Watch out for the lioness, especially once you've sacked her partner

David Cameron's decision to dismiss Robert Syms proved the theory that hell hath no fury like a politician's partner scorned

✒ We learned a new word this week: "lionessing", which is what happens when a wife becomes enraged on behalf of her husband. It came after David Cameron's reshuffle. Fiona-Natasha Syms tweeted furiously about the dismissal of Robert Syms, formerly a government whip.

"PM just fired the father of my kids!" she said, adding that loyalty apparently counted for nothing. It's sweet that she should be so angry, given that she hasn't lived with the sackee for seven years. Still, the reaction of politicians' partners is always unpredictable, as any political hack will tell you.

For example, I used to be on OK terms with Julie Kirkbride, when she was a lobby correspondent with the Telegraph.

Then she married Andrew Mackay, a Tory MP, got elected herself and stayed till the pair were caught out in an egregious expenses fiddle, each claiming that a different one of their two houses was their principal residence.

Mackay had a difficult conversation with David Cameron, and subsequently appeared on TV with a sepia tan and embarrassed, bulging eyes. I said that he resembled a kipper that had been smoked before it was dead, and Julie has blanked me since.

On the other hand, I once found myself opposite Ann Heseltine at a dinner party. Her husband was at the end of the table, which was perhaps lucky since I wrote a column in Punch magazine at the time, and had printed much amusing but disobliging information sent anonymously from the Ministry of Defence, of which he was then in charge.

Halfway through the meal Mrs H peered at me and said she hadn't caught my name. When I told her, she smiled broadly and said: "Oh, yes, you write those marvellous articles about my husband!"

Some spouses, I suspect, are as loyal as Mrs Syms; others less so; many are cross about the huge amount of time politics claims.

According to Jonathan Aitken, Denis Thatcher was often furious about the scant attention he got from Margaret, spending many evenings either at his sister's, or drinking in a pub till closing time.

✒ Aitken's new book, Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality, has also provided a terrific example of her absolute deafness to double entendres. He records a chat with her PPS, Fergus Montgomery, who told her that his splendidly bouffant hair was the result of going to the hairdresser. "I expect you had a blowjob," she said, and was mystified by the great burst of laughter from all who were in earshot.

✒ Many of you have written to add to my list of annoying things restaurants do, while stiffing you for vast sums. One serious peeve is loud music, and especially those places that won't turn it off, or down, even when your group are the only customers.

Then there is general bossiness: bringing the food when it suits the kitchen rather than when you want it, or insisting that a tasting menu can only be ordered by everyone at the table.

Or there is the habit of chilling all the flavour out of white wine, then putting it in an ice bucket to bring it closer to absolute zero.

But what seems to be most infuriating is the explanation that comes when you have waited half an hour to order and an hour before your starter arrives. "We're rather short of staff so there will be delays," someone says, to which the only answer is, "I'm rather short of money tonight, so I won't be paying the bill."

✒ One restaurant that seemed to get few complaints, I'm pleased to say, is the Famous Spiegeltent, which is currently in Cheltenham for the literary festival.

This "mirror tent" was built in Belgium in 1920, and is entirely portable, being made from 3,000 pieces of wood, mirrors, canvas and stained glass, with no glue or nails, all ready to be dismantled and trucked to any venue – your back garden if you have space.

I was speaking at a wine dinner there for 220, and it was lovely to see how happy people were as they walked into the tent, with its velvet swags, red velour seats, engraved glass and all the trappings of a louche interwar nightclub.

But it was no greater than their surprise that the welcoming glass of "champagne"– just as delicious, better than many, but half the price – was made in Bulgaria, by an Italian. Modern wine technology makes our prejudices silly and dated.

✒ Two books which might interest you: my opposite number on the Times, Ann Treneman, has written Finding the Plot: 100 Graves To Visit Before You Die (Robson Press, £12.99), which is a lovely idea, festooned with good stories.

Some are inspirational, such as the grave of Philip Gould, the Labour strategist, who wanted his tombstone to be a gathering place where the living could meet and even commune with the dead.

And the sad: Nye Bevan's stone memorial in south Wales has been defaced in red paint by someone called (or a lover of) Chloe. There were spotlights to illuminate the four stones, but these have been torn out, and litter blows around the untended site. This is how we remember the man who created the NHS, making him perhaps the most successful of all postwar politicians.

And I enjoyed The Prime Minister's Ironing Board (Little, Brown, £12.99) in which Adam MacQueen has dug out fascinating details about government that have gone largely unnoticed in the national archives.

It's worth it for the description of the celebration in 1978 of the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage. One particular female politician was already famous, and the then Labour government was absolutely determined to keep her out of the celebrations, including the Golden Gala at the Palladium, where, after agonising and cunning devices, Mrs Thatcher was banished to the stalls, where nobody would notice her.


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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