24 AUGUST 1985, Page 34

Low life

High and dry

Jeffrey Bernard

Ibumped into an old mate of mine, Bill, the other day whom I was banged up with in 1972 in St Bernard's Hospital. He's on the dry now but he told me he has had several lapses since we left muttering that it was all going to be different tomorrow. But this is the laugh, he's actually trying to sue AA under the Trades Descriptions Act. Anyway, whatever it is he's trying to sue them under, he is sueing them for not being able to stop him drinking. It tickles me. Sadly, I don't think he'll get very far since I don't think they hold out promises — as far as I can remember — but if he were to win such an extraordinary test case thousands would follow suit and I think I would have to have a nibble at the cake as well. I asked Bill if he had seen any of the old faces and he told me he'd seen Cyril who was not in a good way. (Cyril was a Butlins Redcoat, which must be enough to drive anybody to drink.) It seems that Cyril's flat became overrun with wart hogs one day and so he phoned the council pest control officer and told him to put on his skates and to come round straight away. Meanwhile, Cyril held them at bay and set about the wretched animals with a coal shovel. It was one hell of a scrap and by the time the pest control people arrived the sitting-room looked as though a bomb had hit it. He let them in with some consider- able relief and, surveying the wreckage, he said, 'You see? The bastards nearly got me, didn't they?' But it's strange to see wart hogs I think. Rats, mice and spiders are normally obligatory. Wart hogs take the biscuit. Luckily I have never had DTs, which is a condition arrived at when you stop drinking. I did however rather pleasantly hallucinate once and saw a technicolour, stereophonic, wide-screen replay of the battle of Waterloo on the ceiling as I was lying in bed. Trafalgar would have been preferable but Bill thinks that there would be so much gun smoke you wouldn't see a lot. What really terrifies me though is having DTs and seeing editors coming out of the walls.

But enough of this squalid speculation. There are sweeter things in life. Last week we went to Wales to stay with Alice for a few days and examine Home Life at close quarters. I was looking forward to some meaningful chats with Alice around the log fire but She who would drown kept trying to drag me into the strange world of Mills and Boone. At one point She said— and It was raining cats and dogs at the time — 'Take me across the field to the river's edge and sweep me into your arms.' Sweep her into my arms? I ask you. She was also very keen to run through the grass in her bare feet with her red hair flowing in the wind behind her. I told her it can't flow behind you when it's wet and looking like rats tails but she was obviously very taken by the Maureen O'Hara role in The Quiet Man. She is not easily discouraged. When I do tick her off she just says that I remind her of Mr Rochester. If I could walk, let alone run — the staircase smashed my leg two weeks ago — I suppose I could have been a geriatric Heathcliffe, But Mr Rochester, no, although I did once have a mad wife. But we only had one minor upset and that was when I sat in a pub by Lake Vyrnwy with my back to the view, deliberately. I hate views and agree with Francis Bacon that Switzerland for life would be hell on earth. 'But you're wasting the view,' she moaned as I stared doggedly at the darts board. The funny thing though was that on our last day the sun came out and we almost missed the rain. There's melancholy for you. But She loved it. It gave her the chance to toss her flaming mane like a demented pony. Back in London I have just finished Alice's new book, Unex- plained Laughter. It is dedicated to me. I find that extremely touching. And She has just phoned me to tell me that I am no longer Mr Rochester but 'an absolute shit'. Well, it's an easier role to play.