Tuesday, November 28, 2006

An Important Contribution to the Polly Toynbee Debate

To the Cafe Royal - how often I have dreamed of writing those words! - for the International PEN quiz, dinner etc. I am on the Literary Review - 'An oasis of civilisation amidst the desert of cool Britannia.' B.Appleyard - team, which never wins but always has a much better time than anybody else. One of us, the great and gentle Alexander Waugh, grows increasingly angry at the dim-witted tackiness of the whole affair. PEN is supposedly a noble organisation with noble goals, yet the evening feels like any annual party of any company with a drunken lout recruitment policy. Knowing we are losing, Alexander and I agree that our preferred tactic is to give the same answer to every question - Polly Toynbee. We cannot persuade the rest of our table. During the picture round, however, which requires the identification of fragments of book jackets, a blonde lady from another table pleads with us to tell her the name of one book, any book, represented. We tell her that Philip Roth's The Plot Against America is, in fact, My Struggle by Polly Toynbee. This makes blonde happy. Alexander and I are flooded with a deep inner peace. For one brief moment, we have been true to PEN's highest ideals.