Diary – June 30, 1994


Whilst one Oxford University circle – namely those renaming Manchester College – lacks an imaginative streak (Manchester Academy and Harris College sound like a flying school), creativity is stirring in another; the Oxford poetry society, a 400-year-old institution sadly defunct in recent years, is to be revived.
The young man responsible for its renaissance is, unsurprisingly, a talented wordsmith himself. South African Adam Schwartzman, 21, is to have his first collection published next year by Carcanet, and a small sample is already available in Michael Schmidt’s New Poetries. Schwartzman has signed up poets James Fenton (Oxford Poetry professor) and Les Murray to give readings next term; Stephen Spender has also provisionally accepted and there are rumours that Seamus Heaney will slip in unobtrusively.

That Schwartzman, merely first year, should exert such influence is the fortuitous result of a summer job in a Paris bookshop. There, he got talking to Murray, visiting the town to have a portrait bust modelled. Murray read his work – then unpublished – and whilst being sculpted, spent hours discussing it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Understandably Sir George Young, Environment Minister, was not amused when told that almost 500 delegates at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s conference, where he was speaking last month, had obtained a Boring Speech Escape Kit. Paper bags (for headwear) with ‘Do not disturb until this speech is over’ emblazoned on the front were donned by several in the back rows – though inevitably individuals will now not own up; the more cowardly types made use of the less obvious accessory – cotton wool ear plugs.

To Mulligan’s wine bar, Piccadilly, for the launch of Mary Breasted’s new novel Why Should You Doubt Me Now? – an appropriate venue for the wife of the Irish Ambassador,the aptly-named Mary Small. She was in a jubilant mood, following Ireland’s nil-nil draw with Norway, she confided, but the match itself had been too much of an endurance test.

‘It was just too tense; I felt the vibes weren’t good. . .I had to leave half way through. . .to pot my plants.’

A tale comes my way from a Crown Court in outer London – I am forbidden from saying which – where a barrister recently asked to see the judge prior to the entrance of the jury. ‘Your Honour. . .I cannot wear a wig, owing to a scalp infection. May I inform the jury of this fact?’ The judge looked at him quizzically, ‘Why?’ ‘Well,’ came the reply, ‘I would not want them to think I was one of those new-fangled solicitor-advocates.’ A pause. ‘You may,’ said the judge, ‘and while you are about it, you can tell them that their judge is one of those new-fangled solicitor-judges.’

Latest in the celebrity-turned-writer club is Judith Ward, who spent 18 years in jail, wrongly convicted of the M62 coach bombing in 1974. Miss Ward, who has an autobiography under her belt, is now writing a play. Though a work of fiction, it is, unsurprisingly, based on her experiences inside Durham’s H block. ‘It’s about how much harder a prison sentence can be for the relatives outside, than for the person inside,’ she explains. Publishers and directors are keen, apparently. Enthusing actors, however, should perhaps be aware that one scene involves an in-house food fight – on a scale rather larger than minor upsets in the school canteen. . .

An unfortunate hiccup has occurred in the budding political career of Eluned Morgan (below), who at 27 is the youngest member of the European Paliament. Ms Morgan, who did well to win Mid and West Wales for Labour by 30,000 votes in the Euro-elections, has just undergone the unpleasant experience of having her widsom teeth removed.

‘I can barely mumble,’ she moaned yesterday – not exactly a good state to be in a week before the new parliamentary session begins. . .

(Photographs omitted)