Some people would let you believe that being a Man-God means that your days are filled with nothing heavier than sunlight and feathers. They might also tell you that there are no dips or bends in the road leading the chap you know as Richard Madeley to greatness and his place in the pantheon of talk show hosts. And yet how wrong those people would be. In fact, a scoff would have frothed on my lips the moment they tried to mention as much to me this weekend.
I knew it was going to be a bad Sunday when I came down stairs and found Judy holding my favourite winter hat.
‘You told me you were getting rid of this thing,’ she said, a bit heavyweight in tone and insinuation. ‘Didn’t you say you were going to send it as a thank you to Chip Dale?’
‘And so I was,’ I answered, snatching the fur from her hands. ‘But then I began to wonder if Wales’ top male stripper would really appreciate a hat of this quality. And then I began remember the wonderful holiday we had in Utah. How could you expect me to throw away a hat that reminds me of our greatest adventure?’
‘Richard,’ she gasped, ‘if Channel 4 ever find out you have one of these things, they’ll fire you. And you know that where Richard goes, so does Judy...’
I shrugged. After all, what is a highly paid job on Channel 4 compared with the memories of a holiday to Utah when a man got involved in thirteen polygamous marriages and bought himself an ocelot hat?
Yet Judy’s greeting flavoured my mood for the whole of Sunday, even if life really needed no reason to keep piling on the agony. I was already feeling down after another spending Saturday afternoon watching increasingly few visitors stop by at my blog. It was why I had gone to bed on Sunday determined to consult the oracle of all things technological.
Actually, scrub that last line and also excuse the little white lie I’ve just told. It was Judy who made the call. She’s a great believer in using our wide network of friends whenever we’re in a spot of trouble. How else, do you think, did Elkie Brooks find herself in our attic on Sunday afternoon, helping Judy lay extra insulation ahead of winter?
I left them to get on with it. I’m one of those men who firmly believe that we progressive husbands shouldn’t stand in the way of working women. I’d much rather stand behind them, seated if possible, while having a good lie down. And, by a remarkable coincidence, that was exactly the horizontal angle to which I’d reclined myself around three o’clock. It wasn’t long before I dozed off to the sound of Judy screaming at Elkie about the right way to lay fibreglass from gable end to gable end. Judy is such a stickler when it comes to her lagging.
I must have only nodded for a few minutes. I had barely got going with my usual dream about the buxom makeup woman when I was awoke by the rather refined breaking of a cough. Then there was a beautifully plummy voice like somebody was dropping badgers into a still mountain lake.
‘So you’ve still got problems with your blog?’ it said.
I elbowed my eyelids open and saw the tall dark figure of a man looming above me in the direct light of the sun. At first I thought I could sniff a hint of mortality in the baggy drop of his suit and I nearly jumped for my life or, if I couldn’t reach that, a bloody big stick. Yet I noticed almost at once that this huge man was a bit light in scythes. I sighed in relief. In fact, if you’re in the mood, you might say that I scythed myself a wide swath of sighs. Sighs were in such abundance in those days.
‘I hate to see a blog going bad,’ the man added, ‘but I understand it has got beyond bad and is now on the downward slope towards a disaster.’
‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, trying to shield my eyes and make out the face. ‘My blog, bloody useless. Nobody reads it.’
‘Fear not,’ he said. ‘That was explained to me by that dear parcel of blessings known as Judy. And, if I may be so bold, I am here to proffer a solution. You need to be running Red Hat Linux on its own IBM blade centre with a suitably fat pipe. This, I take it, is not what those fine but somewhat lazy gentlemen of your internet service providing company have given you?’
I blinked. I couldn’t follow a word the man was saying. But then he moved and sat down in the other lounger. The light rushed to illuminate the more fully featured side of his face.
‘Oh, so it is you,’ I said, relief unknotting the tension in my Stay-Smooth® brow.
Stephen Fry readjusted his large black cape and threw aside the battle scarred hat that I know that he nicked from the wardrobe department on Wilde. He smiled at me as he went about removing his brown leather driving gloves, one finger at a time, before making a show of transferring a roll of five pound notes into his waistcoat pocket.
‘Do you know how many fares I picked up in my cab by just driving up here?’ he asked. ‘I could retire and live the life of Ben Elton if I made this run once a week. Pays a hell of a lot more than The Telegraph. Almost makes me feel as flush as a Branagh.’
‘I don’t know about flush,’ I told him, ‘but you looked positively Satanic when you were stood above me like that. What on earth are doing coming scaring a man during his Sunday afternoon nap? I might have thought you were Michael Grade and given you a nine iron in the keister.’
Stephen chuckled, probably knowing what a keister is, even if I don’t. He’s lexically gifted that way. Not sure if he knows much about golf and nine irons though.
‘Judy rang me on my iPhone this morning,’ explained Stephen. ‘I understand that she read the whimsical little piece I wrote about technology for Saturday’s Guardian.’
‘So she told you everything?’ I asked.
‘Almost,’ he said. ‘The battery died before she could finish. Bloody good piece of kit, the iPhone, but only lasts ten minutes per charge. It lasts even less than that if I turn the screen on. And don’t even ask me about its inability to run Java applications. But this is mere fluff compared the great belly button of a problem we have yet to explore. If you will allow me to put it like this: Judy thought I might shuffle over here, dock with the Madeley USB port rated to the 2.0 standard, and run a quick diagnostic over your blogging protocols. Are you a Bloggerphile or an aficionado of Wordpress’s lovely designed back end?’
‘I didn’t know you blogged,’ I said, preferring not to answer any question about back ends. Instead I poured myself some tea from the freshly brewed pot. Stephen sniffed the air.
‘Twinings?’ he asked.
‘Is there any other?’
He smiled and laid a reassuring hand on my wrist as he took his cup of the lemon grass. ‘Good boy,’ he said. ‘And of course I blog. My new blog has a grand total of three entries or “blessays”, as I like to call them...’
‘Pfft,’ I scoffed. ‘Three? I’ve written eighty one. Eighty one pieces of Madeley magic. That’s almost enough for a book.’
He looked impressed and played a whistle on his lips. ‘Eighty one? Imagine that. And how many comments has it received?’
‘At a guesstimate,’ I said, ‘I should say at least a few dozen.’
He smiled. ‘Of course, my posts are longish entries. Each one is big enough to fill a book. I suppose that’s why each of them already have…’ He looked over the edge of the cup. ‘Three hundred comments.’
Some hot landed on my crotch. ‘Three hundred!’ I screamed as the air filled with the sweet aroma of lemon grass and scalded flesh. The worst pain was in my head. Three hundred comments on a blog that only had three entries!
‘Give or take a few dozen pingbacks,’ he smiled and sipped some more of his tea.
I was in no mood to sit sipping tea, even it is was Twinings. Not when such impressive figures came so easily to the man’s lips.
‘Well, how do I get myself a fat pipe?’ I asked. ‘I have a bit of old plastic tubing in the shed…’
Stephen waved me down and chuckled like a kind uncle with the key to my aunt’s knicker drawer. ‘I need none of your saucy tubing,’ he said. ‘You leave me to do my work and I’ll have this house sucking in more juice than Andy Murray during a five setter against the Williams sisters.’
I handed him my keys and my credit card. ‘Whatever the job requires, Stephen, just make sure you clear any structural alterations with Judy.’
Has there ever been a kinder man than Stephen Fry? He spent the whole of his Sunday running cables around the house, building what he called his ‘dear, sweat, and ever so accommodating server’. He’s converted the children’s old nursery into a computer room which, as promised, is a hot hub. I’ve already seen a few bats getting a bit confused when they get near the house. I don’t know why the wifi signal should affect them but I saw a pair of them acting out ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ on the washing line. It almost had the same effect on me. A wall of heat crumbled and fell on me as soon as I opened the door to the old nursery.
‘Well, what do you think?’ asked Stephen, wet with sweat and stripped down to his gentleman’s red flannel union suit. ‘You’ve got the most powerful SQL server that money can buy.’
‘So my visitor numbers will shoot up?’
He hesitated. ‘Well, no. Not exactly. Unless you begin to write with a little flare, your numbers will remain the same. But, when you do get a visitor, they won’t have to wait a second for your blog to be served to them. Intel Xeon processors, a terabyte of Raid storage. You’ll be the envy of Channel 4.’
He picked up his cape and tied it around his neck.
‘I’m off,’ he said. ‘Flying to America where I’m touring the country in my taxi.’
‘And you’re going dressed like that?’ I tapped him on his shoulder and rushed out of the room.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ he asked when I returned moments later.
‘A genuine ocelot hat, just like ocelots wear.’
I swear that a tear came to the man’s eye. ‘Richard,’ he said, placing the hat on that great dome of a head as perfect as something by Wren. ‘I’d kiss you and say that you are a saint among bloggers. Only you’d need readers before I could call you that. Toodle pip!’