William Donaldson's Week: Can I make the Brown cap fit?

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The Independent Online
UNLESS you read the Times you'll have been wondering whether I managed to scrape Classy Cressida off my drawing- room floor in time for us to attend Snowdon's boy's wedding to the Stanhope girl.

I do read the Times, fortunately, so I know that I did - thanks to a picture editor who plastered a photograph of Classy Cressida all over the front page last Saturday under the headline: 'Brunette Wows In Ball Gown And Handcuffs'.

So much for my boast last week that in future I would be extant only between midnight and 8am - those being the hours during which Classy Cressida is prepared to enjoy herself without charging other participants an arm and a leg. Cop her between 6pm and midnight and you'll be lucky if, in the morning, your fixtures and fittings are still in place, never mind the contents of your wallet.

Nor has this been my only appearance in public during daylight hours. I don't suppose you read the Sunday Times, but should you find a copy lying in a fish and chip shop or somewhere of the sort, you'll notice a startling improvement in Craig Brown's television column. It won't be as good as Allison Pearson's for the Independent on Sunday, of course, but it will be better than usual, for reasons which I'll come to shortly.

Brown woke me up on Tuesday morning and asked me out to lunch.

'No thank you,' I said. 'I'm extant at the moment only between midnight and 8am.'

'My wife, Frances Welch (your hero, Colin's, girl) will be joining us,' he said.

'You've talked me into it,' I said.

Over lunch, Brown said that he would be retiring from journalism for a while in order to honour a contract with Random House to write a comic novel.

'I'd be obliged,' he said, 'if, for the next few weeks, you'd take over my various columns.'

'Why me?' I asked.

'If I tell my editors my plans,' said Brown, 'they might appoint stand-ins who are better than me - the upshot being that I lose my columns. But there'll be no danger of that if you write them for me. My editors will merely suppose that I'm temporarily off form.'

That made sense, or so I thought until I got home, at which point it crossed my mind that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Apart from reviewing television in the Sunday Times, Brown writes a restaurant column in the same paper; a bluff 'You can't fool me' piece under a wise old bird photograph in the Evening Standard; the parodic Diaries in Private Eye, and, of course, Wallace Arnold in the Independent on Sunday.

On the other hand, the extra money (Brown, very generously, had agreed to lob me 10 per cent of all his fees) would - bearing in mind my obligations to Classy Cressida - come in handy.

Not that I am under any obligation to Classy Cressida. The arrangement, as I'd understood it, had been that she would do her thing between 6pm and midnight, dining out with fat men who market software for a living (sometimes supported by Abby From The Eighties, sometimes not), and later pitching up at my place with a handbag full of currency and in a mood to party - just as you would be in a mood to party if you had spent six hours in a restaurant with fat men who market software for a living.

If I see her during office hours, however, she charges me the going rate. Take, for instance, the Linley wedding. That cost me pounds 1,000 and I'd only escorted her to it as a favour to her mother, old Lady Huggins. Half-way through some chanted piece of mumbo jumbo, she'd looked so adorable holding a hymn book in her little hands that I'd suddenly deliquesced and declared: 'I love you to distraction.'

'Thank you very much,' she said. 'That will be pounds 500.'

Later, as we left the church, I made the same mistake. 'Your astonishing beauty breaks my heart,' I said.

'That will be another pounds 500,' she said.

Luckily, we were approached at that moment by the Princess of Wales - an old friend, it seemed, of Classy Cressida's.

'What a brilliant outfit, Classy Cressida,' the Princess remarked. 'Where did you get it from?'

'Ann Summers in Old Compton Street,' said Classy Cressida.

'And the handcuffs?' asked the Princess of Wales.

'They're a mistake,' said Classy Cressida. 'We were partying last night with Abby From The Eighties and she went off with the key.'

We had a good laugh about what sad occasions weddings were ('Particularly when they involve members of this frightful family,' said the Princess of Wales) and then she was decent enough to say how much she enjoyed reading this column.

'You're my second-favourite journalist,' she said.

'And who's your favourite?' I asked.

'Craig Brown,' she said.

She'll not be of that opinion in four weeks' time, I think. I'll solve the restaurant column problem by resubmitting stuff done 10 years ago for Tatler under Tina Brown, and it will be easy enough to review television without actually watching it.

My Standard piece this week was very poor, I think (a beefy, commonsensical assault on Germaine Greer and Dr Leavis was definitely overdoing it) but I can recycle it in Private Eye, at least, as a parody of Richard Ingrams's 'Man O' The People' Observer column.

My worst failure so far is tomorrow's Wallace Arnold. The idea was sound enough (criticism of the BNP becomes a catalogue of Arnold's own Spectatorish reservations about our 'cheery ethnic friends') but the execution's very feeble.

That said, I doubt if you'd do better were you extant only between midnight and 8am.

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