Diary

A whole generation of early-Seventies groovers has been in deep shock at the news of Viv Stanshall's death. Few of us had the deep joy of watching the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performing live, but Stanshall's vivid brand of elegantly bonkers surrealism left its mark on millions of record-buyers. As English as Frank Cooper's marmalade, as talented as John Lennon, as culturally attuned as Jonathan Miller, Stanshall made us laugh at a time when it was cripplingly uncool to be funny.

When I heard he had died, I did a quick telephone poll of friends. It revealed that the lyrics of his best song, "The Intro and the Outro" - that ludicrously protracted introduction of a band of unlikely musicians - are buried deep in the fortysomething psyche like a five-minute catch- phrase: "Princess Anne on souzaphone ... a sessions gorilla on vox humana ... General de Gaulle on accordion - really wild, General ... Max Jaffa on violin - mmm, that's nice Max." It all came roaring back down the telephone wires, like a secular catechism, unconsciously learnt and never forgotten. And if you want the folk memory of 1973-74, it was of being in a roomful of stoned students, all waiting for the moment, among the druggy noodlings of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, when Stanshall's voice comes in and announces: "Grand piano ..."

I'd like to play the record to Tony Blair - who was precisely the right age, in the right place and at the right time to be a Stanshall fan - just to see if he could identify the climactic moment before I could.

Birds do it; bees do it; even educated Greens do it. The urgent debate about the rights and wrongs of making physical contact with your professional colleagues has been heating up nicely this week. All over the nation, burly Lotharios have been demonstrating to their quaking female co-workers just how far you're allowed to go, according to the Green Party, in the way of comradely embraces. Hand on arm - yes. Hand on thigh - no. Arm round shoulder - yes. Arm round waist - certainly not. Slap on back - yes. Full-scale bear-hug - God no (shriek). It's all been quite an education for anyone who, like me, has been a serial fondler and free-range masseur for years.

Some offices lend themselves more readily than others to this kind of behaviour. Here at the Independent, we're typically advanced. Kisses, hugs and hand-holding are practically mandatory. I despair of the benighted employees of other organisations who view the business of colleague-caressing as somehow objectionable. Their chief spokesperson seems to be Nigella Lawson, the severe Times columnist, who on Tuesday observed: "On the whole, and sensibly enough, women do not want to go round flinging their arms around the men in the office. They are not having to restrain themselves. It is, frankly, not that tempting."

Indeed not. But can this be the same Nigella Lawson with whom I shared an office at a Sunday newspaper for a few weeks in the Eighties? The one who, appalled by my stumbling attempts to master the computer system, finally cracked and, with a brisk "Look, it's very simple ...", came and sat on my lap? I cannot, sadly, impute any motive to her action beyond girlish exasperation. But if anyone would care to make a film of this thrilling moment, can I ask that the person they get to play me is shown to have a slightly greater sense of proportion than Michael Douglas?

The more unwelcoming elements of the literary world have been wondering what in George Walden's curriculum vitae makes him a natural choice as chairman of this year's Booker Prize judges. Where, they ask, are his creative works? Where are his reviews? Where, God dammit, is any evidence of any literary discrimination of any kind? I can understand their grudging tone - it is, after all, a position held in the past by such starry eminences as Professors John Carey, Richard Cobb, John Bayley and George Steiner - but I am happy to stick up for the sitting Member (Cons) for Buckingham.

"Obviously, I am an amateur," he modestly told the London Evening Standard, "though literature and criticism have been my life ever since an adolescent affair with an older woman, Karenina by name." Mr Walden is too modest. My researches reveal that he did once write a review, in Books & Bookmen, November 1984, of six books on Chinese history. So that's OK then.

Interestingly, the review strikes a topical note, when Mr Walden asks, rhetorically: "If, as I believe, we are more distant culturally from Europe - and especially from France - than [we have been] for many decades, how much can we presume to know about China?" Perhaps the Tory whips' office might like a quiet word with Mr Walden before he embarks on his marathon reading stint.

Another slightly odd choice for literary evaluation is Alan Clark, the irascible diarist and indefatigable horizontal jogger, who has been amusing the panel judging the 1995 AT&T Award for non-fiction, of which he is chairman. No one would call Mr Clark an overbearing chairman, but he kicked off the proceedings by telling his co-judges (Sheridan Morley, Ruth Leon, Val Hennessy and June Formby) that their meetings would be conducted along parliamentary rules. "No one may speak while the chairman is speaking," he growled, "and if you wish to speak, you must raise your hand." He was quite surprised, apparently, when the entire meeting burst into spontaneous laughter.

I paid a recent visit to Lewisham, quite possibly London's grottiest borough, to see my friend Chris, who lectures once a week at the local college of further education. We met at a neighbouring pub, which was filled with the most heinous and terrifying press-gang of plug-ugly cut- throats and desperados I have ever seen outside an Oliver Stone movie. Chris seemed strangely unmoved by their looming presence. Didn't they bother him? "Hardly," he said. "They're students." Good heavens. Of what? "The most popular courses in the college. They're both packed out, two nights a week. Courses Number 1864 and 1865 in the brochure. The Installation and Maintenance of Burglar Alarms ..."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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 Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'