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No room for a double-act

WITH two months to go before the election of the new secretary- general of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, I have reassuring news for one of the applicants, the former chancellor, Lord Lawson of Blaby.

Despite his own uncharacteristic pessimism - he gives himself only a 30 per cent chance, though the Foreign Office rates him as 50-50 - I'm told that he has already won the hearts and minds of many of Europe's economic apparatchiks. Many of the 24 OECD ministers entrusted with the vote are just as likely to opt for him as for the other front-runner, Canada's Donald Johnston. To help his cause, the FO has bought 50 copies of Lawson's autobiography, which it is now circulating around European capitals, though whether the great man's prose will influence the result is hard to tell.

He is certainly ahead of the present incumbent, Frenchman Jean-Claude Paye, who is seeking a third five-year term in face of fierce opposition from the Americans, who are backing Johnston. Paye alienated many Americans for his supposedly protectionist stance in the Gatt negotiations, and is no favourite with the Europeans who are keen for new blood.

A word of warning to those British Eurocrats who are lobbying for Lawson, but would also like Sir Leon Brittan as president of the European Commission. Convention dictates that no one country should dominate the top posts - particularly Britain, I would have thought, given our track record.

THE Castle hotel in Taunton, Somerset, entices guests through its portals with the following Shakespearian quotation from its brochure: 'This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentlest senses.' Perhaps not the most apposite illustration: the words are spoken by Duncan as he arrives for his weekend with the Macbeths - and if memory serves me, he didn't have the best of times.

Family at war

A FAMILY trade war is being waged in a field unaccustomed to dynastic squabbles: dry cleaning. Abram (Abe) Lyle, son of the former sugar magnate Sir Gavin (of Tate & Lyle), has quit his job as a West End productions runner, and bought a dry-cleaning premises on Fulham Road, west London. Accompanied by partner Dominic Gold, 24, Lyle Jnr hopes to open the so-called Fantasy Cleaners next week - in competition with his father who set up a London operation a few years ago.

No soft touch, Lyle expects to be behind the counter daily at 7.30am. 'I used to work for my father, so I understand how the business works,' he tells me. Should Lyle pere worry about the competition? 'Most definitely,' quips his son. 'I'll be taking him to the cleaners.'

THE Environment Secretary, John Gummer, is delighted with the findings of a study by Ealing council, west London, which shows that his home retains more energy than those of some neighbours. He admits that his children don't see it this way - they think it just proves how mean he is with the heating.

Generous sultana

WITH the improvement in the economy, generous types are increasing the size of their tips, though no one surely can better the shiny Aston Martin Volante, worth about pounds 180,000, seen outside a certain hairdresser's premises on South Molton Street, London, last Saturday. Inquiries at a neighbouring shop elicited a surprisingly airy, arm-waving response. 'Oh that's just a gift,' said the assistant. 'He got that from the Sultana of Brunei.'

THE all-party Commons group on dog racing mixed business with pleasure quite successfully at Wembley dog track on Monday night. The group put its hard-earned money on one winning dog answering to the topical name of Moral Standards.


March 23 1763 James Boswell writes: 'I breakfasted with Lord Eglinton, who was very good to me. He said nobody liked me better than he did. He begun and taught me to sing catches, of which he is very fond. He gave me much encouragements and said there were not five people in the whole Catch Club who had a better ear than I have. I dined at Harris's Eating House in Covent Garden and then called on Erskine, with whom I walked in the Park. We compared the authors of Great Britain to sheep. For instance, the wool of Johnson is coarse but substantial. Hume's fine but slight. We then went to Miss Dempster's and drank tea. Dempster said he had been drunk the night before, and this morning his tongue rattled in his mouth like two dice in a box. 'True', said his sister, 'and your head ached like a backgammon table.' '