Diary

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The Independent Online
Leafing through the current issue of the Economist, I came face to face with its first obituary page. Quite a departure for the viewspaper, which traditionally prefers economic trends and sharp analysis to personalities. The editor, Bill Emmott, says it adds an extra layer of variety and interest to the paper:"We're not just recording a death, we're recording a life." But the challenge is going to lie in finding the right sort of life to record for a 500,000 international readership heavily skewed towards the United States, and for a publication which in its recent past has tended to give the impression that it had rather tired of Britain. So it is with genuine surprise that Ifind that the honour of the first obituary goes to a very British figure, Joseph Needham, former master of Gonville & Caius, Cambridge, the great authority on China's science and technology ... and an enthusiastic Morris dancer. This week's spot is provisionally reserved for David Herbert, the self-styled Queen of Tangiers, who formed the cornerstone of the ludicrous ex-pat community and the perfect subject for a fulsomeobit treatment. But how will that play, as they used to say, in Peoria, Illinois?

The first issue of the Wessex Journal is about to reach Dorset and Somerset newsagents: strange that such a publication needed inventing - with a title like that it sounds as if it has been around for ever. It is the brainchild of the former Independent journalist Peter Dunn, and his wife, Elisabeth, who are certain there is a gap for regionalised bi-monthly pocket-sized magazines in the mould of the Countryman and the Dalesman. They are reinforced in this view by the instant success of Downs Country, launched last autumn, for people in the deep south of Kent and Sussex. "We certainly think we are on to something here. The mass exodus from the horrors of city life in the Eighties has changed the whole nature of rural England," says Mr Dunn. "Villages in the South-west are awash with well-informed, middle-class, prosperous folk, many with an intensely idealistic passion for the countryside." (One no-go area, capable of dividing newcomers from the old hands, is hunting - which the magazine won't touch.) He is already working on issue two, which will include a special article by Professor Fukasawi of Tokyo University, who is president of the Thomas Hardy Society in Japan. The Japanese are more devoted to Hardy than we are, with a society that pre-dates the UK's. But their real love is the wide open Dorset countryside, the swooping downs dotted with sheep, the handsome "greenwood" trees. The society is sending over a delegation to find out how to recreate the Dorset look in Japan.

It's a glorious spring morning, the damson trees are shedding their white blossom across the newly-mown lawn, while the pear is bursting into first flower, but where oh where are the irises I planted last autumn? For the second year running they are coming up blind, just sad spindly leaves, without a trace of a flower. And these were bulbs purchased from the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley garden shop. I rang up to inquire if there had been a general Dutch iris failure: at least it would make me feel better, and somehow dilute my basic belief that the green fingers I once possessed have converted into dead fingers, oddly, with the onset of motherhood. Well-informed Wisley experts rush to assure me that I am the first to complain, but that irises are not really suited to British soil: they prefer somewhere a bit warmer, not too wet. And had I planted them too deep, a common fault? (Well, I just stuck them in.) Having drawn a blank I then let rip on my other complaint: why hasn't the magnolia tree, planted five years ago, produced a single flower, despite copious handfuls of Growmore. Unable to help me on the iris, Wisley at last came good. Not Growmore but potash, they counselled. I rushed to apply some. Now the infuriatingly long wait until next spring to see whether I reap a flowery reward, or just another blind alley.

At what age can children be allowed to travel alone on the train? I've been turning this question over in my mind as the regular holiday riding course attended by my eldest daughters (nine and 12) arrives. (Just as some people long for their sons to become top footballers, or brain surgeons, I aspire for a top horsewoman in the family). Can I put them on the train at Euston, and rely on them to get out at Rugby, two stops later, where they will be met by a reliable friend, thus saving me three hours of a round trip I have done with them dozens of times? Sunday arrived and I escorted them on to the train, full of misgivings. "Don't forget, Milton Keynes, then Rugby. Before you get off count up two suitcases, two sleeping bags, bag of boots and hats, bunch of flowers. If you have to go to the buffet, go together," I clucked. I then noticed that the entire carriage was smiling at me. A middle-aged woman nearby said: "Don't worry, love, I'm going to Manchester, I'll see them off." The younger couple opposite her added: "We'll look after them." As for the children, they hustled me off the train witha cursory peck on the cheek. An hour and 10 minutes later the phone rang. They were alive and well, drinking Traveller's Fare hot chocolate at Rugby station. And I am feeling, suddenly, much older.

Will the decision to let people get married in attractive venues, rather than ghastly local authority register offices, lead to a similar renaissance in wedding receptions: no need to suffer the ritual of cold ham/ turkey/ tongue and salads unless you like them. Good Housekeeping, the glossy arbiter of solid middle-class taste, clearly thinks so and is bringing out a sister publication, Wedding Magazine,which will have all sorts of tried and tested menus for large and small gatherings, second marriages as well as first, and a report on some of the new venues available, including the growth in exotic holidays in the Bahamas. The editor, Alison Pylkkanen, says that if you can get married in a stately home, then you will probably want to put on some style at the reception. Nor is she worried that by not appearing until July she has missed the summer weddings boom. "It's much more evenly spread, people get married all round the year." With a print run of 150,000, has the publisher National Magazines spotted a new trend? Couldmiddle-class marriagebe on the way back?

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