If England are going to survive the might of Tunisia today, if our plucky eleven are to stand a chance against the legendary Whirling Dribblers of North Africa, they're going to need my full attention. I mean, look what befell Scotland when my eye was off them for a minute last Monday.
It started promisingly. By 4.25, I was in my favourite chair, bottle of Irn Bru in one hand, copy of Great International Scottish Footballing Triumphs in the other (a thin volume, the size of a large Rizla paper), marvelling at how weirdly youthful Des Lynam is looking these days and waiting to cheer Jackson and Gallacher et al. The match started. The Brazilian team all looked impossibly tall, like basketball players who'd strayed onto the wrong pitch. They loped and ran and jumped and swerved until you'd swear all the Scotland players were standing still, except the goalkeeper.
The phone rang. I went out to the kitchen. "This is the Bee Tee call- minder," said that bossy young madam who runs the answering machine service. "You have one new message. Dial 1571 now to hear it." Not now, woman, I grated, before rushing back to my chair. "Daddy" said Max, the small son, "why don't Sainsbury's let people have Alan Shearer?"
What? "The World Cup coins. You've bought 29 packets of coins, and they're never ever Alan Shearer." It's just bad luck, mid, I said. Shut up and watch the game. But by now, I was thinking: Who was the call from? An important message from work? Exciting news from my agent? (Some hope). A family emergency?
I went to the kitchen and dialled 1571. "Dis am the Suny Vale Nursin' Home in Muswell Hill, doctor", announced a voice, "callin' about one of yo' patients, Mrs Golightly. Her vaginal ring dropped out yesterday mornin' and she am seekin' a replacement
The French windows opened and the nanny's boyfriend, Will, entered. He is a film buff. "Do you mind if I turn over for a second?" he said, seizing the remote control. "There's this cricket movie written by Terence Rattigan on the other side, called The Last Test, and it's got Len Hutton and Denis Compton in it, trying to act ..." Stunned, I let him. We watched ten minutes of Jack Warner playing a pipe-smoking has-been at the Oval before I regained the initiative. Back at the match, the big Scottish redhead with the curious features was taking a wild haymaker kick that missed the Brazil goal but sent the ball into orbit. "... although I've got three of Graeme le Saux," continued Max relentlessly. "Why do Sainsburys like Graeme le Saux?"
The doorbell bonged. "Mr Walls?" said a motorbike delivery-man through his tinted-glass helmet. "Special delivery from the BBC. Sign here. You gotta pen? Me biro's gone a bit manky." Five minutes search of the ground floor revealed no writing materials of any description. Eventually I used an indelible ink marker from the sewing box, waved him good-bye and fled back to the sitting room. "One-all, Daddy," said Max. "It was a penalty thing." On the screen, a ponytailed Ginola and a suntanned Jimmy Hill were dissecting the first half.
I had to leave at 6pm for a movie preview so I learned about Brazil's dubious triumph (winning via a Scotland own-goal) while looking for a parking space in the middle of Chinatown. It seems I'm destined to view the World Cup, as it were, offstage. Wherever the action is, I'm always going to be in the next room, on the phone, in the hall or up the creek. That's why, this afternoon, only an invasion of Earth by football-hating aliens, is going to distract me from the main event. But somehow I know that, at the exact moment Sheringham scores the clincher, I'm going to be on my knees on the carpet, looking for a lost Sainsbury's coin with his face on it ...
ACCORDING TO a piece in last week's Time's Literary Supplement, the military junta that held power in Greece in the late Sixties had one really good idea. Tiring of all the seditious literature that was being published under their noses, but realising that they could never hope to monitor the contents of everything produced by the Athens publishing houses, they issued a stern directive: from now on, all books published in Greece would, on pain of their authors being boiled alive in extra-virgin olive oil, be required to carry titles that were a true reflection of their contents.
Thus, if you had written a savage denunciation of modern Greek dictatorship for the Parthenon Press, you couldn't call it The Canker in the Rose or some sneakily periphrastic title; you had to call it Savage Denunciation of Modern Greek Dictatorship (or, for the paperback, Generals, Go Home).
A cunning plan, you'll agree. And despite a few regrettable lapses from the truth (there was a terrible fuss when 180 Things to Do With Feta Cheese was revealed, on closer inspection, to be a bomb-making handbook for Resistance fighters) it worked. What amazes me is that it's not yet been adopted as policy by our enlightened government.
Truth Publishing - it would be like Truth Advertising, which enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1950s. If book titles had to express the book's contents faithfully, a whole new era would dawn. You'd be able to judge a book, if not by its cover, by its title alone. There'd be an end to mendacity, pretension and quotations from Kubla Khan (which account for the titles of all James Lees-Milne's diaries; if my brilliant initiative comes off, they will instantly be retitled Crashing Snob in Memory Lane, Vols 1-6).
The bestseller lists are full of misleading titles. Non-fiction comes off quite creditably - but then you can't really do much with a book about the battle of Stalingrad except call it Stalingrad, or a biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, except call it Wild Swans (just kidding).
I think something could be done, however, with inaccurately titled works like Whoopi Goldberg's Book (which should really be Barmy Yank Actress Tells Fart Jokes), or Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (to be retitled Jaysus, Limerick Was Depressing In The Thirties, Daddy Was Always Drunk And All Me Brothers Died) or Graham Hancock's The Mars Mystery (which would of course become Deeply Spurious Interplanetary Bollocks).
As for fiction, well it's crying out for the truth treatment. No longer will punters buy Sebastian Faulk's Birdsong on the assumption that it's a charming romance set in Berkeley Square, not when it's rechristened Sex In The Library, Death on the Somme; and Jeffrey Archer's The Eleventh Commandment would surely attract even more readers when it becomes Spot the Former Cabinet Minister. Care to join in? Send me your suggestions. We'll publish the best, and award a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon for the most damningly reductive.