Diary

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MP who tipped off Gulf allies

UNTIL now, one unanswered question has puzzled students of the Gulf war. When the Iraqi defence headquarters was all but destroyed during the opening moments of the conflict, armchair spectators were astonished at the accuracy of the bombers, but were never told why the allies were so confident of their target's location. The Diary can reveal the reason: Nigel Jones, a former computer consultant and now a Liberal Democrat MP.

I gather Jones was summoned to the Ministry of Defence shortly after the invasion of Kuwait when officials learnt that he had toured the building in Baghdad in early 1988. A map of the city unfolded before him, Jones pinpointed the building, describing the layout and its computer capabilities in detail. Jones heard nothing more, and thought his advice had gone unheeded. Then came the raid, and the pictures showing the damage caused by the laser-guided bomb. Confirmation of Jones's role came later, when a US army official was asked how the Pentagon knew the HQ's location. 'Well, there was some English guy who had been there a few years ago,' he said.

Jones is relaxed about his exploits, but not about possible reprisals if he returns to the Middle East, which he is keen to do. For his safety, the the Serjeant at Arms has advised the MP not to volunteer for any parliamentary trips to the region.

PRESIDENT Clinton now knows the name of the British Prime Minister following the recent razzmatazz at the White House, but the American administration is still not quite sure about the people he works with. On the list of ministers invited by Clinton to a G7 meeting in Detroit later this month is one Kenneth Clark - presumably our Chancellor of the Exchequer, who normally spells his surname with a final 'e'.

Where eagles landed

NEXT in our series of historic buildings threatened by the Channel tunnel rail link: Noel Coward's rambling Kentish farmhouse, Goldenhurst, social mecca for such louche types as Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, and Cecil Beaton.

Once the house reverberated to the sound of Coward's back-to- back grand pianos, and the merry- making of countless parties - notably one enjoyed by the signatories of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty, which Anthony Eden later joked cost Britain the Suez canal.

Now, I fear, it will be the sound of high-speed trains thundering past, for the house lies just a mile from the route. And the maestro's fans are not best pleased. They are citing a local legend which has Goldenhurst as a 17th-century nesting place of golden eagles: if the site is disturbed, say the protesters, the birds will return to wreak revenge.

SOUTH AFRICA House in London would do well to update its filing system before the forthcoming elections, judging by a pamphlet being handed out about Nelson Mandela. He is described as being 'as committed to the use of violence as he was 25 years ago', and it informs readers that his middle name, Rolihlahia, translates as 'stirring up trouble'. More conscientious are those responsible for another South African organ, the political pamphlet Searchlight South Africa, which is not entirely written by the editors under various pseudonyms, as I noted the other day. Instead, two people have written 80 per cent or more of each issue.

Westminster farce

HE DOES not talk about it much now, but, Ian Lang, our exuberant Scottish Secretary, was an integral part of the John Cleese 'thesp set' at Cambridge. At a parliamentary press gallery lunch yesterday, he went through a repertoire of Monty Python jokes and generally reminisced about old times. His sense of the farcical was still in good order. Imagining a new series of Yes, Minister, he suggested it would have to be renamed Yes, Yes, Yes, Oh Yes, Minister.

A DAY LIKE THIS

3 March 1922 Siegfried Sassoon writes: 'The morning air was alive with the excitement of the chase, and the dull green landscape seemed to respond to the rousing cheer of the huntsman's voice. Away the hounds streamed, throwing up little splashes of water as they raced across a half-flooded meadow. My horse flew a fence with a watery ditch on the take-off side. 'How topping,' I thought, 'to be alive and well up in the hunt,' as I galloped along the sound turf of a green park. I passed a square Queen Anne house with blank windows and smokeless chimneys; its formal garden with lawns and clipped yew-hedges sloped to a sunk fence. A stone statue stared at me as I galloped after the hounds. And I thought of the 18th century and the couplets of Alexander Pope. I thought of the past, and I went on in a day-dream 'of other days than this'. I thought of conventional old-world ghosts, and a lover waiting by the sundial.'

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