11 JUNE 1988, Page 42

Peter Bottomley

AFTER hitch-hiking from Darwin to Alice Springs and along other roads I was stand- ing in for the director of studies at Geelong Grammar. The first lesson to the fourth covered the absence of a square root to a negative number. The second, to older (older than me) pupils dealt with complex numbers, built on the assumption that negative numbers may have a square root.

At 11 in the morning I went back to Hubert Ward to ask for my first serious drink — a whisky. I have respected teachers and malt since then.

The first Spectator Parliamentary Awards lunch was held just after Margaret Thatcher surprised me and many others by removing for a time my eligibility for backbencher of the year. I went back to the Department of Employment with a bottle of Highland Park. Trade union leaders and others infrequently share beer and sand- wiches with me.

In January 1986 a private secretary transferred me to Transport as a not-new- but-clean mini-minister who would be kept happy with vegetables and the single malt Scotch whisky from Orkney. On alcohol days, it is Highland Park at work, Sheepdip in the Smoking Room and Irish at Annie's. On other days, I am more catholic. The range of non- and low- alcoholic beers grows. Still I wait for The Spectator's drink expert's advice and critic- ism to guide me.