A snarling wind whipped across Heathrow’s runways and caught a tearful me on the mezzanine where I was stood, frantically waving towards the last glint of light leaving my life. At my side was Judy, eating a hot dog, and as Stephen Fry’s plane took off, she muttered something darkly about my devotion to the person I’ve come to know simply as ‘the Great Man’.
‘I suppose this will turn into another of those blog posts where you bore people silly with your attempts at wit,’ she said as the plane tipped skywards.
‘It will be a post like… whatever…’ I replied, adopting the vernacular of the slightly lost and bewildered.
‘Now don’t you get American on my arse,’ snapped Judy. ‘You know this is for the best.’
‘For the best?’ I gagged as the wind tried to shove the words back down my throat. ‘You’re just glad to see Stephen gone from my life because a few Americans accused me of banging some joke into the ground. What do Americans know about comedy?’
She wiped mustard from his cheek. ‘Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Frasier, Cheers…’ began Judy, throwing back my own words at me.
I gave her a rueful look. ‘I’ll show you,’ I said. ‘I’ll write a blog post that pushes the envelope of what it means to be postmodern by being utterly self-referential and full of wry allusions to contemporary British culture.’
‘Your Wogan is slipping,’ said Judy between mouthfuls of dog.
So it was. I readjusted my wig to the angle of the full sexual come-on for which I’m so well known and as Stephen’s jet disappeared behind a cloud, I turned my back on him. I would live the next part of my life as a more handsome version of a man called Bertie without his Jeeves.
When I got home, my mind soon turned to the question of what we were to do with the spare room. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the warbling of a rich baritone singing Wagner up there every morning. Many a night I would quietly slip from my bed and go and play Scrabble with the Great Man. Even now, as I sit and write in my office, I’m tempted to pull my chair to the window where I’d helped transcribe the three novels you’ll see published under the Fry name in the coming months.
It was an hour after we’d got home that the aroma of pipe tobacco excited my nose to the point where I could no longer concentrate on my writing. I climbed up to the spare room and found Judy lying on the bed smoking her pipe.
‘I thought you’d given that up,’ I said.
‘I’ve got the taste for it again,’ she said as she flicked through a magazine that Stephen had left behind.
‘I know the feeling,’ I admitted, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking the magazine from her hands. ‘Cape Wearers Monthly... He’s promised me a subscription and a starter’s cape when he gets back. Admit it, Judy. We're both going to miss him terribly.’
‘That may be so,’ she replied, ‘but I think you should forget all about Stephen and pay as much attention to some of your other friends. I've not heard you once mention finding out how Bill's doing after his operation.’
I dropped Cape Wearers Monthly as if it were advocating the return of the nylon cagoule.
‘Oddie’s had an operation?’
The briar bowl connected to Judy’s lips flared once before she let it slip into her hand. ‘You mean you don’t know?’ she asked, using the pipe’s stem to punctuate her words. She shook her head sadly. ‘This is what happens when you devote yourself so wholly to one friend.’
‘Yes, yes,’ I snapped, grabbing her free hand. ‘But tell me… What’s up with Bill?’
‘Don't you know? He’s been speared by an errant heron,’ she said and puffed again on the briar.
‘That terrible news…’
‘It is, and I’m glad to see that you’re shocked. Perhaps now you’ll think of visiting him…’
‘Of course, I will,’ I said and immediately stood up with that purpose in mind.
It was an anxious journey to Bill Oddie’s home, which is found not two miles from my own doorstep. To describe it as a hole in the ground is to miss the essentially Oddieness of the building. It’s basic architectural form is the same as a hole dug into the side of a green hill. It wasn’t a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of cigarette ends and the smell of booze. Not even a dry, bare, BBC hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to watch. This was an Oddie-hole, and that means comfort. A completely round door was set in the side of the hill. Painted bright blue, it was distinguished by a large brass knocker in the shape of an egret’s bill.
I knocked three times before I heard the sound of a shuffling approach.
‘Richard,’ said Oddie, peering up at me as he came out on the step. He was clearly hobbling and using a small walking stick at his side. ‘You’ve come… I knew you’d come!’
‘I didn’t hear about your misfortune until this morning,’ I said, scruffing him around the collar.
He pawed me to enter and I ducked under the low doorway to find myself in a spacious front hall, roughly barrel shaped. The old Goodies three-seater trandem forming a centrepiece down the middle of the room and to one side was a row of Wellington books that snaked off into an adjoining room.
‘Come on through,’ said Bill. ‘The family’s out but I can put a pot on the fire.’
‘I don’t want to put you to any trouble,’ I said as he led me into a study no more than a nest of books, papers, and other ignitables, all in close proximity to a fireplace. On the wall were photographs of BBC celebrities including signed pictures of the two other Goodies. Pride of place had been given to a large photograph of Katie Humble with a dormouse on her head and a large raccoon in her arms.
‘I understand that you were skewered by an errant heron,’ I said as I took a seat by the fire.
Bill winced as he clambered up into his armchair. ‘I’ve never suffered a wounding like it,’ he replied. ‘I was filming a segment for the next series of SpringWatch when Simon King mentioned that he’d left the duck call in the van. I stood up just as a heron was coming in for a landing. It flew straight into me and went right through my leg.’
‘Ghastly,’ I surmised.
‘Indeed it was, Dick. You can imagine that the heron was not best pleased. There was blood everywhere. I’ve still not got any mobility back in the leg and I’m quite the strain on my poor family. I don’t know how they cope with me as useless as this…’
‘It all sounds simply terrible,’ I said and then had one of those rare moments when the left and right parts of my brain work in complete harmony. ‘Do you know what, Bill? You should come and stay with Judy and me. We have a spare room.’
‘I thought Stephen was with you.’
‘He’s gone off to tour America in his taxi,’ I explained. ‘He won’t be back for weeks.’
‘I couldn’t impose,’ said Bill, blushing slightly as the offer clearly appealed to him.
‘But it would be a pleasure,’ I replied. ‘I could help you with your writing and in the evening we can relax together and I can sit with you and watch you smoke your pipe.’
‘I don’t smoke a pipe,’ said Bill.
‘No, no, Bill,’ I carried on. ‘This sounds like an excellent plan.’ I smiled and looked at my friend. ‘I don’t suppose you play Scrabble, do you?’