Talking over recent Northern Irish carry-on with a well-informed English friend, I observed that things had come to a pretty pass when Robert McCartney QC, MP, leader of the tiny UK Unionist Party (which includes Conor Cruise O'Brien on its negotiating team), had told a member of the Ulster Unionist Party to "get in there and join your Lundy friends". "What was he driving at?" asked the bewildered Patricia. "What's Lord Lundy got to do with it? Were they in tears?"
Eventually we sorted ourselves out. McCartney's was Robert Lundy, governor of Londonderry in 1689, who proposed surrendering the city to the forces of King James II but was overruled by stout-hearted citizens. "Base Lundy's treachery meanwhile," goes an Orange song, "Had much for James effected,/But found untrue, the traitor vile/From Derry was ejected." Annually burnt in effigy, Lundy is the most vilified name in Ulster Protestant history.
Patricia's Lundy was the subject of a Hilaire Belloc Cautionary Tale (based on Lord Curzon) about the rise and fall of a lachrymose politician: "Lord Lundy from his earliest years/Was far too freely moved to tears./For instance, if his mother said,/`Lundy! It's time to go to bed!'/He bellowed like a little Turk."
All of which goes to show that Ulster Protestants may be British but they are not English - and vice versa.
Last week I was on a late-night radio discussion about Northern Ireland. Beside me for two hours sat a silent young man with gimlet eyes who was accompanying the participating Sinn Fein councillor. I thought at first he was just a minder, but I was told later by those in the know that he would have the additional function of making sure his man said nothing unacceptable. In Belfast youths like my silent neighbour are known as "Little Gerry Kellys", after the convicted terrorist who - though not then part of the Sinn Fein delegation - used to attend meetings with ministers and officials and neither smile nor speak. I prefer to give them the more attractive title of "Gerrybabies". But what a pity they are all such an emetic shade of green.
When I had a column on this paper last year, I reached the happy state of having much of it written by readers, so naturally, on being asked to stand in for Miles Kington, I sent SOSs to a batch of prolific ex-contributors (known generically as elves). …