THE last day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, of which my dear friend William Dalrymple is the star turn.
Garbed in an untucked white chemise which he may have slept in he looked rather like a cossack Billy Bunter. His subject was the first Anglo-Afghan war, as described in Return Of A King, which counts among its readers President Karzai, he of the natty hat. Mr Dalrymple asked if anyone in the audience had followed the hazardous route from Quetta into Afghanistan.
Only one intrepid person had: me! It is extraordinary the lengths I'm prepared to go to fill this page. Return Of A King sounds fab, replete as it is with inept and arrogant and complacent empire-builders - many of whom were Scots - who refused to take the Afghans seriously. But be careful if you attempt to order it on Amazon. If you type "the" instead of "a" you're likely to be sent something by a chap called Tolkien.
CHARLOTTE Square Gardens, where the Book Fest is held, is not generally open to the hoi polloi, unlike St Andrew Square, where all and sundry may now parade.
Some find this odd and froth at the mouth at the thought, railing against those who insist they must remain on the other side of the railings. For two weeks in August, however, anyone can enter the gardens for free. Many do.
What is incredible, though, is how well behaved they are. And civilised. No-one drops litter or utters a profanity or wears a tattoo. Nor does anyone spit out gum or go bare-chested.
Moreover, it is possible to sit on the grass without sullying one's togs with canine emissions. Come to think of it, I cannot recall seeing a hound in the gardens other than those accompanying the visually impaired.
I imagine this is what Switzerland or Singapore is like, acceptably anaemic.
ENGLISH cricketers have been caught urinating on the Oval's turf after they celebrated winning the Ashes.
Of course, it prompted the usual remorseful twaddle about how they love cricket and meant no disrespect to the pitch on which they hosed.
They also said that it was "a simple error of judgment more than anything else".
Having said which, the fact that several cricketers relieved themselves simultaneously on the hallowed turf shows a certain level of forward planning and co-ordination.
More worryingly, there does seem to be an incontinence problem among cricketers. A few weeks ago another English cricketer, Monty Panesar, peed on bouncers who ejected him from a night club where he had been making a nuisance of himself. Doubtless he too had committed "a simple error of judgment".
DINING out is, as my old chum Norman MacCaig might have said, "all right as far as it goes".
Mr MacCaig used the phrase to cover many situations. If, say, one asked him what he thought of a piece one had written, he'd invariably say: "It was all right as far as it goes." Then he'd smile, the implication being that the piece had not gone very far.
But I digress. Twice recently I've dined out and on both occasions waiters and waitresses kept coming to the table either to describe the dishes of the day or to ask if everything was OK.
At such times you feel as if you're not in a restaurant but a doctor's surgery. The Home Secretary said in one joint that the waitress "hovered like a dragonfly". Very fond of fauna similes is the HS.
Meanwhile, I had to restrain myself from telling the same dame to take a hike. Once, I recall, my dear amigo, Muriel Spark, had a waitress fluttering about her asking this, that and the other.
Finally, she asked Ms Spark what kind of wine she would like to drink. Ms Spark looked her up and down, then said: "The best, my dear, what else?"
MY beloved Florence has been invaded by even more yahoos than usual this summer.
According to one arithmetician, the birthplace of the Renaissance attracts more than eight million tourists a year, of whom the HS and I are a mere two.
Needless to report that more does not mean better behaved. Increasingly, Florentines are discovering that the greater the number of the visitors, the more are the problems they have to cope with.
Thus the editor of La Nazione, the city's daily paper, has dubbed this "the Summer of the Oafs".
Louts have graffitied marble sculptures; a couple in Piazza Santa Croce - near where we shall be taking up residence this winter! - conjugated "between parked scooters"; and women have been seen washing their smalls in historic fountains.
Nor is that all. One repulsive bloke used a fountain as a bidet while an American doctor was caught snapping the little finger off a sculpture in a museum.
Eneuch is eneuch! These barbarians must be shown the gate. Or burned at the stake, whichever is quickest.
BY the time you read this I will be on the rack. This weekend is devoted to my participation in the Round Britain Quiz, described by one participant - me! - as mental torture and a violation of human rights.
This year the location is Yorkshire. In the past we have recorded on the Welsh border, Manchester, Ireland, you name it. The one place we have yet to record in, however, is Scotia, which some might say is why we - my esteemed partner, Michael Alexander and I - have underperformed over this past decade. I am not one to whinge but I fear there may be something in this.
After travelling to Belfast last year, for example, I felt distinctly jet-lagged for at least three days, which just happened to coincide with the recording of the programme. Studies show that jet lag and mental agility are intimately related; the more jet-lagged one is, the less likely one is to make connections which otherwise would be obvious. This is not a complaint by the way, nor am I trying to get my excuses in first. I just simply wanted you to know what I am prepared to sacrifice for our peedie nation.
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