Diary

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The Independent Online
Although June is not exactly flaming so far, I am convinced that this little span of days is the finest bit of the year. And what better place to celebrate the season than in North Suffolk, where we spent last week in a borrowed cottage, under huge, changing skies, enjoying long, stretched-out evenings. In the unspoilt Waveney valley the lanes were choked with cow parsley, the hedges white with hawthorn and elderflower, the river banks and pond margins bright with marsh buttercups and the first wild lilies. In village gardens early roses were blooming and the trees still held their fresh spring hue, thanks to the rain. Local farms were selling bunches of succulent English asparagus for pounds 1. And, though a vast featureless field flanked the garden of the cottage where we were staying, it just happened to be planted with fragrant camomile, which perfumed the easterly breezes. Sometimes in life everything that can go right just happens to do so.

It was over the camomile field we walked to the nearby ancient village of Hoxne, passing the spot where a local gardener discovered a huge hoard of Roman gold and coins, buried in haste circa AD400 as the last Roman legions were leaving. They were bought by the British Museum a year ago for pounds 1.75m and have been put on display. The village is also the site where Edmund, King of East Anglia, was killed by invading Danes in AD872, after hiding under a bridge. But perhaps the main pull for discerning visitors is that Hoxne has one of the finest village pubs you could hope to discover: the Swan. It is a large, comfortable free house with a well-worn, slightly shabby feel. We spent several long evenings playing croquet in the superb garden, while waiting for supper to be served. The only problem is that croquet is such a vicious game, bringing out the worst in people. The children invariably shattered the peaceful mood with furious rows.

Living in a 400-year-old cottage that has been carefully restored and repainted in traditional Suffolk pastels invokes unstinting respect for the long departed builders who so carefully crafted the timbers. However, these are not buildings for modern people. I could just about go through the doors without ducking because, at 5ft 1in, I am the size of an average 16th-century person. My husband, more than a foot taller, felt happiest sitting or lying down (well, it was a holiday). An estate agent told me recently that low ceilings were increasingly putting off buyers; but I think that having the chance to stay in a genuine antique is well worth the downside of the odd clunk on the head.

Whatever you do, counselled the cottage owner, make sure you go to the Women's Institute market on Wednesday morning in Eye. Innocent townie, I had not realised how early-to-rise these middle-aged people were. I arrived at 11am, as the market was in its final minutes, but it was all and more than I expected. Along one side was a trestle table covered with exquisite hand-knitted baby cardigans and matinee coats. These delicate little garments, with lacy and often intricate patterns, are a form of folk art that may well die with the current practitioners: does anyone under 40 knit any more? On the opposite side of the hall were the remnants of a cake sale: I snapped up a rich madeira. I wandered out into the real world of the local grocer's shop, where the pensioner in front of me bought a few items, then asked for a Lottery instant. Only to be told they had sold out.

Back in London a report lands on my desk saying that one in three children watch television after the 9pm watershed, especially at weekends. Count mine in: many parents let the kids stay up later on Saturdays and dip into the odd film because they want a lie-in on Sunday mornings. But it put into perspective the lofty views of Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying, whom I listened to at a seminar organised by the Insititute for Public Policy Research. Ms Jong was considering whether censorship can survive in the information age. Her libertarian view is that instead of censorship there should be increased parental responsibility, and methods of limiting access - presumably electronic locks on unsuitable material. But this "leave it to the parents" approach does not mesh with the reality of fragmenting families and inadequately supervised children. Rather than asking how we protect children, the question is: can there be any controls at all on the Internet surfers?

At an incestuous media drinks party attended by most of the bidders for Channel 5, the talk turned to what Michael Grade, the successful chief executive of Channel 4, might do next. Earlier, at the same IPPR seminar (see above) he had said he felt ever more confident about the BBC's hold on the licence fee. Public service broadcasting, he said, clearly contributed real choice and a broad width of programmes at a time when the commercial broadcasters saw programmes increasingly as commodities. Could Mr Grade be harbouring hopes of becoming the next director-general, when John Birt steps down? The view of his peers and contemporaries was that he would have to be begged. He is clearly in demand: the rumour mill also threw up the snippet that he was approached as a potential chairman/chief executive of Yorkshire-Tyne Tees. Someone then mischieviously suggested that his name was in a confidential brown envelope to run the Pearson/MAI- backed Channel 5 Broadcasting. But the bid's front man, Greg Dyke, rushed over to deny it. So the speculation rolls on.

For glittering parties, this week's top slot goes to the one held at central London's fashionable restaurant, the Ivy, to launch Splash, the novel by and, as it happens, about, three top media women. Who was the first person to catch the eye of arriving guests? John Major. The Prime Minister. But why? He surely can't owe any favours to the book's three authors: Eve Pollard (former editor of the Sunday Express), Joyce Hopkirk (founding editor of British Cosmopolitan), and Val Hudson, (petite and bubbly wife of Labour MP Robin Corbett). No, he probably doesn't, but ask yourself: who is Ms Pollard's husband? Right: Sir Nick Lloyd, editor of the Daily Express. Ah, so that's why the Prime Minister, Mrs Bottomley and half the Cabinet turned up to celebrate the publication of a book about a top media woman who has an affair with a leading politician ...

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