That's a terrific disguise

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Great Meetings of our Time: No 1

THE scene is a state room. The sound of trumpets is heard. Enter through one door the tall, statesmanlike figure of John Major. Through the other door comes Bill Clinton, the only US President ever to be younger than Bob Dylan, or indeed to play an instrument better than him.

Clinton Hi, John] Nice to see you.

Major It is a great pleasure for me to see you, too.

Clinton Now, where on the agenda would you like to start?

Major I would like to say straight away that I am full of respect for your stand. Your dignity in the face of so much opposition, your refusal to give in to so much criticism, this has impressed me more than I can say.

Clinton Well, that's mighty nice of you, but the election campaign is over now and . . .

Major I have not read your book, alas, as pressure on my time is so great, but one of my assistants produced a precis and I was much impressed.

Clinton Thank you. I am impressed. Especially as I have never written a book.

Major And I have no hesitation in condemning those who have outrageously passed a death sentence on you.

Clinton I'm sorry?

Major And I have no hesitation in condemning those who have outrageously passed a death sentence on you.

Clinton I thought that's what you said. What death sentence are we referring to?

Major The fatwa, of course. The monstrous condemnation of you by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

Clinton Things are becoming

clear. This is either your famous British sense of humour, or you seriously have mistaken me for the author Salman Rushdie.

Major I therefore have no hesitation in being seen with you in public, as you request.

Clinton Thank you.

Major After all, you and I, Mr Rushdie, have much in common. You are constantly guarded by the police and kept away from the public. And so am I] A little joke.

Clinton Uh huh.

Major I do realise the risks involved in this meeting. It is quite possible that while I am appearing with you, someone may make an attempt on your life . . .

Clinton Thank you.

Major . . . and hit me instead. But that will not deter me. I think a gesture is needed at this time. Well, those who advise me think a gesture is needed at this time. They think I have acquired an image as a passive, humourless person. Oh, yes.

Clinton Go on. Don't mind me.

Major They have even advised that if I can be seen in public with you, Mr Rushdie, there is no reason why I should not be seen in public with a certain leader who was so recently defeated after such a magnificent battle.

Clinton Are we talking George Bush here?

Major A leader whom we in the British Cabinet supported all the way, and whom we helped as much as we could.

Clinton Ah, so we are talking George Bush]

Major I refer, of course, to that much admired figure, Graham Gooch, who even in defeat has shown the qualities that have made Britain great.

Clinton Has he got a wacky sense of humour, too, then?

Major Well . . .

Clinton Or a surprising willingness to help the opposition in an American election? A willingness to grub up details about one's Oxford career that are nothing to do with anyone else?

Major My advisers did not, of course, seriously expect me to stand up and be seen in public with Graham Gooch] That was simply a little joke they advised me to keep up my sleeve, Mr Rushdie, to lighten what might be a sticky encounter with you.

Clinton Thank you.

Major Very shortly I shall be travelling to Washington where I shall be meeting with Mr Clinton, the new US President, and I shall be putting your case forcefully to him. And I shall not hesitate to call upon the special relationship to ask him to speak out for you.

Clinton Ah] That special relationship which everyone knows about in Britain but no one in the US has ever heard of?

Major Thank you.

Clinton And by virtue of which British artists get nominated for lots of Oscars but never win any?

Major There is no need for sarcasm, Mr Rushdie. Rest assured that I shall be in touch with you as soon as I have seen Mr Clinton. Incidentally, may I say that your new disguise is very skilful and should fool everyone. Now, where are the photographers?