On Pamela Harriman
Sir: When it comes to grandes horizontales and naughty girls, I defer to Taki (High Life, 8 April). On either topic, he could win Pulitzer prizes. I am also unsure whether I should have described Pamela Harriman as a naughty girl. Most girls I know would take that as a compliment; she did not deserve compliments. I did meet her once, after she had taken up with the Clintons, and expected to despise her. But there was an allure. Like Circe and Delilah, she had a ruthless charm. She could make any man feel that he was the most important being in the room and in my case, there could hardly have been a mercenary motive. I’m told that Bill Clinton, whom I have not met, can play similar tricks. Even those who know that he is full of sleaze find that they have to fight to resist enchantment. That
is not true of his wife.
Taki mentions young Winston Churchill: nomen et praeterea nihil. Poor fellow: at the hands of two such selfish and neglectful creatures as Pamela and Randolph, he had an appalling upbringing. If he had been a child from the slums, he would probably have been taken into care. Yet she might have one defence to the charge of utter meretriciousness. I suspect that she did love Averell Harriman, which does not excuse her attempts to plunder his estate. But early in the war, during its bleakest phase, her bedroom diplomacy undoubtedly assisted Anglo-American relations. They understand such matters in Paris, where Madame Claude often supplied the Quai d’Orsay with poules de luxe. Yet I doubt if any of Mme Claude’s girls ever became an ambassador. Taki would know.
Sir: I read with interest Hugo Rifkind’s views on the suggestion that imperial measurements be restored (‘Let’s rein in Brexiteer triumphalism’, 8 April). I am nearly 78 and still have in my possession a handwritten class test in arithmetic which contains problems in both imperial and metric. Needless to say that I have always favoured imperial units, as I regard six inches as much more easily envisaged than, say, 150 millimetres. I think that the main thing people were annoyed about was the criminalisation of imperial usage. Why were people prosecuted for using pounds and ounces? This sort of thing is what really annoyed people like me about the EU, as the law’s origins were that august institution.
John R. McErlean
Sir: I initially misread Rod Liddle’s suggested destination for Channel 4 presenters (‘You can take the liberal media bubble out of London…’, 8 April). Rather than Gruinard Island of anthrax fame, I thought he wrote Grauniad Island. An island for Guardian journalists? What a magnificent idea. Perhaps the French could be persuaded to grant us a 99-year lease on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. That would be ideal. Having no one else around to annoy would be a greater torture for the likes of Polly Toynbee and Owen Jones than anything the former French prison guards ever managed to devise.
Sir: Charles Moore quotes from Lady Apsley’s bible for women riding side-saddle (The Spectator’s Notes, 8 April). My late mother, Dorothy Stanier, was the doyenne of Leicestershire side-saddle hunting ladies 50 years ago. She too extolled the merits of riding thus, but she also admitted that there was one serious disadvantage: if the horse comes down, you fall with it — attached to the saddle. My mother had numerous broken shoulders and collar bones from hunting falls.
Keeping up appearances
Sir: Rory Sutherland wonders why ‘people get up at 7 a.m. and travel to work on overcrowded trains, only to sit at their desks and answer emails, something you can just as easily do at home.’
He answered his own question on 14 January, when he commented on John Maynard Keynes’s 1929 prediction that increases in productivity would enable us to work a 16-hour week by 2029. In fact, our salarymen and women are working far longer hours, generating ‘a carapace of bullshit’ to protect their positions on the greasy pole. You can’t do that working from home.
Prof Tom Burkard
Sir: Grey Gowrie may be ‘the most undervalued poet of our time’ (Books, 8 April), but he was certainly not undervalued by Mrs Thatcher, even though they were poles apart on many issues. This close associate of Jim Prior spent a year in her cabinet as arts minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; in her memoirs she upgraded him to Leader of the Lords. He left her in September 1985, turning down the Department of Education, which has been held only once by a peer since the war (and then for no more than eight months). He was, she said, ‘the greatest loss’; she had been captivated by his ‘excellent mind’.
House of Lords, London SW1
Sir: I sympathise with Mark Mason (‘My towering problem’, 8 April). When an undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford, I applied to London Transport for a job as a conductor on the buses. I managed to pass the intelligence test but was considered to be too tall to collect fares upstairs.