‘Well?’ asked Judy, as I sat, sofa bound, my gift unwrapped on my lap. ‘What do you think?’
‘It’s wonderful,’ I lied. ‘It’s… just… what… I… wanted.’
Her spirit seemed to ebb back into her chair, as though her world were now somehow complete.
‘I’m so glad,’ she sighed. ‘You’re so hard to buy for, Richard. I just didn’t know what to get you. But then I remembered you mentioning that you were running low on aftershave. Denise recommended this. She says it’s the best.’
‘I’m sure she did,’ I replied, wondering what kind of recommendation that is for a man's aftershave. Not that I’d ever doubt Denise’s opinion about anything but I wondered what on earth she could be razoring that required an astringent with such muscle.
‘You have run out, haven’t you?’ asked Judy.
‘I have,’ I smiled and it was true. My bottle of Lynx Unlimited Vitalising Aftershave had run dry days ago. Since Christmas Eve, I’ve been rubbing fumes onto my face, wondering if my body would revert back to its natural masculine odours of cordite and cigar smoke. Yet none of this helped me overcome the shock of my gift.
I must have sat too long in silence, my fingers squeezing the life out of the neck of my new 100ml bottle of Denim Original. It lay in the middle of a floret of red wrapping paper that appeared to have exploded from my groin, as though I’d just given birth to a monster. In a way, that’s exactly what I had done.
‘What’s wrong? You’re not going to smell it?’
I glanced down at the unwieldy bottle embossed with a large gold medallion.
‘Do I have to?’ I asked, which wasn’t so much the ‘wrong thing to say’ as scribbling my Tony Hancock on my own death warrant.
Judy was erect in her seat, disappointment elbowing for attention on her face, already occupied by a Christmas bumper bundle of anguish. ‘Oh Richard! Don’t tell me you don’t like it!’
‘No, no, not at all,’ I said but made no move to open the bottle.
‘Richard Madeley, you are the most ungrateful man I think I’ve ever known!’
An ache in my joints told me to expect rain or tears. Neither are good for me. I panicked and unscrewed the cap. Women called Pandora have opened boxes in a similar fashion and with lesser consequences. My mind’s eye played out typhoons in the Sahara and tidal waves hitting Mogadishu. The devastation in my own living room was biblical. Not even cosy New Testament biblical. I mean Old Testament right hook from Henry Cooper dressed as Moses biblical.
The scent sent me back back in the 1970s of my youth: a denim shirt tucked into white flares, my tall afro combed to a sixty degree angle as it bounced to the sound of the Pointer Sisters.
The vision passed and I was left back staring at the picture on the box. Only Jeremy Clarkson still wears denim shirts and all that was missing was a female hand stretching in from the side of the picture to unbutton one of the shirt’s press studs. I could only think hairy chests and Burt Reynolds.
‘Well?’ prompted Judy, waiting for me to insert the bottle up my nose.
I raised the bottle and sniffed.
The coma was involuntary.
When I awoke, years might have passed but it might have only been seconds.
‘Like it?’ she asked. ‘Read the back of the box. It says it’s for the man who doesn’t have to try too hard.’
‘Or the man who doesn’t bother trying at all,’ I wheezed as I tried to clear my nostrils of a smell that reminded me of a blaze at a tyre warehouse I’d once covered for Granada Reports. I wanted to say as much, only I looked up and saw tears in Judy’s eyes. ‘No, that wasn’t a criticism,’ I hastened to add. ‘Denim aftershave is my favourite. It takes me back, that’s all it is. Good memories. I don’t want to open it in case it evaporates.’
Judy smiled. ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,’ she said. ‘I’m just glad that I’ve finally found you something you like. And what’s so good about it is that I can always get you some more when you run out. I’ll never be at a loss for what to buy your for your birthday.’
With that, Judy stood up. ‘I’ll go and check on the turkey,’ she said.
I smiled as she walked from the room.
‘God help me,’ I muttered as soon as she was gone. In only a matter of hours, I’d be greeting some of the most powerful people in the UK media. There was no way I wanted them to smell me like this. I also couldn’t let Judy think this had been one of her better ideas. I had to let her down in a way that made her feel like I was doing her a favour. Better still, she had to think she was saving me from myself.
There was only one option. I unscrewed the cap and knocked back the aftershave, all 100ml of the fire water. It tasted remarkably like Russian whisky and, like Russian whisky, left my lips quite numb.
‘Turply oplay?’ I asked as Judy came back.
She gazed at me before she looked at the empty bottle.
‘Oh, Richard,’ she said. ‘You said you’d never do that again. I thought you’d learnt your lesson with Old Spice.’
‘What canp I sthay, gorpgeous?’ I replied and raised the empty bottle. ‘Fill ’er up, and then give yourp Uncle Pichard a kissss.’
‘I suppose next year, I better buy socks,’ she muttered as she snatched the bottle from my fingers.
It was a sentiment with which I could only express my full agreement. I passed out on the sofa and slept a couple of hours until I was woken by Fry dressed as Santa dropping his large sack on my back.
But, as they say, my dear friends, that is a story for another day...