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Now they want to take his day away

'SIT,' shouted Michael Foot, years of leadership behind the command. Dizzy is 12 now and may be deaf - he took no notice. Foot didn't notice Dizzy hadn't noticed, and congratulated him on his obedience. Plus ca change.

When Foot is judged by history, people will say the Labour Party tail was always wagging the dog. Yesterday nothing had changed, but at least he was back in the news. Acknowledging early morning greetings on Hampstead Heath - the founder in 1978 of the modern May Day bank holiday was rather like a benign elderly schoolmaster who has just given the boys a half- holiday and is enjoying seeing them at play - Foot was being proprietorial about the holiday, and contemptuous of the Government's 'spite and ignorance of English history' for planning to get rid of it.

Normally Foot would have been at Ebbw Vale, where his former constituents mark the holiday in a big way, but for the first time since 1978 the former Labour leader remained in London, restricted in his activities after twisting a knee. (This relieved me: I had injured my back, and was not looking forward to trailing behind him for an hour.)

During our walk he railed at the West for not taking earlier action against the Serbs over Bosnia, threw up his walking stick in dismay at the prospect of Lord Owen becoming BBC deputy chairman (he thinks it's possible), and talked passionately about H G Wells (he is writing a biography) and, of course, Swift, Hazlitt, Byron et al.

The tour over (past Leigh Hunt's house, then the place where Keats once sat with his mind on Fanny Brawne), we sat down to breakfast and watched with some sadness as his wife, Jill Craigie, a good cook, burnt the croissants - a symbolic moment, Foot assured me, because King Alfred was also a great May Day fan. (Just to complete the picture, Jill then ticked her husband off for licking honey off the end of his knife, an act that endeared him to me even more.) So, I wondered as we parted, did Foot think the Government really would replace May Day with Trafalgar Day on 21 October? 'Doubt it,' he said, 'that's our wedding anniversary.'

FIRST Buckingham Palace, now Douglas Hurd's Chevening. Among items to be offered to the public next week to meet maintenance costs is an 18th-century 'exercise chair' with a step, two handles and a leather seat. The principle is just like a trampoline, I'm told. You sit down and bounce around.

Take that, my love WHILE Hampstead is full of literary ghosts, Swift's spirit is not among them, which saddens Foot. Although Hazlitt will always be at the top of his reading list, Swift is close behind, particularly Gulliver's Travels, a book he constantly rereads. He is therefore familiar with the Swift lines: 'Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.' He may not, however, have read the following lines on the same theme, taken from a letter by a Zimbabwean gentleman called Albert Mawanda and published in the Zimbabwe Mail (unless Mawanda, too, is being satirical, which I doubt).

Wishing to address the question of why 'wives are bludgeoned,' a question missed by, among others, women's liberation activists, he confesses: 'I for one beat my wife, in fact I have been severely battering her very frequently since before our marriage two years ago. Not that I do not love her, no, this woman is the only one in my heart. My love for her is such as has never been seen on this planet, but I beat her.' Then the justification: 'The reason is I do not want to be ashamed of her, ever. The beatings, which invariably come after much squabblings over this and that, and poking each other in the face, are one sure way of making her do and be what I want, the pride of my heart, not a nagging source of provocation, shame and worry. In fact she too has the right to flog me if I ever behave badly. Maybe you did not hear of the incident but my wife came within an inch of murdering me the other night after I arrived home stinking drunk, my weekly pay packet empty.' If Mrs Mawanda reads this item, perhaps she could give us her side of the story.

ON THURSDAY you can vote Conservative in the Suffolk county council election - if you take their word that the council is responsible for education and has over the past four years 'encuraged good management of schools'.


4 May 1951 Tom Driberg writes in his diary: 'A favourite English quotation (usually misquoted): Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink, might symbolise the weather and the catering arrangements on South Bank's opening day. 'Typical English summer weather,' we said as the wintry fog turned to heavy rain (or as the Times put it, 'the drizzle became more obtrusive'). More seriously, one of the most agreeable features of the South Bank is that there is plenty of water to look at; the noble sweep of the hitherto neglected Thames itself, the weak sun sinking as the floodlighting shone out in a hazy chiaroscuro that would have pleased Whistler; fountains and fishponds; and the most fascinating single item of all - a mobile in sheet metal and water by Anglesey sculptor Richard Huws, whose scoop-like buckets are constantly precipitating fresh cascades with a sound like waves on the seashore.'