DIARY ANDREW GIMSON O ne of my regrets, as a political
journalist, is not to be on terms of intimacy with a single Cabinet minister. They fail, I think, to appreciate that I am prepared to offer life-long loyalty in return for dinner, provided there is plenty to drink. But conscious of my duty to the public, I pick up what scraps I can of inside, or at any rate outside, information, and last weekend found me in the Gloucestershire constituency of the Hon. Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for the Environment. He is the minister who recently told some journalists to terminate a television inter- view with him. They were insinuating that he was a hypocrite for trying to encourage house-building in other people's 'back yards' while preventing it in his own. I would have thought this might be a popular policy, as it is what many of us would like to happen, and I suggest the catchy, double-barrelled term Nimby-Bitby for it: Not In My Back Yard But In Their Back Yard. Mr Ridley is unpopular among his constituents, about whom I have estab- lished four other key facts: 1. Many of them are very rich. 2. They like gardening. (My hosts showed me their lovely grounds by torchlight when we arrived on Friday night. The smell was delicious. I gave some hints which will ensure a yet braver show of roses next year.) 3. When the constituents are not gardening, or enjoying the pretty countryside in that part of the world, they spend their time grumbling about Mr Ridley. They say things like: 'He may have given us a bypass, but he has shut the school and the hospital.' 4. They will vote for him at the next election.
Ihave discovered a poet. He is called Ignatius. Since I regard him as a genius, I am disappointed to find that the sample of his verses which I jotted down does not, in the warm light of a midsummer morning, seem quite so inspired as at the dinner, earlier this week, when I persuaded him to dictate them to me. But I would contend that in a poem running to hundreds of stanzas, there is bound to be some uneven- ness. Although the following has the rough edges of an unfinished piece, I can assure you that 'The Citadel' in its final form will not only flay the vices of the age, but contain scarcely a dull line. The sample seems to be part of a longer section in which Ignatius discusses love and lust in the office:
Take for example the secretary called Kim And the Chairman against whom I shan't inveigh. Well, she's supposed to be in love with him, 'Or with his cash?' I asked Wendy that day. 'Oh she's not like that, she's just a victim, Struck down by Cupid's arrow.' I dare say. But perhaps that diamond ring I saw him give Might have been just the slightest incentive? And indeed my suspicions were confirmed When later I asked her to elucidate Her views on the Chairman and she affirmed Him to be a cretin, a reprobate.
So when I found her love could be earned For the price of a meal on the first date, I thought to myself that night, 'What a waste, A diamond ring, he'd have got it for paste!'
Ignatius tells me he has, for the sake of his art, to live life to the full. He spent a short time working in a bank, but is secretive about his present occupation, saying only that it involves 'several million pounds'. When this coup (for such in some sense it must be) has come off, he will publish his masterpiece and the scoffers will have to acknowledge the prescience of those who first said, 'The man has talent.' Meanwhile he continues to peruse the vices of the age. It has become his habit to explore what he calls 'Market sentiment' in the district north of Green Park, where the following conversation recently took place. Girl: Are you looking for company? Ignatius (not yet in possession of several million pounds): It depends how much it costs.
Girl: Forty pounds.
Ignatius: What type of company does £40 involve?
Ignatius: Such as?
Girl: What will you be requiring, Sir? Humiliation, domination, correction or torture?
Ignatius (meekly): Torture sounds interest- ing. Forty pounds, eh?
I am afraid, on this evidence, that 'The Citadel' may contain what my old English master would refer to as 'raw passages', but genius, sadly, must have its fling.
The literary project to which I devote every spare moment is a novel written entirely in clichés. To my knowledge, this has never been done before, though that giant of the modern world, Mr Jeffrey Archer, has made brave stabs at it. He and I are, I suspect, up to the same game, what Eugene Ionesco calls 'l'expression d'un sentiment de l'insolite dans le quotidien, un insolite qui se revele a l'interieur meme de la banalite la plus us8e'. You can say that again. Mr Archer has recently been seen at the editorial conferences of both the Times and the Sunday Times. Can it be that he is going to take over as editor, or just as chief leader writer?
Each year at the summer solstice, when, as we all know, the sun reaches its northernmost point in the ecliptic, a fine but relatively unknown sight is visible to anyone with eyes to see who is in the right place in Pimlico. The sun rises directly over the highest chimney pot on the west side of Eccleston Square and shines straight into my bedroom, setting up an interesting reflective effect on the wall. This is a feature of which the estate agent rightly made much when she sold me my attic, which is smallish by the standards of attics. I feel I know exactly how those people trying to celebrate at Stonehenge feel, though there is no police presence here, let alone violence.
Peter (T. E.) Utley, who died on Tues- day night of this week, was loved by his friends to an exceptional degree because he was an exceptional man. He had been blind from the age of nine. His courage, intellect and sense of humour could easily lead one to forget that. On first meeting him, people were inclined to wonder whether, because of his disability, it would be tactful to avoid certain turns of phrase. His trenchant 'See you soon' on parting quickly cured one of such feebleness. His own eminence did not lead him to shun the company of unimportant individuals. He was amazingly kind to anyone trying to become a journalist, however little apti- tude they seemed to show, but he also knew how to ridicule phrases like 'an exceptional man'. He was a liberal host. It is terrible not to be able to hear him laughing about this paragraph; most terri- ble for his wife Brigid and for the rest of his family. Charles Moore writes at greater length about him on page 15.
Andrew Gimson is associate features editor of the Independent.