Diary – Monday 23 January 1995


Like all Anthony Powell fans, I’m sure, I can hardly wait for the publication of his diaries at the end of the month, having tasted a snippet at the weekend in the Indie magazine. One thing, however, perturbs me: Mr Powell’s unusual fetish for publicising the full addresses of all his friends – considered by most publishers to be a grave security risk. In these extracts alone, we learn precisely how the postman reaches the homes of Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, Jilly Cooper and VS Naipaul. I almost expected the Thatchers’ private telephone number to be mentioned, en passant. Was the author aware of the danger to which he was subjecting his friends? “The addresses are of interest in themselves; they tell you something about what type of house these people live in,” explained Powell’s wife, Violet. She added, in a tone which would surely terrify any burglar intending to enter the Powell family home – which I can exclusively reveal to you as the Chantry, Frome, Somerset – “As we all know, nobody feels very secure nowadays.”

Cecilia Bottomley, Virginia’s doctor daughter, is a model of discretion. I should know: I have known her since university and have plagued her ever since for quotes – which she has always, very charmingly, refused to give me.

Which is why I was annoyed when the Sunday Times ran a story at the weekend stating that she had been implicitly criticising her mother by complaining privately to friends “about her punishing schedule”.

Talk about gratuitous exploitation of family relations. Quite frankly it would be quite extraordinary if Lil (Cecilia’s nickname) did not mention her long hours in private. In my experience this is all that junior doctors talk about when they’re not working.

We can only be justified in writing about Lil if, like Victoria Scott, she chooses to politicise any disagreements with her parents. My bet is that she is far too busy saving lives to do any such thing. And anyway, my spies say that Sunday lunch chez Bottomley is a most harmonious affair.

Speaking of severe working conditions, it was a rare and unexpected pleasure to see a friend who works at Goldman Sachs over the weekend. Even more surprising was the fact that he actually told a joke – yes, a joke – about his place of employment. It seems that an article in this month’s Harpers & Queen has caused some capitalist brains there to work over-time. The piece states that the victim of the firm’s well-publicised sexual harassment case last year received £2.5m in compensation. “Some of us are now trying to negotiate deals with the opposite sex,” said my friend. “We offer to harass them, and then split the proceeds.”

So, it’s official, women drivers are the ones doing the overtaking in the fast lane, according to a report by a motorway study group. Can’t say I’m surprised, since I, for one, grind my teeth if my poor battered C-reg gets overtaken more than three timesin the hour-long trip up the M11 from my parents’ house to London.

But I wonder, though, how the news will affect you poor unsuspecting men. That it will affect you is beyond any doubt. I only have to listen to my fiance’s steady stream of expletives in heavy traffic to know that, unless you can see the sex of the driver who has either cut you up, zoomed past you and usurped your place in the queue, you assume they must be male.

“Bastard” yelled a friend of mine the other day, when a motorcyclist clipped his frontlights in an attempt to undercut him. Fists clenched, notebook at the ready, my friend got out of the car, looking, I thought, as if he might beat up the offender. He positioned himself in front of the cycle, legs spread, arms crossed.

“What the hell did you think you were doing, you oaf?” he bawled. A pause. The cyclist removed his helmet. My friend gawped, muttered an apology and ran for it, exclaiming to me with the reddest of astonished faces: “It’s a girl!”

Memo to Iain Sproat, MP, minister for sport. Please can we have some golf courses just for beginners? I speak as someone who has suffered. On a visit to the US recently, I was miserably dribbling the ball along, two inches at a time, looking more uncoordinated than a new-born baby, when a voice from the trees asked me if I was having a nice time. I looked up and recoiled in horror. There, when he could so easily have been on any other golf course in the world, was Jack Nicklaus.