11 DECEMBER 1993, Page 55

Low life

Bed of nettles

Jeffrey Bernard

Ten days ago I was flattened by one of the infections that are doing the rounds. It was and is a particularly virulent one and it called for a week in bed with hardly a visi- tor and only Vera keeping the teapot hot and bothered.

The only thing that aroused me from my semi-coma was a piece in the Times about the unfortunate Marquis of Bristol. I feel sorry for the man. The English man-in-the- street won't, however, since he is largely envious, vindictive and punitive. Bristol got through £7 million, lost an annual income of £350,000 and had to sell the splendid house at Ickworth.

That mess has been attributed to his tak- ing drugs and I don't believe it is as simple as that. I certainly don't believe that keep- ing him in the company of prison warders for ten months will be of much help to him. I also read that he was made to wear long white gloves as a child and was forbidden to eat in the company of his parents. I read more into those two facts than just the print itself. You get a whiff of his upbring- ing if you stop thinking about retribution for a moment.

And now it is the turn of the Prince of Wales to get some stick. That man in the street again knows what is best for the roy- als. He knows little about himself, would not even understand the recent Budget but, by jingo, he knows what is best for other people. It is a mercy that there aren't more referendums in this country. They would be hanging children.

But now, sitting up in bed with my nose running and unable to stop coughing in my fifth week on the wagon, I still can't stop thinking about this Marquis of Bristol. I thought my own childhood was a bed of nettles, but it must have been a rose gar- den. I know that at school they thought I would go what they called to the bad and you don't need £7 million for that, but I am glad I fooled them and only skated on the fringe of disaster.

What, I wonder, will the man do when he comes out? I have smoked a hundred cigarettes pondering that one. There is nothing quite so daunting and boring as a new leaf. I have turned over more of them than I care to remember, starting the day after I lost the first advance I ever had on a

book at roulette in ten minutes 30 years ago. Oddly enough, the book, Soho Night and Day, done with Frank Norman, was published and I heard to my amazement that a shop in Charing Cross Road was ask- ing £45 for a secondhand copy of it last week. Who knows, it may become a collec- tor's item.

It doesn't matter and won't do me any good anyway, and neither will the visit from the district nurse I am expecting at any minute. She is coming to help me in and out of the bath and it is a racing certainty that I will catch another cold and have a relapse in spite of the central heating. When she last came here she asked me about the play opening in Dublin next month and in an aside she remarked that although she liked Dennis Waterman she couldn't fancy him because he was too old. That brought me down a bit, since I am sure Dennis can't be more than 46. Not much anyway. So what does that make me? I know I have no legs, a broken hip and a broken foot but my heart still beats and my GP vouched for that yesterday.

And I am to eat as much as possible. Red meat is the order of the day and as I chew the sirloin my thoughts turn yet again to the Marquis of Bristol, feeding, I sup- pose, on porridge. My brother, who has done time for his CND activities, says they don't put enough salt into prison porridge. If that is so I hope Bristol sends it back.