Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I am sure that residents of Wesminster will be happy to know some specifics on the subject of how their troubled council spends their rates. I have on my desk a copy of an invoice for a pounds 110 lunch at the Dorchester Grill, unearthed when last year's council accounts recently became available for inspection.

The invoice was found in the leader's expenses file and is signed at the bottom 'Handover lunch from previous to current leader'. Since it is dated 20 August 1993 one can only assume the two lunchers to be former leader David Weekes, a colleague of Dame Shirley Porter, ousted after a vote of no-confidence, and his successor Miles Young.

They ought - judging by the quality of the wine - one bottle of Givry 1988 at pounds 27 - to have had a good lunch. They kicked off with aperitifs - one Tio Pep sherry at pounds 3.20 and one Kir at pounds 4.70, followed by starters for pounds 12. Their main courses (sadly no details are given) amounted to pounds 56.00. It was all rounded off with coffees and water, and thus the grand total was reached. Now far be it from me to begrudge anyone a hard-earned lunch; yet it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that it would not seem particularly wise at the moment for Westminster Tories to freely hand amunition to the Labour contingent on quite such a generous basis. I have asked the press office for an official comment on the matter - but at time of going to press, no answer was forthcoming.

Showing the ambidextrous skill which is so commonplace to artists these days - I refer to the likes of Naomi, the model, singer and author - is pop star Billy Bragg. He has just completed a brass rubbing of a manhole cover from Westminster Cathedral, which will be auctioned to raise money for a war trauma centre in Sarajevo. Fans are puzzling about the work's significance but Bragg - a humble type - says that no political message is intended. 'It's not a statement,' says his manager. 'He doesn't feel he's an artist, except in the musical sense.'

The Queen has a sense of humour. Not a fact that is immediately obvious, I grant you, but at the launch of his exhibition at the Grosvenor House, photographer Sir Geoffrey Shakerley (below), narrated how he has actually caused Her Majesty to throw back her head and howl.

In May Sir Geoffrey received permission to photograph the state banquet prepared for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe at Buckingham Palace. Told that he only had an hour, he was more than a little annoyed when just as he snapped - head under the cloth, hand on the cord etcetera - a senior aid walked in front of him, ruining everything. As he was cursing, Sir Geoffrey recalls: 'I heard this roar of laughter and looked up to see the Queen in her day clothes, giggling at what had happened.' As if this doesn't restore her sufficiently to the ranks of normality, his next utterance should: 'She was walking round the table to check everything was in place.'

The talk among those in John Major's retinue on his tour of the Middle East and South Africa is on one theme apparently - the size of the gifts the Saudi Arabians and the United Arab Emirates have bestowed upon him in private. Both countries publicly honoured him with their most prestigious sashes - an honour Mrs Thatcher was not entitled to because of her gender. In Abu Dhabi (where, whisper the retinue, there was just a hint of trying to outdo the Saudis) all the journalists received gold watches. (A less-deserving breed I can't imagine.) Sadly Downing Street say the presents' details will not be released until Mr Major returns. Meanwhile one must hope that the economically-challenged South African government has the sense to steer well clear of such competitiveness . . .

(Photographs omitted)