I was on my best behaviour last night because we had Amanda over for dinner. She is a pleasant enough girl, if a bit on the dim side, and with thighs that have seen slimmer days. Arabella was very jumpy before her friend arrived and kept referring to some supposed indiscretion on my part alleged to have taken place during her last visit. I couldn't for the life of me guess what it was I was meant to have done. The only clue I was offered was a repeated: "You know what I'm referring to."

I decided to let the matter rest. With a sumptuous repast to prepare, I had better things to do than mount a speleological expedition into the darker pot-holes of Belly's imagination. I was doing my specialite de la terraced maison: stuffed reduced-for-quick-clearance en croute in a cream sauce. You buy whatever is reduced for quick clearance in Sainsbury's, bone it, stuff it, bake it in pastry and serve in a rich, winey sauce. It never fails. This time the RFQC was a whole salmon, stuffed with fresh peaches, though for all the wretched Amanda seemed to notice, it might as well have been something from the local chippie. Even when Arabella - rather mechanically, I thought - said "Beautiful fish, darling," Amanda could manage only an inept echo of: "Yes. Is it cod?"

The only thing to be said in Amanda's favour is that she is, unlike depressingly many of Arabella's circle, heterosexual, as I gleaned from the girl's clumsy attempts to flirt with me. Fat though her legs were, I fancy there was room enough on our side of the table for her thighs not to brush quite so often against mine, nor for her to wobble her blancmange of a cleavage so directly into my line of vision whenever she helped herself to yet more vegetables. In principle, I enjoy thighs and mammaries as much as the next man, but not with salmon en croute, nor when said bodily parts come attached to a brain that knows no piscatorial delight greater than the codfish.

My high standards of behaviour, however, never dropped. Except perhaps for once when I patted her wandering thigh in mock reproachfulness and ostentatiously moved my chair further away from hers. And I did receive one undeserved glare from Arabella, though, when I saw uneaten peaches on her friend's plate, I'd have thought that "Stuffing not to your liking?" was an innocent enough remark to make. One has to be so careful talking to spinsters in their late twenties.

To my surprise, Arabella ushered Amanda out and walked her to the station almost as soon as the meal was over. It was well after midnight when she returned home, the worse for drink. My theory is that she had had a row with Amanda over the latter's sluttish behaviour at dinner and had then sought solace in alcohol. Under the circumstances, I decided that feigning sleep was the best strategy.


There are two things that drive me absolutely nuts about my friend Amanda. Viz: she always bring a very nasty bottle of warm white wine (price removed) to dinner parties, even when told not to. Secondly, her arrival at any non-food function will be marked by the presentation of a small box of Ferrero, for gods' sakes, Rocher chocolate, purchased at the local garage (price attached).

Add to that her appalling habit of calling coffee "a coffee" as in "Ooh, I could murder a coffee", and her insistence that I hurry up and marry Roland so that she can organise a "hen night" at a really exciting (ie cheap) restaurant which specialises in such things.

In Amanda's ideal world, anyone remotely prenuptial must sit screaming with pleasure at a table strewn with red and black nylon undergarments and the odd clockwork penis. I have twice experienced such horror, when she frog-marched me to the engagement parties of total strangers.

But Amanda is not the worst of my friends by a long chalk. There are sycophants, computer nerds, several people who use the word "perchance" in ordinary conversation, and the most recent addition: a couple of bookish lesbians who wear tee-shirts with the logo "I've got a bare behind" writ large in purple ink. If you can be bothered to walk round to have a look, you will find some badly-drawn koalas on the back of their shirts. Ha- ha-haarrr.

It's not niceness that stops me from junking my friends. It's laziness, amazement at their dreadful habits, and the pleasantly irritable sensation I get from an hour or so in their company. It's also a form of compulsive hoarding. Some people have cupboardfuls of unwearable outfits without which they simply cannot live: badly flared trousers, nickel belts that give you a nasty rash, and expensive peep-toed stilettos with embalmed goldfish in the heels. Instead, I have a tattered collection of thoroughly unfashionable companions, mostly faded or coming apart at the seams; the sort that Cosmopolitan magazine might suggest leaving outside a charity shop "... making way for a more glamorous lifestyle and a New You".

Can't be bothered. Anyway, it's all good material for the book I'm supposed to be writing. So when Amanda rang up and invited herself to dinner, instead of fending her off, I said: "Terrrrific!" I had forgotten that she likes to stay until dislodged with a blunt instrument.

The real annoyance of the evening was, of course, Roland. He knew from last time that his prime anti-social function was to drive her away as soon as possible. Instead, he deliberately prolonged dinner by offering her endless second helpings of vegetables and ogling her bosoms with every ladleful. Fortunately, I was able to bring the evening to a swift end by telling her of Roland's disgusting staphylococcal infection when he left the table to go to the lav. She didn't even shake his hand when she left.

Temporary consolation at 12.02am: thought of Amanda as a constrictive piece of pale pink exercise suiting. Come to that, Roland doubles as a pair of American Tan support stockings. Outmoded, unflattering and liable to fall down at the critical moment.