Diary: The gym last used by Sir Winston

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The Independent Online
SHOULD anyone question the current usefulness of Ray Powell, tenacious Labour MP for Ogmore - he was the whip responsible for 'pairing' off MPs, a practice abandoned on Thursday - I can reveal that he has been more than busy behind the scenes. He has been turning a 'secret' Westminster room into an extension of the new Commons gym and scoring a considerable victory over Sir Alan Urwick, the Serjeant at Arms, in the process.

Earlier this year Mr Powell, the enthusiastic chairman of the Commons accomodation and works committee, discovered what appeared to be an unused room in the Serjeant at Arms' department.

It contained a trestle table, some velvet drapes and a lot of ornate hooks. 'Junk,' said Mr Powell, who gained his reputation for miraculously discovering unused rooms, thereby creating office space in the notoriously crowded Commons, when he stumbled upon empty rooms in the Speaker's house some years ago.

'State equipment' insisted the S-a-a's office. It transpired that the 'equipment' was actually used for the rare occasions of Lying In State - and was last used when Churchill died in 1965. (The hooks, incidentally, were used to hang wreaths).

A spate of heated letters between Sir Alan and Mr Powell ensued - but recently the equipment went up to the attic, while the room became part of the new gym. As one MP commented last night: 'Better for the quick than the dead.'

BEFORE each performance of the ENO's current flu-beleaguered production of Wagner's Lohengrin, a member of the cast appears before curtain-up to make a short speech - partly to thank the Friends of the ENO who forked out pounds 100,000 to make the production possible, and, more importantly, to impart the current state of play on the backstage casualty list.

Recently this gloomy task fell upon the unfortunate shoulders of ENO director John Nickson, himself suffering from the lurgy. So long was his muffled list of fallen singers that the audience was severely taken aback. Except - that is - for one young man seated close to me: 'I don't suppose it makes much difference,' he whispered loudly. 'I never understood the opera anyway.'

SHAME ABOUT THE PLACE

Although last week I exhorted students at the London School of Economics not to march on the headquarters out of which the Department for Education moved two years ago, it seems about 1,000 students obstinately did so, perplexing the occupants - the independent schools' inspection body.

That was not all, however, Scuffles broke out with the police as 150 or so of the demonstrators actually attempted to prolong the non-event, causing at least one serious injury. Hardly surprising then that John Patten, safely ensconced in his office a mile away, was heard to comment wryly that the violence was as unacceptable 'as the students' incompetence in marching on the wrong building is laughable'.

EXAM hysteria, it appears, affects all age groups. Spotted at the weekend hanging on the door of an exam room at London's Bishopsgate Foundation - where supposedly mature, cerebral types were taking exams for postgraduate courses abroad, was a luminous Walt Disney-style notice featuring a duck gyrating on a dance floor. 'Come on in,' it said in great purple print: 'The party's in here.'

BEWARE FALLING LEAVES

Perhaps John Gummer ought to take note of the new standards in urban tidiness reached in Brussels over the weekend for the European summit: not only were the roads swept, dustbins emptied and statues polished, but, according to locals, the trees were clipped: 'To prevent any untimely falls,' explained a resident, 'on to the very precious heads below.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

14 December 1902 Paul Leautaud, writer and critic, writes in his diary: 'I'm taking stock of the various ways in which I think of my mother. In the end I may come to have them all noted, one by one, making a little psychological catalogue of the subject. There are for instance all those pictures and photographs one sees in bookshops, amongst which I suddenly spot one in which there is something of my mother's face. Then there is the crossing of the Pont des Saints Peres and the Cite. It reminds me of the bridge across the canal at Calais which I crossed on the night of my arrival at half past twelve. And yesterday in the train going to Courbevoie there was a couple at the other end of the carriage. There was hardly any light, and the woman wore a veil, so that I could hardly see her face, but it came over me that my mother had also been a woman in love, had leant against a man, against men, in the first flush of love.'

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