Mr Pooter fires off for the media

Lynn Barber
Saturday 17 April 1993 23:02

MY LOVE for Terry Major-Ball grows apace. 'I have never been to an aerodrome before,' he told the Evening Standard, recounting how he found himself at Gatwick. He had been to a party at Number 10 for his brother's 50th birthday, and drunk what he thought were two glasses of orange juice but turned out to be Buck's Fizz. Consequently he fell asleep on the train home missed his stop (East Croydon) and only woke when he got to 'the aerodrome' (Gatwick). He was so enchanted that he thinks he might now take a flight to Manchester just to see what an aeroplane feels like.

Any word from Terry Major-Ball is always welcome (especially when it is a word such as aerodrome, which I hope Heathrow and Gatwick will adopt immediately), but I do wonder about the coincidence of his confiding his Pooter esque adventure to the press on the very day that Baroness Thatcher re- erupted into the headlines? Did some genius in the Number 10 press office think: 'Oh God, Thatcher's back: we're going to have to deploy our only 100-per-cent-reliable media weapon'?

JOHN PATTEN has resurrected one of the most damaging beliefs in our culture - the idea that we should maintain a literary or 'Standard' English that is quite different from the language people speak. The French have tried to do it for generations and it never worked for them, so why should it for us - especially when English, with its rich linguistic traffic from America, habitually evolves much faster than comparatively dormant French? It is this notion of 'literary' English that makes it so difficult for many people to write - I don't mean novels, or lectures or articles, I mean perfectly ordinary letters. I worked as a secretary before I went to university and it was painful to see big grown-up men struggling to commit even the simplest thoughts to the page. They could say what they meant perfectly well, but when it came to writing they would abandon all their normal clarity and entwine themselves in a quasi- legal, quasi-Dickensian fustian language that must have been as baffling for the recipient to read as it was torturous to write. I once dared to ask a manager at Metal Box why he couldn't simply say what he meant, and he exclaimed, 'Well, you can't in a letter'.

If you set up a barrier between spoken and written English, as Patten is trying to do, you make it much harder in the long run to preserve literacy. Once people regard writing as a dangerous minefield in which they will expose their ignorance, they will quite naturally avoid doing it.

Mastery of the written word is no longer absolutely essential in life - witness the number of dyslexics nowadays who have successful careers. There are other ways of getting information: I notice that my children are much better than me at learning things from cassette tapes or television. So now that the usefulness of reading and writing is in decline, all the more reason to promote its pleasure. And that will not be achieved by making children read Silas Marner or (heaven help them) Solzhenitsyn.

IT SEEMS a bit hard that Lord Archer's gardener Rachael, formerly Richard, should find herself starring on the front page of the Sun as 'Archer's Little Petal'. Sex changes (or gender reassignments as we must learn to call them) are now so commonplace that they barely warrant a mention in the local papers, but it is Rachael's misfortune that she works for a man who seems unable to let a week go by without seeing his name in lights. Indeed, Lord and Lady Archer actually put out a press statement saying they were 'fully supportive' of Rachael's decision. What presumption]

WILL Jane Fonda and Ted Turner address the American Senate tomorrow? This is a much more burning question than you might suppose, because if they do, then there will be a huge Californian earthquake on 8 May which will drown San Diego. How do I know? Nostradamus says so. It is all in a new book called Nostradamus: The End of the Millennium by V J Hewitt and Peter Lorie (Bloomsbury). I always thought Nostradamus was all 'three brothers will arise in the West and achieve mighty monuments' but, no, it is far more specific, according to the book. For instance, Nostradamus predicts that in 1993: 'After the long night of the earthquake, the actor Richard Gere does not return to the sleeping city of films. His faith joins forces with the wise Dalai Lama of Tibet in India.' Fancy a 16th-century French monk even knowing about films, let alone about Gere, whom many of my friends have still not heard of. Admittedly, Nostradamus doesn't quite spell it out. According to the authors, you have to take one of his quatrains and change the letters into numbers and put some numbers above the line and others beneath, and then turn them back into letters and make them into anagrams and translate them from Old French but if you can be bothered to do all that . . . guess what? In 1996 'Margaret Thatcher remounts to become leader of the Conservatives - without the reins'. Let's hope that Jane Fonda steers clear of the Senate tomorrow.

WRITING a couple of weeks ago about John Major's peculiarly long upper lip, I said it was a trait I associated with misogynist homosexuals like the late Anthony Blunt. Blunt's former solicitor, Michael Rubinstein, has now written to tell me that in his long professional dealings with Blunt, he never found any evidence of misogyny so another plank of my physiognomic theory has collapsed. (Actually, all my physiognomic theories tend to collapse when burdened with the facts.) However, Rubinstein then goes on: 'The facial characteristic you describe, I have ascribed notably to bishops and judges. After myself trying to pull that face, I decided that it resulted from years of making judgments while pretending to be completely objective as well as solemn. Do try it and see what you feel.'

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