Solicitors, that most upright breed of men

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The Independent Culture
THEY DON'T do Cheeselets at my local wine bar any more. "They were costing him a fortune," said the bar person. "Nobody minds paying for them," I said. "He won't do them any more," she said.

So that's how it is, and there you have it. I suppose the poor owner has been influenced by his clientele: pale men in suits, on the make, an eye for a quick and vicious buck, solicitors mostly. Did you notice that Angus Diggle has been banned from being a solicitor for life? You know: Diggle, as in frilly cuffs, green condom, tried it on, pokey; life, as in Diggle's entire and only go on Planet Earth. The reason is that they believe he has brought the profession into disrepute, but if you really want to see the profession being brought into disrepute, try my local wine bar, after dark, but bring your own Cheeselets.

The one to watch is at the corner table in the back room. You can ignore the honking ones in the Couch and Hoskins suits, the thick black socks and the arsehole brogues; they are getting hopefully blotto and blaring at each other like ophicleides, brassy and rasping but missing the note. They pretend to be grown-ups but in their briefcases are copies of the GQ Men's Health Flat Stomach Special Edition.

You can ignore the quavery old ones, too. Their suits are thicker, their waistcoats more liberally patinated with egg and hopelessness; they don't understand about mobile phones and word processors and still know how to put their fingertips together like solicitors in the old days. They have an old wife and an old dog and although they are equally fond of both, they understand neither and don't really care. The times have left them behind, and now they sit with each other over a bottle of claret, indulg-ing in those frightfully English friendships which begin with a careful avoidance of confidences and end in silence with nothing to say. Leave them be.

There. In the corner table. In the back room. That's the one to watch. The back room is a decorous urban Gomorrah, after dark, dank with incipient betrayal and last-chance testosterone. The one in the corner is fifty- something, has a flabby berk's face, lank hair the colour of urban slush, a stiff and grubby pinstriped suit, big shoes, a sheen of nervous sweat. His companion is not his wife. He is in a position to do her a bit of good. She is younger, but not so much younger that her pose of looking up to him is anything other than manipula- tively disingenuous. He is doing the stuff: the knee stuff, the touching her hand stuff, the crinkly smile stuff, the confidential-leaning-forward stuff. He is doing the credit card stuff ("It's in my wallet somewhere - oh whoops! There go the credit cards!"), the name-dropping ("Acted for them in a rather big case ... Victor Mishcon once said to me ... old Denning said it was the best brief he'd ever ... got a lot of time for Anthony Julius ... ") and she is buying it.

She is appearing to buy it. And it is very well done. She is leaning forward. She has her hands crossed in front of her, but very lightly (a challenge, you see, but not too much of a challenge) and the upper hand is poised drooping like a swan's neck in promise of acquiescence to come. He is getting excited; he rises from the table ostensibly to pee, but he doesn't; he stands out of her eyeline and mutters into his mobile telephone, ringing his wife.

A lot of wives are rung from the back room, after dark. The moment the wives are rung is the moment the die is cast, and it's never as good as they hope. He tucks his mobile phone away and his face falls for a second as he sees his wife at home; even he cannot suppress empathy entirely, and he knows about the knot in her stomach, and how her fingertips and haunches will have gone strangely cold as she tells herself not to be so silly. But he pulls his face together again and walks back to the table in the corner, making fly-checking motions and attempting a flabby swagger.

It's accelerating now. They get the bill, she disappears to the ladies' (to freshen up? To throw up?), he pays, they go. They will skip dinner; if they drink any more they will be too drunk, and if they don't drink they will be- come too sober. Instead, they will hail a taxi and go to a hotel.

It will not be a normal Earth hotel they go to. It will be one of the special ones, the ones on Planet Hotel. Planet Hotel is a place where the laws do not run, a perpetual Saturnalia of promised indulgence, free of guilt, unease or the fear of discovery. On Planet Hotel, there is a swimming pool in the basement and exercise classes in the Leisure Centre. Everything has an adjective: succulent, freshly squeezed, to your liking, exotic, specially selected, controlled, conditioned. On Planet Hotel, you are wrapped in magical concealing light, gravity itself is reduced; flabby office-bound bodies become less ponderous, clothes float to the floor, illicit couplings are slender and graceful as fish or chimeras.

But it all has to be paid for, and American Express isn't enough. On Planet Hotel they serve (special, succulent) Truth Breakfasts, and after the coffee and the rollmop herrings (they serve rollmops for breakfast on Planet Hotel) the concealing lights are turned off, gravity cranks back to 115 per cent, flab swells and bulges, skins roughen, suits crumple in ingrained folds, no shower will wash them clean. She will wonder what the hell she was doing. He will wonder what the hell he was doing. They will avoid each other's eye as they feign gratitude and affection.

He won't be at the corner table in the back room that evening, or the evening after. But soon he will be back. And soon she will be back. And they will be nervous, and tipsy, and ... bringing themselves into disrepute? No; like his profession itself, they are in disrepute already; and so they will sit over their Chablis, and he will fiddle with his mobile phone, and soon they will be off again, to the temporary apotheosis of Planet Hotel; just like so many of the others who have had such fun destroying Angus Diggle's life. !

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