From life in the fast lane to cash-for-column-space

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IT'S NOT that I want sympathy, but... OK. With a pitiful whimper, the girl fell to the floor in a terror-stricken faint. "You... you... Faceless Fiend!" cried Carruthers, cradling her inert form in his manly arms. The Faceless Fiend smiled a mirthless smile, and Carru-thers knew that all was lost. Suddenly the door flew open and in burst Inspector Bywater, his icy eyes ablaze, the mighty muscles rippling beneath his impeccable tweeds. "So!" he cried. "We meet at last, you impostor!" The Faceless Fiend blanched, realising the game was up. "What? What do you mean, 'impostor'?" he blustered.

"I mean exactly what I say," drawled Bywater coolly, his steely intelligence shining in every lineament of his hawk-like features. "I was watching through the keyhole. You should have realised that no real Faceless Fiend would ever smile, mirthlessly or otherwise, on account of being Faceless."

What? Sorry? This stuff? It's a trailer, for heaven's sake. Coming Next Week, At A Column Near You. The difficulty is: material. No good just twiddling the thumbs and expecting Life to deliver the goods, as some journos seem to think. Take the other day: some Gilbert complaining that he was forced to write about culture, damn it, when there were all these other columnists who just wrote about their own lives and what fun that must be and how, sod it, he was going to write about his own life, see if he didn't.

Well, good luck to him, but on the other hand, fat chance. This writing- about-your-own-life racket is all very well, but it takes years of practice, plus an Own Life to write about. And the trouble is, I do not seem to be having one at the moment. A friend of mine, a comic novelist (you can't be choosy about your friends in my line of business) once mentioned to a woman that the week he had spent scuba-diving off the Great Barrier Reef was the best week of his life. It was their second or third date; they hadn't yet, you know... done it. She looked him full in the eye and said: "Honey, you haven't had the best week of your life yet."

Shortly after that, he married someone else, and she married someone else, and whenever he bumps into her husband he thinks: "That man has had the best week of my life."

I know how he feels. I suspect someone else is having my life, too; either that, or this is It, and I had better find a new occupation without delay. Hence the trailer. We live in a multicultural world where old barriers are being broken down, and frankly if we can have Novels of Suspense, I don't see why we can't have Columns of Suspense either, because it's either that, or I have to become a Man About Town with an appetite for living life in the fast lane for the moment, and we all know what that means.

It means being dead. We know it means being dead because that is how the St Pancras coroner recently described a fat chap from Chicago who edited a men's magazine and ended up croaking after miscalculating his late-night cocaine bracer. You might ask yourself whether a coroner is particularly well-qualified to discuss life in the fast lane - the only two coroners I have ever known were timid, home-loving men, more suited to life on the mortuary slab - but facts are facts.

So you see the dilemma. Either one takes care of oneself and has nothing to write about, or one lives life to the full and has no means of writing about it on account of being dead. Being forced to write about Culture week after week seems almost cushy in comparison.

If you think I am exaggerating, let me give you a conspectus of the current raw material at my disposal. Lights. Camera. Action.

Fade in on my immaculate residence. I am in bed, snoring. The Bloomsbury peace is rudely sundered by clambering builders, singing. One passes our bedroom window on his upward climb; his song comes briefly into focus; it goes: "... she sez, And then my dick dropped OFF, Ooooooh, with a... " and then fades out again. Nothing to write about there.

The bad yellow-eyed woman stirs beside me, then wakes with a hoarse cry of alarm. "What? What?" she shouts, "You're horrid." Nothing to write about there.

As they demolish my home around my ears, I pass a tiny furtive man on the stairs, clutching a huge pile of wood and a saw. "Bet you think we're carpenters," he mutters as I pass, then starts giggling. Nothing to write about there.

I flee to my safe haven, my publisher's house in Hammersmith, where I turn on the electric goose, play for a while with the Santa In Armchair, He Snores And His Belly Goes Up And Down, Made In China, shift aside piles of pre-publication blockbusters, shock-horror kiss'n'tell biographies and multi-million dollar movielisations, shovelling them on top of heaps of her husband's political briefings, military orders, security details and investigative notebooks - nothing to write about there - and settle down to work.

A woman rings up and tells me she is pregnant. I assert impotence, calculate dates. "I'm not saying it's yours," she says. "I just thought you might be interested," and slams the phone down. In desperation, I toy with yet another polemic against Tory sleaze. Another woman rings up. "I wonder if you'd like to devote your column to Cynthia Heimel this week," she says. "Can't," I say, scenting a way out of my problem. "She's my best friend and anyway I don't do that kind of thing, puffs and plugs and suchlike. Only if she gives me her new laptop computer and some money and stuff." "Fine," says the woman.

Why waste time reading this bollocks when you could be reading If You Leave Me Can I Come Too? by Cynthia Heimel, available at all good bookshops and plenty of rotten ones, too.

Which nicely solves my problem for this week. As for next week, let's take no risks: Inspector Bywater and the Thing from Fifty Fathoms. Thrills! Spills! Girls in Frills! This is a quality newspaper, after all. !