Diary

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Walesa and the whippersnapper

IF JOHN MAJOR had the odd bridge to build with Bill Clinton after the US elections (and still has over the West's policy in Bosnia), so did Lech Walesa when he met Clinton for the first time recently. A keen supporter of George Bush, (Congress had given Walesa a standing ovation during Bush's period of office) the Polish president had not finished his homework on Clinton, partly because, as I was told yesterday by a Polish-born Oxford don, 'he did not think this young whippersnapper would win'.

The don had a different view of Clinton's chances, having taught the whippersnapper for two terms in the Sixties, and was not at all surprised when his boy won. But observers may well have been surprised when Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski, a Fellow at Pembroke College who retires at the end of this term, was approached by the Polish government, which wanted him to brief Walesa on the basis of what he remembered of his star pupil (alas, the meeting never took place). He told me: 'Polish television asked me some stupid questions about Clinton being this student radical who would not care about Eastern Europe. Walesa was very uneasy about meeting him, but if I had got to see him, I would have told him he needn't have worried. Clinton was always very interested in Eastern Europe.' (Particularly the Soviet Union, as was. Dr Pelczynski still has a Clinton essay on the pluralism needed in that part of the world, using it as a role model for his students today.)

According to Zap, as he is known to his friends, his protege needs time. To the sound of croquet balls clicking on the lawn outside his rooms, he told me Clinton had made a sound start, and had made the right decision over Bosnia. 'There is a strict morality in America which makes it difficult for them to stand idly by as innocent people are murdered. But you have to be sensible and think things through. At the moment, there is no room for military action. I think he will make a great prime minister.'

I knew what he meant, and wished him good luck in his retirement.

AS ANXIOUS as anyone to see Manchester host the Olympics, the Diary is concerned about stories trickling out from the National Olympic Committee. I gather that some members of the committee are not happy with the Princess Royal, who is president of the British Olympic Association. She is not (how shall I put it?) a frequent attender of the committee's meetings (which take place only four times a year.) And when she does turn up, she is aloof, making other members feel inferior, even 'dirty'. Assuming she continues in her role (and having such a VIP on the committee should do nothing but good), the Diary also has the following suggestion: wherever the Olympics are held, I do think you should be present on the first day to cheer our men and women on (unlike Barcelona, when HRH was nowhere to be seen).

Spitting image

IN THE early hours of the morning the other day, an upright Commando-type was walking in Manchester's Moss Side with a Rastafarian. In minutes, three police vans were on the scene, officers jumping out in all directions. A familiar scene of British life, one might say. Not quite. Mr Upright is actually quite well known, someone the police might have recognised in the clear light of day. Embarrassed, the officers departed, and all was well. Until Mr Upright's wife received a call from the office of Manchester's Chief Constable, David Wilmot. Your husband is being impersonated, she was told. Mrs Upright, I'm sad to say, had some difficulty in making herself understood, telling the caller her husband really had been out with a Rastafarian. Is my husband safe? asked Mrs Paddy Ashdown before hanging up.

WHAT IS the definition of wasting parliamentary time? The Diary offers the following, which took place earlier this week during a sitting of the Consolidated Bills Committee. Meeting to weed out ancient and irrelevant acts of parliament, Labour's Baroness Mallalieu and Lord Wigoder, a Liberal, moved an amendment to delete an 1837 act making piracy at sea punishable by death. The Tory MPs John Whittingdale and David Lidington were having none of it, however, and after protracted debate, the amendment was lost. What a relief for us all.

A DAY LIKE THIS

14 May 1954 Edmund Wilson writes in his diary: 'After my travels, I am just getting myself going again. I find myself weighed down again with family responsibilities and the need of making money. In Europe, what with money from publishers, and the expenses of my Middle Eastern trip all paid by the New Yorker, I had the feeling that money problems didn't exist. Now, back home, it is as if I had been swimming in salt water, which buoyed me up, and had gone into a freshwater lake. I left Paris with a certain reluctance, had moments when I could almost imagine myself, as I had never done before, becoming a mellow old expatriate discussing world literature and history, and explaining America to Europeans, in some comfortable familiar cafe. A few days in New York, followed by New Haven and Boston, had me back in the American jitters again - too many cocktails, too many engagements, too many things to do.'

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