Saturday 19 April 2008

Far too good to be true

I’ve no idea what I weigh; in fact, when I woke up I had no idea where I was; I must have drunk – let me see – at least 12 units of alcohol yesterday, but you’d probably do well to follow my doctor’s example and double that; there are 1,385 days of my life yet; and I’m in a sort of romantic yet ultimately no doubt deadly fog powerfully reminiscent of Wuthering Heights, though Donwell Abbey might be more relevant and appropriate.

I snapped awake surprisingly early, as you sometimes do after a heavy night on the ale (house red, actually, but I like to pretend I’m still a proper Geordie). I then devoted my first five minutes or so of consciousness to trying to solve the mystery of my whereabouts. I finally worked out that I was naked in my club, and gave a large sigh of relief that it was in a bedroom rather than the Ladies’ Drawing Room. I then noted with approval that I’d had the good sense to pick up a large bottle of fizzy water from the bar on my way in, and wished that I’d had actually had the presence of mind to drink it. Then I started piecing together details of the previous evening and … oh my God, I didn’t, did I? Surely I couldn’t possibly have sent an e-mail in the state I was in last night. But I checked, and I had. I was already in a cold sweat as one of the many symptoms of my hangover, but now wholesale panic set in.

The only positive thing one could say about my composition was that it contained absolutely no errors of spelling or syntax. One thing that working in the City 30 years ago taught me was the importance of being able to get howling drunk at lunchtime, but remember everything that was said and retain the capacity to act upon it when one eventually got back to the office. A friend in agricultural journalism (which brings together two industries never renowned for their abstemiousness) taught me the helpful habit of always carrying a small pocket notebook, and recording details of one’s conversation at regular intervals. He recommended standing with one’s forehead pressed to the cold tiles above the urinal as one scrawled, as this stimulated the brain cells and aided recall and concentration.

Writing this brings back happy memories of the afternoon long ago when we and a colleague of his got comprehensively hammered in the old Wig & Pen Club in Fleet Street, in the company of a nice old boy who was rather eccentrically dressed in a wing collar and various other nineteenth century trimmings. Sometime in the mid to late afternoon he raised himself unsteadily to his feet, at the third or fourth attempt, and slurred that it had been lovely talking to us, but he really must head back across the road and reconvene the court. We asked the barman who the hell he was, and he said … well, it would be indiscreet to reveal that, even though the old chap must long since have succumbed to cirrhosis. Added to which I can’t actually remember, beyond the fact that his names definitely included “Justice”. I am always impressed by the foresight and ambition of those parents who call their children “Justice”, and wish that mine had done the same. I’d have loved being a judge. Mainly for the dressing up, obviously. That and the opportunities for biting sarcasm, and the certainty of having my jokes laughed at by a load of sycophants.

Still, it must have been even more frustrating being Mr James Robertson Justice, who presumably brooded over a whisky bottle each night on how much further he could have gone in life if only his parents had got his names in the right sodding order.

But I digress from my main point, which was my outright panic about this e-mail I had sent. My correspondent had previously suggested that we were living through a remake of Emma, a book which we both studied for A level, albeit many years apart. She was taking the role of Emma Woodhouse, the foolish and unsuccessful matchmaker, while I was Mr Knightley. Only I suspect that she must have failed her A level, as she spelt it “Nightly” and clearly thought that Jane Austen was alluding to his sexual prowess rather than the mediaeval traditions of courtly love. Last night’s e-mail had put her right, though adding mischievously that, in an earlier draft, he had been called Mr Twysse-Knightley, and including a parody far too rude to repeat here. Concluding, most regrettably, with a phrase I have memorized from Viz: “with all spunk coming out the end.”

I vaguely remembered that there was some mechanism for recalling sent e-mails, but was more inclined just to despatch a one-liner saying “Last e-mail sent in error: please delete unread”. I was clearly still heavily under the influence of alcohol at the time, since on mature reflection I can think of nothing more likely to make anyone read anything. I must use the trick next time I want to draw people’s attention to something important.

Then I looked in my inbox and there was a positively affectionate note, written in the early hours, expressing great admiration for my ability to write coherently while under the influence of life-threatening quantities of alcohol, and describing how she was giggling as she read it. Giggling.

Can I finally have encountered a female who actually shares my sense of humour, in all its baroque obscenity? Surely it is much too good to be true. And, as I have spent decades pointing out to clients, first as an investment analyst and then as a PR consultant: if something seems too good to be true, that’s almost certainly because it is.

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