10 AUGUST 1985, Page 34


Other men's trousers

P. J. Kavanagh

It must have begun a couple of years ago when I sat sucking my pen and staring out at the rain and decided I needed a change. Not a complete change of life — pen- sucking and pen-using was right for me but an occasional, brief, relief. Holidays are no use, I find them exhausting. Be- sides, I needed colleagues, I hadn't worked in the company of anyone else for years.

The only other thing I had ever done, reasonably successfully, at a time when even the sight of a pen was abhorrent, was earn my living as an actor. So, when I was next in London, I found myself outside the office of the excellent woman who had been my agent 20 years before, Jean Diamond. Still not quite admitting to myself what I was doing (an excellent device in such circumstances, indeed in most: give the subconscious a chance) I allowed myself to drift into her presence. She was even grander now than she had been then and to my surprise she thought it an excellent idea, even an excellent joke, to take me once more onto her books.

It was a relief that nothing much then happened. What did turn up I was easily able to wriggle out of, the whole thing remained a pleasant possibility that I need not take too seriously. Then, recently, there came the chance of a part in a new Michael Caine film, which chance I turned down. To my astonishment the casting director persisted, implored me to come and meet the director. One is seldom implored by casting directors — unless, I i suppose, one is Michael Caine — and it occurred to me that it was only fair to her, and to Jean, that I put in at least a token appearance. We had lunch and the casting director told me I was exactly right for the part, in a film to be called Half Moon Street. When I read the script and disco- vered it was that of an arid journalistic ex-general who could not stand Americans (and who, incidentally, in a script put together long before my advent, wrote occasional pieces for the Spectator) I was unflattered or, perhaps, de-flattered. But there began a series of chauffeur-driven dashes here and there — a change as great as the one I had described and which I realised I did not want — and I was given the part.

I feel both pleased and idiotic, as well as nervous. At first I determined to keep it secret but then I noticed that the few intimates I told became strangely excited. If they had heard that I had written the best book of poems since Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans they would have been interested, fairly. But at the mention of a part in a film their eyes flashed, the air crackled with their eager questions. Ali, the silver screen. . . .

There are some, I suppose, who will never take me seriously again. But I have always felt that life was too serious not to be taken lightly, when that is possible. (A sentence, that needs expansion but some will understand what I mean and in my experience others, who do not, can never be convinced.) Anyway, that is how I came to find myself in Moss Bros, being fitted for my general's pin-stripes. It was a lordly experi- ence, the designer buying me shirts, shoes, cufflinks, ties. I had never been to Moss Bros and I was impressed by the assistants and by how well the suit fitted. Eventually I returned to my cubicle and put on my own trousers. They seemed rather tight but the general's had been rather loose-fitting- It was on the train home that I began to wonder. I found a strange handkerchief in my pocket. As soon as I crossed my domestic threshold the cry went up 'Where did you get those trousers!' At first I was appalled, at the thought of their unfortunate owner capering about Moss Bros in his underpants. But it has turned out well. He has them back, and I have mine. He had to buy a suit in order to get back to the office. He has courteously said he found it 'an amusing incident'. But I can't help seeing it symbolically. I was, after all, trying on another man's trousers, the journalistic general's, and perhaps that was the mistake. (Give the unconscious a chance.) But the process had to be gone through again and I emerged this time with my own clothes. The image had been changed from pin-stripe to tweedy: ah, the silver screen.