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West End Extra - The XTRA DIARY
Published: 25 July 2008

Clarinettist Wally Fawkes performs at the annual meeting of the PEN group
Top brass of literary world - John Galsworthy, Max Arthur, Lisa Appignanesi, Deborah Moggach, Julian Evans and others - strike a blow for free speech

I HEADED to Kensington to enjoy a glass of wine with members of the esteemed writers organisation known as PEN.
The group, which has campaigned for freedom of speech since its inception in 1921 by luminaries including the Hampstead-based novelist and Nobel Prize winner John Galsworthy, was having its annual summer garden party and among the guests I spotted the historian Max Arthur.
I learnt that Max, who lives in Highgate, was among the those invited to Number 10 last month to dine with George W Bush.
He told me Chatham House rules applied, therefore he could only speak off the record about the event – but he had a grand half-hour with the outgoing president, and also sat next to Rupert Murdoch.
Max, who is currently making a documentary based on interviews with veterans from the Spanish Civil War, recalled that Murdoch’s father had fought at Gallipoli and the pair traded war stories.
The new PEN president, novelist Lisa Appignanesi, told guests how important it was for writers to continue to campaign for free speech.
She said: “I am afraid we live in a time when liberty and security appear to have become enemies.”
Other guests I spotted included novelist Deborah Moggach, biographer Julian Evans and clarinettist Wally Fawkes, whose band the Crouch End All Stars – made up of retired Fleet Street hacks – provided the music.
I also spoke to Kentish Town historian Gillian Tindall, who is currently exercised by the fate of Little Green Street, the Georgian terrace near her home threatened by plans to use it as an access route for a 30-home development. She told me: “I can only hope the side-effect of a fall in house prices and the credit crunch is that unscrupulous developers might be put off from ruining our neighbourhoods.”

Old and new friends

AND so it’s goodbye to Sir Simon Milton.
Last week saw his final appearance for Westminster Council as he swaps one City Hall for another, and takes up a cosy berth beside Boris Johnson as the new mayor’s planning supremo.
His last words in the debating chamber were probably his least effusive in the 20 years he has been on the council.
Given the honour of asking the last question in the their version of Question Time, Sir Simon passed up the opportunity of one last verbal joust with his long-term sparring partner and nemesis, Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg.
Instead he opted for brevity, asking his successor as council leader if he was enjoying the job so far. Generous sentiment or laced with an undercurrent of schadenfreude, only he knows.
The response was illuminating. It seems, superficially at least, it is not lonely at the top for Colin Barrow.
Apparently he’s made “a lot more friends”. Some things in politics will never change.

No ducking health and safety

HAVE the council gone quacking mad?
According to food denizens of Chinatown they have, announcing this week that the ovens used to cook the nation’s favourite Chinese dish – Peking Duck – are no longer fit for purpose under EU regulations.
The name may have evaded the PC brigade, who never managed to introduce Beijing Duck into currency, but evidently the health and safety lobby are more persistent.
Council inspectors have been visiting restaurants and sealing ovens with tape because they don’t carry a CE (Conformité Européenne) mark certifying that the equipment meets safety standards on carbon-monoxide emissions. The drum-shaped ovens can roast up to 24 ducks at a time – reaching temperatures of 300ºC.
A council spokes­person said: “If the restaurants want to continue cooking ducks in the traditional manner they will need to get new ovens which comply with EU standards. We are absolutely not picking on the Chinese community. This is an issue with any kind of ethnic type of food where they may well be using catering equipment imported from outside the EU.”

Bangladeshis have cops on the run

THE police don’t usually tolerate defeat, but there will be no inquiry into the smash-and-grab they suffered at Lord’s in the latest special community building cricket match.
Officers from Westminster South police swapped batons for bats and took a break from the fight against crime in the third annual match against Belgravia’s Bangladeshi community.
The Bangladeshi squad were flying high, scoring 284 in their 35 overs. In reply the police made a gallant effort, reaching 218, with DC Richard Blakey the last man standing on 102 not out.

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