It is not unknown for a desperate columnist to throw himself under a train
Tuesday 17 October 1995
To lessen the ordeal of this criss-crossing of the country, myself and my wife travel by train whenever we can, letting the rest of the crew take the gear by road. I did this on my last tour in 1985 and it was on that tour that, accompanied by my musician, we took the InterCity to a gig that night in Birmingham. The show was on a Saturday and it was just about this time that British Rail had introduced its excellent "Weekend First" scheme, whereby you paid pounds 3 to the ticket collector and were allowed to sit in selected first-class carriages for the price of a second-class ticket.
When we got to Euston, my musician, not knowing about the offer, headed for the second-class portion of the train but we just said to him: "No, no, we'll sit in first class and give the ticket collector pounds 3 and it'll be all right."
Not realising this was an official scheme, he thought that the time I and my wife had spent in the Middle East had given us a deep understanding of the nature of baksheesh and bribery and that we were skilled in the buying of favours from corrupt officials. He thought that somehow we knew intuitively that a British Rail guard could be bought for just three quid.
He sat trembling and sweating for the whole journey and when the ticket collector finally arrived he offered him his three pound coins with a repertoire of nods and winks reminiscent of a malfunctioning animatronic character at Disneyland. When he got a receipt for his perspiration-soaked coins he was even more astonished.
I had intended to tell you this story a while ago but it has been held up because, before it could be published, its ownership had to be adjudicated on by an august panel, called "The Tribunal of Columnists".
The reason that a judgment had to be sought on the preceding anecdote was that my musician, the musician at the centre of the tale, has in the intervening 10 years become a successful columnist on a newspaper and, what is more, a paper that is a deadly rival to this one. He was now claiming that this story belonged to him for use in his column.
It was for exactly this sort of situation that the tribunal was established. You will have noticed over the course of your reading life that most columnists write about "things that happen to them".
If you examine your own life for a few minutes you will realise that not many things worth writing about happen to anybody. Columnists are no exception to this rule, so interesting events become precious property jealously guarded. Always in the back of your mind you hear the clock ticking away towards your next deadline and realise that the ever hungry newspaper machine can devour entertaining occurrences quicker than you can live them.
It's not unknown for a desperate columnist with a deadline to meet and a singularly lacklustre week behind him to take a taxi all the way to Blackpool and upon arriving promptly throw himself under a train just so that he'll have something to write about that week in his newspaper. I have been saved from this very fate by the judgment of the tribunal coming through in the nick of time.
I was able to argue successfully in front of the tribunal that, as in the famous case of Coren vs Kington (The Case of the Flaming Trousers), I was an equal participant in the anecdote. But what the action came to hinge on was ownership of the pounds 3 the other columnist gave to the ticket collector. I was able to prove that he had claimed the pounds 3 back off me as part of his travel expenses and therefore even the pounds 3 belonged to me.
Similarly in the Coren vs Kington judgment, the soda siphon used to put out the flaming trousers was found to have been bought by Kington's wife, thus clinching things for this paper. The ex-musician columnist rued the day he approached the tribunal, as I was also able to claim that he had used something my wife had done in a column he had written about Thermos flasks, so therefore he owed me 800 amusing words as I could not now use the Thermos flask incident in my own column. I expect to see him set off for Blackpool any moment now.
What now tends to happen when I go round to the house of this particular writer, or indeed to any place where writers gather, is that a large carved pole is set up in the centre of the room and if any person present utters a witty remark, recalls an aphorism or just plain falls over in an amusing way, then the first columnist to touch the pole owns the story - it's brutal but it works.
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