It was more than the maturing of my peppercorn stocks that prompted Judy to wake me this morning. ‘It’s your birthday, Richard,’ she said. ‘Or it is according to Wikipedia and if that’s good enough for our team of Cambridge-educated researchers, then it’s good enough for me. Now what would you like to do to celebrate?’
I didn’t know what to say, birthdays having become something of a low point of my year since I prefer to go by my skin age rather than my real age. Besides, I’ve been miserable for so long that I have forgotten the meaning of ‘fun’. It was clear that Judy could sense my mood.
‘I know the contract negotiations with Channel 4 have upset you,’ she said, ‘and I appreciate how tiring it must be to travel up to Manchester once a week to work in an office. But why don’t we spend the peppercorn dividend on the biggest barbecue this street has ever seen? I could ask Cilla to come down and you could give Bill a call...’
The thought of Cilla Black singing ‘Happy Birthday’ was enough to turn a pubic hair but Judy did have a point about my needing to relax. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a good time with my showbiz friends and there’s nothing as good for the spirits as singing one the karaoke while Bill Oddie plays his spoons.
‘We’ll do it!’ I said, throwing back the sheets on my naked body. ‘Uncooked meat on a Tuesday! There’s nothing as likely to provoke the threepenny bits on a Wednesday. And Stephen’s back in the country. Now his arm is fully healed, I’m sure he’d love to bring over his famous sausage.’
Three hours later, as the sun beat down on Emery Close (named after its first famous resident Dick), I prodded my fork into a lump of quality meat and turned it over before basting it with some of Judy’s spicy sauce. The garden was full of family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues. David Dickinson was loudly explaining the difference between walnut and mahogany, while Ant (for once without his Dec) was playing his banjo as Stephen Fry interrogated Robert Llewellyn (he of Scrapheap fame) about welding techniques for the softer alloys. Over in a corner, we’d left some old golf clubs for the kids who were using Keith Chegwin as a makeshift pinyata. His little Scouse screams amused all who heard them.
‘Isn’t this better?’ asked Judy, standing at my side and buttering her buns. ‘We’ve been needing a day like today to get rid of all the tension.’
‘A man could be happy if only he could prod meat for a living,’ I agreed.
Judy put her lips to my cheek and wished me a ‘Happy Birthday’.
I blushed, realising how lucky I am. I turned over a sausage and thought of how many men would swap their whole world for just a few hours of living like that. I had reached for a bottle of sauce, believing that things couldn’t get any better, when I saw Vanessa Feltz arrive. Dressed in a thin summer dress, she came jogging over to me. Judy muttered one of her more nautical curses but I was mesmerized.
And that’s when the world caught fire.
A little time later, I woke up and felt an intense pain across my forehead. A figure was bending over me, wiping my face with a damp cloth.
‘Ah, ‘tis I, Fry,’ said Stephen, ‘extinguishing your flames with my now ruined summer cloak. Dear Richard, did you think it wise to pour a can of fuel onto a lit barbecue? Were I am man more given to reproach, I would advise you that it is a very silly thing to have done. I would berate you with a “tut” and a “tush”. Bless...’
‘Is that what happened?’ I asked, trying to sit up. I felt for my brow and was surprised to feel how smooth it was. ‘The last thing I remember was being distracted by the approach of Vanessa Feltz’s summer bosom. It was like a field of sunflowers bouncing towards me. I must have picked up the wrong bottle? Am I injured? How do I look?’
‘Eyebrows,’ said Stephen. ‘The poor little fellows stood no chance. Your brow is as smooth as a Brazilian buttock. However, it has taken years off you. You now look like a man in his fifties.’
The dear man. He can always provide a ray of sunlight in even the darkest of hours. I patted his arm and managed to climb to my feet from where I surveyed the scene of the barbecue. Much of the back lawn was blackened and all my meat ruined. Even Stephen’s famous sausage was too scorched for salvage. But say what you want, days like this that remind you that it’s important to surround yourself with friends, family, colleagues, and large bosoms.
What more can a man ask for on his birthday. Except, of course, a new set of eyebrows. Brown if you’ve got them...