Between a prop and a hard place

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I had intended this week to give my friend Christopher Matthew a leg-up, to say that his recently published thriller, The Amber Room (Sinclair-Stevenson, £14.99) is not just a brave departure from his usual style (Matthew was at ease in the old days at a Punch lunch, drew well with Basil Booth-royd and the other one) but excellent in any case.

Stuff that. I have discovered that Matthew thinks I'm not respectable and wishes to have nothing more to do with me. And here's a mystery, since, if I'm not respectable, how come Michelle, who grows more respectable every day, hasn't noticed?

Or has she noticed and doesn't care? Is it possible that she's been dipping into Balzac's Guide to Respectable Women and has been imp-ressed by one of the only two entries I can still remember: "Respectable women live on the third floor" and "Respect-able women marry artists"? I'm not an artist, but - against Michelle's fianc, Andy From The Sixties, who has a bungalow in Southall - I do live on the third floor.

Whatever, I was in the kitchen on Tuesday, going about my single-parent father's duties, when it occurred to me that, by using Michelle as a model, I could update Balzac. Michelle, who once moved like a Cuban, now has the unselfconscious easy grace of Baroness Finchley waltzing with a provincial butterballs, and when she speaks she sounds like Trevor Brooking. I'd offer her a Class A prop were I not afraid she'd say, "I don't need a Class A prop to get me through the day." And if she ever said that someone was "between a rock and a hard place", I think I'd hang myself.

Anyway, I was in the kitchen on Tuesday cooking up when Mark Chapman rang to ask me what sort of chap my friend Longhorn is. Vanessa, a friend of Chapman's, has fallen for Longhorn and Chapman wanted to know if he'll leave his wife for her.

"Longhorn's a diamond," I said. "Apart from you and Christopher Matthew, he's the only thoroughly decent person I know. I don't think he'd play around with Vanessa's emotions, but, equally, I don't think he'd leave his wife."

"Thank you very much," said Chapman.

I returned to the kitchen, but was interrupted again, this time by Longhorn who wants me to introduce him to Steffs the Page 3 stunner. She's lovely, Steffs, still as pretty as a picture, still wheeled on in gossip columns for old times' sake (bitten by a camel on location, taken up photography, gone mad, that sort of thing) but what Longhorn doesn't know, and what I'm careful not to tell him now, is that she's been celibate for 20 years - the upshot of a depressing dbut on the box.

When she was 16, Benny Hill asked her into his dressing-room and said: "You be nice to me and I'll be nice to you," and then he masturbated into his hat. The funny thing is, the next man she met did exactly the same thing. Until she was 24, she thought that was what all men did. Then she met a man who didn't do this and so, of course, she fell in love. When he dumped her, she went a little cuckoo, cutting off all her hair and, dressed only in a tea-towel, dancing on his lawn at midnight in the Isadora Duncan mode. And she's been celibate ever since.

Not that I told Longhorn this, since I didn't want to spoil his anticipation of a pleasant rendezvous. I told him to be at Macmillans in the Fulham Road on Thursday, where I'd have Steffs waiting for him.

"Thank you very much," said Longhorn.

I returned to the kitchen, but after 20 minutes Longhorn rang again, and this time he gave me a frightful burst.

"How dare you!" he said. "How dare you tell Chapman that I'm a shifty womaniser!"

I was as startled as you'd have been. "Do what?" I said "A womaniser? That's not a word one hears a lot these days. Have you been talking to Trevor Brooking?"

"Don't get smart with me!" screamed Longhorn. "I've had Vanessa on to me and she's distraught. What the hell has my personal life got to do with you? And here's another thing. I've been speaking to Christopher Matthew and he thinks you're not respectable. He wishes to have nothing more to do with you."

I was quite put out, but, happily, messing about in the kitchen, the harmless activity of cooking soon calmed me down.

Cooking's half the fun, checking the ingredients, getting the mixture right, holding it over a gentle flame - anxiously watching the oily water until the lumps appear. "The lumps," as my friend Professor Steve Jones recently said on television, "are what make life interesting." Then Chapman rang again.

"That was very indiscreet of you," he said. "You shouldn't have told me that Longhorn is a shifty womaniser."

"I didn't," I said.

"Well you should have done,'' said Chapman. "I wish to have nothing more to do with you. Nor, I may say, does Christopher Matthew."

This was too much. I collected my cooking from the kitchen and joined Trevor Brooking in the sitting-room, where she was browsing through the latest brochures for gourmet breaks in Tuscany.

"Care for a Class A prop?" I said.

"I don't need a Class A prop to get me through the day," she said. "The sun's over the yard-arm, however. I could do with a dry white wine and water."

"An hour ago," I said, "I knew three people I could rely on to do the decent thing. Now, none of them is speaking to me."

"You were between a rock and a hard place," said Trevor.

I was about to hang myself when Longhorn rang back.

"Still all right for Thursday, are we?" he said.

"Men!" said Trevor. "They are incorrigible! You can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em!"

If she keeps going, I'll have updated Balzac in time for Methuen's Christmas humour list.

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