My boss at the film company where I work, part time, has been distracted over the last week or so. At one story conference he was obviously not concentrating. For all the input we got from him he might as well not have been there.

Creative input is a touchy thing. Destroy the balance sometimes and you destroy it all. So I spoke to him privately and tactfully afterwards. They regard me as something of an elder statesman there, with my track record in the movie business, so I am allowed to do these things.

He admitted that he was not himself. It’s the boy, he said.

The boss has a second wife and with her has had a new young family. I had met the boy at the boss’s barbeque last summer. I couldn’t remember his name. He was about twelve, I recalled. He seemed nice enough. I remembered his refreshing our glasses, and stopping with an appropriate word for each of us. He had a tweed jacket of which he must have been fond as he wore it through the afternoon even though it was hot and the rest of us were in shirt sleeves.

The boy? I said. What’s the matter? Bit young for drugs, I’d have thought. Sodomy, is it?

He smiled.

Nothing like that. Schooling.

He explained that he had always assumed without much thought that the boy would go to his old public school. He named it: a sturdy middle-class establishment, I thought to myself; hardly Eton. When the time came they had applied and the boy had been accepted, but only provisionally.

Provisionally? His Common Entrance grades, is it? I said.

No, no. There’s just a waiting list.

I’m surprised, I said, sympathetically. It’s a sturdy middle-class establishment; hardly Eton.

Arabs, he mouthed. Five little Arabs ahead of the boy in the queue. We need them to fall under a bus or get a surprise place somewhere else, or I don’t know where we’ll be.

He wandered off, shaking his head. I had a quiet word with his secretary and told her to redirect as many as possible of his meetings, where they did not require his own personal touch, to me.

The conversation was still very much in my mind when a week or so later a young man came in to pitch an idea for a series, and I fielded it.

Six episodes, he said, holding up six fingers (5L:1R), then making a vague hand gesture indicating ‘television’, just as if it were charades.

Drama, he added.

The modern world, he said. Grim. No end to the recession. Youth unemployment. The right education desperately important. Without A Levels from a reputable school and a good prospect of uni all may be lost. A father’s anguish.

Good heavens, I said – and I meant it.

He looked at me critically, so I shut up.

A father’s anguish, he repeated. An old family. Waugh. Brideshead. Generations at the same old coll. The boy. Decent, not over-bright. Accepted, but ‘provisionally’. Five ahead of him in the queue.

Six episodes? I said perceptively.

You’re perceptive, he said. Episode one. Father resolves that only desperate remedies will do. Overcoming his qualms takes ten minutes or so. Seeks out old compadre. At school together. Gone to the bad. Great charm though. Compadre makes a call. He has something on the school secretary. We see them arguing through the window of a pub. We can’t hear what they’re saying. Rain lashes the surface of the window, I think. She is in tears. Echoes rain. He gesticulates. He prevails. At the end of the episode we see him handing over to father the names and addresses of the five boys who are ahead in the queue.

Arabs, are they, the boys? I said.

He looked at me very straight.

Are you some kind of racist? he said.

Anyway, he said, having descended to subterfuge, father has to decide whether to go further. Murder. Overcoming his qualms takes two minutes or so. Then there’s an episode for each boy ahead in the queue.

And by September? I said.

I see the boy, kitted out in the anachronistic gear affected by the pupils at the old coll. He throws open some glass doors. Symbolic. Maybe it’s the doors to the school chapel. For a second we see, as if reflected in the glass doors, the faces of the victims. Those to whom the chances of a good education have been for ever denied.

You realise that Alec Guinness is no longer available to play the five boys, I said.


Never mind.

I don’t think that they all need to die, he mused. Maybe at the last minute the family of one of them is relocated to California. We see the boy checking in at Heathrow and in the shadows father fingering his garrotte. Half frustrated, half relieved.

Great idea, I said.

Thank you, he said.

Bit far-fetched?

I was being cunning, you will appreciate.

He leant forward.

I thought you’d say that. It’s based on a true story.


It is! We’ve signed up a consultant. This man has a business. He will guarantee to get your child into the public school of your choice. No foal, no fee. He says that there’s a dark side. He says, the things he’s done. If you think this is far-fetched you should hear some of the stories he’s told me. The hairs stand up.

I considered for a moment.

Have you signed our standard confidentiality agreement?

Of course, he said.

I’d like for you to meet my boss.


“Anal warts!” she shouted.

The better half has the ability to concentrate with an unusual intensity. Sometimes she will be thinking, or dabbing at her iPhone, so hard that she barely registers what is being said to her.

The dog and I used to have a game. We would range ourselves as if by accident into a line, with the dog at one end, the better half in the middle and me at the other. The line was not entirely straight as it was necessary for the dog and me to maintain eye contact. The better half would be facing me rather than the dog, for reasons that will soon be apparent.

At a prearranged signal I would ask her a question.

The dog would predict the answer, by means of an agreed code.

One paw meant complete silence.

Two paws indicated a grunt.

Three: “No, Al!”

Four: violence.

Five (four paws plus raised tail; a not untricky manoeuvre): a complete considered sentence. One of the rules was that a main verb was to be taken as conclusive proof of a ‘five’ response.

The dog would necessarily be lying on his side, or he would have fallen over. Even so he had a natural preference for predictions ‘one’ and ‘two’.

We would agree the number of questions, and if the dog was right more than half the time he could expect to receive something special in his bowl later in the day.

We also tried it the other way round, with the dog asking the questions and me making the predictions, but it was not nearly as satisfactory, as the nature of the questions that the dog could put to the better half was necessarily limited. To be frank, responses ‘one’ and ‘two’ would in most cases be inevitable.

The dog always called it ‘the cricket game’, because it reminded him of the juxtaposition of bowler and wicket-keeper with the hapless batsman in between. Last year the dog joined ‘my Hornby and my Barlow long ago’, so the game can never again be played, but it still amuses me when I hear Michael Vaughan on the television talking about some England bowler ‘asking searching questions’ of some batsman. In my mind’s eye I see the great Matt Prior, tucked behind the batsman, not in the habitual crouch but on his side covertly displaying a coded combination of wicket-keeper’s pads and gloves. What he does for ‘five’, the cricketing equivalent of a full sentence (a reverse sweep perhaps) is something that I am content to leave to the more technical sections of Wisden.

I say that the game can never be played again. Certainly it can’t be played in its pure form as the dog is no longer with us, but I still play it in my head, and I am not entirely sure that it would not make for good, and cheap, television. I have put a proposal to the film company for which I work, part time, and I am awaiting their response. It would give the better half and me great pleasure to see a brief credit for the dog at the end of the closing titles. That would of course involve my telling her about the game, which I have never so far had occasion to do.

As I write this, another thought occurs to me. I take a small piece of paper and a pencil and write: ‘The Cricket Video Game’. I sign it, date it and put it somewhere safe. As I have recorded before, I am creative first and last.

The difficulty of successfully getting the better half’s attention means that many of her friends telephone her. If she has the iPhone at her ear she cannot be dabbing at it and the immediacy of a telephone conversation means that, unless the friend in question is very dull indeed, it will take precedence over even her most urgent musings.

So it was the other morning with Thumper.

Thumper had not been calling for some weeks. I was worried that with his Petomanic tour de force, I Will Always Love You with sax solo, he had torn something. You may remember that his name had later materialised on a small piece of paper, accompanying a stylised representation of a rabbit, at Great Secret Miss. Amy had fancifully suggested that he was imprisoned in it. She has an imagination that is sometimes regrettably coarse and she had had some fun picturing its being applied by accident to her nether parts and lost in the primitive plumbing that lies just behind and below her establishment like the dead people, who, if the tapers are anything to go by, lie immediately below the plumbing.

I think that Amy was winding me up. Anyway she was wrong, for here he was, on the phone to the better half, who was on the other side of the matrimonial bed drinking a delicious cup of tea that I had just made for her.

What! said the better half.

You’ve been under the doctor, she said.

Anal warts! she shouted.

In poor fiction and particularly in inadequately scripted television plays characters frequently say things in the course of a conversation that are intended not to communicate with the other person conversing but with the audience. Sometimes one character will tell another things that the other already knows (“I am your father!”) and sometimes on the telephone one player will repeat what the other says because the audience can hear only one end of the conversation.

That was not the case here. The better half was not repeating what Thumper had said for my benefit, let alone yours. She was doing what my friend John, who is a psychotherapist, calls ‘taking ownership’. Thumper’s anal warts become real to her when she names them, as it were, in her telephone conversation. She was ‘taking ownership’ of them.

Indeed shortly afterwards I heard her say, ‘Leave them alone, Thumper. You’ll only make them worse’.

When she ended the conversation I put the Spectator to one side.

Thumper has anal warts?

It was I Will Always Love You that did it, she said, brushing aside a tear. With sax solo. It was too much. I blame myself. He may never fart again.

Four main verbs! In my mind’s eye I saw my dear dog, at the edge of her pillow, on his back with all four paws and his tail erect.

It never hurt Rod Stewart, I said. He had nodes, didn’t he? That of course was his vocal chords and not his bottom, which may make a difference.

That got a ‘two’.

She jumped out of bed.

I’d better go and sort it all out, she said.

You’re too caring, I said, and returned to Rod Liddle.

Dicks in Chicks’ Clothing

The phone rang.

Popes Я Us here.

The tone of voice suggested hesitation.

Yes? I said.

Borgias. Pope Alexander. Ha ha.


It’s me!

I realised yet again how much I dislike the telephone. One’s friends and family are bad enough, but one should not in a fair society be subjected to long-distance, number-withheld calls from Roman Catholic priests.


I spoke as coldly as I could.

We thought that we had established some sort of understanding, they said.

You did?

Surely, I thought, Popes Я Us are not planning to try to convert me from the decent Anglicanism to which I was born – by phone, moreover.

No, it turned out, they weren’t.

You said, last time, Cut to the crucifixion. Meaning, we suppose, ‘Cut to the chase’, but with a religious spin to it.

Yes, I said. I’m sorry if it was an offensive remark. I’ve thought about it since. At the time I felt that it was too good a line to ignore, but later it seemed to me that it might be offensive to those for whom Christ’s passion is the defining and most deeply felt element in their world-view. On the other hand, I thought, the Gospels’ is as well-trodden a story arc as the standard Hollywood movie, so why not?

Yes, yes, said Popes Я Us.

The offensiveness or otherwise of my remark was apparently not at issue here.

We’re not offended, they said. Goodness, no. Most amusing. We have a junior canon who is investigating whether it can be adapted into Italian for one of His Holiness’s homilies. Unfortunately we have identified a possible problem. There is, you understand, a great tradition of Italian cinema, The Bicycle Thieves, the great works of Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci…

La Dolce Vita, I suggested.

Popes Я Us coughed delicately.

There is a glorious and positive tradition of anti-clericalism in Italy, they said. The Church embraces it with love. But there are limits.

Anyway, they persisted, unlike in Hollywood, it is usual for Italian films not to feature a car chase during the final thirty minutes. As a result he phrase ‘Cut to the chase’ is far less common in Italy. And so the point of your variation ‘Cut to the Crucifixion’ would be less apparent to the faithful.

The generality of the faithful, that is, they added modestly. Not to us in Vatican City. We have a well-stocked library of American DVDs and are thoroughly familiar with the culture of the New World.

Ha ha, they added.

Anyway, they said. To cut to the crucifixion …

Ha ha.

Ha ha, indeed. Anyway, to cut to the crucifixion, what is all this we read in the newspapers about Julie Birchill and the transgender community? We don’t understand. We thought, dear Mr. Àlablague, that since you so clearly have your finger on the pulse of Modern Thought, you could assist us. His Holiness wishes to make the Church’s position in the matter clear but we don’t yet know what our position is.

You can call me Al, I said.

Oh! Ha ha! Ha ha! Another joke! Very funny as well! You are referencing, I think, the song of Paul Simon, the well-known Jew. We have all his CDs here in Vatican City too – or possibly just the Greatest Hits one.

I ignored this. If there is one thing worse than having your jokes ignored it is having them explained.

I summarised.

Suzanne Moore, who is an English journalist, wrote that women sometimes felt a compulsion to aspire to the artificial beauty of Brazilian transsexuals. I’m paraphrasing because I haven’t read the piece. This compulsion was unfair on women; if she didn’t use the phrase ‘real women’, that was what she implied. Anyway the Transgender Community, if there is such a thing, or elements of it, or possibly just some people who felt entitled to take on themselves the emotions of the Transgender Community, if there is such a thing, decided to express their very real feelings of hurt at her remarks.

We like Brazilian transsexuals, said Popes Я Us, interjecting. His Holiness believes that God’s love shines through their simple antics, cavorting as they do on Copacabana Beach, in a way that is absent from the more sophisticated social transactions of the metropolitan world.

Yes. And if you’re lucky and they’re feeling friendly they sometimes let you fool around in a most interesting way.

Popes Я Us chortled.

Yes, Al, yes! With us it’s choirboys!

Anyway, those who took it on themselves to object to Suzanne Moore’s remarks said that they felt offended, and particularly that they felt that they were being diminished in comparison with women born as such, whom those whose business it is to identify groups of people (or ‘communities’) that might qualify for victim status apparently refer to by the revolting word ’cisgendered’. They expressed their views intemperately.

But we thought it was all about Julie Birchill.

Indeed. Julie Birchill, who is also an English journalist, and a friend of Suzanne Moore, sprang to her defence. Julie Birchill is a very funny writer. She sometimes (her opponents would say ‘always’) sacrifices fairness in the interest of a striking phrase. She suggested that those who had taken it on themselves to be offended by Suzanne Moore’s remarks (whether the so-called Transgender Community, or elements of it, or just some people who felt entitled to take on themselves the feelings of the so-called Transgender Community) were up their arses and that when it came to having a hard time, real women (as she may even actually have said) had it much worse (she mentioned PMT) than what she called ‘dicks in chicks’ clothing’.

(‘Dicks in chicks’ clothing’. Phoar! said Popes Я Us)

It had become a vicious scramble for the top of the victimhood pole.

The fact that Julie Birchill had produced several scabrous phrases, which will now be used whenever two or three are gathered together and attempt a serious discussion on gender issues, infuriated many. Some cabinet minister wrote that what she had said was ‘bigoted vomit’ (which is a metaphorical leap too far for me) and should be sacked.

A bloody Tory!

Sort of. The editor of the paper which had published Birchill’s piece took it off the website and apologised, saying that he was passionately in favour of free speech but not right now.

And you, Al. What do you say?

So that His H can steal that too?

Probably. Ex urbe et orbe. That’s his motto.

What do I say? I think that people are entitled not to be threatened and put in fear but they have no right not to be mocked. I think a bit of mockery is good for you and it’s particularly good for self-regarding ‘communities’. The Church has thrived on it over the centuries. And even if there is a right not to be offended it is trumped by the desirability of good jokes. God save Julie Birchill is what I say. I disagree with her conclusions…

But you would defend to the death her right…

No, she can manage quite well without that. Curiously I was listening when the story broke to Neil Young, whom Julie Birchill would no doubt regard as a hapless old hippy, and his song Southern Man

Ah! Neil Young. We also have here in Vatican City…

Never mind that now. Southern Man is lazy, offensive and wrong, just like so much of what she writes, but I would hate to be deprived of it, and I would particularly hate it to be banned at the instance of some holding-on-by-their-fingertips member of the Cabinet Minister Community.

Well, said Popes Я Us, more strength to your elbow, say I (where did they learn their English?), and do you recommend that His Holiness takes that line when he next has a window for a homily?

I considered. What do I owe to His Holiness? There is a view held in the Bigoted Protestant Community, after all – passionately and sincerely held – that he is the spawn of Satan. But charity prevailed.

Best not, I said. His Holiness, transsexuals, dicks in chicks’ clothing: best avoided


The better half likes to sleep late when she can. I will be working away in the morning, preparing Notes for the director of one of our successful TV series perhaps, just in earshot, and I will hear her lovely voice:


This morning I was working on another new project, Bunanza! This is an exciting one. Someone pointed out to us that there was a gap in the television schedules. There are no series that are competitions for members of the public who like to bake: cakes, buns, bread and so on. There is Masterchef, of course, but that’s for cooking generally; there’s nothing just for baking. I see two judges, they said, and someone to introduce it, bond with the competitors and so on; I see a lesbian comedian, to make to edgy, less WI. The judges throw out the useless ones and the lesbian comedian sympathises with them.

And that was when I had my brainwave. Not a lesbian comedian, I said, but Dame Jenni ™ Murray. You can’t get more cutting edge than Dame Jenni ™ Murray. Everyone of course agreed at once and the lawyers are in touch. Bunanza! is already fast-tracked to the nation’s heart.

I was engrossed in annotating the script for a ‘rap’ which Dame Jenni ™ is, lawyers permitting, to make about gender bias in baking, and I’m afraid to say that the better half had to shout twice:

Is anyone making my tea?

This was a rhetorical question. There is only me and the dog, and the dog for all his very positive and indeed inspirational qualities cannot make tea, not having an opposable thumb.

She has it black and I wait to have my first cup of the day with her; mine is green. I hurried up the staircase with two steaming cups, some dried fruit for her and two pickled eggs for me. I was still excited about Dame Jenni ™ and the buns and I started to tell the better half about it all as I entered the bedroom. She was on the phone, however, so I sat on the bed and waited for her.

It was one of her regular callers.

The better half is slightly hard of hearing at present, a persistent niggle with her sinuses, and the caller was having to speak up, to the point that he was quite audible from the other side of the matrimonial pillow.

Are you wearing a bra?


A bra. Are you wearing a bra?

What! I can’t hear a word you say.

Are … you … wearing … a … bra?

Don’t be so silly, Thumper. Of course not. I’m in bed.

A little sigh escaped him and he hung up.

Why do you call him Thumper, I asked once, or is that his real name?

There are such strange noises on the line whenever he calls me, she said. It must be his phone. I think he needs a new contract.

Of course the better half knows perfectly well what Thumper is up to. Where we differ is whether it is right for him to do it in our bed.

It’s good for him, she says, not answering my point and moreover taking a diametrically opposed view to that generally held not so long ago, when it was thought to lead to insanity, blindness and an early grave. Of course in those days there were no mobiles and that may make a difference.

Who is he, I persist. Have you met him?

Not so far as I know.

Why don’t you just hang up then?

She looked at me in disbelief.

That would be rude.

I changed the subject gracefully.

Are these pickled eggs Waitrose? They don’t half repeat.

She gave me to understand that she pickled my breakfast eggs herself. She said a little sharply that she was surprised that I hadn’t noticed her doing so in our kitchen, so I changed the subject again.

The dog is much improved. He has finished his course of anti-biotics and we now mix his ‘intestinal’ hard bits judiciously with regular hard bits. He no longer pauses to catch his breath on the stairs. However, the stress of his illness seems to have taken its toll on his mental powers.

In the bedroom, we have a wooden figure of Christ on the cross. It is Sixteenth Century from Spain and I inherited it from the painter Carel Weight. At some point in its long life it has become scorched, and another friend guessed, fancifully or not, that someone condemned to be burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition was clutching it at the moment of his death. So it is an object full of resonance even to sceptics who question the literal truth of the Resurrection.

Yesterday I came across the dog standing over this piece and growling.

So, I said to the better half, changing the subject again, the dog has always, like you, been inclined to question the literal truth of the Resurrection, but this is a step change. I see the hand of our Great Enemy here.


The same. I think he’s been turned to the Dark Side.

She thought for a moment.

The vet will be no help, spiritually.

No. I’ll have a word with Father J. He may be able to exorcise the dog.

Not before the daughter’s wedding though.

No. One thing at a time.

A Moment of Truth

One of the more solid franchises for which my film company is responsible is called A Couple in a Thousand. It’s a television series set in that strange period of English history, the early Sixties, when it was really still the Fifties but there were noises off. It involves a young couple – less young now, as the seventh series is negotiated – called Bob and Sheila and where The Royle Family has its couch and Star Trek has its flight deck A Couple in a Thousand has the front seats of a Morris Minor. Hence the show’s title; I didn’t think to start with that people would get it but they seem to.

Although the car is always a Morris Minor, the set, from front windscreen to back, is remade each series to include different amusing or nostalgic artefacts and those from previous series often end up, so I’m told, in the homes of senior executives of the broadcast company along with their daleks.

The original idea was a gentle progress through the English countryside of yesteryear, loveable rather than side-splitting. It has worked out differently because the studio audiences have turned out to laugh uproariously at any situation that would play differently in the Twenty-First Century. For instance there was an episode where Bob and Sheila were desperate to find a public phone that worked, and the audience found the lack of mobiles hilarious. The actors, who of course are now unfirable, have taken to making knowing looks to camera when these situations arise.

Similarly there is fun sometimes to be had with the noises off. On one occasion Bob and Sheila were given tickets for a concert in 1962 where the Beatles were one of the support acts, and they decided to spend the evening in the pub instead.

Bob and Sheila are a happy couple. They have their ups and downs and they bicker a lot but nothing will ever seriously threaten their relationship so long as the series continues to be commissioned. So far they are childless, despite a vigorous campaign on the part of the broadcaster to develop the concept as A Family in a Thousand, with cheeky kids.

The back seats of the car are sometimes occupied, if not by children. In one series, the fourth, there was a man in the back, who clearly had designs on Sheila, but the ratings for that series were the lowest of all and Bob saw him off.

In my darker moments I sometimes like to imagine a serial killer or an escaped python rising up from the Morris Minor’s back seat behind Bob’s and Sheila’s comfortable faces, but it all pays the rent and it’s wrong to be ungrateful. Nonetheless it is for The Jibjab Woman, and Van!, for which I have high hopes, rather than for A Couple in a Thousand that I hope to be remembered.

It was the dog that made me muse on A Couple in a Thousand. He is not in the best of health. He has been repeatedly incontinent at both ends, which has made him weak and thin and his bones have shown through his fur, which has lost its accustomed gloss. Yesterday the postman arrived as he was in the middle of vomiting on the hall floor, but he changed tack in mid-heave and was still able to destroy a catalogue from the Annely Juda art gallery before resuming his filthy business.

The vet says that he has picked up a bug in the water at Hampstead Heath. Since the dog was neutered the question of his sexual orientation has been theoretical, but he does enjoy the fellow feeling in the Men-Only Pond – which is precisely why I wait for him outside. Anyway, while he was in the water he swallowed something there that disagreed with him and now he is on anti-biotics and reduced to a diet of ‘intestinal’ hard bits.

Today he is much improved. But watching him on the rug, the flutter of his indomitable heart the only sign of life apart from the occasional appalling fart, I thought about how we imagine him, and that’s what brought A Couple in a Thousand to mind.

Bob and Sheila have an invisible friend called Gerald the Sparrow. Much of their banter involves making up dialogue for Gerald the Sparrow and the imaginary bird is often called in aid when they have a disagreement. “Gerald the Sparrow says that you’re quite wrong….”

Many couples do this. You should see our fan mail on the subject.

When Bob and Sheila do Gerald the Sparrow they do him consistently with each other, although Sheila does it in an irritating high voice. They would, of course, because they both have the same writer. It struck me however that the better half does the dog rather differently from the way that I do him. In her sadly unrecorded – lived – blog he talks with a constant sense of grievance, like a canine Hyacinth Bucket. In mine, he is often disagreeable but – well you know how he is.

Sometimes you have to face reality. At the end of Series Four, Bob tells the man in the back seat, “That’s the last time you ride in our car”, he looks at Sheila with renewed love and respect, it is one of the rare completely serious moments and Gerald the Sparrow falls silent for a moment. Just so, as I say, the other evening the better half and I found ourselves bent (not unlike early Flemish paintings of the Holy Family) over the emaciated form of the dog, who was fighting if not for life at least to keep his intestinal hard bits down, me willing him to beat this thing and she, more practically, mopping his bottom with some kitchen towel, and the better half turned to me and asked, What does he say.

And I replied, with a grim smile, He doesn’t say anything: he’s a dog.


I may have mentioned that I am a non-executive director of a film company. I go into the office once a week or so. They like me to consider the pitches that they receive from prospective film-makers. It was through this company that I met The Jibjab Woman, who is now both a dear friend and a valuable franchise.

The other day I was at my desk there. Nothing was happening so I was sitting grading my collection of Mont Blanc pens in order of second-hand value. They (my people, not my pens) put their head round the door. Could I see someone who had come in? He had an appointment with the CEO, who had an unexpected lunch.

Twenty-five words or less, I told the young man, who was sweating in terror. Maybe I was his last hope.

I try to encourage them, or at least to be kind. The allusion to Robert Altman and The Player, which I always make, is intended to put them at their ease. Would they imagine to look at me that I would willingly use ‘less’ rather than ‘fewer’ in that sentence? But I am afraid that old Bob Altman, like so many of us, has slipped over into the category of heritage.

Anyway, he pitched.

Beethoven, said the sweating young man. Genius. His voice fell a major third to indicate reverence. Impossible man, passionate, a maverick.

Deaf, I interpolated helpfully. He ignored me.

Made enemies among The Establishment. They were jealous. Had him killed. Triumph of mediocrity over, um…


Yes, genius.


Who who?

Who was jealous and killed him?

Ah, said the sweating young man, gratefully back on track and consulting his notes. Joseph Haydn.

He sat back looking insufferably pleased with himself. For a moment the single word ‘Amadeus’ hung in the air between us. But never mind that, I thought to myself; we don’t even get to the point that plagiarism becomes an issue.

Do you have a title, I asked kindly.

Van, said the young man. With an exclamation mark. Van!

Good title, I said.

Thank you, he replied.

You could reuse it.

He jumped.

I sat there kindly for a moment. I put the tips of my fingers together, as thoughtful and avuncular men do in Hollywood films of the Golden Age.

I have two tiny problems, I said finally.

The first is that Haydn died in 1809 whereas Beethoven lingered on, an increasing embarrassment to his students and friends, more last quartets that Sinatra had farewell tours but nonetheless clinically alive, until 1827. How did you plan to deal with that? Time travel? Slow-acting drugs?

The sweating young man would not meet my eye but pretended to consult his notes.

The second is that Haydn was a musician of lucidity, humour and humanity – yes, genius. Beethoven by contrast was a bombastic self-satisfied old fraud whose idea of a tune was dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dee-dum. The idea that Haydn might have been jealous of him is laughable.

Your story is entirely misconceived, young man. I wish you luck with your approaches elsewhere.

You have to be cruel to be kind, I thought to myself as he left the room. Thank God.

Of course then the itch of speculation started in my mind. Any musician of any discernment would have wanted to put the old fool out of his misery. Not Haydn, of course. Far too decent a man. But Mozart? Died even earlier, 1791. Not a decent man – certainly if Amadeus is anything to go by. More importantly, a Mason. See Magic Flute. Could have hopped forward in time to do it. Must check on his level of adepthood to see if feasible. Ask Uncle Edgerton next time I see him: he’d know. Maybe helped.

I had covered my pad with scribbles before I knew where I was. I am creative, first and last.

There was a proposition here. I could see a movie. Not the ludicrous treatment I had just disposed of, with Beethoven murdered by Haydn. It was Mozart did it!

I wrote at the top of the pad: ‘An À la Blague Production’.

Van! Good title. I’d keep that.

The Revenge of the Jibjab Woman

I have a treatment for a television series. It’s called The Revenge of the Jibjab Woman™.

Our heroine is a Moslem woman, of modest demeanour and covered in her attire. But when she meets an enemy of Islam she beats the shit out of him. For each episode there will be a new enemy of Islam. In the pilot that I am working on it will be Santa, to give it a Seasonal feel, but for the future I have in mind Colin Powell, Richard the Lionheart, the Danish Prime Minister, maybe Henry Kissinger. I’m hoping that the more sporting among the enemies of Islam, if still with us, will be prepared to play themselves.

The Jibjab Woman™, who as I say will be modestly attired, will Transform™ when she encounters the enemy of Islam. Her attire, whilst remaining modest, will suddenly become the Jibjab ™, a combination of the traditional hijab and the jilbab suitable for her brand of Islamic martial arts. The hijab preserves the modesty of the top half and the all-important face and hair; the jilbab that of the bottom half. When the modest Moslem woman is engaged in anything more energetic than shopping, such as beating the shit out of an enemy of Islam, it’s essential that there is no clenching of the muscles of the buttocks, for instance, visible through the cloth, or jutting thighs.

So the five star Islamic scholars whom I have engaged have developed the Jibjab™. The long skirting Transforms™ into trousers, which, though baggy and of sturdy and by no means translucent material, will be suitable for kicking. The flowing upper garments will become restrained by something like bicycle clips, or rather sleeve garters, but with tasteful and devotional decoration.

The Jibjab Woman™ has a mentor, a kindly old imam. There is some back story here, possibly to be explored later in a Christmas Special. Maybe he rescued her as a baby. Anyway, when she encounters an enemy of Islam, the kindly old imam says that it is OK to beat the shit out of him – in accordance with Sharia law. I haven’t worked out how he does this. Maybe he appears to her as if in a dream; maybe there’s just a voice-over with a bit of echo.

Obviously this will all have to be sensitively handled, and I have faith consultants who will ensure that it is not offensive in any way. I have also applied to His Royal Highness the Sultan Qaboos of Oman for seed funding, and his blessing, and I am confident of success.

This is a project which is win win all the way.

It’s a TV series, suitable for the crucial children’s market.

The commercial tie-ins are obvious. There are the usual figures, sticker albums etc, but there is also the clothing market – not just t-shirts, but the dress that Transforms™, the Jibjab™ itself. For kids whose parents can’t afford the full Jibjab™, the Islamic bicycle clips will hopefully be an acceptable substitute.

There will be no nonsense from the actress who plays the Jibjab Woman™. Like Robocop, although in this case for spiritual reasons, you never see her face, so if she cuts up rough she is replaceable.

But I also look at this at a deeper level. At a time of strife such as ours, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said so often, we desperately need meaningful dialogue between our faith communities. And the Jibjab Woman™ is all about inter-faith dialogue – at its most visceral level.