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Too much wine leads to water

TO AVOID a repeat of a regrettable incident last year when two members fell out in a loud and unpleasant exchange of views, Kent County Council has imposed a cost-cutting measure for the good of orderly proceedings - a ban on free wine hitherto handed out to members at pre-meeting lunches.

The leaders of the council's three political factions met in the aftermath of the exchange, which involved a Labour and Tory councillor, and decided mineral water would be a more suitable pre-business lubricant for councillors' voices.

'It was a unanimous decision taken across the board,' the former council and Tory leader Brenda Trench says. 'The last thing we wanted was boisterous behaviour that could reflect badly on our image as a public body.' Another councillor put it less delicately: 'It was a bloody disgrace. Both the arguing members had obviously had far too much wine and were really slagging each other off. Something had to be done.'

Not all the councillors agree, however. Roland Jennings, Tory councillor for Whitstable East, says: 'The ban is nonsense; we are being treated like children. The pair involved had certainly had a few, but they were not drunk and it was actually quite refreshing to hear a bit of spirited argument.' Sadly, nobody can remember what the argument was about.

LATEST in the series of British Rail excuses - an announcement after a train stopped near Sandling, Kent: 'Sorry for the delay, there's a sheep on the line. Usually this only happens on Mondays or Tuesdays.' To which one passenger observed: 'It must be eating up the leaves.'

Cartoon corner IRONIC grins in the art world over a talk by Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery, in which he referred to the contentious issue of reproduction of the gallery's copyrighted photographs of paintings. A current Renault advertisement, he explained, shows two reproductions of National Gallery paintings - but since they are not taken from gallery photographs, he quipped, the gallery, which receives a meagre grant of pounds 3m, will not be raking in any proceeds from the reproduction.

Not all MacGregor's audience at the Courtauld Institute shared his amusement, however: a few academics begrudge what they perceive as the gallery's tightening control on the reproduction of photographs taken before and after picture cleaning. It was for them a moment of unexpected bliss, therefore, when MacGregor held up a cartoon - which in his enthusiasm he had forgotten to obtain permission to use.

RUPERT ALLASON, the Tory MP without portfolio, is upset at my suggestion that he recently made overtures to the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to gain a place on a new committee on intelligence services. His request to sit on the standing committee was passed on to the Tory whips who sent it to their opposite numbers at the Liberal Democrats without his knowledge. Allason also says he does not think Stephen Milligan could have compromised national security. I am happy to make this clear.

Peep into the past AFTER almost 90 years of toil, a catalogue of Samuel Pepys' library - all 3,000 volumes of it - is finally complete. The 17th-century diarist, a keen collector of early printed books, ballads and political papers, bequeathed his library to his Cambridge college, Magdalene, when he died. Despite repeated pleas for a guide from bemused Pepys scholars, nobody tackled the task until 1906. Now students of Pepys (none of whom, I'm told, are quite sure what the library holds) can purchase the 17- volume index for the knockdown price of pounds 1,250.

ADVERT for a missing cat in Hillingdon, west London - answering to the name of Wanda.


10 March 1880 William Allingham writes in his diary: 'I meet (Thomas) Carlyle's carriage in the street and get in. Mary alights, Alick stays. We drive through the Parks, looking green, to Swiss Cottage. Carlyle, poor man, lies back crookedly in his corner, noticing nothing of the outer world. Yet he seems rather better than last time, a dim fire still in his eyes, a dusky red in his cheeks. He talks of Erasmus Darwin, the elder, with respect - he has been reading a life of him. 'The Loves of the Triangles is a poor thing. The writer (Canning) knew very little about triangles.' On politics he remarked, 'This time will be memorable as the time when England was governed by a perfect Charlatan.' (Disraeli had announced the dissolution of Parliament two days earlier).'