Diary

David Hare's new play, Skylight, has its premiere at the National Theatre tomorrow, but I was lucky enough to see a preview on Saturday night. The play is small-scale and domestic; all the action - two ex-lovers, one a wealthy restaurateur, the other an idealistic teacher, meet up again - takes place in a freezing-cold run-down rented flat, with only a bedroom and combined kitchen-sitting room.

My problems began during the first act, when the woman (Lia Williams) receives a surprise visitor (Michael Gambon) while preparing pasta with red pepper and chilli sauce. As the small theatre filled with the all too real smell of cooking, I found the culinary preparations taking over from the drama: pasta is one of the few things I know how to cook properly. She put the water on too late, failed to add salt, and then drained the spaghetti before it was properly cooked. As the meal was served, thankfully, she fell into Michael Gambon's arms and they went to bed, rather sensibly leaving what looked like an inedible meal on the table.

Needless to say, in the interval, conversation in the bar centred not on David Hare's words, but on his leading lady's hopeless cooking and the waste of food. Poor Michael Gambon was upstaged by a packet of spaghetti.

I paid for my night out the next morning when a bright-eyed nine- year-old shook me awake at 5.50am and ordered me into my jodhpurs and down for breakfast.

Mass excitement in the kitchen: it was the day of the Windsor Great Park Ride, and we were due to start the eight-mile obstacle course (with 20 jumps) at 9.15am.

We arrived so early we even beat the stewards. But our horses failed to turn up on time: the riding school's horsebox had blown a tyre on the motorway. Finally, at 10am, we were off. My horse, known as the one who'll jump anything, refused the third, much to the fury of the owner. "Whose fault was that?" she asked furiously. My nine-year-old fell off twice, but remounted without a murmur.

One of our party had to be taken off in an ambulance. Another lost a tooth. Another spent the three hours in tears, wanting to get off. As for me, I nearly fell off at a large ditch, but clung on for dear life. I can't wait for next year.

Instead of taking my daughters on bruise-forming cross-country rides, I really should have been taking them to work last Thursday - officially designated Take Our Daughters To Work Day.

But I object. First, the concept of artificially introducing them to the world of work seems daft. Second, why focus on daughters? It should be a unisex initiative or nothing at all. Third, having only just got everyone back to school after the Easter break, the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt them. Fourth, my 12-year-old was so determined to take part in the school's tennis trials that wild horses wouldn't have dragged her to my office.

The final reason why I ignored the event is that when I go to work I sit at a computer terminal, writing furiously against a deadline. Pretty boring for a child to witness. Come to think of it, she has witnessed it over and over again in the study at home. I suspect this is one do- gooding idea that will wither away.

Watching Labour's Clause IV debate on the BBC on Saturday, I was struck by the succession of plummy middle-class women who phoned in to the programme on video phones - at £400, more costly than a fax machine. Behind them you could see vast domestic palaces. And to a woman they said that nothing Tony Blair or Labour did would ever convince them to vote Labour: the party was still run by the unions.

Is it only Tories who own video phones? The BBC was clearly thrilled to be able to offer a change of face from that of the presenter, Nick Ross, but it has a duty to be even-handed. Perhaps it should allocate a few free video phones to hard-up pensioners in the name of political balance.

Some gossip, meanwhile, for cash-starved, repeat-ridden BBC programme- makers. The rumour mill has it that John Birt, two years away from the end of his term as Director-General, wants a new job sorting out the National Health Service. He fancies himself as a top manager. This is causing some amusement, especially as the BBC has just vividly demonstrated how all the management consultants in the world can't solve its elementary programme money muddles.

For parents everywhere, a tip on how to get your small children to bed, while entertaining yourself into the bargain. After falling asleep over Peter Rabbit yet again, I started reading my five-year-old a book of Greek myths. It has been a stunning success.

"Can we have the blacksmith (sic) stories again?" she asks each night, hurrying for the stairs. There is nothing like real savagery to hold a child spellbound: Achilles dragging the dead body of Hector around the walls of Troy, or the one-eyed Cyclops dashing out the brains of hapless Greeks before stuffing their corpses into his mouth. My daughter even retells them to other children: "They looked quite nice normal white horses, but they only ate human flesh. They got hungry and ate the slave: only a few bones were left and their mouths were red," she told a startled friend at McDonald's the other day, filling her in on the plot of Hercules and the theft of the Mares of Diomedes.

Best of all, these tales of gore send her drifting off to sleep, keep me awake, and don't give her nightmares. Try them.

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