It was a typical enough Sunday morning: six of us sitting around in Geoff's backyard, reading our way through a mound of morning papers and trying to outdo each other's moans of exasperation. Mike had been entertaining us with a particularly absurd paragraph from a lifestyle supplement about how one could turn one's bathroom into a social area by placing a bottle of brandy in the toothbrush cabinet and fitting the loo with a padded seat covering, when Sarah suddenly emerged from her typical morning-after reverie. "God!" she bellowed, punching my shoulder with her free hand. "Forget bathrooms. Look at this in the Mail on Sunday. This extract from Julia Langdon's new book on Mo. It's all about you."
She was exaggerating a little. Most of the double-page spread was taken up with Langdon's persuasive version of the way in which Mo Mowlam had been unreasonably treated and even patronised by assorted members of the Labour Cabinet, but there, in a small box, were some details of the happy couple of years that I had spent with her back in the days when she was a politics lecturer at Newcastle University.
It took me some time to read the paragraphs that Sarah was prodding with her forefinger. Somehow it's not easy to assimilate the meaning of the words in front of you when one eye is desperately scanning ahead to the next paragraph in search of unexploded mines. But I gradually gathered from the piece that, although I had enjoyed my time with Mo, I had also been disconcerted by her unwillingness to play the type of romantic game that I'd always cynically relied upon to secure most of my other relationships. Even though the Mail on Sunday didn't provide much context, as far as I could tell, Langdon was using this modest evidence to support her view that there was something rather more interesting about Mo's character than one might gather from all those repetitive profiles in which she does little more than put her wig on the table and wear her heart on her sleeve.
I had known it was coming. When Langdon rang me a year ago and suggested a chat, I was initially inclined to maintain my usual ethical stance towards energetic biographers and say that I would really rather stay at home and watch Richard and Judy. But, as far as I remember, Mo was running into some critical flak at the time and, in any case, I knew and liked Julia - so perhaps this would be a chance to set the record straight, an opportunity to let a few people know that what made Mo so disconcerting to the average politician was her extraordinary incapacity to be anything much more complicated than a thoroughly good-hearted, decent human being.
If time allowed, I might even try to develop my notion that the real reason for Mo's continuing popularity in the face of so much spiteful and relentless spinning by her colleagues was that she somehow tapped into folk myths about the inevitable fate of an innocent hero confronted by a materialistic and cynical world.
As it happens, I didn't mention any of this to Langdon. Something about her demeanour suggested that she wouldn't take too kindly to a thesis that, at its most elaborate, not only sought to conflate Mo and Prince Myshkin, but even postulated a remote correspondence between her brain tumour and the epilepsy endured by Dostoevsky's hero.
But now that I reread my Mail on Sunday, I realise that I did find time to mention to Langdon that Mo's favourite record used to be "Chuck E's in Love" by Rickie Lee Jones. Sarah and Geoff thought that was awfully revealing.