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Eton's Old Boys flourish in battle

WHEN they were boys at Eton, it would not have been considered fair play, but the band of Old Etonians trying to break down one of the school's oldest traditions are no longer prepared to play the game.

After a six-month campaign to persuade the school to erect a statue in honour of Eton's war dead - the only statue is that of the school's founder, King Henry VI, and Eton refused to add to it - the Second World War veterans are planning the next best thing: a statue in the churchyard of Old Eton parish church.

However, as the old boys know full well, the church is owned by the school and therefore may well be out of bounds as far as the College Fellows are concerned. In headmasterly tones, the Provost, Sir Anthony Acland, has told them that Eton Town Council, the planning authority, would 'have views on, and quite possibly objections to, the proposal' and scolded: 'I think you would be well advised not to enter into any firm commitments.'

But Etonians are taught to flourish (motto: Floreat Etona) and these old boys, supported by the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, whose Old Etonian father died in battle, are determined to do so. Sir Anthony's office yesterday received a letter from the group's leader, Sam Scott, 67, who said a planning application had been lodged, and that the well- known sculptress Faith Winter (of 'Bomber' Harris fame) had already prepared some sketches. 'It's full steam ahead,' Scott stormed yesterday. The Provost, meanwhile, is on holiday, recuperating.

JUDGE Stephen Tumim's report on the five-star conditions of the privately run Wolds remand prison in Humberside was marked by a double-barrelled assault from Labour's shadow home office team of Tony Blair and his deputy, Joan Ruddock. Mr Blair was incandescent about it all. '. . . devastating and damning report . . . must now be a halt to all further prison privatisation . . .' Ms Ruddock was more restrained. '. . . a welcome and timely contribution to the current debate . . .' Do Labour's spokespeople talk to each other at all?

Dressing down

HASSAN HAKMOUN, a Moroccan musician, recently engaged two policemen in conversation after they turned up at his flat in Chelsea and asked him to turn his music down. Writing in the sleeve cover of his group's latest release, he recalled making them tea, and playing some music, 'and they get into it. No problem'. The three got on so well in fact that Mr Hakmoun tried to give them one of his albums 'as a present between friends'.

That, it seems, is where the musician went wrong. 'They get very nervous,' he writes. 'They say, 'No, no, no, we can't accept anything. We can't do that.' And I tell them it's between friends, a gift. But they say it look wrong, like a bribe maybe. And I just tell them, 'Don't worry, you can take your clothes off and come back here anytime.' I meant uniforms, you know, but I don't know if they understood. They just looked at each other and thanked me, and they left. So you see. God takes care of everything.'

BARONESS THATCHER made few jokes in government, and has not mellowed out of it, I'm sad to say. Before making a speech on video as an 80th birthday present for her friend Lord Sieff, president of Marks & Spencer, she was asked whether she would like to tell an amusing anecdote before she started her prepared script. 'I don't do funnies,' was the ex-PM's reply. 'If you want someone who does funnies, hire a comedian.'

Word play

TALKING about public spending on television last Friday, Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said he would be happy to let anyone sit in his seat for a day 'to see how difficult it is'. So far, there have been two takers, but both offers were rejected. 'I shall watch how I phrase these things in future,' he said. In pique at being rejected, one candidate for the job is describing the Chief Secretary as a weak link in the Cabinet. And just to confirm it, he cites evidence from his Spanish dictionary, which defines the word portillo as: 'weak point'.

A DAY LIKE THIS

27 August 1877 Walt Whitman, recovering from a stroke, describes his self-prescribed nature cure: 'Another day quite free from mark'd prostration and pain. It seems indeed as if peace and nutriment from heaven subtly filter into me as I slowly hobble down these country lanes and across fields, in the good air - as I sit here in solitude, with Nature - open, voiceless, mystic, far removed, yet palpable, eloquent Nature. I merge myself in the scene, in the perfect day. Hovering over the clear brook-water, I am sooth'd by its soft gurgle in one place, and the hoarse murmurs of its three-foot fall in another. Come, ye disconsolate, in whom any latent eligibility is left - come get the sure virtues of creek- shore, and wood and field. Two months have I absorb'd them, and they begin to make a new man of me. Every day, seclusion - every day at least two or three hours of freedom, bathing, no talk, no bonds, no dress, no books, no manners.'

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