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Pulling strings to keep on the rails

TWO THOUSAND of the nation's cellists are being urged to write to their MPs and to Sir Bob Reid, the chairman of British Rail, to protest at BR's decision to charge a child's fare for every cello and double bass carried on the BR network.

The musicians are incensed at the charges introduced in May this year - specifically for cellos, double basses and a variety of other large and awkwardly shaped objects - and want BR to withdraw the supplements. BR says that the instruments take up passenger space and should therefore be paid for.

Ken Cordingley, assistant general secretary of the Musicians Union, who is orchestrating the campaign, has written to 2,000 cellists urging them to protest.

'It's discrimination against musicians and, worse, it's discrimination against a particular group of musicians. It does not apply to people who carry other large instruments, such as tubas,' he says. 'The carriage of cellos and double basses inconveniences people no more than normal suitcases, which are anyway carried free of charge.'

In a recent incident a double base player travelling to an engagement in Edinburgh was told by an inspector to pay a supplement for his 'cello'. On refusing, a transport

policeman met the train at Darlington and threatened to escort him off the train unless he paid up. The musician then forked out a pounds 35 supplement.

Now BR is trying to charge a theorbo (giant lute) player and a bass viol player pounds 33 apiece - including an administration charge - for the carriage of their instruments on a journey from London to Durham. The players are refusing to pay on the grounds that the instruments are neither double basses or cellos. A BR spokesman said yesterday that 'the intention is that items of that size and nature (cellos and double bases) are chargeable'.

SO SOME 23,000 policemen attended the Wembley rally against the Sheehy report on Tuesday did they? On whose figures? Tell that to the National Union of Students, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the Trades Union Congress.

Political rambling

A COLLEAGUE rang Ivor Crewe, professor of government at Essex University, at his hotel in Scanno, Italy, the other night where he is on holiday. After a brief discussion about the forthcoming Christchurch by-election, an anxious Mr Crewe revealed that he was actually on a walking holiday with several other political scientists.

'Can you help me?' he asked. 'There are several of us here - David Marquand (professor of politics at Sheffield University), Anthony King (also professor of government at Essex University). Can you explain what all this Rees-Mogg business is about? From what we read in the Italian papers, we cannot understand it. Can you tell us about these votes on Thursday?' Ah, the perils of taking a psephologists' walking holiday.

APROPOS of that off-the-record briefing with Stella Rimington, the director general of MI5, we now hear that Reuters, the international news agency, was not allowed to send any of its reporters to the meeting on the grounds that it was a briefing primarily for the national press. Not to be outsmarted by the nation's spooks, however, a Reuters correspondent promptly slipped a tape recorder to a colleague in the parliamentary lobby who recorded the entire encounter for the agency. Hah. The buggers bugged.

Baffled by Beeb-speak

IT IS not only the nature of the recent expenses cut-backs made by the BBC's director general, John Birt, that have mystified his staff - the abolition, for example, of the soft- soled shoes allowance. It is also the language used to announce the cuts that reeks of what BBC employees have come to know as 'Birt-speak' - an unintelligible hybrid of contortion, abstruseness and hyperbole.

'We need to establish a less prescriptive corporate framework,' he said, 'which offers business units greater flexibility within the parameters of common-core corporate guidelines.' Eh?

A NEW health and beauty club, Burlington's, has just opened in a renovated undergound loo in London's Clerkenwell Road. Its advertising slogan: 'Open for your convenience'. Corny or what?

IN THE wake of rumours that the newly pardoned Karyn Smith and Patricia Cahill have sold the film rights of their experiences inside Bangkok's Lardyao jail, some of the Foreign Office officials responsible for liaising with the press on the girls' fates are getting edgy about how their roles will be portrayed. Showing an uncustomary flash of humour the other day one quipped: 'I gather I am being played by Marcel Marceau.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

22 July 1879 The Rev Francis Kilvert, at The Lizard in Cornwall, notes in his diary: 'The roads were made of marble, black marble, the dust of which looked like coal dust. Along the roadsides grew large bushes of beautiful heather, white, pink and rose colour, as freely as gorse grows with us. We stopped the carriage and gathered some fine sprays. Their splendour and luxuriance, I never saw anything like this before. At last we got off and drove to Kynance Cove. The tide was ebbing fast and it was nearly low water. We wandered about through the caves, and through the huge serpentine cliffs and the vast detached rocks which stand like giants guarding the Cove. I never saw anything like their wonderful colour, rich, deep, warm, variegated, mottled and streaked and veined with red, green and white, huge blocks and masses of precious stone marble on every side, an enchanted cove, the palace of

the Nereids.'

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