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Washing in the sink, ghost in the bedroom

HULL University's most celebrated librarian, Philip Larkin, was, famously, a bit of a grump. He was also, we learn, superstitious. For 19 years the poet occupied a top-floor flat at 32 Pearson Park, Hull (its front windows are those of the poem 'High Windows'). It was thought to be haunted, and Larkin enlisted the services of a local exorcist more than once. With little success, it seems. One student who lived there subsequently reported seeing the ghostly image of a young man walk across a bedroom smoking a cigarette, while another became increasingly irritated by a mysterious force which would dunk the spout of a teapot into the butter. There have, we should add, been no sightings of Larkin to date. The flat receives a passing mention in a volume of letters by Larkin to be published next week. He wrote to a friend in 1972: 'For the last 16 years I've lived in a small flat, washing in the sink, and not having central heating or double glazing or fitted carpets or the other things everyone has.' But it has now got a smart blue plaque.

GILLIAN SHEPHARD, the Secretary of State for Employment, was to have unfurled a banner for the construction industry in Downing Street on Thursday. 'Building a Future', it would have read. But she's cancelled without explanation. The future can now be expected to start 'once a suitable alternative date can be entered into the minister's diary'.

Subsidised grate

SOME NUM members are displeased that miners from Frickley pit in South Yorkshire blocked the gates to Michael Heseltine's country estate near Banbury with pounds 200 worth of coal. When the long, hard winter of discontent begins to bite, he can now feed free British coal to the front-room fireplace at Thenford House - the one that provided such a cosy backdrop to that uncomfortable On the Record interview on Sunday. When the frost is cruel, coal- fired Heseltine will be able look out on the villagers of Thenford - who have no gas supply - trudging over his estate as they gather winter fuel.

HERE'S an idea. Katherine Balog, an unemployed accountant who is also one of the last Republicans in Los Angeles, is to sue Bill Clinton on the grounds that he is 'a draft-dodger and Communist sympathiser', and the likelihood of him being elected president is causing her 'serious emotional and mental stress'. Any chance of suing our own leaders for foolishness leading to similar trauma here?

Really, really sorry

WE ALL make mistakes, but last Sunday's apology in the Sunday Times was a corker: 164 lines long, and run over two pages. It was a painstaking list of 29 errors in the previous week's revelatory article on the high earnings of Britain's top executives. In this time of crisis, Britain's top executives obviously spent much of last week berating the Sunday Times: strangely, however, the apology lists no top executive whose salary had been underestimated. Best of the errors are the salaries assigned to people who don't actually work for the companies in question - and the report of the pounds 309,000 earned by Sir Patrick Meaney, of Rank. He did not earn that sum and is, in fact, dead.

YOU'RE not very keen on the Government, are you? We asked for a succinct phrase to sum up this troubled era - Labour is desperate to find something as tasty as 1979's 'the winter of discontent' - and scores of you have sent postcards. These could be divided into two roughly equal piles: adaptations of lines from John Keats ('Season of drift and drivelling fecklessness', 'Treason of pits and hollow truthfulness', etc), and the rest. These were more serviceable. There was lots of punning along the lines of 'The Long Fall', though Simon Rees and others were better with a simple 'The Fall'. Mary Watson suggests ('more in hope than expectation') 'The Fall Of Major's Government'. 'The drifting weeks' (Luke Herrmann), or just 'The Drift' (Mat Coward) aren't bad, but they don't quite sum up the horror of it all. 'The pits of '92' (Keef Turner)? Nearly there, but you can do better - remember, we're looking for a phrase for the history books and the sound bites. More, please.


20 October 1979 Philip Toynbee writes in his journal: 'The great fault of Francis Bacon (the artist), Samuel Beckett, etc, is that they are naively representational. We all know that hellish inner state, and if we had the technical means, we could all depict it. For the state of hell is actually simpler than that Middle Earth which we normally inhabit. Heaven on the other hand, is a domain which is beyond the understanding of ordinary men and women; seen only by the Blessed; and by them only in their rare moments of enlightenment. It seems to me that all the painters I love most have had at least some glimpse of heaven, glorifying the visible world. From Piero to Vermeer and Chardin: from Bellini to Rembrandt, to Watteau, to Pissarro and Monet.'