After the heat of the French Riviera and of the birthplace of selective democracy, the Alps are a welcome relief – up to a point. I am here on a family holiday, family being the operative word. Which means that neither my daughter nor son tolerates any hanky-panky, if you know what I mean. Not that I'm complaining. Throughout my life I've looked for action and thrills, and now all of a sudden I'm content to sit in my garden, look at the incredible, straight out of The Sound of Music mountain views, and ... dine with the family. And be very happy to boot. It is, of course, a bit of a shame, the end of an era and all that, but it happens to everyone, anyone that is who survives into his sixties. The great Porfirio Rubirosa was restless to the end because he died aged 57 in an automobile accident, ditto Aly Khan – very restless and chasing women non-stop – aged 49.
Which brings me to Lord Archer. The Daily Telegraph very correctly opined that he should remain in the Lords. Banana republics practise retrospective legislation, proper European democracies do not. Who in hell is this guy Falconer to change laws which go back hundreds of years because he doesn't like Jeffrey Archer? The Karamanlis and Papandreou governments pulled such stunts after the fall of the colonels in my country, but here we're talking about Britain, not the kleptocracy that was and, alas, partially still is Greece. (More about these bums later.) Lord Archer is now in his sixties, has paid his dues and people should leave him alone. I never understood kicking someone who has suffered, but this seems to be a specialty of Britain's Fourth Estate. The hacks write that he's been duplicitous. Coming from people who will go to any lengths to deceive in pursuit of an exclusive, it is a bit rich. Archer can be a great help in prison reform – if any is needed; as an ex-jailbird myself, I ain't so sure – and he should be given a break having paid his debt to our so-called society. (Not a very fair one when it sentences Archer to four years for perjury, and the same amount of years to a thief with close to 500 convictions.)
Never mind. Society nowadays is a steady diet of voyeurism, exhibitionism, public exposure of intimate details of people's lives, schadenfreude practised by the Fourth Estate, and news which caters to people's meaner instincts.
Take, for example, a story in the Sunday Times by a nonentity which informed us that Lady T is a lonely and abandoned woman probably in need of funds, a pathetic shadow of a once formidable woman. Ah, schadenfreude lives. Whether one likes Lady T or not – and I do very, very much – this story had no point whatsoever except to please Thatcher haters. On top of this, it was totally untrue.
Name-dropping aside, I am a friend of Lady T and keep in touch. She has no money worries – I can think of so many rich people who would come to her aid if need be, starting with Lord Hanson and myself – and although she has some short-term memory loss, as do I and most people her age, she is no more gaga than the woman who wrote the piece. She still looks elegant, every hair in place, and is to be pitied as much as I am while I dine in my garden with my family.
Such, however, are the joys of a free press, and having written under a controlled one in Greece, I'll take the former any day. In Greece, where I've just come from, it may be free, but it's hardly representative of what the people really think. Take the case of the Greek royal family. The man in the street thinks they should be left alone. The consensus of opinion is that they're a very nice-looking family (palikarissia icogenia) who obviously love their country and should be treated fairly. The government through the newspapers and TV channels it controls presents them as crypto-fascists trying to destabilise the status quo. While in Athens I spoke with some writers and a couple of poets who are very anti-monarchy. Yet they all agreed that the government as well as the opposition are shaming every fair Greek by their treatment of the royals. One of them said that what Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard and Anthony Hopkins (all three played Captain Bligh on the screen) did to that brave and humane officer, the Greek media have done to the ex-King. Right on the nose, says the poor little Greek boy. Next week I will tell you about the last gentleman motorcar racer, an Englishman of the old school, a real hero of mine, the paronomastic Piers Courage.