Diary - Joan Bakewell

I watch the poet Thom Gunn receive a literary award. I remember him from Cambridge in 1953, and I sw

I am currently one of those judging the television news section of the Amnesty International Media Awards. Each of the 14 news items tells a gut-wrenching story of human misery and exploitation: Gujarat, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and, yes, even Britain. The report of Romania's slave trade in women is suddenly made the more poignant by news of Gaby Rado's death in Iraq (in an accident unconnected to the war). He had served Channel 4 News brilliantly for many years, so much so that I had come to believe I knew him personally. Now I watch his patient and understanding interview with teenage waifs being sold as sex slaves.

His hallmark had always been a quiet concern and outrage that people could so abuse each other as he had seen them do across the world. Channel 4 News must be desolate. And so are many of its viewers.

Meanwhile, other prizes have gone to the deserving. Beryl Bainbridge broke the apparent jinx on her Booker hopes by sweeping ahead to win the sixth David Cohen British Literature Prize, probably Britain's most prestigious literary award, made in acknowledgement of a lifetime's contribution. Previous winners: Naipaul, Pinter, Lessing, Trevor, Spark. Beryl joins their company with her co-winner, the poet Thom Gunn. Joint winners are always awkward, hinting not merely at heated debate behind the scenes but intransigence among the jurors who, clearly divided, wouldn't yield to compromise. Andrew Motion, who chaired them, spoke in quietly modulated tones, giving nothing away. Gunn has made his home in California since the late 1950s. But I had known him at Cambridge, where he was a friend of Karl Miller's. Indeed, my terse little diary entry for the day of the Queen's coronation shows scant regard for the famously televised ceremony, and merely reports: "Went to party with Karl Miller, Thom Gunn and John Coleman." So much for all that fanciful talk about new Elizabethans. Now here he was, looking almost the same. The hair has gone grey, the waist thickened a little. But I swear it was the same leather jacket and buckled leather belt.

The previous night, the Index on Censorship Free Expression Awards had honoured al-Jazeera television station for its persistent independence in the face of numerous attempts from many governments to have it more closely controlled. The most recent row blew up when it showed a 30-second shot of the bodies of dead British soldiers. It seems its unsanitised coverage of the war is recruiting many new viewers. What isn't so well known is that many of the staff of al-Jazeera were formerly part of a BBC Arabic Service, which lost its Saudi Arabian funding when a Panorama programme displeased the regime. So Qatar took them on. And they've never looked back.

The poet Harry Guest and his wife, Lynn, a novelist, came up to London to see the Ninagawa Company's production of Pericles at the National Theatre. The performances are only on for one week and by the time you read this it will be almost too late. But this is one of the most sensational productions in London at the moment. Ninagawa's Midsummer Night's Dream and his Macbeth were much celebrated in their day. Pericles is a new production and, like all the rest, it is performed in Japanese. No problem for the Guests: Harry taught English in Tokyo for six years and returned to teach Japanese in Exeter. But what about the rest of us? Foreign languages have come to seem a major hurdle for theatregoers. Yet I remember the great days when Edwige Feuillere played Racine's Phedre, when the Berliner Ensemble played Brecht, when the Rustaveli Company gave us its Richard III in Russian. My French was never up to Racine, my German and Russian little more than tourist phrases, but I remember all those performances as landmark theatrical events, packed with an audience of enthusiasts for their diverse styles of theatrical production. Have we gone soft? Or grown lazy? Of course, you need to do a little homework first. I had to brush up on Pericles itself, as Shakespeare wrote it, before taking on the Japanese. But the tale is a fable of generations lost and found, of storms at sea, of dumb-show masques and final reconciliation. And although the National Theatre provides subtitling, the nature of human passion, of devotion, rivalry and love is pretty universal. Ninagawa's company wrung your heart, whether you followed the words or not.

What is happening to beef? My Japanese-speaking friends had told me how, while in Japan, they had dreamt of my Sunday roasts as the quintessential English experience they missed most. So I had planned that they would enjoy the treat again. But it seems there is not a decent piece of sirloin to be had. The supermarkets only deal in pieces too small to be worth roasting at all: my cherished butcher in Camden Town provided me with a cut of so-called sirloin, pre-trimmed and shaped, and delivered to his shop in a plastic sleeve. Where is the butcher who will cut and roll the meat in front of you, and leave his beef well marbled with fat that will keep it both succulent and tasty? This craze for fat-free meat is spoiling both the taste and the texture. It's enough to make you turn vegetarian. And how am I any longer to make that greatest of breakfast delicacies: beef dripping on toast?