12 JUNE 1993, Page 57

High life

Hold your breath


Iwould like to make it mandatory for every London resident, taxpayer and prop- erty owner to spend a week of every year confined within the boundaries of the Big Olive. I would also like to see every devel- oper, architect and banker involved in the financing of real estate forced to spend a full month in the birthplace of selective democracy. If these sentences were faith- fully imposed and if the persons concerned survived the filth, pollution, squalor and nervous frustration of the Greek capital, the future of London as a fine place to live would be assured.

Today the Big Olive is a necropolis for the living dead. Life for its inhabitants is a continuing but losing battle against traffic jams, filthy air and unattended garbage. All these hazards and frustrations and inconve- niences were devised in the name of progress and motivated by avarice and sheer stupidity. Athens is now a community where movement is impossible and breath- ing even more so.

Having spent the last three weeks there, I can testify that things are getting worse. For one, peoples' manners have gone down Swanee. I remember when Athenians were among the best-mannered in Europe. Ever since the great looter All Babandreou came to power, however, and preached equality a la football hooligan by telling Greeks to resist authority at all costs, things have gone into free fall.

Last week, during the international vet- erans tennis championships, a young whip- persnapper ordered me in the second person singular to go out in the mid-day broiling sun and be quick about it. Thirty years ago the whippersnapper would have entered the club through the tradesmen's entrance, a fact I had to remind him of, having first told him that when a 55-year- old addresses a younger man in the plural, the latter risks a knuckle sandwich if he persists in answering in the singular.

He got the message, I in turn ended up in the money trophy-wise, and this is the last time 1 will ever play a tennis tourna- ment in Athens. It's too hot, the people play too badly, the line calls some gave Adolf Hitler wouldn't have called against the Grand Rabbi of Warsaw, and the air is too filthy even for Chernobyl citizens.

Thus one can imagine what it felt like to fly out in the afternoon and land (after a quick change) among 4,000 formally dressed folk picnicking and quaffing cham- pagne in the grassy splendours of the Burl- ingham Club. The occasion was the annual Louis Vuitton Concours d'Elegance, for which The Spectator offers a trophy, one I'm honoured to present. Two years ago I got carried away with Julia Ogilvy's radi- ance and tried to slip her the trophy while the proud Bugatti-owner who had won it was making his way through the crowd. She blushed, an unheard-of phenomenon among the young nowadays (I'll bet my last devalued drachma that Fergie would have grabbed it and refused to give it back).

Needless to say, I was so happy to be in a bucolic setting among old friends I did something I hadn't done for two whole days: I got incredibly drunk and made a fool of myself. Mind you, that came later. I did manage not to drop the trophy during the award ceremony and did not forget to thank Claire Harbour, the managing direc- tor of Louis Vuitton who made the whole thing work like clockwork. But I wish I could say the same for later on in Tramps. It was only because of Johnny Gold's kind- ness and sweet nature that I'm still around to tell you about it. The even better news is that Mia Farrow has decided to adopt Jamie Blandford.