"Good God, there's Comrade Spill-Blood Nhongo!" I shouted as I saw Zimbabwe's minister of agriculture

Had not Robin Cook, at the last moment, postponed his trip to Iran, I would have been legging it to Tehran. Although "legging it" is a rather inapposite phrase, in view of the fact that female legs are deemed to be such loin- stirring appendages in the Islamic Republic that they are never allowed to be on public display.

Other loin-stirring female features - such as hair - are also banned from view: which is why, before applying for an Iranian visa, I went into the photo booth at Chalk Farm tube station for the necessary snaps, with my head swathed in an old black sweater in a hopeful approximation of a hejab. The result, an unflatteringly haggard and mournful portrait, makes me look, according to my student daughter, like "a victim of a something-must-be-done injustice on CNN".


Oddly enough, the stifling headgear made me feel rather nostalgic: I spent many of my teenage years in Pakistan and, from time to time, it was necessary to swathe myself in a burqa, the local version of the chador. Pakistani girlfriends of mine would say how "liberating" it was to wear the burqa because it meant that you never had to worry about doing your hair and make-up before leaving the house, since no one could see the results anyway. This argument was somewhat undercut because, indoors, all the girls were done up to the nines, and spent far more of their daddies' money on haute couture clothes and Chanel No 5 than any comparable western teenager. One of my more beautiful teenage friends was briefly in the running to be the Shah of Iran's latest Empress, a prospect that horrified her. She told me tearfully that, if her family obliged her to marry him, she'd take her revenge by wearing a burqa at all times, both indoors and out. The burqa threat certainly liberated her; the next thing we knew was that the Shah had decided to marry Farah Diba instead.


And more nostalgia this week. "Good God, there's my old chum Comrade Spill-Blood Nhongo!" I shouted when I suddenly saw Zimbabwe's current agriculture minister, Joyce Mujuru, on television, telling "Zim's" whites that they had no place in Africa and should shove off and stop whingeing about losing their farms and, on occasion, their lives.

When I first met Mujuru 20 years ago, I'd very much liked the sweet-smiling, intelligent and slightly scatty Comrade Spill-Blood (her nom de guerre during the "liberation" war, when she was the most famous woman guerrilla in Mugabe's forces). I wrote then that, had I not known about her legendary expertise in killing white Rhodesians and their black so-called "stooges", she would have struck me as just another "nice, shy, gauche African girl, whose most violent act would be wringing a backyard chicken's neck for the family supper". She was, and is, married to the former guerrilla commander Solomon Mujuru, an unpredictable and rather stupid man whose marriage to the pretty little Comrade was, even then, stormy. I thought that she was far too good for him and her idealism far greater.

Oh well, can't get it right every time. I even praised Mugabe (Good Old Muggers, as he was nicknamed by some of his white Zim fans in the early days of his reign). Comrade Spill-Blood and her unlovely spouse have successfully "liberated" several rich white farms since Zanu-PF came to power - all of them, it should be noted, into their own greedy hands. I don't think I'd warm to little Joyce so much today.


Nova magazine, usually described as the "ground-breaking", intelligent women's glossy of the early Seventies, is being resurrected. Well, sort of. As one of the original Nova's alumni, I can't see that there's much ground-breaking for magazines left to do. Thirty-odd years ago, it was enormous fun being "daring", "controversial" and "outrageous" about sexual deviancy, race and homophobia. How deliciously, scandalously brave we bright young Nova things thought ourselves to be. I specialised in "miserable women" articles, first-person tales of man's inhumanity to woman.

Now "miserable women" stories and raunchy fashion features are two-a-penny in magazines and on television. But I did love working for Nova and, this week, a group of us, including Bel Mooney and Irma Kurtz, arranged to meet to raise a glass to its former features editor David Jenkins, who died recently. Goodbye David: you were one of the reasons we thought "ground-breaking" Nova was such a great mag to work for.


I've just heard a union representative on the radio saying that it is people like me who've brought the British car industry to its knees: we don't buy enough new cars. I suspect that he and my friend Jeremy "Mr Toad" Clarkson would be baffled by my happily driving a 14-year-old, cheapo little hatchback; there are mushrooms springing up in the boot, and there's so much moss growing on the window-frames that the stuff actually flowers from time to time.

It's extraordinary how angry people get when they see you driving an old (as opposed to "classic") car. One friend, catching sight of me as I tried to park the heap outside a glossy West End eatery, shook his head sadly: "I never thought I'd see Ann Leslie driving a D-reg!"

So perhaps I should do my patriotic duty and buy a new one. On the other hand, I think I might miss the moss.

The writer is foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail

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