I arrived in London the other day by train from the West Country, and as my First Great Western train had arrived on the same day on which it had set out, which is not invariably the case, I was feeling in a good mood. This was increased by a chance encounter in the streets of Soho with none other than my old friend, Adrian Wardour-Street, the uncrowned king of PR. He greeted me and pulled me into a small rectangle of glass and black plastic, called Text Message, where he asked for a coffee for me and an Absolutato for himself.
"Absolutato?" I said. "What's that?"
"Black coffee with a shot of vodka," he said. "Sets you up for the day."
"Sets you up for a siesta, more like," I said.
He thought about this for a moment.
"You're right," he said, and shouted to the waiter, "Hey, Luigi, that Absolutato – hold the vodka!"
"Why didn't you just say, 'Make it a black coffee'?" I asked curiously. He looked down at me as if he were a big bug in PR addressing a provincial hack.
"Not the same thing at all," he said. "Anyway, how's things in Westcountryshire?"
Like all Londoners, he's never very sure where out-of-towners live, and couldn't care less.
"Bit odd at the moment," I said. "The ghost is walking again."
I live in an old house which is reputed to be haunted by the shade of Emma, Lady Hamilton. Nothing very odd about that – most of the houses in the West Country are reputed to be haunted by her ghost.
"Lady Hamilton?" he said. "What makes her stir these days?"
"I'm not sure," I said," but I think she's a bit jealous of all the attention being paid to Christine Hamilton. She doesn't like being upstaged by someone of the same name as herself."
To my surprise, Adrian burst into roars of laughter and clapped me on the back.
"Poor old Maxie, eh!" he chortled. "He fell flat on his face there, didn't he! How we all enjoyed his comeuppance! Just for a moment, he was as impotent as his namesake!"
"Sir Clifford Chatterley of blessed memory," said Adrian. "Never mind – perhaps they haven't published 'Lady Chatterley' in the West Country yet."
"And how's yourself?" I asked, ignoring this racist jibe. "What's your new mission?"
"To save Christianity."
"!?" I boggled.
"Nothing less. You probably heard that the leader of the Catholics, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was bewailing the fact that most people no longer turn to Christianity for moral purpose."
"Well, behind the scenes the other churches agree with him, so they came to me to find out how they could change their image. Get the believers back again."
"Bit of a tall order, isn't it? Asking one man to achieve what dozens of Popes have failed to do?"
"Not necessarily. The Pope, after all, is not a trained marketing man. He is just a very good man. Well, goodness is all very well, but it takes more than sanctity to push a product. Needs expertise. Luckily, I think the Christians have got a basically good product, so all it needs to push it is..."
He paused. I thought he was going to say "...a good campaign", but to my surprise he finished off his sentence with "...a good crisis".
"Crisis?" I said.
"Sure. Faith always comes surging back at times of crisis. Newspaper sales go up as well. Well-known fact. That's why papers hate good times. Sales go down. Crisis brings people back to church and to newspapers."
"But we're not having a crisis at the moment..."
My voice faded away as I thought of the turmoil in the world's money markets, the political unrest at home, Mr Blair's inability to come clean over foot-and-mouth, Northern Ireland's lawlessness...
"Adrian – you're not trying to tell me that you have personally organised a slide towards recession just to get Christianity back on its feet?"
"Not quite, no. But I've prayed mighty hard for it, and – well, I'm pretty impressed with the results so far. If the stock exchange gets in serious trouble and house prices collapse, frankly, I shall be seriously tempted to believe in God."