In the last ice age, humankind battled a frozen universe for moments of warmth and fragments of meat. These days, of course, you have to work for Gleeds
More frosty frolics
You will no doubt recall my tale of the QSs from Gleeds who were sent to the Arctic circle to hang out with polar bears. Now I hear that 35 of those who were spared have just been on a bonding session with staff from Manchester Airport. This took the form of hiking the fells of Penrith in the teeth of a unforecast blizzard. "It became the route march to hell," one of them tells me.

"A group of scouts on the next fell were rescued by helicopter." Lucky bleeders.

Hare balls
Playwright David Hare's latest dissection of British institutions is on stage at the National Theatre at the moment. I'm referring to The Permanent Way, which deals with John Major's generous gift to a grateful nation: the privatisation of the rail network. As is his wont, Hare uses real quotes.

The best comes from Gerald Corbett, the boss of Railtrack who told the Cullen Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove disaster that safety was "a journey where you never reach your destination".

Shortbread of heaven
A word of thanks to Watkins Gray architects, the recent winners of last year's Biscuit World Cup. Sauntering past London Bridge recently I dropped in to see them, and was ecstatic to receive a weighty box of their cherry shortbread. "It's fantastic," gushed one excitable staffer. "Every time we go to meet clients, they always ask if we're bringing biscuits."

Woof, woof
It may be a tad late but I have just received the most distinctive calendar of the year. Following the Women's Institute's meretricious year planner, dramatised in the movie Calendar Girls, Independent Heating & Cooling have got their burly male staff to pose with items of equipment they use in their day to day life. As with the fruity WI members, this one is in aid of a good cause – the firm is raising funds for a friend of the company who is suffering from leukaemia. To view all the pictures – or to order a calendar of your very own – log on to

As if
Simon Wren, head of news at the Department of Transport, has sent the following email to members of the press: "I appreciate that the success of the government's efforts to reduce death and injury on our roads is technically a good-news story and therefore unlikely to attract the interest of too many hard-bitten hacks. but don't give into the cynicism … Go on, break the habit – you know you want to."

Culture shock

Nothing could be more truly operatic than the restored Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera (see the preceding pages if you don’t believe me). Operas from around the world will be performed here – but all of them, of course, in English. The same national mix goes for the Coliseum’s executive director, who was in charge of the £41m refurb. With a name like Loretta Tomasi, you would imagine she is a pulchritudinous signorina from the land of great opera houses. And this is certainly the case - except for one minor characteristic.
She’s Australian.