He was on fine form on Thursday night, dropping alternatively kind and waspish descriptions of women he'd known in his public career, during which he virtually reinvented both the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A as popular institutions. Certainly, his diaries have hugely enjoyable pen-portraits. Margaret Thatcher, for instance, struck him in 1976 as being ``an apotheosis of the boss's wife, with the appeal of cosmeticised putty'', while Grey Gowrie, the former arts minister, is exactly caught: ``a curious saturnine fellow with a dark complexion as though descended from Spaniards wrecked in the Armada".
They are strange, rather touching events, these theatrical readings. In the age of the CD-Rom and the multimedia experience, there we all were in a darkened theatre, following the loops and swings of description from a single voice. Prose readings are something one still vaguely associates with Charles Dickens; but there is still a thrill about the actual physical contact with the real voice, the author-in-the-flesh. As I blurred through late-night parties to bed, it seemed obscurely reassuring.
Speaking of blurs... here is a progress report for those who still have problems with the typeface: we have produced dummy pages with all sorts of minuscule variations in the size of letters and the spaces between them, and various colleagues with different strengths of eyesight are testing them out. Much squinting, grunting and rustling has produced the - I suppose unsurprising - information that different people prefer different versions. Increasing the size of the actual letters from, say, 8.75-point to 9-point seems the least popular solution. But we may slightly decrease the ``leading'' - a word from the days of hot metal printing, which simply means the gaps between letters, words and lines - which has a similar effect. Also, because there is a group of commuters who want to see page numbering on the top outside-corner of pages, so they can thumb through, I'm going to put a small extra number there. I'm not going to take every suggestion offered, but I am accepting some.
And now, in another blur, off to somewhere I can barely bring myself to admit to - a health farm. So appalling has my appearance become that I am being dragged off for the first time to be swathed in seaweed, forced to drink gallons of lukewarm turnip-juice, eat bowls of cosmeticised putty, and be beaten up on a regular basis by pitiless and laconic men called Sven. Or that's what I imagine a health farm to be like. It seems wrong and unnatural, cruel even; the place for hacks is in dirty bars, stuffing down bacon sandwiches and whisky. So if the health-farm people kill me off this weekend, it's goodbye, dear readers.
Meanwhile, a competition without a prize. The London Evening Standard has, hilariously, launched its own business suit - with a pink pinstripe to imitate its business pages. One can see where this sort of thing will lead: corduroy suits designed by The Guardian, baseball caps for new Times readers, and moleskin waistcoats, hand-sewn by Lord Deedes and his colleagues on The Daily Telegraph. But I can't think what item of clothing we should be running up here at The Independent. All ludicrous suggestions warmly welcome.Reuse content