Only brave men go to Brixton

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The Independent Online
My friend Blacker rang on Monday to find out whether I had any grass. I was startled, frankly. Blacker has always kept the cork rather too tightly in the bottle, if you take my meaning, but to let it out at his age (a few years older than me, I imagine) might have unhappy consequences.

Blacker then explained that he was merely a minor link in a complicated delivery chain. The stuff wasn't for him, or for the person who had asked him to get it, or indeed for that person but for an American novelist whose publisher was due in London shortly.

That made more sense. My career and Blacker's have been similar in some respects - two or three well-regarded novels, weekly journalism (Blacker may, or may not, write the ''Harvey Proctor'' column in the Sunday Times; I wouldn't know for certain since I don't read the Murdoch press), and, to keep the ball rolling, a clutch of toilet books (his - Up The Cistern and Further Up The Cistern - being composed under the pseudonym of Professor Jimmy Riddle.)

I, however, have always been slightly more successful - not least since my stuff, thanks to Mrs Lamb of the Insolvency Service, took off like a rocket in middle America. It was not surprising that Blacker should try to catch up, if only by obliging an American novelist whose publisher would be in London shortly.

"I'm at my wits' end," he said. "If you can't help, I'll have to go to Brixton, and that's the last thing I want to do. I'm told it's very dangerous."

And so it is. I've never been there, but I've gathered as much by watching television. At best, Professor Jimmy Riddle might find himself at the wrong end of one of Sir Condon's co-ordinated crackdowns, swabbed on the spot for a DNA sample and logged thereafter in a national computer; at worst, grassed up in a prime-time slot by a television crew in a transit van.

He was in luck, as it happened. After Michelle moved to Bournemouth with Andy From The Sixties, I had found among the stuff she left behind some grass which I hadn't yet handed in to the police. I told Blacker to meet me in an hour at MacMillans in the Fulham Road.

"Thank God," he said. "I couldn't have faced Brixton."

The pleasure was mine, in fact. It would be nice to see Blacker again and, more importantly, he could help me with my memoirs, From Sunningdale To This. With El Independo on hold and with Mrs Lamb in middle America on my behalf, I've made good progress on these and there has been no shortage of young people eager to stand still for a burst of racontage. It would balance the book nicely, however, if there was at least one old party in it as a stooge or straight man. Blacker would be ideal.

"I'll come prepared with anecdotes," I said.

"Marvellous!" said Blacker. "Which do you have in mind?"

"Do you prefer naval or theatrical?" I said. "The time when my submarine was 276 miles off course and popped up suddenly in a yachting complex in Copenhagen? Or perhaps you'd prefer the occasion when, for their production of The Three Musketeers at the Arts Theatre in 1965, the Alberts fashioned a man-sized mousetrap in which to catch the wicked Cardinal Richelieu. They left it in the aisle while they had their lunch and it caught Mr Birtwhistle, the proud new owner of the Arts, holding him fast until the Alberts returned two hours later from their lunch.

"Alternatively, I have one involving my friend Toby Danvers and his production of Hair in Holland. My friend Toby Danvers was kept going, more or less, by electro-convulsive shock therapy powered by a pocket dynamo hidden under his waistcoat. The batteries failed one day ..."

"I think I'll go to Brixton," said Blacker, and he put the receiver down.

That was quite unkind. I think I was trying to account for his behaviour by putting it down to too much spiteful weekly journalism, when Mrs Lamb of the Insolvency Service rang. She was back from America, she said, and if I cared to meet her in MacMillans at six o'clock, she'd report her various triumphs over there - not least that she had persuaded my American publisher, Mr Tom Meagher of the Akadine Press, to return to London with her. Then Blacker, who must have had second thoughts about the wisdom of visiting Brixton, called again.

"That was very rude of me," he said. "It's all hands to the pumps if we're to get your memoirs finished. I'd love to hear about Toby Danvers and his production of Hair in Holland."

"Thank you," I said. "His pocket dynamo failed one day and, as a consequence ..."

"I think I'll go to Brixton," said Blacker, and he hung up on me again.

Never mind. I went to meet Mrs Lamb at MacMillans, where, after she'd reported that The Big One, The Black One, The Fat One And The Other One - my collected Independent pieces - was still at No 1 in Moosejaw, I told her about Blacker's rude behaviour.

"Nothing wrong with it as an anecdote," I said. "Toby Danvers remembered to invite the Dutch royal family to the opening night of Hair, but he forgot to book a theatre. A circus tent was hired and bench seats hastily erected. These, unfortunately, were balanced incorrectly, causing a see- saw effect.

"When the Dutch royal family arrived, the audience stood up, and the Dutch royal family sat down. Then the audience sat down and the Dutch royal family were shot into the air like tumblers on a variety bill. When the band played the national anthem, the audience stood up and the Dutch royal family were sent sprawling in the sawdust. Then Dutch creditors, serious men with aides-mmoires, arrived to take the set away and Danvers ..."

"I think I'll go to Brixton," said Mrs Lamb, and I haven't seen her since.