An enormously enthusiastic man called Norman rings up out of the blue on Thursday morning to say that he'd rather like to be my agent. He tells me briefly that he is a new person "on the block" and has decided to specialise in "talent potential". Do I have an agent at the moment?
The real answer is "No". There's been no one around to guide my freelance life or earnings since high- powered Maurice gave up in a huff after I'd refused to turn down an initial offer of £500 from Routledge for an introductory text on semiotics. ("We've got the buggers over a barrel," he'd insisted.) But I decide to play for time. "What makes you so interested in me?"
Norman, who sounds vaguely transatlantic, explains that he's been following my career with particular interest since he returned from abroad last year and has come to the conclusion that I'm "spreading myself too thinly". Only the other night, for example, he'd been listening to me on Radio 4 in a short feature on the history of the lawn-mower, and then the very next day picked up the Journal of Comparative Media Studies and found an article I'd written on the inadequacies of Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital.
He had no specific complaints about either Bourdieu or the lawn-mower. Both pieces, he assured me, were absolutely fine in their own way. What concerned him was my lack of direction. Although he'd been in the business a very short time, he'd already come to the conclusion that the only way to the top was to develop a specialism and then stick to it.
Would I be interested, he wondered, in presenting a major series on sex education that was about to go into production for Channel 4? He knew from inside sources that auditions would be taking place in the near future and he could probably get my name on the list without too much difficulty. If I were successful, then I'd get to front eight peak-time programmes and become automatically associated in the public's mind with their content. From then on, whenever anyone in the media mentioned sex or sex education, one could almost guarantee that someone in the office would say: "How about that Laurie Taylor?"
I had to admit there was something rather appealing about his tunnel vision. Only that very morning, I'd begun to have my own doubts about the overall purpose of my professional life, after accepting an offer to write 1,800 words on the cultural meaning of Stonehenge for Foundation Stone (the new journal of philosophical archaeology), having agreed to appear in a short video advertising the academic attractions of Leicester University, and more or less having said yes to a place on the board of a dot-com company that was hard at work constructing a website for prison inmates (dot.con.com).
"Perhaps we could do lunch?" said Norman, sensing my interest. "I'd certainly like to see you in the flesh. It's almost impossible to get any idea of what you actually look like from the radio or from your columns. In the New Statesman, you look positively puckish; but the head-and-shoulders shot for your column on e-commerce in Computer Monthly makes you appear marginally psychopathic."
We'd agreed on Groucho's when Norman popped in a last promise. "I really believe that there's every chance of you becoming a national figure in the near future," he told me. " "How long might that be?" I joshed. "How long is a piece of string?" said Norman. "Put it this way. Play your cards right and there's no reason why you couldn't be sitting happily on top of the pile by the time you're 40."