Journal: 14 June 1999

Last week has seemed almost a parody of diplomatic life, dashing from one event to another.

On Tuesday, for example, we went from a reception given by the American Ambassador to a reception at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and then to a preview of "Notting Hill". On Wednesday, I went to a black-tie reception at the National Gallery while Katie went to a memorial service, before we both met up here to host a dinner. On Thursday, out to a dinner given by our Defence Adviser for the retiring Chief of Navy. And on Friday, a reception for Russia's National Day and then a black-tie dinner at the Royal Commonwealth Society to mark the Queen's Birthday, at which I was making a speech.

So it was a relief on Saturday to go for a tough walk in Bungonia Gorge with Katie's brother-in-law--a steep descent to the Shoalhaven River, a walk along Bungonia Creek clambering over boulders, and then a scramble back up to the top. Sore legs but a few calories burned off. It's a holiday weekend here and we've had a relaxing time with friends staying--and sitting up to watch the World Cup cricket match between Australia and South Africa.

Otherwise our usual, pretty varied routine--though Katie had to have a small operation on her nose, which hasn't been right since she walked into a plate glass door at the High Commission earlier this year. Not yet fixed, though she was soon back out rowing her scull on Lake Burley Griffin.

I seem to have been doing quite a few speeches and radio interviews. A speech to the Victoria League here in Canberra, a lecture at the University of New South Wales on Thatcher and Thatcherism and an interview here timed around the Queen's Birthday--though I was asked to choose some music, so much of the conversation was about the Grateful Dead!

A couple of lunches in Sydney, one with Prince Michael of Kent at the launch of the English Speaking Union's programme for its world meeting in Sydney at the end of August; and one with the Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, at the Australia British Chamber of Commerce. And a big minerals conference in Canberra with a black-tie dinner addressed by the Prime Minister. Tax reform has been the big political issue here, especially the Government's compromise with the Democrats to exempt most food from GST (VAT). That has led to much knockabout over rules that say cooked chicken is taxable above a certain temperature but not below. I feel I've been through this before, since my first job in the Civil Service in Britain was in Customs and Excise working on how to things like why one tax inspector had ruled a square Jaffa Cake was a biscuit while another had ruled that a round one was a cake.

Our trip around the north of Australia is getting closer, so we're beginning to assemble the gear we need. We went off in the Brindabella range to do some practice four-wheel-driving, and have been scrounging camping gear off various friends. I don't think the conditions (bouncing around in dirt and dust) will be friendly to personal computers, so there'll be a hiatus in this journal in July and August.

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