Lie of the land

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It may seem odd, but a lot of his friends and acquaintances are very upset that Paul Challis is not dying of cancer. Many of them (fans, probably, of all those movies that feature doomed lovers, with titles like No Time to Love, A Season in the Sun and Going, Going, Gone) had contributed to his pounds 4,000 wedding, the limousine, the champagne and expensive presents.

Had they thought that he would live, they wouldn't have bothered - after all, what need does a healthy man have of a set of Waterford crystal glassware? But this week they discovered that all those tears so satisfyingly shed in the church - all that pathos that they had enjoyably participated in - was misplaced. Mr Challiswasnotrushing straight from the honeymoon into an almost certainly hopeless operation on a malignant tumour of the head. Far from it - he was going to have a routine operation for mastoiditis, from which the recovery rate is a rather unalarming 100 per cent.

Naturally, his new wife takeshisside.Indignantly, (if naively), she enjoins those cheated of a four-Kleenex ending to "be glad that he hasn't got cancer after all". But what the disappointed guests want to know is how it happened. Because it is a little difficult to accept that it was a misunderstanding. Mr Challis was adamant that he had been led to believe the prognosis was grim. "The specialist told me that I had a 50-50chanceofpulling through," he explained. "And I am due to start chemotherapy in two weeks." The hospital is just as certain that he was told no such thing.

"The surgeon explained to him twice that it was a routine op, which lasts an hour. There is no question of him undergoing chemotherapy."

Chemotherapy is not one of those words that is easily confused with something else. So, less charitable souls are bound to conclude that this was a case of exaggeration, to say the least. Is it not conceivable that the bridegroom sought to elicit more sympathy (probably from his bride to be, in the first instance) than his condition actually warranted? It would certainly not be the first time that a man has resorted to such a stratagem.

I know whereof I speak, and here is my confession: when I was younger I actively contemplatedtellingfibs about my mental and physical health to attractive young women, in order to gain their sympathy and access to their bodies.

My favourite plan was to go out for a drink and hint, darkly, at some shaming secret that was causing me anguish. Almost writhing with curiosity, the object of my desire would plug ruthlessly away until she finally wormed out of me the terrible truth: I was impotent. Had tried everything. Had given up. If only ... but no, it was impossible. Such selflessness ... your place?

Menwillshamefacedly recognise themselves in this, but many women will think I'm just trying to shock. Well then, ecoutez-moi. A friend of mine - a conscientious and truthful man - went, in his early twenties, on a hitch- hiking tour of Europe and Israel. And whenever he met an attractive woman, he told her the same sad tale. He had once been the happiest man in the world. When he married his childhood sweetheart - a girl of wondrous beauty and exceptional sensibilities - a lifetime of bliss beckoned. And then tragedy struck. A boat had sunk, a car had crashed, a plane had dived - whatever - and left him contemplating the wreckage of his young life alone. "It worked every time," he revealed. "They all wanted to console me."

So his view was that where flattery, assertiveness, a muscular torso, poetry or pearly teeth would often fail, an appeal to charity or sympathy was a sure-fire winner. In other words, forget the Legendary Lover gambit. Try Adopt a Penis.