I like to think that I have a modest reputation as a rumour-monger. If anyone tells me in absolute confidence on Tuesday morning that a senior BBC administrator has been caught kerb-crawling in Manchester then I can be relied on to have introduced this into a pub conversation, together with a few additional salacious details, by early Friday evening.
My relative success in spreading scandal is largely due to one special ploy. However scurrilous the story I'm peddling about, say, the vice-chancellor of a well-known university, I try to keep the audience on side by simultaneously expressing grave doubts about the likelihood of the decadence I'm describing. No sooner have I sketched in the details of my vice-chancellor's tragic "outing" - the night his fire alarm went off and he was forced to stand in the driveway of his own house wearing only a suspender belt and a pair of stockings - than I'm insisting that such behaviour hardly seems typical of a man who has propelled his university into the top 20 in the Sunday Times league table.
It's only recently that I've come to realise how much these little reservations have added to the credibility of my rumours. Whereas other bits of pub scandal seem to have a limited lifespan, my own stories have not only gone on circulating for years but are beginning to create an entire universe of decadence.
Consider last Friday in the Yorkshire Grey. I'd begun the proceedings with a rather charming little rumour about an affair between Sally, a young female researcher on a consumer affairs programme, and the man she'd indicted on the programme for the unscrupulous selling of inadequate safety alarms to pensioners. But even as I was about to say that such behaviour was hardly consonant with Sally's pronounced Christian beliefs, Alison was piling in with the news that the very same researcher had made a lesbian advance to the deputy head of websites at the BBC at last year's Christmas party. That was quite enough to bring in James with a story about how the deputy head of websites had only been appointed in the first place because she had detailed evidence of the way in which the previous head of the department had fiddled his expenses on a trip to an information technology conference in California.
Rebecca could hardly wait to add in her sixpenny-worth. "Wasn't that the same conference where Mike Nolan from Accounts turned up with someone else's wife and then, when his own wife rang and paged him on the hotel intercom, Mike had to rush downstairs, grab the microphone and announce to the entire hotel that it wasn't his wife on the phone at all but some deranged groupie?"
It was an uncomfortable experience. For Mike and for me. Although in the natural course of things, there have inevitably been occasions when I've had to sit and listen with an appropriately shocked expression to a replay of one or other of my own stories of delinquency in high places, this was the very first occasion when I'd silently recognised myself as the progenitor of every single one of the rumours which were so freely ricocheting around the table. At any moment someone would say, "Who told you that?", and open season would be declared. A distraction was vital. I took the only course open to me. Leaning forward and lowering my voice, I asked, "Did any of you hear that quite extraordinary story about Mother Teresa and the Princess of Wales? In all honesty, I could hardly believe it myself."