Diary

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Another sore point about that gym

AMONG government advisers listening to Kenneth Clarke's first Budget speech at the end of this month will be Tim Congdon, one of the Treasury's 'seven wise men' who have already given Clarke their two pennyworth on what he should do. Congdon claims a particular expertise in forecasting. Last March he berated his fellow advisers on the Treasury Forecasting Panel for failing to learn from the economic lessons of the past, and claimed to have been alone among the seven to predict the boom and bust of the late Eighties.

This he may well have done. However, he admitted rather sheepishly yesterday that his forecasting is not totally without blemish. In 1990 he invested pounds 10,000 as part of a business expansion scheme in a new company and is now bitterly ruing the day. The company is the LA Fitness Club, currently in dispute with the entire world over illicit photographs of the Princess of Wales.

'It has been a very poor investment,' he told me. 'I had hoped it would become a bigger company but money has gone down the drain and I feel a bit sore.' Congdon says he often invests in business expansion schemes and feels it is unfair to question his economic judgement on the strength of one investment that went wrong. Needless to say, he is not a Bryce Taylor fan. Even before the events of this week, he felt aggrieved at the way Taylor had persuaded shareholders to let him take an 80 per cent share in the club after threatening to withdraw a pounds 30,000 loan. Now his feelings are indescribable. 'What he has done is despicable,' he said.

NOW that passengers have been persuaded by British Rail that leaves on the line really do interfere with trains, here is another cause of delays we are being asked to accept. Services on the Windsor line were subject to delay on Monday because of 'poor atmospheric conditions.' The wrong kind of air, I assume.

Stage fight

RELATIONS between the Barbican Centre and Royal Shakespeare Company have been strained in recent times, but we're told they're on the mend. Slowly, it would seem, judging by the posters on the London Underground advertising the centre's glories. 'I love the sound in the (concert) Hall and the comfy seats in the cinema . . . marvellous films, fantastic concerts.' Anything else? Good theatre, say? A spokeswoman for the Barbican said the adverts were geared to the Barbican's mailing list, while the RSC had its own list. Is anyone convinced?

THE time-honoured tradition of carrying a posy of flowers to protect judges from plague notwithstanding, Judge Bruce Laughland is the latest Old Bailey casualty of Peking flu. So far, the virus has hit jurors, judges and lawyers alike, closing at least four courts at the Old Bailey over the last two days, and forcing trials, which normally cost pounds 50 a minute, to adjourn.

So what is this tradition? The carrying of posies dates from the 17th century, when the bench was scattered with herbs to ward off jail fever contracted from prisoners awaiting trial. Another tradition perhaps, like gowns and wigs, that Lord Justice Taylor might turn his attention to.

Batting matter SO strong is John Major's unwitting influence over his alma mater, Rutlish School in Wimbledon, that its neighbours are becoming upset. The school is refusing to alter its plans to build a humanities block on the edge of a conservation area because, it says, the alternative would mean building the block near something infinitely more sacred to the Prime Minister's heart - its cricket field.

Locals are deeply offended by the school's persistence. 'Not only will Merton's conservation area be ruined, but the view from all the adjoining properties will be completely obscured by the the building which, it is estimated, will be 20 feet high,' said one local. 'We are convinced it is the Prime Minister's fondness for cricket that has led to the school's stubborness.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

10 November, 1935 Robert Byron writes to his mother from Khabarovsk, Siberia: 'At last I can speak enough Russian to cope with situations. It is much warmer here than at Irkutsk - my quilted trousers and felt boots have proved unnecessary. I should like to come back to Siberia in the summer - travelling off the beaten track is so difficult now - one can't afford to be caught by the cold unawares, but one could spend months here studying obscure people - and it is fascinating to be in a country where wild animals are still a menace. Where boys tell stories of packs of wolves pulling the roof off papa's cowhouse and women picking raspberries suddenly see bears looking at them through the canes, the bears similarly engaged. I should like to come here with some people who shoot.'

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