13 AUGUST 1988, Page 43

High life

The ranks of Tuscany


y spies tell me that the best-selling picture postcard of Sardinia is of people getting on the aeroplane to leave. The place is so crowded it makes a canned sardine feel like a hermit. And it's worse on a boat. It takes over an hour just to enter the harbour of Porto Cervo, and then over a million lire of bribes to secure a mooring. Long John Silver lives, but this time as a harbour-master.

A bit further north of kidnapper's para- dise, in the once magical French Riviera, the pollution is so bad that the grand hotels are importing water from the Hudson for their swimming pools. The place has been overrun by millionaire mulatto Muslims and their myrmidons, German gays and Wall Street swindlers. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gerald Murphy are turning in their graves.

In Marbella, of course, the new law forbidding anyone wearing over 20 pounds of jewellery to go swimming has emptied the beaches. This is the good news. The bad is that Marina B is coming out with a floating bauble. (So when you've got it, float it.) Down here in Siena, needless to say, there are no crowds, no pollution, and no imminent danger of being kidnapped. Mind you, the local carabinieri picked up a rumour that Oliver Gilmour, son of Sir Ian, and at present staying with my neigh- bour Lord Lambton, was about to be kidnapped by Sardinian shepherds freelancing in Tuscany, but it mercifully remained just that, a rumour. It seems Gilmour's life is so complicated even the kidnappers saw fit to stay away.

His brother Christopher, known as the soybean king of Chicago, has just arrived to stay with me, but alas his mood is gloomier than that of Shylock's after Jessi- ca absconded. Something to do with soy- bean futures, no doubt. Otherwise every- thing is hunky-dory. The beautiful Cosima von Bulow is staying, as is the sexy Ramona Ridge of Texas. Both ladies along with the mother of my children are busy planning the bash I'm throwing for my 51st birthday on Thursday, a blast which will cost me not a red cent, if you please. The reason? Easy. For some foolhardy reason, David Macmillan and my cousin Harry Worcester decided to challenge Al Ward and yours truly to a tennis match, as suicidal an attempt as trying to get Jesse

Jackson into White's. We played for a large sum of the root of all envy, and the Ward-Taki duet had our opponents for breakfast. Ward grabbed the moolah and ran. I am giving it back in liquid form on the night of my birthday.

And speaking of birthdays, there are three of us celebrating that night: me, Claus Bulow, and a great friend of mine who is also staying, Carlo Sanjust. Carlo is as talented a painter and writer as he is noble, and he sure is the latter. His family used to own large chunks of Tuscany but when the proverbial s--- hit the fan, what with one man one vote and other such nonsense, the chunks shrank to the size of Monte Carlo.

My other best buddy in Italy is Roffredo Gaetani, and he too is a house guest. Roffredo's family also suffered from the nonsense a while back, but they managed to keep chunks the size of Greece. He is the professional pug I boxed an exhibition with two years ago in the Big Bagel, and is a fitness freak. We run up and down the Siena hills and talk of sex to relieve the pain. It is amazing how well the trick works. The English contingent, who spend their time trying to emulate lobsters, saw us running and gesticulating and declared us obscene. I'm not surprised. To them sex is something people did at Eton.

Oh, well, to each his own, as they say. Roffredo will always be close to my heart if `Actually, I was against women priests.' for nothing else for his Latin. While taking an exam he had to translate in immensitate marls pisces natant (in the immensity of the ocean fish swim). His version was: in the immensity of the ocean swimmers pee. According to his parents the teacher not only failed him, but had his version pub- lished as proof of the insensitivity of the upper classes. This is why he now lives in the Big Bagel.