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The Independent Online

THE BELEAGUERED Princess of Wales has asked us to give her 'the time and space that have been so lacking in recent years'. By 'time and space' the Princess means two different things, but in their early history the words were more or less synonymous. Anyone who said 'Give me space' meant 'Give me time'. When Chaucer in his Prologue wrote that he was going to give himself 'time and space' to describe his fellow pilgrims, he was probably committing a tautology. 'Time and space' was just one of those phrases: it had a little ring to it. (Walter Scott was using it nearly 450 years later in Kenilworth, but that was a deliberate archaism.)

'Give me space' has its own meaning now. The Princess is not alone in her need for it. If we are to go by the sportswriters, particularly the football specialists, space is the name of the game. What is the secret of Norwich City and its manager, Mike Walker? 'All he asks of his players is that they create space,' my Guardian tells me, 'and do not give the ball away, and that, once possession has been lost, similar space is denied to opponents.' That's football.

It is also art. 'The artist must be given space to develop his talent,' declared Lord Palumbo the other day. He was talking about the award of the Turner Prize to Rachel Whiteread, who is herself so obsessed by the concept of space that to define the space enclosed by a house she pours cement into it, thus turning abstract into concrete, so to speak.

The space the Princess lacks is purely personal. It is to do with mutual tolerance and the unique identity of the individual, which current Western orthodoxy holds to be inalienable. But perhaps there is a real dimension to our often-heard cry for it. We know a lot now about the immensity of interstellar space, and we also know about the indignity of being in a crowded train stuck in a tunnel. The contrast is painful. Is it too surprising that to be euphorically happy (not necessarily through drugs) is to be spaced out?