The neighbours making a noise about Strauss and Haydn in civilised, rural opera-land don't know how lucky they are

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Disingenuous remark of the week came from Monica Waud of Garsington as she explained why she felt it necessary to mow the grass at 8 o'clock at night, just when the orchestra next door was gliding into Haydn's Le Pescatrici. "My garden is in the National Garden Scheme," she said. "I always cut my lawn in the evening, as I work full time." Well of course you do, and on into the night as well, I expect, guided by the fitful light of glow-worms. And it's probably from nothing more than sudden joie de vivre that Ms Waud directed her boyfriend, an orthopaedic surgeon, to circle the roof of the nearby opera house in his light aircraft, just as Cosi Fan Tutte was getting under way ... And should a procession of Irish builders, bearing Kango hammers and road drills, suddenly appear, in the gloaming, down the lane that separates Ms Waud's handsome Georgian home from Garsington Manor, as the three sopranos are doing one of the quiet bits of Richard Strauss's Die Aegyptische Helena, I expect Ms Waud will explain that a Catholic ruling straight from the Vatican forbids them from digging up the Oxfordshire greensward before sundown.

This opera-noise business is nonsensical. In case you missed the finer points, let me recap: South Oxfordshire district council is prosecuting Garsington Opera (run by Richard Ingrams's brother Leonard) for breaching noise levels as laid down by its entertainment licence. They did the same thing in 1995, and the opera was fined pounds 1,000, but the fine was overturned by Oxford Crown Court, and legal costs of pounds 60,000 had to be paid from central government funds. The difference this time is that local residents such as Ms Waud have decided on direct action: hence the scherzo of strimmers, the Flymo brass section, the cacofonia of honking car-horns and the clamore sostenuto of single-engine planes droning overhead ...

It's a bad-tempered dispute deep in the heart of civilised, rural opera- land. And, much as I try, I can't sympathise with the lawn-mowing tendency. When I was young, we lived on Battersea Rise, the noisiest bit of the South Circular Road. To get to sleep you had mentally to come to shut out the racket caused at 3am by a dozen Belgian juggernauts changing gear as they wheezed uphill towards Clapham Common, making the bedroom shake. When I lived in Brook Green, Hammersmith, I'd be woken by the coltish laughter of two dozen St Paul's schoolgirls playing tennis in abbreviated virginal tunics (or was I dreaming?) while the onset of nightfall meant the saxophonist at No 82 would practise the only tune he knew, Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love", although he could rarely get past the first five notes (which are, of course, all the same note). In Putney, it was the neighbour who played her favourite song, Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You (Is Easy 'Cause You're Beautiful)" over and over again, until you felt like throttling her with a pair of the late Ms Ripperton's tights. In Camberwell, it was the Afro-Caribbean rap artiste whose snarly vocals blared across from next door's window whenever I was dead-heading the petunias. These days, in neighbourly Dulwich, all I have to fear are the late-night strains of "The Patriot Game" and "The West's Awake" and a flood of glutinous Irish-rebel sentiment played on next-door's hi-fi, which makes the living-room party wall vibrate with drunken melancholy after 11pm.

After such a learning curve of noise, would I mind hearing some bars of Haydn being played just a hundred yards from where I sit al fresco with a large gin & It and faithful labrador? Could I stand the ghastly racket of Mozart's jolly Cosi, borne gratis to my ears on a summer evening zephyr? Could I hell. Ms Waud and her disobliging, opera-hating friends just don't know how lucky they are.

The second-hand book trade has gone on red alert. Yesterday morning, the dealers were innocently spreading damson jam on their breakfast toast. Next moment they were listening to Ms Jeanette Winterson on the radio, celebrating the joys of second-hand book-buying as being "better than sex". Ms Winterson, who has maintained a discreet silence about her sexual preferences since the time she revealed that she used to sleep with Home Counties women in return for gifts of heavy French kitchenware, related how she discovered books young when hanging out in rummage shops, where she'd sprawl in erotic abandon and work her voluptuous way through the "stiffened boards" and "yielded cloth" of "a harem of books". (Whatever it is Ms Winterson puts in her tea, I must get some.) This relaxed approach to browsing has, it seems, stayed with her into maturity, despite riches and fame. "What am I to do?" she asked plaintively. "When I see a second- hand bookshop, anywhere in the world, I will change my plans, behave brutally to others, just to spend an hour inside it. My nostrils flare, my breath quickens, my heart pounds, my wallet opens. I cannot rest until I am alone in the farthermost edge, wedge, ledge of the shop, great or small, lying along the skirting-board, legs propped, reading."

Now the dealers have heard about Ms Winterson's odd compulsion, they're unsure what to do about it. "We don't encourage this sort of behaviour," said Julian Rota, of the fantastically posh Bertram Rota bookshop. "People are welcome to sit and read for an hour or so, but there is a limit. Lying by the skirting-board is not something we encourage." Over at Bell, Book & Radnell, booksellers of Cecil Court, London WC2, James Tindley was more sympathetic. "This seems to me quite admirable behaviour. It may be uncomfortable and rather dirty in here, but there's no accounting for tastes." His reaction is mitigated by the fact that Ms Winterson is a customer of his shop, as she is at Rick Gekowski's bookshop in Pied Bull Yard, WC1. So, provided her wallet is open enough, Ms Winterson can continue the habit of eroticised, nostril-flaring, horizontal book-communing, without let or hindrance, in central London for some time to come.

This morning's papers are full of the Radio 4 shake-up. The nation's eyes are fixed on the rejigged schedules, the popular programmes consigned to Listeners' Limbo, the hardy annuals that have been dropped, the news about the gay disco that will open its door in Ambridge in September. Actually I haven't a clue what this morning's news brings about James Boyle's revamping of the nation's most revered radio station. I can, however, offer a small insight into what has made Mr Boyle so jumpy of late. It's not the leaks. It is not the accusations of "dumbing down" the culture of Radio 4. It's the wedding.

Mr Boyle is notoriously clam-like when it comes to his family life. He regards personal inquiries as in damnably bad taste and prefers to stick to the minutiae of producer delegation. But a family event is pressing upon him. The tight-lipped Boyle is flying off to America tomorrow to attend the wedding of his eldest son Nicholas, 24, a Harvard graduate, to Mary-Louise Kelly, an Irish-American babe who works for W-GBH radio in Boston. The only fly in the ointment, apparently, is the wedding protocol, which dictates that the groom's father should change into several different outfits in the course of the day's ceremonials. It is, apparently, the prospect of an early confrontation with the in-laws that has put a furrow in his noble brow. "Mr Boyle does not like being dictated to about what he wears," confirms a voice at the R4 press office. "And since you ask, no, he will definitely not be wearing a kilt."

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