Diary

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A BAD START TO THE RACE FOR THE GAMES

AS THE greatest steeplechase on earth disintegrated into farce, three sports administrators from overseas shifted uneasily in their seats high up in the stand in a VIP box. Beside them sat Bob Scott, a gargantuan and genial sportsman with a special reason for bringing them to the course.

Scott took Philip von Schoeller (Austria), Anton Geesink (the Netherlands) and Fernando Bello (Portugal) to Aintree last Saturday to show them how a British sports event was run. Never had anything gone wrong before, and there was no reason why the guests should not return with memories only conducive to bringing the Olympic Games to Britain for the first time since 1948.

In the end, however, all they saw was chaos: the crowd booing, owners and trainers screaming at an official in a bowler hat, the race being declared void because the organisers had got it so badly wrong. It's impossible to imagine what Scott can have told his guests as they trooped away from that dismal scene.

It's rather easier to imagine what the three foreign administrators must have been thinking as they returned home with their homework done.

A spokesman for Manchester 2000 refused to give in, however. Regrettable, he said, but Aintree is not Manchester. We'll see.

STILL AT Aintree, and the starting line-up is worth some scrutiny, if only for those jockeys who feel racing should remain a male preserve. Not that the whole debacle was her fault, but there was only one female jockey in the race, and was it her horse that appeared to be straying over the line before the start?

WRITING ON THE WALL

When another racing man, Christopher Heath, resigned last month as chairman of Baring Securities, he was not doing only himself out of a job. During Heath's time at the bank, a woman in Switzerland played an important part in Baring's recruitment, not because she was au fait with corporate policy, but because she is a handwriting consultant.

If you're not sure about that last bit, nor were the Baring recruits who failed to land jobs on her recommendation - the Swiss graphologist is also a psychologist and used to tell Heath via airmail letters whether the applicants were up to the job on the basis of which way their letters sloped on their CVs, and so on.

As half the workforce at Baring was recruited from the Far East, and didn't write in Roman script, this often put them at a disadvantage - but not as much as Heath himself when he was forced to abandon another recruitment policy.

A strict Catholic, he refused to take on anyone who was divorced. But all that changed when his wife left him after he had an affair with the wife of a close friend.

A GIRL chatting to Prince Charles at an unemployment training centre confided in HRH about the friendliness of 'raves'. She told him, if he was interested, that everyone puts their arms round each other. To which the prince responded: 'Ah, one does not have to be introduced.'

POETIC LICENTIOUSNESS

No doubt to the accompaniment of the occasional snore, the British Council last week was hosting a conference in Italy with the not terribly enticing title of 'Changing Contexts in English-Language Teaching'. Things could soon be a bit livelier in the council's meeting places around the world.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, the poet and author of The Literary Companion to Sex, is working on a follow-up, called The Red-Light Districts of the World and is looking for ways to finance her research.

Unable to attract a publisher, she has written to the London Review of Books, explaining that she has already trawled the depths of such cities as Dublin, Cairo, Amsterdam and Tokyo, but needs to explore 30 more destinations.

'What I would like to ask, therefore, is that LRB readers resident in cities with a thriving vice trade petition their local branch of the British Council to invite me over for a poetry reading or lecture tour. (I could then head downtown after my official job was over . . .)' If this doesn't work, she appeals to newspaper and magazine editors to commission her to write travel articles for which 'she would be prepared to write up the more respectable side of any city while researching its underbelly after hours'.

A DAY LIKE THIS

6 April 1943 Philip Jordan, a war correspondent for the News Chronicle covering the Anglo-American campaign in North Africa, writes in his diary: 'I drove north today to Sedjanane, through lovely cold hills and hot valleys from which the dwindling rivers are fast running away. Soon their beds will be dry. Beyond Djebel Abiod, which has been knocked all to hell and gone, the world of scarcely finished battle begins; it is a world infinitely more macabre than that of battle, for there is a smell of dead flesh, the earth is untidy and pitted, smashed and burned cars and tanks litter the roadside (all enemy) and all the careful disorder of nature is profaned with the carcases of discarded implements: shell cases, petrol tins, mines and an infinite quantity of damp, charred cardboard. In the minefields corn is growing.'

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