Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Friends in the architecture world are agog at the news about Michael Heseltine's library. It seems the flaxen-haired interventionist has been having a bit of a room re-think lately, and wants to "make over" his book space. Now, if you or I decided to do such a thing, we might head for the melamine counter at Ikea, or ring up Tom, the Irish builder from round the corner. Mr Heseltine has adopted neither course. He has called in Quinlan Terry.

Whaaat? The great Terry, Prince Charles's favourite architect, is the man responsible for the retro-classical fascia of the Richmond Riverside complex (the thing resembling the backdrop of a Jane Austen musical) beside the Thames at Richmond Bridge. He is unbelievably grand. He is used to working on rather more ambitious projects than the reception rooms of flamboyant parliamentarians. But he is obviously an accommodating chap: last summer he did Mr Heseltine's summer house (for a figure rumoured to be £100,000), and in bygone days tarted up the state rooms of No 10 when Mrs Thatcher was in situ.

Mr Heseltine's bold initiative got me thinking. I am getting a little disillusioned with the state of my bathroom. (Nothing structural, you understand, just a few gross details - mildew on the grouting, earwigs in the splashback, verdigris on the loofah.Yeeugh). It's time I had it redesigned: sink, bath, radiators, drugs cabinet, curtains, plastic duck, the lot. So I rang up Richard Rogers, the famous architect of the Pompidou Centre and the Lloyds Bank building, and asked for a quote. A rather suspicious female colleague of Rogers said they would get back to me by the weekend. I trust Mr Rogers will have the sense to be competitive in his pricing, or I shall be forced to take my custom to Sir Norman Foster.

At a party on Tuesday night for Oliver Sacks, the British-born, New York-based neurophysiologist whose new book of case histories from the Twilight Zone is called An Anthopologist on Mars, a spectacular sight met the guests' eyes: that of the majestic, Brahms-bearded Sacks kneeling - his knee protected from the floorboards by a copy of his own book - before the figure of Anna Haycraft, as she sat resplendent in crimson bandeau and red suede shoes, beneath a daguerreotype of Queen Victoria. The tableau suggested a supplicant courtier trying to curry favour with a wayward empress.

Mrs Haycraft, aka the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis, lost her husband, Colin Haycraft, the irascible boss of the Duckworth publishing house, last year. She is trying to get used to widowhood and the burden of having Colin's fans queueing up to share their memories of him. "Sometimes," she murmured, "I feel like lying on the floor and drumming my heels ..."

Sacks, though, is an old friend. It was at one of the Haycrafts' legendary thrashes in their Camden home that I once watched a memorable encounter. Sacks had brought with him one of his patients, a teenage sufferer from Tourette's syndrome. Keen that thestricken youth should circulate among ordinary people, Sacks introduced him to Beryl Bainbridge, the novelist. Their conversation proceeded along formal lines for a few minutes until the boy, having taken an obvious fancy to the Liverpudlian Piaf, uncontrollably stretched out a hand and clamped it to her right breast.

"Stop that!" Sacks ordered him sternly.

"Leave him alone," retorted Bainbridge breathlessly. "He seems a perfectly nice young man to me ..."

When it comes to "fitness" I'm with Cyril Connolly, who used to boast that the only exercise he took when young was running up bills. So it was with some distaste that I opened Men's Health, the exciting new mag for today's flat-stomached narcissists. What a surprise. Instead of the 101 variants of the kind of disgusting health features - You and Your Prostate, A Stool of My Own - that saturate the British press, I was confronted by a tidal wave of American folksy advice on everything from stress and fi tted knickers to sex and white-water rafting: "Why you almost got that great job"; "Here's how to choose and care for a classic felt fedora"; "Ever wonder why the boss keeps catching you in the middle of a yawn, while Sparky down in sales bounces around the office like a ball of energy?" "No fitness centre at your hotel? Use the stairs".

But the really stressed-out executive should turn to the end. On the magazine's last page, in the slot usually reserved for agony aunts and the like, the ex-pugilist Sugar Ray Leonard can be found advising his readers how to spot an assailant readying himself for a sucker punch. This will obviously come in handy the next time one ventures to dinner at the Institute of Directors.

Oh God, he's back. Just when you thought you'd heard the last of T. Danforth Quayle, up he pops again. The revenant Veep appeared before a crowd of Republicans last weekend, to announce, or at least make horribly clear, that he'll be standing for the presidency next year.

Instead of stuffing bandannas in their mouths, the audience mystifyingly cheered. But I was puzzled (as one is with Mr Quayle) by his introductory words. Presumably seeking to reassure the faithful, he announced: "I'm scanned, rested and ready to go."

Scanned. Can he have meant "tanned"? Hardly. Did he mean "under surveillance"? (Perhaps he worried about being scrutinised by the CIA.) Maybe it was an allusion to computerisation ("I'm fed into the system, rested and ready to go"), in which case let us hope he doesn't find himself swiftly downloaded and unceremoniously re-booted.

But then it dawned on me. I was being heartless. Mr Quayle has recently emerged from hospital, where he has been treated for thrombosis. He has received a body scan, and possibly a brain scan to go with it. There's no stigma attached to either - but isn't it taking artless honesty to extremes, when you feel you must share the news of your treatment with 30,000 total strangers in the depths of Indianapolis?

Comments