Diary: Labour leader is left naval gazing

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JOHN SMITH'S office is trying to put a brave face on the fact that the Leader of the Opposition appears not to have been invited to the service this Sunday in Liverpool's Anglican cathedral to remember old comrades and those who died in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War.

The service is one of the highlights in a series of events being staged in Liverpool, the nerve centre for Allied naval and air force operations during the battle.

A spokesman for the Royal Navy and Royal Naval Reserve, which are organising the event, says Mr Smith was invited - government ministers and their opposition shadows had all been invited. John Major has received an invitation and is expected to attend.

Mr Smith's office, however, says no invitation has been received. 'We would have hoped that we would have been invited to this,' a spokesman says. 'Maybe the invitation was sent and got lost in the post.' Moreover, he added, slightly forlornly, if the invitation had been sent he was 'fairly surprised' that no one had thought to check with Mr Smith's office whether he would be accepting it.

Perhaps Labour should take consolation from the fact that Paddy Ashdown's office cannot remember receiving an invitation, either. In any event, the Lib-Dem leader is already booked to address the party's spring conference in Harrogate.

AFTER hearing of the acute shortage of type O blood in London and the South-east yesterday, a busy professional reader rang the freephone number for those wishing to give blood and was referred to another number. She was told she could either donate in Edgware - she lives miles away in Hampstead - or wait until the mobile van visits her area. Next visit: 29 September.


Christopher Hitchens is rude, abrasive and drinks too much - and that's just what his friends say. The left-wing scribe, now based in the United States, was in London this week to launch a new collection of his writing.

Among those celebrating at the book's publication party was Salman Rushdie, who got shirty at the suggestion that a literary party isn't a party these days unless he turns up. 'I think you go to more parties than I do,' he sniffed, defensively. 'I'm just trying to live my life. I like to go to my friends' parties.'

But just why is Hitchens such a hit in the States? Another of his friends, the novelist Martin Amis, was in no doubt. 'Why they love him in America is not only because he is so talented and rude and abrasive,' he said, 'but because he drinks and smokes so much. They can't believe it.' Rushdie agrees. 'He's a master of political incorrectness,' says the man who knows a thing or two about flaunting traditional orthodoxies.

'NORMAN Lamont has been replaced by Kenneth Clarke,' screamed the bold headline. Sadly, the legend simply heads up a BBC press release announcing changes in the guests lined up to appear in tomorrow night's BBC 1 Question Time.


Will any more pretentious book be published this year (next month) than OuterCourse, the autobiography of the American feminist theologian Mary Daly?

To give the flavour of it, the acknowledgements start: 'Leaping into and across the Moments of living and writing OuterCourse has been an astonishing adventure. Launching this book on its own Voyage into 'the world' is a Taboo- breaking Act.'

They continue through a list of all the author's previous books and finish: 'I am grateful to my Familiar, Wild Cat, who is an Outercoursing Cat, yowling to go Out, especially at night when the moon is full and I am writing up a Storm. She has encouraged and inspired me by sitting proudly in the box containing the manuscript of The Fourth Spiral Galaxy of this book, thereby signifying her identity as a Fourth Galactic Cat who is eager to continue Voyaging Now.'

AND WHAT will be Ford Open Prison's contribution to the fringe at the Arundel Festival this summer? A version of J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls.


26 May 1917 Gertrude Bell writes to a friend from Baghdad: 'Recently there came in a couple of old sheikhs, hopelessly ragged and very sorry for themselves, for their tribe happens to be on the border and they had been harried by the Turks and then by us. Finally making the best of a bad business, they sought refuge with us, and we, after our truly idiotic manner, had clapped half of them in gaol, so they came to me and I said I would ask Sir Percy what could be done. At that they almost wept with gratitude and declared that they would send me a beautiful mare. I said no, it was a kind thought, but I couldn't take presents. When I came back as soon as they saw me they said, 'Khatun, if you won't take the horse we are going to send you - a gazelle]' It hasn't materialised yet, and I rather hope it won't, for gazelles eat everything, but wasn't it nice of them to hit on such small change for mares?'