The Times of London Diary
June 28 2019, Patrick Kidd
The ability to think on your feet is essential in politics, especially when you haven’t the foggiest what you have just been asked. Jesse Norman, a Treasury minister, gave a talk on Adam Smith at the Chalke Valley history festival and recalled how the economist and banknote model, left, came to his rescue when deputed to take Scottish questions in 2016. Norman was asked something by Peter Grant, the SNP member for Glenrothes, whose accent is as thick as cullen skink, and as he rose, with the prime minister beside him, he realised he hadn’t understood a thing. “All I can do,” he announced, “is refer to the immortal words of Adam Smith when he said that the union of 1707 was ‘a measure from which infinite good has been derived’ in Scotland.” And then he sat down. “Absolute mayhem,” he said, “but I was off the hook.”
Perhaps in anticipation that one of its old boys might be about to get an important job, Eton College has advertised for someone to handle the press. Disappointingly, the job title is “communications and digital media officer”, rather than something more traditional like “college herald extraordinary” or “nuncio Etoniensis”.
In a twist on the stories we often see about young people taking ketamine, a drug used as a horse tranquilliser, I received a press release from a firm called CannaHorse about the world’s first medical marijuana for equine use. Some people may have a problem with this, but there is no need to get on their high horses.
BROUGHT TO BOOK
Bill Samuel, grandson of the founder of Foyles and its former vice-chairman, has written an affectionate memoir of the eccentric but popular bookshop on Charing Cross Road. It includes many tales about his formidable aunt Christina, the owner for more than 50 years, such as when she received a letter from a concerned customer who had witnessed a shoplifter being beaten up by Foyles security guards. Christina was aghast and wrote back to suggest it was some mistake. “Possibly they were people from Waterstones,” she wrote. “Or maybe just some Soho violence. Or the Mafia even.” She concluded by saying it really couldn’t be her staff, since they were all “rather frail”.
Christina Foyle much preferred animals to people. When she died in 1999 she left £100,000 in her will to her gardener so that he could care for her dog, a vicious beast that liked to bite people. The gardener took the money but Samuel notes that he had already arranged to have the animal put down the day after she died.
The new prime minister will have been in office for only a week, barely time to change the curtains, before his first electoral test. The Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, a Tory marginal, has been called for August 1 and the omens are not good. Mr Memory, the twittersphere’s greatest politics nerd, observes that this will be 80 years to the day since a previous by-election in that constituency, when the seat changed hands. The Second World War began a month later.