Diary

Party time at the October Gallery in London on Tuesday evening, as AP Watt, the literary agents, celebrated their 120th birthday. The centrepiece was a ceiling-high Matterhorn of flowers, the cost of which (guests joshingly explained to each other) had made a considerable dent in the agency's revenue from The Horse Whisperer, which they famously sold to Robert Redford's film company for a rumoured $3.5m. The equine hypnotist's author, Nick Evans, stood around looking strangely (for a Brit) like Buffalo Bill, and discussed Katmandu with Philip (Gridiron) Kerr, the two men forming a kind of Millionaires' Corner. Mollie Parkin, the veteran Scarlet Woman, prowled about, her hair in a striking platinum flat-top. Edwina Currie professed to being glad the Net Book Agreement had collapsed, and unconcerned about the fate of small provincial bookshops ("They're probably all Labour voters anyway").

But the focus of the evening was the figure of Shane MacGowan, ex-Pogues singer, rock star and freelance wild person, whose autobiography has just been bought by Sidgwick & Jackson for pounds 30,000. MacGowan, chalk-white of face and shrouded in dark glasses (even though the sun was not shining very strongly, indoors, after 8pm) was on his best behaviour as a succession of laddish young publishers demanded to be introduced to him and stood dumb-struck with admiration.

Hardly better were the two lady novelists d'un certain age who twittered about how much they admired his lyrics. "You have a real gift for evoking solitude and loss," breathed one. "Grrrr," said MacGowan, possibly in agreement.

How one would love to have been a fly on the drawing-board at the recent meeting between two political and graphic connoisseurs. This week Kenneth Baker, the eternally agreeable ex-Cabinet minister, published a history of political cartoons entitled The Prime Ministers (Thames and Hudson pounds 15.99) and arranged to take part in some televised meetings, discussing the lampoonist's art with leading practitioners. First interviewee was Martin Rowson, the coruscating, Gillray-meets-Grosz satirist, at the sight of whose cruelly exaggerated portraits many victims have flung themselves into the nearest canal. Baker went to Rowson's fashionable home in Lewisham, south London, for a (televised) fireside chat, perhaps expecting to meet an inky-fingered and deferential right-wing cove who would show a bit of respect to his betters.

Instead he got Rowson in full radical flood (someone should have warned Baker that the cartoonist is a former Trotskyite who now contributes to Tribune). It was when the two men were discussing architecture, and Rowson opined that the Prince of Wales's taste in building design was "a ghastly hybrid of William Morris and Albert Speer", that the blood finally drained from Baker's face. One waits with interest to see if Rowson's amusing views survive the final cut.

Out of work? Desperate? Don't worry - the Lady Bountiful spirit is abroad. A new initiative to help the unemployed is about to be unveiled by the London Poetry Marathon, a well-meaning operation with a weird provenance; it's administered by something called the Natural Death Centre, among whose associates is Sir Richard Body ... On 8 October, they're mounting a "mass sponsored poetry recital" at St Mark's Hall, Abercorn Place, St John's Wood, NW8 (Tel: 0181-208 2853), at which the first 50 applicants on unemployment benefit who can recite a complete poem will score a handsome pounds 50 (pounds 1 extra for a "perfectly fault-free recital", forsooth).

Fearing the news might lead to shambling packs of UB40 holders trying to master the whole of In Memoriam, the organisers will choose the poems (none longer than 14 lines) and allocate them to any callers who can afford to ring. The idea comes from Nicholas Albery, editor of Poems for the Day: 366 Poems Worth Learning by Heart, who is directing operations at the marathon. Any suggestion that Mr Albery and his friends are guilty of asinine and patronising tactlessless, in asking the misfortunate to jump through demeaning hoops of performance (can't you hear, after a recital of "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes", the cries of "Jolly well done"?) the better to market his opportunistic volume, should be stifled forthwith.

An odd feeling of deja vu stole over me the other day at La Separation, a wordy new French movie starring Isabelle Huppert's permanently hurt expression. One of the few moments of charm amid the torrent of frustration and misery is when Huppert reminds Daniel Auteuil of one reason she first fell in love with him. When she came round to dinner at his flat, she found he had made a count-down list ("7.30, open wine. 8pm, cook carrots. 8.10, Anne arrives!!") to ensure nothing went wrong. Then I realised why it was familiar. In a burst of what is known, in Post-Modernist circles, as "inter-textuality", the movie people have nodded towards Talking It Over, Julian Barnes's 1991 novel about a menage a trois in which a similar scene appears. Mr Barnes, who is currently teaching creative writing at the Johns Hopkins academy in Maryland, and who is the most Frenchified of British writers, will doubtless be gratified by this splendid cross- Channel hommage.

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