"Oi, what's wiv the kiss in the text?"

Texting bores me: I can't be bothered with the twiddling or the false intimacies. But at least this

I've loved the city of Bath since 1980 - even the permanent tension between modernity and our valuable status as a World Heritage site. The "Sack of Bath" that took place in the Sixties is visible in the vile buildings chucked up on the site of bulldozed Georgian housing, so we must be vigilant. Yet the city can't be a museum, and currently there's controversy over James Dyson's proposal to spend millions setting up a School of Design Innovation. It's a brilliant idea, but will involve demolition of a Victorian industrial site. What's to be done? A natural conservationist, I still say build the school and look to the future.

The profligate Bath Spa saga made the city look foolish, but that fine new building is a success, and local business people are heralding Bath's "regeneration". So, on Friday night they are funding a "Ring of Fire" in celebration, with nearly £100,000 worth of fireworks let off simultaneously at 7.30pm on the hills encircling the city. It will be an extravagant few minutes, yet I'm glad some people think the city deserves a spectacle. Any excuse for sparkle and fizz.

Modern manners 1

Talking of parties, turning 60 was a good excuse for a drinks bash. The room hired, the invitations were sent in my grown-up kids' names, celebrating Mum. And we had a terrific time. But wouldn't you think such an event might be treated as a bit special by people you've known/worked with/ been fond of over the years? Shock horror, therefore, at the rudeness of my peers - who probably huff and puff at the behaviour of a generation down. What of high-flyers who've even eaten at your table in the past but simply ignore the invite? If that doesn't say "P*** off with your champagne" I don't know what does - since it's easy to email excuses. But at least you haven't factored them into calculations, ordering booze and food, whereas the ones who accept but then don't show up leave a hole in the room - as well as (whisper it) in your heart. Did they think you invited them without really wanting to see them? Couldn't they have phoned? There's a complacent indifference there I find disturbing. But a caterer tells me it's normal at weddings for the waitresses to be hastily clearing away named places because so-called friends haven't bothered to show. The grander the people, the worse the manners, she says.

Mmm - that figures. But Clare Short provided an object lesson. She accepted warmly and then, because she had to go away, sent not one but two equally graceful apologies, one to my daughter and one to me. Now that's real class.

Life stories

At the Cheltenham Literature Festival I chaired an event about memoir, with Hilary Mantel (Giving Up the Ghost) and John Burnside (A Lie About My Father). Theirs are fine examples of the individual story raised by genius to the universal. You can't say that of the Dave Pelzer industry, where dubious wallowings in victimhood masquerade as "truth". Memoir seems to be the new fiction. For every Angela's Ashes there's a refutation by an aggrieved sibling, whilst "conversations" allegedly remembered from infancy read like screenplays. John Burnside opined that happy lives don't make good memoirs, yet I pointed out that Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid has done just that. Of course, the key is style. The web is awash with bloggers' lives (why?) and I remarked that everyone had a story to tell. Yes, said Hilary Mantel crisply, but it is the writing that matters. The truth is, only a few can do it well. With glorious, honest, unashamed elitism, she used the word "art".

Modern manners 2

Texting bores me: I can't be bothered with the twiddling. Maybe I'm too formal to accept its false intimacies, too. At least this keeps me out of danger. The daughter hired a builder to make her bookshelves. A couple of days later she needed to ask him something, so sent a text, ending it with her customary, over-friendly "x". Her phone rang - and an irate, tough-sounding girlfriend said: "Oi, I read his texts. So what's wiv the kiss?" Expecting her round any minute, nails ready, my nervous offspring made apologies. At least (I told her) my acquaintances could learn from the efficient response.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Emergency: How only carbon rationing can save the world