This being the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, I feel that prudence requires anyone writing a Diary in The Spectator - which has become the principal launching-pad for Mark Steyn's state-of-the-art verbal missiles - to use the main part of his diary to commemorate this event. So let me start uncontroversially with the statutory reminiscence about where I was when the news broke. I was lunching in my club enjoying a post-prandial digestive with Betty Boothroyd, when another member rushed in to summon us urgently to the television room upstairs. So far, so usual. But something else also sticks in my memory. Throughout the hour or so that we were all glued to the box, two elderly members, who had obviously dropped off while watching the cricket coverage before it was interrupted by the Twin Towers news, remained contentedly snoring, until eventually, when the set was turned off, one of them woke up to inquire about the score. I have to confess, however, that far from being shocked by this dear old buffer having slept through an event 'after which the world will never be the same again', I remember taking his somnolent figure as a symbolic reassurance that at least on this side of the Atlantic - where terrorist attacks have long been commonplace - there might be some chance of a proportional reaction. Not for a moment on that day did I worry that the Americans might underreact; overreaction, on the other hand, seemed to me the clear and present danger. A year later I feel the same, only more so.
I have three other relevant reminiscences: firstly of Bertrand Russell giving a broadcast lecture a year or two before the Soviet Union developed its own atomic bomb, advocating a pre-emptive nuclear assault to prevent those evil plans ever materialising. That the Soviets were trying to develop these weapons of mass destruction was, Russell said, quite certain; equally certain was it that, if successful, they would use them, or threaten to use them, for evil purposes. Stalin was a tyrant, like Hitler, who would stop at nothing, and the only way to stop him was to nuke him before he nuked us. In the event, of course, Stalin did develop his own nuclear weapons and - following Winston Churchill's precept that it was always better to jaw-jaw than to war-war - we did find a peaceful way of stopping him. Secondly, of how President Kennedy in the 1960s disarmed intense European scepticism about the existence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Castro's Cuba, by dispatching Dean Acheson, the internationally esteemed former secretary of state, to show the damning photographic evidence to President de Gaulle - the toughest nut to crack - and then to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The press, too, were shown the photographs. The mission, in all respects, was a complete success. All the Doubting Thomases were silenced, including the then deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph who had been very much one of them. As it happened, I was lucky enough to be given a personal briefing by Acheson over lunch at the house of the wife of the then owner of the Telegraphs, Lady Pamela Berry - Barbara Amiel's redoubtable predecessor - and I have to say that even without seeing the photographs, his assurances alone - such was his credibility - carried total conviction. The trouble today is that even if George Bush did try to do something comparable over Iraq, most, if not all, of the possible stand-ins for Dean Acheson - Kissinger, Clinton, etc. - would be more likely to raise suspicions than allay them. And thirdly of Suez in 1956, when Britain's then prime minister, Anthony Eden, without UN sanction, tried to topple Colonel Nasser, the Egyptian dictator, and was humiliatingly prevented from completing the job by George Bush's Republican predecessor, President Eisenhower, who condemned the British attempt as an inexcusable act of imperialism which, of course, it was. Autres temps, autres moeurs.
After a certain age the most useful thing a retired journalist can do is to write obituaries of old friends, and I regret to say that in recent months I have been dismayingly busy; not only in writing them but, in one case, in failing to write them. I am referring to the late Michael Edwards, an Anglo-American of independent means, who three weeks or so ago was found slumped dead in his seat on an Underground train at Cockfosters at the end of the line, having boarded it - we presume - somewhere or other on his way to the Albert Hall Proms, for which he had inherited an annual season ticket. Cause of death? A heart attack. No mystery about that. Michael was a gourmet who lived a hectic life in the successful pursuit of pleasure. On hearing the news of his death I reached for my pen to write his obituary. For Michael, who never married, was unique in my generation for having made a religion of friendship, visiting us all, in every corner of the earth, ritualistically every year, and expecting us to return the compliment by annually visiting him, either in Piccadilly's Albany, Paris or the south of France. This would sometimes be a nuisance: one had other things to do, but because he so fervently put the duties - as well as the pleasures - of friendship first, how could we do other than follow his example? This was all he did, as much in war as in peace. But being the hub of a host of friends is not enough to make an obituary - which is possibly how Michael, the most private and reticent of legends in their lifetime would have wished it.
At a family party we gave recently for my father-in-law, Tony Lambton, on his 80th birthday, his one-sentence reply to the toast was characteristically mordant: 'I remember my grandfather saying, on his 80th, that the only thing left for him to do for his family was to die.' We all cheered, perhaps a shade raggedly.
Put on coffee enemas as part of a cure to help me break a hellish addiction to the anti-depressant Seroxat, I have accidentally discovered, a bit late in the day for me, that they are a sure-fire remedy for hangovers. No, the cure is not worse than the disease. After the coffee, taken without cream or sugar, has done its detoxifying work - which takes 15 minutes - you resume life feeling as fresh as a daisy. For safety's sake, ask your doctor about the Gerson Therapy. And by the way, it has also cured my addiction.