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An absolutely fabulous idea

AS political correctness sweeps the nation, I can report an abandonment of principles by one erstwhile champion of the cause, New College, Oxford, whose undergraduates have ditched one of their Eighties heroes, Nelson Mandela. The Junior Common Room will now be known not as the Nelson Mandela Room, but as the Joanna Lumley Room.

The change was approved by 55 votes to 6 after the welfare officer, Nick Taylor, put forward a motion that: 'Mandela may well have been a major political figure in his time, but in 1993 is becoming rather passe.' Ms Lumley, on the other hand, is recognised as a figure of the present for her role in the BBC series Absolutely Fabulous (the series won an International Emmy Award earlier this week) rather than her now passe role as Purdey in The New Avengers.

Ms Lumley was delighted, although she could not accept an invitation to visit the college because she was filming. However, she thanked the undergraduates from the bottom of her 'very base heart' and sent them a signed photograph which will hang in the room.

The JCR president, Libby Brooks, 19, said: 'I can't believe Wadham College got in the papers because of their anti-public school admissions policy and we only get in because of Joanna Lumley.' She cheered up, however, when I told her that students at Edinburgh University are lobbying to change the name of their Mandela Room to the River Phoenix Room. In that case, she said, 'I don't feel quite so bad'.

ALTHOUGH Classic FM presenters are more au fait with their subject than they were at the launch - the prime mangler of composers' names was Henry Kelly, plucked from a background of TV-am and afternoon quiz shows - there is still room for improvement, according to Classical Music magazine. 'Next on the concerto programme,' boomed a presenter the other day 'Mendelssohn's string quartet in E flat major.'

Blooming expensive

STROLLING down Deptford High Street yesterday, my eye was caught by the rather sorry spectacle of 12 hanging baskets suspended from lamp-posts and boasting geraniums and pansies in a varied state of health. According to the annual report of Deptford City Challenge, a partnership of public, private and community organisations which uses government money to improve the area, these baskets boost confidence in the area. Would they still do so if the residents of Deptford were aware of their price, however? For the provision and maintenance of 35 baskets, including any repair work to lamp-posts, the taxpaper is paying pounds 52,875 over five years - pounds 300 per basket per year. And that's only if all the baskets are in place, which was not the case yesterday. I agree with a fellow passer-by who said: 'If that's how much they cost, I now feel justified in not having paid my Council Tax.'

WHILE Chris Patten tries to smooth the way for China's takeover of Hong Kong, Tony Banks, the animal-loving Labour MP for Newham NW, has also been negotiating in the colony. His mission has been more delicate: he was seeking (unsuccessfully) a ban on the importation and sale of seals' penises. This part of the seal's anatomy is used as an ingredient for an aphrodisiac meal. Mr Banks has strong views on the subject: 'Look at the number of Chinese. The last thing they need is aphrodisiacs. Their chemists would be better of selling condoms.'

Outraged of Wapping

IN yesterday's Sun, outrage at the video nasty which may have triggered the killing of James Bulger. 'Grisly chiller Child's Play 3 was rented by Jon Venables's dad Neil days before James was snatched and battered to death,' screams the double-page spread. The video has been shown on TV, the most recent occasion being eight days ago. The channel? Sky Movies, the pride of BSkyB, part of News Corporation, which owns - the Sun.


26 November 1929 Cyril Connolly writes to Noel Blakiston from Paris: 'I bought Jean a kinkajou, not a proper one but a kind of lemur from Madagascar, with brown fur, monkey's body and hands, and a long pointed face with large brown eyes. It was so timid that one could not pick it up, but so affectionate that it clung to one's neck and spent all its time trying to put its highly specialised tongue, three inches long, down one's ear, looking for ants. It would jump on one's shoulder from any part of the room, flying . . . over people's heads with a face of godly longing for its home. In restaurants it would snatch the spoon from one's hand and grow peevish and everywhere make the most awful messes. Finally we took it back and exchanged it for a pigmy marmoset, so small it could sit in a coffee cup. It was socially adequate singing like a bird and appearing from one's sleeve to snatch spoons.'