William Donaldson's Week: Naive? Twice in one week?

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a good week for meetings (invoices rendered, pounds 1,250 plus VAT), though even better for Jim White's wife. She is in my business - meetings attended in re stuff in the pipeline - and on Wednesday she was flown to New York for buns and bananas with an Executive Vice- President (Developments).

I'm not in that league yet. I have done intercontinental meetings down-the-line and, once, it seemed I might be sent to Bristol on a train. I've not yet been flown across the world, however.

Never mind. On Thursday, I had a profitable lunch with my pal Watty from Esquire. 'A down- the-line lunch will cost you pounds 250,' I'd said, 'but for a face-to- face with a disgusting meal included I'll be remitting an invoice for pounds 300 plus VAT.'

Watty went for the face-to-face, in the course of which he accused me of being naive.

I was a little startled, in spite of the fact that he was the second person that week to call me naive. The first had been David Liddiment, the BBC's gifted head of entertainment, who on Tuesday had summoned me to a meeting at Television Centre.

'About these invoices,' he'd said. 'There's one here addressed to The Corpse, Television Centre, London W12. Which corpse do you mean? We have so many.'

Once I'd identified the corpse in question, Mr Liddiment had initialled my invoices and told me to drop them in at Accounts. Then he'd called me naive.

For a moment I assumed he had mistaken me for a Third World centre-back, turning out for Nigeria, perhaps. (It was the incomparable Miss Pearson who, during the World Cup, had pointed out in the Independent on Sunday that in Motson-speak 'naive' means 'black'.)

'At least, and unlike Jack Charlton,' I'd said, 'I wasn't fined pounds 10,000 for having an English sense of humour. Nor was that entirely fair, I think. Those with an English sense of humour - the Duchess of York, Gazza, 'Plum' Wodehouse, the old plop who ate cakes in the commentary box ('The Voice of Cricket', was he?) - should be fined immediately, but Big Jack doesn't seem to have a sense of humour at all. You've come across a TV show called Red Dwarf, I take it?'

'I believe I have,' Mr Liddiment had said.

'Its author, Bob Grant, came up with an excellent example of the English sense of humour. We were dining with Mr Mouse and Mrs Bear. You know them?'

'Justin Judd and his lovely Emma? Of course.'

'Well, Bob Grant said he had a nightmare in which Cheers was bought by ITV for translation into English. They turned Sam Malone into a cricketer and got Nigel Havers to play the part.'

Mr Liddiment had scratched something on a memo pad ('Take this down to Concepts, Miss Zamit, if you'd be so good') and then said I'd missed his point.

'My accusation of naivety,' he'd said, 'concerns the column you wrote two weeks ago. Quoting Auberon Waugh in the Spectator, you claimed he was being ironic when he cited a society wedding on an English lawn as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Neils and Littlejohns, for Essex garagists and Midlands software salesmen, for every aspiring bicyclist who comes south from Newcastle and the Gorbals to seek his fortune.'

'And wasn't he?'

'Of course he wasn't,' Mr Liddiment had said. 'The idea of 'class' still dominates many sections of society - not least the media. Recently, Emma Soames was appointed editor of the Telegraph, or something of the sort.'

That had surprised me. The only Emma Soames I knew had been engaged briefly to an art gallery owner who had preferred his fiancees to be as naive as your hat - Mynah Bird, the Ibo Chieftan's daughter, for example - so if Mr Liddiment was correct we could look to the Telegraph to be livelier in future.

'As you know,' Mr Liddiment had continued, 'I want El Independo to be Brideshead meets Birt. So go away and start again.'

And now my pal Watty, too, was calling me naive.

'In fact,' I said, 'the World Cup might have been less boring had the Nigerians shown fewer silky skills up front and a little more naivety at the back. I missed the participation of Peru, whose goalkeeper, El Loco, you may remember, carried a loaded revolver in his tights.'

'It's you who's naive,' Watty said, 'for not realising that the old boy network's still in place.'

'Nonsense,' I said. Then I changed the subject. 'You'll want to know what the latest is in re myself and the little trollop who took me to the cleaners. We're to appear before a judge I went to school with - specifically, the doe-eyed tart who, in a mood of mortification, and like a French adulteress, shaved his head as clean as a billiard ball and who, according to the latest Old Wykehamist Roll, now lives in the village of Up Someone, Hampshire. One knowing glance from me and he'll find against the little trollop. I've just scored an own goal, haven't I?'

'You certainly have,' said Watty.

I went home and rang up Jim White. 'Are you missing your wife?' I said.

'No,' he said. 'After 20 minutes the Executive V-P said: 'Excuse me, I've got a meeting on the coast.' Two buns and a banana and she was home in time for dinner.'

I've got a lot to learn.