Diary

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Birt's high on the Beeb's action list

HOW LONG does it take to join the staff of the BBC? The freelances who toil night and day on shiftwork in the hope of a job should take it from us that being offered the job is only part of the process. Negotiating the salary and, dare we mention it, the perks, can take almost as long.

In fact, don't take it from us - why not ask your director-general, John Birt, who announced six weeks ago that he would be regularising his tax affairs and joining the staff as a full-time employee.

To help, we rang yesterday to ask how Birt was enjoying his full-time status, and this is what we were told. Beeb woman: 'John Birt has made it clear that he was going to become a member of staff and these arrangements are in hand.'

Diary: 'Hasn't there been rather a long delay?'

Beeb woman: 'No, and we don't discuss individual people's arrangements contractually. They are in hand. Rest assured.'

BRITISH train drivers have embarked on a French language course in readiness for the opening of the Channel tunnel. According to one of them, Michael Lockyer, the drivers have already mastered il y a des feuilles sur la voie, so no doubt they will soon be familiar with c'est de la mauvaise neige.

Hardliners at home

SO FAR a winner on points in his brinkmanship dealings with China, Chris Patten has endeared himself to many in Hong Kong not just because of his political prowess, but also by his genial entertaining at the grand governor's residence high up on The Peak.

This is in contrast to the previous regime of Lord Wilson of Tillyorn and his wife, Natasha, who slapped a no-smoking ban on guests, and who were rather particular about who used their swimming pool. (The veteran foreign correspondent Clare Hollingworth had been accustomed to take a daily dip in the pool, but was ushered off the premises by the new First Lady of Hong Kong shortly after the Wilsons took over.)

Now back in London, Lord Wilson has been keeping in touch with Hong Kong affairs from the House of Lords, where he has been none too complimentary about his successor's democracy reforms. His wife, meanwhile, has been keeping herself occupied at the Montessori nursery school in Chelsea which she has owned since the Seventies. (It kept the couple in pocket while Lord Wilson briefly interrupted his diplomatic career for a spell in academe.)

Some say she has been too busy. The parents and nannies, we gather, have been put out by the rather heavy-handed approach of Lady Wilson, who has told them not to do their socialising in the school room, and has told parents to reduce the amount of time they spend with their children before leaving them to their lessons. Why on earth does Deng Xiaoping find Chris and Mary Patten so difficult to deal with?

Tebbit's Wapping bill

ONLY marginally less astonishing than last year's revelation that Carol Thatcher had failed to pay her poll tax is our discovery that Lord Tebbit has also fallen foul of the legislation. The former cabinet minister, who once said that poll tax defaulters should be penalised by not having their rubbish collected, was yesterday issued with a liability order for non-payment of a pounds 270.79 community charge bill plus pounds 36.50 costs at Thames magistrates' court in east London.

We immediately warned Tebbit that Tower Hamlets Council meant business - a spokesman was uttering dire warnings about 'putting the matter into the hands of our bailiffs' - but so far he has prevaricated. He tells us that the property in question is a flat in Wapping, and that it was occupied by a tenant at the time in question. 'I haven't received it myself, I heard about it from my secretary,' he tells us. 'It's up to the tenant to pay the community charge, not the landlord. If it was up to the landlord, then I would pay straight away.' Naturally.

A DAY LIKE THIS

15 April 1802 Dorothy Wordsworth writes in her journal: 'When we (Dorothy and her brother William) were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they were verily laughing with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing.'

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