Journo's wife had novel idea for hubbies' expenses

AS ONE for whom filling in an expenses sheet was always the working week s inspirational moment, I ve taken a professional interest in the rumpus over politicians expenses. The very word has long been synonymous with fiddle, wherever it crops up. The th

AS ONE for whom filling in an expenses sheet was always the working week's inspirational moment, I've taken a professional interest in the rumpus over politicians' expenses.

The very word has long been synonymous with fiddle, wherever it crops up.

The thing is, with any exes, they must be fireproof enough to withstand the most searching examination. On that score, some making recent headlines came across as unconvincing, to say the least.

The claimants, I thought, could have done with instruction from some of the old exes-maestro colleagues of mine, who had the business honed to a fine unchallengeable art.

Not all scribblers' exes are so iron-clad. In my days as Father of the Recorder's National Union of Journalists' Chapel, I occasionally found my feet rugless, gleaning support for the those whose exes were questioned.

As when editor Basil Amps asked of a youthful John: "Tell me, how you arrive at a shilling to get to county court when it's two bus stops away?" Unfazed, he explained that, despite it being in the opposite direction, he'd walked up to Broadway to board a bus.

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Rumpole might have struggled with that one. Also still good for a chuckle is the memory of a scandalised MD's personal inquest on the hefty exes put in by a reporter who'd spent a month in Malaya, sending back stories on a local servicemen's role in one of the emergencies there.

Brian's copy was well received. Not so, alas, the bill he ran up.

I admired Brian's meticulously submitted accounting, yet was mentally wincing when the MD's secretary pounced.

"How could a bath cost you �14?" she shrilled in triumph.

A spinster and noted prude, she flamed scarlet as Brian told her with a man-of-the-world smile, "Oh, that? It wasn't just a bath. You have these girls rubbing this scented oil in all over you for ages. Smashing it was," he added wistfully.

Whatever was lopped from Brian's exes, his "bath" was not debated further.

Afterwards, though, when I was agog to hear all about it, an indignant Brian said: "Do you mind? I'm a married man. I don't do things like that."

The joke was that on his return "Mrs Brian" helped him punch up his exes, and the bath was entirely her invention.

She'd apparently read of such delights available in those parts in Leslie Thomas's novel about the Malaya campaign, The Virgin Soldiers.

Brian hadn't read the bestseller and was a trifle lost when I laughed that the MD and his secretary were lucky not to have been rendered even more aghast by Juicy Lucy claims on Brian's Far East exes.

Once, in one of the periodical management blitzes on exes, I was advised meals taken while covering West Ham's more distant away matches were no longer allowed. The Inland Revenue view was now, they glibly said, that I would need to eat anyway even if not working. "But not at what it costs to lunch on a bloody train," I raged.

Protests got nowhere until I pointed out the Recorder's representative on such trips was regularly welcomed to dine with West Ham directors going to the game.

To my astonished relief I was told: "Ah, that's different. If you need, in the course of your work, to incur expenses like buying somebody a meal, then it's allowable and you obviously can claim for one yourself."

Hammers' urbane chairman Reg Pratt was first to experience that largesse the following Saturday. On the receipt for our chummy train lunch he obligingly penned: "For what I have received, thank you," signed it R. H. Pratt, chairman, West Ham United Football Club, and added date, time, and location (The Scotsman en route to Newcastle).

It says much about us fallible humans that, after 60 years in this lark, I've known but one scribbler who resolutely eschewed fiddling his exes. The same old lad once walked home in the small hours from Redbridge Town Hall to Upminster, after a hugely successful east London NUJ press ball because, lacking his own dough for a taxi, he would not touch any of the night's takings he as event treasurer had in a holdall over his shoulder.

It's guys like that who make making anything on exes harder for the rest of us.

Ask any politician.