I had my head half inside the freezer compartment and was meticulously dividing the number of ice-cubes in the tray by six, when Sally grabbed me round the shoulders and, with a breathy urgency that threatened to defrost the Ben and Jerry's Vanilla Fudge, told me to forget the after-dinner whiskies and get back immediately into the living-room where Geoff was already perilously close to Amsterdam.
For three weeks now Geoff has been setting off for Amsterdam. At least twice he's managed to travel as far as Heathrow and on one nasty occasion when my attention was distracted by the television in the Marquis I caught him as he was climbing into the taxi outside Schiphol. But in general, our group policy of all hands to the conversational pump has ensured that no one has yet heard a single detail about his weekend trip with seven mates to celebrate Ken Roger's forthcoming marriage, a trip ominously described on one of his several postcards as "out of this world".
I don't know what it is about Amsterdam, but there's an almost universal unwillingness to listen to travellers' tales about its distinctive delights. People who'd normally endure extraordinarily predictable stories about the fabulous cocktails served by Harry's Bar in Venice or the amazing jazz on offer at New York's Village Vanguard develop a passionate interest in the new sofa cover whenever anyone so much as mentions their visit to a Dutch coffee house.
No doubt part of this resistance is explained by dull experience. Harry's Bar and the Village Vanguard may be routine tourist attractions but it's easy to allow that they might come up with something unexpected. Anyone, however, who's been to Amsterdam in search of a naughty time knows that the only possible outcome is an appalling sense of anti-climax. There may be a delicious frisson to be gained from wandering into a coffee house and choosing between super skunk and 007 on the marijuana menu, but how can that emotion possibly be maintained when you wander out stoned into the street and find yourself surrounded by several dozen heavily badged IBM conference delegates in the same condition?
By the time I'd made it to the living-room, Geoff was already inside his room at the Krasnapolsky. "It's quite a place," he was saying. "I simply switched on my television to find the Test score on CNN and there was this crazy picture. At first I thought it was one of those old Hans and Lotte Hass underwater films with people swimming around with dolphins, but then I realised it was three naked people all screwing each other. Nothing like the stuff you get on Channel 5 after midnight. All action. Real fucking. And actual coming. At half-past three in the afternoon."
We all realised that Geoff would soon be out of his hotel, walking along the street, finding his first coffee house, buying a bag of skunk, and then staggering into the red light district and discovering that the interest being shown in the local shop windows was not aroused by their unique spread of Edam cheeses.
Emergency action was needed. Colin obliged. Even as Geoff began to round off his television story with news about a scene involving three lesbians covered in baby oil, Colin somehow managed to propel a full glass of chardonnay from the middle of his lap to the other side of the room. I gratefully accepted my cue. "Geoff," I said, "you really really must stop now. What on earth is going to happen to the rest of my Waterford crystal if you induce such a sudden tumescence in anyone else? Now, who'd like to tell me what they think of the new sofa covers? Be honest."