Diary

John Major is in grave danger of committing the most serious social faux pas of his premiership. The etiquette of the dinner he is throwing for Baroness Thatcher at 10 Downing Street on 26 September, ostensibly for her 70th birthday but in reality to gloss over his differences with the Tory right wing, is all wrong. He plans to have a sit-down dinner first and a drinks reception afterwards. (He has pragmatic reasons. He thinks in this way to appease the second-eleven customers who don't make the shortlist for the dinner, without causing them the embarrassment of shooing them out the door at the sound of the dinner gong) But imagine! No lingering over the port, no loving puff of a cigar, no time in which to digest the cheese, no chance to get really blotto ... disaster. One who has been invited tells me it has really dampened his excitement. I suspect others of influence and importance feel the same.

This striking picture (right) of a nubile young woman could be a good advert for, say, toothpaste, or gold jewellery, or hair dye. But it takes on a whole new significance when I tell you that it is the frontispiece in this week's edition of Country Life.

The magazine is historically the property of smart young gals in pearls, usually just engaged. But the editor, Clive Aslet, has decided that it is time to get radical, starting with Mary-Claire Lewthwaite, 22, non- engaged and from Cumbria.

He has had enough of the well-bred betrothed, in part because modern society's conventions do not fit in terribly well with the magazine's aesthetic values. "Women get engaged so much older now," he tells me - meaning, I suppose, that at 28 there is a danger of wrinkles. Ouch!

Still, one ought to commend him for innovation. "I can safely say this is the first woman who has ever laid down for Country Life," he says proudly.

Yesterday at breakfast time, London's genteel literati were busy dropping their toast and marmalade in shock. They had received through the post an idea that is as outrageous as a topless model gracing Country Life. After 154 years of happy, undisturbed browsing, the demands of a handful are threatening to destroy the peace of the London Library. The committee is holding a referendum over whether to have a coffee room on the St James's Square premises.

All those against - and I suspect there are very many, since I hear it was "only a few" who made the tawdry suggestion - should take comfort. It is quite clear from the language on the ballot paper that the library's chairman, Nicholas Barker, is on your side. In his letter to members, asking for their vote, he throws the issue open and then concludes: "There are difficulties about the provision of such a room, and we will have to see whether these can be overcome. We would welcome members' guidance." Quite, Mr Barker, having given it yourself.

News of a further kerfuffle from Rodney Walker, the outgoing chairman of the NHS Trust Federation. Last week, you may recall, he made much noise about the dwindling capacity of the NHS - soon, he said, it would be able to cater only for emergencies and the elderly. At a dinner on Wednesday, he also managed to provide the first blot on what has generally been considered a spotless honeymoon landscape for the new Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell. Getting to his feet in Nottingham in front of 600 people, Walker turned to his trusted friend - the pair go back a long way, since Walker is also chairman of the Sports Council, which came under Dorrell's jurisdiction at Heritage - and uttered: "There can be no greater gob in government than the Secretary of State for Health." For a brief moment there was intense public scrutiny of the Dorrell jaw. Which was not, incidentally, quivering with laughter.

The Americans are the only sane people I can find who agree with me that last week's performance by the actress Tilda Swinton in the Serpentine Gallery was a national embarrassment. My colleagues seem to have lost all rational faculties over it/her/the pillow. In the New York Times, however, the caption accompanying a picture of the sleeping Ms Swinton said everything that was needed on the subject.

First it said in big print: "Quite Useless." Then, in smaller print: "At the Serpentine Gallery in London, performance art is provided by the actress Tilda Swinton. She sleeps eight hours a day in an exhibition called `The Maybe'. The woman at right is a visitor to the gallery."

He may, as the critics have noticed, be starting to touch on the theme of mortality in his books but, at 74, the author Dick Francis still has plenty of punch. At the launch of his latest blockbuster, Come to Grief, a woman cooed: "Ooh, how do you churn out a book so often? [Once a year.] Are you very disciplined? Do you get up very early?"

Francis looked at her beady-eyed. "Actually," he replied, "I get up early when I'm not writing. I was up, for instance, very early this morning."

"Ooh," cooed the lady again. "And doo tell, what did you do when you got up this morning?"

Francis looked a bit taken aback, and then focused on her a little sternly: "Madam, I went to the bathroom."

Those who sat next to Bob Geldof at the glitzy first night of Jonathan Miller's Carmen at the Coliseum last Wednesday felt just a teeny bit uncomfortable when it got to Act IV and the opera's wild gypsy heroine, Carmen, chucked in her lover Don Jose for the younger, hunkier bullfighter Escamillo. The story is obviously not too far removed from Geldof's own: his wife, Paula Yates, has run off with the lead singer of INXS, Michael Hutchence. "He just sat there grim-faced and still. It was terrible to watch," says one who was in a seat nearby. Fortunately, there is not much physical resemblance between Hutchence and Robert Hayward, the singer playing Escamillo, to ram the point home. Still, one can't help wondering what Geldof made of Miller's characterisation of Carmen as little more than a slut.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas