Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (30/10/11)

Things that goes bump in the night
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The Independent Online

After he dropped the injunction which prevented his former wife Alex Hall from claiming she had a longstanding post-marital affair with him, Jeremy Clarkson invites us all to come to our own conclusions about the ex in question. (We will, Jezza, we will.) To help us draw those conclusions, might I add a couple of titbits? One is that Sun columnist Clarkson is saying that a recent case effectively changed the law, meaning that he had to choose between dropping the injunction or taking the case all the way to court. In fact, according to Hall's solicitor, Charlotte Harris, there has been no such change, and his solicitors, Olswang, (who also act for the News of the World – small world, eh?) would have told him of his obligations when he signed his original statement, saying he would take it to court. Second, Clarkson says there's no evidence to back up what his ex is saying. I make no comment on this, beyond observing that he had overrun the date for disclosure of the relevant documents (too busy filming, evidently) and that a trial date had been set for the new year.

Alistair Darling gave a frightening assessment of the state of the economy at last week's Oldie lunch, saying it was in a totally different league to the crisis he resolved three years ago. "But I wouldn't want you all to go and get all your money out," he added, mindful of sparking another run on the banks. "What money?" quipped a crusty. The former Chancellor was the Darling of the lunch, admitting he had no friends when in office, and recalling the time the head of a major bank earnestly promised "only to take risks we understand from now on". However, he did not get the biggest laugh of the lunch. That went to Edward Enfield, Oldie columnist and father of comedian Harry, who told a joke about a bumpkin who regularly travels to London by train to take the Queen a punnet of plums. A friend boards the train and asks why he thinks the Queen should want his plums. "Why else would everyone keep singing, 'Send her Victorias'," comes the reply. As old as the hills, that one, but none the worse for that.

Following Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's recent sword-crossing with novelist Philip Hensher in The Spectator – over how much gay sex in a novel is too much – I hear of another story for filing in the "Perry in gay row" drawer. This one happened at a party to celebrate the 75th birthday of political cartoonist Nick Garland, father of Alex, who wrote The Beach. Guests included many old faces from the Spectator and Telegraph – titles where Garland's work appears – including Sir Perry, former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, and Stephen Robinson, biographer of Bill Deedes. Perry and Robinson got chatting and a lunch date was made. Perry suggested his Buckinghamshire home as a venue, and Robinson said "I'll bring Nick along, too." Although Robinson is married, to Pippa Robinson, a relationship counsellor, Perry thought he was referring to a male spouse. Some dithering ensued before it eventually became clear he was referring to Nick Garland, host of the party. "I'm afraid Perry has got this issue in his head rather a lot at the moment," sighs a friend.

An important question has been raised in the letters page of the Radio Times: why does Emily Maitlis jab her Newsnight guests with a pen? "I'd love to know why news presenter Emily Maitlis has a pen in her hand at all times," writes a Mr Willis of Staffordshire. "The other day she almost stabbed her co-presenter, who gave her a dirty look. She isn't the only presenter who waves pens around – but she is certainly the most dangerous." Despite a demanding work schedule – not to mention her hectic social life – La Maitlis has found time to solve this imponderable, oddly referring to herself in the third person. "You are completely right. A pen to Maitlis is what a blanket is to Linus in the Peanuts cartoon," she writes. "It gives me a misplaced sense of power, a misguided staff of authority – but yes, it can make an extremely handy tool for jabbing an annoying co-presenter. They are all delightfully scared of me." Now we know.

Music-lovers are united in their sympathy for those singers asked to perform, um, unusual acts in English National Opera's new Castor and Pollux, as discussed by my colleague Janet Street-Porter today. But soprano Sophie Bevan is not going to be saddled long with a reputation for dropping her drawers. Tonight, along with several other of the many musicians from the Bevan family – a dynasty something akin to the Bachs – she is giving a concert to mark the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Such work should assure her place in heaven. The final destination of Barrie Kosky, her director at ENO, seems less certain.