Brothers Abroad brand

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

The Archer of Seville

This is not a previously untold story about the Sagittarian brother of the Barber, but rather one about the recently elected Tory candidate for the role as London’s Mayor.  Funnily enough, Lord Archer did declare at the Blackpool conference that titles were something of an inappropriate anachronism  going into the twenty first century, but I was of course blissfully ignorant of this view when I addressed him as “Mr. Archer” several weeks ago in Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes.  To be fair, he did not wince at this appellation of a commoner, but slipped effortlessly into ‘action’ with a receptive, I-know-I-can-count-on-your-vote “good to see you!”  I had mistakenly heard “good to see you, again”, because although I certainly did not expect to be remembered by name, I had ‘met’ Jeffrey Archer on two previous occasions.

 

 

The first encounter had been fleeting in the extreme.  As I searched for my table at the inaugural Ethnic Media Awards ceremony, the already seated J. Ar caught my eye as I passed him and delivered a smiley “good to see you”, almost in an attempt to pre-empt the thought already flashing through my mind: “What the hell are you doing here ?!” The second encounter was rather more memorable - or as it turned out, not at all memorable for J. Ar against the rich tapestry of his own life…

 

I had been invited to a reception at The Penthouse, J. Ar’s killer pad on London’s South Bank.  It had been clear that this would be a lobbying event of some sort, largely aimed at a certain sector of London’s black population, a.k.a. ‘the Community’.  In spite of my voyeuristic urges, I had made it known that my political support could not be guaranteed, but had nevertheless been encouraged to attend on a no-strings basis.  ‘The Penthouse’, so labelled as its own eponymous floor in the lift, is one of those properties that you see in the movies, where you step out of the lift and find yourself already in the lair of Mr. Big or Bad…. or both.  It was a beautiful summer’s evening to be high in the sky, sipping cocktails amidst the priceless objets d’art and looking out across The Thames at the Houses of Parliament.  J. Ar had not appeared altogether at ease with the invasion of his space by an uncomfortably large number of sun kissed guests, most of whom were not even vaguely known by him and had been invited on his behalf.  The Fragrant One was notably absent but her other half did bask gloriously in the warmth and attention of the desirable young ladies who were in attendance.  These dusky sirens can no doubt take credit for his recent ‘enlightenment’, after his reportedly less appetising experiences of their overweight and badly dressed predecessors in decades past.

 

In my own defence, the only reason why I thought J. Ar might at least have recognised me was that we had enjoyed some significant banter in the presence of two particular temptresses - both previously well-known to him in the non-biblical sense (as far as I am aware) and one of whom is very well known to me in a historical sense.  He had been unnecessarily flattering about my general presentation: my cheap but expensively cut suit (often mistaken for a Boateng) and my subtly gilded, Japanese tie.  Although, I took all of his attention with a large bag of salt and a self-flattering awareness of being befriended as the adversary in a potentially territorial game of girls, I could not help but experience some residual satisfaction at his observations, because they were made within tie-flicking distance of the doyen of funky, bespoke couture, Ozwald Boateng Esq.  In any event, I had shown the prospective mayor due respect in his own penthouse, making feeble reference to the very evident attractions of his own success and parenthetically but obviously, his wealth.  Somewhat gracelessly, as I had felt at the time, he had smiled smugly and told me with the aid of an admonishing forefinger that ‘it’ all took a lot of hard work.

 

 
It was against this very specific background that I introduced myself to J. Ar in Seville’s museum of fine art. We were both in Seville to watch the World Athletics Championships and I was in the museum almost by accident, having accompanied a fellow-hotel guest, as a gesture of modest chivalry.  Ghislaine was clearly something of an aficionado where art and museums were concerned - indeed, it was in her blood, as her late father had apparently been a major restorer of picture frames in The Louvre of all places. Worse still, as we approached the museum, I had learned that it housed one of the foremost art collections in Spain.  It would have been difficult for me to turn on my heel at the hallowed portals of this shrine to go in search of alternative entertainment and/or nourishment, so I decided to extend my duties as escort.

 

The Museo de Bellas Artes is in the beautifully cloistered setting of a restored early 17th century convent built around three patios. It immediately feels like a cool oasis amidst the scorching streets of Seville: a very comfortable and refreshing place to be. As J. Ar later observed: “The more you learn about history, the more you realise that the monk’s life was damn good… and they didn’t have to mix with the plebs either”.  I assumed that he was picking up on the cloistered setting, but that the same views might not necessarily have applied to the nuns of the former convent.  Not wanting to allow this celebrated mouthpiece to get away with too many generalisations, I expressed my concern about having to make a monk’s vows of celibacy, unless it was understood that enforcement was not an issue.  After a moment’s reflection, he conceded: “Yes, that would be frightfully dull ....having to do without”. This was one of many, game observations made by J. Ar in the course of this surreal encounter.  I had expected a polite exchange of pleasantries, after which we would go our separate ways, but no such thing.  He turned out to be alone and tagged along with us, providing some serious entertainment in an apparently involuntary, stand-up fashion.

 

Ghislaine and I were both armed with DK’s Eyewitness Travel Guide for Seville, which helpfully if somewhat tackily provide a list of ‘star exhibits’ for philistines like myself, thus ensuring that you don’t go to The Louvre and stare blankly when later asked what you made of the Mona Lisa, because you “missed that one”.  Star exhibit number 1 was the ‘San Jeronimo Penitente’, an Italian Renaissance terracotta sculpture by Torrigiano, which J. Ar (unencumbered by guidebooks) had ‘correctly’ spotted for himself and described with a facial expression of pain as “Oh, staggering!! I always ask my son (who loves art)”, he continued, “which one would you take home?” We had barely seen one-tenth of the exhibits and yet his instinct had told him, probably quite rightly and for reasons other than mere portability that the San Jeronimo was where the action was.  He seemed so genuinely taken by this masterpiece that I did suggest to him that buying the museum a la Victor Kayam (‘King of Shavers’ ) was an option to be considered.

 

“True talent just shouts at you from the other end of the room”, he declared fortissimo, as we wandered into the next room.  There was indeed a rather impressive oil-on-canvas work dominating the room in an unequivocal manner.  Ghislaine made the sensible observation (which had a touch of the class swot about it, to my ears) that all the works of art were surprisingly exposed and unprotected.  J. Ar’s fantastically glib explanation for this was that museums such as this had so many Murillos (for example) that they weren’t too fussed about losing the odd one here and there.  By way of contrast, he pointed out that if we had one Murillo in Britain, “the Nation would come to see it”! As empirical evidence of his theory, he drew on a visit to Florence’s Uffizi gallery, where he had seen a Tintoretto “on the floor”. Not clear as to whether this was ‘art gallery-speak’ unfamiliar to me, I double-checked:

 

“What, you don’t mean literally on the floor, leaning against the wall?”

“Absolutely”, said he. “I told my son that I would keep watch at the entrance to the room, while he picked up the painting to see if it was alarmed… Nothing at all,” he concluded emphatically.

 

This seemed more like evidence of his burning desire to live close to the edge and to take risks, but only when he’s pretty damn certain to get away with the action in question.  In this particular instance, he seemed oblivious of the irony that his little ruse fundamentally involved the exposure his art-loving son, rather than himself!

 

I had introduced myself to J. Ar quite spontaneously and had not had the opportunity to explain any of the background to Ghislaine.  It was therefore not surprising that, curious as to how we came to be such good old pals, she asked “how do you two know each other ?” l was just trying to compose a  brief but coherent  response in my head, when I was shocked to hear J. Aar’s flat response: “We don’t” he declared with curious finality.  He may have wondered whether I might be a journalist of some sort, because whilst I was recovering from the cold shock of his disassociation, he asked in what seemed like a firm tone, given the levity of our previous discourse: “And what do you do?”  I explained that I was a lawyer in music entertainment and this seemed to be surprisingly reassuring to him.  He explained that he himself was travelling with a very eminent QC, who had become a bit of an expert on a certain aspect of performance - that of athletes and the drugs allegedly used by some or most of them.  I myself was expecting to be joined in Seville by an old school friend and training partner, who was due to fly in from Hong Kong on that very morning.  By coincidence, he is also a lawyer, a part-time art dealer and is also what private bankers refer to as a ‘high net worth individual’.

 

By now, J. Ar had wandered off ahead and Ghislaine and I were standing before what might have been described by our Eyewitness guide as an exhibit in the ‘best-supporting role’.  J. Ar suddenly came rushing back to explain to us that the painting over which we were cooing appreciatively was in fact “just a tease” and that the main event was just around the corner…. “A quintet of Murillos, all in a row!” It was at this very moment that my mobile ‘phone rang in sacrilegious tones, announcing the arrival of Alex from HK… Apart from my old-fashioned self-consciousness about conversing on my mobile in a cathedral-like hall under the watchful gaze of Madonna and Child (Murillo’s ‘La Servilleta’, star exhibit #2), I was becoming increasingly concerned that the serene Ghislaine, clearly the sort who likes to sip her art delicately and in relative tranquillity, had had her quiet day at the museum ambushed by me in the first instance and then by J. Ar. When I returned from my sotto voce, telephonic exchange in the corner of the hall, J. Ar was himself in full voice…

 

“She’s never been to Florence!” He exclaimed incredulously, pointing at Ghislaine.  “There are four better galleries than this in Florence!!”

 

For a man with such strong opinions, he gave us a good deal of studied, deference throughout the visit, despite his reservations about the need for a guidebook. He prefaced many of his observations with a self-deprecating:

 

“You probably know more about art than I do, but…”  Needless to say, he was actually correct in the case of Ghislaine.  Although having been to The Penthouse, I could also read the ‘thought bubble’ above J. Ar’s head: “...but you probably own a few less world-class Masterpieces than I do”!

 

At this point, we had pretty much ‘done’ the ground floor of the museum and J. Ar was visibly disappointed to learn that the exhibition actually continued upstairs. Perhaps his knees were not up to it (no personal lift!) or maybe his lively mind now required fresh stimuli after an hour of awestruck gazing.

 

Even more likely, was the fact that his uncanny instinct for squeezing the most out of life in the shortest possible time had told him (quite rightly) that he had already seen by far the best of the museum. The word ‘‘mercurial’’ is much overused, but it clearly denotes the sort of predictable unpredictability that has marked the chequered career of Jeffrey Archer.  It was only as we entered the first room upstairs that we realised our companion-who-would-be-mayor had disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again.  As a former Olympic sprinter, J. Ar was certainly once fleet of  foot, but this magical stunt was worthy of Mercury himself, the mythological, winged messenger of the Gods, whose divine job description also embraced merchandise, theft and eloquence!

 

 

  Copyright MCMXCIX Ayodeji C. R. Mahoney

Posted by Dej on 10 Aug around 3pm

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