If your cork pops, go out for a spin

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The Independent Online
Pots, kettles, pride before a fall and so forth. I hadn't supposed, when, two weeks ago, I good-naturedly chaffed my old friend Terence Blacker on the score of his cork being too tightly in the bottle, that my own cork would shortly pop with a sound that would startle them all along the south coast, not least in Bournemouth.

That's the trouble with a background like mine (Sunningdale, Winchester and Magdalene, the duffers' college) and, to a lesser degree, of course, like Blacker's: we've been trained to bottle up the insults, so when the cork is released the damage can be shattering.

Lord Howe went to Winchester, and look what happened when his cork went. Baroness Finchley was blown clean out of her seat. When a Wykehamist pops his cork others would be well advised to keep their heads down.

Take my case. It won't be easy to write about it, slung up as I am in the traction of my background, still less so since it involves a woman, Here goes, however. Two years ago almost to the day, and without any warning, the love of my life departed for the West Country to start again with a man in trade. I didn't mention it here, although others advised me to. For 24 hours I squinted with grief, walked into the furniture, once, in my distracted state, did the shopping at a Europa store dressed in my pyjamas.

Then I remembered the code - acquired in the Philadelphia Eagles' locker- room - by which I have led my life: if you can get your tight end to pancake two defensive linesmen you're in for a touchdown. Accordingly, I squared the shoulders, put on my Sunday suit and hopped along to the Hyde Park Hotel to have lunch with my friend Craig Brown.

Brown, who's very perceptive, twigged immediately that things were by no means tickety-boo.

"What's up, old chap?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said. "Nothing at all. What's your news? "Funny weather for the time of year. Neither one thing nor the other."

Brown insisted that I spit it out - which (falteringly since one doesn't wish to embarrass another chap with personal disclosures) I eventually did.

"Met this girl, do you see? Got a bit involved. Damn silly. Now she's sugared off. Left me in a bit of a loop. I'll be OK."

Brown, to my surprise, then spoke of safety-valves and so forth, suggesting that I use this column as a conduit for my grief.

"You're carrying a lot of rage and pain," he said. "You should let it all out. Spray it all over your column. Week after week. It will be the best possible therapy."

Therapy? What the hell was that? In Sunningdale we did not know the meaning of the word. In Sunningdale if we suffered a set-back we didn't go into therapy; we cracked on, inflated the chest, walked with the toes turned out.

Nor do you go into therapy if, like me, you've been to Winchester; and if like me, in War Cloisters and on a misty November afternoon, you have been addressed by a desert general - the Auk, as a rule - on the subject of general attitude.

At Winchester, if your attitude was wrong, you could be punched in the stomach from a measured distance. It was called a "bross blow". A senior, judging that your attitude was wrong, could knock you senseless with a "bross blow". My housemaster, entering hall for evening prayers, was obliged to pick his way between the bodies of small, unconscious boys knocked senseless by a "bross blow".

In a nutshell, you don't, if you've been addressed by the Auk at an impressionable age, and punched thereafter by a senior, go into therapy, hold hands with other losers in a group, avail yourself of a caring hot-line service nor ring up Anna Raeburn. Still less do you use your column as a conduit for your grief. You bottle it all up and, if the cork comes out, you do something very silly indeed.

On Tuesday my cork popped with a violence that had me ricocheting round my front room for 20 minutes. I was talking to Michelle about her pal, the gourmet blue cook in Bournemouth and about the latter's dips party later in the week, when it suddenly hit me (I needn't tell you why) that the gourmet blue cook and the love of my life were one and the same.

I might have done something really foolish; I might, for instance (having it in mind to play a joke on my beloved by running amok among the dips), have driven to Bournemouth with Isabelle, who's eight months pregnant, with Frankie Fraser and the lovely Marilyn, with Honest John and Mrs Lamb.

Which, on Thursday, is what I did. The six of us drove down to Bournemouth and parked the car outside my beloved's flat. First out of the traps was Isabelle, who ran through my beloved's front door shouting the odds.

"Where is he?" she screamed. "I know he's here! I know you've been seeing him, you little trollop!"

While accusation and counter accusation flew backwards and forwards between my beloved and her tradesman, Frankie Fraser ran through the door shouting "Where is she? I know she's here! Be sensible!" - not an injunction Bournemouth's "B list" had received hitherto from Frankie Fraser.

You'll have got the picture. Frank was followed by the lovely Marilyn ("Where's my Frank? I know he's here!"), Marilyn by Honest John and Honest John by Mrs Lamb. Sitting outside, and imagining the disarray among the dips, I could hardly contain my mirth.

Then I ran in and asked politely if anyone had been asking for me. It wasn't my beloved in the least but another gourmet blue cook entirely.

No harm done. The outing did me good and the dips were excellent.