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Simone de Beauvoir. Pioneering feminist, winner of the Prix Goncourt, elegant lover of Jean-Paul Sartre: a credit to 20th- century culture. But we didn't have to work with her. The poet James Kirkup did, and he describes the experience in his memoirs, to be published by Peter Owen next June. Kirkup (recreation, according to Who's Who, 'standing in shafts of moonlight'), writes that in 1958, 'to make a little cash', he agreed to start translating de Beauvoir's 'interminable, tedious and humourless autobiographies'. 'It was,' Kirkup says, 'a thankless task. Her prose was so clotted and confused, so riddled with repetitions and inane remarks . . . When I read her Journal 1939-1941 and the letters to Sartre she wrote between 1930 and 1963, I realised she was constantly repeating words like plaisant and fameux.' Despite his distaste for the woman - 'she never cracked a joke in her life, which is why she complained that I had missed all the 'wit' in her work' - he nevertheless visited her in Paris to fix on a title. 'At first she seemed to like me. Then I made the mistake of asking her about her wartime activities: I knew she had worked for Nazi-run radio. She was later an ardent apologist for Stalin. I knew at once that I had struck a blow to the heart. She compressed her roughly rouged lips. I was dismissed.'

LORD TEBBIT was ankle-biting again at the Businessman of the Year Award lunch yesterday. Having roundly abused Maastricht and French peasants, he praised the cancer charity that had sponsored the award, adding: 'Unlike certain well-publicised diseases, people don't get cancer from choice or from their habits.' Asked later which diseases he had in mind, he said: 'Er, gout, probably.'


Last night 18 stone of Luciano Pavarotti took to the stage at Milan's La Scala to play in Verdi's Don Carlo as the young Infante of Spain, emaciated by illness. There was some speculation in Italy as to how he could properly fill such a role: Franco Zeffirelli, who designed the production, admits that special lighting effects have helped. 'The mysterious shadowy scenes around the tomb are in Pavarotti's favour,' he says. 'One will see just glimpses of him. A profile here or there, a glance, one will be able to concentrate on the music.' Zeffirelli has no worries about the wisdom of the casting. 'Pavarotti,' he says, 'is a gift sent from God to an undeserving world. He has the voice of an angel trapped inside a very unangelic body - just right for performing a tragedy of the soul.'

A MONTH or so ago we complained that the publishing firm Arrow was keeping fans of the arms-to-Iraq scandal in suspense, while its lawyers dithered over whether to publish the revelations of Chris Cowley, the metallurgist who was in charge of the Supergun project. Arrow soon announced that after three months' consideration, the lawyers had said it could not publish the book. But now we learn that Hamish Hamilton has stepped in and will publish - 'after a little editing' - Guns, Lies and Spies on Thursday.


Two love stories occupied the front page of the Sun yesterday: Princess Anne and Tim Laurence (one column); Sharon and Tony (three columns, plus pics). If you live on Rockall, you'll need to know that the latter are the first names of the actors who have made 11 advertisements for Nescafe, boosting sales of its rather sickly instant coffee, Gold Blend, by 40 per cent. The British, we're told, now drink 10 million cups of the stuff a day, inspired by watching the couple flirt while borrowing, and drinking, each other's Gold Blend. Last night you could see Tony rescue Sharon from a lustful (Italian, doubtless espresso- drinking) rival and at last declare 'I love you'. But now, chaps, let's leave the couple alone. Switch off the tabloid spotlight and let them enjoy their bliss in peace. And we can all stop drinking Gold Blend.

PAUL MERTON, voted Top Television Comedy Personality at the British Comedy Awards on Saturday, is a very Nineties sort of comic. Asked who his companion was, he said: 'How modern can you get? I don't make jokes about my mother-in-law, I bring her along.'


8 December 1872 Francis Kilvert records in his diary: '. . . at about half past four began the Great Storm. Suddenly the wind rose up and began to roar at the Tower window and shake the panes and lash the glass with torrents of rain. It grew very dark and we struggled home in tempests of wind so fearful that we could hardly force our way across the Common to the Rectory. All the evening the roaring S W wind raged more and more furious. I went out to see where the cows were, fearing that the large elms in the Avenue might fall and crush them. The trees were writhing, swaying, rocking, lashing their arms wildly and straining terribly. Now and then the moon looked out for a moment wild and terrified through a savage rent in the storm.'