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Mme M, spare that pooch

The French are a tolerant lot in their own way As we are continually told, they will tolerate any scandals in the private lives of their leaders. But there are limits.

Consternation has greeted the news that the late President Mitterrand's widow, Danielle, has farmed out his faithful black labrador, Baltique, to one of his former bodyguards and that the poor bitch could spend the rest of her days at a barracks near Versailles. Baltique endeared herself to the French public when, in accordance with her master's last wishes, she walked alongside the hearse taking his coffin on its last journey from the country church to the cemetery.

Danielle is reported as saying that she already has a labrador of her own and can't accommodate another when she is in Paris (but everyone knows she has a good-sized house, quite big enough for a pack of labradors). She has promised to collect Baltique from the barracks whenever she goes down to the family's country house in the south west. Sacrebleu! Either you have a dog or you don't. You can't just collect one when you leave town. The damage to Mme Mitterrand's image looks irreversible.

Say it, Tony

Who do we find writing a full-page schooling manifesto in the current issue of the Times Educational Supplement, printed just before the Harriet Harman row broke? None other than Tony Blair.

Here is a snippet: "There is much that is good in our system. But unfortunately it has too often been restricted to an elite few. A return to a system dominated by selection at 11 would make matters worse. We need reform that looks forward rather than back."

Noddy lost

It was enough to make the Famous Five turn to fisticuffs - watching Enid Blyton's dignified daughter, Gillian Baverstock, fall into the undignified clutches of the Freud PR agency yesterday.

A pained looking Mrs Baverstock was promoting the sale of the copyrights of her mother's works to Trocadero plc, owner of the London Trocadero, and to this end was shuffled unceremoniously in and out of a diminutive Noddy car and tweaked from one journalist to the next. And not even in a private room. She had to give her interviews in the general throughfare, as the public squeezed past her, rushing to the un-Blyton-like hi-tech delights of the Emaginator, Virtual World and Alien War, while a small Noddy roamed forlornly around the mall in a blue hat and red nose, looking as bewildered as his creator's daughter.

A hosepipe ban too far

Giving birth is now a non-essential activity. And in the summer months it's downright dilettante.

My spies in the maternity ward at Harrogate General Hospital tell me a vicious post-natal row is about to break in the peaceful spa over the belated discovery that it took Yorkshire Water's summer hosepipe ban to heart and closed its waterbirth facility.

One new papa tells me: "My wife had made it clear throughout her pregnancy that she wanted a waterbirth and had been assured by the hospital that it would be possible. But when we telephoned the ward to tell them we were about to set off, we were told that the birthing pool was not being used because of the hosepipe ban - specifically because a hosepipe is used to fill the pool."

The Harrogate General Hospital's head of midwifery services, Lesley Harris, says in response that the pool was closed "as a community-spirited gesture".

Yorkshire Water is flummoxed. "The ban was on hosepipes for washing cars and watering private gardens," said a spokesman yesterday.

"A birthing pool would be excluded from a more general non-essential use ban because it would be regarded as being part of a medical process."

Except, it seems, by those who run hospitals.

Zoe's odds

I expected to find the wonderful actress Zoe Wanamaker exuding bonhomie at the Olivier awards nominees' lunch yesterday. Her cup runneth over, having been nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Actress for The Glass Menagerie, and she is also the trustee for her late father Sam's brainchild, the Globe Theatre, which looks like opening next June, thanks to pounds 12.4m of lottery money.

That may be, she told me, "but I think the National Lottery is the biggest con ever. It's trying to cover up the lack of arts funding. And I never play it." All that Tennessee Williams intensity seems to be going to her head.

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