Diary: Secrets under the cellar floor

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The Independent Online
MORE than 800 years after Thomas a Becket was put to the sword in Canterbury Cathedral, a couple in Eastry, Kent, have uncovered a tunnel underneath their house which some historians believe - and the Diary awaits definitive conclusions with interest - could have been used by the ill- fated Archbishop of Canterbury as he fled from Henry II to France in 1164.

The discovery would not have been made, I gather, without the assistance of a metal detector skillfully wielded by the couple's son Wayne as his parents prepared to replace their cellar floor. Urged on by Wayne, metal detector bleeping furiously, Tony Tunstall chipped away at the floor for several hours before coming across the tunnel, as well as the objects of the metal detector's curiosity, a ring and several ornate candlesticks.

Tunstall's wife, Beverley, a keen amateur historian, is excited by the find, as are medievalists at London University, on several counts. First, according to local church records, Thomas is believed to have hidden in Eastry en route for France (Thomas had blocked Henry's attempts to condemn corrupt clergy) and, second, the Georgian house (now on the market) was built on the site of an old rectory where Thomas is thought to have stayed. But it is not definitive. Claire Valente, a medievalist at Harvard, warns that the local church might have fabricated the records 100 years later in order to associate itself with the saint.

IRVINE Patnick OBE, a government whip, has received a letter from a charity seeking his support. It reads thus: 'Dear Mr Obe, I hope we can count on you again this year . . .'

Not waving but . . .

BOTH John Major and his recalcitrant backbencher John Carlisle enjoy sport, but that is all they have in common. Making his way to the England vs Ireland rugby international at Twickenham last Saturday, Carlisle - who last year predicted Major would resign - was surprised to see the Prime Minister waving at him from the car in which he and the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, were being driven to the match. Bumping into Major in the division lobby on Monday night after the age of consent debate, Carlisle did the decent thing and thanked him, observing that his wave had been a very nice gesture. To which Major replied: 'Waving? I wasn't waving. I was just showing you that after everything you've done to me, I still have five fingers on each hand.'

WEST Germany's reputation for super-efficiency and an equally reliable car industry came a cropper recently when its government's offer to safeguard the life of a certain Nelson Mandela Esq went awry. Having given Mandela a bullet-proof Mercedes, the Germans might have assumed they had earned the undying gratitude of the ANC leader. They had, until after a press conference last week in Cape Town when the glittery engine refused to start, causing Mandela (in front of the world's paparazzi) to leave in what one onlooker could only describe as 'an undignified manner . . . He'd found a clapped-out old banger that could barely make it round the corner. That, at least, was further than the Merc could manage.'

British signature

THE last Union flag to fly over Palestine is, I hear, to have a curious resurrection - above an autograph stall in the lobby of an Israeli hotel. It was owned by Cyril Marriott, the Consul General in 1948, but languished in mothballs in his Leicester home for almost 50 years. Now it is the property of a signature-mad Mancunian, Sefton Woolf, who beat off a pair of avaricious Americans at a recent auction in Loughborough with a six-figure nod. Woolf had initially been interested in a Marilyn Monroe autograph - which he failed to obtain - and settled on the flag instead. It will now flutter above his stall in Israel where he will be selling signatures of Pepys, Churchill, Dickens - and (you can't keep them out this week) Torvill and Dean.


25 February 1848 Caroline Fox writes in her journal about the news from France: 'Louis Philippe and Guizot have both abdicated, and the Royal Family have quitted Paris. Arago, Odilon Barrot, and (Alphonse de) Lamartine are the new administration, desperately revolutionary. How far will they go? And how long will they last? The Palace of the Tuileries has been taken, furniture thrown out of the windows and burnt, and the throne paraded through the streets. Uncle Charles summing up the recent French rulers: Louis XVI, beheaded. Louis XVII, done away with. Napoleon, abdicated. Charles X, abdicated. Louis Philippe, abdicated; truly a most difficult people to govern. I have been so familiar of late with the French Revolution, through Carlyle and Burke, that all this fills one with a horrid dread of what next.'