A bridge too far for Allied Domecq's shareholders

Allied Domecq shareholders who attend today's annual

meeting may care to ask the board about one asset which seems anything but liquid and somewhat unproductive. It is a little known fact that the drinks giant owns the Shepton Mallet railway viaduct in Somerset, an imposing Victorian structure that fell victim to the Beeching cuts of the early 1960s.

The viaduct backs on to the garden behind the old head office of Hiram Walker, formerly the spirits division of Allied Domecq. The garden and the head office itself have long since been sold off, but the group could never find a buyer for the viaduct, a listed structure.

The viaduct is currently undergoing repairs to stop it falling down. English Heritage is contributing 40 per cent of the estimated pounds 350,000 bill, and Allied Domecq the rest. No doubt shareholders will be congratulating the board on this public spirited gesture.

Officials within British Rail knew last Tuesday of the alleged ticket frauds on the London to Southend line, yet the Transport Secretary, Sir George Young, was only told of the problem on Thursday afternoon. The fact that the story broke so late ruined the privatisation handover, and according to sources Sir George is "hopping mad".

A spokesman for BR said yesterday: "Exactly how long this has been under investigation is unclear." He said it appeared that on Wednesday the Rail Settlement Plan, which administers the division of fare receipts, passed on the allegations to the Association of Train Operating Companies. On Thursday the association passed on the news to the group managing director of the British Rail Board (South and East), John Nelson.

Mr Nelson duly notified the Department of Transport, and hence Sir George Young. Perhaps the news was delayed by leaves on the track.

Last week the Diary drew the attention of investment bankers to Eddie George's imminent skiing holiday, and the spooky fact that almost exactly a year ago the Bank of England Governor's last ski trip was cut short by the collapse of Barings.

This prompted a Bank watcher yesterday to recount a similar incident concerning his predecessor, Sir Robin Leigh-Pemberton, now Lord Kingsdown. In October 1987 he had just reached the airport before flying off to a business jaunt around China when he got news of a huge stock market sell-off. This turned into Black Monday, but too late for Sir Robin, who flew off to China regardless.

As the days passed and the mood of panic heightened, Sir Robin could not be reached as he travelled deeper into China. When the recall did get through he was told it would take at least a week to get out of such a remote place and back to the UK.

Step forward the "Flying Biscuit", the private jet run by Sir Hector Laing, then chairman of United Biscuits and a member of the Court of the Bank of England. The Biscuit, which duly whisked the Governor home, has sadly since been withdrawn. Apparently it cost a packet.

Are you one of those sad, pathetic nicotine addicts who couldn't keep that new year resolution to kick the demon weed? Have you been ejected from your office by a smoking ban, and do you huddle with fellow addicts around the lobby, puffing away come rain or shine? Relax. Introducing an all-weather shelter for smokers made of aluminium tubing and clear acrylic screens, which can be erected outside any office block to keep workers dry while they puff. And it's British! Yes, the Smoke Screen from the No Butts Bin Company of Poole, Dorset, starts at a mere pounds 800 a go, compared with around pounds 5,000 for the average bus shelter. A product to fire the imagination.

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