Monday, 29 December 2008

Friday, 19 December 2008

Simon Cowell's Chilly Trowel

Hi guys! Far too busy to blog today. Judy is helping Simon Cowell lay a new patio and I'm on trowel duty. It's also my job to ensure that his waistband never drops lower than his hips, which have a low tolerance for chills. I blame his new artificial joints. The human body is not meant to contain so much titanium. They act as a real heat-sink. No wonder he complains so much about having a frozen colon.

I’m also rehearsing for my stint on the radio. I’m having my teeth re-bleached this afternoon so I look my best for the occasion. Thanks for all the recommendations for tunes I might play. The idea of devoting the whole evening to the Peruvian nose flute really did inspire me. I’m going to see if I can get James Galway into the studio and ask him to play ‘Greensleeves’ with just one nostril.

In the meantime, if you have a moment spare, you can read the blog of my one-time friend and blogging associate who has now decided to spread some foul rumours about me. I can't believe that I've promised to promote his blog. Judy is, quite naturally, heartbroken that a friend could betray us in this vulgar fashion. If you do go over there, I ask that you don’t believe a word that he says. The man is a known liar and I swear that he once asked me for an inventory of Judy’s sock drawer. Do not, I beg of you, go over there. Stay here with me. It’s your choice.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Acorns

For the benefit of my three regular readers and the woman that shares my sofa, I’ve decided to do a good deed. To be honest, Judy has been on at me for a time to help my friend out and now I’m going to do just that. Of course, she’s also been asking me to rake the leaves but I’ll begin with my friend. This way there’s little chance of finding some half rotten owl droppings with Bill Oddie’s fingerprints all over them.

It all comes down to a matter of tone. The simple fact is that this blog has become a bit crowded in the past couple of months. The reason is obvious: I’ve been struggling to fill this blog and maintain my hectic schedule. I’ve also been enlisting the help of friends to produce material. Unfortunately, I see that it has been confusing. Such a variety of voices makes it sometimes hard to follow. So, from now on, when the occasion calls for it, I’m going to be promoting my friend’s blog, which you can find here. On days when I can’t blog myself, I’ might direct you over there. Assuming, of course, that he has anything interesting to say.

I can’t make any allowances for my friend. I don’t even recommend his blog, and certainly not for those of you looking for a quick hit of celebrity goodness. He lacks my sense of fun and a little too sincere in the things he says. I’m simply doing a friend a favour and hope that you’ll follow my advice and click this link.

Silenced Again

Manchester. Usual story. Can't blog.

[Update: Well, blog a bit. Not that I have anything interesting to say. Seems wrong being in an office when Yahoo! have gone over to their Christmas theme. The new train timetable is ruining my life. I'll be in the office later today because my morning train is now half an hour later than it was. The life of a TV celebrity is not easy. And I have my stint covering for Richard Bacon to think about. I've considering taking the easy listening route. Nothing but James Last and Roger Whittacker all night, with the occasional Barry Manlow thrown in.)

[Update 2: Just noticed that I really didn't have anything interesting to say. This update is far more interesting, in a metatextual sort of way. And it rhymed too. Er. Doop doop de doo...]

[Update 3: Does anybody know what leisure consultants would want for Christmas? I was thinking socks.]

[Update 4: Socks are a bad idea.]

[Update 5: My eyes are sore. This is hell.]

[Update 7: I have a phobia about the number 6.]

Monday, 15 December 2008

Annoying Distractions: No. 23 Unpublished Writers

Two of the poor things today. And I want to be encouraging and polite but each time I write a witty reply, it's taking time from other work. And I don't have the hours in the day to be consistently pleasant.

In Conversation With: Katy Evans-Bush, Poet

One of the biggest regrets in my life is that my blog has not yet become a regular port of call for the nation's intelligentsia. Due to some mix up in the way that Yahoo! and Google categorise blogs, my Appreciation Society is rarely quoted in The Guardian's literary pages and it has yet to get a mention on any programme hosted by Mariella Frostrup. Yet as many of you know, I have tried to model my blog on the website that I consider to be the nes plus ultra of 'the casual highbrow'. Clive James might have stopped replying to my emails but I still maintain that he provides a service like no other, embodying articulate argument with a dose of salty wit. Where he goes, I will follow. (Except, of course, where mandated by that damned restraining order of his.) And until I launch my own video podcasts ('Madeley Meditates With...' is the plan), I will continue to post diary extracts and occasional opinion pieces.

Today, however, I take my first step towards my destiny with Sky Arts HD with an interview with a real, living, breathing poet.

Katy Evan-Bush is probably best known to regular readers as Ms. Baroque of the famous 'Baroque in Hackney' blog. On Saturday, I caught the 87 bus into the north east of London to sit down with her to discuss her new collection of verse. In a way, going to Hackney was like taking a trip into the depths of my own psyche. It was not pretty as I got to grips with my own fascination with the poetic form and I should warn you that the following interview is taken verbatim from the tape. I'm sure you'll find it as informative as it is a frank and somewhat provocative analysis of modern poetry. I want to thank Katy for taking the time from her busy schedule and for indulging me and my many questions. I'd also like to thank her picking up the tab for the large deluxe mocha with cream and two flakes which I enjoyed enormously to the detriment of my favourite pearl silk shirt.


----------------------


RM: First of all, Katy, it's so good of you to take the time to talk to me for my Appreciation Society. I've promoted some right old tat in my time, so it's a welcome break to be discussing something classy for a change.

You've written a delightful collection of verse called 'Me and the Dead', which both Judy and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading with our cocoa at night. It's really helped us relax and Judy has managed to catch some quality shuteye over the last two weeks. I've not heard her snore so loudly since she had her last major sinus infection. However, I wanted to begin by asking you to what exactly is poetry and why should anybody go the trouble of finding the poetry section in their local bookshop when they could be buying 'Fathers and Sons', which is itself extremely reasonably priced, if not already heavily discounted in most stores?


KEB: 'Fathers and Sons', by Turgenev, it's discounted in most stores?? This is wonderful news! Well, the obvious reason to look for the poetry section in that case, Dick, is so they can read 'Eugene Onegin', by Pushkin. Or any other book of poetry really. Poetry is much more interesting than 99.9% of prose. Maybe worth remembering if you ever start a book club. It's about more than sales figures you know. (Though there is still time to buy 'Me and the Dead' on Amazon for Christmas!)

RM: It's interesting that you should say that. In 1814, Byron's poem, 'The Corsair', sold 10,000 copies on the first day. By 1859, Tennyson was shifting 10,000 copies a month of the first of his 'Idylls of the Kings' poems. This year, 'Fathers and Sons' is selling stronger than everything ever written by both Byron and Tennyson. Do you think that chat show hosts have become the poets of the age?

KEB: Ah, Dick, you're really feeling it, aren't you! I suggest you sign up for a local workshop and unleash your creativity. Anyway, I know from all the IQ tests they gave us at school that your question relies for its power on a pattern developing - the downward trend in poetry sales - and that this pattern would be impossible to sustain indefinitely, because you can't have negative sales. I think poetry will be fine even without the chat shows. Though if any chat show hosts are reading this...

RM: One or two, Katy. One or two...

It's hard to think of an upside to death, which makes 'Me and the Dead' such a brave title. Did you ever consider something that was a little less depressing? Judy suggested 'Me and the Chronically Unwell', which, as she puts it, at least holds out the possibility of recovery.


KEB: I may consider that for the next book. The third one is already titled, in fact, and it fits perfectly, as the plan is for it to be called 'Me and the Really Much Better'. Many people have failed to be depressed by my title, in any case - they seemed to think it was about Jerry Garcia.

RM: Both Judy and I loved the first poem in the collection. I think I speak for both of us when I say that it gave us a great sense of community, reaffirming the importance of friendship in our lives. What led you to write that beautiful lyric titled 'Acknowledgements'?

KEB: Dick, I think you and I understand each other. Without the silent bow of the head to those who have helped us on the journeys that are each of our lives, what are we? Where would we be? How could you hope to have a journey at all without the warming hearths, the staging posts that make up the epochs of our lives? You have understood my work here in a deep way.

RM: One of your poems is called 'A Later Letter on Art', which begins: 'and some of artists I met were so technique I could not / stomach them'. A beautiful line but one that raises an interesting question. Is poetry an art of the stomach or the brain? Is it about rationality or appetite? And, if the stomach, would that be the upper or lower intestine?

KEB: You've been talking to Stephen Fry again. Upper.

I do think you're onto something there though, because poetry is of course about the stomach. The brain comes into it too, I know, but the stomach is where our raw food is transformed into that heat which fuels us and becomes energy. It becomes something wonderful - life itself. In poetry, the raw material of experience is put through a similarly transformative process to become something that fuels us in our lives.

I think this can even be more true of poetry than of prose, because in poetry, both writer and reader are freed from fiction's mundane 'what happened next' straitjacket. In a poem you can be true or make things up, you can simply make an observation and leave. You don't have to stick around for 200 pages trying to decide what colour a character's front door would be.

RM: I might be misreading your collection as a whole based on the second poem, 'The Only Reader', but you seem to be very interested in geese. Do you think that geese can tell us something profound about our lives?

KEB: Well, they know when to go south. They know how to make a formation and stay in it - an example of group dynamics that someone should try and explain to my kids. They're iconic, too, the Canada geese as they fly overhead - they seem make the air move with them, it really feels like something's happening. You want that kind of thing in your life. They don't mess about, do they.

In my poem, of course, the goose turns out to be the harbinger of the poem itself, almost the soul of the writer, or the reader. It's a poem about renunciation, really.

In fact, the poem started out much more humbly. This is an example of how things can change in progress. I started it one day in a bad mood over one rejection slip too many - I think the total at that point had reached 5,746 - and the original working title for the piece was the much more snarky 'Letter to the Editor'. I changed it after I saw what I'd written, it just didn't seem right anymore. And I realised that, although I still felt annoyed, I had written something that was true to how I really felt and that went deeper than my annoyance.

RM: You write about quite a few animals. Just off the top of my head, I remember you mentioning a moose, a mouse, a giraffe, rabbits, sardines, doves, a bear, a cow, a wolf, a bull, a kangaroo, a duck, a pig, pigeons, buffalo, lots of deer, sheep, some dinosaur, three otters, and, of course, the geese which we've already talked about. Judy also thought she spotted a beaver in there as well but I think she was just misreading one of your metaphors. My question to you is this: John Clare famously wrote a poem called 'The Badger'. Have you ever thought of writing a poem about a badger?

KEB: Have you seen what happens to that badger of Clare's? I might try it. I might make something nice happen to a badger. I'm a big admirer of Clare. He's famous for writing 'nature poetry', but his poetry is actually quite political - he wrote about the enclosures, for instance - and the badger poem is about the stupidity of the villagers who hunt the badger down, chase it through the streets and pretty much torture it to death. Animals look pretty good compared to those humans.

RM: Katy, I hope you don't mind my asking but how tall are you?

KEB: Taller than John Clare, and much taller than a badger.

RM: I only asked that because John Keats was a small man and so was Alexander Pope. Do you think that small people make the best poets? And might it have something to do with their having a different perspective to the rest of us? Do you know that Pam Ayres is only four foot three but rhymes like a monster?

KEB: Yes but I bet she can't think of a rhyme for monster (DM: 'hamster', 'roadster', 'York Minster'?). I think small people find it hard to see at concerts and plays, or even in a crowded tube train, so they have to find something else to think about. Maybe that's it. I was always tall for my age until I was about 11, and I suddenly stopped growing.

My other hero, the essayist Charles Lamb, was also very diminutive. But I think people were smaller then. They weren't taking vitamins and eating meat every day, were they.

RM: Would you agree with my theory that technically speaking, Shakespeare might have been a midget, and do you think that this possibly accounts for his high forehead which we see in the Droeshout portrait in the first folio?

KEB: Dick, you're going to have to think of a new theory. I know someone who's working on the theory that Shakespeare was Marlowe's sister.

I think it's fair to say he's no taller than average, though. He just doesn't look tall, does he. How tall are you?

RM: I’m a glorious six feet and two inches, which means I have trouble sitting in any seat designed for the average human spine. But enough about me. What did you learn from Stephen Fry's excellent primer on poetry, 'An Ode Less Travelled'? Have you ever penned an alexandrine? And, other than superheroes, do you like men in capes?

KEB: I have penned alexandrines, I've even let them out of their pens and herded them into new pens.

And 'An Ode Less Travelled', really? Well, I learned that Stephen Fry writes poetry; I think we deserve to see some! And I learned that he thinks that "this is an embarrassing confession for an adult to make."

Actually, in the first paragraph of his Foreword, he talks of poetry as something that adults do "in their idle hours" for 'relaxation and enjoyment', citing things like Agatha Christie's gardening. His slightly problematical example of James Joyce's singing sheds some light on the essentual confusion of Fry's thinking: because of course Joyce wrote poetry. But of course he was a poet.

And in respect of Nabokov's butterfly collecting (Fry: 'he chased butterflies'), this may be a good place to remind your friend that Nabokov was in fact as distinguished a lepidopterist as he was a writer. He wrote scientific papers and was responsible for organising the butterfly collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard.

He was also very interested in ghosts.

As JD Salinger's character Seymour Glass told us - and I'm quoting from memory here - no one who is doing his real work, or living according to his true nature - I forget exactly how he put it - has time for hobbies.

RM: You try your hand at a variety of forms in this collection. Some with long lines, some with short lines, while others remind me of the butterfly shape poetry of George Herbert. So let me ask you this: have you ever tried to write a poem in the shape of a squirrel?

KEB: There you go with your animals again. You're obsessed! Does your wife know about this?

RM: I think I'm right in saying that you primarily write free verse. Why do you think that most modern poets, with the exception of Pay Ayres and myself, generally shirk away from rhyme?

KEB: It's too hard. It takes a master to succeed, and it takes someone who doesn't mind how they look if it fails. I think you are that man. I do have some things in rhyme, though. I can do it.

RM: I'm sure you've read both 'Fathers and Sons' and my 'Epistle on Jeremy Paxman's Sock Drawer'. However, I have just finished my newest poem, which I've titled 'An Ode To Judy's Biscuit Barrel'. As a contemporary whose opinion I value, what do you think of it?

You sit on a shelf, at the back of my wife's larder,
Just a bucket of fragments and biscuits gone harder.
Figs, rich tea, arrowroot, and then there's the Nice,
Only there's nothing nice in how you entice
My wife's hips larger, my barely noticeable paunch,
To expand from ye miscreant nibbles, taken after lunch.
Is that what you seek, causing disruption to our lives?
Tempting us with the rich salvation of sugar. Like pies,
You seduce my Judy and care little for what comes after,
As bad as Apple strudel or something flaky filled with sultana.
Oh, terrible biscuit barrel, on the shelf above the spuds!
Don't mock me for my simple taste for your rich savoury goods.
It is Judy you're after, so take her instead, let me pass,
Prim and sexy, with nothing to mar my slim yet nubile ass.

RM, London, 2008


KEB: It's very beautiful. Judy must be so pleased. Speaking of rhyme, that 'after/sultana' rhyme is very daring!

RM: Thank you. I am rather proud of that, though I don't think I've got my iambs lined up quite right. But let me ask: do you think an old fashioned believers in scansion such as myself is holding onto a moribund dogma which, at the very least, is a patriarchal imposition of a phallocentric order over the course of the metrical line and, at the worst, an anachronism unsuited to an age of deconstructive tendencies and the post-Hegelian heterodoxy?

KEB: Yeah.

RM: I recently read a report on the internet that said that Stephen Fry has bought Ezra Pound's pickled testicles. Collecting parts of a favourite poet was quite the craze in the nineteenth century. Trelawny was supposed to have owned pieces of Shelley's jawbone. If you could own the organ of one poet, which organ would it be and who would be the poet? Judy said she'd go for Shelley's heart but I know that I'd always plump for Milton's spleen.

KEB: Milton's spleen! That's good. Well, I wouldn't want Dylan Thyomas' drinking hand. But if we're talking as collectors here - connoisseurs - I might ask for Byron's frontal lobe.

RM: Excellent answer. I might have to trade up from the spleen.

I confess that normally I only read Clive James' verse, primarily because I'm sexually attracted to older men with copious supplies of good whiskey. Why do you think that people don't read poetry? Is it a fault of people or the poetry? And why do you think Sir Clive won't respond to my emails?


KEB: That's probably why people don't read poetry, you know - they're shy. School just makes them even more shy, and then when they grow up and go in the bookshop, they don't exactly see poetry piled high in the 3 for 2's! I'm always getting people telling me how much they used to love poetry, but they always say they have no idea what to read, or what they'd like. I frankly think that if the industry hyped poetry even a fifth as much as they hype novels, they'd sell tons more of it.

And, you know, as for Clive: you're just too cute! He's probably just shy.

RM: A quality hardback, priced reasonably at £12.99, it's a book would look good beneath any tree this Christmas. But enough about 'Fathers and Sons'... How do you go about writing a poem? Are you like Anthony Burgess' 'Enderby', suddenly struck by strange but interesting phrases? Or are you more methodical in your approach?

The French poet Mallarmé said (to Edgar Degas, in fact, who had told him, as people are so prone to do, that he 'had an idea for a poem') that 'poems are made of words, not ideas'.

I've found that most of the time the most successful poems start with a word, or phrase, or group of sounds. Failing that, the best way is if you have something you just want to tell. Then it's like, 'just put it down'. Some poems come out all at once and virtually never get touched again - 'To My Next Lover' was like that. But some take ages of tinkering. Cosi Fan Tutte went through loads of versions, both rhymed and unrhymed, over more than a year, but when it clicked into place I just knew it - and it was finished very quickly after that.

I know a line of Mallarmé, you know. It goes: 'Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd'hui'. You know what those are, don't you. Words.

RM: And German words, if I'm not mistaken...

I was very moved by the poem, 'To My Next Lover'. What exactly do you think of Bill Oddie and do you think poets are naturally more romantic than normal folk?


KEB: Well, I heard Bill writes poems in his spare time: his frank and unambiguous boulevardier sestina, 'Birdwatching', was a particular favourite of mine.

I think poets are less romantic than normal folk. I never had less interest from blokes in my life than when I was hanging around with the poets the whole time.

RM: 'If music be the food of love, de dum, de dum, de dum.' Nobody can forget those immortal lines by Shakespeare. But if you were to be remembered for one line from this collection, what would that line be? I know that my favourite line from 'Fathers and Son's' read: '£18.99 RRP'.

KEB: Hmm. I think the line, "Sorry, I'm all over the place - I didn't sleep too well," sums up an awful lot of my life philosophy in only 11 short everyday words. Well, they're everyday to me. I asked my boyfriend to pick one and that's the one he picked.

RM: Some of the best poetry has come out of great adversity such as personal tragedy or war. Do you think a war would help modern poetry and do you agree that it would be a small price to pay?

Dick, we paid the price with Ezra Pound. We paid for 'The Cantos' in the currency of fascist radio broadcasts, and Ez never learned his lesson, because he got off on an insanity clause. (Hey - it's Christmas.)

I think that another war might not help poetry, anyway, because that phenomenon - the War Poets - was a particular thing - one of those moments wheh something unusual is forced through. I do think that extremis forces the poetry - I mean 'forces' in the greenhouse sense. So any cultural crisis would probably incline to create a flurry of poetry.

It wold be refreshing to have some more public poetry being written - British poetry right now seems a little bit navel-gazing.

RM: One cliché of postmodernist thought is that of form or, more specifically, anti-form. Yet poetry always retains some semblance of order. Wallace Stevens wrote terrifyingly complicated verse yet the cadences of the line have a natural flow to them, mainly due to the elegance of his caesura, which are always apparent to the reader. As poetry increasingly relies upon the ear to decipher its structure, is there a problem ensuring that poetry remains poetry? In other words, is Pam Ayres the best poet of our generation or should that honour go to John Hegley?

KEB: Well, poetry is about order. Because it's about words, and language is an ordering system which we use to understand the world. Poetry should never really be just about self-expression, and this is where Stephen Fry and I come together (as it were) as one. The best poetry is that in which the words begin to operate in some way independent of mere meaning, so that other parts of the brain are brought in to deal with what's going on. Pattern - whether just the shape of the stanzas or a repeating word or sound (like rhyme, or alliteration, or assonance), interesting or lovely sounds, double meanings, quotes and allusions, wordplay like puns, all contribute to the sensation of a good poem somehow going deeper than prose. And that's even before you get to what the poem's saying!

Wallace Stevens is possibly the greatest American poet of the twentieth century.

Clearly it's me, Dick. I'm just misunderstood.

RM: I know the feeling, Katy. I know it only too well.

Well, listen, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on my blog. We have to leave it there so I can catch my bus. The book, 'Me and The Dead', is available in all good bookshops and online. I hope that everybody looks out for it when they're out buying their copies of 'Fathers and Sons'. I wish you the best for it and for the future. Judy said only this morning that your poetry has changed her life and that she'll never look on blond trumpeters the same again.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Mr. Stephen Fry's Buttocks: A Cautionary Tale of Tweed and Excess

‘My dear Richard, it was so very unseemly of you to make such a public display of my buttocks yesterday.’

So said the voice in the orifice shell-like. This was late last night and the fact that the voice was coming through from an iPhone in New York should give you an idea of the man on the other end. I had no doubt that he was fully extended to six feet eight and that at least five of those feet were wrapped in a purple velvet cape with concealed compartments for a wifi enabled swordstick and Bluetoothed brass knuckle.

‘A momentary lapse,’ I answered. ‘I couldn’t resist replying to the twitter in which you commented upon the complexion of your cheeks.’

‘Tut and pish, Richard. Tut and pish. As you very well know, I was making reference to my upper cheeks, those silken mounds of pearly hue.’ He huffed himself to a silence and for a moment I thought he’d hung up on me. ‘On no account was I referring to my buttocks, perfect, pert and dimpled though they may be.’

‘But not so silken?’ I replied with a playful snort which poor Stephen took the wrong way. He took it as a sniff of derision.

‘My buttocks are not to sniffed at, Richard,’ replied the Great Man. ‘Had you lived as many years in tweed as I, then your buttocks would have also taken on a damask finish. But, needless to say, I’d prefer it if that information remains between the two of us.’

‘So your buttocks are not for public consumption?’ I asked.

‘Au contraire, Richard! They are Fry buttocks and all things to do with me are consumed most eagerly by my adoring public.’

I shrugged. ‘I bet they would,’ I said, knowing the dedication of Stephen’s followers.

Contempt was the prime feature of Stephen’s next remark. ‘Honestly. My poor boy. You do have a terrible need to attract attention. I’ve noticed it in the nature of your twittering. Always talking about red onions... Heavens!’

‘I happen to like the red onion. I consider it to be...’

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ soothed Stephen. ‘Everybody knows that you consider it the king of all onions.’

‘And it would go rather well with rump,’ I added but I don’t think Stephen caught my sly allusion to his toasted flanks. He was too busy continuing his transatlantic telling off.

‘But enough of this idle chatter, Richard. Call my aunt my uncle if you wish but do not be surprised when the very next words out of my mouth are those of a good scolding. For I have rang you from New York to ask you, nay implore you, to stop ruining twittering for the rest of us. No sooner had I launched my hugely successful Oscar Wilde Day on Twitter than you appeared talking nonsense about Manchester and onions. Shudder. Shudder. Shudder, Richard. And I say that not so lightly as to be heard only by moles. Bless their muddy little ears. Bless.’

‘I can’t help but be me,’ I replied. ‘Not all of us can be televisual Gods. Some of us are mere Holy Spirits.’

Flattery always works well on Stephen.

‘Oh,’ he chortled, ‘were I a less humble man, I would acknowledge that even my smallest flatus has the air of heavenly ambrosia. However, being the Fry of the genus Stephen, I need not make out that I am some kind of God. A lesser deity, perhaps...’

‘Flatus?’ I asked, not knowing the word.

Again Stephen sighed but this time it was one of those slightly condescending sighs which indicate his surprise that there are men in the world who haven’t had another book published in the past twenty four hours.

‘You don’t know your Latin declension, Richard!’ he scolded. ‘Repeat after me: flatus, flatati, flatatum, flaterati, flateratus, flateranimus...’

I confess that I’m paraphrasing here because my Latin is not up to his. I don’t know my arsari from my elbowarium. I’m sure you get the picture, if not the heavy odour of learning in the room. In fact, not long after, Stephen started schooling me in the Ancient Greek for wind breaking and I decided that it was time to make my excuses.

‘So sorry, Stephen,’ I said. ‘The old mobile’s battery is on the fritz. I better be hanging up.’

‘This is what happens when you buy Nokia,’ said the Patron Saint of Sim Cards, who promptly launched into a review of the newest mobile phones. Since it was verbatim to the review that I’d recently read in his Dork Talk column form ‘The Guardian’, I just hit the big red button and disconnected Stephen’s private communications satellite somewhere over New York.

Yet I was satisfied with our conversation. It had been instructive in more than Greek fartari and Latin flatus. It had taught me that in the future when I twitter, I must be more considerate to those people reading me. Previously, I have been tempted to post every detail from my daily life. Every thought has gone there and every wayward dream. But no longer will I twitter without aim. If you decide to follow me on Twitter, you will find me a much changed twitterer, with much less of the wit and more of the twit. And never once again will I send Stephen Fry a comment about his buttocks. Even if they do have a tweed hue and a russeted charm. Stephen’s buttocks are his own concern and from now I will leave them alone. And I advise you to do the same.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Why I Don't Chase Windmills

There was a moment when I was riding though the dark, my train high above the already busy city streets, when I believed I was dreaming. It was a token of my tiredness; my mind lulled towards sleep by the idling motion of the train and the dormant warmth of my body still in the wrap of my bed. A few of my fellow passengers were typically quixotic, chasing their windmills. Whilst some sensibly slumbered, too many were already wide awake and at work, adjusting spreadsheets, hammering out reports, or reading magazines with titles like ‘Management Monthly’ and ‘The Good Corporate Accounting Yearbook’. Meanwhile, down on the streets, the angry eyes of tail lights glared from the wet tarmac as hundreds of drivers pressed on deeper into the city.

I say I thought I was asleep because I couldn’t really believe that I was there or that this was real. The first hours in the day are our best and I’m idealistic enough to believe that they should be worth more than all the others or they should be ours to do with as we want. They are the hours when it’s best to be ourselves. To be the best of what we can become.

I’m pragmatic enough to recognise that this isn’t the case. I doze on the train because I don’t want to waste these hours on something so mundane. I head into Manchester these two days so I can write and better myself the rest of the week. But for forty eight hours, my family get to see me for the hours at the end when I’m tired, snappy, unable to work and irritated by my limitations. In the office, my mind is alive with ideas, with jokes, with witty one-liners that should really be going into a book or a blog post. None of this is how it should be and I wish I could just sleep away these two days.

Which, in a way, is exactly what I do.

On A Theme

Last night, I worked despite the agony of the eyestrain which was like trying to write and draw with football boots inside my eyeballs. It accounts for the lack of something written today and only two half-sketched drawings, which just about sum up how I’m feeing. It’s a ugly day here in Manchester. The grey light and the dreadful gloom of this great carnivorous city: it does nothing to lighten my mood. It is always a sign of how I’m feeling when I wear my favourite sweater from Millets. Build for Arctic conditions, the only action it gets to see is to wrap me in its deep embrace on these cold dark morning. Even Molesworth 1 and the cruelty he inflicted on Molesworth 2 wasn’t enough to cheer me up on the commute into work.






Thursday, 11 December 2008

iTunes Not My Tunes

A woman as worldly as Judy is able to exact revenge in many subtle and far-reaching ways. She’s not one for the immediate retribution. Any handsome TV star husband who happens to forget her birthday can sleep soundly in his bed for at least a month. There will be no sudden smearing of Vaseline on the bottom of his slippers. No extra-strong horseradish will fill his favourite jogging pouch. She won’t even use his favourite Mach 5 to shave south of Venezuela. Judy’s revenge is a long term operation, to be measured in the months and years. Think of it like old age but with more certainty that you’ll be deeply unhappy by the end of it and possibly missing the hearing in one ear.

This week’s justice was meted out in a uniquely cruel fashion. I’m sure that one exists but I haven’t yet worked out what particular outrage I had perpetrated to account for King Singers finding their way into my iTunes library. I discovered this yesterday, as I sat on a train, enjoying the random shuffle feature on my new iPod Touch. I had been listening to some late period Johnny Cash and watching the English countryside zip by when I was suddenly set rigid in my seat, my teeth creaking, flaking, and cracking as my jaw clamped down hard at the noise of close harmony singing suddenly leaking in through my audio holes. The song was something called ‘Here We Come A Wassailling’. I’m not too sure how you wassail or if it’s a good thing for a group of middle aged men to be doing while maintaining close harmony. But when injected straight into a man’s ears, the effect is like a syringe filled with air plunged into an artery.

The King Singers are Kryptonite to all my super powers. I have been known to choose to live in certain counties only after I’ve checked that there was not a single King Singer within its borders. Yet there they were, as conspicuous and cruel as Zimbabwean justice alongside my many hundreds of tracks by Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Serge Gainsbourg, Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and John Cale. Those are the artists who provide the mood music to my life. The King Singers are something else. They are the horse’s head left beneath my pillow; the punishment beating that had been coming for some time but was more painful than I had ever imagined.

When I got home, I decided that action had to be taken. By syncing my iPod to an iTunes library contaminated by Judy’s vengeance, I had inadvertently put myself in danger of not just the King Singers, but evils far greater. After using iTunes for many years, amassing a quite vast mp3 collection, the current Madeley catalogue runs to some 20 gigabytes of music. Yet as I paged slowly through the listing, I began to spot records that could only have been put there by a malicious hand, a tone deaf ear. The album titles said it all:

Adam Faith Sing Some God Awful Christmas Hits.
James Galway Pumps Bilge Through a Length of Brass Tubing.
Roger Whitticker Whistles Brahms
Nana Mouskouri Snorts Through A Moustache
Daniel O'Donnell Mallets Chipmonks.

I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t take much notice of the exact album titles so I’m using some poetic license based on what I heard. I think it gives you a flavour of what I was up against. As much as I love Terry Wogan, there’s no good reason to find his Floral Dance in my library, so I quickly hit it with the defoliant. The same is true of a few other tracks and I knew that I had to delete. There would come a time when the game of iPod shuffle roulette no longer fell my way. I wanted to be sure that no hammer fell on a chamber filled filled with the sound of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band playing Pink Floyd.

After an afternoon’s work, I thought I was done. However, there was one remaining evil and it only made itself known to me this morning.

I was sitting on the train to Manchester, ahead of my usual two days of hard-baked misery. The carriage was quiet, as to be expected at half past six in the morning. I was trying to buttress my sagging spirits by reading Molesworth and listening to ‘The Raven’ from the album ‘Sunday At Devil Dirt’ by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. It’s a great album, reminiscent of Tom Waits crossed with Cash, and I was deep into the zone when the track changed and my pod shuffled.

‘Holy shit!’ was my response.

I make no apology for this. I was listening to the William Tell Overture, which wouldn’t itself have warranted such a response except this version was recorded by The Swingle Singers, or as I like to call them, The Eight Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You can get a taste of the horror here.

Which brings me to my current situation, sitting looking at a wall poster describing the problems of deforestation in south east Asia and plotting points on a map of Blackpool (high-level production work which only those of you in TV will hope to understand). Even given such exciting tasks, it’s hard to find much enthusiasm for life when you’ve been assaulted by the Swingle Singers so early in the day. It’s not as though I’d had chance to arm myself. It’s not as though there were many planks of wood with rusty nails in the end. But I do hope that it shows that you should always take care with your mp3 collection. Do you know what’s in there? Do you know who put it there? And do you know what will happen if some of those tracks ever get free?
I’m just warning you now. Don’t become the next victim. The last thing we need this year is another Swingle Christmas.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

My Piece About Blogging, Written Last Week When I Was Moody And Thinking Too Much About Carrots

I have to ask you to indulge me with the following post. I scribbled it last week in a blatant attempt to pen myself out of a bad mood brought about by an unpleasant incident in Manchester whereby I was reduced to tears by a lactose intolerant leisure consultant and the work of proto-impressionist painter Adolphe Valette. You will find me, at the beginning of last week, doubting the value of blogging, though by Wednesday, I had moved on to doubt the value of dogging. By Friday, I was taking pot shots at logging and then the whole timber industry. Happily, I can now report that I’ve now changed my mind about all these things, except dogging, which still seems like a reasonable way to make new friends but I’m not so sure that it’s the most fuel efficient way of having a good time up a country lane late at night.

Change the sheets and polish that porcelain! I’ve decided that old Madeley is coming to stay with you.

But I don’t want you to worry or prepare anything special. I’ll only be with you for two weeks and I expect you to work me until I collapse. You want a pool digging? Just tell me how deep. Want the house repainting? A man hasn’t been born that can beat me around a Dulux colour chart. Work me hard, pay me nothing: that’ s how I like to be treated. It will feel just like being back at Channel 4. Damn their devious, back-stabbing, ‘O’Grady is more popular among the post-menopausal demographic than you’ hides.

But by now, you’re probably wondered if I’ve finally lost it. I too sometimes suspect that I’m walking east when my sanity is going west. Only, in this case, I don’t really think that I'm losing it is in the sense of walking though crowded markets whilst combing the hair of a heavily rouged coconut I like to call Molly. I just mean: how much longer can I go on like this?

Browsing the web, I stumbled across a group of my fellow bloggers talking about their monthly hits. Now, I know that you think you know what I’m about to say before I say it: that I’m about to wail on about how some other blog has forty times the hits that I have and that the most interesting thing they’ve ever written is the word ‘chiaroscuro’. And if you thought that’s what I was going to say, then you just take a merit badge and go stand at the front of the class. Bless the inordinate amount of soft fibrous fluff on your lovely cottony socks, for you are indeed right.

Blogging is an activity that most of us take up for purely narcissistic reasons. Those of us that don’t work professionally as journalists, will probably be writing in the vague hope that we can find work as journalists or writers or cartoonists or porn magnates. (I originally wrote ‘porn magnets’ but Judy won’t allow me to keep them on the fridge door. [Originally, I typed ‘porn midgets’ but that’s a story I’ve promised to keep under my hat. (I originally wrote ‘under my cat’ but that’s where I’m hiding the gloriously ribald account of my affair with a one-eyed Bulgarian vegetable seller called Molly who also happened to sell coconuts)]).

Anyway, to get back to my point: there can’t be many people who don’t open up their first Blogger account without thinking that they’re going to make a difference. The truth is that very few of us make a difference. There are ways to blog successfully and I consistently refuse to take those routes. I won’t post any videos of tap dancing dogs. I shirk porn (I originally typed ‘shake porn’ but... Oh, never mind...) I also won’t repost gags ripped from 'The Onion'. This blog is all me and is undoubtedly weaker for that. And, in a sense, every blog is about ‘me’. And ‘me’ isn’t very interesting. Have you read Iain Dale this week? Me, me, me, me, me. And Tories. Shudder, as Fry would say. Shudder.

The unhappy truth is that blogging is the poor relative to other social networking schemes that require far less effort and bring far more in terms of reward. Blogging also requires effort when a service like Twitter asks that you only write 120 characters a post. Facebook doesn’t even require that you write at all. You just send your friends vampiric bites to acknowledge their existence. ‘Dick Madeley has poked you with a carrot. Do you want to poke him back? Choose you vegetable of choice...’ Hardly the best advertisement for 'user created content'. After all: who likes being poked with a carrot? Not me. Not even Bill Oddie and I should know. I've poked him with plenty of carrots in my time.

Which brings all the way back to my offer. I’ve worked out the figures and I’ve calculated that the effort it takes me to do all my blogging is as profitable as if I came to work for each of you, my regular readers, for a fortnight every year. So long as you’ll pay my travel expenses, I won’t be out of pocket. For that, you’ll get at least forty hours of work out of me. Laying paths, decorating, fixing computer problems, teaching, or general administration: I can do the lot, possibly concurrently. And yes, if you want to, I’ll even let you poke me with a carrot.

Which reminds me of this story I keep under my cat...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Lizard King


I woke up feeling a little befuddled. Yesterday had been a celebration of excess, ending with a late night trawl through my record collection. Around midnight, I’d adopted my Lizard King outfit and sang ‘LA Woman’ from the top of my voice to neighbours who weren’t totally in tune with Jim Morrison way of celebrating life. Ronnie Corbett peered out from behind his curtains as I balanced on my window ledge and claimed ‘I am the Lizard King! I can do anything!’

‘Except the washing up!’ was Judy’s reply. ‘Or put the seat back down when he’s finished in the bathroom.’

It was sobering. However, my revels helped me finally extinguish the last of the black flames that have been consuming me for the last week. That I’ve been in a bad mood was not in question. I’m prone to them. Filthy, deep, self-pitiful moods when I’m not pleasant being around and even the cat chooses to stay away in the morning.

What brought me around this time were some generous emails which arrived from strangers over the weekend and yesterday (thank you Amy and Melissa). Knowing that my blog amuses strangers is the greatest satisfaction I can get beyond a sudden influx of pound sterling into my bank account. In fact, I think it’s probably even greater than any monetary reward. I wrote (but didn’t publish) a piece last week about blogging which I now look back on with some amusement. It was full of my bitter doubts about the value of blogs, which I compared with social networking. Blogs, it seemed to me then, were not about what is written but just about making connections to other blogs. Blogs, I thought, are read by other bloggers. Twitter has reduced it to its basic principle by which we just acknowledge that we exist. Of course, as George Orwell might put it, some of us exist more than others. Stephen Fry probably exists more any single man alive if we judge him by his Twitterees.

By that measure, I barely exist. However, because of the emails, I know I exist a little bit more than I ever suspected last week. Which was good reason to cast aside my bad mood. I woke up today determined to do some good work, reply to the emails, finish arranging a portfolio of cartoons to send for rejection by some as-yet-to-be-determined magazine/newspaper, and then get back to the book I’ve been trying to write. The first three chapters are hilarious. I just need another nine more to follow. I might only have two days before I’m heading back up to Manchester, but I want to make the most of those two days. For I am the Lizard King.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Touchy Good Things

When Nige reminded me that some people still use CDs, I was filled with a warm glow but not a little shame. It’s like my own love affair with typewriters or admiring Elberry for collecting fountain pens: there is something so at odds in my nature that means that I yearn for the next great thing yet long for the old ways of doing things, as messy, noisy, and as difficult as they were.

This time it began with lust. This particular lust was directed towards a laptop. My current machine is a rather battered Sony, moulded from plastic, which rattles whenever I type and is now scratched to smithereens. And it’s rather heavy. It’s well over seven pounds but that doesn’t include the rather manly power supply which is not known for being light on its toes. I carry the whole kit with me to work but find that I can’t use it in public. It’s too cumbersome to take out on a train, to wide for the tables of my local bookshop / coffee shop.

Years ago I had a small 10 inch Sony laptop. It cost me a hefty chunk of a grant, had a titanium body, and weighed next to nothing. It lived in my backpack as I trawled the obscure corners of libraries, crawling for volumes that hadn’t been touched in years. I wrote a PhD thesis and a novel on that little beauty and it lasted me five years. Then a volume of Sir Walter Scott’s letters fell on it from a high shelf and it developed a whine (Scott’s letters can have that effect). The whine slowly drove me mad enough to attempt to replace the hard disc. In the process, something snapped, something shot across the room, I did much swearing. I had destroyed the machine.

My recent tax rebate came along at a good time. I had earmarked it for a lightweight laptop, with a smaller screen. I was thinking 13 inches. I wanted something I could carry with me when I’m out and about and save me when I’m wasting hours travelling.
I trawled around the websites and came to the conclusion that there just weren’t any machines with what I wanted. Or none near my ‘price point’. Sony have a TT series – the current version of my original, much loved Sony – which start at a dizzying £1700 of carbon fibre goodness. I then started to visit Manchester’s Apple store to try out the keyboard on their new Macbooks. I must have looked a fool these last few weeks, standing there, drooling over their cases, carved from a single piece of aluminium. I would just stand there, typing away on the laptops without there even being a wordprocessor loaded. But everything they say about the Mac keyboard is true. Forget about processor specs, graphic subsystems. I'd buy it just for the responsive touch, the size of the keys and the gaps in between. It’s just the most perfect writing environment. Macs gave some of the best software for writing and I had begun to dream of matching that kind of attention to a writer's needs with that touch. However, I had 929 problems standing in my way, each one with a rim in Latin and the Queen’s muzzle on the front.

And so, I began to look for something cheaper. The alternative was a Dell. Their portable laptops begin around the £600 mark but once you start upgrading to the better processors.... Well, they’re heading into Mac territory and even the basic models are too steep for my humble savings and tax rebate.

Which brings me to the iPod Touch. When Judy bought herself one for Christmas, I had a play with it and discovered, to my great delight, that there are tools for writers in the ‘App Store’. One of them allows you to turn the iTouch on its side and use the full width of its screen as a keyboard. I’m not expecting to write any great masterpiece on it but I now have the smallest portable word processor I could afford. And the other surprise was Shakespeare. It’s a free download and apparently contains the complete works. I will be happy now, jotting away, rereading Othello and the rest.

But I’ll stop here before I become Stephen Fry and describe how I hope to procreate with my touchy little devil. Heavens! Indeed, bless! For the syncing is now at an end and I’m itching to go off and play some more with my pod.

What Have I Done?

Apologies for the silence. Had a rather unproductive weekend and now spent a even less productive day blowing a tax rebate on an iPod. Yes, I know I claim poverty. And I'm broke most of the time. But sorting out my tax recently has helped improve matters (it seems I was paying way, way, way too much tax each month). I'm also a sucker for technology and I think I needed something to cheer myself up. It's wrong. It's bad. I don't deserve it. But...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Snow

I’m tired. Really, desperately, longingly, menacingly tired. I’ve managed to copy out one drawing from my notebook. I fell asleep twice while doing it. My mind can’t hold thoughts together for long, so I’ll copy some of my jotted thoughts out too.

***

There’s no snow in Manchester. Just rain and mild temperatures. The spirit of Christmas has yet to make itself known to me. I sit in an office devoid of novelty lights or tinsel. The wall chart in front of my desk tells me all about the disappearing rainforest. I find it hard to sympathise. Does the rainforest have a chart about my disappearing hopes and opportunities? It should.

***

The city is full of building and rebuilding. In these days of remote control, why do cranes need operators who climb up to the very top to control them? I look up in the dark morning sky. They have even sold advertising space on the cranes. From this distance, it seems to be for a sanitary towel. Interesting choice.

***

Beautiful new office blocks, full of beautiful people. Bright people. Good jobs. Why can't I be one of them? I walk pass the CityCafe. I see beautiful people eating breakfast. My boots are leaking.

***

Informed that for this year's office Christmas meal, we will be going Brazilian. I've told them that I'm not shaving down there for anybody. And I don't care if it is Christmas.

***

Lunchtime. More rain. I tire of onion. Waterstones has some beautiful new editions of the hardback Everyman classics. Tempted. Badly tempted. But I resist. I need to solve the problem of my damp feet.

***

Tried to make small talk in Clarks as I waited with the sales assistant for my new boots to arrive. I make a good quip. She says nothing. No response. I feel a fool for trying. She’s a strange shade of orange, like some new line of leather they’re trying out.

***

My new boots pinch. I bought brown boots. It’s a rebellious act in the sense that I refuse to buy black boots ‘for the office’. If they don’t match my trousers, so be it. I like boots and I like brown boots.

***

Why do new boots require waterproofing? Why do they want to sell me the spray in the store? I already have two cans of the bloody stuff. Why can't they just waterproof them as part of the manufacturing process?

***

Overheard on a train home: one woman speaks to her two friends about a wedding she attended. The subject turns to the photographs of the wedding reception.

‘They were black and white. Very nice. I love black and white but they had this picture of them drinking from a champagne glass. They were both in black and white but the glass was coloured in. Pink. Real classy.’

I smiled a wry smile. I thought it a classy smile.

***

I continue to doodle. I have more ideas for jokes than I have time to draw or write.

***

On Piccadilly Station, a man dressed as an elf hands me a plastic bag with some free eBay wrapping paper inside. It reminds me that no matter how bad my job, I don’t need to dress like an elf.

***

I fail to understand the eight hour working day that doesn’t include lunch. Too many people work through without a lunch break. I’m tempted but eight hours in front of a monitor isn’t healthy. With an hour's break, it means I’m up at six, on the train for seven, in the office at eight, home at six. Feels like twelve hours. Not eight. I don’t understand.

***

It’s just above freezing when I’m travelling home. I see five girls waiting for a train. They’re dressed in ballet tutus and little else. I admire their dedication to the cause. I just wonder what the cause might be. I wonder what will happen should they meet the elf. Love at first sight, I should imagine. That or more free wrapping paper.

***

I’ve filled my old leaking boots with superglue. They need to last until I break in my new pair. The more I play with superglue, the more I’m fascinated by the stuff. I read the other day of somebody spreading superglue on a public toilet seat. Some man was stuck to the seat for over an hour. Terrible practical joke. You really can’t beat the one involving cling film.

***

Is there any point going to sleep early? It’s a trade-off between making the most of my own time and feeling exhausted in the morning. I go. Reluctant. So very reluctant.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Random Thoughts On Chickens and Ducks

I have just come off the phone with a woman arguing about chickens. Chickens it seems are big again and I’m the man that everybody want so to speak to about this most glamorous of domesticated fowl.

Being big in chickens has made me realise that for too long I’ve been not been making the most of my talents. While people are out there selling books about chickens, documentaries about chickens, and even t-shirts about chickens, my own encyclopedic knowledge about chickens is going to waste. I am, you might say, somewhat chicken about the chicken.

Clive James writes some of the only poetry I tend to read these days. He writes some of the only prose I choose to read too. He wrote this beautiful verse for ‘The New Yorker’, which this morning led me to this cartoon about a chicken. I would suggest you go watch it except I don’t think it’s worth your time. I think my own chicken cartoon is funnier.

But, actually, if you look carefully, you'll see that my chicken cartoon is about a duck. I originally wrote it about a chicken but had drawn in a duck’s beak. Despite the cartoon working better with a chicken, I was too tired to change the beak. Which again proves that I don’t know my chickens. Or that I don’t understand other people’s chickens and my own ducks.

I don’t know if Clive James has ever written a poem about a chicken but I once wrote a novel about a duck. Ducks are like chickens but their comic effect is quite different. Simply saying the word ‘chicken’ can induce a smile. ‘Duck’ requires hard work. ‘Chicken’ has the proximity of the soft ‘c’ sound against the hard ‘k’ but its effect lies in that hard termination of the ‘n’. It is a laugh within seven letters. ‘Duck’ is a straightforward attack word and only works in the context of other words. The humour lies in using it to cut across a line that hints towards the eloquent. Comically, the ‘duck’ has to be timed just right. It terminates a sentence well. Almost too well. It is always funny to put it into a context where it does harm to the line: ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s duck’. Though, in this example, you expect the ‘duck’ so it’s probably not that funny. It might have been better if I’d used a chicken instead.

I also suspect that more ducks appear in films than chickens, though I don’t recall if any ducks actually appear in ‘Duck Soup’ other than the opening shot of ducks swimming in a stewing pot. Ducks are comic props, to be passed between principals. They can also go ‘quack’. Chickens, on the other hand, are there to be kicked away or driven towards at high speed. Film chickens are the forgotten heroes of cinema. They are often reduced to squawking around the farmyard or thrown unceremoniously from a barn as a biplane goes crashing through the roof. I can think of no live action film in which a chicken has had a major role. Sylvester Stallone chases a chicken in ‘Rocky’ and Harpo Marx seems to have an endless supply of chickens to pull from his coat pockets. Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid’ opens with chickens buried alive in the sand and having their heads blown off for target practice. (I’m tempted to make a joke about Pecking-pah but there’s nothing worse than a chicken pun.) But these are all bit parts, which seems rather sad given that chickens have played support for so long. After playing a supporting role in ‘Pat Garrett’, even Bob Dylan got a chance to star in his own film. The film was ‘Heart of Fire’. I can’t help but think that it would have been a better film if Dylan’s role had been played by a chicken.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Twelve Things I Discovered Last Week

Perhaps it’s the lack of sunlight but I’m wallowing in a murky puddle of my own despondency. It could just be Monday morning and the lack of action in my inbox. Whatever it is, I have retreated to my room, leaving Judy in the back garden where she is using her leaf blower to put the frighteners on hibernating hedgehogs. For me, it’s a day to consider my options and to plan the week ahead. And I can think of no way of moving forward other than to look back on my past seven days. Here are the twelve important discoveries I made last week outside the field of particle physics.


Blog readers can cost me a fortune.
Recommendations for books left me out of pocket by a considerable sum. On Friday, I stumbled across a reasonably priced collection of Nicolas Bentley cartoons. I will be billing Nige accordingly.

Don’t Try To Be Witty About Disney

I managed to offend a close friend when I described the decor of the local Disney store as ‘resembling a paedophile’s bedroom’. Not a thing to say when she's purchasing gifts. Put a downer on the whole 'innocence at Christmas' theme she was aiming for.

Humour Is BIG At Christmas

All the book and DVD shops are now devoted to bad comedians and satirists making a fortune peddling their crap. What I want to know is why can’t other bad comedians and satirists can't make a shilling selling their rubbish

Apples Are Nice

In fact, typing on the keyboard on the new Apple MacBook Pro made me feel like I was playing with Brigit Bardot’s nipples (circa 1960). If Apple want to quote me on that, they can for the price of a new Apple Powerbook or Bridgit Bardot's nipples (circa 1960). The new notebooks are cut from a single piece of aluminium, which, by a remarkable coincidence, is the very same selling point as Bardot's nipples... Shame about the price, which puts both notebooks and nipples well outside the price range for this TV superstar.

Dell Laptops Are Small

And around £400, they are quite reasonably priced. Shame that they are also out of the price range for this TV superstar. I will continue to carry my large megalithic Sony with me, contributing to my bad knees and inability to write when in public. When I once dared open it in a Costa Coffee, I blocked out the light and drained the power from the frothing machine.

Fog Can Be Fun

Architecture never looks as when viewed on a clear November morning or when it’s thick with fog. Manchester’s Hilton Tower looked stunning in its grey overcoat on Friday.

I Like The New Yorker

Actually, I blew a gift voucher on the complete cartoons of ‘The New Yorker’. You know about my current obsession with the inky line, so I needn’t explain. The book doesn’t actually contain the complete cartoons but the price you pay is well worth it for the DVD-Rom, which includes over 79,000 cartoons in PDF format and fully searchable.

The Taxman Can Be Kind

Due to a long convoluted calculation that has to do with my earning very little (except my TV contracts, of course, which are in Judy’s name), I got a tax rebate last week. Hence my dreams of owning a new laptop and being able to afford to buy a couple of books.

I Miss Writing

I’ve not fully devoted myself to my writing for a few weeks and it’s time I tried to structure my week to get something finished.

My Feet Are Possibly A Little Bit Rank

Well, it's not my feet as much as my aging boots. Do you know the pair: black leather slip ons with the buckle on the side, currently held together with superglue and bits of leather cut from an old spectacles case? I love them. Best boots I've ever owned. However, I managed to clear a Clarks shoestore on Friday when I was a little too impulsive and I took them off to try on a replacement pair. As it happened, they didn't have my size in store. I bought a new tube of superglue instead.

Stephen Fry Is The Cause of Many Heart Attacks

When you get an email stating that ‘Stephen Fry is following you’, one can feel rather blessed. The fact that he’s tail-coating 21,000 other Twitterers is something that he should mention in the same email.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

I'm On My Way...

As this post goes live, you find me moblogging. That’s mobile blogging to you, though I might equally be said to be 'mob logging'. I’m currently on a train travelling into the distant north, Manchester bound, imagination stifled by this suit, and scowling at anybody who dares look my way. Have another doodle, blog friends, have another doodle. This tired old TV great is getting old. My comedy pimple is beginning to fade. How many more journeys will it continue to disguise my real identity from these commuters? They’re a miserable lot. Nobody speaks. Occasionally one of them will silently vent gas.

I never understand people who choose to vent in the confines of a crowded train with poor ventilation. It must be cowardly way to get back at the world without actually going on any kind of spree. I suppose it's possible they might go on a farting spree but it's probably not going to last very long. Or, alternatively, it will last a very long time but with many periods of inactivity.

Other than the mysterious devotee to flatus, the rest sit here playing with their toys. The iPhone users are a breed apart. As Elberry might say: everyone a potential killer. They certainly look down on the Blackberry users, though it’s clear that this second group have the better jobs. I have a Samsung. I don’t fit into either camp. My old phone is a Sony. It doesn’t even have a touch screen. People are right to treat me like the pariah I am. I'm listening to Nick Cave. It's loud. He’s singing about ’15 Feet of Pure White Snow’. It's the song I always associate with these trips into the north.



I think I’ll follow it with some Stagger Lee.

Soon I’ll be at Manchester Piccadilly, scooting off down the side of the GMPTE building. There are guards there that stop people photographing the building, which makes no sense to me. One of these days, I’ll try to snap a picture of the place just to see if I can get arrested. I didn’t think it possible to be stopped from taking pictures in a public place.

My mind is drifting. There’s a woman in the seat next to me writing questions for some seminar she’s attending. The questions are for Edward de Bono, he of lateral thinking fame. Question 1: ‘Do you think your ideas are as current today as they were in the past’. She’s clearly thinking laterally. I’m sure he’s going to hold up his hands and tell his acolytes that his ideas are outmoded and that it’s about time he retired.

Oh, now I’m just being sullen. Manchester makes me sullen but this mobile blogging isn’t a good thing. I'll try to post more later on. Of if I can't post, I'll Twitter. Does anybody read my Twitter? If a bear twits in the woods, does anybody care? Why does an eight hour working day really mean eleven hours? I miss Judy. And I also maintain that the mighty red is the king of all onions. I dare you to disagree.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Oh God! Not Another One...

I don’t know how to feel about the day. I got up, did some odd jobs around the house, arrived in my den to find email awaiting me. I’ve trained Thunderbird to spot SPAM and abusive emails but the odd one still gets through. ‘I hate you’ read the first message I opened.

‘Sort of puts you in a good mood,’ I said aloud to the signed picture of Ricky Gervais that adorns the office wall. Ricky didn’t say anything. A rare positive for a day when all the omens are bad.

The rest of my afternoon was spent doodling and trying to write. I'm not a good frame of mind. I’m about to descend into a two day funk on account of a business trip up to Manchester. It is a city of many charms, fine art galleries, and some excellent restaurants. However, two days of proof reading the scripts for some of my future projects is not how I would choose to use my time. Yet it pays the bills, keeps me out of the house, and otherwise occupies me in these days of credit crunch paranoia. Yesterday was something quite special, which puts the misery of what’s to come into some perspective. It was so good to see Stephen Fry (you ask why is he always described as 'a national treasure' -- it's written into his contract) sitting on the R&J sofa. I had those cushions specially designed so that men of his height and buttock girth would feel comfortable when ad-libbing their way through their many anecdotes. I think the result was worth the effort and I encourage you all to tune in to ‘Watch’ tonight at 8pm (or ‘Watch+1’ at 9). Makes you wish there was a ‘Watch+n’ so you could stay with Stephen through the night.

With life being so hectic, I forgot to mention that I filmed The Eggnog Challenge show, which ITV are putting out this Christmas. As executive producer on the show, I had more creative input than I’ve ever had. I think the results will speak for themselves. A few of you have emailed to ask why I kissed Biggins on last night’s show. All will be revealed at the end of December.

Have A Doodle


And when I've woken up, I'll write you something...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Stephen Fry's Honey Drizzler

Don’t you long for those days when a man could be caught strangling a ferret without having people judging him about it? I know that I do. It came to mind, earlier this morning, when I was caught manhandling a live rodent in the privacy of my own garden shed. Judy had assumed the worst: that I’d gone there with the intention of wringing some rattish neck. She just wouldn’t listen to reason and had even threatened to inform the RSPCA via their local representative.

‘What will Bill Oddie say?’ she asked, her panic only constrained by the shed doorway. ‘You’re getting a reputation as a serial rodent abuser, Richard. First it was house mice and then you killed poor Colin, John Cleese’s sweet lemur...’

‘That sweet lemur was trying to rip out your throat,’ I reminded her. ‘If I hadn’t smacked Colin with a copy of my hugely popular book (which is no misery memoir), you’d be without a larynx.’

‘Oh, a likely story, Richard,’ replied Judy. ‘Just like you told everybody that Stephen Fry had his arm broken by the flipper of an enraged manatee. Why can’t you just be a man and admit that you brought that ferret in here to have your evil ways with it? What is it you like about beating up these poor animals? It has to be something more than comic effect. Do you like to hear their little bones break? Is that what it is, Richard? Is that what excites you? Is that how you get your kicks?’

By now, I had managed to subdue the ferret my kneeling on its tail and I delayed explaining myself until I had carried the animal to the shed door where I cast it out onto the lawn. It bounced once and then made a dash for the fence and the safety of Ronnie Corbett’s vegetable patch.

‘Judy, if you’ll only listen. I’ll tell you how this happened.’

I then proceeded to tell her about the events of my morning which had begun quite innocently with the optimistic hope of drizzling some honey.

I woke up around eight, feeling nipped in the places where my toes had escaped the duvet. Judy was sound asleep, snoring in that baritone that is now so familiar and perfectly tuned to a low B flat. Rather than waking her, I slipped into my slippers (you might say, made for that very purpose), and went down to the kitchen to address breakfast. Because I was cold, I thought I’d make myself my favourite morning tipple: some hot water dosed with honey. The kettle was soon boiled and I poured a good amount into my favourite Monty Python Toby Jug, fashioned into a faithful facsimile of Terry Jones’ best grin. Now it was time for the honey. And that’s when disaster struck. I took Judy's favourite honey drizzler from the drawer and dipped it into a new jar of organic honey (a gift from a friend). I then gave the drizzler a twist and withdrew it sharply. It emerged handle only. The end had come detached and had sank in the depths of finest honey ever transmitted by the bottoms of Felicity Kendal’s bumble bees.

But you know that I’m not the sort of man to wail about a honey drizzler failing. If nothing else, I am a man of action. I immediately went upstairs and dressed myself for my workshop. Then I took the damaged honey drizzler into the shed intending to repair it.

Now, I have one of the best outfitted workshops in North London and it’s in that shed where I’ve made many of the inventions that have made my name in the world of science and technology. It’s there that I built Paul Merton’s pogo stick, added the rockets to Clarkson’s rocket car. It was there that I invented yeast free yeast and gave birth to the iCod, the world’s first genetically altered flat fish. Yet after my initial inspection of the drizzer, I knew that I’d need expert help. This was no ordinary break but wood that had been heavily fatigued by years of constant drizzling. I reached for the phone and the number of the only man I can call on in these emergencies.

Three rings later and there was a noise like an armed riot in a Columbian kindergarten followed by a familiar voice. ‘Ah, ’tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, though I fear my Nokia noise cancelling headset will struggle to overcome the ambient sounds of my location.’

‘Where on earth are you?’ I asked. ‘Sounds like you’re on a war front.’

‘A war front, indeed, Dicky. I am currently doing a bit of Christmas shopping. I’m in Hameley’s toy store where I am in the process of scoping out a BattleTech War Mage with World Destructor Kneecaps and Nipple Mounted Lasers.’

‘Cut the dorktalk, Stephen,’ I snapped. ‘Listen, it’s about this honey drizzler you bought me for Christmas seven years ago. I don’t know what reviews you read before buying it but the ruddy thing has already broken.’

‘I hope you’re not asking me for the receipt,’ mumbled the Great Man. ‘I fear that I keep them for only six years before I destroy them.’

‘Stuff the receipt. I want your help repairing it.’

Stephen chuckled. ‘But I honestly don’t see what I can do...’

‘It’s a spiral fracture,’ I said.

He fell silent, no doubt overcome by the manatee episode and his own spiral injury. ‘I’ll be there in half an hour,’ he said.

I opened my door nearly an hour later and ducked as nipple mounted lasers took aim.

‘You’re late,’ I said.

‘I know,’ said Fry. ‘It was a long line to the tills and I lacked the triple A batteries to power my nipples.’

‘So you bought it then?’ I said, nodding towards the robot.

‘Oh, tush. Indeed: gripes. How could I not buy such a sweet little droid? There will be much fun to be had over Christmas programming this to annihilate many a C list celebrity. But enough about my plans to destroy the talentless portion of our world. Show me the drizzer!’

I led Stephen to the shed and we began the long process of repairing the handle. The spiral fracture meant that we had to be careful as we applied wood glue and set the whole thing up in clamps. When it was time for Stephen to leave, he was exhausted and he had taxied off before he’d remembered the Battlemech Droid he’d left in the hall. Naturally, when I tried to ring him, his iPhone battery must have gone dead. Unable to reach him, I realised that I couldn’t leave his droid in the hall. Judy has few rules but I knew that she’d take poorly to the World Destrouctor Kneecaps.

I carried the droid to the shed where I made room for it behind my prototype for a Kranky firing Cannon. And that’s when I discovered the hole. It wasn’t a big hole but it was a significant breech in a shed that contains so many state secrets. The corner of the shed was now missing a good six inch circle of wood. I kneeled down and peered into the hole and found that I could see right through to the Corbetts’ side of the fence. If I’d known the layout of their garden, I might not have reached my hand into the hole, nor grabbed so tightly onto the first thing I felt.

At first, I thought it might have been one of Mrs. Corbett’s old stoles. Then I thought I’d put my hand into a crate of costumes from Ronnie’s cross-dressing days on the Two Ronnies. I thought perhaps that it might even have been the famous fur coat that he wore when he sang that song about the farmer judging the Women’s Institute’s sponge pudding competition. The whole thing was really a vulgar euphemism for something else and the thought of holding onto that coat encouraged me to try to pull it through the hole.

‘I hardly expect it to bite me,,’ I explained to Judy. ‘How was I to know that I’d put my hand into the cage where Ronnie keeps his prize ferret?’

Judy looked at me with a renewed look of love in her eyes. ‘If only you’d told me about Stephen’s robot earlier,’ she said. ‘All this would have made complete sense.’

‘So I’m forgiven?’ I asked.

‘Of course you’re forgiven,’ said Judy, wiping the trickle of blood from my cheek where the ferret had nearly taken out my eye. ‘Unlike the time you battered John Cleese’s lemur, this time you had good reason to attack that rodent. If only I had known, Richard, I might even have helped you beat it unconscious.’

The smile came easily to my lips. ‘Jude,’ I replied, ‘it’s thoughtfulness like that which has made you such a much loved public figure, a veritable mother to our nation.’

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Ditch

Travelling home from Manchester, I was too tired to read – eyestrain is a real problem in this job – so I got out my Mp3 player and watched an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ instead. It was the episode in which Larry makes friends with a sex offender and invites him to a party at his house. At one point, the sex offender asks Larry how he came up with all the ideas for ‘Seinfeld’. Larry answers that he just copied them out of his life. The sex offender is impressed. ‘I’m not creative, so I don’t know how these things get written,’ is something like his response.

I could have told him the same. Everything I write about comes from my life. There’s not a word on this blog that isn’t, in some way, informed by what happens to me. The downside of all this is that people rarely believe that anything is real. They question if this is really a blog. I think I’m dismissed as some kind of freak. Not serious writing. I bet you even doubted if I suffered a pulled groin muscle yesterday yet it’s all true. The peas are true, all as true as my story about falling over and damaging my left knee earlier in the year while watching a mime in Manchester.

Which gets to the point of this brief post. My knee has been painful for months and I began to think that I needed it treated. Recent events meant that I ignored it. I don’t like doctors. I always think they made my father worse than he was. I read of Bryan’s blog the other month that doctors are the biggest cause of death. I try to avoid them when I can. However my knee has been bothering me. I was ready to book an appointment when, the other day, I kneeled down in a bookshop and my knee went ‘pop’. It was agony for a few hours but, a day later, it was feeling better than it has done in months. Salvation, I thought, had come to my knee. It was restored.

End of tonight’s preface. So I get off the train tonight and begin the mile long trek home. It involves a dash across a dangerous road and them down a poorly lit path that runs beside a railway. It’s one of the town’s oldest and most familiar shortcuts and it’s used by anybody who travels by public transport. For some reason it’s also completely unlit, angled to about 30 degrees, and, in winter, covered in leaves. And tonight I managed to fall over. Not only fall but tumble. I’ve hurt both knees, which are bleeding and bruised, and cut my left hand in about a dozen places. I have photographs but they’re too much for this blog. Yet the odd thing is that I found myself lying in a ditch laughing.

Some people came out of the darkness to help pick me up. They must have thought it odd that I was laughing after such a heavy fall. I wanted to tell them about my year: my cracked laptop screen, my debut novel cancelled a month before publication, being forced to abandon writing to take an unrewarding job, my left knee damaged by a mime, and then my father’s aneurism, months of worry, his death, the funeral. Of course, I couldn’t tell them. All I could do was lie in a ditch filled with leaves and mud, laughing and bleeding in the dark. I figured they wouldn’t even begin to understand. I’m not even sure that I do.

The Pain Down Below -- A True Story of Celebrity Life

The office of the Richard&Judy Foundation (Northern Branch) sits mid-way down an otherwise undistinguished street in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Chinese District. We sit up on the first floor and our windows look out onto an alley where you will find the world’s smallest college (an office staffed by a woman with a moustache), one discarded trainer stuck on a pigeon encrusted ledge, a herbal tobacconists, and the rear doors of a Turkish restaurant. There’s rarely an hour in the day when the office isn’t heavy with the aroma of rich spices and fried animal carcasses, making it one of the few workplaces where even the non-smokers take regular breaks to go stand outside the building in order to catch themselves a breathe or two of ungreased air.

Such was the case this afternoon when the aromas became too much for me. I called a halt to work on ‘Eye of the Storm 8’ and I went downstairs to get beneath the cloud of slowly grilling donkey steaks and broiled mutton. You might think it an insignificant moment in my day. I did nothing more taxing than to walk up and down the pavement, occasionally shift the change in my pocket, brush back my mop, or jot a witty thought or two in my notebook. Nothing worthy of a blog post. That is, nothing until I shifted a particularly heavy handful of loose silver and felt a pain shoot across my groin. Locating it more exactly via Google Maps would put it at that point where my leg becomes something more special, to the left of the bald eagle, slightly to the front of my inner thigh, and right where a fifty pence piece was squeezed between a pair of humbugs. If there was such a thing, the spot would be on my forward facing buttock and it was in some exquisite agony of pain.

At first I feared rupture. It’s something I worry about all the time so I was well drilled in what to do. A quick inspection, looking for any swellings the size of snooker balls, and I realised that there was no red hiding behind my pink. I knew then that it was probably a torn groin muscle, the same injury I’ve seen footballers suffer many times. Just this morning, I read that Steven Gerrard has withdrawn from the England team complaining of the same thing. Only he hadn’t got his escaping from the stench of a lamb casserole.

I slowly made my way back to the office where news of my injury was received with little sympathy and a great deal of amusement. I slipped into the bathroom and from the toilet’s lonely cubicle called Judy on my mobile. She knows everything there is to know about muscle injuries having treated many a miniature pony for sprains and twisted leg ligaments. No sooner had I described the pain before Dr. Judy made her diagnosis.

‘I think you’ve thrown a bollock,’ she said.

I was struck dumb. Not with the thought that I might well have done myself a serious injury as much as shock at hearing Judy talk so openly about the male anatomy.

I calmed myself before I replied. ‘I don’t think I’ve thrown a bollock,’ I said. ‘I was hoping that you’d confirm that it’s a groin strain.’

‘Oh Richard! In the equestrian field, it’s known as throwing a bollock and I think that’s definitely what’s happened. You need to get yourself something cold to put on it. I suggest you get down the nearest supermarket and buy yourself a bag of frozen peas.’

And this, my kind, dear, considerate readers , is how I found myself venturing out into public without my disguise, hobbling through the centre of Manchester in search of the nearest Sainsburys.

It was a long walk as I took small, slow steps, and I’m still not sure how I made it. I must have been in a bad way because I was only in the supermarket’s freezer section about a minute before an assistant came up to me. I suppose it was obvious that I was in pain, grasping at the cold meat section and muttering curses at Ainsley Harriot’s face peering up at me from the pork sausages.

‘I’m after peas,’ I managed to say.

‘Certainly sir,’ she replied. ‘And what kind of peas do you want?’

‘In a bag,’ I gasped.

‘Yes, well, we sell lots of peas in bags...’

‘Frozen.’

‘We sell an excellent choice of peas. We have petits pois, sugar snap peas, marrowfats, garden peas, hand shelled peas, mange tout, processed peas, chick peas, chick peas in water, organic chick peas, mushy peas, split peas...’

‘Any of them,’ I said as my groin painfully went into spasm.

‘Well, unless sir explains what kind of peas he’s after...’

‘Look,’ I snapped. ‘I don’t give a fig what sort of peas they are. Can’t you see that I’ve thrown a bollock!?’

I suppose I cried this a little too loudly. I soon felt a security guard brushing up against my side.

‘What seems to be the trouble?’ asked the three hundred pounds of unstrained muscle.

‘Won’t you just get me a bag of peas?’ I pleaded.

‘I was asking him what sort of peas he wants,’ explained the assistant so far unwilling to give me assistance. ‘Then he started to talk dirty about... well, you know. About his testices.’

‘Testices!’ I laughed or cried, depending on your attitude towards tears rolling down a grown man’s face. ‘You mean testicles. And I just want frozen...’

It was an explanation too late. Say what you like about the lack of gentility in this day and age but I suppose it’s good to know that a man can’t start talking about these things in a frozen vegetable section of the local supermarket. With hindsight, it was wrong of me to say those things and I’m fully behind the hand that gripped my arm and dragged my body forward. Lagging somewhere behind my body were my legs, and then trailed my groin. Every inch of the march to the manager’s office was agony. And let me assure you that behind the bald eagle, there are plenty of Madeley inches to feel pain.

Five minutes later, I was sitting before the manager. Sweat was dripping from my forehead as I tried to sit comfortably with a heavily damaged groin/forward facing buttock.

‘Now look here,’ began the manager, ‘I won’t allow you to abuse my staff.’

I looked up. My feverish brow probably not adding to any favourable impression.

‘I am in agony,’ I said. ‘I just want something cold to put down my trousers.’ He gave me a look so I thought it best if I explained. ‘I’ve pulled my groin,’ I said and proceeded to describe the site of the injury, the character of the pain, and the frequency of the spasms.

He sucked his teeth. ‘Sounds like you’ve thrown a bollock,’ he said. ‘Best thing for you is a bag of peas.’ He patted my arm. I had found a fellow who understood my suffering. ‘Or even better, some large runner beans. They’ll last longer than peas. Long enough to get you home...’

Well they lasted a good time. Peas are good but beans are clearly better. I’m now lying in bed, trying not to move as I have a pack of Harrod’s Finest Frozen Broccoli on my lap. I also have another day’s work ahead of me and a groin that’s ready to pop at any moment. You want to know what it’s like being ‘A’ list celebrity. It’s no different to being run of the mill. It’s just that the frozen vegetables are better.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Another 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain -- No. 28: Ruth Maddoc

I returned home in the small hours to find a comment sitting waiting for me on my blog. ‘Why Ruth Maddoc?’ asks Mutley the Dog. My brows revealed no degree of surprise over my late night mug of Horlicks. They’d spent a day with people who wouldn’t stop asking me the very same question. My eyebrows had become blasé, you might say; indifferent to what was becoming known as ‘The Maddoc Question’.

My list of ‘Another 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain’ has certainly caused some debate in celebrity circles but nothing has worried the ‘A’ listers more than the supposed illogical inclusion of Ruth Maddoc. In many a person’s mind, the woman is an innocent and any accusations hurled her way are as unwarranted as a hammer attack on the late Mother Teresa. In my defence, I have no problem with Ruth Maddoc. The woman may well be a saint, a veritable Teresa of the Welsh Valleys, and I don’t blame her one bit for what’s happened to the nation. My real gripe is with ‘Gladys Pugh’, the character she played on ‘Hi De Hi’. It’s my belief that the nation lost its senses around the time that Gladys first appeared on our screens.

‘Hi De Hi’ was the comic equivalent of Bovril: loved by many, hated by me. Some might savour the idea of cow pureed into a thick paste but I find it as appealing as minced udder or roasted horn. And when it comes to BBC comedies, I think there’s nothing at all appealing about ‘Hi De Hi’. I’d rather chew on raw bullock than listen to Ted Bovis sing Elvis, Peggy the Chalet Maid jumble up her words, or Spike dress up in another of his ‘hilarious’ costumes. Yet each of these are petty dislikes compared to the deep moral indignation I feel towards Gladys Pugh. The country hasn’t been the same since she arrived on the scene. Constantly aroused and breathy with desperation, she was the amateur nymphomanic with hair so black and cropped that it looks like it’s been mined right from the Welsh coal seam. I never appreciated Lisa Stansfield until she rid herself of the Pugh crop and the glockenspiel has had a similar low place in my opinion since Gladys first wielded the hammer to chime out those infernal four notes. There’s no coincidence that I’ve not holidayed in Wales since the days of ‘Hi De Hi’. Every time I hear the Welsh accent, I also hear ‘hello campers’. I see the prim seriousness, the predator in yellow, fascistically sexual and indifferent to the cares and needs of others. Gladys Pugh was the nation’s favourite apprentice vulgarian and was so thoroughly modern.

Her obsession with sex – I’m tempted to call it ‘repression’ but it was hardly that – transmitted itself to and through the nation. It’s still with us, sitting like a herpes scab on our collective lip, becoming almost deviant in its assumption that we are driven only by the pheromone. Pugh was the catalyst of the new England arising from the Thatcherite dream of the autonomous individual, liberated from work by shares and owning their own home. Instead of a nation of Morris Minors with slightly aspirating exhausts, we became a nation of gaudy Jaguars, loudly throbbing and boastful of our torque. The people who laughed at Gladys Pugh were the same people who suddenly began talking about sexual functions over the garden fence. Is there anything as dangerous yet modern as sexual functions over a garden fence? But I say it’s not something to be encouraged, especially not if you’ve got a wide herbaceous border.

To counter the Pugh Complex was Jeffrey Fairbrother, the epitome of English sexuality. Shy, retiring, slightly at odds with women but not without an interest in other shapelier Yellowcoats, Fairbrother was very much the epitome of the England of the 1950s. Yet he barely lasted a few series before he was replaced. He was our one and last hope. His failure our own to withstand the crudity that has since overcome the nation. The crass manner in which Pugh chased him was tantamount to a call to arms to all who now go gadding about the streets, casting off their inhibitions and cornering any mate in a darkened bus shelter or lay-by.

‘Hi De Hi’ was the place where a nation learned to make love in a stationary cupboard. We’ve moved on, of course. Stationary cupboard or cupboards on the move: there’s nothing that people won’t do to satisfy the Pugh Complex. Gladys taught the nation to be fiercely desperate. She led the charge, breathing her frustration in the faces of the disinterested. Predatorial and wily, Gladys Pugh is the abandonment of poetry, metaphor, and veiled meaning. She is overt and present, as erotic as the odour of an armpit. She is sexuality today in all its prurient, scatological, oozing and ejaculatory abandon. Hi De Hi campers. Hi De Hi.