Diary

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The Independent Online
Van Gogh's lost testament of love

TO THE collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings, drawings and letters can now be added a touching short story which until now has been locked away in a trunk in a Dutch attic. On the surface the story, 'The Stranger on Earth', is an account of the last days of a dying French teacher who embraced his wife, said 'I have loved you', then died. Beneath the surface, it is a testament to Van Gogh's unrequited love for the daughter of his London landlady between 1873 and 1875.

The trunk containing the story (it was written in a poetry album, a small notebook with 32 pages of hand-written text) was given to the artist's sister, Lies, and on her death handed down to her daughter and then granddaughter, Hubertina van Donk, who was unaware of the treasure inside. 'I was too busy. I simply didn't have the time to open the trunk,' she told the Art Newspaper. The album only came to light when Mrs van Donk's cousin, Helena Nebbeling, opened the trunk; even then, the significance was only explained by a genealogist researching the Van Gogh family. The album is now on display at the Flehite Museum in Amersfoort, and is expected to be acquired later this month by the Van Gogh Museum.

Mrs van Donk, 70, has another secret she wants to share. She says Lies - Van Gogh's favourite sister - became pregnant by the husband of a woman she was nursing, and was forced by the husband to have the child in secret. Lies then abandoned the baby girl to a peasant family, and the artist died never knowing about his niece.

TWO Fridays ago, as Big Ben chimed the hours between 11pm and 2am, transport minister Steven Norris was at work, not in the House of Commons, but in the back of a black cab. In a mission code-named 'back track', the driver was trying to persuade the minister not to introduce licensing for all cabs by pointing out mini-cabs touting illegally for custom. 'If not the busiest evening ever, it was successful enough,' a cabbie tells me.

Currie favour

IF Edwina Currie's raunchy political novel, A Parliamentary Affair, does not make it as a bestseller, it will not be through lack of publicity. It was Tuesday, so it must have been Hatchards, Piccadilly, as the MP arrived for a book-signing session. 'Would you like me to write your name in it too?' cried Mrs Currie as each would-be recipient presented their copy. 'Just leave it blank. It's a present and I haven't decided who to give it to yet,' came the reply from one and all.

The reason for this uniformity? Concerned by the poor turn-out, Hatchards staff had taken matters into their own hands. Slipping out of the back door, one by one, they had put their coats on outside and re-emerged, in semi-disguise, through the front. Whether Mrs Currie twigged what was going on remains uncertain - she smiled charmingly throughout.

LEDERLE Laboratories have sent an apology to all hospitals for sending a promotional mailing to consultants in the form of a long envelope marked 'The Nation's Heartbeat'. The mailing containes a device that mimics the sound of a heatbeat on opening. A small number have activated before opening. 'We very much appreciate and regret that this may have caused alarm to certain individuals.'

Sporting surprise

FURTHER to my note on Tuesday explaining the uncontainable sporting zest of heritage minister, Iain Sproat, I am surprised to learn that, unlike many of his international counterparts, he will not be attending the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in 10 days' time. His office cryptically explains: 'The reason will become apparent when it is divulged which minister is going instead. At present, security forbids me from saying who it is.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

3 February 1898 Raymond Asquith writes from Oxford to his stepmother, Margot Asquith: 'Thank you for your charming letter. I would certainly consult you if I got into any difficulty, for I think you know more of the world and take a saner view of it than almost anyone. At the same time I don't think you need be over-anxious. It is very gratifying to find oneself set down as a Byronic profligate: the thing is uncommon nowadays: but I should be interested to know who your scandal-monger got his information from. On your definition of the 'fast' life, I should think it was comparatively rare at Oxford, for many reasons; perhaps the two most obvious are lack of time and lack of opportunity: I can at any rate reassure you about 'women and dice', neither of which are fashionable vices. As to wine, the place swims in it; it is a social accident of Varsity life, but I don't think anyone is much the worse for it, and some people are considerably improved.'

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