Sour grapes and wind

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The Independent Online
THE BEST way to discover who your friends are is to instruct them, before a trip abroad, to bring the Zantac back.

At the moment, Alison, my beloved, is in Portofino with her fat American; Cat Ledger, my temporary literary agent, is in Madrid; Justin Judd and Mrs Bear are in Vienna; Michael O'Mara, sponsored by the Spectator, is with his gentlemen versifiers' circle in Provence; and Peter Morgan is in Barcelona.

They all know what's expected of them and we'll shortly know which of them has come up trumps.

You'll gather from the info about Morgan's whereabouts that he and I are not, as I said last week, holed up in a Broadstairs boarding house. In fact, nothing I said last week was true; nor, indeed, has anything I've said about Morgan hitherto been true - with regard, at least, to the circumstances in which we met.

Let me explain. During the shooting of Root Into Europe, the show's producer, Justin Judd, kept himself amused by rubbishing my contribution. An unusual way, you may think, to encourage a young writer, but a producer's job is an unrewarding one and each must get through the day as best he can.

Judd's idea of fun was to take me to some disgusting foreign restaurant and tell me that my work was crap. Hurt pride and wracking indigestion would cause me to turn as white as herring-roe and double up, whereupon Judd, whose bulging portfolio is long in Glaxo - makers of Zantac, the miracle cure for ulcers - would tell me that the cure for my wind, if not for my writing style, was readily at hand. Zantac, he'd say, could be acquired without prescription on the Continent.

I'd hop out to the nearest chemist and purchase enough of the stuff to send the value of Judd's Glaxo holding through the roof, thereafter being as right as ninepence - until our next dinner date, at least.

Nor has he found a more profitable way of amusing himself since we came back to England. A couple of months ago, he took me to an absurd haute cuisine establishment in Charlotte Street, waited until a mere glimpse of the menu caused me to inflate as suddenly as an SBS dinghy on night manoeuvres, and returned to the attack.

'As you know,' he said, 'I hold a poor opinion of your work. Unusually for a writer, you're clamped, it seems to me, in a double whammy: you have no imagination and no powers of observation. In spite of this, Root into Europe was a triumph, the credit due, of course, to Mark Chapman's direction and outstanding performances by George Cole and Pat Heywood. Medallion of pork, perhaps, with apple and raisin stuffing, served with a paprika-vodka sauce?'

'No thank you. You're not bound for the Continent, by any chance?'

'Ulcer playing you up?'

'Just a bit.'

'Sorry to hear that,' said Judd, 'but I have a problem, too. Central Television wants to commission a Root special set in England, but thanks to a watertight contract, you can't be dumped easily. Fillet of beef, then, in a Stilton-port sauce with oregano-flavoured

mushrooms?'

'I think not.' 'Happily,' said Judd, 'I've come up with the solution. I intend to commission Peter Morgan, the brilliant young dramatist - you saw Shalom Joan Collins, I expect? - to write the piece, and he, very decently, has agreed to let you share the credit. The pork for me, garcon, and sour grapes for my guest.'

That, anyway, is how I met young Morgan, but what I want to know is this: if I have no imagination, how am I able to write a fictional column about me and Morgan holed up in a south-coast boarding house?

Since the only time I can remember my mother and father being together was during summer holidays in Broadstairs, I had intended to set this week's column there and do a sad, reflective piece about couples locked in loveless marriages - not just my parents, but, neatly, the Yorks and Waleses, too. Alas, when I came to do the piece my brain died in my head, so I rang my sister Bobo up and asked for her advice.

'I'm in Broadstairs,' I said.

'Really?' she said.

'No,' I said. 'I'm making it up.'

'That's a mistake,' she said. 'You haven't any imagination.'

'Don't you start,' I said. 'Who do you blame for the fiasco of our parents' marriage?'

'Father's mother,' Bobo said. 'Mother was forced to take holidays at her in-laws' ghastly Scottish castle, up to her waist in wet bracken, killing little birds. Scything draughts, a lone piper on the battlements, a pay-phone in the hall. It must have been worse than staying at Balmoral. These old Scottish trouts won't let go.'

'Thank you. Been on your holidays yet?'

'Yes. Christopher and I took a week in Turkey.'

'Did you bring the Zantac back?'

'What's that?'

Never mind. Alison, my beloved, has returned from Portofino with a suitcaseful.

'I don't want you pegging out before this year's Christmas stocking,' she said. 'And my fat American has bought me shares in Glaxo.'

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