Diary

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The Independent Online
Memo: To the Prince and Princess of Wales

Re: Wills's well-being at Eton

Be warned. A very nasty induction ritual awaits your son when he arrives at Eton in September. It is known, according to an account from the mother of an Etonian in this summer's edition of Prep School (a magazine that is a coffee table must) as "lamp-posting". Lamp-posting, apparently, "is an ancient initiation rite which used to involve suspending the unfortunate new boy, at night, by his braces from a lamp-post. Its modern, more degenerate form consists of upending a traditional cupboard bed, complete with initially sleeping occupant, to 45 degrees or so, making a lot of noise, and letting the bed down again".

Harmless fun, you may think, but this particular sleeping boy's lamp- posters were inexperienced. The result was that he fell out of the bed on to a chair and severely grazed his back.

The housemaster is trying to ban the practice. Let's hope, for Wills's sake, that he succeeds.

The same magazine contains an intriguing confession by Martin Stephen, 45, high master of Manchester Grammar, an independent school notorious for its excellence. Mr Stephen is causing a stir because he is keen to return to direct-grant state funding.

According to the mag, he is used to suffering adversity from educational establishments: in his youth he was expelled from his public school, Uppingham. "In fact," says Mr Stephen when I rang him for confirmation, "Uppingham denies this. I think some arrangement was eventually made between the school and my father and I was allowed to return, but I had to perform some serious punishments, like chopping wood for three months afterwards."

The cause of his suffering was, strangely, prunes. "Our matron was obsessive about our inner workings," he says, and "when for the fourth time in a row we were faced with prunes, rhubarb and gooseberries, I just went on a hunger strike. What I hadn't bargained for was that all the other boys followed my example."

A sign, doubtless, that he was born to lead. but Mr Stephen adopts a far more prosaic attitude to the whole affair: "Call me pedantic," he says, "but I really feel that a chap's inner workings are his own concern."

At dinner with the children of several Scottish peers, all regular travellers on the London to Fort William sleeper, otherwise known as the Deerstalker Express, it was generally agreed that the only reason that BR lost its appeal to close the line last week was because of the wealth, power and influence of the 150 or so huntin', shootin' and fishin' lairds who use the thing.

Nice to have it from the horse's mouth, I thought. Not though, the assembled company assured me, that the service is in any way comfortable, or even bearable. One present, the daughter of a former senior politician (I shall not incur her wrath by leaking her identity) told a story of how a friend of hers had not slept a wink all night on account, he later discovered from ugly bite marks, of fleas in his cabin. He wrote to BR to complain and got a truly apologetic letter back. "My dear sir ... what a calamity ... we are so sorry ... we will of course compensate you ..." Trouble was, somebody had forgotten to remove the Post-it sticker on the front. It stated: "Send standard flea letter."

It wouldn't have been fair, though, to isolate BR in the "let's have a go at" stakes, so our attention turned to BA too. One couple told a story of how when they travelled back from Indonesia, albeit on a cheap pounds 500 deal, they had to endure the 18-hour flight in pitch darkness since the lights didn't work, and in silence since the earplugs didn't work. They complained separately to BA chief Sir Colin Marshall in writing. The man wrote in strong language, the woman in moderate. Sir Colin wrote back to them both. The man received a cheque for pounds 100; the lady a cheque for pounds 75. "So," she wrote again to Sir Colin, "am I to understand that the more forcible the complaint, the bigger the pay-off?" A cheque for pounds 25 arrived from BA forthwith, along with what was described as "a very short note" from Sir Colin.

Andrew Neil, the erstwhile editor of the Sunday Times, now gainfully employed by the Daily Mail to discuss issues as useful and relevant to the general public as whether or not daughters of millionaires should pose nude, has experienced a new sensation recently: he came across somebody who had never heard of him.

It was on a flight back from France and Neil found himself sitting next to a businessman who works in the Far East. The man clearly did not recognise him, so Neil spent the plane trip explaining his CV - the better bits - to him.

When they had all assembled on the ground in Britain, a man who had witnessed this scenario approached Neil: "Oh, it must be refreshing for you to find someone who doesn't know who you are," he said. Neil grinned. "Ah well," he said, "he was from a long way away, so it's just about excusable."

Paul Johnson was not alone last week in storming that Channel 4's chief executive, Michael Grade, is fast becoming "Britain's pornographer-in- chief". The day before Johnson launched his energetic attack on the cigar- smoking mogul and the programme that had caused so much offence, The Word, a letter arrived on the desk of my esteemed colleague, the Independent's television critic Tom Sutcliffe. It was entitled "Hard Core Porn on Channel 4". "Dear Tom," it went, "You may find this difficult, if not impossible, to believe, but Channel 4 broadcast an explicit hard-core image during the 2 June edition of Eurotrash."

Oh no, we all sighed as Tom read it out, not Eurotrash as well as The Word. "The image consisted of just a single frame, and appeared during an item on the Italian porn star Rocco. The image, the writer noted, "consisted of a close-up shot of sexual penetration".

Oh no, we all thought again - until Tom reached the last paragraph: "Obviously," went on our writer, "at normal speed the single frame is not noticeable. I found it purely by chance ..."

I rang the press office at Channel 4 for a comment. "Yes," a spokesman sighed. "We've heard about his complaint - and we've been trying to find that frame for the last week."

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