The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator, June 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Spectator's Notes


Further to my mention of the Deputy Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm for croquet, a kindly reader, Charles Hastings, directs me to the account of another Prescottian sporting distinction. In his excellent new biography of Anthony Eden, D.R. Thorpe records the circumstances in which, in January 1957, the young Prescott was cabin steward to Eden during his cruise on the RMS Rangitata. 'Most afternoons a boxing tournament was held on deck,' writes Thorpe, 'and the Edens were prevailed upon to be at the ringside from time to time. Eden even stepped into the ring to present prizes in the form of bottled beer to the victors, who usually included his now cabin steward John Prescott. Indeed, so often was Prescott on the winning side that Eden believed he deserved greater recognition for his efforts and took to presenting him with bottles of wine in the privacy of his cabin, so as not to raise expectations elsewhere among the ship's pugilists.'

Sir Peregrine Worsthorne and his matchlessly lovely wife Lady Lucinda Lambton are girding up to lead the protest - by direct action, if necessary - against the building of a monstrous, 500-lorry service station on the M40 at Hedgeley, near where they live. 'It's not a question of not in my back yard,' says Lady Lucy. 'It's a question of not in London's back yard. This is the nearest piece of unspoilt country to London. It's only 20 minutes from Notting Hill Gate and it will be ruined for all the people who come out on weekends to walk there. The appeal's coming up this month, but if it fails, Perry and I will both lie down in front of the bulldozers. It's to no avail, though, I know. My friend Gavin Stamp tried that with the Firestone building and he was hoisted aloft in the bucket of a JCB.'

Remember Jayson Blair, the enterprising young New York Times reporter who left the paper gasping and clutching its throat after it emerged that his reports had been - to use the Downing Street buzzword - 'sexed-up' a little? Had his employers at the Times taken a single glance at his student poetry before employing him, the whole sorry saga would have been averted. Here's a quatrain from 'Kaleidoscope': 'Soaring and taking me to the highest skies/See a kaleidoscope when I glance in your eyes/Deep brown that presents many colours/Red, blue, green, yellow, and others.' And there's plenty more where that came from. I know it's cruel to laugh. But ha ha ha ha ha.

In the balmy coming times, when every young adult will have a degree in kite-flying (unclassified) from the University of Arsefordshire, we will look with relief on the passing of the cruel and divisive age of standards in higher education. Comfort for the afflicted, meantime, comes from the scholar Brian Harrison, writing in the Oxford Historian, who reassures those still mired in regret because they barely scraped a Desmond (2:2) in their finals that they are in good company. Past holders of rotten degrees include William Morris, John Ruskin, Cecil Rhodes, Harold Nicolson, Arnold Toynbee and A.E. Housman: all of which thickos got a 'pass'. Evelyn Waugh and Nevil Shute got thirds. The fourth seems to have been reserved for theologians - Professor Harrison discreetly declines to name the bishops of Winchester and Coventry who took that degree. …

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