Matthew Bell: The IoS diary


As the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Charleston was the scene of countless misadventures between members of the Bloomsbury set. The Sussex farm was the ideal venue to paint, write and conduct all those confusing affairs. Now the bohemian haven is embroiled in a fresh controversy following the trustees' decision to hire it out as a wedding venue, to the displeasure of local residents.

They complain of excessive noise late at night and say that planning permission has not yet been granted. "Because we are on the Downs and it's very open, noise travels extremely easily," says one. "We do have very sensitive neighbours," says a spokesman at Charleston when I call. Guests cannot stay in the house, as it is a museum, but wedding parties are able to lodge in neighbouring Tilton House, the former home of the economist John Maynard Keynes. Indeed I'm told it is becoming a popular venue for hen parties. Whatever next?

Red faces at the 'Today' programme after some confusion over a guest's identity. Sarah Montague must have been as taken aback as her listeners when, having introduced the former shadow home secretary David Davis live on air, the voice of David Davies, a Tory backbencher, came on."Can I point out that I'm not the former shadow home secretary," he said, "I'm the member of the home affairs select committee. Although we're in the same party, we're not the same person." Oops. An insider tells me Montague had been expecting Davis, but when I call the BBC, a spokesman insists otherwise. "We had always intended to have David Davies. It was just a minor misunderstanding." Who to believe?

On the subject of 'Today', few politicians can hope to emerge from a John Humphrys interrogation with much dignity. In an interview yesterday, Boris Johnson even managed to score a small victory over Humph by correcting him on one point (it's a flag not a baton that is handed over at today's Olympics ceremony). But for all his ingenuity, Johnson may have been too enthusiastic in defending himself. He insisted that the London Olympics would be "fantastic", then used the same word to describe David Cameron, twice. Fantastic also happens to be the word he used to describe Tim Parker after his unexpected resignation as deputy mayor. Could fantastic have another meaning in Boris speak?

Although born in Wales, the late Leo Abse – pronounced Ab-see – made an unlikely MP for Pontypool, the traditional mining community he represented. When he first came to address the National Union of Mineworkers, he was disconcerted to hear the chairman, a Mr Jones, refer to him as "Mr Abs". When Abse discreetly corrected him, Jones replied: "Well, you can call me Jonesy".

As my colleagues on the Business pages report, four major Olympic sponsors are pulling out after these Games. In the case of Johnson & Johnson, perhaps it is understandable. One of its subsidiaries, Acuvue contact lenses, had signed up the BMX star Shanaze Reade as the face of its ad campaign. The 19-year-old is plastered over posters, quoted as saying: "Perfect vision gives me a flying start." Alas, cruel fate! It was Reade who came off her bike not once but twice during the games – more of a flying finish, you might say.

Denis Healey, who turns 91 next Saturday, was speaking at Edinburgh's Festival of Politics last week. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer recalled one of his jobs during the war was to count troops on and off trains. He admitted that the task proved beyond him, so he eventually made up the numbers. This, he said, gave him "a love of statistics which was to come in very handy when I became Chancellor of the Exchequer." Such refreshing candour.

The legendary travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor made a rare public appearance last week at a poetry-reading of works by Sophia Tarnowska Moss. Now both in their nineties, they have been friends since their days in Cairo during the war, when Leigh Fermor and Tarnowska's husband, Billy Moss, kidnapped the German general commanding Crete. Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, whose biography of Leigh Fermor cannot be published until after his death, were among guests at the party, at the Sikorski Institute in London. Leigh Fermor presented Countess Sophia with a copy of his new book, 'In Tearing Haste', a collection of letters between him and the Duchess of Devonshire.

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