That oaf Clarkson rang me, Sunday afternoon, when I had my heels set to the horizontal and a bowl of cornflakes dancing in my lap. I hadn’t got up late as much as transferred my slumber from the bed to my favoured armchair. You know the one… with the large vibrating cushion? On a medium massage, the chair can turn a bowl of milk into butter before you’ve finished spooning flakes of cereal to your mouth. I was certainly in no fit mood to be taking telephone calls from men with points to prove.
‘Dick? Jeremy,’ said Clarkson. ‘Listen. You know Top Gear’s not on tonight because of the billiards? Well, I want you to come over. I need your help.’
A large flake of vitamins and goodness hung from my chin, held there by a dribbling of the local dairy’s finest. ‘Want? Need?’ I repeated. ‘These aren’t words a man likes to hear on a Sunday.’
Clarkson sounded shocked. ‘And since when have I not been allowed to ask you to return me a favour on a Sunday?’
‘But it’s a day for cornflakes and football,’ I protested. ‘How can I come and help you when I’m wearing only my dressing gown?’
‘Is this the very same Dick Madeley who needed my help only last week?’ asked Clarkson, adopting that voice designed to mock a man within an inch of his life. ‘Wasn’t it you who said: “Don’t worry, Jeremy. If you ever need help, you know you can call on me”?’
‘But that was a weekday promise,’ I explained. ‘When you do a favour for somebody on a weekday, you expect to pay it back on a weekday.’
I moved the phone from my ear as Clarkson detonated a barrel full of bluster. I turned my attention to a large cornflake which I kidnapped from the bowl before cruelly breaking it on my teeth. When the hectoring noise from the telephone ended, I put it back to my ear.
‘It stands to reason,’ I said. ‘A weekday favour cannot be called in between midnight on Friday and midnight Sunday. That makes it a weekend favour, which are worth far more. You’d then be in my debt and by a considerable amount. If fact, more than I’d be happy to loan you.’
‘I’ve never heard such rubbish,’ spluttered Jeremy.
‘You say it’s rubbish but I say it’s common knowledge. Everybody knows that a weekend favour weighs more than a weekday favour.’
At that moment Judy came in, her face flushed from a morning down at the stables with her show ponies. ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I’ll put you on speaker phone and let’s see what Judy has to say.’
I pressed the button and the red light came on the phone. ‘Are you there Jeremy?’
‘I’m here,’ sighed Clarkson.
‘Now, Judy, let me ask you since you’re impartial…’ Jeremy sniffed his distain at that one. ‘If a man does another man a favour on a weekday, can that other man expect to call his friend to do them a favour on a weekend? Doesn’t this other favour have to weigh the same?’
‘There’s no such thing as the weight of a favour,’ answered Judy, much to my surprise. ‘When you do a favour for a friend, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.’
‘See!’ cried the phone. ‘Good old Judy. Well done my dear. Now get your lazy husband out of his chair and get him down to my place. I need his help.’
With the argument lost, the appeal of my bowl of cornflakes faded. Even my vibrating cushion seemed to mock me. I dumped breakfast in the waste disposal, threw my dressing gown on the living room floor, and marched myself naked back to my bedroom where I dressed myself as though it were a weekday. Forty minutes later, I was in light casuals, open necked shirt, sunglasses hooked coquettishly in the V, and pulling up at the gates to Clarkson’s place. I was surprised to see that they were already open and even more surprised when a donkey came trotting out, Clarkson trailing behind it.
‘You took your damn time,’ he said, dragging a reign on the donkey and bringing it to a stop.
‘What’s with the mule?’ I asked.
‘This is Florence,’ he said, a bit dopy, and grabbed the donkey by an ear. ‘Lovely creatures, donkeys. Very docile.’
‘And this is what I’m here for? A donkey related problem? Why didn’t you call Oddie? You know he loves this sort of thing.’
‘You don’t even know what this sort of thing is,’ said Jeremy. ‘You see a donkey and assume it’s some woolly eared job involving cardigans. Well it isn’t. I’ve got you here for a totally different reason. I want you to play God.’
‘God?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you think I grow tired of being typecast?’
‘I’m sure you do but the local sect of Christian types have asked to borrow my donkey for their nativity. They’ve also asked me to play the voice of God.’
‘There’s a terrifying thought,’ I muttered.
‘I’ve agreed but I’ve got cold feet or, at least, a slightly chilled larynx. That’s why I rang you. I want you to do it in my place. There’s not much to it. Lots of proclaiming. You get to say “thee” and “thou” a lot. And the occasional roar.’
‘You didn’t think of ringing Fry? The man’s a born actor.’
‘I did but he said he thought the role beneath him,’ explained Jeremy. ‘Oddie agreed to do it only so long as he could leave the earth not to the meek but the meerkats.’
I could see Jeremy’s problem. ‘I’ll do it,’ I said, resigned to do the man a favour, ‘but you’ll have to pay me back. This is worth at least a few hundred words for my blog.’
‘Anything,’ said Jeremy. ‘I’ll even let you ride Florence down to the village hall if you like.’
‘I’ll leave that to you, Jeremy,’ I said, backing towards the Range Rover. ‘I’ll meet you down there. These days, God prefers to travel in his four by four listening to Chris de Burgh’s greatest hits.’
Clarkson visibly paled. ‘Oh my merciful heaven! Chris de Burgh?’
‘What can I say, Jeremy? God does like to move in mysterious ways...’