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02 November 2006


NO ONE could accuse me of being a dedicated follower of fashion. I have particular reservations about two recent trends: permanent exposure of the midriff, even in Arctic temperatures, and the habit of wearing jeans at half-mast. Builders’ bottoms and plumbers’ bums are fine on — well, builders and plumbers, but otherwise to be avoided, even by the impossibly youthful and glamorous, let alone the rest of us. Recently, however, I found myself inadvertently following the trend.

After a generous City dinner at which we were guests, the time came for the toasts. I dutifully stood, but, because it was the Civic toast, the Lord Mayor remained seated — and so did my skirt, trapped beneath the leg of his chair. There was good news (the skirt had an elasticated waist, so didn’t immediately tear from top to — er, bottom) and bad (the waistline, elasticated or otherwise, was heading rapidly towards the floor).

In a desperate attempt to preserve both skirt and dignity and still do my civic duty, I bent my knees at an increasingly extreme angle. Rather like a James Bond car-chase in which the vehicle screeches to a halt just before plunging over the edge of a cliff, my skirt was caught in mid-descent, just before its top appeared beneath the bottom of my jacket.

Similarly, my legs had adopted the posture of a particularly reckless downhill skier, and my rictus smile had become so fixed that drinking the toast was a considerable achievement. Most bizarre of all, for any onlookers, was the sudden unexplained apparition, beside the Lord Mayor, of a maniacally grinning, over-dressed pygmy.

Bedknobs and broomsticks
NUMBER-TWO daughter needed a new bed. It was promised as her birthday present (at the end of June), but the bed she wanted came from Ikea, and I (a person of remarkably few principles) will not visit Ikea during the school holidays, at weekends, or on Bank Holidays; so the birthday present has been considerably delayed. At the end of half-term, however, her school had an in-service training day, and even I thought that a dank Monday in November might be as good a time as any to brave the North Circular.

Not a bit of it: we queued to get into the car park, queued to get into the store, and then queued to get into the cafeteria to recover. After that, we wandered happily around with a list and a tape measure, sat down with a calculator to do our sums, and crossed off roughly half the items on our list. Then we blundered about, filling a trolley with flat-packs, some of which were so long that we couldn’t actually see how far they extended. We demolished stacks of Christmas decorations, swiped the legs from under fellow-customers, and cleared a swathe wherever we passed.

We made friends for life (despite the demolition all around us) in the queues for the check-out, and again (because of my determination not to wipe out all our savings by paying an exorbitant delivery charge) at the pick-up point — where we discovered that the bed was so heavy that there was little possibility of our being able to pick it up at all.

The daughter loves the bed — or she will, if we manage to assemble it before she leaves home. But I hate Ikea — not only because someone I know once fulfilled all my fears by getting locked in there on a Friday night, but because I am completely incapable of walking through the store without coming out with flat-pack dog-kennels (no dog), miraculous potato-peelers (no need), and kits that will never be either assembled or used — all because I’m incapable of resisting the “bargains”.

Himself he cannot save
THERE was a collision near here recently: a car and a motorcycle met head on, with devastating consequences for the motorcyclist and his passenger. A passer-by, going to help, was taken aback immediately to be warned by one of the seriously injured victims that they were both HIV-positive.

I know that the parable of the Good Samaritan was all about ritual purity and fear of contamination, and that was why the first passers-by wouldn’t cross the road. This is a new twist: the would-be Samaritan alerted to danger by the victim himself. How many of us, in such extreme circumstances, would have made our first priority the welfare of the stranger who represented our best hope of survival?

Love thy neighbour
I HESITATE to take the name of a lord in vain, but there was a marvellous moment recently when I was walking to work through the churchyard, phone glued to my ear, and spied a fellow-diarist coming towards me.
 This particular diarist and I have been co-conspirators ever since we were consecutively given the Freedom of the City of London. “Excuse me while I kiss Leslie Griffiths,” I said into the mouthpiece.
 And the voice in my ear said: “That’s the sort of ecumenism I believe in, too.”

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