John Walsh: Tales of the city

The humble piece of stationery at the trembling core of Tracey Temple's being
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The Independent Online

It's quite a pleasing coincidence, isn't it, that the woman who is currently enjoying nationwide fame as Britain's most famous - sorry, infamous - diarist should herself be a diary secretary.

I wonder what the job usually involves. If you were to pop round to Admiralty House, or wherever the House of Commons' human-resources department is located, would you find that the job description reads: "The diary secretary must organise the Deputy Prime Minister's busy working schedule, shield him from time-wasters, protect him from lobbyists and arrange one-to-one meetings only insofar as they are vital to the success of the New Labour project or the smooth running of the DPM's departments - eg, financial reports, select committee analyses and oral sex under the desk around teatime"? Are there other subsections of being a secretary - can you apply to be a Dictaphone secretary, and a blotter secretary, and an Ikea filing-cabinet secretary? And if we were to open Mr Prescott's actual desk diary, the humble piece of stationery that's at the trembling core of Tracey Temple's being, what would we find therein?

Would the pages feature a series of formal appointments, clearly pencilled, then inked, in for 2pm on Thursday the 12th or 7pm on Monday the 16th? Or would there be more to see? E Jane Dickson, writing of the John'n'Trace affair in The Independent yesterday, had much sport with Ms Temple's teenage spellings of "coz" and "bizi", rather than "because" and "busy". But did Ms Temple's curious idiolect spill over into the entries themselves? Did Mr Prescott puzzle over, for instance, "11am: meet with Mr J Phal of Indineezher," or, "1.15pm: lunch wiv Raymondo Proddy"? The lovely thing is, of course, that the DPM, being barely on speaking terms with the English language himself, would hardly have felt it his place to upbraid her for incomprehensibility. Indeed, he may not even have noticed.

I'm not sure how many people in Mr Prescott's massive portfolio would have been able to peruse his diary, day by day, but I think we may assume that, as the affair progressed, Ms Temple's entries would have become less formal and more reckless. Imagine her soft hand guiding the hard Mont Blanc pen across the creamy vellum of His Diary. How could her thoughts not have drifted into erotic territory? Did the DPM blink to read the words, "4pm: crisis talks with Trevor Gillespie of Defra re avian flu I have amazing new pants on today wiv tiny roziz down the front 5pm deposition from RSPB"?

Oh, I think he probably did. As he sat at his desk on 14 February and opened his diary, did he find an un-departmental burst of humorous "She loves me!" and "She loves me not!" messages inscribed all over the page in what seemed to be pink (free with Sugar magazine!) lipstick? Did he find spontaneous declarations of passion embedded in otherwise neutral diary details ("12.30: address agricultural workers collective Wigan can hardly walk 2day UR top shag big boy")?

How did the mistress keep her boss abreast of the state of her feelings when he was away from the office on foreign trips? Why, by putting in little extra messages to remind him, such as: "30 March, 9am, meetg ovel office wiv Conderliza Rice who deservz a gd spanking (not the only one!)." It would have been an exciting game to play for a while.

Of course, one always ran the risk of having Ms Temple's entries rumbled - one shudders to think of the day when Prescott's PPS said to him, "I was a bit alarmed to see from your diary, John, that bang in the middle of the G9 summit in Buenos Aires, you've scheduled a visit to the Agent Provocateur sale in Piccadilly. Look - just there. It even says '36C', underlined twice. Are you sure you're feeling all right?"

A dangerous game. But I expect, like Ms Temple's L'Oréal complexion, it was worth it.

Hey, you, get outta my tree

Poor Keith Richards. He fell out of a coconut tree on a Fijian island resort last week, banged his head and is still in an Auckland hospital, recovering from concussion and the after-effects of a brain-scan.

Leaving aside one's natural concern that the vampire of rock preserved his ultra-cool demeanour during this farcical episode (did he, as the hotel medics ran up to him with towels, say, "No - let it bleed"?), and stifling irrelevant wonderings about what on earth a Keith Richards brain-scan must look like (lots of green, orange and pink areas, I fancy, with hundreds of half-remembered chords and lyrics and empty Jack Daniel's bottles lying around), one has to wonder: what on earth was he doing up the tree?

A man whose earnings this year will top £180m does not, presumably, have to gather his own coconuts, no matter how exclusive the beach resort. The presence of Ronnie Wood climbing the tree at the same time suggests that they may have been having a race, but that can't be true. Two gentlemen aged 62 and 60 behaving like eight-year-olds? Impossible. Which leads us to think that Mr Richards may have been looking for some form of spiritual communion in the sunlit upper branches - like Buddha, who found perfect enlightenment while sitting under a Bo tree (though there's no report of his actually scrambling up it with a pal).

If so, it wasn't the first time. I remember when the great guitarist fell off a ladder in the library of his Connecticut home in 1998 and cracked his ribs, and I asked him if he could remember which book he'd been so urgently, indeed so suicidally, trying to reach. "It was a book of Michelangelo drawings," he told me. "That Michelangelo, man - he's a hard teacher."

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