15 APRIL 1989, Page 42

Low life


Jeffrey Bernard

Last week I was astonished to read that Brigham Young had 55 wives. He must have been mad. Did he manage, I wonder, to call them all by their right names in the dark or did he play safe and address them all as darling? I wonder about these little things. How amazing to come home at night to an oven containing 55 dinners. My own modest tally of four wives palls beside this magnificent and vast tapestry of life on the farm that I can see in my head. Perhaps he was showing off, but most people will marry you if you ask them nicely enough. Just think of the alimony.

Anyway, this piece of information about Young has been very disconcerting and I have even been dreaming about my wives, which gives rise to a great deal of anxiety and causes sweating in the middle of the night. Not a pretty picture that: a crumpled and damp duvet, the glow of a cigarette and a glass of horribly warm vodka left over from the previous evening. My nights seethe with devils. The days seethe with bores.

Last Monday I went into the pub and a total stranger began eavesdropping on us and then actually barged into the conversa- tion and talked us through last week's Grand National and his Sunday lunch. Very rarely can unsolicited chat be reward- ing. Sometimes it can be all right on trains. I had to go to Blackpool once and from Euston to the end a woman told me all about her various suicide attempts. She seemed quite jolly about them so it didn't depress me. I suppose the man in the pub waffling about the National was lonely and frightened but you need to be a little braver than that.

But it's those who are in town for the day who crown it all and make me want to scream when they tell you about their grown-up children. 'We went down to Eastbourne last week. Ever such a nice place they've got. Her husband is a sales executive for Birds Eye peas. Doing very well. They say he'll go right to the top. Don't they dear?' Charlie from the market is quite ruthless with these people. They have only to tell him that it is slightly colder today than it was yesterday and he says, 'Don't talk to me. I've come in here for a drink. Piss off.'

There is also one nice but extremely irritating man who will walk up to strangers and announce, 'Hallo, I'm a homosexual poet.' Why? I can easily resist informing people that I am a heterosexual hack. But where do these crowds of banal button- holers come from? Now, because of the new licensing laws, when they are spewed up from their offices at five p.m. they know they can have a drink so they linger. Pubs in Soho are now unbearable after 6.30.

Betting shops are awful places too for being accosted by strangers who assume you are up to your neck in financial shit just as they are. Afternoon clubs for losers is what they seem to be. Depressing places. In hospital wards too there is always some old twit who will shuffle over to your bed to ask what is wrong with you. I am extremely rude to those and thereafter get left alone. Save us from strangers.

Just about the only nice ones I come across are Spectator readers who introduce themselves in the pub. Sometimes they fall by the wayside and stay all day. One poor sod did just that the other day and Norman had to bar him after five hours, so I was told. A very friendly lot, our readers.