THURSDAY DIARY

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The Independent Online
It's time to take off your cardies, dears, but please watch out for the cat ...

Pensioners, pets and pubs - they're the essence of the Silly Season. You can tell it's arrived when the air is suddenly thick with stories about eccentric goings-on involving OAPs, domestic creatures and alcohol- retailing hostelries. You need merely to sit in your garden hammock and they come by, sooner or later. Ah, here they come now.

In a Brighton nursing home, three stricken pensioners have gone down with heat stroke and been treated by emergency medical staff - because they refused to take off their cardigans; the spirit of the Long Room at Lords lives on in the twilight zone of East Sussex. Elsewhere, one notes that the ageing stalwarts of the Bleach Green Veterans' Club Bowls' Squad in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, have decided to ban one John Sparks who, although he is blind, managed to trounce the club's 84-year-old president at a tournament. "Sighted players can't play in partially sighted competitions so why should he be allowed to play in ours?" demanded one sportsman with a hint of petulance. Excellent.

And the pet stories? Well, there's the one about the "cat virus", in which scientists at the Robert Koch Institute of Berlin have warned that your loving moggy can give you something called Borna Disease, which provokes manic depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Any dog stories? Yes, indeed, there was the po-faced ruling, at London's noble High Courts of Justice, that two rottweilers baring their slavering jaws and barking ferociously at people over a fence are "entitled" to put the willies up passers-by without being judged a public obstruction...

But where, pray, is the third strand in this seasonal braid - the pub stories, the tales of erotic liaisons and heat-crazed rough-houses among the beermat-flicking classes?

I was wondering about this lacuna on Sunday, when I went for a few sherberts with a friend at the Crown and Greyhound in my native Dulwich. It was a boiling moonlit night, so we sat in the pub's agreeable garden, crammed in with other drinkers.

Raucous laughter rose and fell. Blissed-out Phoenix Festival types talked equinoctial bliss, lithe young women in cutaway T-shirts sipped at spritzers - and just beside us, four completely silent people in their mid-20s sat around a plastic table. It was, in fact, the Lego bricks table, where under-age visitors to the pub are encouraged to play while their parents are boozing; but, having found a seat there, the quartet was busily sticking Lego bricks together in complicated architectural structures, tongues extended in rapt concentration.

After we'd been there for 20 minutes, a fracas broke out in the courtyard. A fat sporty chap started banging people on the head with a metal beer tray - first his friends, then himself, then total strangers. It began to look ugly.

The atmosphere tightened. Then someone beside me shouted, "Do you mind? There's people over here trying to build a plastic church..." For a second, the tray-wielder and the Lego enthusiast regarded each other with, I could swear, a flicker of humour. The Silly Season had finally arrived, right there in my own backyard.

A seasonal skittishness appears also to have descended on President Clinton. Viewers of the opening ceremony at the Olympics will have watched with a faint nausea as the boss of the Free World went through his repertoire of Oh-boy and Gee-what-a-guy gestures and muggings at the parade of distinguished athletes before him. You'd almost think he had taken up acting....

More worrying is the story heard by American viewers of the David Letterman chat-show, during an interview with the actor Bill Pullman. Mr Pullman stars in the blockbusting movie Independence Day as President Thomas Whitmore, commander-in-chief of the armed forces ranged against the invading aliens. Pullman revealed that the Prez laid on a special screening at the White House and invited several members of the cast to watch it with Hillary and him.

Clinton sat Pullman, his on-screen opposite number, down beside him, offered him bags of popcorn and seemed to enjoy the film. "But I think at some points he was kinda wondering," said Pullman to Letterman, "if I was a former president or something. After the movie, he took me into his inner office and showed me around and kept saying, 'Bill, you'll be interested in this as a President...'. " "I think," commented Letterman tartly, "that's part of our problem."

What is it about Mr Major that he never gets metaphors quite right? Much as he may strive for le cliche juste at moments of rhetorical endeavour, he tends to miss by a fraction. Remember the barmy squad in his Cabinet, about whom he asked, "How many apples short of a picnic?", thus nicely conflating "How many apples short of a barrel?" and "How many sandwiches short of a picnic?"

Yesterday, he could be heard outlining his sport-for-all plans, by saying "What I'd like to provide is a ladder of sporting opportunity for young people..." A ladder, eh? What happened to that yuppie ideal, the "window of opportunity"? Unless, of course, the ladder of opportunity leads up to the window of opportunity, through which can be glimpsed the four-poster bed of achievement, under which the chamberpot of redundancy lurks unseen. But this is all getting too Humphrey Lyttleton ("And as the Andrex puppy of Time scampers across the dual carriageway of Eternity...") to be true.

Forget the apparent exorbitance of having to pay pounds 100,000 for the pleasure of dining with the Prime Minister. As I recently learnt, you can find yourself being screwed for virtually a four-figure sum just for the service charge, should you happen to venture into one of Marco Pierre White's fashionable eateries. Pictured here in all its glory is the bill a friend picked up the other night after two glasses of white wine at the Criterion, that gorgeous gold-mosaic operation beside Piccadilly Circus. Even to my jaded and cynical eyes, it seems a bit steep (and frankly rather more than 12.5 per cent). Thank goodness it was only "discretionary".

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