Look up the name ‘Richard Bartholomew Madeley’ in Who’s Who and you’ll notice that, in their great wisdom, the editors have added the word ‘sharp’ after my list of distinguishing characteristics. It’s there for a reason, less to do with the fact that I’m a pretty natty dresser than the renown of my vastly superior mind. Very few things escape my notice. Such as when Judy waddled past me this morning making the sound of a duck.
Straight away I thought that here was something a touch unusual. Normally when I appear around ten thirty, Judy welcomes me with some chirpy comment about my choice of multi-hued shirt sure to strobe for the cameras. There may be small talk about on the morning’s big news events or gossip she’s heard while chatting through the back fence with Mrs. Ronnie Corbett. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a rare morning when she waddles past me, and doing so while making the sound of a duck has never been part of our morning routine.
Sharp though he undoubtedly is, Madeley has not won Elle Magazine’s ‘Top Husband’ award for five years running without good cause. There was no way I was going to question my lady wife’s behaviour. One of the first things you learn when marrying strong minded, intelligent women is never to question their actions. What might look like ‘A’ list Channel 4 talent acting like a duck could well be a yogic meditation technique for giving up butter pastries. It’s why, conscientious if not slightly bemused, I followed Judy as she made a circuit of the living room, walked through into the dining room, and followed a path through the house that ended by the swimming pool. Only then did I intervene. I became concerned that she was about to throw herself in a dive for freshwater mullet so I grabbed her by the shoulders and marched her back into the dining room.
‘Come on Judy,’ I said giving her a mild shake as I sat her on a chair. ‘What’s wrong girl? Talk to Madeley. Tell him what’s wrong.’
She stared at me, glassy eyed. I’d never seen her like that. Well, perhaps once when we were interviewing Les Dennis but, quite frankly, that’s because he can’t go five minutes without mentioning his love of Blackpool.
‘Is it something I’ve done or said?’ I asked as Judy failed to respond. ‘Have I forgotten an anniversary? It’s not your birthday? It’s your birthday, isn’t it? I knew that… And you know that I’ve left your present at the studio...’
‘Quack,’ replied Judy. It clearly wasn’t her birthday.
Confused, I sat myself on the next dining chair and held her hand as I began to consider what could have caused such strange behaviour in a normally well adjusted woman in her early forties. That’s when the neurons controlling my raging paranoid gave both barrels to my frontal lobe.
‘Beadle’, I muttered darkly and I was straight down onto my hands and knees as I began to search for hidden cameras and microphones.
Judy and I have had a long standing agreement that we’d only invite Jeremy Beadle into our home if he were destitute and the cold winds of a frozen Hell were making it hard for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to find their way to Armageddon. However, I did wonder if the end of the Channel 4 contract had encouraged my darling wife to do something rash. TV talent reduced to duck-form would be precisely the sort of thing that a practical joker would find funny. That’s why I promised myself that I would soon share my own joke with Beadle, swinging a length of lead piping at his kneecaps. Unfortunately, a five minute search proved that there were no cameras and no Beadle. When I got to the front door, there wasn’t even sign of either one of his kneecaps parked in a van and wearing a fake perm and sunglasses and ready to pounce
Forlorn and still confused, I walked back to the dining room.
Judy had disappeared again.
I caught her by the swimming pool. This time she was preparing to wade; flapping her wings and giving full throat to a duck call. I had to forcibly drag her back into the dining room and got a wing around the ear for my trouble.
‘Now isn’t that better?’ I asked her a few minutes later as I stood up and examined the neat way I’d knotted my belt around the arm of the chair and Judy’s wrist. It would prevent Judy’s unseasonable migration while I went and hunted down some help.
A few dozen steps and a landing or two later led me to the sound of Wagner breaking down the door to the spare bedroom. I didn’t bother knocking.
‘Stephen,’ I said bursting in on Fry who was lying on his bed and waving his good arm to the music. ‘I need your help. It’s Judy. She seems to think that she’s a duck.’
The Great Man put aside his pipe which he’d been using as a baton and eased himself to his feet before he turned off the iPod connected to a pair of 2500W speakers.
‘Show me where she is,’ he said, his voice as rigid with concern as his arm with thick with plaster. ‘A duck you say? That doesn’t sound like Judy at all.’
Judy was still sitting glassy eyed in the dining room when I returned.
‘How long has the poor woman been like this?’ asked Stephen, kneeling by her side. He did what all medical professionals do when faced with a woman in a trance: he waved his hand before her eyes and began to make slight ‘whooping’ noises.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘She walked past me in the hall and said “quack”. It’s been more of the same since then…’
‘Think carefully, Dick. Did she make any other signs that would indicate that she thought herself a duck and not a goose, a swan, or some other migratory water fowl?’
‘I really can’t say,’ I said. ‘Should I ring Bill Oddie? He might be able to communicate with her.’
Stephen sat back. ‘I think you should,’ he said, now sounding just as bemused as I by the mystery.
The ping of Bill’s bicycle bell eased our worries a few minutes later. The situation had calmed somewhat after we’d untied Judy and helped her into the living room. There, we’d placed her on a chair beside the sky blue curtains. That seemed to relax her and she’d begun to make guttural sounds in a low voice as she pecked at the green spots on the curtain. Leaving Stephen to look after her, I went to greet Bill at the front door.
‘A very odd thing,’ said Bill as he stepped into the hall. ‘I was locking my bike to your drainpipe when I head the unmistakable cry of the Greater Lobed Winkle Picker.’
‘And what’s odd about that?’ I asked.
A noise like a deflating crisp packet emerged from his lips. ‘They’re migratory! They shouldn’t be back from North Africa until early May.’
That’s when I did the sums and produced 4 from a nifty combination of 2s. In other words, I walked him into the living room and introduced him to the only Greater Lobed Winkle Picker not to be sporting a winter tan.
‘How long’s she been like this?’ asked Bill as he took a seat by her side.
‘Perhaps an hour. Stephen thinks you might be able to communicate with her.’
He laughed as he adjusted his glasses. He then bent down and checked Judy’s ankles.
‘My dear man,’ said Stephen. ‘What on earth do you think you are doing?’
‘Checking to see if she’d been ringed,’ explained Bill. ‘First page of the RSPB guide to wild birds: always check to see if they’ve been ringed…’
I was speechless.
‘I fear that she’s beyond Bill’s help,’ said Stephen, looking at me gravely. ‘I believe that our only hope of solving this mystery is if we now retrace Judy’s steps.’
‘She was in the hall when I first saw her,’ I said, hoping that might mean something.
‘Then to the hall we must go.’
This time I left Judy in the care of Bill, who had begun his attempts to communicate by making throaty clucks of his own. Stephen and I began to search the other rooms leading to the hall.
‘Ah ha!’ said Stephen, a few minutes later. He was kneeling on the kitchen floor and was retrieving a small CD player that had been lying beneath the kitchen table with a pair of headphones still attached. ‘The plot thickens!’ He handed the player to me and I ejected the disk which I was surprised to find had no label.
‘What CD could do that to a woman?’ mused Stephen as he took it from me and began to turn it over in his hands.
‘I don’t know. Perhaps James Blunt. I’ve always said that he could cause serious brain trauma.’
‘Oh, the dear woman,’ muttered Stephen as he examined the CD in an angled light. ‘I believe this isn’t James Blunt at all. In fact, I think she has been the victim of a terrible practical joke. If I’m not mistaken, this CD has exactly the same arrangement of pits as an unlicensed audio disc that I thought had been destroyed many years ago.’
‘You can see that just by looking at it?’ I asked.
I didn’t want to argue eyesight. ‘So what does it mean?’
‘It means, my dear Richard, that your wife has been hypnotized.’
‘That’s not possible!’ I scoffed.
He held out the CD player. ‘If you doubt me, return the disc from whence it came and put on the headphones.’
No Madeley has ever let a challenge go unmet. I did exactly as Stephen told me and he pressed the play button.
Even now, it’s hard to remember what happened. I recollect soothing music and a voice I thought I could recognise. Then my eyes felt heavy as I began to imagine myself swimming on a pond, the cool water lapping at my belly and the fish dipping beneath my webbed toes. And then I was falling. At this point I believe Stephen slapped me across the face. I wouldn’t have minded except he used his arm that was in plaster.
I picked myself up from the other side of the room.
‘That didn’t go as planned,’ he said as he came to my side. ‘But at least you didn’t go under.’
‘Under?’ I repeated, as I straightened my jaw. ‘What kind of magic was that?’
‘That,’ said Stephen, removing the CD, ‘is the work of Dr. Paul McKenna, Ph,D.’
‘Not the man world famous for being a quick and successful litigant in many trials involving people making slanderous remarks against his trade of hypnotist and his professional qualifications?’
‘The very same. You should take great care when mentioning Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D.’s name. Even the wildest example of hastily written satire found on the internet might cause Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D to sue.’
‘But what does this mean for Judy?’
He smiled and placed his hand on my shoulder. ‘Fret not, Dick. I can explain all. You see, these recordings were made in the 1980s at the height of stage hypnotism. They were party favourites among a certain media set. I attended many parties where the fabled Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. tapes were played to unsuspecting victims. They were outlawed in the 1990s and Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. has rightly condemned their use. Many claim that these tapes weren’t even recorded by Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. but some other man called Paul McKenna. Others just say that this is a story put out by sad, tired old men who fear prosecution by the King of Litigation himself.’
‘The King of Litigation? You mean Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D.?’
‘The very same…’
‘And what kind of men would spread rumours like that?’ I asked.
‘Sad men,’ said Stephen. ‘The sort of men who sit at their computers late at night and Google their own name.’
‘But what of Judy? Can we stop her from thinking she a duck.’
‘Of course,’ promised Stephen. ‘I can deprogramme her now that I know the cause for her behaviour.’
We returned to the living room where we found Bill flushing. ‘I think I’ve done it,’ he said. ‘I’ve managed to communicate with Judy.’
‘Wonderful,’ I said, patting him on his back. ‘And what did she say?’
He blushed a deeper shade of Oddie. ‘Well, it might have made the mating call of the male Greater Lobed Winker Picker. I don’t think she was interested.’
Not long after, the sound of Bill’s bicycle bell was heard pinging down the drive as he legs peddled furiously away with a warning in his ear about chatting up a man's wife. Stephen, meanwhile, began his hour long vigil with Judy, slowly whispering to her, until finally, just before noon, her eyes cleared and she looked between the two of us.
‘Richard,’ she said with a human blink. ‘I hope you don’t think you’re wearing that shirt on the show today. You know it will strobe.’
‘Good morning, Judy,’ I said and gave her a kiss on her cheek. ‘I’ll go and change.’
‘You better,’ she said. ‘Quack.’
I looked at Stephen.
He shrugged. ‘Nobody will notice,’ he promised.
Tune in at five to see if that’s true.