Diary

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The Independent Online
Romanovs who won't lie down

A RUSSIAN princess and her son who claim to be direct descendants of the last Tsar of Russia are disputing the findings of recent Home Office forensic tests which conclude that the bones found in a pit at Ekaterinberg in the Urals two years ago are those of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and three of their daughters - shot and bayoneted to death by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.

Three days after the 75th anniversary of the massacre of the Russian imperial family, an official statement issued in Madrid by the royal household of Prince Alexis d'Anjou de Bourbon-Conde Romanov-Dolgoruky and his mother, Princess Olga-Beata, contends that documentary evidence of a meeting between Pius XII - the Pope from 1939-58 - and two of the Tsar's daughters, long after their supposed murder, proves that the empress and all four of her daughters - Tatiana, Olga, Marie and Anastasia - survived.

Prince Alexis and Princess Olga-Beata claim to be the grandson and daughter of Grand Duchess Marie, the Tsar's third daughter, who most authorities believe died in Ekaterinberg. Now they have agreed to subject themselves to DNA tests later this year to prove that they are indeed direct descendants of the Tsar.

They have also written to our own Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, a direct maternal descendant of the Tsarina's sister, asking them not to attend any reinterment ceremony for the Romanov remains. At one stage the British embassy in Moscow considered that the occasion would be an auspicious opportunity for the Queen to visit Russia. Having seen the number of cranks, pretenders and eccentric monarchists who have climbed on the Romanov bandwagon, however, the embassy has now gone distinctly cool on the idea.

A DEGREE of relief was felt by onlookers as Norma Major unveiled the first sculpture of her husband in a St James's gallery yesterday. 'At least it isn't grey,' one was heard to remark, while the unveiler herself seemed less than enthusiastic. 'I prefer the performing arts,' she confided, back towards the model. 'I don't have to look at it all the time you know - after all I've got the real thing.'

Fido to the rescue

TOMORROW the Opposition Citizen's Charter spokesperson, Mo Mowlem MP, is visiting Lewisham in south London to help the borough council celebrate the high quality of its services to residents. Among the delights awaiting her is a chance to inspect the dog do-do disposal service. In May Lewisham set up Fido (Faeces Intake Disposal Operation), which involves an operative trundling a small, four-wheel vacuum cleaner around the borough's streets and parks, sucking up offending waste.

The council is especially proud of Fido's instant poop-alert service. Residents stumbling across particularly tricky dirty-pavement problems are guaranteed that a Faeces Intake Disposal Operative will be round to clear up the mess within an hour of a complaint being made. A council spokesman said yesterday that Lewisham had not failed the 'one-hour challenge' yet.

'I COME from Des Moines. Somebody had to,' are the memorable opening lines of The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson's 1989 travelogue in which the obscure Iowa city, now awash with floodwater, was infamously described as the dullest place on earth. In the last few weeks, of course, Des Moines has come to international prominence but Bryson, there covering the story for a magazine, is certain he won't have to write a retraction. 'The city is on the map for the moment,' he agrees, 'but you can be sure that it will fade back into its customary obscurity - probably by this afternoon.'

IN THIS month's edition of House & Garden readers are given an illustrated tour of the anything but quiet interior of the Pimlico home shared by Dominic Lawson and his wife Rosa Monckton. Copies of the Spectator and a Tiffany's brochure are displayed unashamedly on either side of the bed. Lawson's literary tastes are, moreover, revealed to be distinctly monotonous. The book in the drawing room also appears beside his bed - T E Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

A DAY LIKE THIS

21 July 1916 Raymond Asquith writes to Lady Diana Manners from France: 'Except for the banal booming and flashing of the guns one might be at one of those old-fashioned balls in Arthur Grenfell's garden at Roehampton - the same tiresome noise of electricity being generated in the too-near foreground, the same scraggy oaks, the same scramble for sandwiches, the same crowd, the same band playing the same tunes, the same moon in the same sky. John Ponsonby and the Prince of Wales (your 'future'?) dined with us tonight, and in order to get our last gulp of gaiety before resuming trench warfare tomorrow, we improvised a ball in camp with lights under the trees and open air supper and bagpipes, and all the hackneyed horrors that go with gaiety. But much as I love these men, yet I love women so much more (and especially you) and music and dancing so much less and I have been to so many balls and so many trenches that it is a comfort to turn into the first open hut and write to you.'

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