29 SEPTEMBER 1984, Page 9


Normally I get ideas, or whatever you wish to call them, for this diary, while walking. But having just developed gout, walking, or rather limping, has become a full-time occupation with each step requir- ing so much concentration to overcome the pain that there is no opportunity at all for a thought or idea to get as much as a look-in. Nor is it a problem of just being distracted by the pain. For no sooner is a chap observed limping in Fleet Street than he is stopped at every corner by some curious busybody who sees fit to inform him, at some length and from personal experience, that there is a new wonder drug called Indocid which gets rid of gout in an instant, old boy. When I reply somewhat curtly that my doctor, not surprisingly, has already put me on this wonder drug, which so far has not worked, in spite of my having taken it regularly for seven days, they look hurt and offended, saying something to the effect that there is no need for me to be so shiny since they were only trying to help. It could be, of course, that I have an arthritic condition other than gout, a possibility which had crossed my mind, and that of my doctor, long before half a dozen other Fleet Street busybodies had seen fit to point it out. But I am loath, truth to tell, to admit this possibility, since I have long quite wanted to have gout, for rather the same kind of reasons as when a young boy I wanted to have whiskers: as a mark of maturity. I know that in the case of the Young boy whiskers are a sign of growing LIP, whereas gout at any age is a sign of growing old. But so far in my experience growing old is not as different from grow- ing up as one had been led to expect. I suppose it becomes so at the very end, but at least during the penultimate non- terminal stages of senescence there is still the same feeling of achievement, of having climbed one more rung on the ladder of life, if only, in the case of the first attack of Put, the one licensing men to be as irascible and bad-tempered as they want, a privilege quite as welcome as that earlier watershed when one was first allowed to stay up to dinner. There are different kinds of coming of age and although the experi- ences of manhood may be sweetest at 21, they are not altogether unwelcome — God damn it — at 61. Ouch.

Icannot quite understand why so many newspapers see fit to boast that they are more popular with the young than their rivals. Far from this being a mark of quality, it would seem to me to suggest that the paper in question had shamelessly reduced its standards to cater to a lot of semi-illiterates. `Adults only' would be a far better indication of a newspaper's health. At dinner last week it was interesting to hear a very intelligent and witty senior CIA official explaining to a group of us that the Soviet Union is now so much weaker economically, medically and man- agerially than the United States that it is only a question of time — possibly no more than a very few years — befo.re it falls decisively behind militarily as well. Nor was there anything that the Soviet author- ities could do to reverse this growing power gap, because they were already squeezing the consumer as much as the system could bear without cracking. In other words, unless the West was foolish enough to come to Russia's aid, the cold war was about to end in an American victory. But far from crowing over this sensational development, the official predicted a period ahead of maximum danger, since the prospect of inevitable defeat in the cold war might drive the cornered Russian bear into some desperate last fling, like making a grab for Middle Eastern oil or invading Western Europe. To guard against this, it was going to be necessary for the US to maintain a posture of maximum prepared- ness throughout the world for the next few years, until the Soviet Union had come to terms with its declining status and resigned itself to the fact that there was only one super-power left: the United States. As far as I could gather, one of the reasons for the Soviet Union not being able any longer to keep up with the United States was the latter's well-nigh incredible technological breakthrough in developing defensive weapons in outer space, as a result of which the US could look forward eventual- ly to a degree of protection from attack which will decisively alter the balance of power to America's advantage. In Washington it is quite normal to have this kind of geo-political talk — which I very much envy — over the dinner table, as indeed it used to be in London when this country mattered. But nowadays it is a very rare British host — apart from Lord Weidenfeld I can think of only one other, also a life peer — who allows, indeed encourages such 'boring' subjects to rear their ugly heads. Nor did it take more than a few seconds, after the American guest had departed, for the conversational level to sink back to the shallows so beloved of Private Eye, with the dramatic news of an American victory in the cold war ceding pride of place to the revelation that some- one had consulted Arnold Goodman about the possibility of suing the Daily Telegraph on account of . . . Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad for the latest bit of gossip.

T first heard, or overheard, Ian MacGre- gor described as an elderly American import by Quentin Crisp at a Spectator party. Strangely enough, the new Bishop of Durham, particularly in full regalia, also has a spectacularly camp manner. So these great men are alike in mind and mien.

Even the most ardent supporters of ethnic education seem to stop short of advocating that children ofjranian extrac- tion in British schools should be taught ritual sheep-slaughtering, in spite of this horrid practice being very much part of their native culture and religion. Presum- ably the justification for discriminating against ritual sheep-slaughtering — apart from the fact that it is against the law — is that it is cruel to animals, thereby con- travening, not Christianity — about which Guardian readers etc care little — but progressivism, about which Guardian read- ers, etc care a lot. In other words, it is all right, indeed desirable, for ethnic minor- ities to be indoctrinated in ideas and practices which contradict Christianity, but not all right or desirable for them to be indoctrinated in ideas and practices which contradict progressivism. Thus the gaff is blown on all this progressive talk of a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. What these progressive frauds mean is a society that encourages all diversities and heresies, except those which undermine the one creed that truly matters nowadays: progressivism.

one of my diary paragraphs so far has 1 11 brought me such a rich postbag of responses as the one I wrote a few weeks ago lamenting the fact that I had had to travel as far afield as Vence in the South of France to find such decent English marma- lade. Apparently I am quite wrong, as there is plenty of excellent marmalade to be had nearer home, although this point did not seem to be made very conclusively by Mr Kevin Byrne who invites me to test my theory against the marmalade served in his hotel on the Isle of Colonsay, Argyll, the station and port of which, his writing- paper adds helpfully, is Oban.

Peregrine Worsthorne