Diary

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The Independent Online
So this is how rumours start. A young interviewer from the BBC was scheduled to interrogate Timothy West the other day. As part of his initial research he conscientiously checked the BBC's obituary files to make sure he had all the relevant data on West in the right order. At the end of the entry for West, T, he read the tragic line "West was married to the actress Prunella Scales". And armed with this sorry intelligence, he ventured forth to talk to the great man. "I'm sorry to hear," he said to West right at the start of the interview, "that you've split up with your wife." There was a bit of a silence. "I'm sorry to hear it too," said West. "I thought she was upstairs in the bath ...."

Those of us who had the sense to bung a tenner on Pat Barker winning the Booker when the odds were still 7/1 could be allowed a smug smile on Tuesday night, when they handed her the prize at the Guildhall. Otherwise it was a rather unsettling evening.

On arriving - I'd been invited to join the Viking table, with Ms Barker and her publishers - I was told I couldn't sit with them after all, "because you've been told the winner and the Booker people are afraid you might, you know, gossip" (who, me?).

Then there was the Invasion of the Paparazzi shortly before the announcement of the prize at 9pm. Across the acreage of tables groaning with puddings, ports and Corona cigars, the tuxedoed clan of metropolitan bookmen blinked with surprise at the hurly-burly of lensmen, standing around like flying pickets in their anoraks and donkey jackets. Imagine the sansculottes interrupting supper at the Palace of Versailles and you have the general idea. They were there to photograph the winning author in all his or her glory; but you could tell they were all hoping to photograph the moment Salman Rushdie, stepping up to receive the prize, stopped a bullet. When it was clear that this was no longer a likelihood, they melted away into the night, cursing softly.

The audience stuck around to cheer Sir Michael Caine, Booker plc's genial chairman, who is standing down as ringmaster of the prize after 27 years, and whose legendary stammer, like a battered Morris Oxford refusing to start on a February morning, has become more pronounced every year. Then the literati split into five taxi-borne platoons heading for the shortlistees' private parties.

At the Savoy, I met the chap with the task of flogging the film rights of The Ghost Road, with its memorable double-act of the posh Edinburgh psychiatrist, Rivers, and the bisexual working-class officer, Billy Prior. "Linus Roache, the guy from Priest, to play Billy, I think," said he, "and we'll try Alan Rickman for Rivers." Did the author agree? "No, no, no, Sean Connery to play Rivers," said Pat Barker firmly, "and one of the McGann boys to play Billy ...."

Barker was a popular choice, give or take a few complaints from Rushdie fans; but the only authentic voice of bliss came at the Guildhall during the pee-break. Returning to my table, I met a breathless senior publishing executive, clutching her bijouterie. "Just been to the ladies," she confided. "God, the excitement of having one's seat warmed by the Secretary of State for National Heritage ...."

Thanks to Michael Cockerell, the documentary maker, we shall all be better informed, come Saturday night, on the gripping subject of Enoch Powell's sex life. Odd Man Out, Cockerell's "intimate film portrait" of the great man, offers umpteen revelations about Powell's lost love (the Sunday papers leapt at that one), his attitude to female scholars, his erotic poetry and desperate desire to have a son (in each of his wife's pregnancies, Enoch prematurely christened the foetus "David Enoch Powell" and put its name down for Eton); he was disappointed to find that each baby would answer more readily to a name like Susan.

But the oddest detail to emerge from the programme is the biblically browed classicist's chronic hydrophobia. Powell, it seems, simply cannot stand water. He hates the stuff. Swimming, bathing, hosepipes, rain - yeech. Above all, he hates his hair being washed. Pamela, his long-suffering wife, reveals how she used to wash his hair for him and how his agonising screams used to bring his daughters from their rooms to stand outside the bathroom door, listening to their traumatised Papa.

"I would be on the ground floor," recalls Susan Day (nee Powell), "and the noise, the objections, reverberated down the pipes and ran down the outside of the house as he was being given his weekly hair wash." Hence the famous "rivers of Timotei" speech.

Christmas cards are under attack from Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, who pronounces himself appalled at the tiny amounts charities derive from the sale of cards. It used to be as low as 5p in the quid; now it's down (in the case of the Friends of the Earth cards) to 3p. Which makes me wonder what will become of the cards on sale today at Atrium, the bookshop in Cork Street in the depths of London's artland.

To celebrate its third birthday, it is launching a range of cards designed by a hundred of the shop's favourite artists - Bridget Riley, Terry Frost, the war artist John Keane, Sir Anthony Caro, Andrew Logan, John Hoyland, you get the picture. The cards, which are one-off works of art, will cost anything from pounds 25 to about pounds 2,000, depending on what dealers would normally charge (the two-grand piece de resistance is by David Bowie) will be sold to help the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust.

How much will the charity get? "They get the lot," says an Atrium voice. "Buyers will make the cheque out directly to the trust. We don't make a cent, and nor do the artists. Even the paper is donated." Such altruism is to be marvelled at. So go along to 5 Cork Street today and buy one. Here, to encourage you, is a design by the brilliant Michael Clark, a Virgin and Child surrounded by upholstery pins. A snip at pounds 800 and think how nice it will look beside the flame-effect Yule log.

I knew that violence in American society was spreading to previously uncharted areas, but this is getting serious. A joke doing the rounds in Pennsylvania runs as follows: What goes "Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip- clop. clip-clop, bang-bang, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop"? You've guessed - it's an Amish drive-by shooting.

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