How to keep a lawyer quiet

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The Independent Online
FOR AN hour or two this week I thought I'd mislaid Mr Alway. Meanwhile, and by way of a small explanatory detour, have you noticed the price of things? I've just discovered that it's cheaper to buy a new Yves Saint Laurent classic from Oxfam than it is to have the old one cleaned.

I used to be like this with motor cars. In 1975, I owned a Fiat Beetle and had occasion once to cram Clyde Packer (Kerry's brother) into the back. I'd just sold him the film rights to my novel, Both the Ladies and the Gentlemen (Independent readers will relish the bookish tribute to Auden here - 'in a brothel/Both the ladies and the gentlemen/Have nicknames only', and I've just noticed that, as with Geoff Atkinson and his ginger wog, you have to be careful typing 'nicknames' otherwise it comes out 'nocknames') - and we were off to the Dorchester to celebrate.

Fiat Beetles were no larger than Dinky toys, and Clyde Packer is twice the size of Kerry, who is built like an outside kazi. Six men with crowbars and an oxyacetylene can-opener couldn't have got him out of the back seat,

so - since he'd paid for the film rights in cash - I abandoned him and the Beetle outside the Dorchester, where I assume they both still are.

I had cause to remember this incident on Friday, when Mr Alway rang me to say that he and his partners at Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co had decided to put Root Down Under on hold for the moment and, instead, to concentrate on their other exciting TV development, El Independo, a satirical soap for BBC 2. To this end, he said, he and I and our co-writer, Geoff Atkinson, would drive on Whit Monday to Suffolk, where the series would now be set, and where we would scout out suitable locations.

I put this sudden enthusiasm down to the fact that Geoff Atkinson had won more prizes at the recent Bafta ceremony than you and I have had hot dinners, bobbing up and down in his ginger wog like a cork on a sea of applause, whereas Bruce the Schnoz, my collaborator on Root Down Under, had gone largely unrewarded. Clearly, the partners of Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co, like all newcomers to the heady atmosphere of TV production - not least those who have recently thrown away their law books, abandoned litigants in mid-tort ('Never mind custody of the children, madam, we're casting the ingenue this afternoon') and sent their secretaries out for Spotlight ('A word in your ear, Miss Zamit. Rachel Garley would be perfect as Classy Cressida, would she not, or as Frankie Fraser's friend the lovely Marilyn, the Princess of Wales or even Abby from the Eighties?') had been over-impressed by Atkinson's success.

I didn't say this to Mr Alway, however. Instead, I told Geoff Atkinson that he could be our chauffeur for the day, little thinking that he'd choose for the outing, and from his sizeable stable of cars, a vintage Morris Minor into which we had as much trouble slotting Mr Alway - who, you may remember, is built like a tight-head prop, which indeed he is - as I'd had all those years ago fitting Clyde Packer into my Fiat Beetle.

Further, and in spite of the fact that Atkinson has a degree in geography from Downing College, Cambridge, he doesn't know Suffolk from Brighton, where we pitched up five hours after leaving London, having been mistaken for participants in a vintage car rally, snaking its way at 6mph in that direction. It was like being caught up in a gormless old Ealing comedy with bad English acting and a facetious score by Larry Adler.

Nor, when we did reach Suffolk, were our troubles over. For one thing, it wasn't Suffolk in the least, but a place called Sheringham, which turns out to be in Norfolk; and for another, we discovered at this point that Mr Alway was jammed as tightly into the back of the Morris Minor as Clyde Packer had been in my Fiat Beetle.

Atkinson and I had no alternative but to research the place on our own - shortly being in a position to reassure Euro-sceptics such as Mr Booker that in one part of England, at least, traditional values still endure: beach cricket and crazee golf; screaming babies swollen with wasp stings; mangled coaches; knife-fights in milk bars; Punch and Judy and donkey rides; and 12-year-olds on day release from remand homes offering pictures of Axl Rose with pornographic captions, and pointing out that Axl Rose is an anagram of oral sex.

'OK,' I said, 'let's leave Mr

Alway here and take the train to London.'

'I can't abandon my Morris

Minor classic,' said Atkinson. 'The traditional way of ensuring that someone never speaks to you again is to make them your literary agent: Mr Alway's delightful, but if you're tired of being the dummy to his ventriloquist, that's what you should do. It's the last you'll hear from him.'

We returned to the cafe where we discovered that Mr Alway had most usefully, since El Independo is to deal with the English class system (specifically, the confusions arising when the educated mix with Baroness Finchley's people), covered several pages of Law Society writing pads with extremely offensive jokes about the lower-middle orders: the world of conservatories and lawns and estuary accents on the up; of camcorders and the Sunday Times, 'Hits from La Boheme' (The Price Is Right edition), reference books and reciprocal barbecues; of tradesmen in blazers and lardy London hookers in sparkly tops, high heels and transparent trousers; of fat wives consoling themselves with half a crate of Sauvignon blanc, doing a twirl - 'Voila]' - and ending arse-up in the grate.

I'll pass these on next week, always supposing that Mr Alway is still speaking to me, which, since he is my literary agent, I don't suppose he will be.