Diary – July 4, 1994


A PELICAN crossing is to be built outside the House of Lords, causing the inevitable mixture of mirth and derision amongst the Labour camp on Westminster Council, which is funding it. Last Thursday it agreed to spend pounds 120,000 on two crossings: one across Old Palace Yard – namely the Lords’ car park – and another across Millbank.
The proposal was initiated by Tory MP Andrew Robathan, who insists that the Lords’ safety was only a secondary consideration. ‘It was more the thousands of tourists who come here,’ he explained yesterday, before conceding: ‘Undoubtedly, some of the Lords are a bit unsteady on their pins.’

What niggles Westminster’s Labour group, however, is that an extra pounds 25,800 is to be spent on ‘consultant’s fees’ – a figure which, it argues, seems rather unnecessary. ‘How much consultancy can be required for drawing a few white lines on a road?’ asked deputy leader Peter Bradley yesterday, adding: ‘If Parliament want the crossings so badly, why does Parliament not pay for them?’

Even Bradley, however, is amused by the scheme which, he says, has been the cause of a sudden flurry of Zimmer-frame jokes. Robathan, meanwhile, is delighted: ‘It all started,’ he explained yesterday, ‘when I read Murder in the Commons by Rupert Allason (his office-mate). The crossing, I hope, will reduce the risk of such a horrible fate.’

PROSPECTIVE debutantes may rejoice: they are to be rescued sartorially by Yves Saint Laurent. The French designer has hinted that, next year, he will provide a selection of the girls with designs for the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, an annual event dreaded by most girls on account of the frumpy long white ball gowns they are forced to wear. Rejoicing was evident at the Grosvenor House Hotel last week, where a number had gathered for a fund-raising do. There was just the odd glum face belonging to this year’s lot, for whom there is no escape. ‘It’s too bad,’ sighed one into her glass. ‘I so don’t want to look like a cream puff.’

MARCO PIERRE WHITE beware] Snooping round the gourmet spots in town this week is American chef Dean Fearing, the only cook to date, he confesses proudly, to produce puddings delicious enough to delay the Queen. Fearing, who famously refused an invitation to cook for the Clintons in the White House, agreed to do a banquet in Dallas for the Queen’s American tour in 1991. The royal party was running late, however, and once the main course was finished, the Queen’s bodyguards tapped knowingly on their watches. Her Majesty studiously ignored them; she had glimpsed the banana tacos with strawberry and mango sauce. ‘The security men went wild,’ Fearing explains. ‘It completely ruined their plans.’ Now the chef intends to visit some of London’s smarter bistros to pick up a few tips. Anxious restaurateurs should look out for a tall fellow, replete with slicked-back hair, earring, cowboy boots. . .and, more ominously, a notebook.

OF HORRORS] I have just encountered the impossible – a Pakenham who is too bashful to get a book published.

The literary clan of Lord Longford, which includes Antonia Fraser, Rachel Billington and Harriet Harman MP, are not known for keeping their lights under bushels; between them they have written 168 books – each carefully publicised.

So it makes a change to discover that Longford’s charming stockbroking son, Kevin Pakenham, has written a financial blockbuster but does not want it to see the light of day. ‘He’s just not keen on people knowing about it,’ explains wife Clare Harkness, busy, meanwhile fulfilling family expectations on her husband’s behalf: she has just published her third novel: Old Night.

SOPHISTICATED weather forecasting machine, recently installed near the cash dispensers in the Commons, is causing great confusion, apparently.

The Meteorological Information Self-Briefing Terminal (MIST) which provides members with fingertip access to the weather in their constituencies – or indeed holiday destinations – has been mistaken for a drinks-dispensing machine and is more popular among kitchen staff.

‘I don’t know what it does,’ says Ken Livingstone, who has yet to be tempted by its access to animated rainfall radar sequences, satellite images, North Atlantic charts and pressure maps, adding bizarrely: ‘Hopefully, the Government will take a look at it.’

(Photographs omitted)