Colun Eight: Not worth staying home for

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The Independent Online
Sir John Harvey-Jones, the irrepressible former boss of ICI, is keeping uncharacteristically mum about what he thinks of the chemical giant's plans to split itself in two.

A call to his office yesterday elicited an immovable, 'No comment,' from an assistant. The business legend, who in the 1980s saved not only ICI from extinction, but also the kipper tie, was not prepared to talk about it.

Sir John, we were told, was busier than ever. Counting positions in charities and company directorships, he has 33 jobs, including chairing the Economist. He's in the middle of writing two books. A follow- up television series of Troubleshooters, where Sir John plays a kind of Marjorie Proops to problem firms, comes out in November. Besides all that, he'd gone out shopping.

Kelston Park, the historic manor house near Bath, has been put up for sale with a pounds 1.75m price tag. Its greatest claim to fame is that it stands on the site of an earlier house, where Sir John Harrington invented and installed the first valve water closet in 1596. Sir John was blessed with Queen Elizabeth for a godmother and even managed to persuade the Virgin Queen to give the contraption a go.

Without a trace of a smirk, the estate agents Alder King headline their announcement of the impending sale: 'Country seat for sale.'

When the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales settles down on Wednesday to debate whether to open its disciplinary hearings to the public gaze, it will have gone some way towards satisfying the reforming new president, Ian Plaistowe.

But what about the length of the process? The hearing of allegations of conflict of interest against Coopers & Lybrand's insolvency experts, Michael Jordan and Richard Stone, was formally adjourned yesterday. It is nearly two years since their appointment to the Polly Peck International administration, which prompted the inquiry.

Then again, the report of the inquiry into Barlow Clowes (RIP, 1988) is not expected until early next year. And the institute has not even thought about what it is going to do about the Maxwell affair.

To Cavendish Square in London and the ghastly chrome and glass modernist HQ of (among others) the surveyors St Quentin, where the high-tech lifts have a personality problem. 'Going up,' drones an electronic voice in tones reminiscent of a metallic Dracula.

'It's bad enough when it tells you where you're going, but it's a lot worse when the lift starts to shake,' moans one unhappy employee. On such occasions it is apparently programmed to calm its occupants with the immortal words: 'Do not be alarmed; we have a technical problem.'