For a good 20 years I've been telling the story of how I went to great lengths at my Sidcup drama school to fix up my lonely friend Robert with a bouncy blonde called Juliet, only to learn, after all the details of the assignation had been laid out, that I'd been wasting my time. "It's good of you to have gone to all that trouble," Bob told me over a pint, "but there's something I have to tell you. I'm gay."
By this stage of the story most dinner party guests are wondering how to change the subject. So Laurie once had a gay friend. Big deal. But then comes my dramatic confession. "And you know what I did immediately after that? Even though we'd been bosom pals for two years? I chucked him."
That always gets the liberals going. "You chucked Bob because he was gay? How could you?"
It's all the invitation I need. "Well, I felt he'd deceived me. We were united by our interest in women. I was always telling him about students I fancied and he appeared to reciprocate. But now the truth was out. All the time I'd been talking about how Angela Carberry's nipples cherry-popped out of her mime kit whenever she pretended to be a growing tree, or how you could see the tight outline of Pam Mason's crotch as she did the 'arms over the back of your head' exercise in Greek dancing, Bob had been dissembling. Our entire friendship had been a sham."
Then I lean back and wait for the tide of denunciation. Didn't I realise that it was possible to have a good friendship with someone who failed to share my sexual predilections? Didn't I respect his honesty? Why was I arrogant enough to believe that Bob might have wanted me? Gays could be discriminating.
I typically wait until the clamour dies down and then touchingly admit my guilt. "You're all absolutely right. It was a terrible thing to do. But doesn't it serve as a useful reminder of how homophobic we were back in the sixties? How many heterosexual men around this table would have had a gay friend in those days? Most of you would have done exactly the same as me. Run a mile."
One hardly needs to be a graduate in hermeneutics to realise how well this story promotes my own ideological sensitivity. Only someone who was now a fully paid-up sexual liberal could possibly admit to such a history of reactionary attitudes. There's a grudging recognition that I've successfully turned the tables.
But my identity prop has been cruelly kicked away. There I was last Thursday, in Uttoxeter, judging the annual Student Public Speaking Awards, and suddenly, standing before me on stage, introducing the next contestant, was good old Bob.
There was a lot to catch up on. No, he'd not had much luck on the professional stage: a brief time as assistant stage manager at Pitlochry Rep, and then straight into drama teaching. Anything else? Well, yes. He'd got married. Two children. I searched for the right phrase. "So you've stopped being gay?"
"Laurie, I never was gay. I simply had to find some way to stop you talking about women as though they were lumps of meat. I suppose I was the first New Man in Sidcup. And what happened? You chucked me."
I stared into my glass of shiraz. "Don't worry," said Bob, "it's been a real social blessing. As soon as you pop up anywhere on the media pontificating about sexual diversity, I start rehearsing the details of your fundamental misogyny. All that crass stuff about Angela and Pam. I tell you, it's a great story. Nowadays, I can hardly imagine a dinner party without it."