16 JUNE 1990, Page 41

Low life

Passive resistance

Jeffrey Bernard

Last Friday I went straight from my ex-father-in-law's funeral to Birmingham to appear on a television chat show about passive smoking. Ashes to ashes.

Actually it wasn't strictly speaking a funeral. We interred his ashes in the graveyard of his local church. As we stood around a small hole in the ground gazing down at the urn his widow, Dolly, turned to me and said, 'You wouldn't think that was Jim in there, would you?' Indeed you wouldn't have done had you known Jim. He was a big man who could eat and drink like a guardsman on his day. But I was both touched and amused by Dolly saying that. I made a mental note to leave a codicil in my will to the effect that I wish to be made into an egg-timer and given to somebody with a fondness for very soft eggs.

Music-hall mother-in-law jokes stop at Dolly. She is a glamorous 70-year-old with the legs of a chorus girl and she is quite delightful. She and Jim used to come down to our cottage in Suffolk 20 years ago for Sunday lunch and much to my ex-wife's annoyance Dolly would look at me, turn to her daughter and say, 'You don't know how lucky you are, Jill.' That was because I cooked the lunch and then did the washing- UP. She never saw the other side of the coin.

Well, Jim's urn was covered up with earth and we went back to Dolly's house for some drinks and some bits and pieces of food. There were friends and relatives of Dolly's that I had never met before. At one Point I found myself alone in the sitting- room with five elderly ladies, or at least getting on for elderly. It was pleasant. It is an odd thing but ever since I took to eavesdropping on middle-aged Jewish women in the cafés of Marylebone I have become fond of the company of older women. There is something comforting and reassuring about them. Attractive young women can cause a short-lived twitch in the groin but they aren't soothing. I like them better when they leave Shangri- La.

And then to Birmingham, a place I dislike. It is as devoid of a spark as is a car park. I was booked into a hotel called The Wharf. To my utter amazement there was not only no room service but my room didn't even have a telephone. I asked at the reception desk for some ice and waited two hours for it. No ice and I went downstairs to complain. Then I went into the bar. It had Muzak and fruit machines of a sort. In a while the producer of the chat show arrived and led me to another hotel, the Holiday Inn. It transpired that The Wharf had telephoned him to com- plain about my complaining. Incredible. I am not difficult but reputed to be. A hack needs a telephone and this one also needs ice for the vodka and expects room service from a hotel. It is to be hoped that the guide books will give it a drubbing. The show itself went off passably well for me and remarkably well since it went out at about 11 p.m. The passive smoking lobby talked rubbish about cancer but then there were two doctors in it. When I need a doctor I go to Germaine Greer. I told them that I was a passive Thatcherite and that at least went down well with the audience.

Come to think of it I am also a passive motorist. I don't like their stink and noise. But it is not really my intention to be passive about anything. Unfortunately and because of my almost daily contact with Norman in the Coach and Horses I think I have become a passive manic depressive with ideas above my station, wherever that is. And now I shall drink to Jim. I keep thinking of him now when I empty the ashtray. Unlucky Jim.