ETON has a new headmaster, so naturally you have turned here to discover a little more about John Lewis, currently the head of Geelong Grammar, the koala Eton. You have chosen well; not unsurprisingly, the Captain has relations 'down under'. So what cameos, insights, keys to the inner man can I provide? Well, I am able to report that Mr Lewis was discovered by police driving his car in pyjamas early the other day, such was his eagerness to get to the newsagents (a New Zealander, he is a big rugby man and was anxious to update himself on the All Blacks' England tour). Nickname: antipodean invention in this field has for once failed, leaving us with Ludo or Jack (during a spell teaching at Eton in the 1970s it was Jerry Lee, apparently).
Mr Lewis coaches the Geelong First Rugby XV, but the Captain's colonial cousins are not impressed by his physique: 'only a little weedy sort of man,' is the typically direct way they phrase it. This is put down to his diet and his forceful Scandinavian wife, Vibeke, who, they claim, doesn't allow him to eat meat.
It may also have it roots in a celebrated incident at his Alma Mater, King's College, Auckland, where his father J D Lewis, seemingly a rather more colourful figure, was a housemaster and owner of a poodle called Fifi. One day Fifi was discovered liberally covered in garlic paste, applied by some miscreant pupils in the hope that the poor animal might attract the attention of a passing New Zealander with a rumbling stomach. How unlike life in our own Royal Berkshire] Meanwhile, the cousins suggest that worries about Eton going co-ed should be addressed to Vibeke.
MY TRADE is trivia. While others were dwelling deeply on the implications of the latest Northern Ireland revelations, word reached me that Ian Paisley absolutely swears by cod liver oil. His son, Ian junior, tells of the time he was once sent out to scour the darkened streets of Brussels when the Rev was caught short.
The Captain's medicine man, Dr Hugo Illegible, is not impressed with cod liver oil. He says it was very useful as a vitamin A and D supplement during the war and the dull days afterwards when vegetables and sunshine were in short supply, but he can see no use for it now at all, 'except possibly as a mild bowel regulator'.
The Doctor, moving into psychology, a field where he is less qualified, suspects that the Rev's attachment is an indication of an urgent desire to hang on to the unquestioned nostrums of his childhood, including rampant unionism. I couldn't possibly comment.
But I can tell you that Seven Seas, the market leaders in cod liver oil, say that it is the most popular medicine in Britain, and that sales have increased fourfold in the last five years. Apparently we consume more than a million litres of it a year. Pace Dr Illegible, they say it is very good for joint pains, and far superior to the halibut variety. Something else to think about. I should say.
A smooth man steps into Mr Clarke's shoes
IT CAME as quite a shock. There I was, on that little green opposite the Commons, waiting for Kenneth Clarke to amble over to receive an award, when the rather thinner figure of Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP for Gedling and Government whip, emerged blinking into the daylight instead.
The occasion was, of course, the award for Britain's Best Pressed MP, sponsored by Rowenta, the people who make the irons, offering pounds 1,000 to the charities of your choice. Mr Mitchell, maintaining dignity, refused all truck with pictures involving ironing boards. I pressed the Rowenta people, but they refused to confirm that Mr Clarke had been on the short list. David Elliott, managing director Rowenta UK, under pressure, revealed that he ironed shirts collar first, and was immediately contradicted by his ironing expert, Noreen.
Mary Spillane, image consultant and one of the judges, was impressed with the size of Mr Mitchell's tie knot and general turn-out, although she thought he was short of a good shine and a shoe tree. This brought us to Mr Clarke, for whom she had some free advice: 'First he needs a measuring tape and to stop buying suits the size he was 15 years ago. Then he needs to stop tying his knot like a schoolboy with the tie flying around inside out. A half-Windsor is the answer, not the full one, because that tends to take over the neck.'
And the shoes, the famous brown suede jobs? Ms Spillane thought their rubber soles might be useful in the event of lightning, but was otherwise unimpressed. She thought they had once said: 'I'm not a city slicker, I'm not part of the Establishment, I'm a guy from the real world', but that this message was 'only going to be cute for a while'. Simply put, said Ms Spillane, 'suede shoes have no place in a man's business or professional life'.
The Clarke shoes are interesting. 'I always wear Hush Puppies,' he has said. 'People began to talk about it . . . which led me to notice that other people weren't wearing them any more. Now I wear them out of a certain bloody-mindedness.' Nevertheless, there were reports last week, when he became the first Chancellor to deliver a Budget wearing brown suede shoes, that he had worn his good pair rather than
the everyday bog standards. Although this seemed extremely hard to believe, looking at them, it was confirmed by a Treasury spokesman. It is something of a tribute to the Treasury, I feel, that it has a man fully briefed on the Chancellor's shoes.
His guidance was that the Budget shoes had leather soles rather than the usual rubber. The situation remained that the more people noticed them, the more Mr Clarke was likely to find them comfortable. There has been a suggestion that he wears them with black tie; on balance, but without first-hand experience, the spokesman doubted this. He also had advice on nomenclature: the use by Chancellor of the words Hush Puppies did not necessarily mean his shoes were Hush Puppies; he was using the term in a generic sense.
This is important, as there have been reports that Hush Puppies are less than ecstatic about the Chancellor's scuffed patronage, given their current pounds 1m advertising campaign aimed at the younger buyer. Their spokesman denied this, saying they would be foolish to deny their 'comfort and quality heritage'. Just as soon as he could find out Mr Clarke's size, they would be sending some samples of their whole range round. I went back to the Treasury. 'Size? I wouldn't like to say. They're not large . . . about size 8 I would say.'
Alan Watkins, our political commentator, meanwhile, tells me that Harold Macmillan wore brown suede shoes. Back on the green, the loyal Mr Mitchell announced that he would be buying a pair for Christmas and in future would be pressing down.
Now aiming to sink Churchill
CLIVE PONTING sits in the politics department at the university in Swansea, friendly in the way of a shy man. He is, in the old phrase, 'no stranger to controversy', but the manner is less Oliver Reed than the civil servant he once was, before he became a footnote to Thatcher's Britain as the mandarin who leaked about the Belgrano and got away with it.
The brouhaha bubbling nicely now is about his latest book, a political biography of Churchill. It won't be out until next year, but already the Conservative newspapers have begun thundering against the early publicity: racism, a willingness while Home Secretary to contemplate forced sterilisation and labour camps, an eagerness to nuke the Russians, no questions asked. Ponting has already been accused of muck- raking and described as a bitter and twisted man.
In Swansea, Ponting does not appear full of rage and spit. True, he has a beard now, but he has grown it, he says, because the top is thinning, in the interests of balance. He is eager to stress that he is not a debunker or a courtier of controversy, that his book is 320,000 words and 850 pages of exhaustive, supported research. We are not talking David Irving.
He accepts that he is risking flak; but Ponting is a man intrigued by myth. His last book but one was about the myths of 1940. Myths for Ponting are to be challenged. He may like Wagner and Mahler and Elgar, but he is not romantic in this at least. 'I don't think certain topics should be ruled out. In the end nobody should be above justified criticism.'
That, of course, is exactly the attitude that got him in trouble in the first place. Ponting was a high flier, an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Defence closely involved in the aftermath of the Falklands conflict, and particularly in Tam Dalyell's unswerving pursuit of the sinking of the Belgrano. Ponting objected to the economical approach taken by ministers towards what Parliament should be told about dates and movements concerning the Argentine warship. So he leaked two unclassified but illuminating documents to Mr Dalyell. He was prosecuted under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, but acquitted by a jury unimpressed by the evidence against him and the judge's summing up.
It was a great triumph for the left and a beleaguered Labour opposition; the Government and its supporters were severely miffed. There was a feeling that Ponting had not played the game, that it hadn't quite been cricket. Much was made of his small-business, grammar-school, red-brick background. The Times accused him of 'disloyalty'.
'Disloyal to whom?' he says now. 'If being loyal means you have to cover up for a government lying to Parliament, I don't think much of that type of loyalty.' And the view that he is bitter, twisted and tilting at Establishment icons? 'Ridiculously simplistic.'
From here, the affair now seems very distant. Does he feel like a footnote? 'I don't think I was ever under any great illusion that what I did was going to change anything in the world, and that official secrecy was going to be suddenly or decisively altered by it. What you can say is that they reformed the Official Secrets Act and that it's marginally better than it was.'
He campaigned for more freedom of information after leaving the Civil Service, but is not involved now, feeling he has done his bit. He has written two books about Whitehall, but is no longer a watcher, except from an entertained distance, as with the Scott Inquiry. For a time he attempted self-sufficiency on a five-acre smallholding in west Wales with his wife, Sally - he has written a green history of the world - but now his time is divided between writing and lecturing.
Ponting smiles a lot, which is unexpected, after all those grave outside court shots. But then, he says, it was not a funny time. He says he has no regrets about abandoning the ladder which would have led to Sir Clive and all that, but he refuses to agree that his disenchantment with the Civil Service was inevitable. People in the service, obviously, were divided about what he did. No, he doesn't really see people from then now. It was a long time ago. And he loves cricket.
AND NOW . . . it's . . . competition time] Following the inclusion of Auberon Waugh's coining of 'to pilger' in the OED, we asked you to submit definitions of 'to waugh', or of a verb derived from anybody else worthy of your attention. As far as 'to waugh' went, no one really managed to better Mr Waugh's own offering here last week: 'to make a loud noise to no particular purpose'. So the bubbly goes to William Petrie, of London, for 'jonmajor: to deliberate publicly over a decision that has already been made privately, as in 'stop your jonmajoring and tell the truth' '; for 'heseltine: to reverse a decision and then introduce it by degrees, as in 'I'm going to have to heseltine this one'; well done, Mr Petrie: Moonlight bubbly for you]
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