Well, there's the mortgage to pay and the revenue to assuage, so what to do? In the regrettable absence of a seat on the board of a privatised utility or a lucky break in the law courts - something, I thought, along the lines of the woman in San Diego who copped £650,000 from a clothes shop for lack of privacy in its changing rooms - it has to be one of two courses: divine intervention or the writing of a best-selling book. Or both, perhaps. The difficulty with a book, of course, lies not in conceiving the intention, nor in handling the wearisome round of post publication interviews, but (unless you're Naomi Campbell), in that awkward bit in between; the long, lonely slog of sitting down and covering quire after quire of paper with legible marks. But if the rewards are right, then I'll whistle as I work.
Especially now that that reward/work ratio has just experienced an upward adjustment, one significant enough to make even Martin Amis grind his remodelled teeth in rage: lucky old Robert Evans, an advertising executive from Salt Lake City, has just picked up £2.8 million for the rights to The Christmas Box, his first children's book. What makes this particularly impressive is that the book has only 87 pages - which, by my calculations, makes it worth a cool £32,000 a page.
There is a problem, though. In Evans's case, it wasn't the usual matter of ten per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration. He had help - not in the sense that Naomi, Martina, Ivana and the rest of the celebrity circus have help, but in the shape of a card-carrying supernatural visitation. Evans's book revolves around letters written by a woman to a baby daughter who died in infancy, and springs from the death of his own baby sister. While he was sitting at his kitchen table, one night at 4am, puzzling over problems of structure, he was suddenly aware of a presence in the room. "I don't know if it was God or my sister who came to me," he gushes. "At the time I felt the presence of my sister Sue. Beyond that, I don't know."
Where does that leave me, and the countless hopefuls cluttering the publishers' slush piles? Heading for the ouija board and popping down to the Society for Psychical Research, I suppose, even subscribing to Angel Watch, a newsletter which tells you how and where to recognise your very own guardian angel - preferably one with a strong sense of narrative, a snappy way with dialogue and a hot line to Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie.
H H H
With or without Andrew Wylie pushing its merits, The Christmas Box sounds just the thing for the BBC, whose latest suicide note, the Programme Strategy Review, commits the corporation to shrugging off its elitist, educational, middle-class, highbrow image. Or, if not for them, then for that impeccably non- elitist, non-highbrow, non-middle class phenomenon, UK Talk Radio.
For on that grim channel, there has emerged a new man of letters, a hitherto undreamed-of candidate to head the Books Committee of the London Library: Jeremy Beadle, the bearded prankster and licensed vulgarian. The great man made his Talk Radio debut with a demonstration of his infinite capacity for taking pains. He hadn't, he said, really planned anything, but thought he might like, at some stage, to talk about books. "I listen to lots of book programmes," he complained, "but I've never heard one that was about the kind of books that I buy. And I buy a lot of books." Yes, yes, but what books? The kind Professor John Bayley likes? The latest rib-tickler from Roberto Calassi? Or one of Willard Quine's canters through the thickets of philosophical logic? Illumination was not long in coming, for Beadle found himself in extended conversation with a child from the Midlands who was unable to explain exactly where he lived. For lesser men, an insuperable obstacle; for Beadle the bookworm, a breeze. "You tell me the story of your life," he demanded of the child, "while I look up where you live in Bartholomew's Gazetteer."
H H H
Not that even Bartholomew's Gazetteer would find you Churton on the map. In common with Cordiant, the spectacularly awful name with which Saatchi & Saatchi's now wants to lumber itself, Churton is a product of a marketing man's imagineering - a name with a rustic burr that is forever Ambridge. It is, of course, the moniker attacked to a new hard Cheddar cheese described by its makers as having a "mild, fresh and distinctive flavour" and described by one of its detractors, Mr Jason Hinds of Neal's Yard Dairy, as "sticky and musky and bland - what you would expect from a plastic-wrapped, factory- made cheese."
Well, different strokes for different folks, and I confess to a lingering affection for Kraft Cheese slices which, together with four pickled onions, two packets of Smith's crisps and a bottle of Corona was, at the age of nine, my dream dinner. Now I'm pickier, and keen to eat the heather-flavoured cheeses now being produced in Scotland, or Hugh Lillingstone's prize-winning Innes Button cheese, the product, we are frequently told, of goats made happy by constant exposure in their pens to piped Monteverdi (actually, I'd be even more interested in a cheese from goats exposed to a constant diet of Iggy Pop and the Stooges; rebarbative, rather than bland, I imagine).
But I also like cheddar: Chewton Extra Mature Cheddar, to be precise, and if I were Lord Chewton, the maker of this eponymous cheese, I'd be less than gruntled by the £3 million pound advertising campaign launched by his rivals, who make their cheese in Cheshire. Churton, Chewton; say them in Zummerzet, and there's a not dissimilar sound of rural chomping to be heard. Churton Mendip? Oh, take a left at Cheddar Gorge, and you can't miss it.
Still, Lord Chewton's had worse. Princess Anne opened his dairy and visitor's centre some years ago; she did, as you'd expect, a brisk and efficient job, then turned to its owner and confided: "I'll tell you what my favourite cheese is - Lymeswold after the sell-by date."
Well past his sell-by date is Oleg Gordievsky. "KGB: Sir Alec Douglas- Home was our agent"; now that would have been a story, and one well suited to the world of John Buchan, where a gentleman found on the Scottish moors was never necessarily a gentleman, and the enemy had its fiendish finger in every pie. What we really want is a treacherous toff at the top, the hideous revelation that behind Willie Whitelaw's bluff mien there lurked the cold and calculating intellect of an unreconstructed agent of the Third International. But Alec, Ol' Oyster Eyes, Peter Carrington - much as Moscow must have pined for one old Etonian agent of influence these last 15 years of Tory misrule, it just won't wash. Douglas Hurd? An OE certainly, but clearly, like John Redwood, a member of the extra-terrestrial tendency.
But William Waldegrave...well, no known lunches at the Gay Hussar with "Smiling Mike" Lyubimov, but then he's too clever for that, isn't he? And his record speaks for itself: Newcastle Scholar at Eton, Fellow of All Souls, brought into Edward Heath's think tank by Victor Rothschild, notoriously once a flatmate of Guy Burgess; close to Heath during the miners' strike that led, ineluctably, to the collapse of the Tory government; the man who masterminded the poll tax, bringing Tonbridge Wells to the streets and Mrs Thatcher to her knees; the man whose cunningly inept handling of young Jennifer and her glue ear during the last election nearly put paid to Major's chances; a minister at the tawdry heart of the Matrix Churchill/arms for Iraq imbroglio; and now the minister responsible for all those rioting grannies at Shoreham docks. What a career, exemplifying what Regis Debray, the erstwhile French revolutionary, spoke of as the need for "the long march through the institutions". William Waldegrave: the Kremlin salutes you; and, free of charge, the Sunday Times can have the scoop.
H H H
In the days of Alex "Hurricane" Higgins and Bill "36 pints of lager to steady my arm" Werbeniuk, snooker players were giants among men, in thrall to vast appetites and capable of prodigious excesses in touring hotels and provincial nightclubs. No more.
Consider the story of Roger Garrett, who was in his Bournemouth hotel room last week, waiting to play his first televised game as a professional, until he suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing behind him but his cue and dress suit. The first round of the Sweater Shop International had to proceed without him.
Meanwhile, police were alerted, only for the missing player to turn up safe and sound later that evening. Rumours of stage fright or a pos-sible head injury were advanced, but Garrett's manager was having none of it. "This was completely out of character," said Fred Collins. "He went to bed after having a lemonade and was really looking forward to the match."
A lemonade? Alex Higgins, one feels, would not have known what a lemonade was, let alone have been seen drinking it. The Weasel