Diary – June 29, 1994


Unprecedented turmoil in what, for a century, has been one of London’s most tranquil havens. Cecil Court, tucked behind Trafalgar Square, the most concentrated antiquarian bookshop area in Europe, was turned into a battle ground on Tuesday when Westminster Council attempted to ban the pavement bookstands.
Ever since the 24 bookstore proprietors can remember, cut-price books have been displayed on the pavement. ‘It has been a tradition here since 1890; no one has ever questioned it,’ explains Kenneth Fuller, proprietor of March Pane which specialises in children’s books.

On Tuesday, however, a council official asked a tailor at the end of the road to remove his wares from the pavement on grounds of obstruction. The tailor inevitably protested, pointing at the bookstores. The official scratched his head and subsequently asked the owners to dismantle their stands too . . . carnage ensued.

Yesterday both council and bookstore owners were plotting their next moves. The council is threatening legal action. Meanwhile, the cut-price books are firmly back on the stands outside.

As Europe’s leaders deliberate over who will succeed Jacques Delors as EC Commission president, things are looking even rosier for one already well connected employee. Isabelle Davignon, a glamorous Commission ‘Principal Administrator’ is married to Bruno Dethomas, who happens to be Delors’ spokesman. When Delors retires, however, Ms Davignon need not fear: she is the niece of Viscount Etienne Davignon, former Belgian Commissioner and the man widely tipped, following last week’s Corfu fracas, as a possible compromise candidate for the European throne.

As literary types reel from the revelations contained in Graham Greene’s letters to his mistress Catherine Walston, and theorise as to whether these will affect the author’s literary standing, the descendants of Dmitri Shostakovich, 20th century Russian composer, are taking no such risks. The family, it is rumoured, paid pounds 10,925 last month for 21 of Shostakovich’s love letters to his mistress, Elena ‘Lala’ Konstantinovskaya, which went under the hammer at Sotheby’s.

Though the dealers who placed the bid will not reveal the identity of their client, it is widely thought that the composer’s family wished to adhere to his wish for secrecy over the affair, and would want to keep its details out of the public domain.

‘Don’t tell anyone I love you,’ Shostakovich wrote to Lala in the 1930s, in terror of denunciation. ‘God forbid that it should reach Maxim Gorky (Stalin’s mouthpiece) . . . he might write about it in his next ‘little article’. . .’

Panic has erupted in fashion-conscious households: the sartorial rules of Henley’s Steward’s Enclosure have tightened. This year, for the first time, members are accountable if their female guests are incorrectly dressed. For reference: skirts need to be longer than those floating round the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. There, on the knee or fractionally above will do. At Henley, however, no part of the knee should be visible at all . . . and all those who think they may get through the entrance gate by pulling their costume down an inch, beware] All day, every day, officials work surreptitiously inside the enclosure; one flash of a knobbly knee and they pounce.

Squatting inside a dustbin for an hour-and-a-half each evening can be an uncomfortable – not to say time-wasting – business. Such, however, is the lot of Pamela Wickington and her husband Brian Matthew, currently playing Nell and Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at London’s Arts Theatre (bereft, incidentally, of trap doors).

Ms Wickington, 66, is a resourceful type, however. I’m sure her audiences will be gratified to know that, while they fix their stare on a motionless dustbin, a hive of activity is going on inside. By torchlight, she does a facial exercise routine from a beauty manual (‘It takes half an hour to get rid of sags,’ she says.) Then follows an hour’s reading – and Ms Wickington’s literary knowledge is expanding rapidly: ‘I’ve read Tom Jones, a book on autistic children and a Thomas Mann already,’ she explains, adding: ‘I certainly wasn’t going to sit and listen to the play each night.’

(Photograph omitted)