30 DECEMBER 1995, Page 41

Low life

Ask a silly question .. .

Jeffrey Bernard

get a bit fed up with being telephoned by rich newspapers who want to fill up space by asking me silly questions about unimportant things. It serves them right if I give them facetious answers, which I usual- IY do, and the questions they ask me invari- ably concern attitudes or laws to do with snicking or drinking. The last one of these telephone nonsens- es concerned the medical profession's new go-ahead for us all to be allowed one more unit of drink. Since doctors talk very nearly more nonsense about alcohol than they do about almost anything else, it is hardly but making any statement about it at all, urn I usually feel obliged to contradict any- thing those people say although, in this case, one unit is a bit stingy. Then another newspaper phoned up and asked me that boring old question about what arrangements should be made in office buildings for smokers and non-smok- ers. I can't even think about it seriously any more and Ijust said that if people in offices are so desperate to get away from cigarette smoke and breathe fresh air then they should jump out of the window. Sadly, there are those who take such a lazy answer quite seriously and expect one to actually think seriously about such things which are piffling in the context of this world.

Another newspaper recently sent some- body to interview me about my education, and, although I was mystified as to why, I was also sufficiently childishly flattered to give some pretty uninteresting answers to the writer's questions. Since Fleet Street's summer silly season is over and the New Year is almost here, I am surprised that there is such a shortage of worthwhile and interesting news that crazy newspaper edi- tors have to ask me at what age did I have my first drink and was I unhappy at school.

But there is, thank God, still some under- lying nitty gritty to keep one in touch with reality. Last night, my evening home help was a little distraught by the fact that in the afternoon one of her charges, a young woman, had had a fit and died while on a shopping expedition. I am waiting for some- body to die so that I may move into a new flat and someone is waiting for me to die so that they can move into this flat and I saw this morning in the Times that an old friend, the writer Fred Urquhart, has just died.

Perhaps the most depressing thing this week, though, was a little Christmas card I got from my district nurses. I am getting so thin-skinned — my mother was always telling me I was too thin-skinned — that their jolly little joke on the card is weighing on my mind. The card pictures a cat and Trudie has written inside: 'This is the near- est you'll get to pussy in 1996.' I am seeing bad omens everywhere I look nowadays and I am becoming horribly superstitious and even fearful of little jokes like Trudie's.

Most of my other Christmas cards that I have hung up are fairly meaningless and mostly say: 'We must meet for a drink sometime.' This means not only sweet fuck- all but possibly an alcohol drought. I shall start without them and rather optimistically raise a glass to my own health right now. Cheers. That's better.

Oddly enough, I've hardly had a drink for four or five weeks now but my pathetic reaction to Trudie's card, plus a piece in the Sunday Telegraph a couple of weeks ago by Mary Kenny on the joys of sobriety, had me reaching for the bottle again. I am real- ly puzzled again by how it is that so many thousands of people can wonder why it is that a man needs a drink and how it is that a man can feel better for a few. I once went through a stage of taking pain killers when I didn't need them but they made me feel so very, very safe.