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A job at the top for Baroness Fixit?

AFTER years of being sidelined by Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Chalker has set herself up as John Major's new Mrs Fixit in a magazine interview in which she also declares her ambition to become the first woman foreign secretary.

Asked by Harpers & Queen, in next month's issue, whether she was 'inclined to act as an elderly stateswoman whispering in Major's ear', she replied: 'I'm certainly beginning to do that. I have to pitch it quite carefully . . . I can help my colleagues or, if not in tune with them, I can hinder them very greatly.'

Peers and MPs will therefore ignore her at their peril, particularly as she says she still has ambitions of a job in the Cabinet. 'When Douglas decides to go I'd love to be foreign secretary,' she admits. 'I know I'd do a good job.'

While the Overseas Development Minister's relations with Lady Thatcher are not cordial ('Mrs Thatcher is the past generation. Let's look forward'), she is more critical of the people who used to surround her.

She says of Major: 'He needs a stronger team to help him. Selfish people are trying to stop him. I think the old guard haven't bothered to get to know the old John. They are letting him down.'

Lords Whitelaw and Wakeham, the two previous Mr Fixits, had seats around the cabinet table. Baroness Chalker could soon have one too.

ANY BBC people speaking highly of Mark Tully at the moment are either unambitious or extremely loyal. One ally, I'm told, has tiptoed down the current affairs corridor at Broadcasting House and stuck a paper halo above a photograph of the outspoken foreign correspondent that (for the time being) still hangs on the wall. Closest to the scene of the crime are journalists working on the Today programme, The World Tonight and Newsbeat. Not so adorned, however, is the rather larger portrait of Tully hanging outside the council chamber where the governors will no doubt be discussing his anti- Birt speech. The more ambitious journalists are laying bets on when the picture will be removed. They are also recommending a new posting for Tully: Mogadishu.

Drama in the aisles AUDIENCE reaction to Oleanna, the most politically incorrect play of the year, has taken an unexpected turn which has led, I learn, to a revolt among the usherettes. For those who haven't seen it, the play centres on the relationship between an American professor and his female student who initially leans (figuratively, you understand) on his shoulder because she thinks she is about to fail her exams, and then accuses him of sexual harassment when he puts his arm round her shoulder to cheer her up.

The play's climax - the professor gives up the struggle to refute the charge, and lashes out at her, beating her to the ground - has aroused fierce emotions, which in New York led to public rows between couples in the street outside. In London there has been more restraint, but the Royal Court has still resounded to male cheers during the final scene.

Now the women are joining in. To the cries of 'get the bitch', they are outdoing the decibels from the men to such an extent that the usherettes have taken fright and have protested to the management about such working conditions. If it leads to a strike, I'll let you know.

I OWE an apology to the Dublin shop assistant who, I suggested the other day, might have left her faculties behind her while serving a customer. Trying out a new pen, the customer had written 'tempus fugit', but was so surprised when the assistant subsequently addressed him as Mr Fugit that he wrote to me about it.

Now the assistant has put the record straight. 'I was the shop assistant who called the gentleman 'Mr Fugit'. It was, in fact, a joke (from the Latin noun, 'jocus').'

Bosnia? What Bosnia? THE FORMER Yugoslavia is slowly being wiped from the map, or at least from The New Europe, An Encyclopedic Atlas, which has just landed on my desk with a foreword by Sir Edward Heath. When Mitchell Beazley was compiling its atlas, the company intended to include Bosnia et al, giving page references in the index. However, when publication came, someone obviously had a change of mind. Readers pass immediately from page 216 and a synopsis on Athens to page 241

and some blurb on Bulgaria. The pages in between devoted to the former Yugoslavia are nowhere to be seen.


15 July 1824 Samuel Palmer in Kent writes in his diary: 'Seen in Midsummer, 9 o'clock pm. At that time of twilight when the azure behind a high spired turret was very cool but almost blueless, the chastened glow of the light tower against it was very beautiful the sky being textureless and without a cloud. But what I write this for is to remark that though all was low in tone as preparing to receive the still and solemn night, yet the tower on which the last light glimmered, seemed luminous in itself and rather sending out light from itself than reflecting it, and I noticed it on other stone buildings going along that it was as if they had inherent light somewhat reminding one of mother-of- pearl - it was luminous, though pale, feint and glimmering.'