Gherkin hotline preserved my life

The Jewish Chronicle Online, 25/02/2010

How the pickled fruit helped me when I was feeling lonely

Before getting into bed last night, I wrote down the 24-hour emergency hotline number that was on the jar of gherkins I’d just bought. You just never know when you’ll need to make that call. Admittedly, assuming that you haven’t slipped in the shower while eating a gherkin (a proctologist once told me where he’d found a small bust of Napoleon – unfortunately we were just about to eat), the chances of anyone having a gherkin emergency in the wee small hours are small, but I like to be on the safe side.

“Thank you for calling the Gherkin Hotline,” says the person picking up the call, who laughs. “I’m sorry sir, it’s just that I can’t believe that someone’s finally called us. It’s Sharmeena speaking, do you have a gherkin emergency?” Hysterical giggles.

“Yes I do. You see, it’s 4am and I’ve suddenly realised that I’m down to my last gherkin.”

Long Pause. “Ok… the truth is that I’m a middle-aged, divorced man, and I’m lonely; I just needed someone to talk to.

“I was desperat. The Kellogg’s Cornflakes hotline is experiencing a very high volume of calls.It’s permanently engaged. I was desperate. So I looked in the fridge and I thought I’d give the gherkin hotline a go.”

Twenty four-hour hotline numbers are everywhere these days, so I wasn’t surprised, when staying in a Bali hotel recently, to see that the Japanese superloo the “Clean Butt” (slogan: “we reach the parts others can’t reach”?)in the bathroom had a 24-hour emergency hotline number on the bowl. It must have been designed by Nasa, because the control panel had six different settings including “posterior male parts” and “anterior male parts” – and I’m not even going to talk about the ladies’ section, let alone mention the “high powered fountain enema spray”.

I decided against pushing the green button marked “Go.” I’m old fashioned in toilet matters; I went with the handle flush.

Talking of toilets, I once gave Prince Charles a lavatory for his 32nd birthday in 1982 (trust me on this), as he collects them. He’s probably got hundreds. Some people collect Picassos, HRH collects original Thomas Crappers. It doesn’t make him a bad person.

The present was a porcelain Victorian 1850 loo. Appropriately, it had Prince of Wales feathers on the bowl. I’d bought it from Sitting Pretty on the Fulham Road.

My gift to our future King didn’t come with a 24-hour hotline number; possibly because Bell didn’t invent the telephone until 1874.

I received a very nice letter back from his Equerry: “HRH The Prince of Wales has asked me to thank you for your magnificent gift of a lavatory, it will be installed in Kensington Place, where it will no doubt be greatly admired.”

I’ve often wondered: where was he planning to put it? In the dining room? After all, he is the heir to the throne. (I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist it.)

Whatever you might think about the Prince’s views on architecture or genetically modified foods, the one thing you could never call him is “eccentric.”

When I was growing up in the 1960s, forget about gherkin hotlines, the only emergency 24-hour number we had was 999. But from personal experience, let me tell you something which might just save your life: If you’ve really got an emergency, forget 999; call the Gherkin Hotline. You’ll get put through to a human being a lot quicker.

One thing: prepare yourself for Sharmeena’s hysterical giggles.