Cracking the whip over lunch

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The Independent Online
A minor worry has cropped up with regard to my memoirs, From Sunningdale To This. I had decided to concoct a fictional present into which the past - intruding as a blizzard of racontage - would collide as a limiting influence. It then occurred to me that I might be unable to imagine a current escapade (myself and an insolent young Turk, say, locked in a deadly game) and that I should rely therefore on real events.

Here was the snag, however. I'm not short of racontage, but without a fictional present, I was unsure whether I accomplished enough from day to day (ate enough; sallied forth enough after an agreeable lunch on historical strolls "How fares the skyline in the modern world?") to balance the present with the past.

Probably not, and I resolved to be socially more aggressive - not going so far as to set up rendezvous with those to be regarded henceforth as copy (at least as stooges for a burst of racontage), but agreeing to keep rendezvous set up by others. With dates such as this in mind, I decided to make an appointment with my hairdresser, Miss Vicky of Paolo y Giorgio, Draycott Avenue. Miss Vicky also does Dawn Upstairs's head and is therefore a source of gossip.

"Dawn Upstairs been in?" I said.

Dawn Upstairs recently set up shop in Basingstoke, where, surprisingly, her business thrives. When I asked her to account for this, she said I was forgetting the M3, and indeed I was. London-bound personnel with mobile phones, hell-bent on attending an aerial mapping conference at Wembley, drive up from Southampton, it seems, and stop off in Basingstoke to visit Dawn Upstairs.

"She was in here yesterday," Miss Vicky said. `You're doing well, Dawn Upstairs,'' I said, `considering you're fat and past it.' `It's the parking problem, Miss Vicky,' she said. `A gentleman on the M3 fancies seeing a London girl and then he thinks, no, hang on, what about the parking problem? I'll see Dawn Upstairs in Basingstoke. There's a lot of gentlemen on the M3, you know, on their way to mapping conferences and that. Plus they have little conference labels pinned to their jackets. Rodney Whatnot. Aerial Perspectives Ltd. Southampton. Handy that, in case they do a runner with the surgical stirrups.' She had a mobile phone with her, did Dawn Upstairs. Made six appointments for that evening."

"What? She took calls from punters here?"

"Sat in the very chair you're sat in now," Miss Vicky said.

" `It's £100 straight,' she said. `£150 for domination.' My other ladies was well impressed. `You're working too hard, Dawn Upstairs,' I said. `Not really, Miss Vicky,' she said. `They're all on my way home.' `There's a lot of people on their way home, Dawn Upstairs,' I said, `but they're not all stopping off to give domination at £150 a time.' My other ladies quite agreed. `You're overdoing it, Miss Upstairs,' one of the other ladies said."

Then Miss Vicky asked me what I was up to at the moment.

"Writing my memoirs," I said. "Planning them at least. Construction, tone, attitude and so forth."

"Attitude? What attitude?" "Attitude to the material," I said. "One doesn't want to come across as grudging and superior, wheeling on Pratley, say, merely to sneer at him. Pratley represents everyone I've been trying to shake off for 20 years - embittered men of my own age who are calamitously off the pace."

"What are they called, these memoirs of yours?"

"From Sunningdale to This. Past and present side by side."

Miss Vicky was impressed, I think. "It will be a hot potato, that," she said. "You was ostracised, wasn't you?"

I was shocked. "Me? Ostracised? I was never ostracised."

"Yes, you was. You was ostracised. By the family. You was a black sheep, you."

Far from it, as it happens. My mother, particularly, always put my interests first, not least before the country's. When I was called up by the Navy, she rang the First Sea Lord and told him that since I had just begun to do the season - waltzing at Claridges with the Lord Great Chamberlain's daughter, doing the two-step with Rutland's future wife although affianced myself to Isabelle D'Estaing, the future president of France's sister - he couldn't have me yet. The First Sea Lord realised he'd met his match and suggested I pitch up when it suited.

Nor was my father any less resourceful. One day, when I was about 15 or so, Muspratt, the butler, appeared in my wing or our house in Sunningdale with a note from my father, inviting me, if I had a moment, to drop in on him in his quarters.

"William, isn't it?" he said. "I'm your father. Here's a cheque for £150,000, some share certificates and the title deeds to a shipping line or two."

No, Miss Vicky had got that wrong. Then she returned to the subject of Pratley.

"This Pratley," she said. "You'd better be nicer to him. He might be the only person talking to you soon."

That was uncalled for. I may have to take my head elsewhere. Meanwhile, I went home to wait for the telephone to ring, ready to accept all invitations that came my way. Well, not all invitations. My first caller was Sir Jeremy Isaacs and I wasn't going to have lunch with him even for the sake of my memoirs. There is a limit, and one tightly drawn enough to exclude too my next three callers - Nicholas Coleridge, Andrew Neil and the Corpse at the BBC.

"If you're short of a lunch date," I said to Neil, "why don't you ring up Pratley?"

"I tried Pratley before you," Neil said, "but he said he was having lunch with Sir Jeremy Isaacs and the Corpse at the BBC."

I'd give their memoirs a miss if I were you.