First, an explanation for my unwonted absence these past few weeks: one minute I was seated atop my bar stool in the saloon bar of this back page; the next I was flat on my back, wondering what had hit me. Thanks to the prompt action of the paramedics and doctors, I have now clambered back and, a soothing restorative at my elbow, am able once again to watch the country being slowly fed to the dogs.
My recovery, however, is not without its snags. My medical advisers tell me that on no account should I become stressed, irritable, or otherwise diverted from a course of equable calm. But in a world in which, behind every bush, beneath every stone and hidden in each shadow there lurks the ever-present danger of Anne Robinson, Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross, Carol Smillie, Tessa Jowell and Patricia Hewitt, not to mention men with rings in their ears, tattooed women and people of both sexes who wear fcuk T-shirts and drink lager from the bottle, a state of mental tranquillity seems as remote and unattainable as a Caribbean beach free of an Essex plumber and his live-in female partner person.
There was a time when I would have said without question that I have no one to blame other than myself for the condition in which you find me. After all, several decades of devoted consumption of best bitter, measured often by the bucket, must – according to received medical opinion – take its toll. Then again, times have changed – and notions of responsibility with them. Where once it was accepted that misfortune attendant upon reckless self-indulgence was just that – misfortune – it is now widely held that someone else must be to blame.
In my case, the culprits are too many to list and memory of them too embedded in brain cells lost beyond recall, for individuals to be held to account. These are the barmen and barwomen who, with surly ill grace in the case of those of English origin, and with affability, charm and good humour in the case of those from Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, persisted in serving me whenever I asked. They are culpable, all of them. As are the brewers who, despite their persistent greed, stupidity and vandalism, lured me against my better judgement into their noisy, tacky and “themed” premises.
For hurt, inconvenience, loss of self-esteem, damaged pride and physical damage I am due compensation, which I should guess will be measured in six figures. But where to look for help? Where to find lawyers sufficiently derelict in self respect, judgement and pride of profession to be beholden to the compensation industry? Well, as luck would have it, a name springs to mind. Better still it comes with the endorsement of none other than Esther Rantzen, consumer champion and orthodontic specimen.
The former That’s Life presenter is appearing in television and newspaper ads to promote the Accident Advice Helpline, a company that seeks to win compensation on behalf of minor accident victims, of which I am one. And if Esther says this no-win, no-fee outfit is the cat’s pyjamas, that’s good enough for me.
Some will no doubt say, what does she – a television presenter with a shrill voice, a knowing smirk and a limitless appetite for self-advertisement – know about compensation, let alone the intricacies of the law? Well, on her own admission, she has had many a lucky escape. Where accident victims go today, Esther, but for great good fortune, might have gone yesterday.
In her autobiography, published two years ago, she boasted of an affair she had in her 20s with the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn.
“How did he seduce me?” she asked. “He took me to lunch at the Ritz. The Beluga caviar consisted of huge, succulent globes that exploded on the tongue. If ever there was an aphrodisiac meal, this was it… the rest was inevitable.”
Later, in a newspaper article, Esther wrote: “A recent birthday was on such a gorgeous day that I ran round my garden naked except for a chiffon hat.”
Next, she enthused about thongs. “I can’t help noticing as I dress and undress that the thong shape lengthens the leg and flattens the tummy.”
And last week, she offered enthusiastic support for the Orgasmatron. “As long as women don’t press the button when they’re driving at 70mph on the motorway or reading the news, why deprive them of such a fundamental pleasure?” she asks.
So you can see that Esther is no stranger to narrow squeaks. Things explode on her tongue, she streaks past rose bushes with only a chiffon hat for protection, she lengthens her leg by squeezing her crutch, and she favours orgasms at the touch of a button provided the speed limit is observed and the autocue followed. Can ever a woman have been so fortunate to have escaped serious injury?
Those of us at whom fate has cast a well-aimed half-brick can only marvel. We who have avoided the clutches of the goatish Sir Nicholas, who would not dream of running around the garden in anything but stout boots and a sou’wester, who keep our choice of underwear a matter of private concern, and who – when driving or following current affairs – affect to keep our gonads in check, look to Esther for guidance. My letter to the Accident Advice Helpline is in the post.