William Donaldson's Week: The trouble with Morgan

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The Independent Online
Asked to imagine my working relationship with Peter Morgan, and, not being a professional like myself, you'd lazily sketch in a picture, I suppose, of two thumping stereotypes.

One would be a broad- backed naval man, a four- square type with a schedule and a steady tread who knows what day of the week it is - even, and rather plonkingly, whether it's the morning or the early evening - the other an insolent junior with a hairstyle, who, between naps and eating oranges, can come up with three startling insights before collapsing with exhaustion.

And that, as it happens, is exactly how it is. Contracted to deliver a first draft at 4.45pm on Monday week - or is it 4.40? I'd better check - I pitch up at 8.59am outside Morgan's amusingly unfurnished town apartment near the Portobello Road, which is not a part of London I've visited before, I think.

There I discover either that he's sleeping as if concussed ('If I don't get nine hours' sleep my skin's a disaster in the morning'), or, still more bewilderingly, that he isn't there at all - the latter circumstance a consequence of his having found a convivial Polish cineaste next door and, on returning home, discovering for the fifth time this week that he's gone out without his keys.

Either way, I pop a necessary Zantac and wait patiently in the rain for an hour or two, at which point Morgan - looking very plain, I'll grant him that - either sticks his head out of an upstairs window and poutingly informs me that there isn't any milk ('I want some milk. Now. Why isn't there ever any milk in this flat? It makes me really angry that there's never any milk'), or he appears suddenly from the Polish cineaste's apartment and asks me what time it is, further - and before I've told him - why I'm always early ('At your age you should have grown out of adolescent insecurities').

Sometimes we work for half an hour and then, since it's almost lunchtime now and Morgan is feeling peckish ('I'm starving. Why aren't you starving? Why isn't there ever any food in this flat?'), we have a zonking great fry-up at Fred's Cafe round the corner, squeezed between barking bag- women ('Budge up, madam. I see the Arsenal were stuffed again') and soliloquising derelicts ('A fiver for the jacket, captain. It's my final offer').

This is the part of the day I most enjoy. The food's excellent, of course, and more importantly, I'm able to do some work - not on what we're meant to be writing, I must admit, but, because Morgan's behaviour yields such rich material, on this week's column, and, with luck, next week's, too.

Unaware that a street fantasist behind us in the queue (once in front of us, but you need sharp elbows in the Portobello Road) is gasping for a slice of bread, Morgan broods over the a la carte in a way that might seem facetious even at the Tour D'Argent.

'Hm,' he says. 'Hm. What shall it be, then? The tomatoes? Home grown, are they? In my experience imported tomatoes at this time of year are invariably a let-down.'

'Eh?' says Fred's unaccommodating mother (Fred's the chef, I think).

'Never mind,' says Morgan. 'Bubble and squeak? That's always good. You can rely on bubble and squeak with almost anything. And poached eggs? What do you think? The danger, of course, is they'll be underdone. There's nothing better than a well-timed poached egg, but overcooked they are scarcely edible. Kindly tell the chef not to overdo the eggs.'

Morgan's order consists in the end of such unusual combinations that our bill for lunch comes to pounds 7.66 - an unheard-of total for two in a stewed tea and fry-up place, and, once we're sitting down, I point this out to

Morgan.

'It's like running up a bill of pounds 2,000 at the Gavroche,' I say.

'I'd rather spend pounds 7.66 here than pounds 2,000 at the Gavroche,' he says.

'I'd rather spend pounds 2,000 here than pounds 7.66 at the Gavroche,' I say.

Then, because our table doesn't suit him, a party of street derelicts is asked to swap. After which he wants a KitKat, although, as he says, they do ruin the complexion.

I jot this down in my reporter's notebook, then Morgan gets up and opens the door. 'I can't bear the air in here,' he says. 'And I can't bear not the air in here,' I say, and I'm so pleased with this construction that I write it down.

'Nothing you've made a note of strikes me as funny,' Morgan says.

'The target never sees the joke,' I say. 'If you satirised me as a buffer desperately trying to keep up with young people I wouldn't see the joke at all.'

'In fact it's your appearance which is funny,' Morgan says. 'Asked to guess who in here has written a book or two, has a column and was once on terms with Jonathan Miller, I'd go for the chap in a cravat who's come as Milton Shulman or the fat one pretending to be Orson Welles. I'd take you to be the only genuine down-and-out.'

That's not in the least bit accurate, nor is it funny. Young people really are remarkably unperceptive.

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