If there’s one thing in the world I could change, it would be people’s obsession with decking. Don’t get me wrong. I like a nice bit of wood as much as the next man but not at the expense of a good old fashioned herbaceous border. In fact, a herbaceous border much like the one I found myself trampling yesterday afternoon in an attempt to cheer myself up.
Though the weather’s gone cold, Judy still insists that we do our gardening once a week. After the depressing news about my statistics and the even more depressing news that I’d drank all the whisky, my slight inebriation had been calmed by the freshness of the air and half an hour spent digging the border. Then it was to be my job to rake leaves in my typically efficient manner. I don’t mind raking leaves but I do think it’s Judy’s duty to save me the trouble whenever she can. I wasn't going to touch the rake until I was sure that all the leaves had fallen from the tree. And that’s the reason why Judy had climbed the big oak we have growing at the bottom of the garden. She was doing her best to pick out all the dead leaves before they fell.
I was in the process of pointing out what I thought was a large clump of leaves that were about to fall from the end of a thin branch high in the oak when there was a ‘coo-ee’ from the garden gate. I leaned on my spade and looked up to the house. I couldn’t make out who was there, nor how I was meant to respond to a ‘coo-ee’.
I decided on the cautious approach. ‘Judy!’ I shouted up into the tree. ‘There’s somebody at the back gate.’
I heard a loud sigh and then a branch crack. Despite the fact that was forty feet up the tree, she managed to get down surprisingly fast. ‘Okay, okay,’ she huffed, as she picked herself out of the slight hole she’d made in the soft ground. ‘I’m going, I’m going.’
‘That’s my girl,’ I said as I carried on supporting the spade.
It seemed to take her ages to trots to the back gate but, when she got there, there’s a squeal of delight and then excited chatter. Not being a man who likes to miss interesting things, I dropped my spade and went off to investigate.
‘Oh, Richard, look who’s here,’ says Judy coming around the side of the house.
My heart leapt. Not at 80s pop sensation Kim Wilde, as you might expect, but at the sight of my old mate Terry Nutkins.
Judy had invited Kim around to help with the garden but Terry had come at the invitation of the master of the house.
‘Terry!’ I said, going to shake the great man by his hand.
Kim’s eyes narrowed but I gave her a smile as I led my friend off down the garden.
Terry’s a great guy. He used to present the Really Wild Show on BBC1 but I remember him best from the days of Animal Magic when he used to own a sealion. Terry stills smell rather fishy, on account of his still working with animals, but when it comes to trouble with wildlife, there’s nobody better. Now, if you’ve been reading the 'Richard Madeley Appreciation Society' in recent weeks (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) you’ll think I’d have invited Terry along to sort out the problem with he mice. And you’d be wrong.
‘It’s these squirrels,’ I said, ‘they’re a bloody nuisance.’
‘Ah, Sciurus Carolinensis,’ he said as we walked down the garden towards the trees. ‘They’re become a pest all over the country since they were introduced back in the 1980s. Do you know that radio disk jockey Dave Lee Travis was the first man to import them? He used to let them nest in his beard. Only they escaped and now they’re bloody everywhere.’
‘Spare me the tales about Travis,’ I said and pointed out the oak tree. ‘Judy was just up there and they were swarming all around her. I’ll tell you, Terry, that I was a little worried that they might bite her.'
'Oh, rabies,' he said, tutting.
'Rabies!' I cried. 'I don't like the sound of that. I can't even think of hitting my dear Judy with a spade just to stop her biting me.' I shook my head. 'But I suppose I’d have to do whatever it took to look after the living…
He gave me a funny look as he prodded a bulge in his trousers. That’s not as odd as it sounds as a pair of binoculars popped out of his pocket. ‘Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?’ he said and set to examining the tree.
After a moment, there was an audible gasp from Nutkins.
‘My god,’ he said. ‘That’s remarkable.’
For a moment, I thought Judy had climbed back up the tree and Terry was remarking on her ability to swing from branch to branch like a gibbon.
He lowered his glasses. ‘Richard, do you know what you have here? You don’t have sciurus carolinensis, or what are commonly known as grey squirrels. You have Sciurus vulgaris, which we all know as red squirrels.’
‘Vulgaris?’ I repeated. ‘Well, they make me feel pretty vulgar when I see what they’re doing to Judy. Can’t we get rid of them?’
‘Get rid of red squirrels? This might be the only remaining red squirrel population in the south of England. You can’t get rid of them!’
‘Not even with poison?’
If he wasn’t bald, I think Terry would have started to pull his hair out. Instead, he just wiped a fist over his skull.
‘Richard, I really don’t think you see the importance of this discovery,’ he said and reached into another pocket for another bulge. Terry Nutkins is a man of many bulges. I don’t think any one of them is real. ‘You wait herem' he said. 'I think we’ll be able to show you how important this discovery is.’ And with that, out popped his mobile phone and he walked off to get a better signal as Judy came down the garden with Kim.
‘Hello Kim,’ I said and gave her one of those celebrity kisses (all sounds, little lips, no moisture) to make up for my ignoring her earlier on.
‘Oh, he speaks,’ she said, rather tartily, though I’m not saying that Kim’s a tart. She’s still the beauty I used to lust over all those years ago.
‘Richard’s just a bit preoccupied,’ said Judy. ‘We’ve got terrible trouble with squirrels.’ She held up her hand. ‘Do you know one of them bit me?’
I reached for the spade. ‘They’re red squirrels,’ I said as I tried to detect the first signs of frothing on Judy’s mouth.
‘Oh, reds,’ gushed Kim. ’That’s wonderful!’
‘Not you too,’ I groaned. ‘If it wasn’t bad enough that we can’t rid the house of our psycho mice, I’m now told that we’re not allowed to kill squirrels.’
Judy tutted and explained the problem we’ve been having with the mice after Dr. Raj’s brain medicine left them all with multiple personalities.
Terry came back a minute later, looking very pleased with himself. ‘I’ve called my contacts in the BBC,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a nice little surprise for you, Richard and Judy.’
He wouldn’t tell me what it was but the whole street knew half an hour later when there’s the sound of a siren wailing down our quiet little residential cul-de-sac.
We all ran out to the front and saw a line of trucks coming down the road. They were all the distinctive colours of BBC Outdoors Broadcast Units, but the car at the lead, with the red flashing light and siren, was the focus of my attention.
‘I don’t believe it!’ I said.
‘Knew you’re be surprised,’ said Terry. ‘Since his retirement, he’s been on a state of high alert ready for a scoop like this.’
And sure enough, there in a car with a flashing red light was the great man himself, David Attenborough. All twitches, excitement, spittle. And that was just from him jumping out of the car
‘Where are they?’ he asks, full of that enthusiasm that’s made him a household name.
‘They’re in the back garden,’ I said, ‘up the tree.’
‘Up the tree!’ he laughs and trots off to the garden followed by his team of cameramen and sound recordists.
‘Well?’ asked Terry.
‘So, I guess this mean we can’t poison the squirrels,’ I said, ‘but would I be allowed to install electrical equipment in the garden and smear peanut butter over the leads?’
Terry looked at me, not knowing if I was joking or being serious. You know me, so you know I was being serious.
We all followed the crowd into the garden where David Attenborough was already shinning up the oak tree and gushing stuff to camera about this being a great discovery and the caution he had to show in case the squirrels had rabies. I gave another look at Judy but there was still no sign of madness in her eyes but I also knew that dehydration was the earliest symptoms.
‘Fancy a drink, Jude? I asked.
‘No, no, I’m fine,’ she smiled. I lessened my grip on the garden spade but wouldn't let it go until I was definately sure.
But by then, if I'm honest, it was all getting a bit too much for me and I was about to say I was going back to bed when a breeze suddenly got up. I began to shout something about elderly TV presented shinning their way up oak trees in blustery conditions when I realised it wasn’t the wind that had turned. Wind isn’t usually associated with the sound of rotors. A helicopter had just crested Madeley Towers and was looking to land in the middle of our large and expensively laid croquet lawn.
‘What now?’ I sighed. Terry just shrugged, Judy fainted, and Kim caught her. In a way, each person played their role quite admirably.
I ran across the helicopter and was about to tell them the price of quality turf when the back door opened and I saw the flash of the BBC logo
‘You lot can’t just keep on harassing Channel 4 employees in this way,’ I told the man before I even looked up into his face. ‘Oh God,’ I said, ‘not you!’
‘You can cut that out,’ said Alan Titchmarsh. ‘Where’s that bastard, Attenborough. I was promised all the wildlife gigs. He was supposed to stay at home and write the forwards to books.’
I pointed to the tree. ‘He’s up there,’ I said. ‘Don’t catch rabies,’ I said, my voice laced with sarcasm.
Titchmarsh jumped out and went racing off towards the oak and the only community of sciurus vulgaris in the South of England. I smiled at the helicopter pilot.
‘Going back into London?’ I asked.
‘Don’t suppose you could give a man a lift? Drop me anywhere.' I said. 'I’m really not that fussy…’