thursday 4 decEMBER:

me, at the ministry of sound

As the tea towels were lifted off the expensive brass bar, the stools filled up with journalists, actors, would-be actors, would-be journalists and assorted professional liggers keen to clasp their shaky hands around the smooth globe shaped glasses filled with house claret. The arrival of New Year, as with all important deadlines, was five days late in Dean Street.

It had been 17 hours and 15 days since the Groucho club last served a drink and the strain was written all over the returning members faces. For some, like Esquire columnist Paul Mungo, the effect was not dissimilar to an enforced coma, the symptoms of which, he said, were difficult to explain.

It had taken him the first week to realise that there were other places in the city that dispensed Nurofen besides Donna on front reception. And he second week to grasp the possibility that he might also cash a cheque at an actual bank. It was, he continued, like surviving a month of Sabbaths all in one go (the Groucho, like God, always rests on a Sunday). On the other side of the room, ex young conservative rabble rouser Harry Phipps was discreetly escorted by Big Issue editor John Bird to a comfortable propping place while Alex cartoonists Russell and Charles Taylor poured house champagne down the throat of Minx magazines new astrology correspondent.

"What's your star sign," she said, and we all knew that investigative journalism had stirred from its slumber.

For some, like the perfectly formed Tim Roth, the festive drought had clearly gone to his head. Comfortably seated in a well worn leather winged armchair, and surrounded by attentive female colleagues, the actor was dicing with social death. He had forgotten to turn off his mobile phone. And it rang. Like Meer cats performing for a David Attenborough documentary, every head in the room popped up. Eyes twitched like frogs in a science experiment. A hush fell as we waited, necks strained, for the immortal line to be issued: "You know the rules" and Tim sheepishly left the building. It was the first yellow card of the year. "Some of them get a bit frisky when they've been away a bit," the waiter explained. "But it doesn't take us long to knock them back into shape."

Later in the week various bleary eyed hacks were assembled again for what promised to be an evening of champagne supping at someone else's expense.

Edward Windsor, youngest son of the Queen, boyfriend of Sophie and trainee TV mogul had called us to the Tower of London to explain his latest venture; a new History channel series called Crown and Country. What hadn't been explained was that the Beefeaters, a law until themselves, were going to vet us. Before leading us through to the ceremonial supping in the same room as a member of the royal family, our worthiness and knowledge of English history was to be put to the test. Why was it called Traitor's Gate? Silence. Who had been incarcerated in the Tower three times before being be-headed? Further silence. What colour roses do the schoolboys of Eton lay at the Queen's tower each year? We were failing miserably, champagne supping with HRH was looking unlikely. Who, after having his head cut off for insurrection and placed on Tower Bridge, while his headless corpse was removed to the chapel to rot, was then swiftly sewn back together again four hours later so that an official portrait could be painted for posterity?

"Andrew Neil" answered the man next me. The portcullis opened and we were led straight through.

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