Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> diary

Click to follow

The Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, is said to be one of the most highly regarded poets in the country. But it seems he values himself rather too highly for his audiences. One London teacher recalls inviting him to speak about Philip Larkin, of whom he has written a biography. Motion agreed to visit the school – for a fee of £250. Oh, and he wouldn't talk about Larkin, but only read a couple of his own poems. Not surprisingly, the school turned down his generous offer. "When Ted Hughes was Poet Laureate he used to willingly come and speak to the boys for free," she recalls, "But then Ted Hughes made a lot of money from his poetry. It rather suggests Motion doesn't, if he has to charge fees to schools like us."

News last week that 'The Spectator' ran a bowdlerised version of Peregrine Worsthorne's review of the recent biography of Bill Deedes – because the article said Deedes had a low opinion of the title's owners – will have shocked defenders of free speech. No doubt editor Matthew D'Ancona had a heavy heart as the red pen was wielded. D'Ancona assures us that he is the person who makes the big editorial decisions on the mag, so he will have found the maxim that "command is a lonely post" more true than ever. But what of his boss Andrew Neil, publisher of 'The Spectator' and formerly a vigorous campaigning editor of 'The Sunday Times'? (His articles critical of Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamed were models of robust independence.) Did he intervene, on one side or the other? Sadly, calls to what he dubs his "world office" were not being returned yesterday.

Thirty-nine days to go before the London Mayoral election, and a fresh young candidate is about to breeze into the race. Samantha Day, an 18-year-old schoolgirl, is one of five people shortlisted to win £50,000 to fund their campaign. Members of the public who register on a website will decide the winner, to be announced this week. But why would a sixth-former from St Olave's grammar school in Orpington, Kent, in the thick of her A-levels, want to take such a hopeless punt? Perhaps it's something to do with being the best friend of Emily Benn, below, the 17-year-old granddaughter of Tony Benn, and Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham. Why aren't they busy watching 'Skins', like everyone else?

So Downing Street is to be refurbished for the first time in 40 years. The decorators will be moving into the Prime Minister's house as well as Numbers 11 and 12, where, respectively, the Chancellor lives and the whips have their office. The Tories claim to be shocked at the proposed scale of the work, which will include rewiring and plumbing as well as cosmetic improvements. But surely they should be pleased. If David Cameron expects to win the next election he will be saved the potentially awkward money-spending exercise on moving in. Perhaps they are anxious about Sarah Brown's taste. And the thought that they could have had the whole place done in Osborne and Little wallpapers, with a discount from George's family.

It's a conundrum for any socialist Francophile – should McDonald's be allowed to remain on the Champs Elysée? And it's one of the first problems facing Bertrand Delanoë, the French Socialist Party candidate who was on Friday triumphantly re-elected mayor of Paris. A crisis has emerged following a rash of hefty price hikes on the leases of Paris's most famous boulevard, forcing out many downmarket firms in favour of luxury goods boutiques. But McDonald's, whose well-positioned restaurant is patronised by streams of tourists en route to the Arc de Triomphe, are threatening legal action over the proposed rent increase and plan a vigorous fight to stay. Something tells me the golden arches will triomphe.

Speculation over the identity of Madame Arcati, the mysterious cult blogger, has yet to yield a convincing answer. Author Duncan Fallowell is a candidate, but he denies it. Now an old photo of him naked has been posted on the site. Madame Arcati encourages readers to zoom in on one part of his anatomy. "I was shocked of course, but in the 21st century one must be philosophical about this sort of thing," says Fallowell, who recently upset most of New Zealand with his travel book 'Going as Far as I Can'. A bottle of champagne awaits the first reader who can out Madame Arcati.