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Bad poems I hate, Lycra I don't rate, Andrew Neil's the man again but don't give me cranachan

HOW could I let pass the recent debate at the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) on what we love and hate about poetry?

There were five participants, which is an odd number for such an event. Three were poets (Liz Lochhead, Gerry Cambridge and Stav Poleg), one was a playwright (David Greig), and the other was neither of these things (me).

In a misguided bid to get the audience on my side, I waded in with tackety boots and both barrels blazing. There was nothing, I said, I did not like about poetry apart, that is, from bad poems.

What scunnered me was poets, of whom there are, like TV chefs, too many, and of whom there ought to be an instant cull. This, alas, rather set the temperature of the debate, as my fellow panellists waxed, well, poetic, on the joys of poetry, which Mr Greig referred to throughout his spiel as "she".

Would that "he", ie Shuggie Grieve-MacDiarmid, were alive at this benighted hour to respond. By the by, the aforementioned Mr Greig – delightful fellow – produced a book, as proof of his long love of poetry, which he had borrowed from the SPL in 1985.

In days of yore this would have been seen as a crime against civilisation and he would have been clapped in a straitjacket. No more. Mere mirth was the reaction to this belated confession.

BY spooky coincidence I note that I am the same age as General Petraeus, the super-fit, ridiculously lean warrior who has been "whooping it up" (copyright The New Yorker) with his biographer, the equally super-fit and ridiculously lean Paula Broadwell.

While prurient types may salivate over the details of their affair, I am more interested in higher matters. For example, it transpires that Ms Broadwell did much of the "research" for her book, which is the hot favourite to win the Pulitzer Prize for Hagiography, while she and the general were out jogging which, I am assured, is not a euphemism.

As ardent readers of this throbbing organ are well aware, I was once upon a time Alexei Salmonella's biographer and spent many happy and enlightening hours in the great man's company.

Never ever, however, did he (or I) suggest that we should conduct our business while padding around Arthur's Seat in Lycra or haring along the Chariots Of Fire beach at St Andrews in our Speedos. Have these Yanks no sense of dignity?

YESTERDAY evening was spent in the company of my fellow members of the Muriel Spark Society, whom I have no hesitation in describing as the creme de la creme.

The occasion was our annual lecture at the National Library of Scotia, which was delivered with uncommon panache and lashings of charm by my dear friend, Gail Wylie. Thereafter a swarm of us repaired to a nearby restaurant which I had booked and to which I had sent details in advance of what my fellow diners intended to eat.

No sooner had we got there, however, than several of them confessed they could not remember what they had chosen, which led to scenes which might be called Sparkian, all occasioned because someone had been given smoked haddock instead of mutton pie. Or was it chicken stuffed with haggis?

Among those whose memory had failed them, it gives me no pleasure to report, was a member of the judiciary.

He, when asked what he had requested for dessert, uttered the never-to-be forgotten words: "Anything but cranachan!"

WHAT a pickle the Beeb is in, having prompted the wrongful identification of my old comrade, Alistair McAlpine, as the prominent Dodo from the Thatcher era who had molested youngsters in a care home in Wales. Our paths crossed fleetingly when I was at the Hootsmon.

Lord McA had written a memoir, Bagman To Swagman, the serial rights to which another dear comrade, Andra Neil, bought for a princely sum, after which he instantly sold second rights to The Sunday Times, doubtless for more than he paid for the first rights.

A lunch at the George Hotel in Embra was held to celebrate this coup, at which his lordship regaled all and sundry present with his erudition, anecdotes and scuttlebutt. Unusually for a politician, he had a hinterland, being an inveterate collector of objets d'art and having formerly been a zoo-keeper.

By the by, I note that the Beeb is looking for a new director-general, after Porgy Entwistle had "stood down", "honourably" in his view, having negotiated a £450,000 cheerio.

Who should be his successor? Who else but the aforementioned Mr Neil, who would soon sort out the "cowards and incompetents", as the host of University Challenge is wont to describe his colleagues.

THERE is talk of demolishing the cottage in Glencoe which was once owned by Shir Shimmy Shovel because it has been vandalised several times recently. How many men, you may ask, does it take to write "Jimmy the Beast" on a pebble-dash wall? The answer would appear to be three, because that is the number seen getting out of a black car around the time the offence occurred.

A witness told the BBC – who else? – the men were in their twenties. One wonders who these men were, where they came from and why they felt it necessary to go to Glencoe to register their disgust at Shir Shimmy's behaviour. One also wonders what they thought they might achieve by writing slogans on a wall about a man who is dead and, presumably, unable to read them. As futile acts go, this one is top of the pops.

ALL and sundry say my dear amigo, Mike Russell, Meenister for Edification, is a "bully" after he threw a "hissy fit" during a chinwag with Kirk Ramsay, heidbummer of Stow College, who secretly recorded what was supposed to be a private meeting and has since resigned. Is there something I'm missing here?

David Greig's library book fine will help clear the national debt

Is Andrew Neil – a canny operator – the man to sort out the BBC?

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