William Donaldson's Week: The Princess's vibrating pager

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The Independent Online
IF THE Princess of Wales managed to get tickets to see her team (the Welsh) being stuffed at Twickenham this afternoon it won't have been down to me. It was due to her, however, that I tried on Thursday to buy a smart new telephone system at Boots the chemist - the upshot being that shoppers in the Fulham Road may have supposed the pantomime season had started early.

Following an explosion at Fulham News, Mr Amin was the only person in his shop not in black face (since he's black already); Mr Albert Finney, there to buy the Independent, was blown out of his boots; and old Mrs Matthews, having bought the Daily Mirror (greatly improved, I think you'll agree, since Mr Montgomery took over), was last seen sailing 200ft above South Ken station as if suspended on a theatrical wire.

Modern technology, indeed. After a shopping expedition, during which I'd dressed the Princess from top to toe (how do you like her new Essex girl elephant outfit?), and once she'd made an excellent contribution to my new book, How To Tell If Your Children Aren't On Drugs ('They say that Absolutely Fabulous isn't as good as it used to be; further that Jennifer Saunders can't act as well as her fat friend, never mind the idiot with the bee-hive hairdo'), she suddenly asked me if I could get her tickets for the match at Twickenham.

'I've been banned from the Royal Box,' the Princess said, 'and I'm keen to upstage my frightful in-laws.'

'I can't help you,' I said. 'My editor, Mr Alway, is the only person with access to tickets and I'm not speaking to him at the moment.'

I don't mind criticism - except when I do - but Mr Alway had gone too far, ringing me up last week and saying that my column wasn't up to scratch. When Roger From Chicago edited me he didn't shitbag my jokes; he merely left them out and substituted his. The deal with Mr Alway had been that I took care of the legal niceties while he ruled on matters of taste. It wasn't his job to correct my style and syntax.

'If you stopped potting away at that common couple from bleep,' the Princess said, 'there'd be no need for Mr Alway to sub your stuff. You should let bygones be bygones.'

Talk about pots calling kettles black] 'I take it you have Burns by heart?'

'Of course,' she said. 'On Burns night at Balmoral, my self-pitying in-laws keened of their Highland past before sitting on a thistle. 'It faire poot him in a passion/ To hae a wif whose quoonte was oot o' fashioon'.'

'In fact,' I said, 'I had in mind some lines from Tam o'Shanter, and very apt they are in your case. 'We think na on the lang Scots miles/The mosses, waters, straps and styles/That lie between us and our hame/Whare sits our sulky sullen dame/Gathering her brows like gathering storm/ Nursing her wrath to keep it warm'.'

'Up yours, Button,' the Princess said. 'Here's one: 'This repetition, this rabid, unremitting reiteration is the homage grief pays to life. The silent endure too much - or do they go mute before they can assess what they can endure?' '

'Burns?'

'Canetti,' she said: 'In any case, you could outflank Mr Alway by getting a new telephone system like mine. It's a vibrating radio pager, guaranteed to confound anyone trying to eavesdrop on a Squidgy conversation. Plus, it has various other functions. It picks up BSkyB - not that anyone would want to - and it scrambles a call even as you make it. You could file your copy without Mr Alway knowing.'

'Can I borrow it?'

'Certainly not. It's very expensive.'

There's gratitude. Her Essex girl outfits are costing me a fortune and I only put up with her because it irritates Classy Cressida. Never mind. I rang Honest John, who has the latest in smart technology. 'What's that new

thing you're on?' I said.

'Prozac,' he said.

'Can you file on it?'

'You can do anything on it,' he said. 'It's brilliant.'

'Where do I get it?'

'Try Boots,' he said.

That might have struck me as odd had there not been changes recently in the high street. WH Smith now sells books, I believe, as well as Jilly Cooper novels, and Boots did a tie-up once with Faber & Faber, the upshot being you could buy Larkin and Fenton and Raine while queuing for your suppositories.

The Princess and I went to Boots, where we were told that Prozac was on prescription. That did seem odd, but there wasn't time to argue.

'No problem,' the Princess said. 'We'll see if Mr Alway's powers of censorship over your stuff extend to other publications. We'll hop into Mr Amin's and fax a column to the Sunday Times on growing tomatoes, or something of the sort.'

We did just that, whereupon Mr Amin's fax machine blew up, lifting Albert Finney out of his boots and Mrs Matthews clean over South Ken station.

'Mr Alway has fixed a device to my fax machine,' said Mr Amin, 'which causes your column to self-destruct if you try to by-pass him - even if it's on how to grow tomatoes.'

'Do you have any tickets for Twickenham?' the Princess said.

'Two in the West stand,' said Mr Amin. I should have listened to Honest John. Next week I'll file on Prozac.

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