Diary

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NOVEL THAT CAME IN FROM THE COLD

A banned novel about the kidnapping of a high-level Nato committee by an environmental protester is being rescued from oblivion by Tom Jaine, editor of The Good Food Guide.

Something Quite Big, a 70,000- word comic thriller was written 23 years ago by Alan Davidson, now a historian of food but then head of chancery in the United Kingdom delegation to Nato in Brussels. At the time, Foreign Office mandarins refused to allow the book to be published because it drew on Davidson's experiences in the diplomatic service and cracked satirical jokes at the expense of the Foreign Office and some Nato's member countries.

Two years later, when Davidson became ambassador to Laos, he arranged for 400 samizdat copies to be printed in Bangkok. These he sent to relatives, friends and former Nato colleagues. Since he retired from the diplomatic service in 1975 to write full time about food, several publishers, including John Murray and Anthony Blond, have expressed an interest in publishing the book, but for one reason or another negotiations have always foundered.

Now Jaine, 49, tells us that not only is he intending to publish Davidson's novel this August but that he has just concluded negotiations to buy Prospect Books Ltd, Davidson's small and esoteric publishing company, which until now has limited itself to publishing facsimile reprints of 17th- and 18th-century recipe books and ethnic cookery books.

Davidson, who will concentrate on completing his monumental work in progress, The Oxford Companion to Food, is delighted someone is finally publishing his novel. 'It is very much an amateur book and does not pretend to be anything else,' he says. But 'I have always been very fond of it.' It might, however, he adds, have been 'a little immodest' to have published it himself.

Jaine, who has bought the company because he knows he 'won't edit The Good Food Guide for ever' and sees the acquisition as his 'next step in that march towards retirement and the grave' is very pleased to be publishing Prospect Books' first novel. 'It's a very good light novel,' he says.

Something Quite Big will not be the first book on his new list, however. That honour goes to a reprint of a 19th-century volume, The Art of Bread Making by A Edlin. This Jaine describes as England's first bread book, written by a scientist whose only other known work is a discussion of a flu outbreak in Uxbridge.

ENTOMOLOGIST Dr Martin Drake is the project officer for English Nature, which is currently involved in a scheme in Suffolk to save the threatened fen raft spider from extinction. Unfortunate then that Dr Drake is a lifelong arachnophobe. Happily his fear is restricted to house spiders, and raft spiders, which have a two-inch leg span, hold no terrors for him. 'They're not exactly cuddly,' he says. 'But they don't have that horrible leggy look that house spiders have.'

CHINESE QUESTION

Pity poor Barrie Douce, the 23- year-old physics student from Bristol University, who came second in BBC 1's Mastermind on Sunday evening. Magnus Magnusson asked Douce, who had opted to answer questions on French Indo China between 1945 and 1954: 'Which Chinese leader reputedly described the Indo China war as a conflict between the elephant and the grasshopper?' Mao Tse-Tung, replied Douce.

Wrong, came the reply, Ho Chi- Minh. 'But wasn't Ho Vietnamese?' we asked the BBC. 'We regret that a minor error crept into one of the questions,' a spokesman said yesterday, adding that even if Douce had provided the 'correct' answer it would not have affected the contest's outcome.

'Barrie had four passes,' he said 'whereas the winner (Gavin Fuller) only had two.'

A BUSY man, Sir John Harvey-Jones. Callers ringing his company, Parallax Enterprises, are greeted with the following recorded message: 'No, he cannot meet you until September and he cannot even speak to you on the phone until late July. But don't despair because you can speak to one of his lovely secretaries and we are ever so helpful.'.'

AND here's a note from the minutes of Rossendale and Darwen Labour Party: 'Lytham St Anne's Labour Party request help for their fate on 29.5.93.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

18 May 1944 Peter Moen, an imprisoned member of the Norwegian resistance, writes in his journal: 'A month ago I left solitary confinement after 75 days. Those days will always seem extraordinary to me. They were filled with a brooding atmosphere of crisis. I can never forget when loneliness, fear and anxiety for the future and worries about my wife and friends impelled me to put to the proof the wisdom of the fathers. With a sad sigh I must admit that the attempt failed. I found no foothold for faith or conviction that anything divine spoke to me. I found the wish that this wish should exist, but this is easily explained by the instinct of self-preservation and egoism. I have to admit that my completely sincere attempt led me back to the standpoint I have had for 20 years: there is no truth outside man. Everything has its origin in man and this applies also to all thoughts and emotions about 'God'.'

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