23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 9


With every year that passes, the Oscars are taken more and more seriously and given more and more coverage by the media. Not very long ago it was still possible to read a satirical sketch of the Hollywood awards ceremony or an investigative report about the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the judges at the Academy of Motion Pictures, or even a downright condemnation of the whole self-celebratory enterprise by some austere cineaste. Now this annual publicity-fest, including the nominations, is treated everywhere with solemn reverence, its intrinsic merits no more questioned than those of the Chelsea Flower Show or the State Opening of Parliament.

Imet Princess Margaret twice in my life and on both occasions I omitted to curtsy. The first time was from sheer ignorance: it was at a dinner party long ago, given by the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, and I simply had no idea that one was supposed to curtsy to royalty even when introduced to them informally in the house of such a raffish figure as our host. The Princess most certainly noticed, because after dinner when the ladies went upstairs leaving the men to their cigars and brandy (yes, at Ken Tynan's), I was the only person to whom she didn't address a single word or smile. The second occasion was about 25 years later, in the mid-Nineties, when the Princess attended a lunch at the Telegraph offices in Canary Wharf. This time I felt that curtsying was just too ridiculous, especially in the office. Once again, she gave me a cold glare.

I'm usually much too lazy to put on my contact lenses on days when I'm doing nothing in particular, but last Saturday I went to great trouble, not just to put in lenses, but to 'put on my face' and indeed a pair of high-heeled shoes as well. Why? Some builders were coming to redecorate our house, and I knew by infallible instinct that they would do a better job if I wore lenses and lipstick.

Max Perutz, who died a week ago, was winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry, holder of the Order of Merit and one of Britain's leading scientists for the past 60 years. It was obvious, even from just talking to him on the phone, that he was a marvellous man — and someone who was totally at home in the 'two cultures'. I had asked him to contribute to an end-of-the-millennium feature for the Sunday Telegraph books pages that involved choosing the five most important hooks of the 20th century. As a result, l was lucky enough to have several conversations with him in which he

spoke fascinatingly about possible candidates. (He finally chose: The Open Society and its Enemies by Karl Popper, The Crooked Timber of Humanity by Isaiah Berlin, The Statue Within by Francois Jacob, Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo.) A day or two after Perutz's death I happened to be looking round the National Portrait Gallery, so I searched for him among the pop singers and celebrity cooks — but in vain. I was informed that yes, there was a small drawing of him, but it was kept in storage.

Iris Murdoch, whom I also asked to contribute to the millennium feature, wrote the following reply: 'Thank you very much for your kind and interesting suggestion — but I think not. I would find myself brooding and wondering and changing my mind, and changing the piece! Sorry! I must keep to my own work such as it is. I wish I could live to be 200.' This was at the beginning of 1994, just before, as we now know, the onset of Alzheimer's. There has been a lot of talk in the press lately about British anti-Semitism, but it doesn't seem to me to be something to get too alarmed about — even though more of it has undoubtedly come into the open on the back of anti-Israeli sentiment. What is really terrifying is the virulence of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, which is much worse than most people in the West realise, or indeed wish to realise. The mainstream Muslim media describe Jews — not just Israelis — as 'bloodsuckers', 'vampires' and 'vermin"; Hitler is praised; all the vicious myths about a Jewish world conspiracy on which Nazism fed are regularly repeated. It's not surprising, in this climate, that millions of people in Muslim countries believe that it was the Jews who masterminded 11 September. According to a Saudi official, for example, speaking very recently on a talk-show on the popular Al-Jazeera satellite station, 11 September was 'perpetrated not by bin Laden . . . but was the continuation of the Jewish deception and wickedness which infiltrate the US. ... Jews, the brothers of pigs and apes, are the most despicable people who walk the land and are the worms of the entire world.' And much more of the same.

According to the Art Newspaper, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has sent a directive to some of England's national museums informing them that in the future it does not expect the museum directors to recommend anyone over the age of 50 for trusteeship. Even though the Art Newspaper is normally very reliable, I find this hard to believe. The implication is that experience counts for virtually nothing. If the same principle were applied to the directors and staff, then Neil MacGregor, Nick Serota and half the leading figures in the museum world would have to clear their desks at once. I do hope that someone from the Department writes in to deny this report.

When I wrote a Spectator diary last July, I reported that Orbit sugar-free chewing gum cost 20p at the village shop in Ramsbury. Wiltshire, 21p in the sweet shop in Canary Wharf, 22p at Tesco, 26p at Waitrose and 35p at my newsagent in Bayswater. Since then the situation has changed very slightly for the worse: while the price has remained constant elsewhere, the gum now costs 30p in Ramsbury. Capitalism moves in mysterious ways.

Miriam Gross is literary editor of the Sunday Telegraph.