Diary

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The Independent Online
Hazardism - the exhibiting of dangerous works of art - has been identified by my colleague David Lister as a peculiar tendency of our fin-de-siecle. Noxious fumes, unstable electric sculptures, suppurating livestock, dripping mud and dangling grand pianos have all been pressed into service, until one sighs for the day when the most dangerous thing you'd encounter at a Tate exhibition was a lump of impasto falling off a Jack Yeats landscape and crushing your toe.

The recently announced shortlist for the Turner Prize has had me wondering, though. I note that the egregious Damien Hirst is on it. Mr Hirst's newest installation, denied exhibition in America in case it made viewers vomit, features the carcasses of a bull and a cow kitted out with a hydraulic widget which allows them to simulate copulation while they rot before your eyes. Will the Tate (which traditionally shows the work of Turner shortlistees) exhibit the fornicating cattle? Will we have to go and look at them? Will it win the prize for the finest contribution to modern art?

Scanning the other contenders, I fell with relief on the name of Mark Wallinger, among whose works is a real, live horse, entitled A Real Work of Art. I rang the Tate. What arrangements had they made to exhibit the beast? "We'll be choosing from a range of Wallinger's works," they said sniffily. "Probably not the horse." But it wouldn't take much, I reasoned - a pile of straw, a few oats, an apple ... ? "I don't think so," said the Tate and rang off.

So there we are. Lethal gases and disintegrating cows, but not an unhazardous, living thing. Weird, the palace of Art.

Bill Gates's Microsoft Corporation will launch its Windows 95 operating system in Washington on 24 August - "the biggest product launch in the [computer] industry's brief history," according to the trade press. Anxious to keep excitement levels high, the Microsoft people have been garnering superlatives from commercial peers. Among them, a chap called David Readerman from Montgomery Securities is approvingly quoted as saying: "The importance of Windows 95 cannot be underestimated." I don't think Gates and Co should be too grateful. Either Mr Readerman doesn't know the difference between over- and under-estimation, or this is a rare sighting of silken irony, US-style.

Fans of Gregorian chant will know the heavenly noises made by the choir of St Michael's Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire (10,000 of you bought the CD). But behind the rood screens, a drama to tax the imagination of Monteverdi has been unfolding.

Everything seemed normal back in July. Then, out of the blue, came a letter from the prior to all the choristers, telling them their services were not needed after 24 September. Consternation engulfed Farnborough. Rumours flew. Accusations centred on the figure of Cuthbert Brogan, the abbey's new 26-year-old "precentor", a recent Oxford graduate who sings lead vocals at abbey masses. Members of the congregation looked at the prior (in his seventies) and at the ambitious Cuthbert, and concluded that the prior had been manipulated by the younger monk. But why?

Then the choirmaster discovered that in the current British Music Yearbook his name has been replaced by that of the upstart Cuthbert. A local woman, incensed by the loss of the Farnborough chanters, distributed leaflets of complaint outside the abbey - and someone set the police on her for "trespassing". Distraught locals were then advised that the abbey was closed for a "restoration" which would involve the removal of choir stalls and the vastly precious organ; a letter claimed that the arrangements were being made with the help of English Heritage, but they, when asked, knew nothing.

Exciting, huh? More Anthony than Joanna Trollope, with a dash of PD James. But the question remains: why is the shadowy Dom Cuthbert trying to sack his choir and bin his organ? Suggestions that he is embarking on a solo career as a Gregorian crooner are surely too fanciful to be true.

Today's woman, according to the Central Statistical Office, is a stressed- out boardroom in-fighter, better educated, harder working, less disposed to housework or, it seems, much frivolity. Does this mean a whole new generation is evolving to whom professional endeavour means more than the crass images of "femininity" (indolence, consumerism, romance) that used to monopolise fiction, movies and ads? Not, it seems, when it comes to little girls. It's my daughter's birthday this week, and, at her insistence, I bought her a personal organiser called Dear Diary (apparently no clued- up eight-year-old is complete without one). On the back, the aspirations of modern, Alice-banded, hula-hooping British girlhood are laid horribly bare: "Dear Diary, I dreamt I was whisked away to a faraway place. There was a cool breeze, a beautiful beach, really cute boys and lots of shopping ..."

Football and I haven't been desperately close for some years - not since the Sixties, in fact, when I used to stand in the Shed at Stamford Bridge, being leant on by a 23-stone draper's assistant with a big tattoo, cheering on Peter Osgood and Johnny Hollins, and leaping up in mass rapture at a goal. But if anything could drag me back to the terraces, it is meeting Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's famously irascible boss.

What a charmer. Over dinner in London, to launch his "manager's diary" - A Year in the Life - he talked a blue streak: motivation, money, the Mafia's hold on one of his former players, the price (and precise aesthetic value) of an original Cantona abstract, the vast physical attributes of Dion Dublin, the Coventry skipper ("horrendous"), his fondness for Connemara hotels and Parisian restaurants, and the likelihood of his retiring before John Major.

What fascinated me, though, was Ferguson's friendship with Sir Richard Greenbury, the feisty, apron-wearing, options-busting boss of Marks & Spencer, who loomed over the dinner table like a headmaster. The two have been close mates for six years, since Greenbury wrote to Ferguson praising his tactics at a moment when the latter was going through a bad patch. Once, Greenbury told me, David Frost asked if they'd swap jobs for a week, for a television programme. "But Alex wasn't sure if he could handle the press like me, and I wasn't sure if I could handle the players like him." They make an intriguing double-act. Stand by for the Marks 'n' Sparks/Man United Management Handbook.

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