I'll settle for Tim Brooke-Oddie

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The Independent Online
YOU want to win the Booker Prize with an astonishing novel, to move to Portofino and sit for ever by a pool with your beloved.

You'd settle for a good review in the Daily Mail by Val Hennessy and being hustled by ambitious women in Ibiza.

You end up writing toilet books in a south coast boarding house with a wilful junior and you hear that your beloved has gone to Portofino with a fat American.

You want to say: 'For goodness sake stop forming your mouth into an echo chamber and eating apples while I'm reading. It's worse than living with a woman.'

You'd settle for saying: 'If you want to spoil your appetite by guzzling doughnuts all day long that's fine by me. Let's do some work.'

You say: 'Where were you last night? I was worried.'

You want him to say: 'I can learn so much from you. I could listen to your anecdotes for ever.' You'd settle for him saying: 'Who's Svetlana Beriosova?' He says: 'God, my skin's terrible] I'm bored. Why aren't you bored? Do you like this suit? What do you mean, it's not a suit? What's not a suit about it? Let's play chess' - and he's never played before, but he beats you anyway.

You'll gather that I'm in Broadstairs with Peter Morgan and that things aren't going quite to plan.

For a start, he doesn't seem to have grasped that we're here to work. He thinks he's here to work and that my role is to watch him admiringly at a distance.

If I take a breather in my quarters he pads in after me, reads challengingly from work in progress, barking with laughter at his own startling jokes and deft constructions.

Then he eats a doughnut or - since he can't work for more than 20 minutes at a stretch without suffering cerebral meltdown - he goes to bed for an hour or two.

Today I read the Riot Act, pointed out that the purpose of his being here was to help me write a toilet book. 'What's a toilet book?' he said.

'A contribution, with quite ordinary cartoons, to the Pan Bookshop's Christmas humour shelf. For instance, You Want, You'd Settle For, You Get. Shall I give you an example?'

'If you must. Doughnut?'

'Not at the moment. Here's one that has the merit at least of being topical. You want James Hewitt. You'd settle for James Gilbey. You end up with a middle-aged man who hasn't heard of Guns N' Roses.'

'Terence Blacker?'

'Not quite. Here's an easier one. You want to write a toilet book with Simon Carr. You'd settle for writing a toilet book with Peter Morgan. You end up writing a toilet book with a stooped contemporary whose musical employment at a pizza parlour was discontinued because he hadn't heard of Guns N' Roses.'

'Tim Brooke-Oddie?'

'No. Terence Blacker.'

I was becoming quite dispirited, even considered firing Morgan, sending him back to Cathy, his beloved, to end life in a lighthouse 15 miles off the coast of Norfolk.

I decided instead to give him one more chance. I'd catch his interest with a terse, appropriate anecdote.

'You'll be wondering,' I said, 'who Arthur Johnstone was. Arthur Johnstone was captain of boxing at Winchester, and quite a tough. Mind you, I was a bully myself at that age, as you'd know if you read my column. You'll be wondering whether I was still a bully in the Navy.'

'Not really,' said Morgan. 'Chocolate eclair?'

'No thank you. Well, I was. On a new cadet's first night, I'd wait till he'd gone to sleep and then I'd undo one end of his hammock and hand him the loose rope. 'Hold this,' I'd say. He'd drop six feet into a bucket of spuds.

'Then I met Julian Mitchell and he introduced me to art and stuff. I found that ballet, in particular, was up my street. Dressed in my sailor suit, I'd drive by Daimler Hire from Portsmouth to Covent Garden and there mingle with buffs and critics in the Crush Bar. Svetlana Beriosova . . .'

'Who's Svetlana Beriosova?' said Morgan. 'Orange? Crisps?'

'No thank you. Svetlana Beriosova was the heart-breakingly beautiful ballerina assoluta of her day. Others throw floral tributes at the stage, I threw diamonds and share certificates. Anyway, I once asked Arthur Johnstone to book The Premise on my behalf and he booked The Second City. He blamed the confusion on MCA . . .'

'Who are MCA?' said Morgan. 'Swiss roll? Mars Bar?'

'Not at the moment. MCA was a huge agency which fell foul of the American anti-trust laws. One day Frank Sinatra and so forth discovered they were being represented by the FBI.

'Bored with trying to find work for Howard Duff, the FBI agents invented this game: You want Gary Cooper. You'd settle for Glenn Ford. You get Randolph Scott.'

Morgan was staring at me as if a stage weight had dropped on his head, so I decided to give him a more up-to-date example.

'You want Alison Steadman,' I said. 'You'd settle for Julie Walters. You get Maureen Lipman.'

Suddenly the penny dropped. 'Got it]' cried Morgan. 'You want Anthony Hopkins. You'd settle for Rod Steiger: You get Alfred Marks.'

Oh dear, oh dear. I went to the phone and rang Terence Blacker. 'I've got a job for you,' I said. 'Are you in good shape?'

'Never better,' said Blacker. 'I've been engaged to sing country rock at the Lone Star Restaurant in the Gloucester Road.'

'Don't call me, I'll call you,' I said.

I wonder what Tim Brooke- Oddie's doing.