Diary

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The Independent Online
Summer is now officially here. Wilkes, the rightful occupant of this space, has adjourned, in common with most of his Euro-sceptical ilk, to Tuscany, where they can complain about the Germans in a much more agreeable climate. But there are other signs of the season, too. The calibre of the radio phone-ins has improved immeasurably now that the teachers are on holiday. And there are the Proms. Normally, of course, right-thinking people would have nothing but disdain for types who take the radio into the garden. But on a balmy evening during the Proms this is no longer a solecism. Thanks to the Labeque sisters' splendidly loud Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos and their gutsy showbiz encore (On Fire by Michel Camilo, for those who never got round to ringing the Radio 3 duty officer to ask), I have already been able to inflict a felicitous revenge on the neighbour who plays the drums (badly) and the one who thinks the appropriate thing to do when mowing the lawn is to turn Capital Radio up rather than off.

Better still is actually turning up at one of the Late Night Proms when the rest of London seems finally to have hurried home, leaving the Albert Hall in an eerie, unpressured calm in which works like Arvo Part's St John's Passion on Monday (with its haunting simplicity, plangent harmonies and rude medieval Latin admirably scorning the effete sibilance of the usually favoured public-school pronunciations) can summon up a special midnight magic.

Mutterings on the 7.02pm out of Waterloo. Once more the rail drivers' union Aslef was the object of the invective. More strikes in the offing? On the contrary, the vituperative commuters - who had clearly inked rather than pencilled all the forthcoming dispute days into their dairies - were moaning about the plans they had had to abandon for their "working from home" days. Amazing what you can do with a portable computer and a pair of secateurs.

True Secrets of the Confessional: parliamentary observers were taken aback earlier this month when, during one of the warm-up bouts before the traditional tug-of-war between the Lords and the Commons, a surprise victory was achieved by the team from Westminster Cathedral, who were at the other end of the rope from Westminster Abbey Choir School. In last year's Papists v Prods tug, the Catholics were ignominiously defeated by St Paul's Cathedral in a matter of seconds. Now I can reveal how Cardinal Hume's crew - fronted by the cathedral rector but including a platoon of maintenance men and Sally McAllister, the cardinal's secretary - pulled their striking victory out of the berretta.

The man behind the coup was Fr Michael Seed, whose job as the cardinal's ecumenical officer is, on the surface at any rate, to promote good relations between the parties to the Reformation schism. Fr Seed, it transpires is Catholic chaplain to the London HQ of all five Guards regiments, one of which put him in touch with the Royal Corps of Physical Training Instructors. His plan was simply to borrow a rope for training his squad.

But when the rope came, Warrant Officer Andy Ruffley, the top man from the PT corps, came with it. After two months' intensive training the cathedral team was so good that at its final rehearsal it beat a team of eight Grenadier Guards who had marched into the cathedral yard to act as tugging partners. On the day, the Westminster Abbey people were pulled Romewards with an ease which the Church of England will find a little too metaphorically close for comfort.

Not that everyone laments the flood to Rome. Bob Geldof lives in a converted priory just outside Faversham which still has a church attached. Despite walls that look a couple of feet thick, the hymns from the Sunday morning service seep through. Or they did until recently. Now half the congregation has decamped to the Roman Catholic church down the road. "And the really screechy singers seem to be among them," he tells me. I always knew the Anglican aesthetic was the purer.

"I couldn't have a baby," said the woman in the poster. Until she met Morris Cerullo - proof, apparently, that "Miracles Happen". Well, not so much proof (it turns out she already had three children). But we get the point. The US evangelist has apparently decided to drop the ad after complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. But is this the correct response? If Mr Cerullo is so potent - in the power of his prayer, I add for the impure of thought - perhaps we should draft him in to compensate for the deteriorating sperm count of the rest of the male population in the developed world.

"Never use a temporary card reader," says the slogan which flashes up nowadays whenever I go to get money from the hole-in-the-wall machine. I have to confess to being mystified by this. Is it advice to the manufacturers of greetings cards about the unreliability of using students looking for summer jobs to check the Patience Strong-style verses in their products? Is it advice to those who want to use the reading room of the British Museum? Or is it perhaps an admonition against putting too much faith in the prognostications of the vicar's wife when she reads her tarot cards at the church fete with brass curtain-rings dangling from her ears and wearing a spangly turban? Or might it mean something else? A bottle of Bollinger for the best reader's suggestion published. Employees of NatWest Bank need not apply.

You don't really need to know this, but my unhappy sense of collective responsibility impels me to tell you that when the page proofs appear in the office for this column the name of the author is always there in the little black line at the top. Then, by some mysterious process, the computer purges it when the paper is printed. Which is by way of saying that yesterday's was by our literary editor, John Walsh - though, ceteris paribus, you would probably have worked that out already from its generous sprinkling with exotic tags. I am assured it will be rectified by tonight, but then they said that after Sara Maitland's name was left off on Monday. So, just to be on the safe side, this is Paul Vallely who writes.

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