Vetted by a paperhanger: William Donaldson's Week

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WHETHER this column reaches you in the form in which it was composed will depend on the judgement of a south London interior decorator in pressed jeans and a silly little beard.

That's a bit odd, you may think - which shows how much you know about how a great newspaper is put together.

Last week, the interior decorator rang up the management and gave it as his opinion (as a 'Friend Of The National Theatre' and, to boot, as a man who had taken his personal camcorder inside many of Florence's more gruesome churches) that my recent columns had been in doubtful taste.

Before agreeing that in future my work should be vetted ahead of publication by the interior decorator, the management had the courtesy to check my reactions to such an arrangement.

I expressed my outrage, adding that I would be making my displeasure known in this week's column. That was a bit reckless, you may think - which once again shows how much you know about how a truly independent newspaper is put together.

The Independent isn't just a hot-air title chosen to hoodwink the customers, but a true reflection of the paper's spirit. As I've said before, it's run as an on-going cultural revolution, with mere journalists encouraged to lampoon the management with satires pinned to a central noticeboard. (Which, of course, is why every independent-minded hack in the country - tired of being intimidated by ignorant proprietors and obese, psychopathic editors - is queueing up to be taken on at any price in City Road.)

In any case, it would be as impertinent of me to tell the management how to run their paper as it would be impertinent on their part to tell me how to navigate a submarine through the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9 gale.

So much by way of introduction (always supposing that the south London interior decorator hasn't changed it into a guide on how to fit Venetian blinds to your lounge-room windows).

What you may be wondering is why Classy Cressida has altered the announcement on my answering-machine, which now says: 'Hi] I'm no longer at this number, but my friends can reach me through my agent, Samantha. If you're not a friend of mine - splooughh to you.' I thought of changing it but then realised that it might confuse the VAT Inspector for at least another week.

You may also be wondering why Classy Cressida has moved out. Frankly, she took objection to my saying last week that she'd gone to live in Cornwall with A L Rowse - which, in fact, I didn't. What I did say was that Lord Longford, God bless him, had leapt to quite the wrong conclusion, taking the train to Cornwall, banging about in Dr Rowse's house, looking under beds, opening and closing wardrobes and then accusing him of stealing my beloved.

Anyway, I don't care. In spite of Classy Cressida's absence, her best friend, the Princess of Wales, still drops in for tea - sometimes with Wills and the other one, sometimes not.

Frankly, I prefer it when she pitches up without Wills and the other one, since the latter have acquired this passion for computer exhibitions - insisting last Sunday that I take them to one at Olympia. Quite honestly, I hadn't seen so many common people in a confined space since I attended Parents' Day at Harrow in 1976, in the mistaken belief that that was where my boy Charlie was currently being schooled.

We didn't stay long, and when we arrived back home I discovered the Princess of Wales reading Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's column in the Sunday Telegraph.

'My hat, he does bang on,' she said. 'He takes several thousand words to say that infidelity is wrong. Have you heard of Canetti?' 'No,' I said.

'In that case,' she said, 'you'll not be aware that he put the matter more economically, and certainly with greater elegance. 'It takes years to destroy a person's love,' he wrote, 'but no life is long enough to lament this murder, and nothing is more of a murder'.'

'You're still eaten up with bitterness,' I said. 'Since you're a student of Canetti, you'll be aware that he also wrote: 'Revenge? Revenge? Everything comes back by itself, very precisely; and revenge confuses it'.'

'Bugger you, Button,' the Princess said. 'Do you know anything about American football?'

'Not a lot,' I said. 'Polo's my game.'

'In that case,' she said, 'let me explain what a play-fake is. Sometimes the offensive co-ordinator, sensing that the defense is deployed against the rush, will instruct the quarterback to pretend to give the ball to his running back. The latter shortly disappears, but without the ball, under two tons of defensive ends. Meanwhile, the quarterback, who still has the ball, passes it to an unmarked wide receiver, who scores a touchdown.'


'I suggest,' said the Princess, 'that we construct a play-fake of our own. You help me to write a speech that I'm set to deliver at a charity lunch on Friday. I'll stun everyone by announcing my retirement from public life - offering as my excuse that I'm cracking under the weight of publicity. The press will buy the play-fake, as it were, and I'll be even more celebrated than I am already. That will get up certain Hanoverian noses.'

We went to work, and the upshot, as you'll have seen for yourselves, has been just as Her Royal Highness predicted; indeed, in the week since we wrote the speech she has received four times as much affirmative publicity as in the previous six months.

That said, none of the foregoing will make any sense if the south London interior decorator with pressed jeans and a silly little beard has changed Cornwall to Essex, Dr Rowse to Christopher Booker, the Princess of Wales to Maria Whittaker and Elias Canetti to Peter the Schnoz.