As the election results came in, the phone rang: it was Donald Dewar, wanting Jim Wallace's home number

Armpits: are they in order? I'm checking mine, for I am to appear with Julia Roberts. Not in the flesh, but briefly on the same bill. The producers of Notting Hill have donated a preview to the Notting Hill Housing Trust, and I have done the sell in a "short" that will run with it. Admitting to being one of the 37 per cent of men who appreciate Julia's new under-the-arm liberation is a bit like admitting you listen to The Archers: people shift uncomfortably as you mention it, and move on.

Neil and Glenys Kinnock must have shifted uncomfortably when the Islwyn result came through in the devolved elections. The thought that dear old Blackwood has finally revolted and gone nationalist beggars belief. The tandoori in the main street must have overdone the chilli.

We were a long way from Islwyn that night, sitting on a parapet in Edinburgh's Princes Street gazing into a pea-soup fog. The entire Channel 4 News operation had been shifted (at some expense) to Edinburgh to sport the sun-kissed castle over my left shoulder - though for the second time in a week, this costly back-drop yielded no signal that we were anywhere at all. Never mind, the well Millbanked Douglas Alexander MP and Owen Dudley Edwards (an Irish member of Plaid Cymru who voted for the SNP) more than ensured that we knew we were in Scotland.

At a highly entertaining dinner conjured the day after the election by Baroness Smith (wife of the late party leader, John), I learnt that Menzies Campbell's wife, Elspeth, had picked up the phone at ten o'clock that morning at the very moment the figures were coming in to reveal a coalition. Who should be on the other end but Donald Dewar, asking for Jim Wallace's home number.

Actually, the dinner only served to underline how envious and insecure many Sassenachs like me are beginning to feel. Search as I may, I cannot trace an ounce of Celtic blood in me. Yet what is it to be English? There are very few people from the ethnic communities who would be happy to call themselves such, and many white people feel equally queasy about the concept. So roll on regional power and, while we are about it, how about reducing the House of Commons by 50 per cent and getting them to address each other more sensibly?

Two calls from Channel 4 while in Edinburgh. The first comes from Wendy, an enthusiastic gardening producer who wants to know what horticultural crisis I shall raise during a planned transmission from the Chelsea Flower Show. I decide that my stunted subhirtella is ripe for action.

The second call is to discuss plans for another debate about the war. I know no one who feels comfortable with the Nato action, and I have met no one yet who has any better idea of how to deal with Milosevic, other than war. That's not to say that Nato hasn't put in some pretty unbelievable performances. Don't you think that a military alliance in diplomatic conflict with both Russia and China over its bombing action would have put a "not-to-be-bombed-on-any-account" circle around at least two buildings - namely the Russian and Chinese embassies? What were all those MI6 chaps doing in Belgrade, if they weren't mapping such places?

Come to think of it, my Belgrade tourist map has both buildings clearly identified. I must send it to Jamie Shea.

When the Red Cross planned its recent big bash, "Dance Power", to raise both awareness and cash, neither it nor anyone else could have foreseen that we would be at war on the night. Breanden de Gallai and Joanne Doyle woke the show up with their delicate foot-banging from Riverdance. But a tango stole the show, erotically performed by two Argentinians.

Less erotic, but equally impressive, Martin Bell launched a stirring call for humanitarianism, delivered just the way he used to do his news clips. Amazing prose, speaking without notes straight into the microphone. Our loss is Tatton's gain.

Taking the stage at the London Palladium in the wake of Bruce Forsyth was not something I had ever envisioned, but here I was, clambering around the Victorian revolving stage apparatus beneath the stage. Enter stage left to "read the news" - a strange thing to do in front of 2,000 people. In the studio you never have any awareness that anyone is "out there". Forsyth, who made his entrance earlier, was gorgeously ghastly, and loved every minute of it - a mean tap dancer even at 70.

An unfortunate accident on my bicycle in Bloomsbury. Deep in thought, I was suddenly aware of a bike on my right-hand side. Wallop, her back wheel cut in and hit the hub of my front wheel. Splat, and I was on the road with the bike on top of me. She drew up to the kerb and came back. "Sorry, but this car overtook me and there was nothing for it but to cut in." I lost all my best feminist instincts and hurled abuse at her. I hope she forgives me.

I have been nursing a black eye and a bruised ego ever since. The make-up department was thrilled: at last a real challenge. Not much of one, it turns out: "You should have seen some of the shiners we had to fix on some of those old actors at Thames in the old days," said one of the make-up artists. The transmission went all right, but I have discovered that it is as odd to wander about with a black eye as it is to be out and about as a man in full make-up.

This article first appeared in the 17 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - A culture of pretence