Saturday, 24 November 2007
Our Man In The USA: Stephen Fry meets Chuck Norris
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.