Patrick Cargill: straight down the funnel

"In the early Seventies, I was wandering along Shaftesbury Avenue when a man about my age stopped short as he saw me, hesitated a moment and then said: 'Isn't it Patrick Cargill?' 'Yes,' I said, 'it is.' 'Good Heavens!' he retorted. 'Surely you remember me?' I didn't, of course, and dithered. He helped me out. 'Michael Sudbury -- Haileybury -- 1931.' 'Good gracious!' I pretended. 'Well, well, well.' Minor pleasantries followed, and we repaired to a nearby bar.

"Over our beers I did manage to get some slight recollection of our association at school, and was delighted to recall that we both had a mutual friend, Charlie... something-or-other. 'Charlie,' I said, in triumph. 'Now he was a lad! I wonder what became of him?' Michael's face fell. 'Oh, haven't you heard?' he said sadly. 'Dead, poor chap.' 'Oh, no!' I replied, assuming rather more distress than I actually felt.

"'Well,' continued Michael, 'you know what a madcap he was. One day, it appears, he was in Paris, walking across a bridge over the Seine -- can't be content with the pavement of course, has to walk on the parapet -- misses his footing, slips and falls. There was a steamer passing underneath and he went straight down the funnel.'

"In a flash, the whole fantastic picture swept into my mind, and I envisaged every comic I had ever known doing exactly the same thing. The result was that I shrieked with uncontrollable laughter.

"Michael was deeply shocked. 'I suppose you do realise he's DEAD, don't you?' 'Yes,' I said, tears of laughter welling into my eyes. 'It's just that I can't help finding the mental picture unbelievably funny.' And another regrettable guffaw emitted.

"Michael found it quite impossible to understand my reaction. 'I am totally appalled at your behaviour!' he said. 'I would have thought a man of your standing would have a little more sensitivity.' And with that, he slammed his glass on the table, strode out of the bar, and I have never seen or heard of him since!"

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