Penny's lost and gone for ever

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TERENCE BLACKER told me on Thursday that my last two columns had been unnecessarily spiteful. He's wrong, of course, the pompous ass. I'm more impressed by some wise words from my best friend, Little Jo.

'When you've been hurt,' she said, 'you have certain options: you can give way to bitterness and hatred, reject the world, sink deeper into yourself and become a bladder of venomous self-pity.'

'Yes?' I said. 'Or?'

'Or what?' she said.

So, there you are.

As Zoltan Korda, Sir Alexander's far from perfectly bilingual brother, famously said: 'You English think you know fuck all; in fact you know fuck nothing.'

I've always assumed that my special area of expertise has been - excuse me - the fair sex. Nor, I think, does my record go against me here. Deploying a minimum of irony and a saving sense of humour, I got a result twice in the Sixties, once in the Seventies and once again in the late Eighties.

'Here's one,' I'd say.

'A rabbi, a bishop and a Scotsman . . .'

Sheer intention, that's what they like, and Penny, my beloved, won't mind my saying that for six years she was happy with me as her bit of rough - making me a co-beneficiary of her charge cards and letting me dabble in her client account.

Or had she been so happy? Banged up in Fowey police station for doing the Cornish Floral Dance out of season with Abby From The Eighties, I had time on my hands to think the matter through.

Could I, for all these years, have got it wrong?

Was Penny my beloved's bolt to Cornwall not just a tasteless aberration, as I'd supposed, but a serious career move?

Plus, there'd been an odd conversation recently with Little Jo, who, I thought, had gone badly off the rails - rising effortlessly through the ranks at Tatler, equipping herself with a matching boy from Hambros, attending fox balls and driving for the last race at Windsor in a shrieking convoy of jeeps.

'Let me take you away from all this, Little Jo,' I'd said. 'Let me introduce you to failed novelists and thin women, set you up in a service lot in Dolphin Square with an American porno star old enough to be your father.'

'No thank you,' she'd said.

Perhaps I didn't know it all, and I was brooding along these lines when Abby From The Eighties and I were suddenly sprung.

'Right,' she said. 'Let's drop in on Penny, your beloved, and take her back to London.

'With luck, we'll be in time for dinner. Her spinach dumplings with Parmesan cheese are the envy of chefs throughout the land.'

Here was a shock. You're wildly happy with a woman, and then you discover that she can cook, of all detumescing skills. Be that as it may, we made our way to Hansa Drive, where the executive bungalow belonging to her fat man was easily distinguishable from the others by the fact that the Yorks' property in Sunningdale is, by comparison, in perfect taste.

'Oh dear,' said Abby From The Eighties, 'it looks like a Happy Eater. It should have a kiddies' sandpit and an outside toilet for the disabled.'

We knocked on the door, which was opened by Penny, my beloved, who'd put on six stone and seemed to have no clear memory of who we were, which was sad, or of who she was, which was even sadder.

'This is my fat man,' she said. 'Please don't laugh. Everyone laughs, I don't know why. I wish they wouldn't. I'm trying so hard.'

'Ciao]' he said. 'Sit ye down. You're just in time for spinach dumplings and Parmesan cheese.'

He's OK, in fact, if you can draw with a man who wears a jacuzzi towelling robe for dinner with JS embossed on its pocket. I did well, but Abby From The Eighties began to scribble on the serviette provided.

'What do you think you're doing?' I asked her, sotto voce.

'Writing a proposal for Methuen, my publishers', Christmas humour list,' she said. 'Naff things the Cornish do: stuff you with spinach and call you a pastie; catch a dogfish and call it a shark; launch lifeboats; save seals; save fallen women and book them out for life; save . . .'

'Well, cut it out,' I said. At which point, I was struck by an awful thought. 'Do you think they - er - you know?'

'You know what?'

'Do it.'

'I asked Penny,' said Abby From The Eighties, 'but she said she didn't know. Probably, she said, but she wasn't certain.'

That made sense, except that it didn't, because at that moment Penny, my beloved, and her fat man went into the bedroom and, within seconds, a deafening simulated climax echoed like thunder through the house. It sounded like a police raid.

Then Penny, my beloved, ran from the bedroom, opened a wall safe, threw a wedge of cash inside, closed the safe and returned to the bedroom before the last echo of that fraudulent climax died away.

I'd heard and seen enough. We'd lost Penny, my beloved. I returned to London, where, keen to put into practice what I'd learnt, I rang up Terence Blacker.

'Let me take you away from all this,' I said. 'Set you up in a bungalow in Cornwall with a wardrobe of colour-co-ordinated separates, a jacuzzi and a Mercedes in the drive.'

'Thank you very much,' he said.

It seems to work.

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