28 MARCH 1998, Page 20

Viva Negroni

ONE of the more curious entries in this race is the Lira, which has just set a new record: all hail to the 3,000-lire negroni! I shall raise a glass to it in the Bar Giacosa, in Florence, where Count Negroni first composed the drink that has endeared his memory to us all. It is true that 3,000 lire will not buy me a very large negroni, or much more than a plate of crisps, but the rate of exchange is what matters, and it has gone charging upwards through the 3,000 level for the first time that I can remember. I have never shared the robust indifference of Richard Nixon, who could not give a deleted expletive about the lira. It was the lira's collapse that put sterling in the firing line and shot us out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It was an Italian prime minis- ter and finance minister — one of them now charged with complicity to murder, the other sent to prison for corruption — who ambushed Margaret Thatcher at the Rome summit and committed Europe to a timetable for monetary union. Italy has been preparing for it on the health farm principle: diet now, cheat a little, binge afterwards. If it came to the point, the Emu might have trouble digesting the Lira.