City Diary: Smiles all round as the Bank welcomes Mandela

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The Independent Online
President Nelson Mandela received a huge round of applause by Bank of England staff as he strode into the Threadneedle Street offices yesterday morning for a working breakfast.

The meeting with top Bank executives, senior industrialists and commercial bankers was officially held to hear the President's views on South Africa's political and economic situation first-hand. Unofficially, as the President passed into the open Garden Court on the way to the Governor's office, a crowd of Bank staff gave him a spontaneous and vocal welcome.

In another unscripted moment one of the Bank's cleaning ladies nipped forwards and asked for the President's autograph. President Mandela stopped to chat and signed her book.

As a sign of the times, the welcome was equally warm from the businessmen, which included Barclays' chief executive Martin Taylor. Mr Taylor, of course, had not yet joined Barclays when the bank was embroiled in a long battle with students who wanted it to cut its links with the apartheid regime.

Yesterday's events would suggest that Barclays and the other clearers must be on the brink of going back to South Africa in a big way.

Is Hillary Clinton left-handed? If you know the answer, please phone George Mathewson, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland immediately.

Yesterday afternoon at 1.20 we received a press release from Royal Bank which declared: "Royal Bank customers who, in common with US President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, James Callaghan and Roy Jenkins, are left-handed, will be able to write their cheques with ease using the bank's specially adapted left-hand cheque books."

Twenty-seven minutes later we received a revised version, with a note on the front: "The only alteration is the removal of First Lady Hillary Clinton as it has not been confirmed that she is left-handed." Does anyone know?

A bit of a bumpy start at the flotation press conference for David Simons' Somerfield, the revamped Gateway group. When a journalist innocently requested a prospectus mass consternation took hold as it emerged that even the people on the platform didn't have copies. A pile of them was unearthed and duly distributed.

What's more, and probably more damaging, analysts had not received any Somerfield prospectuses by the close of trading yesterday afternoon.

One analyst preparing his note on the float muttered: "This is further evidence that its all been cobbled together at the last minute."

A significant number of Euro-sceptics from the City establishment are about to reveal themselves as parliamentary candidates for Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party.

Perhaps they are piqued at seeing so many of their venerable merchant banks being snapped up by the likes of Deutsche Bank and Dresdner, not to mention the Dutch post office, ING. An added bonus for such candidates would be the prospect of conferences with Sir James in his plush farm in Mexico, where the great British patriot spends most his time.

The attitudes the Euro-sceptics are so hostile to were illustrated recently when a very, very important German banker bought a newspaper at Heathrow on the way to a London meeting.

Being a staunch enemy of inflation, the banker's eye was caught by the paper's headline: "House prices rise - good news for Britain!" Recalling this over lunch with his City hosts, he pounded the table and declared: "In Germany the headline vould be: 'House prices rise - bad news for Germany!'" And a jolly good thing too.

The future is Orange, as the mobile phone ads say. But it may be slightly further in the future due to problems Orange is facing over planning permission for new transmission masts. Ryedale District Council has just refused permission for an Orange mast near Castle Howard (above), the stately pile featured in the TV version of Brideshead Revisited, because it thinks the masts are ugly. Orange phones cannot be used in places like Scarborough and Whitby without such local masts.

The council has appointed a telecommunications district working party, headed by Selina Scott's father Charles Scott, to deal with the company. Mr Scott, a retired police sergeant from Appleton-le-Moors, is worried that in other parts of the country the unsightly masts have been "popping up everywhere". Not in Yorkshire they won't.