Diary

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Embassy fears a blitz of claims

WHILE the German government has failed to take action against the former Nazi general Wilhelm Mohnke, alleged to have ordered the deaths of up to 90 British soldiers in the Wormhoudt massacre, I gather staff at the German embassy in London have been more contrite about their countrymen's actions during the Second World War. They have organised a collection to help rebuild a Victorian bandstand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Cleveland, destroyed by a German bomb in 1942.

The whip-round followed an appeal by a local fundraiser, Jackie Taylor, who tells me the staff have sent her 'a charming letter and a private donation.'

How might the embassy respond to further appeals for reparation from, for example, the people of Coventry (who might want to rebuild their pre-war cathedral) or London, Dover and Southampton (who would appreciate former buildings too numerous to list)?

'It was a special case and because of special circumstances we thought it might be a nice token of appreciation,' said one of the dozen or so embassy staff who contributed. 'It doesn't mean that people wanting to rebuild all bandstands destroyed in the war can now expect the help of the embassy. We didn't think that it could actually lead to follow-up claims. Maybe we didn't think it through.'

BARONESS Thatcher relished the cut and thrust of prime minister's questions, but does her successor? The Labour MP Andrew Bennett thinks not, and has established the comparative records. Thatcher: 1979-83 - absent 18 times out of 268 PMQs (6.7 per cent); 1983-87 - 21 out of 259 (8.1 per cent); 1987-90 - 19 out of 221 (8.6 per cent); average 58 out of 748 (7.7 per cent). Major: 1990-94 - 26 absences out of a possible 188 sessions (13.8 per cent).

Acting PM

DESPITE the protestations of Sir Denis Thatcher at yesterday's Oldie magazine awards lunch that his wife would not be returning to Downing Street during his lifetime, another (quasi) prime minister is set for another term. Francis Urquhart, the unscrupulous PM of BBC 1's To Play the King was represented at the awards ceremony by the actor Ian Richardson, who collected the 1993 Back to Basics award - a letter opener - on his behalf.

Richardson said he had rung Urquhart that morning to tell him about the prize, and his alter ego had approved. 'We're running out of dynamite, it might come in useful for a third television series,' Urguhart had told him. 'So does that mean there will be a third television series?' Richardson inquired.

'You might think so,' came the response. 'I couldn't possibly comment.'

REMINISCING in Country Life about people whose names reflect their professions, David Bird recalls how his grandfather had a butler called Waitman and a footman called Page. Years ago Mr Bird's local butcher's shop was run by Mr Coffin assisted by Mrs Bone, his gardener was Mr Hedges, the ironmonger's shop was called 'Kitchen late Kettle', and 'to finish on a rather gruesome note, the local undertaker was Mr Mould'.

Ready for a break

'I'M NOT sure if this is a constituency number actually, but it's just another number I have for George Galloway,' a switchboard operator at the House of Commons told me yesterday. Ringing the Glasgow number, I was told: 'We don't have anyone of that name here, this is the orthopaedic section of Southern General Hospital.' Ever efficient, Galloway - fresh from his televised pow-wow with Saddam Hussein - was no doubt anticipating his whereabouts later that day, once the Labour Chief Whip, Derek Foster, had finished giving him a piece of his mind.

NORMA MAJOR and Howard Davies, director-general of the CBI, will today open the new London headquarters of the Hairdressing Employers Association at - Coldbath Square.

A DAY LIKE THIS

21 January 1856 Henri Frederic Amiel writes in his Journal intime: 'Yesterday seems to me as far off as though it were last year. My memory holds nothing more of the past than its general plan, just as my eye can perceive nothing more than that in the starry heavens. It is no more possible for me to recover one of my days from the depths of memory than if it were a glass of water poured into a lake; it is not so much a lost thing as a thing melted and fused; the individual has returned into the whole. The divisions of time are categories which have no power to mould my life, and leave no more lasting impression than lines traced by a stick in water. My life, my individuality, are fluid - there is nothing for it but to resign oneself.'

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