MY neighbour, Robert Maxwell, lives in a council house as befits someone who is still, greatly to its embarrassment, a member of the local Labour party. But perhaps that gives a misleading impression.
The former house of the Morrell brewery family at the top of Headington Hill, which he rents from Oxford City Council, would be better described as a council mansion. Still, we all pay the same community charge. Like death, the poll tax is a great leveller.
Maxwell has started a new paper, The European. I am in favour of new newspapers. They mean more work for journalists, and I consider myself pro-European. Yet The European makes me feel uneasy.
One reason is that it combines being very down-market in content with being very upmarket in prices. How many Europeans can contemplate holidays in the Cayman Islands (a significant choice for the first travel piece) or tickets to La Scala in Milan at $145 a time? All prices, incidentally, are given in dollars. Is The European intended for Americans?
More worrying is the sort of Europe envisaged by the paper: it is a "Europe of the nations" which endorses Mrs Thatcher and pooh-poohs French and German talk of eventual political union. Strange then, that the title page should claim it as "Europe's first national newspaper" which, if words mean anything, suggests that the continent is already united in a single nation. Maxwell's Europe is essentially an open market in which he can make profits at will. Not Marx, but Marks and Spencer.
The Guide to European Television looks a promising idea. It is handy to know in advance what one might view on arrival in Bucharest or Cluj in Romania where the revolution was played out on television.
I would happily call for sandwiches and a Pilsen and settle down before a set in Prague where television also played a part in the revolution: the scene of police beating up students on November 17 was played again and again. They were convinced that television saved them from Tiananmen Square.
But Maxwell's TV guide is no help in planning such delights: it is concerned only with what can be seen on satellite TV. You can watch it all at home (if you have a dish). So it brings home the uniformity of Europe rather than its diversity, and rather loses its point.
BUT the most distressing feature of The European is its unremitting secularity and sleaze. It is not just a matter of there apparently being no religious affairs correspondent. It is that the whole religious dimension seems to be missing. The impression is given that religion is a private affair, irrelevant and marginal to serious Euro-business.
The few references to religion relegate it to the level of fancythat folklore. Try this from Favera: "On the eve of her wedding, Francesca Sanfilippo, a 24-year-old Sicilian teacher, astonished the groom to be by announcing that she had changed her mind and would enter a convent instead." Ho-ho.
But this is Sicily where they have some quaint customs: "The news was not well received and a gunfight broke out between two divided families in which two people were killed and three wounded."
That was in the dummy number's gossip column. Evidently it was not considered strong enough. In the first issue, it was replaced by Paul Raymond's attempt to introduce girlie magazines into Poland.
" They will be tame by European standards,' says Raymond, 65, a devout Roman Catholic, 'At this stage I am only really offering them breasts.'"
I can't see The European being a big hit in Krakow. Nearer home, in the Asian newsagent at the bottom of Headington Hill, where Maxwell can be seen exercising his dogs on Sunday mornings, there was a thick pile of unsold copies.
Batting for Lambeth
AN English story to take the nasty taste away. I stumbled upon the Oxford diocesan cricket team limbering up against a college second eleven. The wicket-keeper and captain of the Oxford team is the Revd Brian Mountford, vicar of the university church of St Mary's.
He jokes that the one essential qualification for his job is that he should not "go over to Rome" like his predecessor, Fr Peter Cornwell. He also told me that Oxford astonishingly won The Church Times cricket cup last season. He wouldn't be drawn on whether David Sheppard would make a good Archbishop of Canterbury.
People say we are getting more and more like Anglicans, all middle-class and cosy. But our clergy play golf rather than cricket, and there is none of the romance of Bath and Wells vs Southwell. And none of the glances from apparently admiring families as the curate announces that he "dropped on a perfect length from the first ball."
MET the aforementioned Fr Peter Cornwell, one of our first married priests, as he emerged from mass at the Oxford prison. "Since Strangeways," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "the prison authorities regard any evidence of a religious revival in prison with extreme suspicion."
I know many jokes that start off "There was a Jesuit, a Dominican and Franciscan" and so do you, so I'm not going to tell any. I idly wondered why I have heard no Opus Dei jokes. Could it simply be because there are none. What does this tell us?
Meanwhile, here is a Gorbachev story. He makes a phone call to Stalin in heaven: "Comrade Stalin, perestroika is
not working. What am I to do?"
"You must shoot Yeltsin, execute all the new deputies and the editors of all the magazines and newspapers. Then you must imprison all those who disagree with you, send the Red Army into the Baltic states, and paint Red Square green."
Gorbachev ponders this deeply for a while, and then says: "Comrade Stalin, there's one thing I don't understand. Why paint Red Square green?"
"Never mind, comrade Gorbachev,that's not so important. But. I'm glad you understood the rest."
Hail to a heroine
SALUTE Doina Cornea, heroine of the Romanian revolution. A university teacher of French sacked under Ceaucescu and Romania's leading dissident, she naturally became a member of the Salvation Front when it was formed.
But she soon saw through it and resigned. "We had no power at all," she says, "they just used our names." She went on hunger strike in favour of the Timisoara Declaration which called for senior communists like the acting president Ion Illiescu to be banned from standing in the elections.
It was signed by four million people, she points out, thus casting doubt on llliescu's massive election victory. It is not a theme The European can be expected to take up. Cornea is a Uniate Catholic who, in 1988, urged Pope John Paul to intercede for her persecuted Church.