Diary – May 19, 1994


A NOTED omission in the itinerary of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe on his current state visit to London, is tea with the Queen Mother – a fixture that is usually mandatory for visiting Heads of State. Nor, surprisingly, did the Queen Mother attend the state dinner, given in his honour, at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night.
Whilst there may be nothing remotely suspicious – the Queen Mother’s press secretary informs me that she is away in Scotland – her absence has fuelled speculation (unfair, I think) that ancient politics could have something to do with it.

Historians and diplomats (who are too cowardly to reveal themselves) mutter that the Queen Mother was never outwardly opposed to Ian Smith’s government in Rhodesia during the Sixties, and that there may be friction between herself and Mugabe, whose party effectively overthrew Smith’s.

Personally I think it’s all garbage – at 93, the Queen Mother is surely a more skilled and experienced diplomat than any of the mutterers in the Foreign Office.

AN EXTREMELY distinguished, elderly author, who has insisted I do not disclose his identity, made his way to Hatchards, Piccadilly, on Wednesday evening to attend an awards ceremony for the Pegasus Prize for Literature. ‘Can I have your name?’ asked the receptionist, clearly not recognising him. ‘I’m on the list, I’m an author,’ grumbled the man, annoyed at her ignorance. ‘Can’t find you,’ came from the receptionist. . .’What is your name?’ A pause. The man thought for a while. . .’Tolstoy,’. . . more fumbling from the girl. ‘Nah. .sorry, not listed. Tolstoy. . .how do you spell that?’

MEANWHILE at the same party Laurie Lee, the septuagenarian author of Cider with Rosie, informed me that he and his wife, Catherine, had just celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary. ‘I drew her a grandfather clock with 44 on the face,’ he explained. ‘Then I drew two pendulums. . . swinging in opposite directions. I don’t think I explained it quite well enough to my wife,’ he frowned. ‘She seemed rather non-plussed.’

I DO NOT normally approve of plugging advertisements, but there is one in this week’s edition of Country Life which deserves a leg-up.

‘I go to Radley College, my small brother starts at Cothill in September. My parents are desperately searching for a good period house within 25 minutes drive of our schools. We need at least 6 bedrooms, staff accommodation and 5 acres or more. My parents have retained Knight Frank & Rutley to act on their behalf. Mummy says she will pay anything, Daddy has set a budget of pounds 1,500,000.’

POLITICS looks set to disrupt this year’s Great River Race, normally one of London’s more peaceable annual events, where a motley crew of old and new boats race the 22-mile stretch of Thames from Richmond to the Isle of Dogs. Owing to some unfortunate circumstances, it appears that a Greenpeace boat is to race next to a fully-armed Swedish whaler – a prospect which is causing the organisers considerable alarm. ‘I just hope no-one gets harpooned,’ says a worried race director.

BRIEFLY, altruism has been swept aside at Shelter, the charity for the homeless, where staff are helpless with laughter at the prospect of a bizarre French innovation to help those sleeping rough. A second-hand steel transport crate – nine by eight by 40 foot – complete with windows and a windmill (to power it) go to make the ‘Lifebox’ – a remarkable invention by one Emmanuel Alouche.

At pounds 6,000 – a considerable mark up from the pounds 400 or so a transport container usually costs – the mini ‘house’ has been firmly rejected by the charity: ‘It’s just one step up from a card-board box,’ giggles a spokeswoman. The French, however, are determined not to give up. . .

‘ELTON JOHN has disappeared’ the cry went up during the interval of Benjamin Britten’s opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Freemason’s Hall on Wednesday night.

The singer, whose friend Zandra Rhodes had designed the costumes, was clearly visible during the first half, but he never returned to his seat for the second.

‘I don’t want to be too emphatic’ said one sitting within John’s immediate vicinity. . . ‘but I got the impression that opera is not quite his thing.’

(Photographs omitted)