Diary - George Alagiah

One dinner guest is hoarding fuel for his Primus stove. "The power will be the first thing to go," h

It's late and I'm just home from the launch of this year's Fairtrade Fortnight. As patron of the Fairtrade Foundation for the past five years, I've seen this annual event grow and change. In the early days you'd have brushed shoulders with earnest activists and corduroy-clad campaigners; today the old-timers have been joined by sharp-suited women from the supermarket chains and celebrity supporters.

Some of them volunteered to have their portraits taken by Trevor Leighton, whose work is more commonly seen at the National Portrait Gallery, for a Fairtrade exhibition that will kick off at the Oxo Tower. Stark black-and-white shots of Lenny Henry with a Fairtrade Brazil nut up his right nostril and Vic Reeves with a banana curling out of his mouth are testament to Trevor's persuasive powers and Fairtrade's status as a cause. Happily what I was photographed doing with boiled rice still leaves me with enough credibility to look my Six O'Clock News viewers in the eye!

A few days back, I was in Bolton at a breakfast for local businesses interested in Fairtrade. It was hosted by the mayor. It had to be an early-morning event so I could get back to Television Centre in time to prepare for the News. Early alarm calls all round, including for the mayor's wife. She was apparently heard muttering into her Fairtrade cuppa: "There's nothing fair about that."

No escape from bird flu last week. If I wasn't trying to make sense of it for a headline at work, I was being bombarded at home with e-mails from an old university friend who's living in New York. Impeccable credentials as a journalist notwithstanding, he is now a paid-up member of the when-not-if bird-flu club. Mutation to a human-to-human disease is inevitable, he tells us via several thousand bytes of evidence in attachments that send our sturdy but aged PC into go-slow mode. He's got an emergency plan all worked out - it includes specially impregnated face masks and migration to Hawaii. "He's gone over the top," I say. "Still, it's quite interesting," says my wife, as she puts her own Google search into motion.

The topic comes up at a dinner party in calm and collected Finchley (as opposed to nervy, neurotic New York). At least here they'll have things in proportion, I tell myself. Not a bit of it. The woman next to me has already stocked her larder with three months' worth of supplies. Another guest is hoarding fuel for his Primus stove. "The power will be the first thing to go," he says, with a confidence that leaves me wondering if I'm the only idiot who doesn't get it.

As it happens, bird flu is one of the more challenging editorial issues we've had to grapple with on the Six O'Clock over the past few days. The balance to be struck between passing on to the viewer information about the steady westward progress of the disease and being careful not to let our coverage slip into scaremongering has been the subject of many a discussion around the editor's desk.

A midweek dinner party of our own in Stoke Newington, a refuge for London dissenters since the 18th century but now home to thirtysomething couples who drink wheatgrass shots and obsess about school catchment areas. We, in the pioneer generation, look on in a snooty sort of way, reminding each other of the days when you could still get pork scratchings in the pub and the only drizzle any of us had heard of was the sort that came out of a cloud.

It's a typical Stokey gathering: a literary editor for a national newspaper, an actor, a charity fundraiser, a lecturer in education and a psychoanalyst. Having got through that period when all we ever talked about was where our children would go to school, these days we talk about what we're going to do now we don't have to worry about where our children go to school.

One couple have filled the impending void with a pup, a West Highland terrier. This was all very well until we heard the reply to our invitation. "We'd love to come," she said, "but can we bring Jessie?" As I put the phone down my vision of a sophisticated evening evaporated. "Jessie's a dog," my wife said. Oh, and that's meant to make me feel happier, is it? They arrived with a blanket, a basket of cuddly toys and the anxious air of first-time parents. Plus ca change, as we say in Stokey.

My memory of the evening is crowned by an argument over whether men are good for anything at all, set against the sound of the dog barking and racing round the table like a demented dervish. We won't forget Jessie in a hurry - and certainly not while those bits of regurgitated napkin are still turning up around the house.

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