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William Donaldson's Week: Stone-cold sober at Bobo's bash

MY BEST friend, Little Jo, often amuses me by asking whether by any chance I'll be in London over the weekend. She assumes that, in the general run of things, everyone takes off on Friday afternoon for some daft place like Gloucestershire.

Another comic habit the upper classes have is to ask you to a do two or three days ahead of time. That's obviously absurd. How on Thursday are you meant to know whether you'll be in the mood on Saturday to attend your godson's christening in Wiltshire, a fox ball in Hampshire or a dinner-party for a distant cousin who's blotted his copybook by living for 30 years in Canada? In my circle, you pitch up uninvited on the night or not at all.

Last Wednesday, my sister Bobo asked me to a Sunday function on her lawn in Beaulieu (her land marches with the antique car collector's), adding that she wouldn't have asked me at the last minute, but someone else had just dropped out.

The last minute? How on Wednesday could Alison, my beloved, and I possibly know whether on Sunday we'd want to mix on a lawn with Hampshire nobs? On top of which, how could we be sure that we'd be home in time for the American football on Channel 4?

And another thing. My sister Bobo's as sharp as a knife (once, you may remember, she had my friend Professor Honderich over a barrel, proving that his consequentialist theory of morals could land him in a jam), but she and her friends are as old as I am, if you please. The difference is, I'm young at heart, and I said as much to Bobo.

'I'm young at heart,' I said.

'So you are,' she said. 'Try and come, however. It's our wedding anniversary.'

'Will Gerard, Harry and Claudia be there?'

Gerard, Harry and Claudia are nephews and nieces and so forth, and you'd not meet jollier young people in a long day's march. I could avoid the grown-ups and chat with them.

'Of course,' said Bobo. 'And Tom.'

Tom, my youngest nephew, is in showbusiness like me.

'Tom's a bit 1989, don't you think?' I said.

'He is rather,' Bobo said. 'Nevertheless, do try and come.'

'I must be home in time to see the Oilers against the Chiefs,' I said. 'Like me, you'll be on tenterhooks to discover whether the Oilers' run-and- shoot offense will prevail against the Chiefs' rushing game, spearheaded by Barry Word and, on third down, Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare.'

'See you on Sunday,' Bobo said. 'It is important.'

I didn't give the matter another thought, and on Saturday, Alison, my beloved, and I got silently stoned with some of our young friends. We were still stoned on Sunday, when Alison, to my surprise, suggested that we go to Bobo's do.

'Good idea,' I said. 'Why?'

'We could nick the grand piano,' Alison, my beloved, said.

That made sense. We drove cautiously in the direction of Hampshire, more or less, and landed up in Basingstoke, at which point we decided to give Bobo's do a miss - the only problem being that, wishing to make our excuses, I discovered I could remember her address but not her telephone number. Never mind. With the cast-iron logic of the very stoned, I ruled that we'd drive on to Bobo's place and tell her in person that we couldn't make it.

We soldiered on for what seemed like six hours, eventually reaching Bobo's estate, where Alison, my beloved, parked in the refreshment tent. We got out of the car, fell over, announced that we couldn't stop and drove back to London with the cold cuts attached to the car's bumper and with an amusing image in our minds of Bobo looking vaguely disappointed.

A shocking story, you'll agree - or it would be were it true. In fact, I've lifted it - give or take a detail or two - from the Sunday Telegraph, which, for all the world as if it were funny, printed a ghastly anecdote this week involving Rex Harrison and his wife at the time, Rachel Roberts.

Many years ago, and as pissed as puddings, Roberts and Harrison - who was not, by British standards, a particularly bad actor, I think, but, from all accounts, a very common man - decided on the way to a reception for George Cukor that they'd give it a miss, but pitched up anyway.

Roberts fell over and Harrison, according to the Sunday Telegraph - which wouldn't know common behaviour from a hole in the road - blew his nose on his wig, which he had in his top pocket instead of a handkerchief.

My point - a laborious one, I must admit - is to contrast the social acceptability of alcohol with other intoxicants, and I have to say that I was as sober as a judge at Bobo's do and, one minor mishap apart, performed with aplomb.

Keen not to mistake my brother-in-law Christopher for one of his gardeners, I struck up a conversation with a gardener, thinking he was Christopher, and asked him to stay for the weekend.

'How do I know what I'll be doing?' the gardener said. 'Are you upper class or what?'

At least I was home in time to see the Oilers stuff the Chiefs.