11 JANUARY 1992, Page 34

Low life

Light entertainment

Jeffrey Bernard

Ibumped into Michael Elphick last week in the Grouch°, the club he calls the dor- mitory since there is a fair bit of snoozing in the afternoons done by members trying to digest heavy lunches. He is in pan- tomime with the amazing Danny La Rue at the moment but he is about to play the gravedigger in a radio version of Hamlet produced by and starring Kenneth Bran- agh. What is extraordinary is that not a line has been cut and so the play will run for four-and-a-half hours. He told me that the gravedigger has lines and a couple of scenes that he didn't know existed. With Judy Dench, Richard Briers, Michael Hordern and Sir John Gielgud it should be fascinating but that's too long for me, a marathon of listening which I could only sustain laid up in a hospital bed.

When I have been in such beds I have always taken fat books with me to while away the time but reading them can be hard, exhausting work for a man unable to concentrate for much longer than the time it takes them to run five furlongs at Epsom. The record for that is 57.67 seconds. So you may imagine that Bleak House nearly killed me and ploughing my way through The Mill on the Floss required an extra saline drip. This is not to deny the quality of those two books, just to say that this patient thrives on magazines and newspa- pers when held prisoner in hospital.

And, talking of plays, I had a postcard from Ted Sherrin yesterday which he post- ed days ago in Perth. He sounds happy with the way rehearsals for the play have gone so far, and then Keith Waterhouse telephoned to say that a couple of previews went down splendidly and that Dennis Waterman got a lot of laughs and all of them in the right place. In spite of my hopes of going to Australia being thwarted I hope somebody will maybe make a video of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

He is too. After Elphick and I parted I nearly fainted and had to come home to bed with the particularly nasty strain of flu that is doing the rounds: dizziness, head- aches, congested lungs, you name it. It was almost a miracle that a friend managed to get a doctor to come and see me at once since I am not even registered with a gen- eral practitioner. The said doctor turned out to be exceptional and I have a gut feel- ing she may be the best doctor I have ever dealt with. I swear by women doctors. They seem to care a little more than their male counterparts and, unlike the young men working on hospital wards, they don't try to disguise their lack of experience — nerves, if you like — with a show of arrogance. She stayed with me for over 30 minutes and not once did she make a judgmental remark about the way I live, but just reiterated that smoking is far worse than drinking.

Well, I knew that. I can hear it too every morning. The bad news was that she told me my legs would never regain any strength or spring they may have had at one time since the neuropathy and muscle- wasting is irreversible, so I shall continue to hobble on the very elegant black cane The Spectator kindly presented me with.

Meanwhile home help and a district nurse are going to arrive like the US caval- ry in the last reel. The home help will prob- ably refuse to shop for cigarettes and vodka for me and the nurse will put me through some agonisingly boring physiotherapy for my still unset arm. But later I shall stagger to the Groucho fax machine and hope to get good news from Australia from where they will send me the reviews of the first night of the play. I am optimistic that Aus- tralians will understand low life just as the Irish do but lying here like a beached jelly- fish I am damned if I do any more.