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Chelsea supports the gnomeless

WHAT is believed to be the world's oldest and most valuable gnome - the Lamport gnome from Lamport Hall, near Market Harborough - is to stage a vigil outside the Chelsea Flower Show on Monday morning. Mike Minhall, a gnome enthusiast, is borrowing him for a morning of protest outside the event's Embankment entrance because these diminutive figures are banned from appearing at the annual floral festival.

'It's pure snobbery,' says Minhall, who works for a company that sells seed trays, flower pots and hanging baskets. 'I've got a replica of the gnome in my garden and it looks very nice.'

The eight-inch gnome, thought to be 150 years old and insured for pounds 1m, belonged to Sir Charles Isham, a Victorian gardener. Sir Charles, a mystic who believed gnomes had a life of their own, was the first person to introduce them into British gardens - he imported 150 from Germany. 'If they were good enough for him,' says Minhall, 'they should be good enough for anyone.'

Gnomes have always been banned from the show, which opens to members on Tuesday. The Royal Horticultural Society is snootily unrepentant. 'Who wants to go to a show and find things you can find in your local DIY centre?' Stephen Bennett, the show's director, asks. 'We have quite a wealthy audience. They prefer unusual and up-market garden ornaments. We can appreciate the value of gnomes just as we can appreciate double-glazing displays - but we do not have room for them]'

NOW here's a timely opportunity for undercover royal reporters. Buckingham Palace, which is opening some of its state rooms to the public for the first time in August, is advertising for temporary staff - as wardens, cashiers, retail assistants, security cloakroom attendants and lavatory attendants. Hourly rates start at pounds 4.85.

Family division

ONE member of Chelsea Labour Party won't be at the party being hosted by the thriller writer Ken Follett to meet the aspiring Euro- MP Michael Cashman tomorrow - Follett's wife, Barbara.

Cashman is one of three hopefuls aiming to wrest the nomination from the sitting MEP, Stan Newens. However, Mrs Follett has chosen to back two other candidates in the race - Jan Royall, Neil Kinnock's political assistant, and Judy Mallaber, director of the Local Government Information Unit.

Not that Mrs Follett has anything against Cashman, a former EastEnders star and now a gay rights activist, you understand. It's just that she is director of Emily's List - the Labour group set up to help more women get selected for winnable seats at Westminster and in Europe. And should her candidates want their own party, Mrs Follett tells us she would also be happy to lend the Follett family home for the event.

TWELVE-year-old Yukie Ohgaki has just won a competition to design the livery for a Japanese jumbo jet. The design, which will grace an All Nippon Airways 747-400D for a year from September, prominently features two live blue whales swimming along with nary a harpoon or chopstick in sight.

Stamped on

FANS of the peasant poet John Clare marked the anniversary of his death yesterday by retracing his muddy walks through the countryside near his home village of Helpston in Cambridgeshire and handing out sticky commemorative labels.

It was a sad reminder of what could have been. The John Clare Society enlisted the support of John and Norma Major in a bid to persuade the Royal Mail to bring out a stamp in the poet's honour in this his bicentennial year - he was born on 13 July 1793.

The request, however, was rejected and the society had to make do with producing its own green commemorative stickers for members. Yesterday a Royal Mail spokesman said that it didn't issue stamps bearing the heads of 'living people', aside from the Queen. Clare died in 1864.

A MALICIOUS gremlin led to an extra nought being wrongly added to the value of a first edition of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited in yesterday's diary. The correct figure is pounds 300.


21 May, 1581 Montaigne, taking the waters at an Italian spa, records in his journal: 'There came here a merchant from Cremona. He was suffering from many extraordinary infirmities. Nevertheless he talked and walked, and led quite a jolly life, as far as I could see. His principal failing, he said, was a weak head: he had lost his memory so completely that if he left the house to go on some business of his, he had to go back 10 times to ask where he was to go. He had been living under doctor's orders for many years, and observed them most religiously. It is amusing to see the various prescriptions of the Italian doctors, so contradictory, and particularly on the matters of these baths and showers, that out of 20 consulted there were not two in agreement; on the contrary, they almost all condemned one another and accused one another of homicide.'