An allergic reaction to lobster kept me in bed for much of yesterday. The rash on my arms, chest, and face was vivid and itched like hell. The last time I had a reaction this bad, I’d taken exception to Matthew Kelly’s aftershave. Only, this time, it turned out that the rash was the least of my problems. But that only became apparent once I went downstairs at breakfast.
Judy was in the kitchen, stood with her back to me, knife in hand, cutting her rounds of toast.
‘Morning sexy,’ I said, as I crept up on her and gave her tush such a well timed pat that it should rightly have driven her to mid-wicket.
She turned to me and immediately went white. Then she screamed. Then she threw a pot of marmalade at me and made a dash for the pantry.
‘I’m warning you,’ she shouted, ‘if you come any closer I’ll call my husband and he knows karate.’
‘I don’t know karate,’ I replied, a little bemused by her reaction that now included turning the catch on the other side of the door.
I should explain that Judy has lots of these bolt holes around the house and she’s insisted that we have locks fitted on all of them. It’s not burglars she fears as much as terrorists and kidnappers. It’s why one of my own greatest worries is hostage situations. I really don’t fancy being put in a position where I have to make life or cash decisions.
‘Get away,’ Judy screamed again. ‘I’m warning you. I’ve got a loaded gun in here.’
‘A loaded gun? In the pantry?’ I knew for a fact that Judy hates guns almost as much as she dislikes drinking from plastic, the town of Epping, and the sensation of short piled carpet against her skin. ‘Judy? It’s me, Richard. What’s wrong with you?’
The catch turned and the door opened a crack. I saw Judy’s eyes peering out.
‘Richard? Is that really you?’
Feeling a little relieved that I wouldn’t need the usual prolonged negotiations to get her out of the pantry, I undid the cuffs to my shirt to show her my problem. ‘I suppose you’re wondering about this rash,’ I said, rolling up my sleeves. ‘I think it was the lobster I ate last night…’
Judy pushed open door more fully but something made her stay at the back of the pantry.
‘Dear Lord,’ she said.
‘I know. This rash is everywhere,’ I replied, stripping off my shirt to show her the blotches on my chest and back.
She shook her head and pointed at me. ‘But, Richard…Your ears!’
Laughter always comes easy to me. I can’t help it. I’m good humoured about everything. ‘My ears? Nothing’s wrong with my ears. I can hear perfectly well. It’s this rash. It itches like…’
Judy picked up an extra large Frey Bentos pie tin and raised it so it was level with my face. There, in the dull reflection of the base, I could see a strangely misshapen man. It might have been me. It might have been Keith Chegwin. I really couldn’t tell. I stepped out to the hall to see myself in the large full length mirror.
I went white. Then I screamed. Then I reached for the nearest pot of marmalade to hurl at the figure looking at me from the mirror. I never got around to making my own dash for the pantry.
My ears had ballooned and the lobes were like spheres attached to the side of my neck. How I’d managed to avoid noticing them, I really can’t explain. Except that the itching on my arms had probably distracted me and, when you think about it, it’s not something you immediately think about when you first wake up in the morning: oh, I better check to see if my earlobes have grown to the size of small mandarin oranges.
Judy came out of the pantry and was immediately on the phone to the doctor who arrived within the hour. After examining me, his professional medical opinion was that he should spend a good five minutes laughing at me and making my lobes bounce by flicking them with his pen. When the amusement faded, he finally gave Judy a prescription to take to the chemists.
‘You need to lie on your back,’ he told me as he prepared to leave. ‘You must remain horizontal.’
‘Is it alright if he has a pillow?’ asked Judy, ever the concerned wife.
The doctor clicked his tongue as they left the room. ‘I shouldn’t worry about that,’ I heard him say as they went down the stairs. ‘He won’t need a pillow. Not with those earlobes.’
Doesn’t it just make you wonder why you go private? They wouldn’t be allowed to be so bloody witty if they were on the NHS. And his advice wasn’t worth a shilling in real money. Lying on your back sounds fine until you’ve tried it for more than half an hour. A man with a full and active life doesn’t like to spend his time looking at the ceiling, no matter how well Judy has papered it.
Eleven o’clock approached and since Judy had gone to the pharmacist, I decided I’d do something worthwhile while. She came back to discover me sitting with the fax machine spread out before me on the bed. Among the dozen piles of parts were motors, plastic knobs, doodads, thingamajigs, whatdomcallthems, and two piles of neatly organised screws.
‘Richard! What do you think you’re doing?’
‘I’m fixing the fax machine,’ I explained as I slid the screwdriver between my teeth and wrestled out another motor to the sound plastic casing snapping.
‘But what about your ears?’
‘What about them?’
She picked up her shaving mirror and held it before me. I was not expecting to see what I saw. The lobes of my ears were now resting on my shoulders. ‘You’ve sagged,’ she said. ‘That’s why the doctor said you had to remain lying down. He said that, if you’re not careful, you could end up with earlobes like Terry Wogan.’
‘But what about the fax machine,’ I asked, feeling like I was in a real dilemma.
‘And why, Richard, did you take it apart?’
‘You said it was broken.’
‘I said my sewing machine was broken. I threw it away last week and bought a new one. As usual, you weren’t listening.’
‘So what’s wrong with the fax machine?’
‘Only the fact that you’ve decided to dismantle it on my half of the bed. If I wake up tonight and find a spring up my backside, you will pay Richard. You will pay. Now just lie down. I’ll throw this out and see about getting a new one.’
Five boringly horizontal hours later, Judy came up the stairs and threw something at me.
‘Well done, Richard,’ she cried. ‘You’ve done it again!’
‘It’s not those ex-pat Brits in Tunisia?’ I asked, fumbling for the object that had fallen beside me on the bed. ‘They’ve becoming a right bloody nuisance.’
‘It’s not them,’ she said. My fingers closed around the object. It was a mobile phone. ‘Johnny’s just rang. He wanted to know if we managed to sign the revised contract that Channel 4 faxed over this morning.’ Johnny Pringle is our agent, a man a bit too blasé when it comes to multi-million pound television contracts.
I sat up. My right ear screamed with pain as I trapped my earlobe under my elbow. ‘‘They were going to give us a second chance?’ I winced.
‘Only it’s too late now. They’re retracted their offer. They had another change of heart. If the fax machine had been working, we’d have signed the contract and we’d have the show for another three years.’
I sank back on the bed and closed my eyes. The itching had eased by my earlobes were no better. ‘I’m going to sleep,’ I said.
‘Now? But it’s still light.’
‘Wake me when it’s morning,’ I said, grabbing my earlobes and folding them over my eyes. That’s one thing you can always say about me. I’ll always make the most of a bad situation. Or, as the saying goes, I can always make a purse out of a sow’s ear. Something like that…