"I'm up for that," I said. "Tell them all to be in MacMillans in the Fulham Road, in half an hour."
That's how it is these days. Once, as I'd been explaining to Michelle, I was socially quite active - having the last dance at Claridge's with the Lord Great Chamberlain's daughter, affianced briefly to the future President of France's sister, on one occasion, and having it in mind to become a presence in the music business (a flip-flop rendition of "The Lambeth Walk" by Mr George Cole was on the cards), lunching with Miss Tracey Bennett of London Records - but now, if I'm asked to "take a meeting", it's MacMillans in the Fulham Road or nuts.
"You don't understand," said Mrs Lamb. "We're off to the coast, you and I."
"Bournemouth?" I said.
I was assuming, of course, either that Mrs Lamb had at last renegotiated my El Independo contract with Miss Debbie Mason of Kudos and that we were off to shoot it there, or that Mr and Mrs Ovitz, the Edgar Bronfmans and the Sly Stallones all, by an odd coincidence, lived in Bournemouth.
"LA," said Mrs Lamb.
This was unexpected - as I now explained to Michelle.
Michelle, you'll have gathered, has abandoned her attempt to be a respectable woman and has moved back in with me - the upshot of her discovery that Mr Ronnie Ronalde is on Bournemouth's A-list but that her pal, the gourmet blue cook next door, isn't.
Not that I had let Michelle back in without first checking that she was her former streetwise self. When she'd rung earlier on her mobile phone, I'd asked her where she was.
"The M4," she's said. "Just coming up to Chiswick round-about. I'll be with you in 20 minutes."
That was promising. Respectable women are never on the M4, much less approaching Chiswick roundabout. And Michelle had never crossed the road in 20 minutes. That said, and when she'd pitched up four hours later, I'd done the croissant test.
"Would you hop out and get me a croissant?" I'd said.
Michelle had squinted at me with the haughty incomprehension of an oriental cat which has been asked to do the shopping.
"Get your own sodding croissant," she had said. "Who's Donald Peers, then?"
"Crooner. By a Babbling Brook. Why do you ask?"
"He's on Bourenmouth's A-list."
"Doesn't say much for the B-list. He's dead."
"Oh. Perhaps I mean Ronnie Ronalde."
"Family entertainer. Two ballads and then he'd whistle."
"I knew it!" said Michelle. "She's all mouth and Venetian blinds, is the gourmet blue cook. She asked us in for dips this coming Thursday. I half fancied it, as it happens, but then she said that Ronnie Ronalde had blanked it. She's only on the B-list, is the gourmet blue cook. Bloody cheek!"
It wouldn't have bothered me. My background allows me to take any social disappointment in my stride. When a group of us from the Tiger Aspect office, looking good and clutching our little presents, attempted to attend Justin Judd's wedding on a Norfolk lawn in 1990, we were headed off by a starchy retainer who mistook us for circus folk and locked us in the pantry.
The others were hurt, but it was as water off a duck's back to someone who, like myself, had, as the Mail on Sunday's gossip columnist, been redirected to the servants' quarters in all our better homes. It was a question of background, as I now explained to Michelle.
"When I was nine," I said, "my mother engaged George Geary of Leicestershire and England to coach me at cricket in the holidays. I called him 'Geary' and he called me 'Master William', and at lunchtime I was served by the butler in the dining-room while Geary ate in the servants' hall. When I was 10, dressed in plus-fours identical to my father's and armed with a 12-bore twice my size, I stalked moorhen on the family lake. Its blast shot me 20 yards backwards into a ditch, but I mastered it eventually and blew the moorhens into kingdom come.
"If you've been coached at cricket by George Geary and, in plus-fours identical to your father's, carried a 12-bore with aplomb, you don't mind being locked in a Norfolk pantry with a group of class-war anarchists. You can handle any social situation."
"You'll be all right with Mr Ovitz then," said Michelle, who happened to be reading about him in the Independent on Sunday. "He wants a bigger piece of the pie, does Mr Ovitz. Maybe joining up with Edgar Bronfman Jr to buy Universal. He's a wild card, is Mr Bronfman Jr. You'll be OK, then, sat seated at one of Mr Orvitz's do's between Mrs Sly Stallone and Mrs Bronfman Jr?"
"A piece of cake," I said.
I could see it already. "Ah, Mrs Stallone - remember Donald Peers, do you? Once, at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, he was signing off with his theme song, By a Babbling Brook, when a torrent of water swept him off stage. The cascade was meant for the finale: a spectacular waterfall effect with Robert Nesbitt's Aqua-Lovelies. You'd have laughed if you'd been there. Good evening, Mrs Bronfman Jr. As I said once to George Geary of Leicestershire and England ..."
"We're off to the coast," I said to Michelle.
"LA?" she said.
"Bournemouth," I said. "The gourmet blue cook's do sounds fun."
Mrs Lamb of the Insolvency Service will feel let down, but I know my place.Reuse content