Britisher Howard (Odd Girl Out, After Julius) scores again--with a wry social comedy about a 31-year-old virgin London hairdresser who cautiously pokes down the road to romance . . . in a world where no one seems able to stand anyone else. Gavin Lamb lives with his dust-mop-and-telly parents; his handwriting always slopes downwards; and he finds everything in life ""so difficult that he hardly dared to move . . . in any direction."" Yet what a change a week will make! It all starts with a party to which Gavin has been invited by best friend Harry, a fellow music-lover. (They are not embarrassed to weep in tandem during La Traviata.) At the party, you see, Gavin meets middle-aged, throaty-voiced Joan--with whom he is soon sharing a pleasantly exciting ""secrets"" session. And then, after some not-so-pleasantly exciting encounters with Harry's terrifying lover Winthrop, Gavin is followed home by Minerva Munday, an unclean waif and party-crasher who claims to be a titled blue-blood! So Gavin must sneak bonkers Minnie into the house and present her, with assorted lies, to his mother (who worships titles); he must eventually shake Minnie off, declining a disgraceful offer from her indeed-titled swine of a father (who wants his loony daughter married off). But, more importantly, after losing his virginity during a post-party idyll with generous Joan, Gavin must first try to convince Joan not to take Winthrop away from poor Harry. And then he must himself ""get it right,"" romance-wise--which he finally does, after looking with new eyes at salon assistant Jenny (who lives with her mum and a three-year-old illegitimate child): Gavin has always taken Jenny for granted, but now, in contrast to the explosive operatic personalities of his traumatic week in a new world, her gentle regard suddenly sounds like Love's Old Sweet Song. Total delight: a tale that draws you close to good and decent impulses . . . in the midst of highly eccentric (if essentially familiar) brands of deplorable behavior.