Sunday, 30 March 2008

Towing Caravans With Elberry

I should tell you that I once met Elberry. I have pressed the man's flesh. I have looked into his eyes over a table littered with coffee cups, Thornton's fudge, and unsheathed knives.

It was a strange day when I'd made the long journey up to Manchester to meet that keg of pressurised intellect I'd come to know via the comments he'd left at Thought Experiments. I'd wanted to introduce him to the nation via the teatime show but I soon realised that Elberry is not for a family audience. I was frightened of the man as soon as he approached me outside W.H. Smiths' booth on Victoria Station and asked me if I knew if the trains running to Nottingham stopped at Crewe. It had slipped my mind that this was meant to my coded way of recognising him. Instead, I had tried to get away from this apparent madman and began to make frantic signals to the nearest policeman. However, once the confusion was resolved and handcuffs removed from Elberry's wrists, I headed off into the city with a man whose self-professed aim of the day was to buy himself a new copy of Dante. He explained to me that his old edition had fallen to pieces through overuse.

I ask you now: Is there any way to put a man more on edge than by admitting that you've worn out your copy of The Divine Comedy? Pretty soon it became apparent that Elberry was the most impressive example of what he, himself, describes as the condition of so many office temps: the man or woman of genius 'being used to tow caravans'. He could quote poetry that I'd read and long-since forgotten. He knew foreign languages, which have always been my weakness and the source of much of my own envy. More impressive was the fact that he was unapologetically Elberry. He lacked fear whereas I am nothing but fear. His blog provokes others with his strong viewpoints and pictures of naked flesh, there as bait to those people who are simply not Elberry. In the living flesh, he is no different.

My most embarrassing moment was when I mentioned how I questioned my devotion to a certain brand of notebook. Not having ever had this conversation with a human being before, I mispronounced the name. I still don't know why I thought it was 'moleskin' but Elberry was the first person to put me right. 'I believe it's Moleskine,' he said in what I can only presume was the syllable perfect pronunciation for whatever language it was he was speaking. Ever since that moment, a few hundred yards outside the main city branch of Waterstones and on the corner of the square dominated by The Royal Exchange Theatre, I've thought of Elberry whenever I pick up my 'moleskin' notebook. That one little event has become evidence to me of the distance that lies between my ambitions and my failures, the kind of brain I've always wanted and the sort of brain I actually have.

After a couple of exhausting hours in which my meagre intellect retreated before his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of literature, I began the long trip home, wondering what to make of the man who had variously left me feeling full of admiration, confusion, despair, and just a little fear. Elberry remained something of a mirror to me. Only, more recently, I have become more of a mirror to Elberry.

I too have moved into the world of the office temp, though I lack the genius to move even a caravan. Without the powers to both write and work, I have been forced to be far too casual with this blog, a project that has always given me great satisfaction. Not only that, I have produced next to nothing. A few pages of a woeful sit-com and a few blog posts are the product of six weeks writing. I had previously written a novel in that time. Yet it has proved to me that the writer's life sits at odds with those of the office worker. To me, the two things are mutually exclusive.

Bloggers exist on the border between the professional and the amateur. A rare few make a living doing what others aspire towards. The majority of us make less than nothing and are lucky to make even that. Yet a cherished few symbolise the woeful gulf that exists between productivity and reward. Despite mundane office chores, they still live a live that isn't compromised by mental exhaustion, commuting, or the drudge of earning a wage. Whatever their achievement, whether it is being deep, difficult, intractable, witty, wise, gentle, or homely, they remain loyal to themselves.

This brief ramble was prompted by an email from Elberry this morning. It made me realise that I'm finally beginning to understand the forces that have moulded the man. He thinks in terms of epochs but lives in a world of Formica and open plan workspaces. In private, he sends the most supportive emails, devoid of all the blood, mucus, and bile. He communicates with me when I'm feeling down and for this I just wanted to thank him. It's as if he fully understands how the prolonged silence of another man who lives to write is really a cry for help.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Open Orifice

I write out of sheer exhaustion and an unnerving desire to delay my bed. It is strange that when I'm at the peak of mental and physical exhaustion, I also find myself wanting to leave a mark on my blog.

As to that mark: it's merely to say that I'm still up here in the land where all vowels are nasal and the streets lined with trams. Another day in Manchester was spent learning the intricacies of 'Master Documents' within Open Office. It's hard to truly describe the insights this work provides other than to warn you to never unlink subdocuments from within another subdocument. Experience has taught me the perils of being so free and easy with the unlink button. My PC crashed for the fourth time in as many minutes today and a frown developed on my CreaseFree brow.

On a more positive note, I have been extremely rash in the face of my imminent pay cheque and squandered too much money on a new MP3 player with the intention of going the Bluetooth route with a pair of headphones. I spend most of my time between 6.40 and 8AM trying to untangle myself from the binding of my headphone cord as I try to extract train tickets from wallets. I dream of a future which is cord free. I also see myself scowling through the streets, my blue reefer jacket turned up around my ears as I listen to Serge Gainsbourg amid the delights of Manchester's Chinatown. The MP3 player is Korean. In addition to having a taste for dog, it also fits snugly into my pocket and is currently adorned with a nice full colour picture of Vanessa Feltz. The touch screen feels all the more touchy when there's three inches of cleevage on show. It also contains have a dozen episodes of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' which provide something of an antidote to Open Office, whose manuals are rather light on laughs.

And that, I think, is that. I don't know what's brought me to post this other than to apologise (again) for my silence and for my inability to reply to your comments, which continue to give me the only shred of consolation in these trying days. I occasionally manage to use my laptop in my daily tasks and your emails/comments pop up in the corner of the screen. I sneak a glance that way and I feel refreshed.

As for the College of Comedy: I've not been feeling at all funny and for the last week I've been suffering a terrible block. Tuesday I managed to write a few words which might develop into something on Friday when the week's labours are at an end. Not now, I'm now retiring to bed. I have to be up again in half an hour... Or it feels that way.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Happy Easter from Manchester

I'm accessing the blog via a mid-Victorian steam powered laptop in a hotel in the heart of Manchester. I'm 'up north' and far from a good frame of mind as business continues to intrude into my life. However, I couldn't let this day pass by without re-emerging from my silence to wish you all a happy Easter. I've bought Judy a large mass of cocoa solids shaped like an egg and I trust that you all got the same from your own nearest and dearest. Judy bought me a box of Black Magic given she knows that I love dark chocolate and have a mild egg phobia.

I also wanted to say that I'm still around but struggling to find inspiration as I continue to work on 'Eye of the Storm 2'.

Monday, 17 March 2008

No Bean

It's a flying visit. Tonight I made the unfortunate mistake of thinking I could guarantee a night of laughter by watching 'Mr. Bean's Holiday'. I'm now hastily arranging a late night showing of Jacques Tati's 'Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot' in an attempt to remind myself of the kind of film I wanted to sit down and enjoy.

The problem with Bean, and I think this applies to the TV series as well as to the films, is that it's not true to its concept. I grew up watching great (and relatively recent) silent comedies such as Eric Sykes' 'The Plank'. My admiration for Sykes never diminishes and, in my mind, he remains Britain's most undervalued comic great. One of my favourites (though not a Sykes film) was 'A Home of Your Own', which ended with an inept stone mason inscribing a statue's plaque with the immortal words: 'this erection was made possible by pubic response'.

In comparison, Mr. Bean always disappoints me. Bean's failure is that he's not really silent. Because he inhabits the normal world, his own antics make him appear simply odd, if not seriously disturbed. This latest film version is terribly low on inspiration. The gags are weak, the script horribly sentimental, and the plot non-existent. Worst of all, there's an underlying wish to be seen to be doing something better than the usual prat falls. When Steven Martin uses Charles Trenet's classic 'La Mar' in 'L.A. Story', it perfectly captured the tone of the film as magic edged out reality. Here, the song is overused and the end of the film is a mess of sentiment, absurdity, and meaningfulness. It makes me so miserable to see another bad British film. I really hated it and it is now a Frenchman's job to cheer me up. I have no doubt that he will.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Devil and Jeremy Clarkson

Damn me for these feelings of inadequacy. If you caught the show last night, you might have wondered what was wrong with the man in the cream coloured slacks and the generously unbuttoned shirt. Well, I'd had enough of this crazy monstrosity of a life I've been living for this last month. A straight G&T after yesterday's show set me straight; almost as much as all your generous comments left at this blog over the course of the past few days. Stiffened with so much resolve, it would be right to call me 'lumber' as I marched out of the studio and hailed a taxi to take me to BBC headquarters.

The intention was to set this Michael Jacob character straight on a few things and, especially, the terms and conditions to his 'College of Comedy' initiative. I wanted to know outright if a man with a blog of over 100,000 words could still consider himself a beginner in the world of writing comedy. And even if this blog doesn't count because, as I'm sure you'll agree, it's got less to do with comedy and more to do with spiritual enlightenment like some latter-day religious text, then surely my impression of Ali G must rate as one of British comedy's most celebrated moments of recent years. There is a reason that I co-host the highest-rated husband-and-wife talk show in Channel 4's 5pm slot and it has nothing to do with my immaculate profile and crease-free brow.

Looking back, I know I should have quit the taxi before the driver started to steer me the long way around Shepherd's Bush. Drink and I rarely mix. Add a Shepherd's Bush into the mix and there was bound to be trouble, if not the occasional sexual innuendo involving sheep and clippers. As it was, the fatal imbalance of gin over tonic meant that I was walking straight into an ambush. It had slipped my mind that after my previous spat with the BBC, Corporation executives had insisted that my picture be posted in the little booths that stand guard outside the car park.

And so it was that no sooner had I stepped from the taxi and begun to explain to the guard about the unfair rules of the 'College of Comedy', he had stunned me with his BBC issue Taser and I was on the ground doing the Dance of the 10,000 Volts. He spent the next five minutes trying to extract Channel 4 secrets from me. Naturally, I told him everything he wanted to know but I never really had much choice.

I hope you're never hit by a stun gun. No, I really mean that. I wouldn't want to see it. Even if it was on YouTube and no matter how funny your spasms. The two needles hit me blow the waistline so the pain was more intense once the current started to flow. I doubt if I'll ever get my hair to lie flat down there again.

However, to cut a long story short (much as I've been forced to do with my hair), it was only when a large black Bentley drew up at the gate that the guard stopped torturing me.

The car's window wound down to the whirr of electronic trickery and a face emerged that it was hard not to recognise.

'Is that you Dick?' said Jeremy Clarkson, a glass of champagne in one hand and a copy of Exchange and Mart in the other.

I looked up at him from the gutter. In lieu of the 10,000 volts, the guard had placed his foot on my throat.

'You know this gentleman, sir?' asked the guard.

'Of course,' replied Jeremy. 'This is the man who taught me everything I know about Tunisia. The question is what he's doing beneath your foot.'

'I'm trying to get into the BBC,' I gasped.

'And I've been trying to get out for years,' said Jeremy in turn, 'but they never let me go. They made me sign my contract with blood. Oh, they promised me that I'd have seven years of good luck and become the richest man in the country, but I ask you, Dick, at what cost? What has it done to my soul?'

'What indeed?' I asked and gestured towards the length of shin that was still directing a black shoe toward my windpipe.

'Ah, let him up, will you?' asked Clarkson to the guard, who doffed his cap before he took his foot from my throat.

'Thanks,' I grumbled as I stood up and dusted myself down.

'So, are you coming in?' asked Jeremy.

I looked towards Television Centre. My instinct was to run but I still had business with Aunty Beeb and a Clarkson already mildly greased with liquor and cheaply priced auto parts makes for the perfect companion when setting out to put the world to rights. Ten minutes later, we were walking through the bowels of Television Centre, searching for the famous 'BBC Comedy Unit'.

'I'm not so sure it has a comedy department,' said Jeremy after we'd emerged from the dozenth dusty room full of props. Jeremy had commandeered an Admiral's hat from an old prop basket and, to his great delight, it fitted him perfectly.

'Of course the BBC have a comedy department,' I replied. 'There must be a room in here where we can find the likes of Armando Iannucci, Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais, not to mention David Nobbs and those comedy Gods known in their human form as Galton and Simpson.'

Jeremy opened another door and peered into the darkness.

'At this rate, we're only likely to find by Jimmy Perry and David Croft,' he said and then brightened at a devilish thought. 'Perhaps we might stumble across the people who write Armstrong and Miller.'

'I sincerely hope not,' I replied as I checked behind a large cut-out of Ricky Tomlinson's nose. 'I've had enough trouble with one chimpanzee in my life. I'd hate to get between an infinite number of them fighting over a single typewriter with a dodgy ribbon.'

Another door and another grimace appeared on Clarkson's face.

'Oh, just the production unit for Little Miss Jocelyn,' he said as he quickly shut the door on the sound of a looped laughter track.

I too fed my face the look of a man not happy with his place in the world. 'In that case, we're clearly heading in the wrong direction,' I said. 'Comedy must be in the other direction.'

After another half hour's search, we finally tracked down the BBC Comedy Unit. The portacabin was stuck behind the Terry Wogan Hydrotherapy Annex, right at the back of the BBC lot where they one day plan to built the Bruce Forsyth mausoleum. The place was in darkness when we found it and though I had lost all hope of speaking to somebody in authority, Jeremy insisted on banging on the door.

A moment later, a light came on.

'See,' said Jeremy. 'BBC comedy talent never rests!'

Mine was not a prophesy worthy of Nostradamus when I told him that I thought that he'd spoken too soon. The door opened and a small bald fat man appeared on the step. He was wearing small horns on his head but otherwise looked like we'd just woken him. Perhaps it was the horns that distracted me from immediately recognising Matt Lucas. We'd once done some charity work together but I wondered if he remembered me.

'You can't come in,' he said, giving Jeremy one of his dark looks. 'This is our hut. You can bugger back off to Top Gear.'

'Typical,' muttered Jeremy. 'Another one that's bought into the seven year contract.'

'I'm here to talk to somebody about comedy,' I replied, hoping that he would have forgotten about all the bad blood that once flowed between us. 'Is there somebody in charge?'

'Well there's only me and you're not coming in. Who do you think you are? The Dark Lord himself?'

A shiver ran up my spine but Jeremy patted my shoulder. 'Don't worry, he means Ricky Gervais,' he said.

'I should hope not I'm not Ricky Gervais,' I replied with a smile. 'I'm Dick Madeley.'

'Madeley?' Lucas peered at me and then recognition flared. 'Oh, it's you! You once said that I wasn't funny.'

'And I stand by that,' I answered firmly. 'I said that your brand of infantile comedy was as poorly written as it is performed and that it would never find an audience. I also said that you'd be condemned to satellite TV for the rest of your miserable career.'

He smiled and tapped the sign on the portacabin door.

'BBC Comedy Unit,' he said before he quietly closed it on me and my hopes for comedic stardom.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Sans Titre

Writing begins with writing.

It's a rather obvious observation for a Friday morning but I always find it surprising how accurate it can be. I often sit here for a while, wondering if I really want to write anything for the blog, but then the simple act of putting fingers on keys inspires me and I find a few words and I'm off...

The week has been another I've had to abandon (despite the fact that I've enhanced my reputation as the nation's sexiest male [Hattip to Graham]). I haven't seen Bill Oddie in days and the messages coming from the Fry wagon-train have dried up. The problem is that I've also become rather preoccupied by annoyances in the office in which we're editing 'Eye of the Storm 2'. As you know, I'm a man of many dislikes but few are as deep as my loathing for bad art.

My recent lack of energy, my mood swings, and my general inability to function have had one identifiable cause: the art that's used to fill the blank spaces in the nation's office blocks. I spend my days staring at a ghastly picture by Wassily Kandinsky. It's all Modernist angst, twisted shapes and distorted lines, mass produced by some firm who clearly believe that a bit of nice typography beneath the print makes 'Sans Titre' a somehow more meaningful. I'm considering making a legal challenge to the building's management about the print, except I'd find it embarrassing to explain why I dislike it so much. How do you politely tell people that a set of male genitals I can see in the upper half of the picture put me off my lunch? The fact that Chip Dale is apparently back and wriggling his way around North Wales suggests to me that I'm one of the few men with a sense of propriety left in the world. I'm telling you that you're all mad!

The paintings in the corridor are no better. Blotchy monstrosities like a yeast infection has suddenly covered the canvas. Yet they match the carpet and that is the only reason why abstract art is chosen for offices. It doesn't require any thought to hang it on a wall. I'm reminded of the scene in 'Hannah and Her Sisters' when Max Von Sydow's character complains that he doesn't produce his art simply to match the sofas (I'm paraphrasing). Unfortunately, that's how modern art is treated and it's not good for the soul.

Speaking of things that aren't good for the soul: my attention for the rest of the week will be taken with writing a sitcom for the BBC's new College of Comedy competition.* I have a month to write 10 pages of dazzling stuff. My record in these competitions is quite striking. I've never got past the first round. This, however, is the first time I'll be entering the competition under my own name. It's now just a matter of finding some interesting idea for a show. My idea is to call the show 'Twitchers' and get Oddie in to help me co-write it.

* Update: Well, that optimism didn't last long. I would have spent the next few weeks writing something for the competition had I not just noticed the small print on the Press Release. 'The scheme [...] is designed for people who have already begun their careers, and can demonstrate some achievement, such as broadcast material, a script commission, or performance of their work.'

Well, that rules me out! Again.

I really need to write about this at some length but, for now, let me simply say that this is a perfect example of what's happening to the media in this country. I've heard that it's pointless sending scripts into the BBC because they don't read them. Commissions go out to people they already know, which saves them the time and money otherwise spent wading through the slush piles. To compensate and to give the impression that they are open to new writers, they have these occasional competitions. However, even this route is sealed off. I ask you: what is the point? What is the bloody point?

Monday, 10 March 2008

My Name is Dick

Because of the virus that's currently running amok in my immune system and the fact I'll be back to the office tomorrow, I'm going to attempt more regular but shorter posts. Other bloggers get away with a couple of paragraphs a few times a day, so I don't see why I should be ashamed of these brief posts. Life sometimes doesn't make room for a blessey a day.

I also suppose that it's my way of reinventing myself. Relaunching my career has been occupying my mind quite a bit recently. The loss of my 60,000 word manuscript hit me quite hard and, for a week or so, I considered giving up writing. Yet I just can't resist jotting down notes or thinking of things to write. That's why I've decided to be more positive. I'm going to start something new and I'm also going to change my image. Judy suggests that I grow a moustache and I'm quite keen on the idea. I've just finished watching the second series of 'My Name is Earl' and I'm convinced that a moustache might be the way to go. So, for your consideration, here's the type of moustache I'm thinking about growing. As you can see, it will be a fully functioning moustache, perhaps a little gauche but with a hint of danger which means you'll never laugh in my face.

Sunday, 9 March 2008


Sniffling, coughing, sneezing and shaking: I’m down with a cold. It’s why I’ve been quiet for the last few days. Although it’s a sickness of relatively minor proportions, it has joined forces with my general ‘feeling bad for myself’ and forced me to my bed. The only good to come of it is that I’m reading Arthur Conan-Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’, with half a dozen other books lined up after it. I’m working on ‘Eye of the Storm 2’ on Tuesday and Wednesday but hope to have something more interesting to tell you then.

I should have known the week would end up like this. I spent two days up in Manchester, a fascinating city that's undergoing something of a renaissance but is currently full of people coughing and sneezing.

It's always fascinating to go back and see how the city has changed and continues to change. Some of the new architecture is just stunning, though my day back up north was marred by a moment on my way home when we left the station and passed the university and the 'arnes Wallace Building'. Well, that's what the large sigh described it as. For the sake of a missing 'B', my visit to Manchester would have been full of good memories of some simply stunning design. Instead, I've been disappointed that people still don't cherish a man much after my own heart: a truly independent thinker whose garden shed gave birth to many of this country's most important weapons. I suppose it shocked me to see his name treated with so little respect. Wallace and I are men whose careers have followed very similar paths. Both considered a little eccentric, we have only been recognised as geniuses after years of hard work. Where he invented the bouncing bomb, I've got detailed designs for my so called 'jauntily skipping' bomb whose lethal cargo is delivered with a spring in the step. Barnes Wallace designed the Wellington bomber whereas my designs for the stealth bomber I like to call 'The Slipper' are locked away deep inside the Ministry of Defence. I came up with the idea when Judy kicked off her slippers after a particularly tiring day. We're talking about a weapons delivery system that puts it deadly cargo right beneath your nose before it goes off. Moreover, we've both been played by Michael Redgrave in film versions of our lives (respectively, in 'The Dambusters' [1955] and 'They Call Me Genius' [1982]).

Before I climb back into my sick bed, I just want to say a final thing about Vanessa Feltz. It's really quite regrettable that my previous post -- written at the height of mental exhaustion -- became an excuse for jokes about bald midgets. What were you thinking? Where the notion that two bald midgets resemble Vanessa Feltz's bosom comes from, I really don't know. In my experience, the two things have very little in common. For example, even the smallest and baldest of midgets has two nipples which is a 100% more than you'll find on your average breast. I suggest that you familiarise yourselves with either more breasts or more midgets.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Effect of Gravity on Vanessa Feltz's Cleavage: A Case For Reconsidering Newtonian Mechanics

Today's toils have left me extremely weary tonight yet not so tired that I can't relay news of a fascinating scientific breakthrough. One of the many pleasures of writing a blog is to find like-minded souls out there who are willing to share interesting facts with me. Today it's the turn of 'Alan' who has directed my attention to something I've been tying to prove for many years: that Newton's laws of gravity are all wrong.

As Alan explains, this can finally be demonstrated by examining the motion of the tides:
"The sea is NOT pulled from the top but is pushed from the bottom. The pressure wave from the inner core propagates to the surface where the seabed rises by about a meter - this is what is seen by satellite. It is the motion of the moon which causes a huge amount of rotational energy to reach the Earth's crust which is the cause of the ocean tides we experience on a day-to-day basis."

Now, I find this news quite exciting. As Alan is good enough to point out: I'm quite well known for my "'maverick attitude' to modernism and science in general". Indeed, the main reason we've never had Professor Stephen Hawking on the show is that we disagree on string theory and the nature of black holes. Well, it's that and the fact we've never bothered to have a ramp installed in the Channel 4 studios.

However, irrespective of my disagreements with the man, I've often sent him brief notes about the profound insights I often have into the working of gravity. Mainly, I should add, they're about its effect on Vanessa Feltz's bosom. Many a night I've laid awake wondering if Newtonian physics can explain if her bosom swells from the top or is it merely a by-product of something that's happening down at her ankles? I've done my best to test my theories empirically by seeing how high her bosom rises if you stand on her toes. However, experimental data is limited since I've find it very difficult to get close enough to reach her toes. Which is why I once hired a midget to get under the enormous overhang. Unfortunately, the midget was too light and any effect of his standing on Vanessa's toes was negated by the strength of her red leather stilettos. Until the time comes when I can hire an obese midget (there aren't as many of them as you think and Oddie doesn't count), we'll never know the answer to this mystery...

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Gravity.

If Alan is indeed right and the sea bed does rise then it might well be that tides have nothing to do with the pull of the moon on the ocean's water. It leads me to wonder if this explains why it's often harder to walk home at night than it is to walk to work in the morning. Could I be climbing an additional few feet as the effect of the moon is brought into play? Might all bosoms swell at night? Do I always walk uphill in moonlight? Would it work if I hired two midgets to each stand on Vanessa Feltz's feet?

All interesting questions, I'm sure you'll agree. However, I'm in need my sleep so I'll have to leave it to you to work out the maths. I can't trust my own calculations when I'm in this state and I'm not totally sure that I'm making complete sense tonight.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

On Tickling Manatees

The appeal came via a phone call from his agent.

'Stephen's at a loss as to what he can do,' explained the man of the expensive cigars and the rather generous 14.5%. 'It's not as though he's in a fit condition to make such a commitment. Flying home to appease them is just out of the question. You do know he has a spiral fracture of the right humerus?'

As it happened, I did know. Rarely has a spiral fracture of the right humerus caused so much discussion in the Madeley household. The framed x-rays on top of the television were evidence of that.

I shoved my hand deep into my pocket and felt the reassuring weight of the six fifty pence pieces I always keep there in case of trouble. We'd once had a chap from the SAS on the morning show and he'd told me that a handful of coins can disable even the most committed pursuer. Since that day, I've rarely gone anywhere without a few large coins with edges I'd filed down myself.

'Look,' I sighed, knowing when a duty calls, 'tell Stephen that I'll pop over and deal with the problem myself. I'm sure they'll see reason when I explain it to them.'

'You'll do that?' asked the agent. 'Oh, Richard. I can't thank you enough. The keys are under the large statue of Oscar Wilde. Stephen also wondered if you might be able to check on his goldfish.' And with that, the agent's voice became a dial tone.

This is how I found myself on my 'day off' driving up to Norfolk with a tub of fish food and a pocket of legally-minted shrapnel. You see, from what I'd been led to believe, Stephen's house was being picketed by protesters firmly of the belief that the tickling of manatees in bathtubs amounts to an insult to that noble creature more commonly known as the 'sea cow'.

To be perfectly honest, I thought it foolish of Stephen to make light of such a brutal practice and to do so in a public forum such as his Podcast had struck me as tantamount to recklessness, quite at odds with his reputation as a thinking man. I may be no great believer in animal rights but the very notion of tickling an animal who can neither laugh nor protest seemed very wrong, even to me, a man who once grabbed Jacqueline Bisset's knee when she least expected it.

And, let me add, the manatee belly is not a Bisset knee.

Such has been the outcry at Stephen's admission, even politicians have begun to question how many celebrities have been allowed to paw the helpless manatee. How many times have a manatee's scream sounded like laughter and encouraged even more brutal assaults in the name of infotainment? Is it any wonder that these normally placid creatures finally cracked and turned into the raging psychotic monsters that so deliberately attacked Stephen beneath the waterline, causing him to fall over and break the arm that has brought pleasure to so many?

That's why, however much as I disagreed with the practise of manatee tickling, I was more concerned with the unlawful protests outside my friend's home. It's also why I'd had the foresight to take a loaded Oddie with me. I really didn't know what to expect from a hostile audience of neophytes to the manatee cause. Bill can always talk to these animal loving freaks and he could act as an interpreter to convey my words to people who think that grass has feelings and turf has rights.

His presence gave me great peace of mind when we arrived at the estate of the Great Man around lunchtime. Given that Stephen owns most of rural Norfolk, there's always somebody able to direct you to his estate. On this occasion, however, the smell of onions and lentils would have been enough to lead me to the small camp of tents pitched outside the large iron gates with the large ornamental 'F' in scroll-work and filigree. Beyond them I could see the drive curving away towards to Stephen's old pile, beckoned me on in the certain knowledge that East Anglia's most extensive wine collection was within the reach of a man who knew just where the keys were hid under the statue of Oscar Wilde.

'Look here,' I said, approaching the lead protester who also looked to be the most frail and elderly, 'what exactly are you doing here?'

'Protect the manatee!' came a cry from a blue tent nearby.

I glared at the little woman who definitely looked up at me. He nose twisted as though broken at every nostril.

'We're here to stop the cruel and barbaric mockery of manatees by celebrities,' she said as though I too were guilty of that terrible crime. 'How would you like it if you were fingered by Stephen Fry?'

'Oh come on,' I laughed, 'it can't be that bad!'

She took a bony knuckle and rapped it against my midriff. 'What you see as the acceptable fondling of a manatees tummy is really the imposition of human values upon wild creatures. To them, it's nothing short of abuse!'

'Stop cruelty to manatees!' came another cry, this time from a green tent.

I waved my hand towards the tents in the hope of silencing them. 'But can't you accept that a poor man has already suffered enough?' I asked. 'And why picket outside an empty house when the owner is thousands of miles away finishing his counter-clockwise tour of America? Couldn't you go and annoy Jamie Oliver instead?'

'Has he ever tickled a manatee?' asked the woman, indignantly.

'He'd probably put a crust on one if you ask him right,' I replied. The woman looked at me with a new found contempt but I had no reason to feel ashamed. I owe Jamie nothing and this was Stephen's home I was defending.

'We are here to send a message to all celebrities who think it right to tickle innocent tummies,' continued the woman.

I told her that I knew of no celebrities currently pawing sea cows except for Lorraine Kelly to whom it's really less of a job and more of a hobby, but, by this time, a few of the other protesters had come and gathered around us. They listened with something less than understanding to my explanation.

'Oh, it's a fine message to send out,' I concluded. 'Who doesn't want to protect the world's endangered animals from the likes of Frank Skinner, Jeremy Kyle or Gloria Hunniford? But I can assure you that we “A” list celebrities are now boycotting the manatee because of what they've done to Stephen. Your protests are really quite futile.'

The crowd looked at me in silence.

'Oh, well, that's typical,' sniffed a tall man stood at the back of the crowd. His eyes shone with the gleam of fanaticism. 'Some defenceless animal defend themselves and you celebrities ostracise them because of it. You're no longer interested in the poor creatures. Not now they've turned on you. Send them to Coventry, you have... or whatever backwater in Brazil would be a Coventry equivalent.'

At this point, Bill Oddie stepped forward and the crowd grew silent. They hold a natural reverence for the little fellow that I can't wholly explain. 'Listen here,' said Bill, 'Richard simply wants you to move on but he isn't explaining himself that well. I can vouch for Stephen and tell you that there's no man in the world who cares more about manatees. Can't we show him some pity? He's got a spiral fracture of the right humerus.'

'If he really cares,' began the old woman with the bent nose, 'why did he laugh when he talked about tickling them?'

'He is naturally jovial man,' I answered. 'He's not unlike myself. I'm always laughing at other people's problems. Some say I'm cruel and heartless but it's just an unhealthy sense of humour. I mean nothing by it. I've been known to laugh myself senseless at a sparrow flying into a window.'

I don't know what I'd said that could have riled them so much but the crowd turned rather nasty at this point. I even reached into my pocket and was ready to hurl lose change there way, damning the consequences, but before I could act, Bill stepped in. He suggested that I go back to the car and leave him to speak to speak to the group. After ten minutes, the angry scene had been replaced by one of pure harmony. The camp was beginning to break up and Bill returned to the car looking quite pleased with himself.

'I think they're happy now I've explained things to them,' he said as he stroked his beard. 'They've agree to leave Stephen alone.'

I told him that it was indeed a miracle given their hardened stance. 'How on earth did you manage it?' I asked. 'What magic words did you whisper in their slightly grubby ears?'

'Oh,' blushed Bill. 'It was quite easy really. They have a natural reverence for me. And once I'd given them your home address, they couldn't wait to get moving.' He nodded towards the road. 'You might want to get a move on. Wouldn't want them to beat you to your house. They might not let you in, plus you might like to break this to Judy before the pickets begin...'

'Pickets?' I cried.

'You know,' he said, a look of fanaticism appearing in his own eyes, 'you really shouldn't have made that joke about sparrows... Some things simply aren't funny.'

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Blackpool, Oddie and The Twitch

We were outside Banbury when the prawn sandwiches kicked in. I remember saying 'you'll be okay once we get to the Sandbach Services.' Even I knew that was one crazy mixed up notion from a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt in the middle of winter and driving far in excess of thirty.

'I need the bathroom,' cried Dr. Oddzo from the back of the Cadillac. We were racing up the M40 toward the North West and his spiritual and real home.

'Can't you squeeze your buttocks together and wait?' I cried through the rush of air ramping over the windscreen.

Dr. Oddzo groaned and climbed into the passenger's seat from where he raised his feet onto the dashboard. They barely reached.

'Ooohhh!' he cried.

'And I'm in complete agreement, you cowardly fool,' I replied through teeth clenched onto my cigarette holder with tar filter. 'I demand that you write that down and charge me a fortune for such good legal advice. Now, aim your rear towards Yorkshire. That thing could go off at any moment.'

'I feel sick,' complained my companion.

It was a bewildering confession. 'I thought you twitchers could regurgitate your food,' I answered. 'Bring it up, man! Bring it up! Let's get this nightmare over before I begin to see bats.'

I swerved out of the way of a camper van, the screech of metal against barrier masking Dr. Oddzo's retching but not the aroma of partially digested seafood.

This jaunt to Blackpool was becoming unholy; a jihad of devilishly tricky from a man broad at the hips and equally broad all over. Dr. Oddzo had caused trouble since we'd set off in the early hours of Saturday morning. All I could see in the rear view mirror was the scrotum of a large bronzed statue stuck in the back of the car, the only reminder of his detour through the village of Bishop's Heaton. The statue had fallen into when the Cadillac had Dr. Oddzo at the wheel. He had crashed through the idyllic rural square and its usual weekend market. My attorney had dealt with the fallout by signing autographs, making promises to come back with a crew to film the local owls population, and by sampling the local prawn sandwiches.

'When we get to Blackpool, we are staying the best hotel in town,' I told him after his retching had eased. 'No talk about money when you're with me, Dr. Oddzo.'

'Richard, I'm not going to make it,' he said, wiping his pallid brow. 'I'm going to be sick again.'

'Excellent,' I answered, 'now let me steer into the wind and lets see if you can take a few of these bastards out...'

Ten minutes later, Dr. Oddzo was feeling no better but his face was the same ripe colour as the breast of the Lesser Green Woodcock. It meant that he was in the perfect frame of mine to listen to my story about my bad week. After two days of hell working on 'Eye of the Storm 2', I had discovered that the CDs onto which I'd backed up my novel were blank. Judy had found me on Friday morning, crying in the middle of the lawn. I'd explained how a 60,000 word manuscript had been lost when my laptop broke the other week and that this was as big a loss to the world as the destruction of the second book of Aristotle's 'Poetics'.

'Blackpool is going to restore my spirits,' I told him. 'Losing 60,000 words of a novel is not a good feeling but if a cabaret midget covered with superglue and glitter can't cheer a man up then I don't know what can.'

Dr. Oddzo was too busy staring into the distance to answer.

His attention was taken by a figure looming at us from the side of the road. Lank and Northern, the youth was measured by his perplexities and general demeanour of the heavily sedated. He waved us down. A sign written on damp cardboard hung around his neck and read simply: 'The Twitch'.

I pulled over and made some outrageous remarks about his clothes which he didn't seem to take to heart. He simply adjusted his lime green cummerbund over his purple braces and then buttoned his evening suit.

'Hi guys,' said The Twitch. 'You've taken your time.'

' No time for small talk,' I told him. 'Climb in and watch out for the bronzed scrotum.'

The Twitch jumped onboard and I floored the accelerator.

'What's the rush?' shouted the Twitch. 'We've got all weekend.'

'That's enough of that talk,' I replied, thinking I was losing my mind and fearing that I'd been foolish in trying such an adventure without a proper guide. 'You're only young so I can forgive you but this Madeley is a man in a rush for success.' I proceeded to tell him about the disaster with my novel but he seemed less interested in the man at the wheel than the shrunken figure in the passenger's seat.

He leaned over and looked at Dr. Oddzo who had fallen asleep.

'What's his trip?' asked the Twitch.

'Prawns,' I said.

'Cool,' he answered. 'How about some mayonnaise? I have egg sandwiches in my bag.'

Dr. Oddzo groaned and leaned into the wind. The town of Barnt Green never stood a chance.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

My Letter to Lola's Mum

Dear Lola's Mum,

So, your daughter tells me that that you don't believe that I exist. And just when I thought my week couldn't get any worse... Just when the Press break the news that I've really been away serving in Afghanistan, now my existence is being brought into question. Even the Taliban were never this cruel.

I really don't know how to prove that I do exist. Judy tells me that I exist. Only this morning, she told me that I'd existed too long in bed and I should get up before Cilla arrived to help Judy with her music lessons.

Bill Oddie told me I exist when he rang me to ask if I'd be interested in sponsoring a bumble bee for the new SpringWatch Pollination Challenge. He wanted me to sponsor a bee for 50p per bloom but we settled on a penny per stigma. He then asked me what the noise was in the background. I explained that it was Cilla singing one of her old hits while Judy backed her on the trombone.

I also know I exist because I'll be soon modelling my pyjamas over at Nourishing Obscurity's Great Night Wear Parade.

So, Lola's Mum, the evidence would suggest that I do exist but if you require any more evidence, check out Monday's show. I'll give you a very special look to camera just after the first break. You'll know it's me because I'll nod my head and give you a wink as I introduce the next segment.

All my love,