DIARY / Hurd enforces Kent no-fly zone

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AT THE eleventh hour, Douglas Hurd is trying to prevent the reopening of one of Britain's most historic airfields because he fears it may be used for an aerial attack by terrorists on nearby Chevening, his official country residence. Upon learning last week that a Kent farmer, Timothy Barr-Smith, had gained both the support of English Heritage and Sevenoaks development control officers to reopen an airstrip built in 1909 at nearby Sundridge, the Foreign Office leapt into action to intervene.

The FO's letter arrived just as Sevenoaks planners were due to meet to give a decision on Barr- Smith's proposals. Its tone was unequivocal: 'On the grounds that Chevening House is the residence of a cabinet minister, who, as a potential terrorist target, is subject to a high security requirement,' they wrote, 'the close proximity of low flying aircraft due to the circuit crossing Chevening Estate and the lack of air traffic control, constitute an unacceptable risk in our view.'

The matter, unsurprisingly, has now been deferred and the Barr- Smith camp is regrouping, presumably to consider how to deal with a latter-day von Richthofen.

Whatever happens, the airfield will remain part of wartime folklore. Used in the Battle of Britain as a secret servicing base for Spitfires, it still houses the country's earliest purpose-built aircraft hangars, used from 1910 to the end of the First World War.

THANKS to the sterling services of a group of trainee builders from south London, the last stages of restoring the love-nest of Nell Gwyn and Charles II, Lauderdale House - a 16th-century north London manor badly damaged by fire in 1963 - are expected to be completed by the end of the century. Although most of the house was reopened as an arts centre in 1978, the builders are still working on the Long Gallery - scene of 17th- century bowls and skittles contests between the Earl and Countess of Lauderdale - and need a further pounds 180,000 to replace the gallery's elegant ceilings and panelling.

One of the attractions of the house is a window from which Nell Gwyn dangled her young son, threatening to drop him - so the story goes - if the nervously watching King refused to make him an Earl.

UNCHARITABLE ACTS

At the beginning of last year, the formidable Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Seear was burgled for the 19th time, a sorry state of affairs for the chairman of Apex Trust, a charity which provides work and training for ex-offenders. You would have thought they would have let up by now, but

not so - during a recent stay in hospital, someone crept up to

her bedside table and stole her handbag.

ACCORDING to the first issue of NHS News - aimed at NHS managers - the volume of paper from the centre is too great . . . and 'is sometimes too 'glossy' for its purpose'. You can read the rest of the article on (extremely glossy) page five.

STAYIN' ALIVE

Disappointed by the cancellation of the band's sell-out European tour, fans of the Bee Gees will have to accept that age may finally be catching up on their heroes.

Barry Gibb - whose flares and white suits have excited millions of young girls - is suffering from arthritis, which explains the presence of a glove while he plays the guitar. The 47-year-old Bee Gee also has a heart problem, I'm told, and has been told by doctors to take it easy.

It hasn't been a good six months. Last December, Wandsworth Council blocked plans to decorate Battersea Power Station with 40ft models of the band, replete with mammoth teeth. And this week a 6ft-wide gold record - presented to the Bee Gees on Top of the Pops to mark their 100th million record sale - was stolen from a van outside their record company's office.

A DAY LIKE THIS

7 April 1955 Julian Green writes in his diary: 'Someone asked me if he should answer a rather low attack from a weekly magazine; I advised him to keep silent. Silence is a wonderful weapon, but it has to be handled with great care. One must know whom it is being used against, and what meaning it will assume in the mind of whoever is answered in this way. There is an indignant silence, or a wounded, disdainful, contemptuous, amused, sarcastic one, one that is full of sorrowful reproach, or one that is pathetic, jeering, jovial, teasing, furious, vengeful, etc, etc. But it always ends by being rightly interpreted, unless it is the mysterious silence that leaves the opponent in doubt, and this last is exasperating. Bossuet used it against the Protestant minister Jussieu, who accused him of being father to several children, or it may have been the silence of baffled rage, or that which we have all used and misused: the silence of indifference.'

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