The Good Life: No honey still for tea for FF 8282

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The Independent Online

Though their transgressions differed as much as their talents, Jeffrey Archer's spell in jug was surely the most celebrated case of literary incarceration in this country since Oscar Wilde. His release from Hollesley Bay open prison on Monday prompted a slew of speculative articles. Will his jail diaries land him back inside for their revelations about fellow- inmates? Is he about to spend £4m pursuing various enemies in court? Will Lord Falconer succeed in his aim of demoting Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare to plain Mr Archer? Is he about to make a return visit to Iraq in order to lighten the woes of the Kurds? Is his Monet depicting the Houses of Parliament a forgery? Concerning the last point, Chris Beetles, Lord Archer's art-dealer chum, insists that "Jeffrey has never claimed that the Monet is an original", though this doesn't sound much like the Archer style. You can't imagine his renowned directions to the loo coming out as: "Turn left at the Monet. It's only a fake, you know."

One unsurprising revelation was that, for the period of his parole, ex-prisoner FF 8282 will be living in his London penthouse rather than with his wife in their 18th-century house in Grantchester, near Cambridge. I can speak with some authority on the subject, having once visited the Archer residence. No, I didn't attend one of the infamous shepherd's pie-and-Krug parties in his penthouse. (If you ask me, he merited a good stretch of porridge for this gastronomic mismatch alone.) It was the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, that I nosily probed a few years ago. At least, I explored the garden, which Mary Archer opened for charity under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme. Oddly enough, Dr Archer's fragrant sward does not make an appearance among the scheme's open properties this year.

Lord Archer was not present at the open afternoon, presumably having a pressing engagement in the metropolis. By way of recompense, his stone caricature grimaced at the unbidden hordes tramping his lawns. Commissioned by his wife, the nightmarish effigy bore the mysterious legend: "A well-experienced Archer hits the mark." Your explanation is as good as mine, though I seem to remember Dr Archer announcing in court that the couple enjoyed a full relationship in every sense.

In a piece I wrote at the time of my visit, I expressed my belief that His Lordship's taste was evident in a certain thematic unity linking the sculptures dotted around the garden. A life-size bronze of a frisky nude entitled Girl doing a Handstand was complemented by Girl in a Deckchair (not quite nude - she wears a sunhat). On the steps of the house, there lay an amply endowed statue called Sun Worshipper.

But everywhere else in the estate, from the neatly trimmed herb garden to an artificial lagoon called Lake Oscar (after a deceased Abyssinian cat, not Lord Archer's predecessor in the nick), the only hand detectable was that of Dr Archer. All in the garden was spick and span, a far cry from the description given by erstwhile resident Rupert Brooke: "A deserted, lonely, dank, ruined, overgrown, gloomy, lovely house." In line with the recreations she lists in Who's Who ("village choirmistress, cats, picking up litter"), her garden was populated by a few moggies and filled with sweet airs. These came when the chatelaine of the Old Vicarage led a contingent of well-scrubbed locals in a rendition of madrigals. Trilling away fit to bust at the front, she looked nice as pie - if a fairly chilly sort of pie, perhaps baked Alaska. As far as I can remember, the lyrics consisted mainly of the repeated phrase, "merry, merry, merry", and possibly something about the "nymphs of Diana". Very much of this sort of thing, and a chap might think longingly of the tranquillity of Hollesley Bay. You can see why Jeffrey chose to make his home beside the Thames.

One of the articles prompted by Jeffrey's release stressed how Mary had become a different person during his imprisonment - and not just in the chin department. The words "steely discipline", "zealous", "rigour", and "alpha female" appeared. The piece also noted that she had acquired a pedigree cat, perhaps an Abyssinian like the late Oscar. The name of the flash feline was not revealed, though Dr Archer provided a chilling character reference: "Doesn't like strange men." Yet another reason for His Lordship to steer clear of Grantchester.

No such thing as society when the dÿnÿb starts

Last Saturday night was stifling in south London, so we had all the windows open, but even if they had been closed the music was so loud that I would still have been woken at 1am. "KA-CHUNK, KA-CHUNK, KA-CHUNK." It came from a flat in a parallel street. For the next five hours, everyone in the neighbourhood was treated to an in-depth survey of drum'n'bass. Lights went on in surrounding houses. The night air was filled with the soundtrack for Thatcher's children. "No such thing as society," the rhythm declared with every high-decibel thump.

At 3am, I rang the council's emergency line. A weary voice promised to send Environmental Health round to quell the music session. At 4am, I rang the police, who said it wasn't a police matter. This seems odd. If keeping the peace isn't a police matter, I'm damned if I know what is. At 5am, as the sun peeped over the rooftops, I rang the council again. I was told that "matters were in hand", but the music thumped away for another hour.

The following day, a council official admitted that the inspectors had been unable to obtain the police support necessary, but added "one-off noise problems are very difficult to tackle". You can be sure that if the d'n'b racket had afflicted Chequers or Highgrove, then something would have been done.