I shouldn’t like you to think I had been idle while Francois Devine was out giving lunch to Lola Whitecastle. Despite having some reservations about Anthony Van Starbuck’s book giving advice on how to have dinner with a woman I was prepared to give it a second chance for two key reasons. Firstly, I had no other options and, secondly, if I had had any other options they would undoubtedly have cost more than the 25p I gave to Save the Buildings for the book. I skipped on past the exercise chapters as they were clearly as nonsensical as his nutritional advice and found myself staring down the barrel of a chapter entitled “Positivi-BE! – How to BE positiviTEE”.

After a moment’s dry heaving in the lavatory I steeled myself for the worst of it. To save you ever having to read Mr Van Starbuck’s ghastly work I’ll give you the sort of informative précis that some have said would make my books even easier to enjoy. I might’ve changed almost all the words in that sentence but that was the gist of what they said.

In short, Mr Van Starbuck advocates feeling good about yourself in order to be good at whatever you’re trying to do. He also says that thinking you can do something will make it more likely it will happen. This is so staggeringly obvious that had Mr Van Starbuck not died of a wasting disease in 1987 I would’ve gone round to his house in California and shouted through his letter box until he gave me my 25p back. Or rounded up to the nearest coin in whatever currency they use overseas.

“Imagine yourself doing the thing you want to do” he suggested. I grumbled loudly. What did he think I’d been doing for the last three days if not imagining my dinner meeting with Lola Whitecastle? The man was an idiot. A dead idiot too which is the worst kind. He gave some hints and tips on the next page.

“First” he said, “imagine the thing going badly. But I want you to imagine it going badly in a dark and dingy room. There isn’t much colour in there and everything is quiet and slow and dull. Then I want you to imagine your thing again but this time it’s going really well. Everything is loud and brightly coloured. All the people are friendly and warm. This technique will associate things going well with things that are really great. The brain is a wonderful but complicated thing and sometimes you have to trick it in order to have a positive mental attitude. By doing this exercise and taking steps to be more positive – and by accepting responsibility for your own positivity – you will achieve the status of Positivi-BE! This is an incredible place to be in your life. Wear the Positivi-BE! label proudly.”

He added a footnote at the bottom of the page which stated in no uncertain terms that when he says to wear the Positivi-BE! label proudly he is speaking metaphorically and that Positivi-BE! is a trademarked term and logo and that unauthorised duplication or replication is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. It says a lot that this footnote was by far my favourite part of the book. The enforcing of law and order is something I find extremely agreeable.

Despite my sensible reservations and absolute contempt for the idea, I tried his two suggested scenarios. In the first I imagined taking Whitecastle to a dark and dingy restaurant. The waiters mumbled, the other diners barely said a word, the food was dreadfully dull and neither of us said anything remotely interesting. By the end I was so miserable that I didn’t have the energy to try the second example. Besides, the restaurant I was taking her to was actually quite dark, the waiters did mumble, the other diners were bound to be pretty glum as they would’ve realised quite early on that they’d made a mistake picking that particular restaurant and I had no doubts that Lola Whitecastle would prove a very boring dinner companion. Only my own participation would be different from that I’d imagined. Not only would my conversation sparkle with factual detail and wit as usual, I would also be wearing my best tie which is lime green and made of 35% silk-style fibre. I bought it for my father’s funeral and only take it out of its plastic wrapping on special occasions.

I stopped suddenly in my tracks. Damn him – that Van Starbuck fraud had actually done me some good by making me realise that I didn’t need to be afraid of dinner with Whitecastle because I would be by far and away the best part about it. If anything, she should be worrying about meeting the high standards I would be setting. I smiled as I flipped through the remaining pages about positivity and all that nonsense. There was a picture of a tree that I didn’t stop to find out the meaning behind, there was a Venn diagram that was as utterly pointless as every other Venn diagram ever drawn (there is nothing clever about owning a compass you know) and a table of statistical data which I did stop briefly to look at in case it was interesting but which turned out to be the answers to questions asked of ordinary people. Aside from the BBC’s audience research data (which I find absolutely hilarious and is an excellent way to spend an evening in the written records archive) I have never cared what ordinary people think and some scientist gauging how happy or sad they are before and after a series of nonsense exercises doesn’t interest me in the slightest.

That said, I wished I could turn back to the opinions of plebs when I saw the next chapter was more wretched exercise.

“A healthy body is the first prerequisite to a healthy mind and body” he said nonsensically. “Having warmed up your body earlier and now warmed up your mind it’s time to put all that into practice. For this next section you’ll need a pair of running shoes and a steep hill. Have you got those to hand? Hey – I can wait!”

His jocular tone almost made me bite through my lip. I had a pair of pumps somewhere. I’d bought them in ’87 when someone on the DWAT exec suggested a stars verses fans egg and spoon race at DWAT-a-Mania and we – Francois Devine, Smasher and I – decided that the one who did best could have first dibs on an interview opportunity that Deborah Watling had dangled in our faces in the bar the night before. I’d invested heavily in some really bright white plimsolls while Francois Devine and Smasher had foolishly opted to run wearing their normal shoes. I was sure this would give me the edge. Unfortunately, the event coincided with the hurricane that Fish so famously failed to predict and the whole thing was scratched from the programme. I objected loudly until one of the organising committee told me, strictly off the record, that a certain actor who was due to present the cup to the winner refused to go outside in anything above a light breeze in case their hairpiece blew off. That information proved very valuable to me as I was able to use it to persuade the star in question to give me interviews, worn items of clothing and autographed products on a regular basis ever since. Sometimes I phone him up and insist he comes round to autograph my shopping just because I can.

I rummaged through my closet and found the dusty plimsoll box near the back. At first I thought it had got snow on it and I’ll admit I did have a quick check to make sure I hadn’t been sitting on a gateway to Narnia all these years but it turned out to be the foam lining of a winter jacket that had never been the same since a wolf bit me during an attempt to prove that the Hoth sequences in the second Star Wars motion picture were ridiculous. It was during our brief phase of trying to belittle other science fiction clubs with their franchise’s lack of scientific credibility. Something that came to a fairly definite end when the Firkinside Battlestar Gallactica Society turned the joke on us by gate crashing one of our night’s at the Elk and Bush and proving a point by failing to travel backwards in time when they said they would no matter how much wheezing and groaning they did inside the wooden box they had assembled by the fruit machine.

With my pumps on I went outside and found my nearest steep hill. I had no idea what Van Starbuck had in mind so I read on,

“Now run up it as fast as you can” he wrote.

I was appalled.