The old woman was sitting on a deckchair at the bottom of the drive. I’d spotted her when I opened the curtains this morning.
‘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.