William Donaldson's Week: Done dealing in Ladbroke Grove

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The Independent Online
I'VE BEEN turned over by Mrs Matthews, if you please - the upshot being that Zamit & The Postman have filmed me at the wrong end of a deal in Ladbroke Grove and my pal Lancelot Bunce, the street fiend I was seeking to expose, is to be Tatler's restaurant critic.

I didn't see it coming even when the mischievous old lady first joined and then, by asking silly questions, tried to destabilise the rehabilitation clinic I'm running in my home.

'If it's the case,' she said, 'that experiments in America, involving laboratory rats and neat gin, prove that addiction is a disease, why, instead of requiring us to stand on a podium with buckets on our heads while our fellow patients criticise our morals, aren't you treating us with drugs?'

'Never you mind,' I said. 'Up on the podium.'

'And here's another,' she said. 'If, intoxicated, we're not ourselves, who are we? Or does that open up questions in the field of trans-personal identity that are too complicated to explore?'

What I didn't twig was that she was here merely as a spy for Zamit & The Postman, seeking to confuse me at a time when I'd taken on too much: running the clinic, using it - in my second hat as a television watchdog - as a source of information (the better to expose types like Lancelot Bunce in a prime- time slot) and, most importantly, trying to secure a job as Tatler's restaurant critic.

This last opportunity had come way thanks to my friend Craig Brown, who, very decently, had suggested to his old school chum Nicholas Coleridge that I was just what Tatler needed.

'And don't play the fool when you meet him,' said Brown. 'Nicholas is a very nice man, but he's a little straight up and down, if you take my drift. He must think you're as respectable as he is.'

No problem. Not only did I need the job, I'd realised suddenly that while running a clutch of picture magazines might seem rather a frivolous occupation for a man (the sort of thing girls, as a rule, do better), Mr Coleridge would be a source of household hints associated more usually with women. Diligent though they had been with industrial soap and scouring fuel, the patients at my clinic had, for the most part, been confounded by the oven and the bath. Mr Coleridge would know the answer.

'Nor would he agree with you,' said Brown, 'that the only thing more boring than reading about food is writing about it, so pretend to know what fennel is, and, if he offers you a drink, don't ask for a glass of milk. Try, too, to deploy the fat, languid adjectives - 'agreeable', 'beastly', 'felicitous', etc - more often associated with a Spectator essayist. Ideally, he should think he's having lunch with P D James. Don't let me down.'

'Of course I won't,' I said.

Nor did I - which wasn't difficult, since Mr Coleridge turned out to be delightful, asking me, when he rang to arrange the rendezvous, where I had to be in the afternoon and, when I said Ladbroke Grove, nominating a pansy restaurant near at hand.

And the lunch went very well, notwithstanding the fact that I had various worries on my mind, specifically whether Lancelot Bunce, to whom I'd represented myself as a substantial customer for crack, would be in place at 3.30 in Ladbroke Grove - the plan being that, once I'd gained his confidence, I'd film him at a later date, handing over a rock the size of the Scilly Isles.

In the event, I was able to maintain an undisturbing burble - 'These courgettes are most agreeable' - and by the end of lunch I assumed the Tatler job was mine.

'Can I give you a lift to Ladbroke Grove?' said Mr Coleridge.

'Thank you,' I said, imagining that he'd drop me off at Bunce's basement crack den and then continue on his way. As we drew up, however, Bunce came running up the basement steps - in so far, at least, as a 26-stone Jamaican can accurately be described as running.

'The stuff's not here,' he said. 'Who's your pal?'

'Nicholas Coleridge,' I said. 'Conde Nast. Magazines and so forth.'

'He can drive me down the road,' said Bunce.

I got out of the car and Bunce got in, then he and Mr Coleridge drove off, with the latter looking a little confused, I thought. It could have been worse. What Mr Coleridge didn't know, and what I now discovered, was that Zamit & The Postman - tipped off by Mrs Matthews - had been filming us from across the road.

'Sign these,' said Miss Zamit, emerging from the shadows and pushing some release forms into my hand.

Never mind. Since it would be two months at least before Mr Coleridge saw himself in a prime-time watchdog slot, it seemed safe to ring him up and ask about the job.

'I've given it to Mr Bunce,' he said.

'Do you happen to know the best way to clean a bath?' I said.

'Brillo Pads,' he said, 'but you have to be careful not to scratch the surface of the bath.' The day hadn't been a write-off after all.