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The luck of the Irish politician

IN RECENT years, certain Irish politicians have been asked to account for perks, including a free garden wall, and a jewelled Arabian dagger, which they appeared to have been given in the course of their duties. The latest politician to come under the public gaze is Irish health minister Brendan Howlin, who was asked to launch a World Cup draw at a football club, and told that his name would be entered free of charge.

Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but matters became problematic when the draw was made last weekend. Arriving at the Town Celtic club in Wexford in the relevant green football shirt and scarf, Mr Howlin waited for the result - and then accepted the congratulations as his own name surfaced first. The cabinet minister (and a friend) had won a pounds 3,000 three-week jaunt to the United States, with flights, accommodation, and match tickets thrown in.

At first, a club spokesman intimated that Mr Howlin was all set to go. But common sense has prevailed, and the minister, I gather, has now handed back the tickets for some more 'deserving fans'.

THE number of Tory MPs prepared to curry favour with the party's higher echelons by putting down planted parliamentary questions is decreasing by the day. Recognising this, one particularly desperate Whitehall department has circulated draft copies of questions they would like to see asked, and has marked them: 'Mr X of Anywhere.'

Firebrand dampened

MANY a youthful firebrand has been mellowed by the ageing process, and David Dimbleby, the television presenter, is no different. Now almost paralysed by the weight of the Establishment on his shoulders, he is often seen at Downing Street parties, but it wasn't always so.

As a young man in the Sixties, Dimbleby had a bee in his bonnet about the decriminalisation of cannabis, and marched on Downing Street with a petition in his hand. Yesterday, and for the first time since then, the 55-year-old was on the march again, clutching a petition for - not quite so radical this time - government support for London youth clubs.

'It's true this will be the first time I've petitioned since the cannabis issue,' he tells me thoughtfully, 'but to be honest, that was a bit out of line.'

MORE in the Diary's series of computer spell-checkers coming unstuck. B T Batsford was in the relegation zone of a league table of authors' favourite publishers the other year; if any of those authors still feel that way, type the firm's name on a word processor equipped with the standard Microsoft spell-checker. It will query the word, and suggest an alternative: bastard.

Only joking

ANOTHER premature announcement concerning the death of the Queen Mother. Last year, you may recall, an Australian television company 'announced' her death to millions of viewers before realising its mistake (a TV production editor mistook a dress rehearsal in the office for the real thing, and phoned his monarchist mother in Australia, who rang the local radio station).

This time the faux pas originated in the listings magazines What's On TV, TV Times and TV & Satellite - all part of the publishing company IPC. They fell for what transpired to be a throw- away joke by a member of staff as they approached their weekly deadlines last Thursday.

'Oh, have you heard? The Queen Mother is dead. We'll have to change everything,' came the flippant remark from a What's On TV journalist as copy was being prepared for the printers. Within seconds the news had spread round the building, and half an hour later, the BBC was on the phone 'checking out the source'. A false alarm, of course - which an IPC spokesman assures me was detected before any damage was done.


20 April 1874 Julia Cartwright at Bournemouth writes in her diary: 'Today has indeed been a day to live for, a day that makes me wonder how with all my life-weariness I can yet enjoy this world's beauty so intensely. When I came out on the cliff and saw the wide sweep of the blue bay, the glorious calm deep sapphire seas stretching far away under the most cloudless of skies, it was Nice over again. For a minute it seemed like a dream and there were indeed Mediterranean waters below. I simply couldn't bear to tear myself away from those waves rippling up like lacework on the long reach of the golden sands, the rich tawny cliffs standing in bold outline against the clear blue sky and all the horizon. All afternoon I sat watching, revelling in the opal hues of waves rolling up their amber-coloured crystal tide - a perfect fire of waters - and wondering how it can go for ever so joyously, grandly fulfilling its task, never weary and never sad.'