Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Its door is always open

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The Independent Online

Dozens of the Tate's best-known works are going into storage to make way for an exhibition by Damien Hirst. Half a wing of Tate Modern in London will close today so that work can begin on strengthening the floor, six months ahead of a Hirst retrospective due to open in April 2012. Paintings by Matisse, Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko, and sculptures by Giacometti and Barbara Hepworth will be hidden from public view until further notice. Nine rooms on the third floor are being cleared for the exhibition, which is being billed as the first major survey of the Brit artist's work in a British institution. A star exhibit will be the shark suspended in formaldehyde. Of the cleared works, only Monet's Waterlilies will remain on display. It's unclear why the Tate should need strengthening, given that it used to be a power station, but a spokesman calls it "essential building works as part of the long-term plans to use Level 3 for temporary exhibitions". First they shut St Paul's, now this....

The smart money is on Michael D Higgins to become president of Ireland when the country goes to the polls on Thursday. The 70-year-old Labour Party candidate has had a gaffe-free campaign, and is widely considered a safe pair of hands. But there is one small point of intrigue about the Limerick-born father of four. What does the D stand for? Asked on Irish radio the other day, he said, "Daniel", adding that he sometimes got calls in the evening asking what it stood for. A puzzled interviewer asked, why in the evening? Because it's a regular pub quiz question, he replied.

Writer Paul Bailey had a puzzling encounter with Lionel Shriver in Cheltenham the other day. The author of biographies of Quentin Crisp and Cynthia Payne found himself sharing a stage with the American novelist, the film of whose bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin has just come out. He was bemused when she came over to thank him for all his kindness, especially for giving a positive review to one of her first literary efforts. For the life of him, Bailey could not remember doing so, but he politely went along with it, murmuring "it was nothing". Only later, when Shriver started to compliment Bailey on his portrayal in a film about Iris Murdoch, did the penny drop. She had mistaken Bailey for Murdoch's widower, John Bayley. Realising that she had dropped a clanger, Shriver swivelled on her heels and fled.

The hack who landed the expenses scandal scoop has been promoted to political editor of The Daily Telegraph. Robert Winnett, who is currently number two, will replace Andrew Porter, who becomes public policy editor. The move sends an intriguing message to Westminster: Porter was known to be pally with Ed Balls, and was given the top job when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. Telegraph bosses presumably now see Balls as less important, and have replaced him with their super-sleuth Winnett. He is less of a schmoozer, and some MPs may find it hard to forgive him for ending their lucrative expenses arrangements. But shock and awe is a favourite Telegraph management style: one backroom staffer was recently shocked to be invited to lunch by Benedict Brogan, the deputy editor. Having never been spoken to by him before, he joked, as they sat down: "So, I suppose you're going to sack me?" "As it happens, I am," said Brogan. "How did you know?" "Well, I haven't been taken to lunch in 40 years," came the reply.

Sad news from the publishing world: Beautiful Books has gone bust. The small independent firm had signed up authors including Kishwar Desai, winner of last year's Costa First Novel award, and Molly Parkin, the notorious good-time girl who gave a tea-choking account of her sex life in Welcome to Mollywood. But one publisher's loss is another publisher's gain. For I understand Molly is preparing to write another book. "It's called Possible Side Effects", she told me at the launch of Roger Lewis's memoir, What Am I Still Doing Here?. "I had the idea after taking doxycycline, which made me wake up in the night and want to throw myself off Chelsea Bridge." Happily she didn't, not least as the Chelsea Arts Club is making plans for her 80th birthday next year, when they will paint a portrait of her on the building's façade. Parkin is known for her elaborate clothes: last week her hat was stuffed with incontinence pads.

Amazon is offering a life-size cardboard cut-out of David Cameron for only £35. The sales blurb promotes it as "self supporting" and "suitable for bedroom decoration", but there have been some mixed reviews, including this: "Since being installed in my son's room, half his art supplies have gone, four teddy bears have been made unemployed [and] a private company has come in and declared that the broken Action Man should still be played with."