ACCOMPANYING the Prince of Wales on his recent Middle East tour was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to London, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, who sympathises with the Prince's recent outburst about lack of government support for his overseas visits. The ambassador and Prince Charles have much they can share: both are cerebral types who enjoy composing, the Prince with water-colours, the ambassador in verse.
They have something else in common: although the Saudi ambassador is choosing not to discuss it, he is also having difficulties with people back home. While Prince Charles is upset that the Government is failing to support his role as a commercial and cultural ambassador, the Saudis are downplaying a book written by their ambassador on the Gulf war. The Gulf Crisis has not, I gather, been allowed to circulate widely in Saudi Arabia, because, it is assumed, of comments its author makes about other Arab states.
It is not just Algosaibi's political writings that have fallen foul of the censors: some of his romantic poems about wine and women have also failed to impress authorities in the kingdom, despite his status as one of the country's foremost poets. (A recent example of his verse is a tribute to the transplant patient Laura Davies, whom he likens to a tiny candle smiling bravely in a sea of darkness.) But Algosaibi is not storming around the embassy in London demanding retribution.
Putting things in perspective for me, the author Leslie McLoughlin said he remained sanguine when his own Ibn Saud, Founder of a Kingdom, which is about to be reprinted in the West, received similar treatment. 'I'm not pleased that it's not allowed to circulate, but not everything that happens in the Arab world is logical.'
A REPORT of more Arab-inspired censorship in this newspaper yesterday, forcing Disney to change its lyrics in Aladdin from 'I come from a land . . . Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face' to 'Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense'. An unnecessary surrender to political correctness, I suggest. The country referred to in the original tale, as all pantomime-goers will know, is not Arabia, but China.
ONE unremarked consequence of the October riots in Moscow was the destruction of the parliamentary library in the government building, the White House. The Russian government has not publicised the damage, rumoured to have affected more than 70,000 books, and until a week ago the outside world was unaware of the library's plight. However sharp ears at the European Parliament have heard about the loss - just in time to assure Igor Filipov, director of the Russian State Library, who is on a European tour, that they will help him to replace the damaged stock. This is thought to include books needed for immediate reference, since the main research library is in the suburbs, 20 minutes' drive away. An official letter from Moscow has arrived in Brussels begging for assistance. 'Which,' says a spokesman, 'we will willingly supply.'
HOW CAN we expect to build the Channel tunnel on time if we cannot agree on the route? The Science Museum thinks it comes out in France at Sandgate; Whitaker's Almanack thinks it is Sargette ('What runs from Cheriton to Sargette?' it asks in a readers' quiz). For those willing the builders on, your journey will actually end at Sangatte.
Barbs for Bragg
MY FORMER colleague Lynn Barber told the Daily Mail yesterday that Melvyn Bragg's books were 'if anything, worse than Barbara Cartland's. They are really outrageously, appallingly bad'.
Another tribute for Bragg last night: he won the Literary Review prize for the worst literary description of sex. Here, then, is Bragg at his lascivious best: 'She came to a climax; feasting on him, greedily kissing, tearing at him . . .'
A DAY LIKE THIS
24 November 1824 Johann Eckermann records in his journal: 'I went to see Goethe this evening, before going to the theatre. The conversation led to ancient history; and Goethe expressed himself a follows: 'Roman history is no longer suited to us. We have become too humane for the triumphs of Caesar not to offend our feelings. Neither are we much charmed by the history of Greece. When this people turns against a foreign foe it is indeed great and glorious; but the division of the states, and their eternal wars with one another, where Greek fights with Greek, are insufferable. Besides, the history of our own time is thoroughly great and important; the battles of Leipzig and Waterloo stand out with such prominence that that of Marathon and others like it are gradually eclipsed. Neither are our individual heroes inferior to theirs; the French Marshals, Blucher and Wellington vie with any of the heroes of antiquity.' '