Mr and Mrs Zack need not apply

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ONE OF the most irritating criticisms regularly thrown at my interviews is that they are 'judgemental'. Being judgemental is one of those fancy new 'Politically Correct' crimes like being ageist or heightist that we are supposed to be purged of, though I can't for the life of me see how you can write about people without conveying some faint notion of whether they are saintly or total stinkers. Hello] magazine manages it, but the effect of its hands-off non-judgementalism is to make everyone seem equally tacky - Samantha Fox, Edward Heath, same difference.

Sarah Miles in her interview with me last week said that she used to be annoyed to find her Malibu house full of drug-taking strangers who would drink her booze and use her phone without asking but 'I'm not judging it'. Why on earth not? Judging in this context doesn't mean sentencing them to prison: it just means having the good sense to recognise spongers for what they are. In real life we judge people all the time, often on the basis of no more than appearance: 'That builder looks honest'; 'That neighbour looks stuck- up.' If we are wise we try to improve these judgements in the light of experience, but we still have to make them. But non-judgementalism has even spread into academia so that it is considered 'elitist' (ye gods]) to adjudge Jane Austen a better writer than Melvyn Bragg: all we can legitimately say is that she is 'different' which makes it pretty pointless to talk about literature at all.

And now, according to the London Evening Standard, London Underground has carried non-judgementalism to its final insane apotheosis. In a secret 'company plan' leaked to the newspaper, the company explains that in future it will promote employees, all other factors being equal, on the basis of the alphabetical order of their names, favouring As and Bs at the expense of Ys and Zs. Can you think of anything more degrading to the human spirit? It is tantamount to saying: 'Our employees are cattle; we cannot tell them apart and we cannot be bothered to try.' Anyway, what does it mean, 'all other factors being equal'? People are never entirely equal: some are older, some are thinner, some are spottier, some are hairier, but also - and here I commit the terrible crime of being judgemental again - some are better than others.

It must be possible to find some criterion by which you could say that this employee deserves promotion more than that one. How about, for example, asking them what they would do if they were standing on King's Cross station when a train was coming in and the escalator caught fire? I suppose the PC objection would be that this would favour the articulate over the inarticulate, the English-speakers over the rest. Would that be such a terribly bad thing? We are not judging them in the eyes of God, after all; we are judging them in terms of their likely usefulness to London Underground. At all events, I believe that to make some value judgement, even an imperfect one, even a wrong-headed one, is better than to make none at all. The alternative is a terrifying moral abyss.

I AM DEEPLY hurt by Vicki Woods' failure to ask me to succeed Sue Crewe as editor of Jennifer's Diary - she has asked almost everyone else. Admittedly the fact that I chainsmoke and get pissed at parties, can never remember a name or face, don't know the difference between an earl and a marquess, and get tetchy after 10pm, might be a handicap, but I could learn. Apparently she's even asking men now: Lord Valentine Cecil is the latest to refuse. Anyway I know who I'd like to see writing Jennifer's Diary, though the name might not have occurred to Harpers & Queen - my colleague William Leith. Come on, Vicki, give it a whirl.

THANK YOU to the many kind readers who have taken pity on my mail envy and filled my pigeonhole all week. I'm sorry I can't reply to you all before I go on holiday but I will in August. There are many interesting points. Don Burrows of Kirkby in Ashfield, Notts, said I was wrong to think that 'faze' was not around before the 1970s: it occurs in the 1944 movie Step Lively in which Frank Sinatra sings the Sammy Cahn lyric: 'Imagine me thinking you could never faze me/ The tricks my imagination plays me]'

Dr Joan R Challinor of Washington DC tackled Donald Sinden's challenge of a couple of weeks ago that, 'You can defy any American to differentiate between Mary, marry and merry, and they can't' She said that she could, and it was because she was brought up in Butterfield, the area of New York City between 60th and 96th Streets and Fifth and East End Avenues that used to constitute the Butterfield phone exchange. In the 1930s having a Butterfield accent was a cause for pride, but in the 1950s the area was taken over by call girls so that being a Butterfield Girl meant something else entirely. Anyway, said Dr Challinor, 'I hope that someday you will meet someone with a Butterfield accent so that you can hear an American differentiate between Mary, marry and merry'.

JUST OFF to Italy which is one way of putting it, or to Gatwick, which is another. Why does the thought of holidays abroad fill me with such dread? Why do they always entail getting up at four in the morning? Why, however far in advance you book, are the only flights available at 6.45am? Why do I have to pay a rip-off 1 per cent interest to my bank (Lloyds, hiss, boo) for my traveller's cheques and give them two days' notice for the unconscionably difficult task of taking the cheques out of a drawer? Why did I forget to collect my only really useful jacket from the cleaner's? Why do the cats only ever develop ear mites when we're going away? Why does the prospect of two weeks' relaxation induce these panic attacks? Why can't we just go to Cornwall or Scotland like we used to do? Because we've been got at by the children, that's why, who say we're mean if we deny them foreign parts. Meanwhile I read that 80 travellers are paying pounds 13,950 each for the thrill of flying round the world in Concorde in 23 hours 10 minutes. They must be mad.

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