Why my planned extramarital activity will have to wait

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The Independent Online
AMEMO came around this office the other day. I always say memos aren't worth reading unless they are addressed to other people, but this one was different. It was marked 'To Everyone: Most Important and Highly Confidential'. Having nothing better to do at that particular moment except get on with some work, I opened it and read the following:

'At a time when Government and newspapers are in direct conflict over this 'back to basics' business, it is imperative that everyone on this newspaper leads a blameless private life. It would not look at all good if any of us proved to be conducting affairs or engaged in murky financial deals. Can you imagine how it would look if Downing Street were able to expose members of the press as frauds or adulterers? Yes, this is about morality]'

This was highly awkward to me, as I was due to start a passionate extramarital adventure myself. In fact, I was planning an affair with the wife of a Tory MP. How did I come to know a Tory MP's wife? Well, she had been doing some useful research for me. Research into her husband's business, as a matter of fact. It had been enlightening for her, too. She had found that he had his fingers deeply enmeshed in four off- shore companies she did not even know about. She had also found that he had a good thing going with a female colleague at the House. She was incensed. It was rather an attractive sight. Fury is an aphrodisiac, I always say.

Another thing I always say is that behind every great man in the Tory party stands a woman with a good deal of time on her hands. I had also put it to Debby that, at a time when the Tories are showing a collective urge to deceive their wives, it might be a good idea for the wives to strike back. She had blushed and promised to think it over.

This memo, however, might make things more difficult.

The phone rang.

'Hello, darling,' said a woman's voice.

'Look,' I said, 'until further notice, could you call me 'old boy' or 'mate'? The paper is having a bit of a moral crackdown at the moment.'

'Does this even apply to your wife?' asked my wife, aggrieved.

'Ah, it's you,' I said. 'Well, it might do. I'll have to get a ruling on that. Ring you back, OK?'

The next caller was Debby.

'Darling]' I said.

'I'm not your darling, I'm afraid,' she said. 'I'll have to be extra careful now. We've just had a memo round from Tory Central Office. It says: 'To all Tory MPs' wives: It is imperative that you are twice as careful and well behaved in your private life as you normally are.' So it's goodbye.'

'But . . .'

It was too late. She had rung off. I tried to ring her back. Before I could even lift the phone it rang again. 'Hello?' said a man's voice. 'Downing Street here. Is that the editor's office?'

'No,' I said, 'but it's someone very close to the editor.'

This is near enough true. OK, the editor works in an office four floors up, but this is only about 50ft higher than me. I reckon that qualifies as close.

'Downing Street?' I asked. 'Is that the Prime Minister's office?'

'Not quite,' said the man, 'but it's someone very adjacent to the Prime Minister.'

'That's great,' I said. 'Now that we both more or less know who each other almost is, how can I very nearly help you?'

'It's about this 'back to basics' programme,' he said.

'Right,' I said. 'You mean this plan to get all future children in Britain fathered by Tory MPs?'

'It's that sort of facile, schoolboyish attitude in Fleet Street that makes our job so difficult,' said the man, his voice thickening with anger. I am afraid rage does not make men attractive. 'As you well know, the back-to-basics campaign is all about social issues - crime, education, housing . . .'

'Like Michael Howard?'

'Pardon?'

'Michael Howard and crime. Prison works. 'People shut up in prison can't commit any more crimes,' says Michael Howard.'

'Spot on.'

''And ever since he said it, there has been more crime in British prisons than ever, ranging from full-scale riots to murder.'

'You're a trouble-maker, aren't you?' said the voice. 'I know your sort. Tell your editor that if he should pursue this savage vendetta against John Major's back- to-basics crusade, there is certain information available to us which we will not hesitate to use.'

'This sounds remarkably like blackmail to me,' I said. 'Wait till I switch on my tape recorder.'

'Who exactly am I talking to?' he asked suspiciously. I told him. There seemed no harm. 'Good God,' he said. 'You're the writer fellow who's been seeing my Debby.'

I rang off. There seemed no point in prolonging an increasingly awkward conversation.

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