Diary

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It's time to pay up for acts of heroism

HERE IS an equation the Government might like to weigh up when considering its treatment of holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross: 10 per cent equals pounds 100 a year.

The percentage is the measure of courage required to merit a medal - to qualify, the would-be VC or GC has to consider there is only a 10 per cent chance of survival before embarking on the act of heroism. The sum of money is the special annual pension (on top of state benefits) they have been receiving since 1963.

Because these gallant men and women insist they were not motivated by money, they refuse to agitate for an increase.

The Diary, however, has no such inhibitions, and considers the treatment of these men and women shabby in the extreme. The Treasury might like to know that there are only 39 VCs and 61 GCs alive today, and an increase in the annuity, even if only to reflect inflation since 1963, would not exactly sink the Exchequer. And if that doesn't stir the Treasury into doing something, let it consider the actions of Pakistan.

Yesterday, Ali Haidar, an 80-year- old VC who has fallen on hard times at home in Pakistan, visited his embassy in London - he was here for a reunion - and came away with some immediate money and a promise that regular financial help would be on its way when he got home.

He needs it badly, having retired from his small scrub farm in the North West Frontier province with no money to help him and his sick wife. It was the least the embassy felt it could do for a man (ex-Indian Army) who was wounded twice while charging an enemy stronghold on the Senio River in Italy in 1945.

As the result of his bravery, the rest of his company were able to cross the river.

Would the same happen here? The Diary fears not.

READERS will recall my note on Tuesday about Alan Coren, the humourist, and his opinion of the Sunday Express, in which he has a column. He told Angus Deayton, presenter of the BBC 2 quiz programme Have I Got News For You, that it was a 'haddock sheet'.

Now I learn that tonight's edition of the programme will provide the fat for the fish. Peeved that Roy Hattersley had pulled out of the programme at the last minute for a second time, Deayton and his colleagues decided to get their own back. Switch on tonight and, positioned alongside Paul Merton you will see a silent partner - a tub of lard.

Hattersley once told John Cole, the former BBC political editor, over lunch, that he ought not to believe the Private Eye stories about his wining and dining. But you know how these stories tend to stick.

Speech impediment WINSTON CHURCHILL and Enoch Powell can warn us about the perils of immigration as much as they like (see yesterday's Diary), but some people see the difficulties of integration another way.

Students arriving at the University of Humberside in Hull this autumn will receive written guidance on how to fit into their new community. The university, formerly Humberside Polytechnic, is not worried about the ethnic minorities, however. The problem is with the indigenous population, who find it notoriously difficult to communicate with people from elsewhere in Britain, or indeed, from anywhere more than a few miles outside the town. This, presumably, is why Hull has its own private telephone network.

Hence, in the handbook handed out to the students, the following helpful translations: arfalager, half a pint of lager; parntamarld, a pint of mild; fern curl, a telephone call; curlslur, a sliced salad; ellur, good morning; and arm off erm now, tarrar, goodbye.

JOHN MAJOR may be worried about the Christchurch by-election, but consider the plight of poor Michael Portillo, who suffers merciless leg-pulling every time the Liberal Democrats storm home. Home being the operative word, since the young cabinet minister's parents are keen Paddy Ashdown supporters. Portillo's mother, Cora, told me yesterday that she and her husband, Luis, a socialist intellectual in Spain

during the Thirties, teased their son occasionally, but endeavoured not to discuss politics over Sunday lunch. 'When we lapse, we agree to differ,' she tells me diplomatically.

A DAY LIKE THIS

4 June 1763 James Boswell writes in his diary: 'It was the King's birthnight, and I resolved to be a blackguard and to see all that was to be seen. I dressed in my second-mourning suit, dirty buckskin breeches, black stockings, and a little round hat with tarnished silver lace belonging to a disbanded officer of the Royal Volunteers. I had in my hand an old oaken stick. Was I not a complete blackguard? I went to the Park, picked up a low brimstone, agreed with her for sixpence, went to the bottom of the Park and dipped my machine in the Canal and performed most manfully. I then went to St Paul's Churchyard, roaring along, and then came to Ashley's Punch-house and drank three threepenny bowls. In the Strand I picked up a little profligate and gave her 6d. My vanity was somewhat gratified tonight that, notwithstanding my dress, I was always taken for a gentleman in disguise. I came home about two much fatigued.'

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