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No nosh? No way, PM

JOHN MAJOR is a very brave man; undeterred by the negative response of the Young Conservatives to his proposals that the dress for their annual ball be 'suits' instead of black tie, he has now tried to impose his sartorial preferences on the Lord Mayor's Banquet.

'A lounge suit lecture' was the idea mooted by the PM to replace the seven-course annual feast, which for 400 years has celebrated the exit of the last Lord Mayor and the arrival of the new one. In recent years the dress code for the 750 guests has been either official state dress (robes), or white tie.

Insiders say that the Corporation of London did not take well to the suggestion, although officials sensibly deny the PM's intrusion: 'The dress will be as usual on 15 November,' said a spokesman, 'as is right and proper at this celebration of civic pride, paid for by the Lord Mayor himself.'

Rumour is that Major added insult to injury by requesting that he should be greeted at the door by the Lord Mayor, rather than walking the 50 yards through the Guildhall's Old Library on his own. He was rebuffed: 'That is a privilege reserved for the sovereign alone,' said the Corporation.

INTRIGUE at the Elysee, where, after 10 years of research and planning, Francois Mitterrand's official biographer, Georgette Elegy, has backed down from her task. According to friends of Ms Elegy, she has discovered 'too much' about the 76-year-old president, the subject of the controversial unofficial biography: The President Who Loved Women. Ms Elegy will not discuss the matter, but a palace source disclosed: 'Things are very sensitive . . . everyone is wondering what is going to come out.'

TWO YEARS after its launch, The Big Issue, the London-based magazine sold by the homeless, is going international. Already La Rue (there was confusion over what 'big issue' means in French) is hitting the streets of Paris; Irish, Italian and Canadian editions are due out soon.

'The plan is to set up a network for homeless and 'marginalised' people which will carry Big Issue articles in translation,' says editor John Bird, who is married to Tessa Swithinbank, daughter of Sir Robert Cornwallis Gerald St Leger Ricketts, seventh baronet. With sales exceeding 100,000 the magazine is now profitable; it is paying back the Body Shop, which provided start-up finance, and is moving its headquarters from Hammersmith to Farringdon.

'It's only the beginning,' says Mr Bird, who is also planning links with Sydney, Berlin and former Yugoslavia. 'You see,' he says, 'ex-cons (he once did time for theft) are a valuable commodity.'

DESPITE reports of jollity among the 5,000 pensioners braving the cold on Wednesday to lobby their MPs over VAT on fuel, those from Southport - where 40 per cent of constituents are pensioners - were despondent. 'We came all this way to see our new MP, Matthew Banks,' one told me. 'We know he lists 'travel' as a hobby in Who's Who, but, since his majority is only 3,063, we didn't expect him to be on holiday.'

Germaine response AT A DINNER party held in prelude to May Week in Cambridge, Germaine Greer found herself seated next to a young man who had not even a nodding acquaintance with The Female Eunuch. Wishing to introduce himself, he placed his hand on his neighbour's leg. 'I don't know anything about you, dear. What do you do?' he asked. Dr Greer was flustered - for a moment only - 'Look me up,' she told him sweetly . . . pause . . .'in Who's Who.'

PERHAPS Ernest Lindberg, a Belgian translator, could have done with assistance when compiling this year's International Law Dictionary. 'Scotland Yard' is translated into German as Langenmass which, we are told, measures 91.44cm . . . 'the same as the English yard'.


22 October 1823 Helen Graham, of Edinburgh, writes in her diary: 'Today we were talking of what must interest all who have the least regard for Ireland or Irish people, viz, the disturbances. Captain Bowles said that were the real wretchedness of these unhappy creatures known, they would be less blamed for all the tumults and riots. He added as an instance of it that he had gone with the commissioner sent from England to investigate, and visted 500 cabins or huts, in not one of which was a blanket or a bed. A truss of straw served for a bed and bedding to the whole of the miserable family that inhabited them, and the few who had a blanket had been compelled to sell them for provisions to keep them alive. We had a visit of Mr Newenham, just come from the south of Ireland. He said he had seen a sloop coming into harbour at Cork with provisions sent from England: at the same time one was going out to Liverpool laden with the same commodities.'