Pratley meets his match at last WILLIAM DONALDSON'S WEEK

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Pratley's back in my life. On Saturday, just as I was settling down to watch the England vs Ireland game on television, he rang to ask me whether, since his own set was on the blink, he could watch the match on mine.

Pratley, you may remember, is everyone I've been trying to shake off for 20 years, embittered men of my own age who ring at the wrong time, whose telephone manner is wheedling yet defiant, who start with a joke or a funny voice, sometimes a Goon impression.

This particular Pratley was a colleague of mine in the Seventies - a friend almost - and, judging that it would be nice for him to see me, I consented, until recently, to have dinner with him occasionally - giving him an hour of my time and, to make it clear that I was in a hurry, insisting we ate in a pizza bar. It was the nearest I have ever come to social work, but I always felt better afterwards, just as my mother must have felt after visiting a retainer in a home - a nanny or parlour maid.

It was due to this Pratley, in fact, that I adopted the habit of having my calls fielded by an answering machine. It was at the height of my addiction, a time when, twice a week or so, and fortified by a water-pipe and a Bunsen burner, I and my dealer (otherwise my baby, supplying me, as it were, with an imitation woman) would, amusingly - we supposed - satirise reality.

It was entirely inauthentic, what we did, quite unreal and therefore imperishable, I thought - continuing, like any performance, to live on as a fiction in World 2, (or is it World 3?). Then one day, my dealer invented an exciting new game. When she was going to withdraw my supply for a while, she'd say: "I'm off to the Seychelles with my fat American. I'll phone you from there."

I cancelled everything and stared at the telephone, defying it not to ring. She never called, but Pratley did. This was Pratley's chance. When you're waiting for your dealer to call, you do not want to pick the phone up to a wheedling yet defiant voice saying "Long time no speak!" How's the battle in this vale of tears?"

All the odder, then, that I left if off on Saturday, thus allowing Pratley to get straight through to me just as I was settling down to watch the rugger - a game which, since I wanted to follow up my point last week about the England selectors' pig-headed refusal to pick both our most talented players (the little lad Catt and the little lad Hull), I was keen to see.

Further, I had intended to ex-pand the point into a general argument against our sports administrators, who, unlike those of other countries (before scoring his first hundred in a test match, Brian Lara's only experience of the game had been beach cricket with his sister, bowling at him with an orange; Pele's, before his first World Cup, a backyard kick-about with his mother and a grapefruit), fail to encourage youth.

Jolly Jack Rowell, I would have said, seems, in his refusal to play the little lad Hull at full-back (allowing the little lad Catt to replace the fat, selfish and rapidly slowing Guscott in the centre), to be hell-bent on following the example of his cricketing counterparts, the upshot of whose arthritic deliberations down the years is that the English team is now bloated with squeaky-voiced seniors who, when they bend over in the slips, might be mistaken for the European butter mountain.

Pratley took care of that, ringing me half an hour before the kick-off and, which seemed odd (Pratley recently moved to Shropshire, where he has taken up archery and, for therapeutic reasons, spends time spreading concrete), alerting me to his imminent arrival on my doorstep.

"I thought you lived in Shropshire," I said.

"And so I do," he said, "but I have taken a room in Putney, where I practise as a nutritional therapist."

He rang my front-door bell 10 minutes into the game, thus causing me, while I went to press the intercom, to miss Carling's try. I left the door of my apartment open and returned to my seat, but after five minutes Pratley hadn't appeared. That's good, I thought, Pratley's overweight and must have had a heart attack coming upstairs.

I went to investigate and found Pratley in a heap clutching a bag of carrots. I'll leave his cadaver there, I thought, and then I thought, no, hang on, I'll have his carrots. Then Pratley opened his eyes and asked me what my game was.

"I thought you were dead," I said, "and, accordingly, was going to have your carrots. Still laying concrete, are you?"

"I haven't the energy for that," he said, "but the archery's a solace."

"The carrots aren't working?"

"On the contrary. I'm an excellent therapist. Recently, I saw instantly that a patient of mine was very ill. And I was right. He died two days later."

I tried to concentrate on the game, but it isn't easy, when you have a fat man sitting next to you who forms his mouth into an echo chamber and munches carrots, to assess for Independent readers the most effective development of what my friend Mickey Skinner calls the girls in the backs. Nor was this the worst of it. He suddenly came across a photo of Michelle.

"I wouldn't mind a roll in the hay with her!" he said.

I was about to kill him on the spot when I decided instead to make him the butt of a cruel joke - to bring it witheringly to his attention that no girl was likely to prefer a fat fool like him to a man like me: someone who's still welcome where the musicis, who, in the early pm, can move with nonchalance below the waist, who gets invited still to parties for 35-year-olds if accompanied by a speechless girl with plausible legs.

"She's coming over after the rugger," I said. "You should ask her out."

When Michelle arrived, Pratley leered at her: "Hey, sweetheart! What do you say you and I close the gate on a crate of Chardonnay at a local hostelry?"

I smiled conceitedly to myself, confident that in a moment he'd be toast. Michelle has excellent taste and she'd really let him have it. The frightful disparity between his standing and mine would shortly have him gibbering.

"How about it, sweetheart?" he said.

"Sit on it, bollock-brain," she said.

I'll not see Pratley again, I think, but heaven knows who won the rugger.