But wait one goddamned minute. What is this on page 44? It's an assignment undertaken at the end of the war by the American writer John Malcolm Brinnin, to travel across the States with Henri Cartier-Bresson, the undisputed God of modern photojournalism. What pulls you up short is Miller's description of "an incident in a diner, when one of the customers suffered an epileptic fit and Cartier-Bresson managed to get in the way, in his determination to get pictures of the frothing victim". Brinnin claimed the Frenchman was furious when anyone got in his own way - at one point he apparently pushed Brinnin to the ground in his anxiety not to miss a picture ..."
Nice, eh? Would it be disrespectful to wonder how the godfather of arty photo-reportage would have reacted, had he stumbled on a car crash in the Pont de L'Alma, a famous princess and a lot of irritatingly intrusive medics?
How peculiar to find that the site of one of my dreams is to pack up. After 80 years, they're closing the burns and plastics unit at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, perhaps to relocate it at the Chelsea and Westminster, perhaps not. It's rare for a hospital unit to achieve global fame, but the surgeons at Queen Mary's were legendarily brilliant. I worked there as a porter in my teens, and loved it. I liked the rumours that would fly around, concerning the Famous James Bond Actor in C ward, who was in to have the bags under his eyes removed. We would josh scapolamine- dazed plastic surgery patients, on their way to the operating theatre, that a five-quid tip would guarantee they'd wake up with an unscheduled chin dimple, a lowered hair-line, a nine-inch member ... I'd take the little girls from J Ward to the theatre to have their bat ears pinned back, and find them later in the Recovery Room, heads swathed in a bandage turban with a wisp of blonde hair peeping out ... Ah, but it was also a place of nightmare: G Ward, home of the burns patients, a place of uncomfortable heat, the patients lying under raised sheets so their flesh wouldn't stick to it. It had its own porters, specially inured to terrible sights, so we weren't required - until one night, when there was no one but me to collect a victim. The long, long walk - trolley before me - down the endless corridor to G Ward, mentally running away from what one was about to endure, has haunted me ever since. And now they're closing it. Goodbye to my own personal Room 101.
Is it the unseasonal weather, or some unconscious inter-species rivalry that is causing the current wave of European canophobia? Judging by the papers, no dog is safe from abduction, attack, counter-attack or unnatural feats of resuscitation. My one-year-old labrador, Poppy, a keen browser of the news pages, has taken to flattening herself against the washing machine and feigning invisibility whenever the doorbell rings.
And well she might. Over in Italy, a Sicilian politician called Nero has offered to pay bounty hunters the equivalent of pounds 18 for the head of any stray dog (that means any dog on the streets of Palermo is up for grabs). On the Croatian coast, a family poodle called Zeni was grabbed around the throat by a pitbull's jaws, and the pitbull savaged in turn by the poodle's lady owner who sank her fangs into the dog's neck. If only the pitbull owner had been around, and retaliated in similar vein, we could have had a spectacular, Draculan daisy-chain ...
Down Derby way, meanwhile, one Jean Cauldwell has been explaining her prompt action to save a choking rottweiler called Stringfellow: "I put my fingers up her nostrils and opened her mouth as wide as I could and then put my mouth inside hers. I started blowing and, all of a sudden, I felt her heart start and we saw her move" - presumably in the direction of someone who could counsel her about Surviving the Trauma of Unwarranted Snogging by Derbyshire Humanoids. Between Mafiosi bounty hunters, English nostril abusers and Slavic vampires, a dog doesn't stand an earthly these days.
All over the journalistic metropolis in the last 10 days, you could hear a collective sigh of melancholy for Ruth Picardie, who died of cancer last week, and a wave of sympathy for her husband and two-year-old twins. Ruth was a writer of exceptional directness, always sceptical, always challenging, always taking the mick; and she was like that with people, too. She went out of her way to find out what they thought about things, and why. Appalled to find some vestigial shred of male chauvinism in one's conversation, she would beat it out of you with a rhetorical rolled umbrella, laughing fit to bust at the foolishness of men. She had a thousand friends, who took their cue from her. I remember once guiltily attending a preview of Showgirls, the atrocious movie about Las Vegas strippers, only to find that Ruth was occupying the row behind me with a dozen cronies, who rubbished the ensuing disrobings with derisive hysteria.
A big, sexy woman with a vast and lazy smile, a great jungle of hair in her heyday and a trick of looking out at you indulgently from beneath slightly pained eyebrows, she was an earth mother who hated being pregnant, a feminist who did battle with every "new feminist" in the intellectual marketplace, a cynic who wrote about food, holidays, chocolate and her husband Matt like a romantic teenager... She was full of contradictions. I never saw enough of her, and now I never will. I loved her, but I could never find a way of explaining it without her going (I can just hear it) "Oh no! Not another bloody protestation of love ..." Her memorial service is on Monday.Reuse content