An old farmer friend of mine, who shall remain nameless other than to say he’s big in diary cows, rang me on the landline late last night. He caught me with a Cadbury’s chocolate finger stuck up one nostril as I tried to bite off its other end without using my hands. You might call my behaviour ‘odd’ but these are the challenges I sometimes set myself just to keep myself sane.
‘Madeley?’ I said, stuffing the remaining finger into my mouth.
‘Richard,’ said my farmer friend, ’I need a big favour.’
I sank back into my chair but not before taking the 500 page manuscript from the desk and putting it on the floor. As I set it down, it struck me, not for the first time, that the title, ‘Fry, Oddie, & Me’ sounds pretty convincing as a collection of my shorter essays and shorter writings, mainly culled from this blog. My agent has been onto me for weeks to get it printed out so she can begin hawking it around the bigger London publishers and procure me a bit of loose shilling for my pocket that had become increasingly prone to muttering to itself and sitting lonely in the corner.
‘Fire away, Desmond,’ I said, though Desmond is not his real name. ‘You know I owe you plenty of favours. What is it now? Want me to come and help you like last time and rub butter into your cows’ udders?’
‘No, no,’ said Demond. ‘Nothing like that. It’s to do with my youngest, Samantha. She’s just turned twenty three.’
‘You want me to come and rub butter into her udders then?’ I asked as I wiped chocolate from my nose.
I don’t think Desmond was too impressed with the light way I verbally fondled his daughter. However, he was obviously trying to keep on the good side of me and let my comment slip by like a well margarined teat.
‘Sam’s always wanted to get into journalism,’ he began. ‘She’s done her qualifications. Got her 2.2 from the University of Luton and she now fancies working for one of the big broadsheets. You know… Like The Guardian, or The Times. To be honest, Dick, if it came down to it she’d probably give The Telegraph a try. But that’s just it. I was wondering if you could pull a few strings and get her an “in”.’
‘An in?’ I repeated. ‘I don’t know what an “in” would look like. If I did have an “‘in”, I’d used the “in” myself to get myself “in”. I’m more prolific than Clarkson and with more opinions that Gill. I’m perfectly placed to attract a huge readership but even I can’t get in the front door.’
He sounded disappointed. ‘You can’t tell me that you haven’t got some strings you could pull. She’s pretty good at writing. Spells well, good punctuation, the lot. And she has a lively mind. Not the other day she noticed have few black umbrellas there are in the world. How observant is that?’
‘It’s clearly Pulitzer material,’ I agreed, ‘but print journalism is not a business for familiar favours. You don’t get into print just because you’re the son or daughter of an established name. You have to learn your craft by spending years if not decades working in local newspapers. Tell your daughter to start out at the bottom and by the time she’s fifty, she might earn her chance to flex her writing muscles with the big boys.’
You can tell when a chap’s disappointed but doesn’t want to show it. It’s all in the verbal ticks he displays when finding a reason to get off the line.
‘Oh, well, if that’s the way it is, mate,’ he said, ‘I don’t know why I bothered asking… Thanks for nothing.’
After I hung up, I surprised myself to discover that a pretty rotten mood had made itself at home in the room. Putting a flea into a fellow’s ear is not the Madeley way. Not when he considers the fellow a good friend. However the assumption that some people have about me just rubs me up the wrong way. Just because I’m famous, it doesn’t mean that I should be obliged to do every rum Harry a favour. Doors that are closed to me shouldn’t be opened for others just because I say so. Might as well hang a bloody sign around my neck reading: ‘“A” list media careers here, form an orderly queue at my right elbow’.
Anyway, I turned off the light to my office, with one small smile directed towards my finished manuscript, and I hopped it up the stairs towards warm bed and an even warmer Judy.
The warmer Judy was already sitting up in the warm bed, a notebook on her lap.
‘Shopping list?’ I asked as I dropped my trousers.
‘Synopsis,’ she replied.
‘For the shopping list? Surely it’s not that long, even for a New Year order.’
‘For my novel,’ she said.
I tried to give her one of my dignified stares. Hard to do when you’re standing in the middle of the room with your trousers around your ankles. However, I think I did a fine job of it. She seemed to shrink in the bed and pull the notebook towards her.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she snapped. ‘You’re just angry because you can’t get anybody to read your stuff.’
‘It is not stuff,’ I told her. ‘It’s clever social commentary disguised as lightweight comedy. Besides, what makes you think you’ll be any different?’
‘Of come on, Richard,’ she laughed. ‘We haven’t been running the country’s biggest book club without knowing something about books. I’ve already got a plot and plenty of characters. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to sit down at the computer and write my first chapter. How difficult can it be?’
I stepped out of my trousers and picked them up. A snap of the wrists and they were folded and draped over the back of the chair and I set to unbuttoning my shirt.
‘Give me the outline,’ I said. ‘Let’s see what you have.’
She cleared her throat and looked at her pad.
‘Justine Pontleby is the 22 year old daughter of well known celebrity chef Gordon Pontleby. Trading on her father’s fame, she lands a top job in the world of afternoon TV.’
‘Impossible,’ I said. ‘Could never happen. A young sniff of a girl like that would never get a break in TV. She’d have to work years in regional TV or radio before she’d even get a chance of the big time.’
Judy just peered over her half-glasses before she continued.
‘She meets debonair Richard Smiley, a charming if slightly psychotic host of a popular TV talk show. Smiley has dark secrets involving an addiction to sniffing Toilet Duck. When he is involved in the accidental maiming of the show’s weatherwoman, Justine is forced to help cover up the crime…’
I shook my head as my shirt fell away. Just before it hit the floor, I flicked my leg and the shirt came flying back over my head. I caught it and folded it in a single move before I turned my attention to my socks.
‘The thing is, Judy,’ I said as I bounced on the edge of the bed. ‘You have a plot but it’s unbelievable. A man as crazy as this Smiley character would never get his own show.’
‘He hosts it with his sister,’ said Judy.
‘Again, that’s very unlikely,’ I replied as I rolled up my socks and threw them on the chair.
Down to my underpants, I jumped up and strode out to the mirror to run through my five minute Tai Chi exercise I do before bed every night. I like to be centred before I sleep.
‘Don’t you want to hear the rest?’ asked Judy as I began to fight imaginary foes in slow motion.
‘To be honest, Judy, I don’t. It seems to be yet another of these unbelievable stories about the corrupt world of the London based media. I just wish you could tell it how it really is, with the honourable people who work long hours on quality programming before returning home at night feeling totally rewarded with their lives. Instead, I suppose it will be nothing but tales of sex, drugs, and stale bread rolls in the Green Room.’
She closed her notes.
‘I already have an agent who is interested in representing me,’ she said.
I was in the deep squat of the tiger stance as she said this. I felt my muscles tighten. ‘An agent?’
‘Felicity R––,’ she replied.
I looked at her blankly.
‘You know. She’s the daughter of old Reggie.’
‘Little Felicity? She’s a literary agent now?’
‘Oh, come on Richard. Don’t tell me you don’t remember Reggie asking us to put a word in.’
‘I don’t remember putting any words in anywhere,’ I replied, feeling so small squatting there in my red and yellow underpants.
‘Of course you didn’t. But I did.’
‘You did?’ I stood up and heard a bone in my back go acoustic. ‘You can do that? You can put words in?’
Judy stretched a hand towards the light. ‘Not for anybody,’ she said with a smile. The room went dark. ‘Goodnight Richard.’