11 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 49

Low life

Man's worst friend

Jeffrey Bernard

The journey by rail from Norwich to Liverpool Street last Sunday was a night- mare. The first leg of the trip was a two-carriage job to Ipswich. From there we travelled by bus to Colchester. From where I was sitting on the top deck I got the impression that the driver was drunk. At Colchester we were directed to the wrong platform three times and I thought these legs of mine would give in. It then took nearly two hours of stopping, starting and then crawling into London. The buffet was closed. I would have given a fiver for a cup

of tea, never mind a drink.

But it was my companion on this third leg of the journey that made me so anxious to get home. Lying on the floor next to me was a bloody great Doberman Pinscher belonging to the attractive woman sitting opposite. The Doberman didn't bite me but the mere presence and close proximity of the beast was unnerving. And the presence of a Doberman is not mere. I never forget that they were bred for killing people and I almost accidentally stubbed a cigarette out on it. I thought its owner would address it as Fang but she kept calling it Sweetie. I read once that three Dobermans owned by a security company were being exercised in Hyde Park and when they got off their lead they attacked an old woman sitting on a bench and ate her. I kept thinking of that while Sweetie sat next to me on the train.

And now I face another horrendous journey, although there will be no Dober- mans but a drinks buffet. By the time you read this I will have been sitting on an aeroplane for 12 hours. I am dreading it. I can't sleep on aeroplanes and I very much dislike using alcohol as a general anaesthe- tic. In the normal course of events it is merely a local one. In the light of recent disasters I am no longer nervous of flying. I am downright frightened. What assurances do we who are Singapore- and Sydney- bound have that there are no Aboriginal separatists working as luggage handlers? I would prefer to save myself for a funnel- web spider. I gather that after you have been bitten by one you have a full 20 minutes in which to reflect on your past follies. It isn't quite long enough to cram them all in but it is better than nothing.

Given happy landings at the end of the first stage of the trip, I look forward to following Frances Bissell's advice. She writes the cookery column for the Times and I believe she has aimed me in the right direction, so I shall call in at Hsieh's Garden restaurant. I like very much the sound of deep-fried chicken which has been marinated for a day in ginger, honey, spring onions and salt and pepper. Then there is always clay-pot lobster and roast pigeon. Come two weeks' time it will be back to Marks & Sparks takeaways.

Speaking of which, some members of the staff in the Coach and Horses are quite daft. One of the barmen did some shop- ping there and brought me back a shepherd's pie not much bigger than a postage stamp plus a carton of cauliflower cheese enough to serve four. It was the equivalent of serving a man 6Ib of potatoes accompanied by a single sausage. They don't think, you see. The lower the IQ of a man the more likely he will be able to get a job in that pub. I think that maybe unconsciously it is Norman's way of telling us that he despises us for drinking.

And now the telephone has just rung and a magazine has asked me to try and pick up a woman in Sydney and write

about it. Well, it could be fun but I am a little out of practice. And I should have asked for some advance expenses. Pulling people always involves expenditure. Years ago, when Harold Evans was editor of the Sunday Times, he gave me the money to write about spending a night with an upmarket call girl. I settled for a short time and spent the remaining cash on an excel- lent dinner and wine. I did the right thing.