William Donaldson's Week: Done for hopping out of season

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IT MAY be all over, I think, between me and Penny, my beloved. I suspected this when I discovered that the musical cocktail cabinet belonging to her fat regatta man plays 'The Last Wasted Evening', from Don Henley's The End Of Innocence album, rather than our song, which had been 'My Way', the Shirley Bassey version.

That's the bad news. The worse news is that I'm filing this from Fowey police station, where Abby From The Eighties and I are banged up as problematic visitors; more precisely, for doing the Cornish Floral Dance out of season.

Nor do we have any high expectations of an early release. We have discovered that, by legislative anomaly dating back to King Arthur's day, the position of magistrate is taken over, on alternate Thursdays in July, by the village idiot, who hands down his verdict after 'reading' a bucket of goat's entrails; further, that if the bucket goes against you, the locals are empowered by medieval statute to suspend you upside down in a wickerwork basket and immolate you as a witch.

For once in her life, Abby From The Eighties seemed disinclined to take an unpleasant situation lying down.

'Abby From The Eighties, m'lud,' she said. 'I'm not without connections, not least the Sheriff of Coventry - though I inherited him from my co-defendant's beloved, Penny, whose business I took over when she was booked out for life by a local fat man. John, I think.'

'I dare say he is,' said the village idiot. 'We get a lot of that sort here. Case held over while I consult my bucket.'

In fact, I blame Abby From The Eighties for our predicament. She rang me on Monday and suggested that we drive to Fowey on the Cornish coast and drop in unexpectedly on Penny, my beloved, and her fat regatta man. That seemed like a good idea, so I agreed - first checking with my best friend, Little Jo, however, on what we should wear. I rang her at Tatler, where she is now associate editor, and told her we were off to Fowey.

'Horrors]' cried Little Jo. 'That's where sparkly tops go to die.'

'Which is why we'll need to blend,' I said. 'We may be boarding a catamaran.'

'A catamaran?' said Little Jo. 'Tell me you're joking.'

'I'm afraid not,' I said. 'Penny, my beloved's, fat client has a catamaran. At six o'clock he says: 'The sun's over the yard-arm, I see] Time for a wine and water]' Then he falls overboard . . .'

'I get the picture,' said Little Jo. 'OK. You should visit the cruisewear department at Peter Jones and kit yourself out in white trousers and a blazer with, on its pocket, an anchor embossed in gold. As for Abby From The Eighties, she should wear high heels, a striped T-shirt and transparent trousers through which the tucked in bottom of her T-shirt is clearly visible.'

'Thank you very much,' I said.

The next day, and dressed as per Little Jo's advice, we met up at Abby From The Eighties' town house in Knightsbridge, and we must have got it right because two parcel delivery men in tights came round the corner and fell off their bikes.

'Off to Fowey, are you?' they said, and they were laughing so much they couldn't get back on their bikes.

Once on the road, I asked Abby From The Eighties why she was so confident that Penny, my beloved, would be pleased to see us.

'She'll be stupefied with boredom,' said Abby From The Eighties. 'It's one thing to visit Versailles with your meter running; quite another to be stuck in Cornwall in the rain, watching Dame Dench in a sitcom and repeats of the Tour de France. Mind you, she'll still have her meter running. On second thoughts, cross that out. Penny, your beloved, is a friend of mine.'

'I already have,' I said. 'And when we meet her fat man, we mustn't laugh. She'd be awfully hurt.'

'If you've never seen him,' she said, 'how do you know he's quite so gross?'

'Just between you and me?' I said. 'I'll not want others to know. I don't want to look like a spiteful loser.'

'You have my word on it,' said Abby From The Eighties.

'Penny told me,' I said. 'She has to cook him three breakfasts, which he carries in his cheeks to eat later in the day.'

When we arrived, Abby From The Eighties said that if we were to blend we'd have to do the Cornish Floral Dance.

'It's a local fertility rite,' she said. 'You hop to the left and you hop to the right, and then you hop through the front door of someone's house, who is obliged by tradition to offer you a glass of local wine and a Cornish sweetmeat.'

I'd not previously hopped publicly with Abby From The Eighties, but we parked the car and hopped up the main street, arriving at the bungalow belonging to Penny, my beloved's, fat man. We hopped through the front door and, since they were out, opened the musical cocktail cabinet, which played 'The Last Wasted Evening' by Don Henley instead of 'My Way' by Shirley Bassey.

'I'm thunderstruck,' said Abby From The Eighties. 'I was expecting Penny's favourite - the St Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V, followed by Pat Metheney on guitar.'

That caught me by surprise. I didn't have time to quiz her because at that moment the local old Bill arrived, later putting us up in front of the village idiot for doing the Cornish Floral Dance out of season. Unless Penny, my beloved's, fat man bails us out - which I'm sure he will - we'll be set alight as witches. The result next week.

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