valid case against the ecu that in the UK it would end up being pronounced "ee- kew" and therefore must be avoided at all costs. He is pushing hard for the florin, on aesthetic grounds, and recommends that it be adorned with the sea-pink, otherwise known as "thrift", that graced the old threepenny bit, although he admits the double meaning may be lost on our continental neighbours.
Frederick Balgarnie proposes extracting from "European" the word "rope", seeing this as being symbolically a fibre holding Europe together, which could be relied on to stretch when under strain, and would help to unravel problems. The coin would have a coiled strand around its perimeter, with lover's knots on the head signifying the bonding of nations, and on the tail the European Union stars surrounding "EU Maastricht 1992".
I see many snags here, Frederick. What about snapping and fraying? And wouldn't Teresa Gorman seize the opportunity to make much of the notion of the single currency as noose?
When Gerry Adams appeared in the House of Commons last Thursday he was asked if he would be celebrating VE Day. He would not, he explained, for "I consider the great wars to have been imperialist adventures. My allegiance is to the people of Ireland." This is puzzling. Since Mr Adams wants the "new Ireland" to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of "gender, religion, sexuality, ethnic origin, race, marital status, language used or disability", one would have thought he would be glad to celebrate the overthrow of a regime that discriminated against those groups of whom it disapproved by murdering them horribly. One might also have expected him to celebrate the 150,000 volunteers from Ireland, north and south who, as Taoiseach John Bruton said at a recent ceremony in their honour, put on British uniform "to fight against Nazi tyranny in Europe" and of whom 10,000 were killed. But perhaps they have slipped his mind, He is, after all, a very busy man.
My ornithological queries about the ducks in my local graveyard have been answered. Christopher Wren tells me that mallards have extremely good vision, can spot water at 100 wing-spans, prefer fresh tap water to pond water and that drakes preen themselves less often than ducks. Linda Harris - a longtime observer and protector of individualistic duck families - says that predators and amorous and unwelcome drakes are best avoided by abandoning lakes and ponds in favour of back gardens and even graveyards. Far from being too dumb to settle in the nearby lake, the duck about whom I worried "is a female of mature years and circumspection, quite the opposite of a bird-brained, flighty flibbertigibbet". I will treat the lady with due respect when I see her next.