Click to follow
The Independent Online
Interviewed about his health in the London Evening Standard last week, the newscaster John Humphrys remarked: "Glasses are a complete bloody nightmare ... I'm always losing them or sitting on them. I refuse to walk down the road with them hanging on a bit of string round my neck. That is the ultimate admission of getting old, isn't it?"

I would rather admit to getting old than go through what has to be gone through without the string - or in my case, chain. Perhaps it's different for a chap because of pockets, but without having the specs round my neck when I go out I might in the course of a day have to put them into and take them out of my bag 30 times. I accept that they are not a sartorial plus and they get me vexed when they become entangled with a necklace or (at conferences) a name tag on a string - and sometimes both. But that is a small price to pay for having them readily available and not having to buy a replacement pair every fortnight.

"I'm sick and tired of all this speculation," said the Prime Minister last week on Radio 4's Today programme, and I so much agreed with him that I decided I could no longer stand news programmes for the duration of the Tory leadership contest. However, I can't do without chat at that stage of the morning, so I switched over to Terry Wogan on Radio 2 and found myself in the world of TOGs (Terry's old geezers/girls) with their associations, stickers, licences and a passionate interest in such matters as glasses on string and not being able to remember anything any more except your childhood. It was far more entertaining than hearing portentous discussions about the possible implications of a further defection by some fat member of the 1922 Committee, and I may well never go back to Today. Quite apart from liking Wogan's prattle, I enjoy dancing in the shower to cheap pre-1980s music.

It was not, however, a politics-free week. I had a fascinating sunny Thursday afternoon on the terrace of the House of Commons during which the leadership drama evolved before my very eyes. Between 2.30 and 4.00, I met a sequence of peers and MPs, almost all of whom said John Major would undoubtedly lose. But as the terrace filled up for Pimms and gossip after Prime Minister's Questions, the change of mood was palpable for, as one newcomer said, Major's performance had been worth at least an extra 20 votes. When, shortly afterwards, he turned up to chat with backbenchers, he was at ease and walking tall and his reception was warm. By just before six, when I left, the consensus appeared to be that he would win. Truly, an afternoon is a long time in politics.

The tenant of my affections and I share an anthropological bent, and one of our harmless occupations is to watch the rich. On Wednesday, we observed many in their natural habitat when we went to an open evening in Mount Street, in Mayfair, which involved drinking champagne and eating canapes as we wandered around shops full of works of art we would like but most of which cost more than pounds 100,000. (Is it a sign that the recession is over when a shop completely devoted to antique Russian furniture can flourish?) We came away with two memorable lines. A most engaging old man observed: "Whatever you can afford isn't worth having", while a youngish woman in a picture shop explained that her wares were suitable for "forward- looking, unblinkered designer-people" - presumably not TOGs.

I was alarmed by the revelation in the Daily Mail last week that Divine Brown, the woman arrested with the unfortunate Hugh Grant, used to enjoy a life of high-class prostitution "before her looks started to fade". She is 25.

Last week, quoting from a letter describing me as a "tight Welsh git", I remarked: "I do not take kindly to being accused of being Welsh" - and thus infuriated Andrew Lewis, of Dyfed. He fulminated at the editor that he did not take kindly to my "blatant (racist?) anti-Welsh comments ... To her I say then: 'Stuff you, you pompous English trout, and if you have nothing good to say keep your mouth closed.'" It was a joke, Andrew, and I'm a pompous Irish - not English - trout, so there's a fat chance of my keeping my mouth closed. But let me be positive about Wales. Will it make you feel better to know that the leek is my favourite vegetable?

Incidentally, when and why did "trout" become a term of abuse? As fish go, I've always thought them pretty inoffensive. I looked up the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for enlightenment and found only a further conundrum. What the hell was Thoreau getting at when he wrote: "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk"?

Poetry corner goes political this week, with William Elphick's contributions to current Portillophobia:

The Right Honourable Michael Portillo

Is an ambiguous sort of a fellow.

Although he'll insist

He's no Falangist,

He'll have himself called the Caudillo.

And while we're being Spanophobic, here's Bob Pettit's offering:

The battle of Tenerife lasted

Until Nelson's ship was dismasted.

His losing campaign

Gave the island to Spain -

We ought to court-martial the bastard!

Now, although Andrew Belsey rightly objected to "There was a young man from Dunfermline,/Who tried to stop dervishes whirlin' " on rhyming grounds, many of you were not so purist. Here are some attempts: "Having sussed out their need,/He injected more speed/Till they had no dimension to birl in" (Fred Balgarnie); "Amazed at their folly/He charged with his brolly/But was foiled when it started unfurlin' " (Sally Brown); She tried Calvinism/And some magnetism/Then, frustrated, resorted to curlin' " (Mark Hemphill); "By tyin' 'em down/To a stake in the ground/Even offerin' 'em loads of pounds sterlin' " (Alan Street).

Oh, yes. Fred Balgarnie would like a rhyme for ashtray, please.