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The story of a lifetime? Perhaps

SO, Sir Stephen Spender is to commission an authorised biography of his life, in response to next Monday's publication of Hugh David's unauthorised version. But who is likely to undertake such a task? Yesterday Spender was uncontactable, but Ed Victor, his literary agent, says no choice has yet been made. After David's book, which digs freely into Spender's colourful sexual past, Spender may wish for a degree of editorial control, something a reputable biographer will be unlikely to give. Humphrey Carpenter, currently working on an authorised biography of Robert Runcie, feels the 'really interesting part of his life would be the social and sexual life of the Auden gang he was part of. I would have a hard job in the later part of the book - what's happened to him recently?' Another potential candidate, Andrew Motion, the poet, who this summer turned biographer with a life of Philip Larkin, says: 'I would want complete freedom. I like Stephen very much and he has had a very interesting life, but you have to tell the truth as well as respecting feelings. If he wants a warts-and- all account, he'll have to choose someone with a track record. Frankly, I can't think of anyone better than Peter Ackroyd.' This is unlikely. Ackroyd, says his agent, is too busy. 'He is up to his ears, and really, it's not his area - sorry.'

DOES anyone understand the Maastricht treaty? A colleague recalls this tirade from a London cabbie the other day: 'What about this Maastricht business, then? I don't understand it. Who does? I had that Edward Heath in the back of the cab last week. I'll talk to anyone. I said: 'What is Maastricht? Is it a wine? Is it carrot juice?' He went on a lot, but he couldn't explain it either.'

Madonna Milanese

DOLCE e Gabbana's hold on the headlines out of Milan this week owes as much to their aggressive PR as their fancy needlework. On Monday the designers invited 'selected' members of the fashion elite to 'a small and very private dinner with Madonna' to celebrate the launch of a new perfume. This coincided with a show of the latest offering from Emporio Armani, the 'affordable' range by the doyen of Italian fashion, Giorgio Armani. Well, could you resist the temptation of a cannelloni with the self-appointed high priestess of erotica? Vogue and Elle certainly couldn't, and nor, in fact, could half the fashion world, who, it transpires, had also been invited to the intimate sera at one of Milan's largest nightclubs. For the record, Madonna managed a brief appearance before being whisked off to a VIP balcony. Armani himself is said to be furious about being upstaged by the upstarts from Dolce e Gabbana. And so, it seems, are those who turned up in search of Madonna. 'We skipped Armani for a private dinner with Madonna,' mutters our man by the catwalks, 'and ended up in Milan's answer to the Hippodrome with a thousand people and an inadequate finger buffet.'

AT the opening of the Dublin theatre festival this week, Jim Mitchell, the Lord Mayor, recalled a meeting between Alfie Byrne, one of his predecessors, and Mae West. After she delivers her traditional 'Come up and see me sometime' invitation, the saintly Byrne demurred, saying he couldn't 'because it was Lent'. 'Well, come up anyway,' she answered, 'when you've got it back.'

In black and white A NOTE from the disciplinarian world of public transport. Mervyn Pugh, the traffic commissioner for South Wales, was sitting in judgement recently at a public inquiry into Red & White Bus Services. One of the drivers, he heard, had been given a 'verbal warning' for not reporting defects to his bus. As proof, Red & White's solicitor, Geoffrey Jones, pulled out a letter on which was written: 'I award you a verbal warning.'

JOKE overheard in El Vino's: the parties involved in a complicated commercial case assemble in the High Court to hear the verdict. A very embarrassed judge confesses that he has left his 8,000-word judgment in the country. 'Fax it up, m'lud,' suggests junior counsel. The judge ponders this and replies: 'I suppose it does.'


7 October 1827 Eckermann records Goethe's conversation about Schiller: 'I called on him one day; and as I did not find him at home, and his wife told me that he would soon return, I seated myself at his work-table. I had not been seated long before I felt queer. The feeling gradually increased, until at last I nearly fainted. At first I did not know to what cause to ascribe this wretched state - until I discovered that a dreadful odour issued from a drawer near me. When I opened it, I found to my astonishment it was full of rotten apples. I went to the window and inhaled fresh air, by which I was instantly restored. In the meantime his wife had re-entered, and told me that the drawer was always filled with rotten apples, because the scent was beneficial to Schiller, and he could not live or work without it.'