About a fifth of all articles written in newspapers and magazines begin with this phrase. Except, of course, it's not true. They've all got it wrong. Andy Warhol didn't say that at all. What he actually said was "Hello, Ace Minicabs? I'd like a minicab to go to Crouch End in 15 minutes." But then, cab firms always get the bloody message wrong, don't they?
Another popular way to start a column in a national newspaper seems to be to say "Last week, some friends of mine were startled to see in their garden a... " But the trouble with that kind of opening is that it immediately puts you, the reader, on guard, thinking, "Hey, hey - this isn't really a story about some friends of his. Oh no, he's just thought up what he thinks is a hilarious yarn about zebras or Archbishop Makarios or clockwork teeth and rather than come right out and say it's a made-up story, he's going to give it spurious import by pretending it really happened to some imaginary friends of his who worked in a game park or were involved in guerrilla fighting in Cyprus in the 1950s or worked in a novelty teeth emporium or whatever.
"I'm sick to death of this falseness," you say to yourself. Well, prepare yourself for a shock, because when a newspaper columnist writes "the other week, this rather amusing thing happened to these friends of mine..." it's not a fabricated construct around which is hung an invented tale, but it is instead the absolute, unalloyed, undiluted truth!
You see, the sole difference between the successful newspaper columnist - or indeed the successful dramatist or successful screenwriter - and the unsuccessful columnist, dramatist, screenwriter, is not that one has more talent, vision or creativity than the other, but rather that one simply has more interesting mates than the other. The successful writer is solely a person who has lots of really interesting mates to whom all kinds of extraordinary and exciting things happen all the time. The successful writer simply hangs around with his fascinating friends and writes down all the unbelievable and breathtaking things that happen to them - usually in a small blue notebook. The writer then goes home, changes a few names, puts in a few stage directions or lyrical passages of description and bingo - another successful piece of so-called fiction hits the streets.
The most obvious example is William Shakespeare. He is supposedly the greatest playwright of all time, but while he was alive, Will was known as a rather tedious old stick who couldn't make up a good story if he was being questioned by the Spanish Inquisition. However, he was fortunate in that he had the most amazing circle of mates to whom the most astonishing things continually happened. For instance, Shakespeare actually used to drink in the same pub as a bloke called King Lear, who had three daughters called Goneril, Cordelia and Eisenhower. He gave up his kingdom to his two evil daughters, who did him wrong, so he went mad and died.
The only difference between Shakespeare's play and real life was that his drinking companion King Lear didn't rule the kingdom of Britain - he presided over a string of pie shops in Deptford. However, apart from that, the events were exactly the same.
The supposedly greatest dramatist of all time also played in the same five-a-side team as a geezer called Hamlet, whose father was murdered by his uncle but was too dithering to do anything about it. Except it wasn't the kingdom of Denmark, but an eel-gutting business in Southwark. Apart from that, the events were exactly the same, right down to the unpleasant business behind the arras. All right, even William Shakespeare didn't know a bloke called Bottom who'd been turned into a donkey and lived in the woods with some fairies, but remember, most medicines in those days (and indeed a lot of the food and clothing) contained large amounts of opium. Similarly, Samuel Beckett went to school with a notoriously unpunctual bloke called Godot and there wasn't anything Kafka's mates would do for a laugh.
In contrast to the cliques of all the successful writers, my circle of friends don't do anything at all. Their idea of a good time would be an evening spent in an armchair emitting a high-pitched hum - which is why this column isn't about anything.
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