THURSDAY DIARY

The DJ, realising he had some Brits on the dancefloor, reached for the Sex Pistols ...

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Few combinations of words in the English language ("memorial service"? "divorce reception"?) carry the same air of melancholic revelry as do the words "leaving party". It is their predictability: the embarrassing speech ("I can honestly say I've never worked with a more talented group of people"), the last-minute present from Thrift Gift, the who's-next banter, the baffling messages on the goodbye card, the frankly doomed attempt to impress the young lady from Bought Ledger, the last Tube home ...

Imagine then, my delight when a departing colleague decided to whoop it up on the Continent. Forget the scabby boozers of the Isle of Dogs, he said, we'll have this party in - ooh, Venice would be about right, Cannes perhaps, or Versailles, or Prague, somewhere grand and Napoleonic. We'll charter a jumbo, cram it with Beluga and Roederer Cristal, install an in-flight fashion parade and Nautilus gym and ... By the following week, his arrangements had become less ambitious: okay, we head for Boulogne, and take a dozen taxis to L'Atlantique, the hotel-restaurant-dancehall equivalent of its trendy Piccadilly namesake. There we'll drink Piper Hiedsieck from the shoes of poules de luxe from Montmartre, play canasta, have a gallon of illegal absinthe ... By the next week, things had scaled down again. We were now off to Belgium for dinner and dancing ...

So we flew over in what appeared to be a Second World War Mosquito (free in-flight salami bun), drove about in a coach and dined at a charming restaurant where the dying gasps of nouvelle cuisine are still celebrated (single moule en croute served in egg cup). After 2.30am, it all got a little blurred. I remember roaming Antwerp's bland shopping mall, asking bits of Euroflotsam outside Marks and Benetton where the action was to be found. The most friendly-disposed of our crew indulged in yelling contests about Jurgen Klinsmann. I recall feeling puzzled to find an enormous and beautiful white cathedral rearing up amid the franchise shops like a brilliant secret. I remember lots of urgent seduction breaking out amid the smashed glass of a backstreet disco. ("So, you are all on holiday, yes?" a local youth asked one of the girls. "No, no," she replied, "Canary Wharf leaving party." "In Antwerp?" he asked, wide-eyed.) I watched as a distinguished editorial colleague, a man famous for his unflappable demeanour, tore off his shirt to wring the beer and sweat from it at 4am. I remember how the DJ, realising he had some Brits on the floor, reached for the Sex Pistols ...

It was, admittedly, some way from the ball at the Doge's Palace we had first planned. And next week, I expect, leaving parties will once again be things you have at the Cafe Rouge with glasses of Merlot. But something remains incontrovertible. Say that health and wealth have missed me. Say that youth and energy have fled. Say I will never again do up a pair of 32in-waist Wranglers. But can I just put on record that, at 42, I was warned by a bald and threatening bouncer in a Belgian nightclub to cut out the manic pogo-ing at 6 o'clock in the morning?

News reaches me of a shocking outbreak of literal-mindedness in Scotland. The Cape novelist John King has been impressing reviewers (not ours, alas) with his tough tale of tottie and terraces, entitled The Football Factory. But while the book is selling well, it's also become one of the year's most shoplifted items. No less than nine copies were nicked last month from the John Smith bookshop in Glasgow. This presumably wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the World's Finest Living Writer, Irvine Welsh, can be found puffing the book on the cover, and advising punters, "Buy, steal or borrow a copy now." Should the felons responsible ever come to London, I hope they will be more sophisticated about the "Kill to get a ticket" signs in Shaftesbury Avenue.

I met a classical musician the other day, who gave me a fascinating performer's-eye view of the Secretary of State for National Heritage. He had encountered Mrs Bottomley on Saturday before last, at the Aldeburgh Festival in Snape Maltings, Suffolk. She's so keen to attend, festival- goers murmured admiringly, she had flown there straight from the England- Spain match earlier that afternoon; look, there's the ministerial helicopter parked on the Maltings' lawn. And indeed it was an impressive sight, complete with pilot and co-pilot and at least one Heritage minder who went through the crowd asking people how long the evening's concert was likely to go on for.

The concert was the City of London Sinfonia's performance of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with its famously long, slow and generally adagio third movement. Three or four minutes into it, the enraptured audience became aware that their Heritage minister was discreetly leaving them, as the place reverberated with the sound of her helicopter taking off. Barely 100 yards above the Maltings' slatted wooden roof, a couple of tons of governmental chopper thrummed and bated and ground its gears and went WHUP-WHUP-WHUP like a mad thing before sweeping the lovely Virginia B. away into the night. "It was very offputting for the performers," said my man in the woodwinds section. "Completely destroyed the whole mood of the concert." If only they'd been playing Wagner - the audience could have dreamt they were remaking Apocalypse Now.

A new ice-cream is launched today by Ben & Jerry, the American frozen- pudding moguls. What's special about it is that it's supposed to be the quintessence of Britishness. In reply to a B&J questionnaire, seven thousand- odd fans sent in their suggestions for the flavour that "Britain" would be if she were an ice-cream. The winner was "Cool Britannia" (vanilla with strawberries and chocolate-covered shortbread), the bright idea of a Yank lawyer called Sarah Moynihan-Williams. Not bad, if we must have ravens-at-the-Tower national stereotypes, but I preferred some of the losing suggestions: the Charles and Diana Split, for instance, or the Vanilla Parker Bowles, the Agatha Crispie or (what the hell) the Jack the Ripple, James Bombe, Cashew Grant ...

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