William Donaldon's Week: I'd amuse you and betray you

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The Independent Online
NAFF SIGHTS on the Algarve; British oldies, in octopodal embrace, link hands at the airport and sing 'We'll meet again'; stun local, shawled contemporary with a sudden sympathetic overture: 'Cheer up] It may never happen]'

I look away, of course, and pretend I'm with another group. Tanit, the island god of Ibiza, whose invitation - to accompany him on a golfing holiday with his friends, the Patersons from Sandwich - I'd recklessly accepted, unaccountably joins in.

It had been heavy going, my vacation with the Patersons; it might have been unendurable, in fact, but for my ability to turn even the shortest holiday into a profit centre.

On the first day, at the Patersons' expense, I'd telephoned my friend Geoffrey Strachan at Methuen, and sold him a Christmas toilet book (Naff Things the British Do on Holiday). Then I'd listed on whatever piece of paper came to hand (napkins, scorecards, menus) betises or gaucheries committed by the Patersons - an enterprise, I may say, which had met with Tanit the island god's whole- hearted disapproval.

'Naff things toilet book writers do,' he'd said. 'Abuse the generosity of others by sneering at them in a cramped and patronising style. People like the Patersons are the salt of the earth. If you were in trouble, you'd be well advised to go to them.'

At times like this I'm tempted to quote from Michael Frayn's thought-provoking Constructions (Wildwood House, 1974) - a temptation to which I'd given in on this occasion.

'You'll be familiar,' I'd said, 'with entry No 27 in Michael Frayn's Constructions. 'The secret police arrest us all. I, who have been a well-mannered and amusing guest at your dinner parties these past 10 years, betray you as soon as they show me the electrodes. That bore, Paterson, refuses, heroically. If ever we all get out again, don't make the mistake of inviting him to your dinner parties instead of me.'

'Mr Frayn actually mentions the Patersons?'

'No. He uses the name Puling, but the point holds.'

And so it does. Indeed, I often think of Frayn's remark when reference is made to my close friendship with Frankie Fraser. Not that Frank is in any sense a Puling (or a Paterson). Notwithstanding his refusal to betray his friends in spite of any physical hardship visited upon him, he's more amusing at a dinner party than you or I will ever be.

The other day, he fixed me with his basilisk stare and said: 'There's only one difference between you and me, William. Whereas you went to Winchester - the top school in the country, in my opinion, ahead even of Eton and Westminster - it was my misfortune to go to Radley.'

Well, I think that's funny.

No, I fear that he'll dis5cover I'm not as nice as he thinks I am; that I've done bad things; that I would put him or anyone else in the frame as soon as the electrodes were mentioned, never mind produced.

Nor have I been so conscious of this fear as I was this week when he and his lovely Marilyn took me to karaoke night at Scribes, Terry Venables' club in Kensington.

I was determined not to be intimidated by the assembled extroverts, there, in their uncomplicated way, to do something for the fun of it (footballers and their girlfriends, footballers' agents, useful- looking men, with their proud and ancient mothers; men who looked as if they'd transact a cash deal at a service station with aplomb, and whose mothers, mysteriously, didn't speak English as well as you and me).

I maintained a lofty froideur, attempting to dominate with a hectic cerebral blitz. 'Apropos my piece in last week's Independent, Terry, it's interesting, is it not, that Sartre, when told that Ayer had dismissed all of existentialism on the grounds that it was based on an imperfect understanding of the logical behaviour of the verb 'etre', replied, with uncharacteristic brevity, 'Ayer est un con.' '

When that failed, I told John Scales, there with his beautiful Ruth to celebrate his move to Liverpool, that soccer was a girls' game compared with American football.

'How about Dan Marino, then? The first game of the season and Dan the Man's right on the money. That touchdown pass on fourth and long with Chris Slade full in his face] Did you ever see anything like it?'

'Cheer up]' said Mr Venables. 'It may never happen]' And Frank patted my hand and said: 'Just try and enjoy yourself.'

That wouldn't be easy, slung up, as I was, in the traction of my background. I did eventually, however - broken down by the lovely Marilyn's triumphant rendering of 'Stand by Your Man'; by Frankie's immensely touching 'Singing in the Rain'; and by Scalesy himself, watched with such unselfconscious love and pride by his beautiful Ruth, belting into 'Rhinestone Cowboy'.

After 'We'll Meet Again' - in which I joined in, rather stiffly - I felt obliged to make a speech.

'I've had a lesson in decency tonight,' I said to the lovely Marilyn. 'This, surely, is the best that life can be. Sheer generosity of spirit, elation without chemical assistance. Do you suppose that at my age one can reinvent oneself?'

'If you drink enough champagne,' she said.

Back to square one, it seems, and next day I received a summons from the council.

Never mind. I'll drop in on the Patersons. I'm sure they'll help me out. That's what they're for, right?

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