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
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea