Friday, 30 November 2007
Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually drunk when I sat down and began to write this piece. Nor was I entirely sure what I should drunkenly moralise about. Nothing immediately came to mind. These topics, I find, are best when they descend on you, like a fury or a dizzy spell. So, in the end, I decided to sit down with a piece of paper and write down a list of things that annoy me. If began like this:
Cheap jam. Practical jokes. Rudeness. Card shops. Rugby. The internal combustion engine. Rural types. Lentils. Natural fibres. Artificial fibres. Norway. The Guinness Book of Records. Tinned meats. Acorns. Alan Titchmarsh. The M11. Carrot cake. Extra virgin olive oil. Tight underwear. Trekkies. Burnt onion rings.
Just as I was beginning to think that I’d never come up with a decent subject for a rant, Judy came in talking about her evening with Denise Robertson. She was chatting away and I was on auto-pilot, yes-ing and ah-ha-ing as she went, when she suddenly came out with a sentence that turned my blood’s boiler up to high.
‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘Denise has joined Facebook. She told me to tell you that you should be on it too. You’ll be able to exchange messages.’
‘What’s wrong with ringing me up?’ I asked, feeling my cheeks flush.
‘Oh, Richard. It’s not the same.’
‘Too right it’s not the same,’ I cried as I picked up a bottle of wine from the rack and ran to my office, inspired for my rant.
One bottle of plonk later, I’m beginning to feel my rage loosening me up. So let me begin by telling you that I consider Facebook to be a feral world where only the dimmest creatures of the human swamp find pleasure. Somewhere deep within us, the strands of DNA are unwinding in a desperate attempt to end this madness. Civilization is in meltdown as humanity spends its most profitably hours of the day engaged in the single most pointless activity since the invention of the yoyo.
For some godforsaken reason, I joined Facebook just last week. I took a good look at this brave new world and quickly got the hell out of there. It seemed to me that there are people you call friends and then there are Facebook friends. The only difference between the two are an electric fence and a few restraining orders from the local crown court.
My first experience of Facebook happened only minutes after joining. Somebody asked to be my friend. I didn’t know who the hell they were but I thought ‘why not’. It seemed like a win-win situation for Madeley so I agreed to the deal. The next day, I got an email to tell me that my new Facebook friend had changed the status of our relationship and I should log in to confirm the change. When I logged in, I quickly saw how they’d changed the status. They’d deleted me as their friend! I hadn’t even spoken to this person and they’d already erased me from their life. I’ve had enemies that have treated me better.
And that’s the problem with Facebook. It’s that little motto that welcomes you with when you log in: ‘everybody can join’. Wonderful! ‘Everybody’. My favourite group of people. It’s what makes Facebook the periodic table of the mentally unstable, the spiritually adrift, the chemically unbalanced, and the charisma free. I wouldn’t want to share a line at the supermarket with some of these people, let alone spend my day with them, living a virtual existence, playing at being friends. Give me loneliness and isolation if this is what friendship has become.
I don’t want to find my friends through the ‘Friends Finder’. If people are my friends, I already know where they hang out. If they’re not friends, they’re just another stranger who wants to come along and demand that I spend my time in inane conversations while they’re stuck in some office and waiting to go home. And, I’m so sorry to tell you this: I don’t want to write something ‘fun’ on your Fun Wall. The one thing you can be sure about is that no wall that calls itself a ‘fun wall’ will contain anything that’s remotely like fun. It’s like people who declare themselves ‘crazy’ and ‘fun loving’ or having a ‘great sense of humour’. That’s how accountants always describe themselves.
Facebook devalues the very notion of friendship to such a degree that we forget what we mean when we use the term ‘friend’. Is a Facebook friend going to get out of bed at three o’clock in the morning to rescue from the bathtub? Are they going to write you a 2000 word blog post about their meeting with Chuck Norris? I don’t bloody think so. Just because I’ve clicked on a box that confirms that ‘I’m friends with Sue’, it doesn’t mean I’m actually Sue’s friend. And when I’ve got a list of a few thousand such people called Sue, it doesn’t even mean that I really know that Sue even exists. What it does mean is that Sue has linked to me so she can boast to her other ‘friends’ that she’s got over two thousand Facebook friends and must therefore be such an interesting, warm, and wonderful person. Actually, Sue, it means quite the opposite. Simple fact: the more friends you have, the less valuable the word ‘friend’ becomes.
Then there are the applications within Facebook that ‘enhance’ the Facebook experience. The only thing I’ve discovered that enhances the Facebook experience is the ‘Logout’ button. However, for many, there’s nothing that brightens up their day more than informing a ‘friend’ that they’ve just been bitten and that they are now a vampire. Cue the music. ‘I’ve bitten you. Oooh… You’re now a vampire.’ Music ends. High drama it is not. More like an utter waste of time and energy. The place is a meme hell, where you can spend your whole day comparing yourself to others in a seemingly endless list of tests and quizzes that inform you of nothing that’s remotely significant to your life.
‘Bah!’ I hear you cry. ‘But Richard, with Facebook you’ll network!’
‘Network’. The single most nauseating word in the English language, probably invented by an American to replace that old fashioned word ‘contact’. Why would I want to contact other people? For what purpose? Don’t I seen enough of the damn things when I look out my window? People who network are usually people with personalities so utterly toxic that you wouldn’t naturally want to be their friend. They usually breath through their mouths and talk through their noses. They wear aftershave imported from Bulgaria and have every album produced by Five Star, who they still claim are the British Jacksons. And let us be quite clear on this: they don’t actually want to know me. They want to collect me like they collect stamps in their lonely bedsits late at night. My whole existence is reduced to a pretty little avatar on their homepage. And then they have the cheek to ask me to join their ‘communities’. Protest this. Outlaw that. Change the face of democracy. Help X get nominated for Y. Support Z in their campaign against W. Then there are the ‘big issue’ communities that hope to change the world. The notion that any government is going to look at Facebook and realise ‘hell, there are x thousand people opposed to our policy, we better do something about it’ is faintly ridiculous. Gesture politics have never been so futile or require such small gestures.
Take the community called: ‘I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!’. To my astonishment, there are over 800,000 people so cretinous that they joined in with this nonsense. The only thing more inane than creating this group is actually joining it. What are these people going to do? Confirm what they already know? Discuss their febrile hatred of Bush? Or is it, like so much of Facebook, just another trivial activity to fill the vast emptiness of a daily life in which grown adults can’t find something more meaningful to do with their time?
My last and saddest experience of Facebook was when I was ‘poked’ by a friend. I poked them back, whatever that means. And that was the end of our communication. They poked me. I poked them. Oddly, three days earlier, I had written this person a thoughtful email full of words and clever observations about life, hoping to ask their opinion about something. I never sent it. I thought I was being too presumptuous to expect them to reply. I didn’t want to bother them with it. Yet somehow, there I was poking them. If felt like we’d regressed back to the cave, prodding each other as a means of communication. Isn’t technology wonderful when we can replace words with pokes? It inspires me to end this with some modern form of communication that will be appreciated by the Facebook generation. You know: like a grunt?
Thursday, 29 November 2007
Yesterday was a busy day at the Madeley household. A highly respected man of letters threatened to have me killed for releasing footage of him shaking a leg at the Charleston, and then David Dickinson forced me up a ladder to give his crotch a good scraping. Days of rosier hue there certainly have been and Judy wouldn’t have been at all surprised if, upon arriving home at ten o’clock, I had told her that I was heading straight for the bathtub.
Unfortunately, by the time I did arrive home at ten o’clock, Judy was gone. I’d forgotten that she’d made plans to see Equus in the West End for the nineteenth time. She would be staying over in the city with Denise Robertson who had bought herself some high powered binoculars especially for the occasion. It meant I had time alone to enjoy a good long bath and my special formula of salts were soon filling the house with the aroma of apricot and cinnamon. All my earthly worries eased away as I slid into the hot water. Bliss.
I woke up five hours later.
The water was cold and my legs had gone dead. And that wasn’t the worst of it. Below the waterline there was more shrivelled skin than in the audience to a Cliff Richard concert. I didn’t know if I should call for help or sing a chorus of some chirpy Christmas hit.
‘Judy!’ I cried, my voice sounding hollow against the walls of the tiled bathroom. Then I remembered that she’d gone away for the night and that I was alone. Trapped in a bath. With possibly severe wrinkle damage and hugely bloated buttocks that had wedged me tight into the bottom of the tub. I knew I had to act and, if I was to escape from my bath, I would have to do so without her help.
Panic, my rarely reticent mistress, wrapped me it her tight embrace. My breath came to me ragged and uncontrolled. Luckily, Dr. Raj had taught me meditation techniques for a moment such as this so I began to think of my ‘comfort mantra’ and began to say it aloud.
‘Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding… Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding… Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding…’
Eventually, I felt my breathing ease and I found myself able to think myself through my predicament. Consider: man in bathtub; unable to move; becoming more bloated with every passing moment. It seemed that the only chance of escape lay sitting in the pocket of my trousers. It was the new Apple iPhone I’d bought over the weekend, after much pestering from Fry. The trousers were, however, a good few feet away and beyond my reach.
However, I’m a man of some considerable imagination. I quickly grabbed my bathrobe, put a knot in the cord and then tied it around my large luxury loofa. On the third attempt I managed to snag my trousers and drag them to the side of the bath where I reached for the phone. Luckily, I’d charged it up that very morning and it came on with a bright chirp as I ran a finger down the screen.
Unfortunately, severe wrinkles had not been a design consideration back at Apple HQ. After accidentally selecting the MP3 player and then pulling up a detailed map of Swindon on the GPS, the internet browser loaded and I inadvertently checked all my emails. Only then did I manage to get to the phone book. That’s when I remembered, to my horror, that I’d only got around to putting one number in there. There was nothing I could do but press dial.
‘’Tis I, Fry, past midnight on my iPhone,’ yawned a somewhat sleepy Stephen Fry.
‘Stephen, thank god,’ I said. ‘I need you to call somebody to help me.’
‘Richard? Is that you?’
‘Yes, ’tis me, Richard, on my iPhone and I’m stuck in the bath.’
‘In the bath? Heavens!’
‘You must call somebody here in the UK. I need somebody to come and rescue me at once.’
‘I’ll be right over,’ said Stephen.
If I hadn’t already been wedged into the bath by my bloated buttocks, I would have still been rooted to the spot in shock. ‘I thought you were in America,’ I said. ‘What happened to your counter-clockwise tour of the nation?’
‘Oh, I’m go back to finish filming that in a few days but I had to come back home to narrate a piece for The Sir John Soane’s Museum. I had to tell people about their quite wonderful collection of chimneypieces. But more about that later. I’ll be there within minutes.’
And with that, he hung up. I love the man dearly but, to be honest, he wouldn’t have been the person I’d have asked to come help me out of the bath. Yet if brains were brawn, he’d be the first. Chimneypieces, indeed!
Half an hour later, I was woken from the early stages of hypothermia by the sound of a large shoulder impacting multiple times upon the front door. Then there was the noise of lanky legs ascending stairs before the bathroom door was flung open and Fry marched in.
‘Thank god!’ I cried, fearing that my body couldn’t stand much more shrivelling.
‘Not God, but close,’ he said. ‘’Tis I, Fry, in your bathroom!’
‘You have to get me out,’ I said. ‘I’m freezing, my legs are completely dead, and my body has absorbed so much water that I’m now wedged tight beneath the waterline…’
He untied his cape and threw it dramatically to one side as he came forward to grab hold of me.
‘Poor Richard,’ he said. ‘Throughout this adventure I shall refer to you as “Thora”, as though I were the playwright Mr. Bennett and this were a drama fit for the great Dame Hird herself. Old Lady in Bathtub.’ He let me slip as he stood up and pulled a notebook from his pocket before jotting down the idea. ‘The scenes almost write themselves,’ he said with evident glee.
‘Just pull me out,’ I pleaded, giving him both my hands.
After two minutes of struggle, I fell through his grasp for the dozenth time and Fry stood and leaned against the wall.
‘Who’d have thought you could be so terribly slippy when naked and wet?’ he said. ‘This is impossible. I need help.’
‘Well, if you must, go get Palin,’ I said. ‘He’s only a few doors up the road.’
Not an ideal solution, I suppose, but there you have it when ‘needs must’.
Fifteen minutes later, Palin walks in, still dressed in a dressing gown he’d clearly bought in Afghan bazaar. ‘Well, well, well,’ he said. ‘Looks like you’ve got yourself in a bit of a lather.’
‘Oh dear,’ groaned Stephen. ‘Well past midnight and the older generation of comedian still insists on punning. I can tell you, Dick, he’s been working on that one all the way here.’
‘Comedy legend,’ said Michael with a wink as he came and peered into the murky water. ‘Somebody dropped the soap or is that the natural colour of a well washed Madeley?’
‘I wish you’d hurry up and get me out of here,’ I said, feeling not a little embarrassed by my nakedness. I was only glad the water was opaque with the soap.
‘Stephen, you get his legs and I’ll take his arms,’ said Michael. ‘And I’d advise you to not look towards the middle. That is only fit for fair maidens called Judy.’
They huffed and puffed for a good few minutes before Palin fell back and sat down on the toilet. ‘He’s not going to shift,’ he gasped. ‘I tell you what… Why don’t we empty the water first?’
‘No way,’ I said. ‘I’m already cold enough and I’m not exposing myself to you two.’
‘There’s nothing down there we’ve not seen a hundred times,’ said Palin.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Well, those trousers you wear on the show,’ he said. ‘They don’t leave much to the imagination when you go spreading your legs for the ladies.’
I resented his implication and told him as much. ‘I can’t help but sit the way I feel most comfortable.’
‘Hush, you two,’ said Stephen. ‘We don’t need to empty the water at all. We just need an extra set of hands.’
‘We could always ask David,’ suggested Michael.
‘Not Dickinson,’ I said, drawing the line. ‘It’s bad enough that I’ve seen his groin at close distance. I don’t want him seeing mine. There’s a good likelihood that he’d flick it with his nail and call it a bad 1960s reproduction.’
‘Well you must have another neighbour,’ said Stephen. ‘Is there anybody close by who you don’t mind asking for help?’
I thought a few moments. ‘If it weren’t an emergency, I’d never suggest this,’ I said. ‘But you could always go and ask Corbett.’
Stephen looked towards Michael. Michael looked towards Stephen. Finally Stephen spoke.
‘Matthew or Ronnie?’
‘Ronnie, of course. And before you say anything, the man is stronger than he looks.’
‘I’ll go get him,’ sighed Michael. At the door he turned to look at me. ‘Are you sure this is the only option?’
I would have shrugged by even my shoulders were beginning to suffer water damage.
By the time Michael returned with little Ronnie Corbett, Stephen had finished lecturing me on the delights of the Sir John Soames museum’s collection of rare pickle jars and I, in my desperation, had almost found it interesting.
‘Anybody in?’ asked Ronnie, sticking his head around the door. ‘Ah, Richard! How good to see you. No, don’t get up. Ah ha! No, seriously. I’ve not seen a flesh that white since my wife cooked turkey last Christmas. I’m not saying it was underdone but it did help us unwrap the presents. Ah ha! No, come on. We have to get you out of there. My wife doesn’t like me being out at night. She thinks I might be mistaken for a peeping tom. No, honestly. My wife is a terrible worrier. She went to the doctor with an irritable wart. He told her that is she didn’t like it, she shouldn’t have married me. Oh no. Actually, I’m being unfair. My wife is very loving. She wanted me to take her ballroom dancing. I said fine, I’d do that so long as she took an interest in my golf. After two weeks she told me that she thought our foxtrot was fine but our tango would be better if I stopped shouting “fore” and if left my nine iron in the car.’
‘With you in a moment, Dicky. Actually. I’ll let you know that I’m a very accomplished dancer. I look very good in tails. I’m often being mistaken for a bridegroom. I’ve been stuck on so many wedding cakes, my toes have got frosting damage. Ah ha! No. Seriously…’
‘Ronnie?’ I said again this time splashing some water his way. ‘Ronnie, please?’
‘Oh, of course. Don’t know what I was thinking. How did you managed to get stuck in there, Dick? As the bishop said to the actress. Ah ha! Have I told you the one about the pygmy and the slipper salesman?’
Fry groaned. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I’ll take the legs if Ronnie you can take one arm and Michael get his middle.’
‘I’m not touching that,’ said Michael. ‘This gown is real Afghan.’
‘I’ll do it,’ said Ronnie, rolling up the tartan sleeves to his own dressing gown. ‘As they say, if you have a man by his balls, his legs and arms will follow.’
What more need I say? Ronnie was right. They had soon dragged me from the bath and wrapped me in a bathrobe before placing me warming before the fireplace.
‘I can’t thank you all enough,’ I said to my friends as they sat with me and helped drained my drinks cabinet. ‘I honestly thought I was a goner there. History would have Jimmi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and me. Three famous bathtub corpses.’
‘Shush, Richard,’ smiled Stephen. ‘There are many more miles left in you.’
‘Indeed,’ added Michael. ‘You don’t think Dickinson would let you go anywhere until you’ve finished scrubbing his groin?’
Ronnie laughed. ‘Poor David’s groin! It reminds me of this story about a bank manager from Congleton and a goat with extremely large udders…’
‘I’m sure it does,’ I muttered but Ronnie couldn’t be stopped. The last thing I remember fore falling asleep is the sound of Stephen Fry chortling softly over a punchline involving cold fingers.
To all you Americans wanting to know about having two rectums, I believe this is the place to be. I’ll have to see if I can get our team of researchers to find somebody who actually does have two rectums so I can interview them for you. Perhaps it could lead to the establishment of a society and we’d have conferences each year to discuss life with DRS, or dual-rectum syndrome. In fact, we’d hold it twice a year. Then it would be a biannual bi-anal bash. Bum bum...
For more information, I’d suggest you try Sanu’s biography, One Too Many Holes (New York, 1938). There is a film version of his life, ‘Reap the Wild Wind’, which was made in 1942 and starred Ray Milland, only the business of the second rectum was changed for marketing reasons into his having an English accent.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Too many bloggers do nothing but lie to their readers and consistently mislead them. I’m not like that. I’m known as ‘Honest’ Richard for a reason; I’m ‘Madeley’ with a capitalised ‘Truth’ and with the British Standard Mark for Veracity branded on my behind. Which is why I’m so blunt when it comes to admitting that I’m one of the most disliked men in the country. Oh, there’s no use in denying it. I’ve seen all the skits and cartoons. I’ve heard all the things that people say about me. And it’s all water off a drake’s rear-facing manifold, as it were. None of it fazes me. Besides, unpopularity has many rewards. I don’t get troubled by people wanting me to endorse their products and I’m rarely chased by the paparazzi. Children fear me, pensioners jeer me, and I’m unwelcome in twelve different countries, two UK holiday resorts, and the BBC.
There are times, however, when you want the press on your side, a few people to cheer you up when you’re feeling down, or somebody with a bit of muscle to aid you in your times of trouble. I needed all three only last night when I was faced with a man alleging that I’d scorched his crotch with a blazing wheelbarrow of rubbish.
‘Listen here, matey,’ said David Dickinson, thrusting a golden finger into my chest, ‘you can’t put a blazing wheelbarrow full of rubbish between my thighs and think you can get away with it.’
We were standing in the hallway and he had technically trespassed his way from the porch and onto the Axeminster.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, David,’ I said in my most reassuring voice. ‘But if you get any of that tan on my shirt, I’ll hit you with the laundry bill.’
‘Oh, you cheeky bloody bugger!’ he wailed. ‘This tan is pure Far East, mate! None of your Ambre Solaire nonsense with me.’
‘Be that as it may, David,’ I replied. ‘I don’t know anything about your scorched crotch.’
‘You don’t know anything about it? You admitted to doing it on that bloody rubbish blog of yours.’
‘Rubbish blog!’ Now it was my turn to stretch for the decibels. ‘Rubbish blog! Don’t you know that Stephen Fry writes for The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society? I’m the talk of Tunisia and Australia!’
‘It’s a rubbish blog… A child could do better. Bloody nonsense you write about on there. You’d think a man of your years would bloody grow up and do something more productive with his time. All this obsessing about Bill Oddie. You’re bloody mad, man! You don’t really think Bill Oddie and Stephen Fry got where they are today by writing such bloody stupid rubbish do you?’
I gave a non-committal shrug. ‘Depends on your definition of bloody stupid rubbish.’
‘Oh, a smart Alec! I see. Now I’m beginning to get the full picture. You and that Michael Palin both think you can outsmart the Duke Dickinson. Well, I’ll tell you something now, my friend, and I hope you’ll take this on board: the Duke bows down for no man!’
‘Or woman,’ shouted Judy from the kitchen.
Dickinson smiled. It was a dreadful conjunction of ‘pearly’ with ‘white’. ‘Thank you, my dear. I was about to add “woman”.’ He pointed towards the door. ‘You should listen to your good lady wife. She knows the Duke and knows what happens when you scorch his thighs.’
‘Mildly scorch,’ I said. The truth was, despite the explosion and the flames, Michael Palin’s rocket powered wheelbarrow has done a poor job of demolishing the giant hoarding that Dickinson had erected on his front lawn. His towering presence was still casting an orange glow over the whole suburb.
‘Listen, are you going to do the right thing, apologise and fix the damage?’ he asked. ‘If you do, then we’ll say no more about it.’
‘And what about Palin?’ It seemed to me to be the most obvious and fair question. ‘Don’t you think he’s more to blame than I?’
David tutted and readjusted the knot of his tie. It was the size of a fist holding a coconut. ‘My poor boy. Michael works for the BBC. I work for the BBC. You work for Channel 4. You get my drift?’
‘Damn the BBC handshake,’ I cursed as Judy emerged carrying a tray of finger sandwiches.
‘Like to try a pawn nibble, David?’
‘Love to, my dear. And then I’m going to get this bloody idiot of a husband of yours to come and scrub down my crotch.’
I waved Judy’s bemusement away and grabbed my jacket.
‘This might take all evening,’ I said.
9PM. David Dickinson’s lawn. I’m up a ladder chipping away the scorched paint from a three foot wooden crotch.
‘He got you then?’ said a voice below me.
I look down to see Michael Palin standing with one hand in his pocket and the other holding a cocktail. He’s a bit of a show off when it comes to his elaborate drinks. Since he came back from his first world tour, Michael’s won’t touch alcohol unless it’s mixed with Cobra venom.
‘I’m supposed to call you “The Lovely One”,’ I said. ‘A poster on my blog told me that’s your real name. Only, from up here, I can think of at least a dozen alternatives that are more appropriate.’
‘BBC immunity,’ he said as though that were apology enough.
‘And to think, Mike, we had spent the afternoon slapping each other with fish. How could our friendship founder on David Dickinson’s crotch?’
‘Many have,’ he said and sipped his snake juice as I continued to scrub. ‘The thing we must remember, Dick, is that our friendship is bigger than this. We must look beyond Dickinson’s crotch and think of our next great adventure together.’
‘You’ve got plans?’ I asked, intrigued.
‘Oh, I can’t say too much and this might be more than a two man operation. We’ll need to bring in specialists.’
‘What kind of specialists?’
‘Well we’ll need a man who understands technology and somebody who can mimic the call of a duck.’
I turned back to my hand which had continued to scrub. I was suddenly excited again. ‘I might know two men who fit that profile,’ I said. ‘But aren’t you going to tell me more?’
He raised his glass and turned back to his house. ‘In time, Richard, in time,’ he said as he fell into the shadows, whistling the tune to the ‘A Team’, as though an omen of better times ahead.
My expert response is this question is: yes. Yes, you can have two rectums. It does, however, mean that you'll probably also have three buttocks.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
You're like an army of well suntanned stalkers.
You keep coming to see if I’ve given more offence
To that fine African nation that gave the world the Fez.
Or is that Morocco? I really can't be certain.
I do know it's where Judy bought kitchen curtains.
Well, no more shall I insult good old Tunisia
I’ve got bigger nations to fry, like Bulgaria.
I insulted you with a little tale that was mostly fiction,
Some fact, but wrapped in my immaculate diction.
But now I'm happy that you kept on coming by.
The Guardian lot didn't, nor did Stephen Fry.
‘Hello Maddo,’ he said this morning, his head popping around the corner of the living room door.
‘Mike!’ I cried. ‘Who let you in?’
‘Judy, of course,’ he said, coming into the room and dropping onto the sofa.
‘This is such a coincidence. I was only talking about you yesterday. I’ve not see you in ages. Where have you been?’
‘Oh, you know, here and there. I’ve just finished filming a show for the BBC. I spent six months driving around America in a taxi cab.’
‘How odd,’ I laughed. ‘You know that Stephen Fry is doing exactly the same thing right now?’
‘And would he be going anti-clockwise around America or clockwise?’
He clicked his teeth. ‘Figures,’ he said. ‘I did it anti-clockwise which is a different thing altogether. Much more difficult journey when you do it anti-clockwise.’
‘How so? I would have thought that they both were equal.’
‘Well there you go, Dick. It proves yet again that you often don’t know what you’re talking about. Did you know that America is totally uphill if you travel around it in a roughly anti-clockwise direction? If Stephen is doing it clockwise, he’ll save on petrol and will find it a much easier proposition altogether.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘No, I’m afraid that if he expects to make good television with this ill conceived premise of a clockwise journey around America, he’ll be in for many disappointments along the way.’
You see? The man had only been in the room for a minute yet he had taught me something about the geography of America that I’d never learned from any other source. Can you now see why we get on so well?
‘So what brings you to see me on such a fine November morning, Mike?’ I asked.
‘I’m here to ask you a favour. You know that the house across the way has been bought by David Dickinson?’
I didn’t. ‘Not that dandy from those antiques shows?’
Michael nodded slowly. ‘The very same. Odd chap. Highly tanned and with a yen for purple suits. Not endearing himself to the locals.’
‘How’s that? He’s not made disparaging remarks about your legs has he, Mike?’
‘Worse than that. He’s erected a large wooden billboard in his front garden.’
‘Advertising his new show. First thing I see when I wake up in the morning is his grinning face looking at me through the window. It’s even worse at night. It glows.’
‘Glows a mysterious orange. I can see it through the curtains. That’s why I want your help.’
‘Anything I can do,’ I promised, though my not being one of David Dickinson’s biggest fans had nothing to do with it. I’m a friend of Palin and I’m not one to stand back when the man needs my help. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Get dressed and come with me,’ he said.
Ten minutes later, we’d were walking up the driveway to Palin’s house. His home is something else: small, comfortable, eccentric. In my opinion, his shed is the most wonderful place on the Earth. It’s full of the old props from all the TV and films he’s done. Every corner is full of bric-a-brak sure to evoke happy memories of fish slapping, SPAM, and all the rest. Only this morning, he didn’t give me chance to go inside and examine his relics. He stopped me at the door.
‘This is it,’ he said, gesturing to a wheelbarrow sitting before the shed.
‘It’s a wheelbarrow,’ I said.
‘A fully-loaded wheelbarrow,’ said Michael and tapped the side of his nose.
‘Okay, it’s a fully loaded wheelbarrow. Why do you need my help?’
‘You’ve not examine it carefully enough,’ smiled Michael.
I bent down and made a careful inventory of the wheelbarrow loaded, as it was, with assorted house bricks, an old canister half-filled with petrol, four long plastic tubes and other assorted debris.
‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I can see I was wrong when I said it was just a wheelbarrow. It’s a wheelbarrow full of assorted house bricks, an old canister half-filled with petrol, four long plastic tubes and other assorted debris.’
‘Not just any old tubes,’ hinted Michael.
I bent down again and, sure enough, I saw that they weren’t any old tubes. They were tubes filled with a strange smelling paste. I shook my head, not knowing what to make of them.
Michael sighed. ‘You remember when we tried to build our own rocket? You remember that I was researching fuel compounds? Well, that’s what I have here. Plastic tubes filled with solid fuel.’
I was glad it was a penny that dropped and not a spark striking. ‘You’ve built a rocket powered wheelbarrow!’
‘I like to think of it as a flaming wheelbarrow full of rubbish,’ he said. ‘But rocket powered does have a ring to it. That’s why I want your help. I want you to aim the wheelbarrow while I set off the rockets.’
‘Aim it at what?’ I asked.
He nodded down the drive to the house across the road where a twenty five foot wooden David Dickinson was grinning like an orange tree high on dope.
‘Aim it at that bloody thing,’ he said.
‘How illegal is this, Michael?’
‘Not illegal at all,’ he assured me. ‘Has the government ever outlawed rocket powered wheelbarrows filled with flaming rubbish? Have they ever said that large wooden Dickinsons are protected monuments? I don’t think so.’
When he put it like that, I didn’t see how I couldn’t help him.
I grabbed the handles firmly as Michael lit the rockets. At first they only smoked but after a few moments, they caught and I could feel the wheelbarrow straining to be free.
‘That’s it, right between his legs!’ shouted Michael as I ran a few steps to steer it on its way.
I let go and the wheelbarrow shot down the drive, across the road, and caught a slight incline that launched it straight into Dickinson’s estate where it became lodged between his thighs. That's when the rubbish and a flame rushed up to lick his groin. It was only a split second before the explosion knocked me off my feet.
‘That was the blasting caps I put under the rubbish,’ explained Michael, ever the perfectionist, as he picked himself off the floor and dusted himself down.
I did the same as the door to Dickinson’s house opened and out came the Duke, pink bathrobe and a plastic shower cap on his head.
‘Who did this?’ he screamed. ‘Who did this?’
‘Excellent morning’s work, Dick,’ said Michael, shaking me by my hand. ‘Fancy a drink to celebrate our success?’
‘Why not, Michael,’ I replied. ‘And perhaps you could do me a favour?’
‘Anything. Anything at all.’
I looked towards his shed. ‘Fancy a bit of fish slapping?’
He smiled, those wonderfully kind eyes twinkling with boyish charm.
‘Haddock or bream?’ he asked.
‘Your choice, Michael,’ I said. ‘Your choice...’
Monday, 26 November 2007
But before you read my list, I want to ask any of you out there if there is another blog that gives you this kind of information? Honestly, I don’t think you appreciate me half as much as you should. I see plenty of you dropping by, sometimes reading dozens of pages at a time, yet not enough of you email me or leave a comment to say: ‘Well done, Richard! I’ve been looking for a list of ways to love Bill Oddie for years, but I’ve never found one. Your blog is becoming a regular stop on my daily browse of the internet and I couldn't live without you.’ I need encouragement, people, and I don’t see it. Perhaps one of you might care to write a list of '50 Ways To Love Richard Madeley'? Just a suggestion...
Fifty Ways to Love Bill Oddie
1. Groom him. Bill is the only genuinely bearded celebrity in the UK.
2. Cuddle him. His height to width ratio cannot be beat.
3. Pat the top of his head. It’s only waist height.
4. Tickle his feet. He has two and, yes, they are soft and furry.
5. Rub his tummy. He has two and, yes, they are soft and furry.
6. Make him laugh. He loves a good owl joke.
7. Whistle to him. He’ll whistle back in the fashion of a lesser mottled bill shafter.
8. Make duck calls. He has webbed toes.
9. Sing the Funky Gibbon. He wrote it, sang it, but did you know that he is a funky gibbon?
10. Buy him a mobile phone. He refuses to have one because of the bees.
11. Varnish his knees. They get terribly scuffed twitching in the scrub.
12. Get him monstrously drunk in Chinatown. Again.
13. Roll him down a hill. He’s guaranteed to keep going.
14. Put him in the bank. Oddie is a high yield investment opportunity.
15. Buy him a puppy. His poodle juggling record has yet to be beat.
16. Feed him peanuts. He loves all nuts except for pecan.
17. Put him in a bird box. Make his dream come true.
18. Yank his chain. He wears one around his neck that keeps his flies up.
19. Pick cocoa pops from his beard. They rustle and frighten away the birds.
20. Humble him with Katie. Katie Humble is Bill’s kind of woman.
21. Hang him upside down from a coconut. He has special toes that can hold him there.
22. Reunite him with his earlobes. He has them but hasn’t seem them since 1968.
23. Feel his pain. Tell him not to worry. He is odd but oddly odd. He is oddly Oddie.
24. Follow his winter migration. He heads south, then a bit east.
25. Destroy the BT tower with a mutant kitten. He’s done it before.
26. Support Ipswich Town. They are his team and play his sort of football.
27. Buy him an illegally imported parrot. He’ll complain but grow to love it.
28. Wear a sleeveless jacket. He owns twelve of them and some even have sleeves.
29. Chase him. Poke him with a stick and call him ‘a custard’. He’ll thank you.
30. Tar and feather him. And then call him ‘sexy’.
31. Take the creases from his trousers. He is the most ruffled man in the UK.
32. Take him on holiday. He tans nicely.
33. Nuzzle his neck. But beware the burn.
34. Make him a brew. Biscuit on the side. Warm fireplace. Lovely.
35. Call him ‘Billy’. All his friends do. You can be his friend.
36. Buy him odd socks. Since he has very odd feet.
37. Threaten to trade him in for a Tim Brooke-Taylor. Just to make him love you more.
38. Cheer him up. He feels sad when he sees the last geese fly off for the winter.
39. Put a ring on his ankle with ‘Oddie 1’ written on it. Just in case he gets lost.
40. Build him a badger set. Oddie loves nothing more than a badger.
41. Pre-scuff his shoes. He hates polish and shine.
42. Rut with him in the fashion of deer. Aim low.
43. Clone him. We could all do with more Oddie.
44. Divest him of his illusions. He has many. Divest him of them! Divest him!
45. Put squirrels in his trousers. They can bury his nuts for winter.
46. Stick him up a tree. He hangs quite well and won’t drop in the cold.
47. Watch him through binoculars. He likes to be watched from a distance.
48. Sing light Italian opera to him. He won’t understand the words but he’ll enjoy the tune.
49. Budget for more little Oddies in the spring. Then put cameras in the nest to watch them hatch.
50. Just love him like he was your own special little fellow. He deserves it.
‘There’s an old woman sitting on a deckchair at the bottom of the drive,’ I said to Judy, who was buried nose to pillow beneath the duvet.
‘Is there?’ she mumbled.
‘And she appears to be unpacking her bags,’ I said. There was no real reply and, judging from the snoring, Judy had gone back to sleep, no doubt dreaming of DIY, Jeremy Clarkson, and needlenosed pliers.
No more was said about the old woman sitting on a deckchair at the bottom of the drive until after breakfast. I’d invested heavily in marmalade and toast, and felt like I was on unbelievably good terms with the world.
‘I don’t believe this,’ I said, looking out of the living room window. A tent had been erected and the old lady was sitting before it stirring something in a pot heating over a Calor gas cooker.
Judy came over and had a look through a gap in the curtain.
‘What’s that sign propped against the tent?’ she asked. ‘It looks like a hedgehog… Oh, Richard, you’ve not been advocating death to all hedgehogs have you?’
‘Not after last time,’ I replied. ‘Do you think I should go and have a word?’
Judy dropped the curtain. ‘You have a way with old ladies, so perhaps you should.’
Never one to put potential confrontation on a back burner, I was immediately out the front door. The gravel crunched crisply beneath my heels as I walked down the long drive leading to the gates of the Madeley residence, my guidance system set on OAP.
‘Hello,’ I said, as I approached the old woman who was busy sprinkling herbs into a pot of broth. ‘Something smells good.’
The old woman looked to be in her eighties, red cheeked, wild hair beneath a green woollen hat. She was dressed for the elements in a deep green anorak, with a pair of binoculars hanging around her neck.
‘Richard!’ she exclaimed. ‘I didn’t expect to see you here.’
‘Didn’t you?’ I replied. ‘That’s a surprise. After all, you are holidaying at the bottom of the driveway to my house.’
‘Oh, I’m not on holiday,’ she laughed, quite lightly. ‘I’m protesting.’
‘Protesting? What could you possibly be protesting about at the bottom of my drive?’
‘I am on public land,’ she said. ‘And I’ve not trespassed. This is a peaceful protest.’
‘Excellent news,’ I replied. ‘But can I ask what your protest is about?’
She turned and picked up the sign that the wind had knocked over beside her tent. I gave an involuntary chirp of fear when she turned it to face me.
‘Isn’t he lovely?’ she asked as she stroked the larger-than-life photograph of Bill Oddie stuck to the sign. ‘I’m protesting against your treatment of Bill and the things you’ve been saying about him.’
I was too dumbstruck to answer the charge. ‘Is that real hair you’ve used on the sign?’ I asked, the full horror having only struck me once I’d noticed that Oddie’s beard and fringe were moving with the wind.
‘I know Bill’s barber,’ explained the woman. ‘He gives me the odd clipping.’
‘Bill Oddie has a barber!’ I replied, astonishment now added to my copious supply of disgust.
‘He has a barber and a fan club,’ said the woman. ‘My name is Clarice Featheringham and I’m deputy chairwoman of The Bill Oddie Twitchers Alliance.’
‘Well Clarice, I don’t know what I’ve done to upset you but you can be sure that you have my support. As you might now, I’m a huge Bill Oddie fan.’
‘I’ve heard you claim that but I think it’s a lie,’ she answered as she went back to stirring the soup. ‘Why else would you make such horrible comments about Bill?’
I couldn’t immediately think of any bad things I’ve ever said about Bill Oddie. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. My admiration for Stephen Fry might know no limits, especially after he so kindly written a piece of my blog about his meeting with Chuck Norris, but I have genuine affection for Bill Oddie that goes deeper than mere admiration. I am part Oddie and I would hope that he is part Madeley. I like to think that we are actually more like brothers.
‘If you mean that,’ said Ms. Featheringham after I’d explained it all to her, ‘I suppose it means I don’t have to spend the next month sitting here. But how am I to be sure you’re going to change your ways? How am I to be certain that you’ll be kinder to Bill in the future?’
‘Certain?’ I laughed. ‘How can I prove I love Bill Oddie? Let me count the ways…’
‘You’d do that?’
‘Count the ways? On your blog?’
‘Er,’ I said, ‘I suppose I could… It was really only a turn of phrase. You know, like the Paul Simon song. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover?’
‘So you should write 50 Ways to Love Your Oddie!’ She dropped the spoon with a splash. ‘A wonderful idea,’ she said and, with that, picked up the pot from her stove and poured the soup into two mugs. She handed me the one with Bill’s face on the side. ‘We’ll drink soup to our deal. I’ll pack up and go home and you can go and count the ways you love Bill Oddie on your blog.’
And there you have it. I’m now engaged in the task of writing ‘50 Ways I Love Bill Oddie’. I’ve found it easy to write the first five or six, but fifty seems quite a lot. I better get back to it.
As usual, advice welcome, suggestions sought for man who seeks Oddie love.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
Ah! The musky odours of still choirs and murky naves. How quaint it is to be writing again for a small publication such as The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society. The bafflement of silence leaves me feeling really quite dizzy. Hark, the sound of visitor’s feet pattering down the aisle, advancing with skittish excitement, as the wanderer comes hither and sits at Uncle Stephen’s feet as he prepares to tell you all a tale. You do me a service being here, you really do. Oh, shush now.
It is also a welcome break to be speaking to just a few of you instead of the throngs that gather around my shrine-like blog. It tickles old Stephen around his vestments to be talking about something more cultural than the usual old malarkey you get from that dear old Richard. The poor man. He really is. It was Richard, bless his heart, who first suggested that on my current tour of America I visit the home of that American legend, Mr. Charles Norris, known to most of you, I suppose, as Chuck. Chuck! Bless me. What a name! It’s why I drove the old jalopy down to Mr. Norris’ farm, set in the wilderness of the Southern Californian desert. This, my dear children (or non-children should you be 'of age') is what happened next...
My entry into Chuck Norris’ premises, if you excuse the image and I’m sure you will, was not the easiest. My old London taxi could barely be accommodated through gates designed for nothing wider than a horse. Luckily, it was a slightly flatulent horse so we had a lucky inch or two where the bilious paunches would go. I squeezed the cab into the empty bay next to Chuck’s vintage jeep and slipped these old tired bones from the driver’s seat.
‘Steve!’ said Chuck, coming out to greet me on the spacious veranda. Dear. He was a muck or a nettle smaller that I imagined. I would put him about three feet two inches, though it’s hard to judge being a man of some considerable height myself. The was some looming, towering, and not a little hulking over the beaded little Texas Ranger. (That, so I am told, is one of Mr. Norris’s televisual delights.)
‘How was the journey?’ asked the man whom the ladies, both fair and duck like, prefer to call Chuck.
‘Adequate,’ I said. ‘There is a positive bloom about the landscape today. I was particularly enjoying listening to the noise of the waves rolling up the hill from the ocean. It reminded me of lines from my Betjeman. “The sleepy sound of a tea-side tide / Slaps at the rocks the sun has dried.” He was, of course, talking about Anglesey but I think the same could be said about Southern California.’
Chuck gave me a look that I would struggle to call amused as he appeared to juggle with his teeth that sat oddly on gum. ‘You caught a bit too much sun driving down here, haven’t you Steve?’
‘It’s Stephen with the “ph”,’ I said, thinking it better to clear up the poor man’s confusion. ‘I always say that my name is like a somewhat acidic soil, moist yet the better for the genus geranium of the family geraniaceae.’
He took a step back and whistled towards his mud abode. ‘Gena! Come on our here. We’ve got a visitor whose either got too much sun or he’s been bitten by a raccoon. Bring the shotgun. He might turn rabid.’
‘Rabid, indeed!’ I chuckled until I was wet about the lips. ‘I was warned that you were a man of much mirth but I hardly expected you to be a veritable Oscar Wilde.’
Chuck took another step back. ‘Ain’t he the guy who went to prison for those “unnatural” acts?’
‘He was certainly a martyr to the cause of individual freedoms,’ I replied.
He whistled again. ‘And Gena? Bring me my pistols too…’
‘Now, now, Chuck… I hope you don’t mind my calling you Chuck. Chuck! Bless me. A strange name, certainly. Makes you sound like projectile vomit. But Chuck, would you mind if I ask you a few questions about being, dear me, how shall I put this… “an American”?’
‘What the hell was that?’ he asked, suddenly animated like one of those insufferable cartoon characters that are always gesticulating these days. Homeric Simpson, perhaps.
It was why I was forced to be somewhat stern in my reply. Don’t hold it against me, readers. There was fret, if not anxiety, in my question when I returned it.
‘What was what?’
‘What was that you did when you called me an American?’
‘Oh this?’ I said, again wiggling Stephen’s fingers in the air. ‘They are known, quite commonly I should imagine, as “air quotes”, though they are sometimes called “bunny quotes” because they look rather like two little bunny rabbits, no doubt cavorting and doing the rather risible and sometimes risqué things that little bunny rabbits do to make even littler and, indeed, bunnier rabbits.’
‘You are one sorry son of a bitch, aren’t you Steve?’ asked Chuck.
‘Now, shush,’ I said, striking the Texas Lone Ranger across the nose with a finger. ‘I believe I'm the one who’s meant to be asking the questions, Chuck.’
There passed a few moments as this dwarf of the Mojave inspected me, making I believe three circuits of this fine upstanding English body before he stood before my knees and pushed his finger into my stomach. It was, as they say, quite a reach for the little fellow.
‘Is that wool you’re wearing?’ he asked, fingering my suit in neither an invasive nor lubricated way.
‘It is indeed,’ I replied. ‘Mr. Hitchcock makes them for me in London. Savile Row. He even double stitches my gussets for that added security.’
‘You’re wearing wool in ninety degree heat?’ whistled Chuck through his teeth. ‘And you ain’t warm?’
‘A bit chilly if the truth be told. But to my questions. Chuck… Deary me. Chuck! What a name. Tush. But Chuck, I am here for questions and questions you must be set. You are well known as a man of the marital arts, are you not?’
‘Marital? Did you just say marital?’
‘I did indeed. I’ve done some, or should I say “a little”, reading up on you, Chuck. My researcher compiled quite generous notes on your many marital skills.’
Chuck drew a hand around his bewhiskered chin. ‘And what did you say the name of your researcher was again?’
‘I don’t believe I did mention his name,’ I said, regretting my having to bring the man’s name to Chuck’s ear. ‘It’s Richard. Richard Madeley. He’s quite well known in the UK and has written some terrible poems about me. Still, it was his idea that I should interview you about your marital arts. I assume your wife, Mrs. Chuck, is around, so I can get the critic’s point of view, as it were?’
‘Look Steve,’ said Chuck. ‘It’s martial arts. Not marital. I’m a fighter. An ass kicker...’
‘Are you indeed? Both a fighter and a lover? And what do you fight? I do hope it’s not Mrs. Chuck.’
He squinted at my kneecaps. ‘I fight any creature that can walk or crawl,’ he said, spitting a wad of something onto my Hush Puppies. ‘There ain’t an animal whose ass I’ve not kicked at some point.’
‘Surely not an elk?’ I asked. ‘Or a mongoose? Or even a chipmonk? Surely you’ve not kicked the ass of a chipmonk, Chuck?’
Dear Chuck seemed to be on, as we say, ‘a roll’. He went on chuntering to himself as if chewing on his own teeth. ‘Every lowdown stinking animal, every low life bum, street mugger, wife beater, lilly-livered Democrat… Every one of them I’ve taught to respect the power of the Norris.’
I believe it was the business with the teeth that reminded me of something that Richard had asked me to discover regarding dentures. It accounts for the odd yet brilliant turn of my next comment.
‘The power of the Norris! Well, my soul is truly blessed. It reminds me somewhat of Frank Norris, the American writer of very great power whose novels of poverty in the depression were better, in my own not-so-humble opinion, than the works of Steinbeck. Less sentimental, don’t you think Chuck? My favourite book of his was McTeague. Have you ever read it?’
‘Should I have?’ asked Chuck.
‘It’s about a dentist.’
He looked at me, his sun-dried skin gathering into hard worn scars around his eyes. ‘Nope. Never read it.’
‘Surely you’ve kicked the ass of a dentist in your time, Chuck?’ I offered.
‘What are you suggesting? Why would I have kicked the ass of a goddamn dentist, Steve?’
‘Suggesting?’ asked I, Stephen with a ‘ph’. ‘What on earth could I be suggesting? That you wear dentures? The very notion is ridiculous! I wouldn’t know where I could have heard it. Actually, I do know where I might have heard it. From the same chap who mentioned that you were into marital arts. Bless my soul. I should not have listened. No.’
‘Too damn right you shouldn’t,’ said Chuck, now raising himself to his full three feet and not too many inches. ‘And I suggest you get back in that Limey goddamn taxi of yours and get the hell of my property before you too feel the power of the Norris.’
I laughed as indeed I am sure you too would have laughed. ‘The power of the Norris! I find that such an odd concept having grown up on the memory feats of the great Norris McWhirter. Did you ever watch Record Breakers, Chuck?’
Ah, how I should have stilled my lips. With a mighty leap, Chuck Norris leapt up into the air and delivered a painful flying kick to my right kneecap.
‘Gosh,’ I said, bowing down to rub the painful ligament and torn wool. ‘I think I’ll be going.’
‘Too right,’ said Norris as I began to hobble towards the taxi. ‘What does Betjeman say about broken goddamn kneecaps, Steve?’
There was little time for goodbyes. Nor was there any promises to exchange recipes over the internet. I floored the taxi out through the gate the width of a flatulent horse and gunned it, as we say in America, 'towards the highway'. At the first gas station, I rang my production team up on my iPhone (have I mentioned what a wonderful piece of kit it is?) and told them to abandon plans to meet me at Chuck’s ranch later that day. He was, I told them, not the sort of man who would please a BBC2 audience. I would think he’s not even the sort of man to please writers of low quality blogs.
There you have it. Chuck Norris: the man who ruined the knees in a perfectly good pair of trousers.
Friday, 23 November 2007
Those of us who work on the Richard&Judy Show have always prided ourselves on using only the freshest and most original ingredients for each night’s show. We never lift things from other programmes and, to us, the format of our show is totally unique. I feel the same way about my blog. I don’t read other blogs because, to be quite honest about it, I don’t want to feel influenced by anything other people write or discuss. I’m a law unto myself and that’s how I intend to keep it.
It’s not, however, a principle I keep to when it comes to other people. After watching the clip of Andy Kaufman last night, I watched some clips in which Chuck Norris drawled on like a old gnarled plum about Christ and Republicanism. It immediately put me in mind of Stephen Fry, who I knew to be in America searching for interesting people for his new show. I didn’t hesitate in passing on the suggestion and, though I didn’t get through to him, I did leave a message on his answerphone, suggesting that he search out Chuck Norris and ask him a few questions.
Something about this whole sequence of events must have stayed lodged upstairs because I found that I couldn’t sleep. Chuck Norris was stuck in my head. At four o’clock yesterday morning, long after Judy had turned in and the memory of the Moonlight Sonata played on brass had faded, I got up to go to the bathroom. I was gazing, as you do, ahead of me at Bill Oddie’s framed picture on the bathroom wall when in the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the toothbrush rack.
‘Teeth!’ I shouted, as the mistiness cleared from my mind. I immediately rushed from the room heading to the den. ‘Teeth!’
Unfortunately, Judy had also got up and when I ran across the landing with little Richard still head down to the breeze, so to speak, she could do very little but scream.
‘Teeth!’ I explained as I made a rush for the steps. ‘Teeth!’
I had the PC on in no time and had soon punched up the video of Chuck Norris thumping the Bible. Actually, he didn't so much as thump it as look vaguely off camera as though he'd been kicked in the head a few too many times. But when I re-watched his campaign video on behalf of Mike Huckabee it was really quite obvious that my bathroom suspicions had been right and that Chuck Norris does indeed wear dentures.
‘Chuck Norris wears dentures!’ I said to Judy as she appeared at the door of my den.
‘Is that what this is about?’
‘You’re not impressed?’
‘That he wears dentures or that you’ve figured it out at five o’clock in the morning?’
I thought for a moment. ‘Both?’
At Judy’s insistence, I went back to bed and had a restful six hours before I was up just before lunch. But if Judy thought I could leave the business of Chuck Norris’ dentures behind me, she was very much mistaken. I had to tell somebody and I knew just the right person.
‘Fry on his iPhone,’ said Fry, presumably on his iPhone.
‘Stephen. It’s Richard.’
‘Ah, do wonders never cease? Had I the wit, and I believe that I do, I would praise you in succulent terms normally reserved for one’s mother or a winsome child with a toffee apple.’
‘Listen, cut the crap. Did you know that Chuck Norris wears dentures?’
‘Indeed I did not but might I say how delighted I am to learn this fact. You know, I am sure, that I am due to meet the man on this very PM.’
‘Of course I knew,’ I lied, totally surprised by how little time it takes Fry to follow up on the lead to a scoop. ‘I’m ringing because I want you to check it out for me. I watched one of his TV ads and at first I thought he’d only been kicked in the head one too many times.’
‘Ah,’ said Fry. ‘What we in the TV trade call the Titchmarsh Syndrome.’
‘Do we? Oh, of course we do. But listen. It struck me in the middle of the night that he’s not been kicked in the head one too many times. It’s just that he wears big dentures.’
‘Big dentures? How fitting.’
‘Or not fitting, as I suspect is the case. Which is why I’ve rang you. I want you to look into this and report back. I know you’re not blogging on your trip because it’s going into a book but I thought just this once you might write me a report of your encounter.’
‘Stephen Fry meets Chuck Norris? It would make quite good little essay. Or perhaps something longer!’
‘No, the essay will do. And if you let me post it on my blog, I’ll slip you a few quid. You know. Tie you over until you’re next book is published.’
‘Ah, the terrible wait until Monday next. It is such a very long time. I’ll do it.’
So there you have the news. I’m hoping to have Stephen Fry’s interview with Chuck Norris exclusively on this blog. If that doesn’t bring in the hits, I don’t know what will. I suppose it will have to be plan B and Raj’s suggestion that I start featuring Reader’s Wives. Only I wouldn’t know what Bill Oddie would say. If, indeed, he would say anything.
Thursday, 22 November 2007
‘The FA should organise a mole burying contest on the Superbowl pitch the week before it kicks off,’ I suggested, really quite sourly.
‘Perhaps it’s all been a clever plan to ensure that we lose,’ said Judy, ever the cynic.
‘I think such cunning is beyond us,’ I replied as the full time whistle went and English hopes for European Championship qualification went the same way of our lately departed Channel 4 contract.
After Liniker announced the result of the Russia game, Judy swore a single vulgar epithet and began to seal the uneaten nibbles in airtight containers. The phone’s chirp was like a well timed plan to interrupt my own slide into melancholy.
‘Madeley,’ I said, barely mustering the energy for a welcome worthy of the name.
‘In your face!’ came the cry.
‘You know who it is,’ said the voice.
Unfortunately, I did know who it was. Or didn’t. It wasn’t as easy at that. We’ve had The Proclaimers on the show a few times and I still can’t tell Charlie and Craig Reid apart. I do know that one of them plays the guitar and the other touches himself as he sings. You’ve not noticed that? How odd. I advise you to look more carefully next time. Or simply imagine Frank Spenser with itchy thighs and you’ll have the gesture about right. They’re not exactly my choice of musical guests. They might appear more folksy than Neil Young but really they're closer to Andy Kaufman singing Old McDonald.
‘So, what do you want to proclaim?’ I asked. Rather witty, I thought.
‘Only that I’d walk a million miles to see the look on your face,’ said either Charlie or Craig.
‘Very dry,’ I said. ‘It’s why you’re my favourite musical act from north of the border after Isla St Clair and the marching band of the Black Watch.’ And with that, I hung up the phone.
Two minutes later, it was ringing again.
‘Madeley,’ I sighed.
‘Have it!’ said a voice.
This time I knew who it was without having to ask. ‘Hello Krankie,’ I said. ‘Don’t tell me that the big fellow has let you stay up late.’
‘Listen, don’t come that shit with me,’ said Janet, or as I like to call her, Jimmy the Krank. ‘I’m just ringing up to say how great it was to watch England lose to those fine fecking men of Croatia.’
‘Does your husband know you swear like that?’ I asked.
‘Piss off, Madeley,’ came a voice in the distance. I decided there and then to hang up. There’s nothing worse than the Krankies when they’re high on cheap wine and an English loss.
I was going to turn the phone off for the evening when it rang again.
‘Do you have to answer it?’ asked Judy.
‘I don’t know what minor celebrity it might be calling to make me feel bad,’ I said as I hit the pickup button.
‘Three two! Three two! Three two! Three two…’
‘Is this going to go on long?’ I asked.
‘‘Three two, three two, three two!’
‘Let me guess. Three two?’
‘You’ve got it pally!’ cried Billy Connolly. ‘Now I want to sing you a version of that while I’m playing the banjo!’
Again, I had no choice but to hang up the phone. When Connolly threatens you with the banjo, there’s really no sensible alternative.
Many of you have emailed me to privately ask what it’s like to have celebrity friends and I think you can now judge for yourself. Part of the problem can undoubtedly be attributed to the unhealthy number of Scottish celebrities that have come south to make their careers. My rollerdex has a disproportionately large section beginning ‘Mac’ and ‘Mc’, which ruins it for the surnames beginning with ‘L’ and ‘N’. And it’s not just the football results they like to use to annoy us. There’s the bagpipes, the tartan, the tins of shortbread biscuits, Alex Sammond, the word ‘loch’, the whole issue of who was the best Bond, and the lesser novels of Sir Walter Scott. Let’s also not forget about the Edinburgh Festival, Christopher Lambert, golf, Ultravox, Ronnie Corbett and the sight of Mel Gibson’s buttocks in Braveheart.
And what have we got to annoy them with in return?
When I put it like that, I think that we win. Which is really all that ever matters.
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Another display of Fry’s wordiness has galvanised me into action. Slipping the belt through the loops of my trousers this morning, I decided that I too would be wordy for a change. I would write something intelligent, something impossible not to read. My words would be sent across the globe as people acknowledges this as one of the blog posts of the year. It was only a matter of finding a topic that could attract a decent readership.
‘Why don’t you write about biscuits,’ said Judy from beneath the kitchen sink. ‘You’re always going on about them.’
‘Am I?’ I replied, watching her unscrew the pipe from the leaking plughole. ‘I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed. Although, now I think about it, I’ve been meaning to write something about custard creams. I often wonder if it’s really custard and why I can’t just buy the cream to save me the trouble of scraping it from between those rather disappointing layers of biscuit.’
The drain clanked and Judy appeared, a greased delight with just a whiff of detergent.
‘I think that’s what you should do that right now, Richard,’ she said, coolly. I think she really meant it.
Only now that I’m sitting here, with my ankles high on my office desk and a custard cream in my hand, I’m finding it a bit hard going. Once you get down to it, there’s not much you can say about a custard cream. As much as I wanted this post to be a succinct thought experiment dedicated to the nature of Britain’s favourite biscuit, it threatens to become a minor treatise on how little there is to say on the subject. Even Wikipedia has a limited article on our nation's most loved biscuit.
At this point, a lesser man would have given up or chosen to waffle on about iPhones or his trip across America. But I’m not a lesser man. I pulled a few strings, set my team of researchers into action, and I think we’ve got a few interesting facts for you.
Did you know that the custard cream was invented in 1902 by Gerald Crumb, an ironic name, I know, but a man with a lifetime’s devotion to the fixing of highly-flavoured creams between biscuit layers? The design on the custard cream has never changed in all the years it has been a staple diet to old ladies, doctors, and priests. The detail is taken from the tomb of St. Gurnisaple, the patron saint of snacks (yes, there really is one if you check your Dictionary of Saints). The design contains bristles (some think they’re ferns but they are actually bristles) that represent Gurnisaple’s conversion to savoury foods during his commune with a hedgehog possessed by the spirit of the Lord.
In the last century, the custard cream has figured in some important moments in world history. It is the only biscuit to have been salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic, and a plate of them sat between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt at Yalta. If you’ve read your Warren Commission lately, you’ll also remember that crumbs from custard creams were found in the pocket of J. Harvey Oswald and beneath the window of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Some say that custard creams prove there was no conspiracy. Others say that custard creams are where the conspiracy begins. We may never know, but whether it’s their status as the snack of choice within Columbian drug cartels or the national symbol of the Dutch East Indies, custard creams remain the world’s most celebrated biscuit.
So, there you have it. It might only be a mere thousand words but this is probably the best potted history of the custard cream you’re likely to find on the Internet. At this point, Stephen Fry would still be only taking his second breath and you’d have another four thousand words to get through. I’ve done my work a fifth of the time. Stitch that, Stephen!
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
‘You’ve done it again,’ she hissed this morning. Judy was entertaining guests and had just presented the box of scraped digestives to Michael Parkinson. ‘How many times have I told you to stop doing this?’
‘Many times,’ I admitted, though I couldn’t have helped myself. Glutting myself on the chocolate from the digestive biscuits had been my way of consoling myself over the news that Stephen Fry’s ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’ has won an Emmy for best documentary. He had rang me up at five o’clock this morning.
‘It is I, Fry, speaking on my iPhone from New York,’ he said as I sank back into my pillow.
‘What time is it?’ I mumbled.
‘Time? Pah! A foolish concept, is it not? We do with time what we will. Time is the essence. There’s no time like the present. And at the present moment of time I am standing here in New York with an Emmy in my hand. How is that for timely essence?’
‘You’ve won an Emmy?’
‘Best documentary, if you can believe such a thing.’ He chuckled. ‘And quite a generous acceptance speech did I give, thanking my many friends and mentioning to the American TV public that you have a blog of such miserable content that your readers stand at nil.’
The man knows how to gloat. ‘I’m very glad for you Stephen,’ I said, ‘now will you bugger off.’ I slammed down the phone and pulled the wire from the wall. I tried to sleep but the thought of Fry lapping it up in New York made me feel quite terrible, so I went down to the kitchen and snacked on chocolate for half-an-hour before I began to feel sleepy again. I didn’t get up until ten o’clock this morning, which is when Judy accosted me about the state of the digestives.
‘Parky should be thankful I’ve scraped all the chocolate off them,’ I said. ‘It’s easier on his dentures.’
‘He doesn’t wear dentures,’ snapped Judy. It is an argument we’ve hand many times given that my dear wife believes everything she reads about the man. You might say that she’s something of a fan.
‘And I suppose you’re going to tell me that that’s all his own hair and both hips and one kneecaps haven’t been replaced! Judy, Judy, Judy… The cordial television host in that room is more machine than man.’
My wife just scowled and carried an unopened packet of digestives back into the living room. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d resealed it at the other end and that every biscuit was devoid of chocolate.
Monday, 19 November 2007
‘Bleeding hell!’ I cried.
‘No,’ said Judy, ‘Bleeding Heart.’ She held up her latest acquisition, an album by somebody called Leona Lewis.
It was too much for me. A series of noises had made me feel nauseous and not a little suicidal. ‘Why does she have to whine like that?’
‘It’s called spiralling.’
‘And all the groaning?’
‘Oh Richard, it’s called putting a bit of passion in it.’
‘Are you sure she’s not enjoying a bowel movement?’
‘Do you always have to be so rude?’
I staggered across the table and picked up the album, if only to see how much more of it I had to endure. ‘Oh good,’ I said, scanning the back cover, ‘there’s even a bonus track.’
‘Stop complaining. It’s currently the number one album in the UK charts,’ explained my wife, who believes that anything voted number one by the great British people somehow ensures quality.
‘You could present people with a turd and they’d take to their hearts if it were packaged right.’
‘Oh, Richard, you’re so negative. The girl has got a good voice.’
‘It’s a matter of what you want the voice for,’ I suggested. ‘Animal testing, anti-terrorism, anti missile countermeasures…’
‘What don’t you like about it?’
And indeed, it was a good question. What don’t I like about Leona Lewis and her voice?
Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the musical equivalent of sugar-fuelled fast food chains where obese children sit sucking syrup through a straw and petulantly demanding a hit of whatever they’ve been told is good by the clever people in marketing. It’s ITV’s endless dirge of middle-of-the-road cover versions and their obsessive promotion of wannabees with above average voices and no personality, when a credulous public vote for either generic black soul singer no 8, the usual camp Cliff Richard impersonator, a paint-by-the-numbers bimbette ‘super group’, or an odd looking outsider whose actually quite safe because he’s only dyed his hair white. I’m a man who enjoys neither an ‘urgh’ nor an ‘ooh’ in my music. I detest the easy way that the music industry manufacturer ‘hits’ based on their knowledge of the market. It little matters what they promote, the fact that they promote it will ensure the product’s success. The country is being run not from Whitehall but from the offices of public relations companies and advertisers. Success isn’t based on achievement but on hiring the right publicist who can ensure your name appears in the right places. KT Tunstall didn’t go far enough when she described American Idol as a ‘money-making puppet show’. These programmes destroy people’s souls, indoctrinate them with the belief that minor talent is enough to achieve nationwide fame, and that the country is blandly uniform in its celebration of the inarticulate, the moronic, the vacuous, and the musically dull.
‘I’m going back to bed,’ I said after the second it took me to consider all of this and then realise that Judy wouldn’t agree with any of it.
‘I’ll shout you when it’s finished,’ said Judy, smiling in triumph.
I didn’t answer. I wouldn’t hear her anyway. Soon Neil Young was screaming in my ear, repairing the damage that Leona Lewis had done and reminding me that sometimes the world actually gets things right.
Friday, 16 November 2007
Ladies, gentlemen, fellow poets, after many promises and many more false starts, I finally give you my one hundred and seventy line 'Epistle to Jeremy Paxman On the State of His Sock Drawer'. Monumental and epic in its scope, it stands as a worthy tribute to our favourite 'Newsnight' presenter and, in my humble opinion, it is one of this century’s finest poems written in English. And it even made Judy cry.
My dear old Paxo, you inspired my muse to soar
On the trouble that lately grew from your sock drawer.
How did you get them into such a pitiful state?
Did your socks rebel? What left them so irate?
Could it be that you have no love for your noble socks
That stop your feet from turning into twin icy blocks,
As cold as the frost sitting on Kirsty Wark’s smile
Which is as pleasing as a night in a Glasgow jail?
Ah, now I see how this condition came to pass,
You are such a foolish and somewhat foppish old ass!
You mixed coloured silks with your hoses made of cotton
And holes you let grow in every poor sock’s bottom.
Your big toes poke out of your official BBC pair
And look how the heel is worn through right there!
So let us, Paxo, mucker, mate, and jesty pal of mine,
Embark on a worthy tale that’s so sure to entertain.
On the nature of sockdom, drawers, and blessed Newsnight,
This note will answer, better than any show put on late,
And without all the signing, that so annoys my muse,
Who really prefers it when Huw Edwards reads the news.
It is a misty morning, in London South West Four,
When Paxo hears knocking from inside his sock drawer.
He says ‘Hello, by wonder! What makes this lively din?’
And up he gets, gown on tight, and he dives right on in,
To investigate the nuisance, coming from across the room,
He shuffles over, ear on wood, hears a mighty boom.
The drawer he opens slowly, and what a sight he sees,
A battlefield of underwear, of fighting lingerie.
Wave on wave of socks, advancing in their finery,
Chasing packs of garters, and warring demon hosiery.
‘Stop that at once,’ cried our confused man of Pax,
But socks heeded not his call; oh woe and, indeed, alas!
He grabbed a toe, he thought he’d won, but it was his mistake.
It pulled him in, just like that! He could not believe he was awake.
‘Get back!’ came the cry. ‘I assure you this is quite real’,
Said a battle-scarred comrade sock with well worn heel.
‘Do you come to aid us now, in our hour of need?
Or are you here to scoff, while good socks bleed?
Look at yon mighty thermal pair, see how they fight,
Do you care to mock such spirit with your typical spite?’
Paxo looked on, never believing what he saw,
A epic warzone, it certainly was, in his own sock drawer!
‘Grab a sword, choose a spear, fight at my side!’
The voice it was of a martial sock and on a glove it did ride.
‘You are the man who made us thus, hardened by your feet
And now this war, of your own design, battle we must meet.’
‘This is not mine,’ said Paxo sure, he did not plan this fight.
‘I’m a man of peace, for goodness sake! And I present Newsnight!’
‘Then that’s your sin,’ said a sock, with a well-sewn frown,
‘You never cared for all the good socks you have cruelly trod down.’
Alas, this sock never finished his worthy little speech,
The defensive line across the drawer, the foes they did breech.
Paxman watched as the field was filled with new attackers
And cowered as towards him ran a fierce pair of undercrackers!
‘Retreat,’ came the cry, ‘to the shoebox, we all must flee!’
And Paxman fled, like many socks as far as his eye could see.
A last stand was stood in the box that was quite spacious
Where Paxo kept all the things he considered the most precious.
It was there he saw, for the first time, the man most ready,
The chief of socks, the Caesar of his age: Grand Marshall Oddie.
He was the oldest of all of Paxman’s old odd socks,
Years had passed since its pair had been somewhere, somehow lost.
He stood nearly half a foot, greying at the muzzle,
With a slack elasticated rim, and a larger, slacker middle.
‘Come gather you brave socks, this field can still be ours,
We will make these walls a fortress, these knickknacks our towers.’
‘Hang on,’ said Paxo, ‘what on earth do you mean by “knickknacks”,
These things are awards for journalism and aren’t given to hacks!’
There was widespread laughter, which broke the dreadful mood,
As socks mocked Paxman, who thought it all quite rude.
‘I say,’ he said, ‘mock not my place in this nation’s heart.’
To which an old garter snapped, as if answering with a fart.
‘Listen friend,’ said Oddie, ‘you are now in a sock-run world.
We care not for Newsnight and all the abuse that you hurled.
This is a time for spirit, for socks with a steadfast seam.
Are you with us, man, or do you choose bat for the other team?’
‘I’m with you, ay,’ said Paxman sure, ‘I’m always with my socks,
But respect I want from every garter snapping in this box.’
A roar went up, as all the socks made ‘Paxman!’ their cheer,
Before Oddie with careful voice, issued orders loud and clear.
‘We attack at once, lest the underwear get wind of our few numbers
Paxman will lead the charge, but beware of his unwashed chunders!’
‘I beg your pardon,’ cried the Pax who was feeling quite abused,
‘Everything here is very clean, I wouldn’t return a pair I’d used.’
‘Steady there, good fellow,’ said Oddie, now with calm,
‘Save your complaint for the battle, I meant you no harm.’
So out they rushed, in hectic flight, with Paxo screaming louder,
Charging the lines of Y-fronts swelled with antifungal powder.
If you never thought it in him, you should have seen him fly there,
Paxo the warrior! Paxman the mighty! Pax the long john slayer!
With his bare hands he choked the life out of an old string vest,
And tore asunder a pair of boxers long past their best.
Oh, how he grappled with nylon and how he wrestled with briefs,
Till, he came at a pair of undies made in the old Far East.
‘You cannot win,’ said the large white pair, ‘I’m sure I’ll best ya!
Can’t you see that I’ll defy your strength since I’m 10% polyester!’
Paxo stood tall, to the height of nearly six inches,
‘I never wore you! Don’t you know that artificial fibre itches?’
‘You lie,’ roared the Y-fronts, and swung a mighty kind of blow
Which Paxman avoided like all journos do, by ducking very low.
He responded with a fist, right into the fiend’s gusset,
‘Take that,’ he cried, as if with one blow he hoped he had bust it.
But the pants were strong, they hardly felt his tiny mortal hand
And Paxman fled knowing that a deadly blow he couldn’t land.
‘That beast may yet win the day,’ said Oddie looming nearer,
‘We need a weapon to defeat it, but I know of nothing keener
Than the old mystical tie pin you used to keep at the other end
Of this drawer, but of that journey, I wouldn’t know who to send…’
With not a word, Paxman bent his back and walked away
To march to Drawer’s End and to reach it by the end of day.
He roamed for a while, across the drawer’s landscape out laid,
Until the sound of battle dimmed and he began to feel afraid.
He travelled long, he travelled fast, until he came to a little nook,
And there with welcome eyes he spied his old notebook.
And from it’s end, he could see an old pencil with sharpened tip
He took it and then on he went with it hanging from his hip.
At last he reached the darkened end of his sock drawer,
Where what little jewellery he owned lay spread across the floor.
‘Where is the tie pin I need,’ cried Paxman, now quite scared,
‘It is the weapon to defeat that beast in Hong Kong manufactured.’
He fell and cried, bewailed his luck, and why things never happen
To that other bloke, who reads the news… the one who’s not called Paxman.
‘Is this what you seek?’ said a simple voice, whispering with a waver
From an old discarded metal case, containing his spare electric shaver.
Out came a glove in fine silk dress, from an interview long forgotten,
With Meryl Streep who had playfully touched Paxo on his bottom.
The glove advanced and in its fingers, nestled rather tightly,
Was the old tie pin, the finest steel, still shining very brightly.
‘You may take this lance, Paxo dear, if you cross my palm with silver,
Or failing that, if you would do me just a very simple favour.’
‘Whatever you wish,’ said Paxman, now even more determined
To have the weapon that once ensured his ties were well pinned.
‘Beyond this nook there lies a shade in which you hid a Christmas tie
You rightly saw it, learned to hate, and left it to fester here and die.
It is a thing of ugliness, orange with a picture of a baboon,
You destroy it now and this pin I promise will be your boon.
‘I won’t be long,’ said Paxman fair, ‘I’ll kill that funky gibbon!’
‘Oy! Watch it!’ shouted Oddie’s voice, though the reason remains well hidden.
So Paxman went to kill the tie using his short pencil sword,
The tie fought valiantly but Paxo dispatched it without a word.
Christmas ties are wicked, the kind of present we should rue,
So fret you not that Paxman ran this monkey tie through.
‘You’ve done a great deed in this,’ said Meryl Streep’s glove,
‘You may take this tie pin back, and have it with my love.’
Paxman took the sword and raised it to the light,
This was the weapon, he knew to win an underwear fight.
So back he raced, not sparing heel, to the sock battlefront,
Where the underpants stood cruel and tall, and so very arrogant.
Up he ran and to the sockish hoards raised the sword and shouted
‘This is for every hose and heel I have so cruelly mistreated!’
And to the pants did Paxman plunge the fierce blade in deep,
Until the gussets did wail and the elasticated waist did weep.
‘Hurrah!’ cried the all socks to see their enemy outfoxed,
By Jeremy the Paxman, standing proud on the vanquished crotch.
The rest of this epic tale, I think you’re well aware,
Of Paxman triumphant and vowing to never again wear
A sock he did not name or treat with utmost care
Or cast aside on the floor or lose down the side of a chair.
To him a sock was a thing revered, that made his eyes go misty,
Like Fiona Bruce, Anna Ford, though never the Kaplinsky.
You know the socks, themselves, lived happily every after,
Treated well, with wounds repaired, and with extra fabric softer.
And once bigger than his sock drawer, Paxo to his room returned,
He went to work that day with martial honours earned,
And told his tale to a man much bemused called Clarkson,
Who later described him ‘a loon’ to the readers of ‘The Sun’.
And how the Dimbleby (the David) listened to this story
Before snootily declaring it must be a toenail allegory.
Oh, my dear Paxman, I think I have reached the end,
Where I declare that you really are the oddest of my friends.
© Richard Madeley, 2007