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A novel step in literary history

THE statesman-novelist Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, not a man to be too concerned by loan rates, is trying to buy back his books from his publishers, Hodder and Stoughton. Archer is said to be unhappy with the way Hodder promoted his last novel, As The Crow Flies - Jilly Cooper's Polo beat it to the top of the bestseller list - and keen to sell the copyright to the nine books to HarperCollins. (He plays squash with the managing director, Jonathan Lloyd, you see. And Eddie Bell, now executive chairman of HarperCollins, was, as marketing man at Hodder, the architect of Archer's early success.) Archer is said to have offered Hodder pounds 2m, but Hodder wants pounds 5m. Yesterday Eric Major, Hodder's deputy publisher, said that these figures 'were way in excess of anything that has been discussed' - though he would not tell us what the real figures are. Archer is, of course, once again taking a step unprecedented in the history of British literature. Although many great writers have loudly fallen out with their publishers, none, it is thought, has ever had the cash to buy the work back.

IT'S still worse in Russia. In the city of Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, one couple has advertised a swap for a new two- or three- bedroom flat. In exchange they are offering - their baby. It cost too much to look after.

Disabled inertia CAMBRIDGE University basks in the presence of one of the world's most distinguished theoretical physicists - Professor Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time - but it makes few allowances for his, or anyone's, disability. Hawking, confined to a wheelchair by motor neurone disease, says his own department of applied mathematics is among the worst offenders. Opening a rare ramp for the disabled the other day, Hawking complained: 'Many buildings don't have wheelchair access, or have it only to the ground floor, and there are hardly any disabled toilets. There still isn't a disabled toilet in my department. It was only when I became a prominent figure within the university that anything was done to improve access for the disabled. For 12 years I had to scramble to gain entrance into the Department of Applied Mathematics.' Although he welcomed the recent establishment of a university committee to review disabled facilities, he said that much remained to be done. 'According to Newton's second law, bodies have inertia. I'm realistic enough to know that one doesn't get movement without applying pressure.'

AND now a Maastricht you can say Oui to. It's a 'sec et fruite' number from the only vineyard in the Netherlands. Jean-Pierre Legras is selling Blanc de Maastricht at his wine cellar on the Boulevard Malherbes in Paris, with the advice: 'To be drunk strictly on 20 September.' Price, 20 ecus, or 160 francs if you're voting non.

Balanced analysis PETER JAY, the BBC's Economics Editor, was asked on The World At One yesterday whether a devaluation of the pound was inevitable. 'I don't think that's a question which economics editors of the BBC should answer,' he replied. Yes, Jay told us later, this prevarication might have sounded slightly on the 'pompous side of the balance sheet'. But it was important to draw a distinction between solid analysis and speculation that could become self-fulfilling. OK, then.

Only a pedant . . .

MEANWHILE, Simon Jenkins, an ex-editor of the Times, made a striking debut as a columnist in yesterday's paper, calling for the immediate disbanding of what we had thought of as a pretty innocuous fringe organisation, the Liberal ('Are they really as harmless as they seem?') Democrats. Among his arguments was this: 'In last May's election, only a pedant could distinguish the Liberal from the Labour programme.' Only a pedant, of course, would point out that the general election was on 9 April.

SPOTTED at the Riverside Studios in London on Tuesday night, at the opening of the Alan Rickman Hamlet (as a guest of the producer, Thelma Holt), one Ian Maxwell. Earn yourself a bottle of Lanson champagne. Send us, please, a dialogue of 120 words between Hamlet and the ghost of his newspaper tycoon father.

A day like this

17 September 1942 Ernst Junger writes in his Paris journal: 'In the book I'm reading (Broken Jars by Harold Begbie) I found an excellent passage about alcohol. The author shows with quite long and unfortunately unsourced examples . . . that the often irresistible attraction of alcohol is not the physical pleasure it gives but its mystical power. It is not through depravity that an unfortunate turns to it, but through spiritual hunger. It offers to the uncultured what others derive from music and books . . . It heightens reality and takes him to the limits of himself. For many men the only opportunity to catch a breath of the infinite is between the bounds of drunkeness. Thus one can see how gravely mistaken are those who attack drunkeness as a sort of liquid gluttony.'