Here is Islamic Barbie, complete with chador and devout expression

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Call me a drooling pervert, but I've become obsessed with Barbie dolls. I love the way they're supposed to embody, in nine inches of plastic, the supposed dreams and career plans of today's girls; and the way, in the interests of offering an eclectic portfolio of hobbies to the nation's seven-year-olds, the manufacturers keep coming up with more and more ridiculous things for her to do. With the help of my indefatigable assistant, Sophie (nine), I've identified: Mountain-Climbing Barbie, Skiing Barbie, Magic Songbird Barbie, Twirling Ballerina Barbie, Beach and Lifeguard Barbie, Barbie And Her Horse Nibbles, Teacher Barbie and Mermaid Barbie. Then there are the smutty variants for aspirant good-time girls - Gymnastic Barbie, and "Overnight Barbie With Overnight Bag" and, I dare say, one or two bags under her eyes as well ....

This plenitude should impress the doll-buying world as pretty enlightened; far from being a stereotypical ditzy model-girl, Barbie seems to represent a career-advice department. But nothing can impress the stern mullahs of Iran's toy industry. The state-owned Children Cultural Promotion Centre (a kind of fundamentalist Early Learning Centre) is setting out to protect its innocent youth from the pernicious influence of "Barbie culture", by designing dolls in appropriate dress. Hence "Islamic Barbie", or "Sara", pictured here, complete with chador, demure costume, black hair, devout expression and (don't ask me why) single eyebrow. Cute, isn't she? I expect Hamleys' window will soon be full of advanced versions: Infidel Barbie (with detachable hands), Ayatollah Ken (detachable beard) and Fatwa Barbie (with police escort and safe house in the Orkneys).

Came back from the Cheltenham Literary Festival with my head buzzing with striking images. Readers of this diary will know of my chronic fascination with Harold Pinter, but even I wasn't prepared for the moment when he delivered (to Michael Billington, his biographer) a stinging diatribe against people who cough in West End theatres. He has Dutch friends who were startled by the bronchial cacophony that greeted an early showing of his new play, Ashes to Ashes. It wouldn't happen, they said, in our country. "And do you know why they don't cough in Holland?" cried the nation's leading serious dramatist. "Because they enjoy a night out at the theatre!" So there. But the performance that stayed most firmly in my head was a convergence of words and voices such as I've rarely heard. It was when the ladies of Cheltenham Ladies College put on Under Milk Wood. Twenty young gels, swathed and shod in crow-black, sat in serried rows and, with minimal help from lighting and sound effects, conjured up the neighbourly bitching, the elderly drowsing, the marital bickering and sexual badinage of Dylan's wicked read-it-backwards world of Llareggub. You might have gone there expecting a frisson of Terry-Thomas ("I say ...") lechery at the prospect of Britain's future uber-matrons impersonating Mr Organ Morgan and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard. But you'd have stayed to marvel, at the accents, the velvety kiss of consonants, the cunning modulations of cupidity and desire. Bloody marvellous. I think they should head for London's Almeida Theatre without delay.

Dropped into the launch party for the book version of m'colleague Bridget Jones's celebrated Diary, that shockingly unbuttoned journal of socio- sexual intrigue among thirtysomething single girls that distracts Independent readers from giving their full attention to the EMU and the Referendum Party. The launch was held upstairs at L'Escargot, the fashionable eaterie whose logo of a glamorous snail neatly expresses Bridget's slow-motion progress on the highway to love and riches. Given the delicious Ms Jones's obsessive monitoring of her intake of cigarettes, booze, chocolates, Instants scratch-cards and unsuitable men, several conversations proceeded along formulaic lines: "Can I get you another unit?" "Nah, thanks, I've had 18 (approx) already (v bad)". The air was thick with neurotic parentheses. The guests were awash with Bloody Marys (v gd). Harry Enfield, buoyed up by the experience of winning pounds 10 on an Instants card earlier, bought five copies of the book. Nick Hornby lurked meaningfully under a poster of Colin Firth in his Mr Darcy high collar, as if daring passers-by not to spot a resemblance (Firth is playing Hornby in the film of the latter's Fever Pitch). Tim McInerney, Richard Curtis and Emma Freud, Ben Elton and a whole slew of televisual drolls tacked this way and that. Bridget's wayward friend Shazza turned out to be a doll-faced Irish TV executive with her hair yanked up in an angry bun. Alan Yentob, the BBC mogul, could be seen with a rare smile, something to do with the fact that he's bought the option for Bridget Jones: the Sitcom. (But who will play the divine BJ? Elizabeth Hurley? Tara Fitzgerald? Jennifer Ehle - now that would be interesting).

Eventually I met the star. Ms Jones was none too pleased by a letter that had arrived at The Independent and was handed to her, at the party, by the editor. Perhaps ill-advisedly, she showed it to everybody she met. "Dear sir," (it ran) "I would quite like to shag Bridget Jones. Could you please let me have her phone number? Many thanks, Yours sincerely..." Bridget bristled with fury. "What's he mean, `quite'?" she demanded.

The noise level rose. Shazza gradually slid down the wall under the Mr Darcy poster. "I was getting on very nicely with Angus Deayton," Bridget complained to nobody in particular, "but he had to leave to go to a football match. I don't mind, but ... half-past 10 at night?" Gillon Aitken, Bridget's pointlessly tall super-agent, was insistently introduced by his black- frocked protege as "my Asian". And just when you thought things were going to hell completely, there was a moment of true insight. Harry Enfield, pointing out that he'd supplied an enthusiastic puff for Nick Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity, and that Hornby had supplied a favourable word for the cover of Bridget's book, wondered if Bridget would complete this congratulatory daisy-chain by puffing his novel, should he get round to writing one. That's the essence of literary parties: you scratch my hardback ...

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