Morgan's out, so I'm next man in

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The Independent Online
YOU'LL be wondering whether I've managed yet to persuade Peter Morgan that he doesn't, as he supposes, want to live in a lighthouse with Cathy, his beloved, but in a Broadstairs boarding house with me. The fact is, I'd almost given up the struggle, but suddenly it looks as if Cathy may have played into my hands.

I was dining at their town house on Monday and you could, frankly, have cut the atmosphere with a knife. Cathy, with a face like thunder, was arranged on a chaise-longue, sipping gin through a straw, polishing her nails and querulously inquiring from time to time when she could expect her meal to be ready, while Morgan poutingly stirred something or other in the kitchen.

When he flounced into the dining room and banged the plates down with such a clatter that Cathy spilt her gin, I saw my opportunity.

'What's up, girls?' I said.

'Nothing,' said Morgan. 'Nothing at all. So - are we going to eat now or shall we wait until it's absolutely ruined?'

'He's sulking,' said Cathy, 'because I won't watch him playing cricket.'

'Everyone else's girlfriend watches,' said Morgan. 'I look stupid not having anyone there to watch me.'

'It's none of my business,' I said, 'but for once I agree with Morgan. I think you ought to watch him. I'd watch him.'

'Would you?' asked Morgan, his little face brightening adorably. 'Would you really?'

'Of course I would,' I said.

'More fool you,' said Cathy. 'I did go once, spoke for an hour to a woman in a hat. Then I tried to hang myself from an oak tree in the grounds. It's unbelievable. Fully grown men of 32 who still have mothers, if you please.'

'That's not unheard of,' I said. 'My friend Tankybums is 61 and he's got a mother. Mind you, he once acted in British films and now he runs a restaurant in Bath.'

'Well, there you are,' said Cathy. 'These mothers make tea, sometimes providing jelly and so forth. These men are married to girls called Jemima and Clarissa, but their disgusting two-year-olds are all called Fred, Jim and Bert. In 20 years' time, the Groucho Club will sound like a building site.'

'Never mind,' I said. When's the next game?'

'On Saturday,' said Morgan.

'I'll be there,' I said.

'No you won't,' said Cathy. 'I've discovered a lighthouse 15 miles off the coast of Norfolk and on Saturday I'm taking Peter to see it.'

She's cooked her goose - Broadstairs here we come, I thought, but in truth I had some sympathy for Cathy. The compulsion to participate in sports that you can't play for toffee is an assinine, characteristically English habit, I've always thought, for the most part afflicting City shavers and gentlemen hacks, and exemplified by the annual cricket match between the Spectator and Private Eye.

What, after all, could be more humiliating than 20 fat columnists, deep in some embarrassing schoolboy fantasy, and two guest comedians, whose efforts to amuse - bowling three-legged from the same end and releasing a doughnut instead of the ball, affecting to take a catch on the boundary in a comic panama hat - are largely unappreciated since no one has bruised along to watch except the common wife of one of the comedians.

Sometimes, however, this compulsion afflicts professionals, too. Among broadcasters, only the BBC, surely, could have come up with that absurd programme in which top sportsmen competed against each other in every discipline except their own. Thus, week after week, we were invited to be entertained by the spectacle of a bewildered Welsh rugby forward playing ping-pong against a portly golf professional, now retired. A troupe of elephants, dressed in the Arsenal strip and engaged in a football match, could hardly have been more embarrassing.

Games should only be played by people who excel at them - exceptions being made, perhaps, of football (unless by elephants) and boxing (unless by kangaroos). Any fool can play football. At a distance, a match between my friend Terence Blacker's team and 11 porcelain experts from the V & A is indistinguishable from one between Watford and Queen's Park Rangers, say, and not because Blacker's pals can play the game but because Watford and Queen's Park Rangers can't play it, either - and boxing would be more amusing if the contestants were fat, elderly and angry men who had a grudge.

Be that as it may, if my friend Morgan wants to play cricket once a week, I'll support him in the enterprise, if only to cause a rift between him and Cathy. Over the pudding, he brought the matter up again.

'So, about Saturday,' he said. 'You're on?'

'You'll be playing, in spite of Cathy's ruling?'

'No,' he said. 'You'll be playing. I'll be looking over the lighthouse with Cathy.'

No problem. I'll turn out on Saturday as Morgan, and will prevail, much as I prevailed some months ago when playing football for the Academy Club against the Groucho Club. A report next week.

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