William Donaldson's Week: Two grand for a near-life experience

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The Independent Online
DID YOU see Scalesy's majestic lapse against the Reds on Saturday? Funny, eh? Everything as tight as a drum for 60 minutes at the back, then Scalesy tries an audacious back-header, the ball falls short and Kanchelskis, the nippy little Russian, drills it past Jamesy as he comes off his line. 'Wan non]' I had to laugh. It was down to me, that.

In other respects, I'm as sick as a parrot. Only a week on Hallsy's books and already I'm carrying a nagging groin strain and my girlfriend's run off with Besty. Plus, all I hear about is what a diamond Scalesy is. Why haven't I got trousers like Scalesy's, a haircut like Scalesy's, a girlfriend like Scalesy's? Why haven't I got as many O-levels as Scalesy?

He's obsessed with Scalesy, is Hallsy. I had the same trouble, you may remember, with my last temporary literary agent, Cat Ledger. She was obsessed with Jim White, was Cat Ledger. It was Jim White this, Jim White that. It was all right at first, but after a couple of weeks she'd cut short a telephone conversation with an excited cry of 'I can't talk] I've got Jim White on the other line]'

I'm not having that again. On Monday, I changed the announcement on my answering-machine, which, as you may have noticed, now says: 'I can't take your call at the moment because I'm talking to Barry Hearn on the other line.' That should keep Hallsy on his toes.

And then, on Tuesday, when Hallsy dropped in at my place to get an agenda going (how to lay out my stall etc), I took the opportunity to destabilise his relationship with Scalesy.

'How many O-levels have you got?' said Hallsy.

'None,' I said.

'Too busy kicking a ball around the park?'

In fact, and unusually, I'd played rugger at Winchester - had even entered a team in the public school seven-a- sides. I'd only been able to raise six sighted players so Grafftey-Smith had turned out at fly-half in spectacles as thick as Michael Foot's. We'd been dumped 66-6 by a scratch team from Cheltenham Ladies' College.

'That's right,' I said.

'We've got an image problem with you,' said Hallsy. 'I'll need to move you to a detached house in Essex with a Porsche and a page 3 stunner. Do you have a girlfriend? I imagine not.'

I had the evidence in my wallet, as it happens. The day before, and of a mind to follow the advice - with regard to near-life experiences - given by Adrian Mitchell in his lovely poem 'Celia, Celia', I'd decided to think about my baby with nothing on. Alas, my mind had gone blank. I'd been unable to remember what she looked like. I'd gone to a drawer for the Polaroids, only to remember that these had been burgled a couple of months ago. All I'd found were some of Michelle, wearing my baby's Katherine Hamnett skirt and posing adorably - the mad legs, the tumbling hair, the deceitful pout - against the getaway car.

In fact, I'd called it a day with Michelle a week before on account of the getaway car; more accurately, on account of the bullet holes in the passenger seat. Bullet holes in the driver's seat I could have handled. In spite of this, I'd enjoyed a near-life experience with the Polaroids - putting on some Seventies sounds and laying them out in order of artistic merit - before tucking them away in my wallet. I now brought them out for Hallsy.

'Good grief, what's this?' he said.

'The getaway car,' I said.

'Not the car] The girl] She looks like someone's common-law wife. She'd pose in the tabloids the day after her common-law husband's been shot in a lay-by. I'll not have my artists associating with common-law wives. She'd run off with Besty, this one.'

'I doubt that,' I said.

'Right,' said Hallsy. 'There's a couple of grand here for some new trousers. Scalesy will be here in a moment. I want him to take you to Versace or Dolce e Gabbana. I'll be off now. I've got a meeting with Fash.'

When Scalesy came round - and after a short kick- about, during which I sustained the nagging groin injury - I took the opportunity to mark his card.

'OK, Scalesy,' I said. 'Who was the most cultured centre-back ever to pull on the No 6 shirt for England?'

'Mooro?'

''Mooro nothing. Toddy, that's who.'

'Toddy? A bit prone to majestic lapses, wasn't he?'

'Artistic licence,' I said. 'You want to figure in the boss's plans? I'm talking about Venners here. Well, Venners wants centre-backs with a little fantasy in their game. Lads who'll come forward, attempt to nut-meg the opposing strikers, lose the ball and go arse over haircut into touch. Just like Toddy.'

Once I was satisfied that Scalesy would commit the mother of all faux pas against the Reds, I told him I had other fish to fry.

'What about your new trousers from Dolce e Gabbana?' he said.

'Plenty of time for that,' I said.

He's a bit straight up and down, is Scalesy, and I wasn't going to blow two grand on a pair of trousers. I'd rather blow it on a near-life experience with Michelle. I rang her up, only to have the telephone answered by an Irishman.

'Who the hell are you?' I said.

'Besty,' he said.

I rang up Hallsy to tell him that Scalesy had skived off training and had gone up West with the two grand.

'I'm sorry,' said his secretary. 'He's talking to Jim White on the other line.'

It's a funny old game.

Duff Hart-Davis's column appears in 'Weekend' on page 41.

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