Diary

MAGGIE BROWN

What's up with Michael Heseltine? I sped off to a Royal Television Society do on Monday night, where he was the after-dinner speaker, expecting some useful insights into the business of broadcasting. Only to endure a half-hour of boring, embarrassing nothingness. The President of the Board of Trade, who is (was?) a man capable of rousing Tory party conferences to ecstasy, seemed a changed creature. Just 18 months ago - blithely ignoring the fact that broadcasting falls under the National Heritage Department - he was calling conferences of broadcasting's top executives, Michael Grade, John Birt and Michael Green, urging them to think media, think globally. On Monday night, by contrast, he sounded desperate to avoid stepping on the toes of Stephen Dorrell, National Heritage Secretary. I found that my hosts, who had assembled the UK's TV establishment in the Royal Lancaster Hotel, were equally bemused. No, that is too polite: they were livid. And I discovered that someone who should have been at the dinner backed out because they had endured a dire Heseltine speech to the Royal College of Art last week, which resulted in senior guests jeering. My theory about the poor showing at the RTS is that since Heseltine and Dorrell are both beleaguered pro-European wets, the President of the Board of Trade doesn't want to pick a quarrel. But two bad performances in a row suggests he at least needs a new speech writer.

I called in on friends at noon on Saturday, to find them eating lunch. The husband was off to Twickenham for the Five Nations Cup rugby championship. It was the first I'd realised that the event was taking place (Cheltenham and Crufts are more my kind of thing). By Monday morning British Telecom was screening a television commercial showing the rugby highlights, with the slogan "the historic match: its 1 to remember". BT's ad agency, Abbott Mead Vickers, boasted that the match "joined other momentous events like England winning the World Cup, man's first moon landing and Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s saying there would not be a woman prime minister in her lifetime". I'm amazed. They live in at least as blinkered a world as I do. And is British Telecom really English Telecom?

For the past two weekends I've had a sad collapse in my social life. I went to a Scottish dance night a year ago, and enjoyed it so much that when the parent-teacher association wanted volunteers to help to run a family barn dance, I instantly put up my hand. I even thought I could be promoting a new trend - soon everybody would be doing it, I believed confidently. I set to work planning the supplies of baked potatoes and fillings, how to decorate a hall with bales of hay, and booking the £300 band. It was all going wonderfully.

Except that no one bought any tickets for my event. We had to call the whole thing off.

And the subsequent Saturday? The barn dance at my second daughter's school was also cancelled, also from lack of interest. My jaundiced theory is that over-stressed, overweight men don't want to be winkled out on a Saturday night to jog about.

Casting around for something else to do with the children, we reluctantly gave in to their demands and made two visits to fairgrounds - a recipe for terminal depression. Wading around in ankle-deep mud as avaricious stallholders fleece you is hell on wheels, though the children of course adore every last sticky bit of pink candyfloss. And since one of them won a cuddly toy lion for an outlay of 20p, they are clamouring to know when they can go again. When you are old enough to go on your own, I reply.

To a classic Italian restaurant, Bertorelli's in Covent Garden, for the tastiest lunch I've had for ages. My host, Michele Romaine, 37, is the first woman to be appointed by the BBC to the tough middle-management job of head of centre (she runs regional TV and radio in London and the South-east). Put two working mothers together and we instantly switch into bores-of-the-week mode, obsessively debating about never having time for ourselves. But her real problem is that her husband, a naval officer, is away at sea, leaving her in sole charge of her small daughter at their distant home in Wiltshire. Her solution is to draft in her mother during the week. Behind some successful career women, it seems, there are self-sacrificing grandmothers, holding the hearth together.

Having mastered that challenge, Ms Romaine now has to work out how to meet 8 per cent budget cuts in BBC local radio by merging Radio Oxford and Radio Berkshire into a new station called Radio Thames Valley (in reality Radio M40 Commuter Corridor). This merger is clearly daft, and has already provoked attacks from Douglas Hurd, the Bishop of Oxford and the heads of Oxford colleges. I don't see the point of the BBC doing local radio unless the stations are anchored in real places. If it can't afford all of them, then it should shut down the newcomer Radio Berkshire, or hand over the frequency to a commercial operator who can use it better.

Last week I wrote about how Bristol's venerable zoo faces a challenge from a new electronic zoo. My reminiscence about the shock of a parrot grabbing my finger prompted Independent reader Roy Gibbs to write and tell me how the zoo plays a significant part in Peter Nichols' play Born in the Gardens. The play, with undertones of adultery, bisexuality, troilism, incest and child abuse, is set in Bristol and concerns a dotty mum, Maud, her stay-at-home son Mo, and his twin sister Queenie. At Dad's funeral they recall a visit to Bristol zoo and its star attraction, the great ape.

Maud: "You remember Alfred the gorilla?"

Mo: "Very clearly indeed. He hit me with a turd once. A vile-tempered beast I thought. I was very relieved when they stuffed him and put him in the city museum."

Queenie: "Your temper wouldn't be so good if you'd been given life imprisonment for nothing."

It makes me feel grateful that I escaped with just a pecked finger.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there