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The Independent Online
European fraternite wears a little thin

THE EDINBURGH summit was, of course, a great success, and a triumph for John Major, but what of the alternative summit also held in the city last weekend for European socialist leaders? The press was not invited to the lunch and dinner, although Jacques Delors and Felipe Gonzalez were among the 30 Eurosocialists who were. But by all accounts it was not the cheery gathering of happy comrades you might have expected - chiefly because of the continuing bad relations between the British and French. The latter naughtily set about urging John Smith to push for a United Kingdom referendum on Europe. To which the reply was that the French had a nerve to suggest such a thing - after nearly losing a referendum in their own country. Moreover, such a referendum in the UK would almost certainly be lost. Smith also took exception to one of the French leaders accusing British socialists of isolationism - did the French think Labour was the Conservative Party? The Anglo-French socialist relationship has been fraught for some time: a dispute continues over whether Jean- Pierre Cot, leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, did or did not accuse John Smith of 'playing roulette' with the Maastricht treaty during the Labour European conference in Brighton last month. Cot insists he was misreported: but as far as Labour is concerned, the hatchet remains unburied.

AND TONIGHT the new-look Parliamentary Labour Party is, for the first time, to have a Christmas do. The bad news? It's old-fashioned bring-a-bottle.

Sunday capers THE Sunday Times, in want of a literary editor, is casting a wide net. It has already turned down, or been turned down by, most journalists in the books business (and, it is said, Salman Rushdie). A N Wilson, biographer of Jesus and despoiler of the Queen Mother's table chat, said of the offer: 'What I couldn't bear is that apparently if you do a good books section, you have to go out to dinner with Andrew Neil, and then go to Tramp to dance with him]' (Untrue - you don't have to dance with Neil). Executives are now trawling the grandes dames of British literature in the search for someone 'formidable and belligerent' - Julie Burchill, Victoria Glendinning and Carmen Callil, for instance. The first two are said to have turned the offer down, while Callil, the head of the publishing firm Chatto & Windus and founder of Virago, has agreed to be interviewed 'just for the laugh'. The word at the Sunday Times is that the long-suffering deputy editor, Harry Ritchie, will have to stay put until Dame Iris Murdoch is available. Our tip for the job? The formidable and belligerent Andrea Dworkin.

POOR old dentists. No? Well, this week's Westmorland Gazette reports a break-in at a dental surgery in Captain French Lane, Kendal, from which the thieves made off with pounds 1.

African etiquette WITH the first great fraternisation story emerging from Somalia - an 18-year-old Somali woman was stripped and almost lynched after a crowd saw her getting out of a French army vehicle - US soldiers will be studying with extra assiduity the pocket guide to etiquette issued them by their commanders. 'Under no circumstances will you hug or kiss a Somali woman,' says the guide, adding: 'Men can hold each other's hands but you wouldn't see a woman holding a man's hand.' Hand-holding, or shaking, must be done with the right hand. But if in difficulty with your Somali hosts, you can always extricate yourself by 'impressing them with your verbal skill', by reciting a tongue-twister. In Somali.

STUDENTS of cab-driver psychoses will be interested in this, from Taxi Trade Times: 'With the party season approaching, it might be worth remembering not to help yourselves to the bowls of nuts in the boozers. Why, you may well be asking? Think about it. How many don't bother to wash their hands after going to the toilet and how many come straight back to the bar and plunge those same germ- ridden hands into a bowl of nuts? If a certain toilet featured by many cab drivers is a good yardstick, then it means one in five men don't bother]'

A day like this

16 December 1965 James Pope-Hennessy writes to Diana Crawfurd: 'I am currently floating around the Niger Delta, with a Benin boy as bodyguard. We have had two days in Old and New Calabar, where John, who hates and fears the 'very terrible, terrible Eastern people', got frightened one night by witches strolling around the house (there is, at certain times of the year, a limited amount of ritual human slaughter); but I found out next morning that they were watchmen protecting us from the witches who might have wanted to make John into 'medicine'. John was given orders by my host in Lagos to watch me day and night, which he does with gay and occasionally moody competence. I nearly fell into the river mud yesterday. But John saved me; he bullies me about my malaria pills; and we stick to lager beer.'

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