Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (14/02/10)

A labour of love
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The Independent Online

It was a week of Mandela mania as the world celebrated 20 years since his release from prison. Far be it for us to detract from his saintliness, but according to his wife, Graca Machel, he is just as annoying as any other 90-year-old gimmer. "He is definitely not a saint!" she told The Economist in a recent interview, going on to list his annoying habits, such as his fussiness over what type of mineral water he is served. And there's more: "He's worse than ever with newspapers. He reads the newspaper and folds it, reads and folds. It is too organised for my taste. Everything has its place. Even today he will take off his hearing aid and line it up on the table, and then place the HIV/Aids pin in position, then the pens, and everything has the same line. It shows how organised his mind is. If I change the order, he will realise and tell me, 'No, Mum, this first.'" Bless.

Jonathan Sumption, the tousle-haired QC who wrote to a judge asking him to tone down his criticism of MI5, will be familiar to Spectator readers as a star book reviewer. But David Blackburn, a Speccy bedfellow, has been repeatedly calling for an inquiry into claims MI5 was complicit in torture. Whether Sumption continues to write for the Spec is unlikely to concern him unduly, as he will doubtless be well looked after by the Government. In an interview with The Lawyer magazine he once said: "In the extremely unlikely event of somebody asking me whether I'd accept a peerage, I honestly don't know what I'd say. I can see the advantage of having some involvement in the political process without the awful grind of having to be elected." Arise, Lord Sumption!

Newspaper pictures of convicted Met commander Ali Dizaei appeared to show two different men: there was the balding man with a few desultory white wisps around the crown, and there was the man sporting a thick black mane marching over his head. The question is, which was the earlier picture? Did the stress of the trial turn his hair white? Closer inspection reveals the reverse, and that his luxuriant locks are, miraculously, new. Dizaei faces four years in jail for misconduct, including making a false arrest, lying and corruption. What will his cell-mates make of a hair-dyeing bent cop?

Standpoint magazine continues to live up to its promise of eschewing the low-brow – acres of space in the current issue are dedicated to a theological discussion between editor Daniel Johnson and the head of the Catholic Church, Vincent Nichols. A photograph showing the two men in conversation reveals that not one but three devices were used to record the interview. We know that Johnson is a consummate professional, and would have brought back-up in case his Dictaphone packed up. But two spares? Did the archbishop bring his own to ensure Dan didn't misquote him? Surely not!

The polls aren't as good as they should be but is David Cameron quietly confident anyway? Last week the celebrity snapper Tom Stoddart was spotted hopping into his car, raising the question that he might have been commissioned for a portfolio similar to the one he did ahead of Tony Blair's victory in 1997. Cameron already has one full-time lensman trailing him for an official Tory archive, but now there's Stoddart too. How many paparazzi does one Tory leader need?

Happy birthday to Patrick Leigh Fermor, the travel writer who turned 95 on Thursday. Leigh Fermor is best known for walking to Constantinople (now Istanbul) at 17, after being booted out of school for canoodling with a matron. He later documented this in Between the Woods and the Water. Guests at his birthday party at his home in Worcestershire, included Debo, Duchess of Devonshire and his biographer, Artemis Cooper, whose book will be published only after his death. Most of the year he lives on the remote Grecian peninsula of Mani, but given the current economic crisis there, perhaps Worcestershire was a safer bet.

Good to see Ben Bradshaw knocking back champagne in his box at English National Opera last week. As Culture Secretary, it is vital to be seen supporting the arts. And what better way than with a box at the opera?