Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online
So how did you spend Open House Day? Last Saturday, all manner of closed-off national institutions, from the BBC to the crypt at Brompton Oratory, were thrown open for public inspection. Me, I nipped over to Bankside power station, proposed home of the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art, and joined a queue of arty Londoners. We shuffled forward in a light drizzle. The children's cries were stilled by showing them the brochure explaining the pounds 100m project and the artist's impression of the gorgeous Metropolis-meets-the-Quay d'Orsay that will result.

Inside, we signed a visitors' book and accepted tea in polystyrene cups. A row broke out about queue-jumping. Half an hour went by, and some digestive biscuits. We shuffled on. Unexpected friendships broke out, briefly flourished and soon subsided. Children squalled. After 50 minutes we were led through the rain to a murky doorway, lectured briefly by a pair of specs from the Tate and ushered in fitfully lamplit darkness up four flights of stairs. There, instead of parading along an indoor viewing gallery, we were shown a roof and invited to look through a dusty window at the scene within - a hangar-sized rubble pit strewn with twisted steel rods like petrified spaghetti. Rusted boilers and saurian diggers sat around, pathetically redundant. "Where is the lovely room, Daddy?" demanded Max, aged four.

Then we went home and watched the Last Night of the Proms. I'm not sure which activity was the more hopelessly, foolishly, pathetically, parodically British, but I think Bankside had the edge.

The more, ah, weathered of the publishing tribe will be gathering at St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London, today for the memorial service to Charles Monteith, the late eminence grise of Faber & Faber who died last month. A dauntingly grand and dignified figure, he was most famous as the man who rescued Golding's Lord of the Flies from the Faber slush- pile after it had been rejected by every publisher's reader in London; but his professional status, as the editor of Auden's and Larkin's finest poetry, could hardly have been more stratospheric.

Behind all the gravitas, though, lay a twinkly anecdotalist. He liked to tell stories about his long relationship with TS Eliot - such as the day he arrived to find Eliot pacing the boardroom carpet in obvious pain, his priestly features expressive of the deepest tragedy. What is it? asked Monteith. "Grave news from Cornwall," said Eliot sadly. What? (cried Monteith) Has somebody died? "No," replied Eliot, "A new collection has arrived from AL Rowse."

Dramatists ancient, modern and evergreen piled into Michelin House in London's Fulham Road on Tuesday to celebrate the eccentrically numbered 104th anniversary of Methuen's venerable drama list. Michael Frayn munched the chocolate cake, Joan Littlewood lived up to her reputation (despite her sweet, Violet-Elizabeth curls) as a foul-mouthed anti-Establishment termagant by rubbishing several contemporary directors ("I said to Oscar Lowenstein, `How can you deal with all these middle-class, antisemitic bastards?' ") and the double-act of John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy dilated on the pleasures of their adoptive home of Galway, west Ireland, "the cultural centre of Europe" (since it's my hometown, I wasn't disposed to argue).

Prize for Best Mistranslation of a Play goes to Germany, where, I was told by Tom Stoppard's agent, they're currently trying to restrain a local theatre company from staging Arcadia with a full-frontal, naked-writhing scene (you remember that bit, surely?). Prize for Best Insight into Modern Rehearsal Methods goes to Lucinda Coxon, whose last production, Waiting at the Water's Edge, starred one of the talented McGann brothers, who are such fixtures on our TV screens. The actor got so carried away by the pre-rehearsal "relaxation technique" that he wound up, by lunchtime, standing on his head in full lotus position, precariously balanced against a wall, sound asleep. "We didn't like to wake him, so we went off for a curry down the road," I was told. "When we got back he woke up and said, `Right then, what are we doing about lunch?' "

Hillary Clinton fans in London will have been following her diary ("A View from the White House") in the Evening Standard with fascination. What an investment! Every week, fresh insights into the backstage drama at the Oval Office, lubricious titbits about the President's sexual requirements, frank confessions about her maquillage problems ... sorry, only kidding.

What we actually get are bromides about her younger days, the need for nations to co-operate in harmony and the interesting-ness of foreign lands. But I fear Mrs Clinton may have been the victim of a practical joke during her recent trip to China.

She went to Mongolia, where she spent quality time with a "typical family" of herdsmen and their offspring in a rude woollen shack called apparently a "ger" and was royally entertained: "Inside [the tent] were several beds, cupboards, a vat of fermented mare's milk (yes, I tasted it) and a dung- burning stove." The junior family members greeted the First Lady "wearing the colourful vests and hats traditional in Mongolia" and explained how they head south in winter with their cattle, only to return in spring for the "birthing season"....

One can only take so much of this without collapsing into giggles. Can you imagine the image consultants of Ulan Bator in conference?: "OK, she wants hillbilly Mongolians, she's got 'em. We'll rig up some little tents out of old cardigans, we'll call 'em - what's small, earthy and comforting? OK, call 'em gerbils. Nah, too obvious. I know, drop the "bil" (don't want to remind her of home) and call 'em "gers", and let's get some edible dung, you know, real earthy, and some asses' milk for her bath, like Cleopa ... No? OK, the other way round ..."

You think I exaggerate? A glance at the accompanying photograph of Mrs C with a brace of mutinous locals - both of them yanked, protesting, out of the bookmakers' half an hour earlier, judging by their bomber jackets and trilby hats (unless these too are "traditional in Mongolia") - sitting before a steaming vat of extruded polystyrene hastily fashioned for the occasion, and you'll see the China Visit Bogus Photo-Opportunity shot to beat them all.

Comments