Diary - Irma Kurtz

The sandwich-board read: "The end is like SO nigh." "That is awesome!" said my sister-in-law. "Total

A few weeks ago I was in Harrogate with time to kill, wandering around that enchanting city, talking to strangers as is my wont. ("I wish you wouldn't, Mum," my son used to say.) When I mentioned to the owner of an antique shop where I was fossicking that I had a studio flat in the north of France, she said her son had married the daughter of a taxi driver from Calais, my customary port of entry. The other day, I hailed a cab in frantic, bustling Calais.

"I have never been to England," said the taxi driver. "But my daughter is married to a man from 'Arrogate . . ."

Logically, coincidence must become more frequent as one acquires more to be coincident with. Nevertheless, for an instant I was touched by lunatic magic, ready to believe every conspiracy theory and follow any fakir to the portals of his heaven.

Berwick Street Market, in business for a century and a half in London's Soho, is soon either to be moved and improved, or destroyed, depending upon the stallholder you listen to.

"Morning, young lady," says the cantankerous old boy from whom I buy oranges and grapes that have never touched plastic, as sweet as childhood memories. It has taken 20 years' residence in Soho to win his "young lady". He shrugs when I ask about the market's future. "Money talks, dunnit, darlin'?"

Planners' notes and drawings plaster the windows of what used to be Fenns the butcher, recently closed, to show how they intend to "maximise active frontages" and install "possible vehicle servicing" as well as "focal public space".

"What on earth does that mean?" I ask the local woman next to me.

"It means McDonald's and Tesco, traffic and parking, and more places for kids to find discarded needles," she says.

"They'll have to compensate us," says the white-haired woman behind the till at the hardware shop.

"Aw, they've been talking about it for ages. It'll never happen," says the grizzled fishmonger, his pitch wet and fresh as the seaside, surrounded by bulky men gossiping and playing cards.

"Honestly? It's a good idea," says Warren. His wife used to help him run the "nut stall" and supply my addiction to dried cranberries. "The market is dying anyway."

I walk home on streets suddenly misty and drab. Warren is probably right. Warren is young.

Have you noticed that as soon as any US ex-president dies, no matter how thick, militaristic, mistaken, even criminal he was in life, he starts to look eminent and stately compared to the incumbent?

"Good old Reagan," I actually heard myself say the other day when his demise was announced.

It's a sinister kind of glorification that relies not on a leader's qualities, but on the greater flaws of his successors. Where must it end? I shudder to think!

Speaking of madness, I have just had to spend three hours in a broom-cupboard, talking to myself. Spare a thought for all those unfortunate men and women who must pass most of every day locked in cubicles like mine around London, observed clinically from behind glass. Sustained on water and tea, heads enclosed in electronic devices, they speak words sometimes of beauty, often banal, rarely their own, always of distant secondary importance to the pictures flickering on a screen before them.

In my case, ten half-hour programmes I'd already written and presented on BBC4 tracing the passage of Mark Twain around the Mediterranean had to be cut down to ten minutes each for viewing by the presumably attention-deficient audience of terrestrial TV's BBC2. The clinical term for such an episode of loquacious dottiness, by the by, is "recording a voice-over". Over what? Over and over again.

My son has become engaged to a beautiful young woman. And I've been tormented since the announcement by a condition new to me: the grandmaternal urge. Shamelessly, I peer into passing prams and flirt so ardently with the little passengers that it sometimes alarms the parents.

Oh, the longing to hug again to my heart a small body packed with life! To hear a baby's laugh, and its tiny sobs, too, that I can ease and comfort; to tell all the old stories once more! To sing again to an uncritical audience! To watch someone I love see a flower, a bee, a kitten for the first time, taste the first ever strawberry!

All that, and then to hand the bundle back to Mama when it's wet and smelly - grandmotherly bliss!

We had just seen a wonderful, not-to-be-missed production of Measure for Measure at the National; I was walking home with my brother, who is a doctor, and sister-in-law who are visiting from San Diego. Our path was crossed by an old man wearing a sandwich-board. He moved fast for his years, but I thought I glimpsed a biblical quotation on his front panel. The panel on his back read: "The end is like SO nigh!"

"That is awesome!" said my sister-in-law, who is Mexican and has learned much of her English from her American-born children.

"Totally!" agreed my brother.

I'm worried about him. I think it's time he left southern California and moved back east where we grew up. I only hope it's not too late.