Diary

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The Independent Online
On Saturday night, respectable residents of Streatham, south London, heard for the first time in 20 years a din emanating from Ambleside Avenue. Alarmed, they shook their heads, locked their doors and told their teenage children to stay in: Cynthia Payne was holding her final party.

It was, according to Payne party veterans, a most nostalgic affair. There were men dressed as vicars, retired prostitutes dressed in rubber, wielding whips, and plenty of bedroom activity - all in the incongruous surroundings of Payne's typically neat suburban decor - flowery wallpaper and patterned carpets. "Just like the old days," guests kept muttering, while la grande dame was misty-eyed with emotion. She held the party as a final tribute to days gone by, since, in the style of the Princess of Wales, she is retiring "from public life".

Even local cabbies who collected guests in the small hours shed a tear or two. "Before you get in, we better tell you we don't accept luncheon vouchers," they told passengers jokingly, sighing afterwards: "we haven't had to say that for 20 years."

Delegates attending the conference of the International Telecommunications Union, opened by Nelson Mandela in Geneva yesterday, perked up when they learnt that security required them each to have a conference code-name. "Mine is Sibelius," a BBC executive announced excitedly, "and I know that someone else's is Presley. The million-dollar question is, what is John Birt's?" The Beeb men plan, I believe, to walk up to Birt throughout the convention calling him every composer's name from Bach to Strauss until he acknowledges one. Ah well. I guess it beats talking about the telecommunications industry.

In the good old days MPs existed to help and represent their constituents. Alas, it seems that nowadays Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Tory MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury thinks he is far too busy for such humdrum concerns. He recently received a letter from 18-year-old Amy Street, an A-level student at a Cotswold comprehensive, asking for literature on Tory Party policy on Europe to help her for her history coursework project comparing current divisions in the party over Europe with those provoked by the Corn Laws in 1846.

It seems, however, that Mr Clifton-Brown's sensibilities were offended by her approach. Instead of responding to Ms Street, he wrote to her headmaster, saying: "It is really not the function of a Member of Parliament to assist students with their courses ... this request is going well beyond the parameters of an MP ... I would be most grateful if you would pass on this information to all your staff to preclude other students writing with similar requests."

Ms Street, an intelligent lady, on course for Oxford, is understandably miffed. "All I wanted was a leaflet. I hardly think he would have got a deluge of pestering letters," she says. "He also had the cheek to send me a letter on my 18th birthday - because, no doubt, he wants my vote at the general election." Something tells me he's blown that one.

Speaking of Tory splits on Europe, this week sees the launch of Andrew Roberts's debut thriller, The Aachen Memorandum, a work of unadulterated propaganda for the Eurosceptic cause (Roberts is the historian who joined John Redwood's bandwagon in the summer). His book is set in the United States of Europe in 2045 where evil and corruption abound in government (of course) and the good guys are the insurrectionist movement of Nats (nationalists).

The most mystifying thing about this book is the identity of the man upon whom Roberts has based his fat, balding, but none the less very brilliant asthmatic journalist hero, Horatio Lestoq.

Vestigially, he is undoubtedly Matthew d'Ancona, a fellow of All Souls and assistant editor of the Times who published the controversial Irish Framework document earlier this year. Roberts labels Lestoq the "demon document detective" - a reference to d'Ancona's forthcoming publication alleging that certain fragments found at Oxford are eye-witness accounts of Christ. "There are also," Roberts concedes, "parts of Dean Godson - a Sunday Telegraph leader writer - in him." But Lestoq has one character trait that d'Ancona assures me he does not recognise. The man is a regular Lothario. And when he isn't actually in bed with a pouting mega-babe, he has sex on the brain. "When he gets to the bedroom, all resemblance to me ends," says d'Ancona firmly. "That's the part of him that was unmistakably Andrew Roberts [recently married] in his bachelor days. "

To the launch of Prospect, Britain's new pluralistic political monthly magazine, which, it must be said, bears a closer resemblance to an inflight magazine, on the outside at least, than to any august political journal. Still, the party at Senate House, in Bloomsbury, London, was, to everybody's enormous surprise, packed. Many, including John Brown, owner of Viz magazine, had not got a clue why they had been asked. "I don't understand it," Brown told friends. "David Goodhart [Prospect's editor] asked me to contribute to the magazine's funding. I refused - not very politely - yet he still asked me."

But all became clear when Goodhart got up to speak. He thanked all those who had contributed and all those who hadn't - for the latter he said had stiffened his resolve to publish. "That's why I decided to invite them tonight ... they know who they are,'' he declared. At which point several in the room, Brown included, stared fixedly into their drinks.

Those of you who can recall from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Duckface's floral bridal arrangement - surely one of the factors that caused Grant's character to jilt her at the altar - may be interested to know that its manufacturer has written a book called Wedding Flowers, published this month. In the manner of Hugh Grant, the florist Simon Lycett, 28, has acquired fame on the back of FWAF. Not only has Ebury press asked him to write the book on wedding arrangements, but he has also just finished doing the flowers for the forthcoming film Restoration, starring Meg Ryan and Robert Dowey jnr. "My next project is Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night," he tells me happily. At last! A suitable period for that revolting flowery headpiece.

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