The Feral Beast: Batons at, dawn, beans brouhaha, language lessons and the nervous earl

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The Independent Online

Senior women from the world of classical music held an extraordinary meeting yesterday to discuss how to tackle Vasily Petrenko. The 37-year-old Russian conductor caused outrage last month by saying men made better conductors, because orchestras "react better when they have a man in front of them". Now, some musicians are reluctant to work with him, and others feel more needs to be done to counteract the gender imbalance among conductors.

Marin Alsop, who became the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms this year, stayed on in London on Friday night especially to attend the meeting at the Royal Festival Hall. This was hosted by Jude Kelly, the Southbank's artistic director, and those present included the Radio 3 presenter Sarah Mohr Pietsch, cellist Natalie Klein and novelist Candace Allen.

Though Chatham House rules applied, a resolution was made to take a more robust stance against sexism in music, and the idea of quotas for female conductors at the Southbank was mooted. Petrenko, who said that "a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things", stands by his comments.

Don! Stop digging

It's another Monty Don blunder! In August, I reported how gardeners were left bellowing at their tellies as he advised viewers of Gardeners' World to cut back their strawberry plants. As any fule kno, you shouldn't cut them back until October.

Now, he's been dishing out dud advice on broad beans. Sowing seeds for a spring crop, the trick is to plant the seeds upright, as if they're placed horizontally they are at risk of rotting. But Monty could be seen on Friday placing them lengthways. Viewers are now so used to Monty's blunders that they have created a hashtag on Twitter called "shouty half hour". One segment on growing giant vegetables was likened to "innuendo bingo". As a viewer pleads: "For the love of God, make us a decent bloody gardening show. Not one for morons."

Highgrove chutzpah

The Middletons are usually accused of cashing in on their connections by selling royal-themed tat. But this time it's Prince Charles. An email pings in from Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home, suggesting we might like to invest £195 in a "baby hamper" to commemorate the royal christening. At that price, it must contain plenty of chutney. In fact, all you get is a teddy bear and a few organic toiletries in chamomile and mandarin. A single soft toy from Highgrove will set you back £70. Makes the £3.99 teddies from the Middletons' Party Pieces – down from £4.99 – positively cheap.

Better safe than sorry

When Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour sold his London home to Earl Spencer for £3.6m, he donated the whole lot to a charity for the homeless. But the house's new incumbent is somewhat less community-minded.

Applications submitted to Westminster Council reveal that the Earl is getting jittery about security, and wants to cover it with CCTV cameras. He has asked to instal five, including one for the garage. The Georgian mansion was a sticking point during Spencer's divorce battle with wife number two, Caroline Freud. She lived in it with their children, but he ended up keeping it. Now the Earl is busy bringing up child number seven by wife number three, Karen Gordon. They divide their time between California and Althorp, and the London house is hardly used. Still, with all those exes about, you can't be too careful.

Brought to brock

Well known for his love of badgers, Queen guitarist Brian May has yet another string to his bow. On Wednesday, he launches his latest project, a compilation of "diableries", Victorian stereographs of skeletons doing bizarre things. The book has taken six years to finish, with the help of two experts. "It's been a labour of love," he tells me. "I would be up until 5am working on it. You have dreams and this was one of them. Stereo-graphs have thrilled me for most of my life."

In 2009, he asked the nation for help to identify the Oxfordshire village captured in a series of 1850 stereo photographs, which became the subject of his last book, A Village Lost and Found. Meanwhile, he's not giving up his fight to save the badgers. "I wake up every morning in a battle zone," he says. "But that happens when you stick your head above the parapet."

Unparliamentary language

John Bercow gave David Cameron a dressing down on Wednesday for calling Ed Miliband a "conman" during Prime Minister's Questions, saying his repeated use of the word during a debate on energy prices was "frankly unparliamentary". The Speaker should know. Twelve years ago, when a lowly backbencher, Bercow himself was upbraided for using the very same word. "Conman!" he yelled at Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor, during a debate on the euro. The Speaker at the time, Michael Martin, called for order and immediately asked Bercow to withdraw his "unparliamentary remark". Which he did.

Following my item about Andrew Mitchell's use of the word "fed" in reference to police officers, a reader points out that this is a common tactic among those trying to ingratiate themselves with the police. Anthony Nicholson says that "fed" is short for Police Federation, and that using police argot is a tactic often used by people stopped for a motoring offence. "As demonstrated in this case," he notes, "it seldom works."

Heard on the Hill

Ever since Richard Curtis's 1999 film Notting Hill, tourists have made a pilgrimage to the blue door off Portobello Road. For a while, the west London suburb had a rival attraction, in the form of Annie Lennox sitting in a shop window. The Eurythmics singer, who lives locally, was seen listening to the speeches of Martin Luther King, which were playing at Boo's vintage clothing store. "She came in and asked if she could listen to the CD of The Landmark Speeches," explains Boo. "So she sat down and listened to it for an hour, as other shoppers came and went." Lennox has always taken inspiration from great leaders: she has worked extensively with Nelson Mandela to combat Aids. Boo, meanwhile, explains the origin of her name. "I have high eyebrows, which make me look like I'm permanently in a state of shock."