By eleven o’clock, Madeley was one of those happily contented figure you typically read about at Christmas. A small glass of port had spread warmth through these tired old bones of mine and A.A. Gill’s gently paced sojourn through the English psychology had weakened my resolve to linger a moment longer in my armchair. Already drifting across that boundary between wakefulness and sleep, I had turned off the Christmas tree lights before I slowly climbed the stairs to bed, only stopping off at the bathroom to change into my pyjamas and dressing gown and to fill myself a glass of water in which I would soon leave my million pound smile to soak.
I was about to pull the master switch that turns off the outdoor floodlights and arms the infra red turrets on the battlements, when there was a fretful hammering on the front door. Such was the indecency of the hour and the panicked nature of the knocking, I was immediately awake and my old army training kicked in. I was down the stairs in three leaps and had the front door opened and the intruder wrestled to the ground in the time it has taken you to read about it in a line of my immaculately written prose.
It was only when the red mist began to clear that I recognised the small figure trapped beneath my knee. It was Mrs. Ronnie Corbett, dressed in her night gown and wearing a look of absolute terror on her face.
‘My poor woman,’ I said, moving the sharp edge of my tube of denture cleaner from her jugular. ‘What must you think of me, throwing you over my shoulder like that?’
‘Richard, you have to come,’ she said as I helped her to her feet. She was clearly shivering, obviously with the cold, so I moved her into the living room and sat her in a chair before draped my dressing gown around her shoulders. ‘Ronnie’s had a terrible accident,’ she explained, ‘and they said an ambulance can’t come for a good two hours.’
‘Don’t you worry yourself, Mrs. C.,’ I said. ‘You were right to come here. There are few people in this street that are more used to dealing with emergencies than Judy and me.’
As if to prove the point, I promptly nipped upstairs, grabbed my car keys, and told Judy about our visitor. Then I came running back downstairs and rushed out to the car. I was at the front door of Corbett Manor in less than three minutes. That’s when I realised I was still in my pyjamas and that I’d left Mrs. Ronnie Corbett sitting on the chair in our front room.
I was about to get back in the car when headlights flooded the drive. It was Judy in her little Suzuki Swift bringing Mrs. Corbett and keys to the house.
‘We thought we’d better come along,’ said Judy, who had somehow managed to waste three minutes dressing herself, applying full make-up, and picking out a suit for Mrs. Ronnie Corbett. I told her that I had more important matters on my mind.
We found Ronnie in an armchair, a huge log fire burning beside him, and the poor man writhing in agony. Blood speckled his tartan trousers. His lime green intarsia golfing sweater offended the eye.
‘It was the walnut,’ explained Ronnie as I kneeled at his side. ‘It shattered in my lap.’
‘That is only too clear,’ I said. A pair of nutcrackers lay on the floor, alongside a spilled bowl of Tesco’s finest selection of Yuletide nuts. The poor man had obviously become one of only three people who, on average each year, are injured when an abnormally pressurised walnut explodes with the force of a hand grenade. Razor sharp shards of walnut shell had penetrated his trousers and caused extensive damage to his lower regions.
‘We can’t move him like this,’ I said, examining the site of the injury. ‘Some of these pieces of walnut could be lodged in vital regions.’ I stood up and looked for the nearest phone. ‘We need help immediately or he might never play golf again.’
‘Is it that bad?’ asked Ronnie.
‘Sit tight, little fellow,’ I said, laying a reassuring hand on his head. ‘Stay still and don’t, for god’s sake, tell any anecdotes involving the letter P.’
‘Ah, no… Indeed…’ he said. ‘Which reminds me… Ha! Did I tell you the one about the Polish postman?’ His face winced with pain as he mouthed those lethal syllables.
‘I told you not to,’ I said as I began to dial the number I’ve learned to memorise for moments such as this.
As you know, Judy’s a woman unable to restrain her curiosity. And we know what that did the cat, though forensic evidence was lacking.
‘What about the Polish postman?’ she asked, to my utter dismay.
Ronnie, ever the hero, let out a trademark ‘ah ha!’ and then delivered his punch line with his usual immaculate timing.
‘He delivered the mail on time,’ he said before he pushed his glasses up his nose and passed out.
I shook my head. I could hear a phone ringing. A moment later, there was a click.
‘’Tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, currently engaged in an online game of Halo3 under my XBox gamer tag of Zorg the Destroyer.’
‘Hello, Zorg,’ I said, ‘’tis I, Madeley, on Ronnie Corbett’s telephone. We need your help.’
‘Oh, hush!’ said Stephen. ‘Were it that I could lay aside my railgun and come to your aid, but I fear that my gaming reputation would suffer enormously were I do abandon this festive firefight while Zorg the Destroyer currently tops the frag leaderboard and pwns the arse of the Lapwing of Death’
‘Pwns the arse of the Lapwing of Death?’ I asked before I could help myself.
‘Alas, our friend Oddie is new to the fragfest which is Halo3. He has yet to acquaint himself with the tactics of finding himself a high vantage point and a sniper rifle. Some players frown on it, but I, Zorg the Destroyer, says it’s a true Englishman’s calling and the only reliable means of dispatching these alien scum.’
‘Stephen, we need your help immediately,’ I said, hearing a groan from the armchair as Ronnie regained consciousness. ‘A walnut has shattered in Ronnie’s lap. I think he’s suffering from severe shell lacerations, with what I can only describe as potential trauma to his hazelnuts.’ I looked at Mrs. Corbett and Judy, neither of whom seemed to understand my euphemism. Ronnie obviously did. He groaned and again passed out.
‘Ah,’ said Fry. ‘Walnuts are pwning little Ronnie’s hazelnuts? Then Zorg the Destroyer will be there immediately. I advise you to move neither the patient nor his nuts.’
Sound advice. Instead, I got Ronnie a glass of whiskey and poured it down him as soon as he came around. Judy had found a large rug to keep him warm, and we all sat around, taking turns to stroke Ronnie’s brow as he grew increasingly feverish. After fifteen minutes, I was beginning to fear for him. The poor man had begun to recite old scripts to ‘Sorry’, which I thought had been unhealthy enough the first time.
Eventually, I saw lights flicker beyond the window and the sound of a diesel engine pull up outside.
‘That’s Stephen,’ I said.
Judy jumped up and was at the door before the Great Man could knock.
‘Ah! The lacerations of the festive walnut,’ said Stephen, appearing in the doorway. He cast his cape to one side and came to loom over Ronnie. ‘So, might I see the sight of the explosion?’
I pulled back the rug and Stephen winced. ‘Tartan and lime green. A combination that the BBC has happily outlawed.’ He gazed at the spread of the wound. ‘I’m afraid we shall have to remove the trousers. Ladies, could you please leave the room? This will not be pretty.’ He opened his medical bag and removed a pair of scissors with which he proceeded to cut away Ronnie’s tartan britches.
The operation was slow and extremely gory. Ronnie was fitful throughout, though brave and screaming only once as Stephen dug a large chunk of walnut from his groin.
‘Ah, the walnut is indeed a terrible weapon,’ said Stephen, swabbing the wound. ‘Were it only a landmine.’
Around three o’clock in the morning, the last stitch had been sewn and a good colour had returned to Ronnie’s face.
‘There,’ said Stephen standing up. ‘All done. And a pretty little job I’ve done of it. You were damn lucky, young Corbett, that I spend a few months last Autumn training to be a surgeon.’
‘I’m so grateful,’ whispered Ronnie. ‘I’m grateful to the two of you.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Stephen. ‘What are friends for if it’s not for coming to dig fragments of walnut from your unmentionables.’ He turned to look at me. ‘And now, if you don’t mind, I have spent the last hour trying my best not to mention that large gap in Richard’s pyjama bottoms exposing his lack of underwear and the coldness of the evening.’
Ronnie smiled. ‘Nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times,’ he said as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
I closed the gap in my pyjamas but Stephen just patted my shoulder. ‘My advice to you sir, is fear not the walnut! Were one to explode in your lap, it could only correct the deficit that nature so cruelly intended.’