Annabelle, girl and friend of Melba, gave a rather insipid reading of his “blog” account of his breakfast meeting with Lola Whitecastle. She barely made any effort to impersonate the voices of those involved. Had Francois Devine or I read it out we would’ve given it a lot more oomph as we both find it extremely amusing to put on silly voices in order to belittle or diminish those we consider beneath us.

“The meeting was due to start at 8 am but in my enthusiasm I got there at 6.30” she continued.

“Excuse me” said Francois Devine, his arm up as though he wanted to ask a question but that was entirely coincidental and merely part of the anti-wasting programme of arm movements employed by the hospital.

“What?” asked Annabelle.

“When you say ‘I’ do you mean you, Annabelle, or do you mean Melba?”

“I’m reading his blog – obviously I mean Melba.”

“Then prey continue. It would’ve been nice if you’d clarified that earlier but no matter. One has high standards and perhaps have been spoilt by spending so much time with more considerate people. Hurry along – your story is going cold.”

“I sat on the sofa outside the restaurant and waited for it to open. I had done my homework for this meeting – my notebook was packed with questions, comments, details of things she’d done and things I’d done – and I had done a PowerPoint on my Mac that I was going to use to show that I combined modern technology and good old fashioned elbow grease to make the ultimate telehistorical package.”

“Pah” I snored. “The ultimate package? Without gravitas, your own private museum or membership of the Pamela Nash Snook Cocking Society? Ridiculous.”

“Who is Pamela Nash and what is snook cocking?” asked Annabelle.

“She was in charge of destroying BBC television programmes when they were deemed no longer required and the snook cocking society is an elite group of men who have copies…”

Francois Devine coughed so loudly that for a moment I feared a goods train was about to plough through the ward and crush us all to death under its unforgiving metal wheels.

“It’s a purely social gathering where small glasses of wine may be drunk and the world put to rights. Nothing more. Forget he mentioned it” said Francois Devine with all the charm he could muster. “Dennis Brent was babbling – he’s addicted to opiates you know. Terribly sad. I’ve pledged to drag him out of the gutter if I happen to find him slumped in one but beyond that I’ve done all I can to help. So sad. So sad.”

I would’ve protested my innocence but (a) I didn’t know it wasn’t true as I hadn’t tried to not take my painkilling medication owing to the incredible amounts of pain I was in and therefore couldn’t say for certain that I wasn’t addicted and (b) he made a very good point as the Pamela Nash Snook Cocking Society was governed by a strict code of secrecy and merely acknowledging its existence could, in extremis, be grounds for being trumped out of the Club in disgrace. So I simply nodded and tried to look like a slightly befuddled drug addict. Nothing too tragic – just a victim of bad luck who would pull himself together before too long but who, for the moment, should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Whatever” she sighed. “Back to the blog – Melba was sitting outside the restaurant waiting for it to open at 7.30 for breakfast. I – Melba – ran through my notes a few more times because I was so nervous I’d be an absolute wreck without them. This passed the time though agonisingly slowly. At 7.29 the restaurant was opened up but I waited a full minute until 7.30 as that was the stated opening time and Dennis Brent says punctuality is the most important quality a man can have once he’s financially responsible and has chosen what he should devote the rest of his life to.

‘Table for one?’ asked the snooty waiter. I told him I was meeting a woman there. He didn’t believe me but he let me have a second set of cutlery just to humour me. The buffet looked ace – all you can eat which is Francois Devine’s favourite – but I didn’t want to tuck in before Lola arrived just in case she thought I cared more about the food than I did about my pitch. To be honest I was so nervous it was all I could do not to nip to the loo and relieve...”

That was too much for Francois Devine and I to stomach. We both covered the awkward moment of Melba’s lavatorial indiscretion with a persistent cough. Every time Annabelle tried to finish her sentence we rumbled. Eventually she got the hint and moved on.

“At exactly 8.17 on the dot, in walked Lola Whitecastle in person. A vision in cream with blonde hair cascading down like a peroxide waterfall. I stood up to greet her but bumped myself on the edge of the table so a charming handshake became more of a weird bowing movement. She didn’t let it bother her and asked me to get her some orange juice which I gladly did.

‘Get me some toast too while you’re up, darling’ she called. The six other people in the restaurant turned to look at me. A glamorous blonde had just called me darling and unless they looked too closely at her skin they were bound to be impressed. This only served to make me even more nervous and that’s where things started to go wrong. The restaurant had one of those toast machines where you put a slice or two of bread on a conveyor belt and it runs under the elements, emerging on the other side as toast. I picked up a slice of bread, got totally muddled and put my notebook on the conveyor belt. It took a moment to realise what I’d done and by then it was too late. I tried to stick my hand in but the hellish glow from the tunnel of toast quickly put me off. There was a definite smouldering coming from my precious notes. Two horrible thoughts came to me at the same moment. The first was what was I going to do without my notes? The second was how awful it would be if my burning notes set off the smoke detectors and caused the entire to hotel to be evacuated. Overwhelmed by panic I tried to catch the attention of a passing waiter.

‘Excuse…’ I began but he feigned not to hear me.

‘Excuse m…’ I tried again but the pretty girl just glided past.

‘Excuse me…’ I attempted for a third time and got a wait-a-moment gesture to pacify me until he could get away.

Finally, at the fourth attempt, someone stopped long enough to hear my woes.

‘It’s surprisingly common, sir’ he said with contempt. ‘We’ve had all sorts of stupid’ he emphasised that word, ‘objects put in our toasting machine. Steak, a hot water bottle, a mug of tea, a mouldable gum shield, many babies’ bottles, bacon, raw eggs, one of those t-shirts from the 1990s that changed colour when it gets hot, a tin of condensed milk that the owner hoped would be turned into toffee, an anatomical pleasure replica that the lady hoped to be able to make shorter but thicker if it was briefly pliable, a tin of dough from an American lady who could only eat her homemade bread and a pair of spectacles from a gentleman who was so curious to know how it worked that he over-balanced his face and they slipped off his nose. So your notebook is nothing I haven’t seen before.’

‘Right’ I said weakly. He fished it out and, because it was smoking, he dropped it into a nearby ice bucket. I thanked him for saving me from a hugely embarrassing fire alarm situation before going over to look at the damage. I picked up my lovely notebook but between the heat and the wet it was utterly ruined. How on earth was I going to impress Lola without my notes?”