I had lost my zest. My zip went missing. It’s pep that I needed, yet there was no pep to be found.
Blogging is serious work that pretends to be easy. Others can write their 200 words each day and then do a normal day’s work. I’m not like that. I tend to knock out 2000 words or I write nothing. So long as I have my mojo firing, it will carry me through. But when my spark isn’t there, I’m lost for things to say.
Encouragement. That’s all I needed. A few kind words from a friend will usually fill my tanks and send me raring along at a hundred miles an hour. Then it’s a straight road all the way to Productivity USA. The problem is that life tends to be discouraging. On the days when I don’t have the limo to carry me around London, I’m be loaded down with a laptop and books, suffering public transport and the crass and utterly rude British public who sneer at those of us in false noses, bowler hats, and pink earmuffs. Umbrellas also don’t like my company and will usually self-destruct as soon as I touch them. A combination of these took me to a dark place over the weekend. By Sunday lunchtime, I was sitting in the garage, smeared with engine oil and muttering ‘the horror, the horror’ as I was tattooing ‘exterminate all the brutes’ onto my right kneecap.
Which is where Bill Oddie comes into my life.
I know that if I introduce Bill into my day, he will do something that will help raise my mood above the basic threshold at which I begin to function. Beards have a compelling quality made all the more intoxicating when they stand no higher than four feet eight inches and have a working knowledge of owls.
‘Hello Dick,’ said Bill. He was framed in the doorway of the garage. How he’d managed to avoid tripping any of the booby traps I’d set, I really don’t know. ‘Judy says that you’re in a bad mood.’
‘The world is against me,’ I wailed. ‘I’m hindered in all my great projects. Nobody wants me! There are no visionaries out there willing to put their faith in this brain and these two magnificent hands of mine. Give me work to do and I’ll do it. But inspire me, Bill... Inspire me and I’ll raise you a cathedral or build you a dam!’
‘That’s very good of you,’ replied Oddie. ‘I have some logs I need chopping in my back garden. I want to make them into some bird boxes.’
I shrugged. It’s rare that you find somebody wanting cathedrals or dams. Bird boxes would have to do.
So I spent my Sunday afternoon in Bill’s back garden chopping and carving wood. It wasn’t work that inspired me but it was honest toil and saved me from having to return home where Judy was ensconced in Glastonbury. She has a thing about Neil Diamond that puts my fixation with Vanessa Feltz’s cleavage to shame.
Anyway, by the time Bill came out to see how I was doing at six o’clock, he plucked at his beard and nodded with great appreciation.
‘Excellent word, Dick,’ he said. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen wooden logs cut with such skill. The way you split them is the work of genius but the way you’ve assembled them into a bird house that’s an exact scale replica of the Taj Mahal is simply quite stunning. My tits will be most pleased.’
I blushed as I felt a little bit of pep return to my body. ‘Why thank you Bill,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to show you that I was back.’
He looked at the bird box and nodded. ‘Oh, you’re back, Dick. You’re most definitely back.’
Monday, 30 June 2008
I had lost my zest. My zip went missing. It’s pep that I needed, yet there was no pep to be found.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
I’m sitting here and about to turn the computer off. I realise that I’m in a mood to leave crabby comments on other people’s blogs and I refuse to let myself down that way.
And the day seemed to begin so well with a more-friendly-than-usual walk to the station. I thought it odd that three people smiled at me, two said ‘hello’, and another burst into a fit of giggles. At first I thought it was my disguise, given that I have to travel to Manchester in cognito. It was only when I arrived at the station that I looked down to discover that I’d walked a mile with my fly down.
And that was the highlight of the last 24 hours which, in terms of failed umbrellas, leaking shoes, spelling mistakes, interrupted sleep, spillages, and a dozen other things I can mention, has been an unquantifiable disaster.
There might be a good reason for me to wake up in the morning but I’m struggling to think of one at the moment.
No man is an island. Nor is he an isthmus. Possibly more accurate is the statement that every man is a peninsula. We all look out onto a sea that rages on three sides. Our familiar connections trail off behind us. Our spirit seeks to abandon itself in the open water. Our commitments keep us wedded to dry land.
The sea is in the British blood. It’s like curry, sweet fried barbeque ribs, the blues and urinating in public. And that proud son of this seafaring nation, Richard Madeley, is less of a peninsula than any man I know. He’s much more than an isthmus. It might even be geographically correct to call him an island. He certainly sits alone in the dangerous waters of light entertainment.
Richard’s energy is molten. It surrounds him. His currents draw in facts – ‘life’s flotsam’ he calls them – and his encyclopaedic knowledge of every conceivable subject is legendary. His wit is quick to strike, like a cobra on methamphetamines and state benefits. We are sitting in Delmodes, a cosy little drop-in, just off The Strand. The food is a mixture of incineration and tap water but the company is unmissable. As a weak broth is served I’m tempted to suggest that they deliver it by hosepipe. Too late. Richard is giving me a flash of the radiant being that lives within his immaculately tanned flesh and bone.
‘Did you know that Bolivian turnips are the world’s second biggest edible vegetable?’ he asks.
I dodge an elbow working a truculent clam into my bowl. ‘I wasn’t aware that they are,’ I answer. It seems to calm him but only for the moment. There was more of the same to come. In the next sixty seconds I discover that liquorice contains real liquor and that giraffes are the only other mammal able to whistle. It was clear that I was sitting in the presence of greatness. However, to understand greatness like this, I realised that I must really remind you to ask yourselves a more vital question. What is the true genius of A.A. Gill?
It sounds egotistical of me, I know. But consider the one-eyed king... I don’t mean Jonathan King; and why people call him ‘One Eye’ is as much a mystery as how he made his fortune through music. I mean the one-eyed king from the hackneyed old saying: ‘In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’. You no doubt learned that one at your mother’s teat. I know that I did. I was seventeen years old and breaking in Hendricks, my first valet. He would bring me my mother’s teat with my freshly polished brogues at breakfast. I remember one dismal morning quite well. My mood had been badly fouled by Spanish broccoli the night before and I found the breakfast service barely adequate, the teat a touch too nippled, and the shoes slightly scratched on the instep.
‘Those shoes are scuffed to hell,’ I snapped at him. ‘Bring me another pair.’
He just shrugged. ‘In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king,’ he said.
‘One eyed man, Hendricks? What’s all this nonsense about a one-eyed man? I want my shoes not monocular monarchs. And take this teat away. You’ve allowed it to go cold again. Don’t you know that a mother’s teat should never be served below body temperature? I’ve a mind to give you a damn good thrashing.’
Not long after I fired him for having dirty cufflinks. Only, now that I’m older and wiser, I know precisely what the old grub was trying to say. In a cupboard full of shoes scuffed from kicking the pedestrian classes up their proletarian holes, shoes that are only slightly scratched might be considered quality footwear. And in the entertainment world, is it really an exaggeration to describe men of considerable wit and infinite imagination as good shoes? Id est: Madeley and I. A matching pair in brown leather.
‘The lyric of the Welsh national anthem is the only one to contain an acrostic,’ explained Richard later over a plate of snails who were clearly only there to badmouth the chef. ‘That word is “Mgetgtohpteomnn”. It’s Gaelic for “isthmus”.’
It was astonishing. Richard had brought me back to my original metaphor that I had jotted down on the notepad at the beginning of the meal. Apparently, reading shorthand upside down is one of his many tricks and he had spotting what I’d written about men and islands. And then he’d been so good as to tie up my review with a touch of elegance the same shade of purple as my suit’s silk lining. The piece was writing itself! This really was professional journalism and in a tailored double-breasted to match.
My good mood would not last. Gill was feeling A.A. when the main course skulked into the room. It really was the sort of food for which the word ‘skulked’ was invented. Richard had ordered Mexican. Sombreros were optional but heavily whiskered prawns were soon circling our table, firing pistolas in the air and threatening to ravish our appetisers. The battle was protracted and distasteful. When it was over, we satisfied ourselves with coffees and no dessert. My only fear was that The Times would refuse to pay a meal that probably had warrants outstanding at The Hague.
The waiter walked over and presented the bill. It was like being flatulated upon by a car battery dying in the middle of the M4.
‘I’ll take that,’ said Richard, snatching the tab.
I could do my best to refuse but the bill was gone before I could leave a fingerprint on my expense account. As we left, a party of locals arrived for their regular evening entertainment at Delmodes. I was glad to escape the heavy atmosphere before the place became a pub quiz tabernacle as we fell amid the braying of Middle England. Madeley went on his way too.
‘Remember what I told you, Adrian,’ he called as I pushed him away from my car and indicated towards a passing taxi. ‘Joni Mitchell is a skilled welder and she builds hot rods in her spare time.’
I was sure to remember. As I would remember Richard Madeley: more urban myth than man. More island than isthmus.
The service was tolerated.
Richard Madeley: *****
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
I’ve been puzzled for the last few days why searches for ‘Judith Chalmers’ have gone through the roof. Barely a minute passes by without somebody coming here for the latest lowdown on Judith. Today, I discovered the reason: she’s not been wearing any knickers for the last half a century.
According to The Daily Telegraph:
‘Judith Chalmers has admitted she never wore knickers in more than 30 years travelling the world for Wish You Were Here? The 72-year-old presenter said she always "went commando" because she did not want the outline of her knickers to be visible on TV.’
‘Outline of her knickers’ my foot! I’ve heard that excuse so often it’s got more than whiskers on it: it’s got a full-on handlebar moustache which it strokes while walking down the promenade, greeting all the ladies with a ‘Good day, my dear!’
Why can’t people be honest about their underwear or lack thereof? You know that I love Judith dearly and her ability to see the future has helped me get through some difficult times. However, she should just admit that she likes to feel the breeze down there. I know I do. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. On a hot summer’s day, other men struggle with heat and the sweaty tangle of twisted underwear. I, on the other hand, feel quite chilled. In a nice baggy pair of trousers, I can generate enough ventilation around my gusset that a faint aurora of frost surrounds me at all times.
I was sitting there on live TV, staring at Rory McGrath and listening to him talk about the bearded tit, both the bird and the book he was there to plug. My mind must have drifted off because I’m suddenly thinking about the woodpecker we’ve got in our back garden and how it’s always making these throaty warbling sounds. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m bouncing up on the sofa making like woodland.
‘Soospeeeell, shoo, shoo, aff ,at, at, oon!’ I cry.
Judy flinched and Rory looked a bit surprised before a mischievous grin spread through his undergrowth. He made nothing of it at the time but I suppose he was staggered by how accurate my bird calls can be. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I’ve been trained by Oddie and I can seduce a female owl over half-a-mile away. If you watched last night’s show, you too were probably looking around your own living room wondering how a woodpecker had got into the house.
When we’d finished for the evening, I was surprised to see Rory hanging out around the back where the limos come to pick up all the guests.
‘Lost, Rory?’ I asked.
‘No, just waiting,’ he said. ‘I was waiting to have a word with you.’
‘With me? What on earth do want with me?’
‘It was your story about your pecker,’ he said.
I nodded. People are always asking about my vasectomy and I’m happy to tell them the full tale in its unedited glory.
‘Well, the doctor took what looked like a pair of pliers and he ripped open my...’
‘No, no,’ said Rory. ‘Your woodpecker. You know? The one you’ve got in your back garden.’
‘Ah, that one,’ I said, a bit disappointed, to be honest, that I could get to tell my story about the surgeon and his pliers. It has such a funny punch-line.
‘The thing is, Richard,’ he said, ‘I was really hoping that I could come around and do a spot of filming. I’m doing this programme for the BBC about birds but I’ve had a slight falling out with Bill Oddie who thinks I’m trying edge into his niche area.’
‘Birdwatchers can be very territorial,’ I admitted. ‘You really shouldn’t edge into Bill’s niche.’
‘But he won’t let us use any of the BBC’s footage of woodpeckers. He’s locked it all away but we need it if we’re to finish the programme on time. That’s why I’m asking. I thought we could come and film your pecker.’
‘Of course, come on round and film my pecker,’ I said. ‘And if you’ve got any film left in the can when you’re finished, I’ll let you film my woodpecker too.’
That, I should add, was a Madeley Joke, certified to the highest standards of Channel 4 comedy.
‘Lovelyjubly,’ said Rory rubbing his hands together.
Before he got too excited, I thought I better issue the standard proviso.
‘I can’t see there being any harm in it,’ I said, ‘but if Bill Oddie does turn up and catches you filming a woodpecker in our garden, I’m denying all knowledge and I’m coming at you with the garden spade.’
‘Understood,’ said Rory. ‘But you should know that if you do come at me with the garden spade, I’ll be forced to defend myself with my soundman who knows judo.’
‘And I’ll counter with Judy who has a second dan in Karate.’
Rory nodded. It was a typical business deal for those of us in light entertainment and he seemed happy to agree to the terms.
True to his word, Rory arrived just after dawn this morning. He was with his film crew who quickly set themselves up in a hide in our back garden. Judy watched them as she sipped her coffee by the sink.
‘He is a hairy man,’ she said.
‘Ah,’ I replied, shuffling across the room in my slippers and turquoise dragon-head dressing gown in silk. ‘He’s not as hairy as Bill though.’
‘Oh, I’d say hairier. Have you seen his arms?’
‘They are hirsute,’ I agreed. ‘I should imagine he has problems keeping cool in the summer.’
‘Wax,’ said Judy. ‘Though I suppose that might be dangerous for a man like that. Try to pull too much hair away in one go and it might take off a limb.’
I shrugged. Not being a hairy man myself, the issue doesn’t really concern me and my mind had already turned to more important matters. I retreated back to my den where I would spend the next hour reading over the manuscript of my autobiography and the notes that Stephen Fry had written in the margins, suggesting ways I can improve its already considerable genius. I was only disturbed around eight o’clock by Judy calling me. I found her still in the kitchen, on now standing with Rory who was chewing his lip nervously.
‘I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with your woodpecker,’ he said.
‘Really? It was fine earlier on. I heard it singing just after dawn. Sounded like it had extremely healthy lungs.’
‘Yes, well, it’s not technically a woodpecker,’ said Rory.
‘Isn’t it? What is it then? Some close relative of the woodpecker? Another of the piciform family? A barbet? A jacamar? A tufted greave? A purple kisset? A knock-kneed mud wrangler?’
‘Actually, Dick. It’s a man.’
You can imagine my surprise. ‘A man?’
‘I know,’ said Rory. ‘Hard to believe but we’ve caught him on camera. There’s a man living in the dense canopy of the trees at the bottom of your garden.’
This was footage I demanded to see and we were soon gathered in the living room as Rory’s team connected a camera to our eighty six inch plasma TV. Soon the screen filled with indistinct shapes as shadows and hues merged in the high definition picture of trees and who knows what else.
It was Judy who spotted it first. I know this because she gave a scream.
‘There!’ she said and grabbed my arm. ‘What is that? Look at it. It’s like some form of primitive ape man.’
I couldn’t see a thing.
‘Amazing footage,’ agreed Rory, who was clearly thinking ‘TV series’. I know the look. I see it every morning in my shaving mirror.
Suddenly the screen filled with a human form that emerged from the foliage. I was struck dumb. The small face, brown hair, sun-ripened body: it was definitely a man.
‘And do you know what’s really amazing?’ asked Rory. ‘It’s the call. He’s not shouting “soospeeeell, shoo, shoo, aff ,at, at, oon”, at all.’
‘Isn’t he?’ I asked.
‘If you listen, you’ll hear that he’s actually shouting “sunny spells, showers later in the afternoon”.’
Judy pushed me away from the screen and kneeled before the monitor, examining the figure in the shadows. Her fingers traced the shape of the profile as the figure stood out on a bough, licked a finger and held it up to the air.
‘It’s Fred,’ she said.
‘Rubbish,’ I replied. ‘I scuttled him with the This Morning map years ago.’
‘No, no,’ said Judy, sounding most certain. ‘It’s Fred. It’s our old lovable weatherman. It’s Fred the Weather!’
I looked again and realised that there was no denying it. It was indeed the long-lost Fred Talbot, turned feral. Clearly he had escaped the wreckage of the sunken ‘This Morning’ map and, perhaps dazed or clouded by amnesia, had taken to the trees where he had lived a primitive existence all these years. I was, I confess, moved and I had to wipe a tear or two from my eyes.
‘We’re coming Fred,’ I sobbed. ‘We’re coming...’
I knew that this strange relief was only the first of many emotions that I would feel as I began the long operation to lure Fred Talbot down from the trees.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
A Madeley Pen Profile: No 27. Clive James (Poet, Essayist, Humourist, Presenter, High Druid, Elvis Impersonator)
I wrote a long letter to Sir Clive James the other day; prompted, I suppose, by the sight of him dancing naked beneath the full moon at the garden party we recently held to mark the summer solstice. The letter had nothing to do with his work as High Druid of our order. I just wanted to thank him for being such a damn good bloke.
Rarely, in these dark and troubled days, do we reach out to people. How often do we look a friend in the eye, shake them by the hand and say ‘thanks pal, for being there’? Yet Sir Clive has always been there for me. For over a decade, he was the bull-necked TV host, too large for his shirts, who taught me that we television types can be intelligent, witty, wry, occasionally profane, but generally urbane and decent.
Saturday or Sunday night, we would turn on the TV and welcome him into the Madeley home where he would sit in corner of the room and never abuse our trust or look out-of-place beside our fitted carpet or mantelpiece strewn with awards. It’s been one of the great rewards of fame that I can now sit the real thing in the corner of the room and serve him quality alcohol in healthy amounts and listen to him rant about the late novels of Philip Roth or do his infamous Elvis impersonation. In fact, there are few sights that fill me with as much pleasure as seeing Sir Clive coming up the drive, his bags packed for a weekend stay, his nose stuck between the pages of some rare Somali poet’s latest collection of limericks.
It reminds me of the very first time he came to stay. It was around the time he published the first volume of his ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ and I was preparing the guest room when I heard that deep sonorous voice sounding from down the street:
‘There once was a man from Mogadishu
Who lined his underpants with tissue,
One day he did sweat,
His buttocks got wet,
The rest... well, that’s a delicate issue.’
He then went on to recite one of his own poems about a sunburnt tourist from Bangor but that’s far less suitable for this family-friendly blog, especially the bit where he rhymes ‘Lurpac’ with ‘sack’. Less extreme is his limerick sequence, written while still at Cambridge. Some critics believe that they are the equivalent of Ezra Pound’s 'Cantos' but in comic verse. I’ll quote only the first three of the nine hundred.
There once was a man with ten chins,
Who lived all his life in Berlin,
Such was his draw,
People flocked to his door,
To see his nine magnificent grins.
There is a man that I know,
Who likes to make patterns in snow,
But he took it too far
When he copied Degas,
And was severely frostbitten below.
There once was a man, well muscled,
Who dreamed of visiting Brussels,
It’s in Belgium, you know,
You can get there by boat,
Or fly if you’re particularly pectoraled.
Quite amazing, I’m sure you’ll agree, combining flawless technical mastery, a delight in the absurd, and an occasional recourse to the vulgar. Yet that is one of the things that I most admire about men like Sir Clive James: that he can appreciate the value of a good profanity or a filthy joke whilst retaining every ounce of his academic credentials. Stephen Fry is the much the same, as are, to a lesser extent, Bill Oddie and that man Clarkson. Experts in their own field (or, in the case of Fry, many fields and a few municipal car-parks thrown in to boot) they are intelligent without being afraid to get in touch with their scatological side. One need only whisper the word ‘buttock’ in Stephen’s ear and he’ll laugh himself silly until dawn spreads her rosy cheeks, which is, itself, an allusion to Homer that Stephen happens to find particularly funny.
What I suppose I am saying is that they are men after my own heart and in saluting Sir Clive, I’m saluting myself. Well done Madeley, I say. You haven’t turned out too bad.
Of course, Sir Clive never responded to my letter. Why should he? His days are still full of essay writing, limericks, and Elvis. I’m just happy knowing that I possibly brightened up his morning inbox. And I’m also happy that things are finally right between us. For a while, there was some animosity given our last rather unfortunate interview in his study. But that’s all water under the bridge. I had caught him on a bad day when he was still feeling frisky, what with the musk of Martin Amis still heavy in his den, and I was little better.
So, on this rather quiet Tuesday, I just want you to go over to Sir Clive’s place and read his words, listen to his poems, watch his television programmes, and generally live a while in the company of a man of fine habits, serene intellect, and all the foreign satellite channels that you could ever hope to receive. And don’t forget to ask him to show you the movements to his limerick about the man Billericay.
There once was a waiter from Billericay,
Whose elbows were terribly tricky,
They bent the wrong way,
So first thing each day,
Somebody had to fasten his dicky.
Monday, 23 June 2008
It was Sunday and I was deep in that zone where all my best writing gets done; ears closed off to the world, eyes wide, nose flared with excitement as I hammered my fingers at the keyboard. The only discomfort was a slight rawness between my thighs caused by the friction of my constant swaying as I typed. Chapter 11 of my autobiography was turning out to be the most challenging yet; detailing, as it does, the struggles we faced establishing ‘This Morning’ as the UK’s premium show for bored housewives, melancholic students and the mentally impaired. My work frenzy was all the more intense because Judy had promised to stay away for most of the day. She was overseeing the installation of new baize at her Snooker and Pool Association’s clubhouse. I wanted to make the most of the time by taking my 30,000 words up to the wonderful milestone of 40,000. AKA: the Half Way Point.
After a couple of hours of typing, I finally sank back in my chair and stared at the latest paragraph of memoir. There on the page sat the following fifty three gloriously flowing words, hewn from the tree of memory, rich with the scent of happier days and the knowledge that my children and my children’s children would one day read these words and perhaps pay me tribute in the form of a tear or two.
"We were living in rented accommodation out on the Wirral while all this was happening. We were settling down to married life, coping with each other’s peculiarities. Judy had a terrible habit of leaving the toilet seat up. She, in turn, accused me of leaving my spare toupees soaking in the kitchen sink."
I was about to put fingers to keyboard and produce more of the same when the phone rang. I would have ignored it but for the recognisable tune I have it programmed to play whenever a call comes in from Stephen Fry. Since Stephen has come back from America, he’s also come back into my life and I always feel immensely comforted by that thought.
‘Heads up, Richard,’ said Stephen. ‘’Tis I, Fry, with troubling news involving the misappliance of science.’
‘You’re interrupting the writing of an autobiography that’s sure to establish my name in the world of literature,’ I said, not wanting to sound rude but irritated nonetheless. ‘It better be trouble. What is it this time? I’ve warned you about smoking your pipe in bed? Set fire to your cape again, haven't you?’
‘Nothing so minor,’ he answered. ‘I fear, Dick, that you are about to be overrun by a most virulent pest.’
‘Not mice again!’ I cried. ‘The last time I had mice, I got into the most awful trouble with my blog’s readers when I confessed to giving the mice mind-altering drugs and then sticking them down the garbage disposal.’
‘Were I a man with better news I might indeed utter the word “mice”,’ said Stephen. ‘However, ’tis I, Fry, uttering the phrase: “cloned versions of that famous TV psychiatrist, Professor Raj Persaud”.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘You are about to overrun by many cloned Dr. Rajs, if that is indeed the correct plural.’
‘Is there no end to this madness?’ I sobbed. ‘How much more of this tired joke do I have to take? You do realise that he’s launched his own blog in which he is basically copying all my best material.’
‘Perhaps he’s making a point about intertextuality within a postmodern culture,’ suggested Stephen.
‘Are you sure he’s that bright?’
‘Oh, I’m quite sure of it. Were you a more gifted writer, Dick, you too could play postmodern games with the notion of fame and the integrity of the first person narrative.’
‘I think he’s gone bonkers,’ I said, though quietly quite pleased to hear Stephen on such good form. Now do you see what I mean about it being good to have him back? It’s just quality advice at a level far higher than anything you get from the likes of Bill Oddie or that man Clarkson.
‘I can only pass on what I’ve heard,’ carried on Stephen and his voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I have it from friends in high places that there has been a sudden increase in the number of people claiming to be Dr. Raj Persaud. Bandwagons are being jumped, Dick. Bandwagons are being jumped. Mercy me!’
‘But why would people do such a thing?’
‘Why indeed except to create what we computer experts call “a denial of service attack” on your blog. I will write about it on a future “Dork Talk” but a précis of that piece would be the warning that in the coming day, many people will post comments in which they claim to be Dr. Raj. You have been told, Dick. End of communication. Fry out. Heavens!’
Could any sensible man ignore such a warning? I couldn’t work after news like that. What is the world coming to when people are hiding behind a psychiatrist in order to play some foolish charade? This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the Internet. Given that there are no rules or mechanisms in play to verify a person’s your identity, we have all kind of lunatics running around under pseudonyms like ‘ElephantBoy’ or ‘GrimReaper’. Even now, there are at least six ‘Richard Madeley’s on Facebook and only one of them is me. Then there’s
‘The Twitch’, ‘Elberry’, ‘Lola’, ‘Bertas’, ‘Nige’, ‘Okbye’: all of you are pseudonyms and don’t really exist. The only ones out there with real knees I could touch are ‘Richard Havers’ and ‘Selena Dreamy’. I’m liable to do something about this in the near future and might use my remaining shows on Channel 4 to demand that the government moves to outlaw this kind of behaviour.
These were all the thoughts going through my mind after Stephen’s phone call yesterday afternoon. After I had calmed myself down with a stiff drink, I returned to my desk armed for an onslaught and closed my autobiography for another day, the milestone still not reached. Literature would suffer because of these fools. Literature would suffer...
Sunday, 22 June 2008
Another summer solstice is behind us and Judy’s best linen is back in the cupboard with only minor chutney damage. As we all stood around in the back garden two evenings ago, wrapped in our ceremonial robes and declaring our love for the Moon and Sun Goddesses, I felt completely at ease with the world. Life is often trying and unfair to men of good looks and talent. Some of us are unfairly singled out for abuse. Yet it’s reassuring to know that Mother Sun is always there to ensure we’re tanned to at least a Madeley Factor of 4. I suppose that’s why those of us in the druid faith are always happy in each other’s company. There’s really no mood better than that of a group of celebrities when there’s a goat to offer up on the high altar of light entertainment.
Which is why it struck me as odd that Stephen Fry looked so intense as he walked around the garden waving a large wooden baton.
‘Ah,’ said Stephen, ‘’tis I, Fry, with my ceremonial fertility cane, hewn from the finest Brazilian hardwood and guaranteed to deliver fecundity to all who fall under it.’
‘You mean it’s a stick of procreation?’
‘You might say that,’ said he, directing randomly towards David Dickinson.
‘I really wish you wouldn’t do that,’ I said, jumping in the way of the stick. ‘There are lots of people here but the last one I’d like to see frisky is Dickinson.’
‘I do not choose,’ said Stephen. ‘’Tis the stick that chooses whose loins will be blessed this summer eve.’
And with that he was off, this time to worry the already pregnant Billy Piper with his cane.
I left Stephen to his shamanism and slipped over to the buffet table where Sir Clive James was struggling to get some of Judy’s homemade chutney off his ceremonial gown.
‘I’m a mess,’ wheezed the Great One. ‘I’ll never be able to look a vestal virgin in the face. I have chutney where chutney should never tread.’
I gave him a slap on the back. ‘Cheer up, Clive. It’s not every year that you get to be the one to deliver the final blow to our ceremonial goat.’
‘But the chutney,’ said Clive. ‘I can’t slaughter an animal looking like this. And what will Judy say? Goat blood might not be the only life essence to flow by the close of play.’
‘Spare me the chutney,’ I replied. ‘Just think. You’ll soon be awash with the fresh arterial spray of the best Norfolk goat that money can buy. You should look forward to that.’
‘Ah, Richard,’ said Sir Clive, looking at me over his glasses in that way that reminds you of the great intellect at work behind that magnificent brow of his. ‘You know how to cheer a fellow up. I feel moved to write you a poem, perhaps in three stanzas and with end rhymes.’
‘I can do even better than that,’ I said. ‘Go and stand near Stephen. One wave of his stick and you’ll feel positively chirpy about the world and the vestal virgins won’t stand a chance with you. Nor will the goat, if I’m honest. But there you have the Great Circle of Life. You can’t have everything.’
And that, on this Sunday morning, is the message I want to send out to all my friends in the druid community. I know you were disappointed that neither Judy nor I could be with you at Stonehenge the other day, but we promise to make up for it next year.
These things are foretold in the Book of Raj, as lifted from the Book of Stanley.
'Shabna Grithalda Vertiga Madeley Vespa.'
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Vanity is such a modern drug that it should really come in a foil wrap. So many of us are under that charming, wonderful, warming narcosis which makes us feel so loved for our gifts and talent. This really is such a new wonder drug that makes us feel so special, it’s sometimes a shock to learn that there are others out there who go hungry or struggle with their insignificance. Haven’t they had their tabs this month? Doesn’t ego come on the National Health?
Yet I suppose it is hardly surprising that we choose to be doped up on our sense of self. It is hard to survive otherwise, when our culture is so unendingly rotten. Riven by petty feuds, blatant falsehoods and aggravated narcissism, London is a den of arrogance, ambition, and arseholes. We need that occasional boost to pep us up. Vanity keeps us strong. And occasionally it forces us to make mistakes.
This whole affair of poor Dr. Raj just saddens me terribly. A brilliant mind is now being ridiculed by the lowest among us. Yet those grub-eating satirists with their endless witticisms are just as prone to vanity. Their lives will contain as many (if not more) misjudgements as even the most litigious person will find in Dr. Raj’s misunderstood career. It’s the intellectual conceit suffered by all of us who aspire for success that we will occasionally choose the difficult path. Ridicule is the price suffered by anybody who has tried to rise too quickly, only to reveal that very human characteristic: an astonishing capacity to make a complete balls of things.
Judy made the point this morning when we came to discuss one of my greatest shames.
‘Judy,’ I said at a particularly sensitive moment over my cornflakes, ‘it sometimes disappoints me enormously that I can’t drive a car.’
My confession clearly startled her. She knows how rarely I like to make this little fact public. When you look back through my blog, you’d see the numerous instances when I mention having driven us somewhere. Only, I was telling the smallest untruth. I employ a man to do all the driving for me. He’s an ex-grand National jockey who lives in the back of the Range Rover and doesn’t complain when I force him over the back seat and I climb out the driver’s door.
‘Perhaps you should do something to change that,’ Judy replied as I’d finished sobbing.
‘And become a figure of fun like Dr. Raj?’ I asked.
‘I know what you mean, the poor man... Harassed by scientologists for plagiarism. It’s like being shopped for theft by Ronnie Biggs.’
‘Not just scientologists,’ I said, ‘but damn ungrateful bloggers who don’t remember how he eased the suffering of so many people. But is that what we’ve come to, Judy? Does a trained healer mean so much less to us than the men and women that drive petrol tankers? Why do we mock and humiliate our artists, yet are willing to pay for our cars in blood? Why am I, a man of so many skills, unable to perform the most basic necessities of modern life that I’m made to feel like an outcast?’
‘Perhaps you need to think about a new career,’ said Judy. She’s always wanting go solo so I was hardly surprised by her suggestion. ‘Phil across the road says that most jobs come with a company car these days.’
‘And what does Phil across the road do for a living?’ I asked.
‘He’s a photocopier engineer.’
A photocopier engineer. Judy wants me to become a photocopier engineer so I might learn to drive and we can put an ex-Grand National jockey out of his chauffeuring job.
What does this say about the world? The same world that is currently mocking Dr. Raj Persaud, even though there doesn’t walk a kinder, more generous man on the face of this rotten borough of Earth.
I feel quite pensive today, as though a great wrong has been done. Damn all, who mock him. And damn all photocopier engineers too. May they all rot in a world low on toner and heavy on paper jams.
Friday, 20 June 2008
‘Hello, Richard,’ said the voice I recognised but hadn’t heard in an age. ‘Long time no see.’
‘Raj?’ I said, struggling to recall the last time my old sparring partner from ‘This Morning’ had rang me. ‘Is that you? How’s life as a professor going?’
‘Quite well,’ he said. ‘In fact, very well. I’ve just launched a new blog.’
You can imagine who this news filled me with delight. ‘A blog! How fantastic, Raj,’ I said. ‘You might know that I’m something of a blogger, myself. One of the least read but widely admired blogger in the country. Only the other night a wonderful lady viewer emailed me for the recipe for my tuna plait.’
Dr. Raj didn’t sound too impressed.
‘You still have those inferiority issues, don’t you Richard?’
‘How should I know? I’m not Dr. Smarty Pants Professor of Psychology...’ I took a long deep breath and waited a moment. ‘So,’ I said. ‘Tell me about your blog...’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s just a place where I want to connect with an audience. Chat about important matters in my life and generally break down all barriers that prevent people from getting to know a super talented man of letters.’
‘Pretty much what I do with my blog,’ I said. ‘I hope you’ve got a good name for this project.’
‘I have,’ he said. ‘I call it “The Raj Persaud Appreciation Society”.’
‘You cheeky bugger,’ I replied.
There must have been something in the way I said this. It was more of a scream than your average, common-or-garden ‘cheeky bugger’. Judy came running in from the kitchen.
‘Listen to this, Jude,’ I said. ‘You won’t believe it but Raj had gone and launched his own blog and bloody called it “The Raj Persaud Appreciation Society.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’ asked Judy.
‘What’s wrong? Well, for one, there’s not many people who want to appreciate him. And don’t you think it sounds a little too like a certain highly popular blog read by 3.2 million people a week?’
‘It sounds nothing like Thought Experiments,’ said Judy as she retired back to the kitchen.
I just hung up the phone and locked myself behind my office door. There are only so many insults a man can take after another hard day split between Manchester and London.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
No great anecdotes for you tonight. I’m caught somewhere between a brain that’s full of ideas and a body that’s already unbuttoning my shirt and stirring a mug of cocoa. It has been a strange day, split between Manchester and London. I suppose you all know about my time in London, given that much of it was covered live on Channel 4 between the hours of five and six. It’s the early part of my day you won’t know about. It was the usual slog and you can probably guess a few of the details: miserable train journey, Manchester as overcrowded as ever, used my mobile phone to take picture of extravagantly dressed woman only to later discover that it was a man in drag... You know: a typical day in Madeleyland. I'd post the picture but I don't know if that would be considered illegal.
My greatest achievement was to discover a new word. ‘Underemployed’. It might not be new for you but I think it perfectly sums up so much of my life at the moment. It’s quite different to being ‘unemployed’, which is never as bad as it sounds, so long as you’re a man with the Madeley spirit. Up at dawn, at my desk by eight, and working a full fifteen hour day on my books, essays, blogs... Rarely a night goes past without my getting a solid eight hours before I’m up again, working away and hating every moment I’m forced to relax, go shopping with Judy, or help Clarkson weld new wing mirrors to his rocket car. My autobiography is now past 30,000 words and I’m getting into the foothills of the ‘This Morning’ years. That part of my life is going swimmingly. Role on publication in 2010!
So, you see, except for the wage, my form of unemployment is extremely rewarding. It keeps me poor but fully employed. I set my own pace – brutally taxing, if I’m honest – and goals which are generally unreachable but I enjoy trying to reach them nevertheless. If I were in any other walk of life, I’d be classed as a workaholic, a high flier with offices in the city and an expense account to match. Because my business is writing, my office is a pit of a spare room, overloaded with books and half-finished manuscripts, and my expense account is whatever Judy is willing to slip me at the end of the week.
All of which leads me to my new word and the reason I’m still proud of it at half-past eleven at night.
To be ‘underemployed’ is to have spare capacity for work. Not just any work, though some days I do wonder if I’d be happier tending lawns and emptying bins. (I once knew a university lecturer who gave up his high paying job to become a gardener. He claimed he didn’t miss academia and was much happier.) What I mean by ‘unemployed’ is to have the capacity to do lots of complicated and challenging tasks but never getting the chance to flex that muscle. Give me an impossible problem and I’ve got the patience of a saint as I try to solve it. Give me something easy but routine, I tend to drift off into my own world. I begin to think I’m terribly bad at my job and not particularly bright. It’s all quite depressing.
The whole sorry business was put into perspective at half past night tonight. I was sitting with Judy, watching the football, when she suddenly jumps up. I’d drifted off and thought German had scored and began to curse the Kaiser.
‘So sorry, Richard,’ she said. ‘I forgot to mention that I had one hell of a morning with the people at Blackberry Manor.’
I gave a shudder, though I suppose you wonder why.
I don’t like to boast but Judy and I have a rather profitable sideline as consultants for the entertainment industry. We provide ideas for theme park owners and resort managers who want to update their facility mix with the latest in visitor attractions. Blackberry Manor is one of our latest consultancy projects. It’s based on the Isle of Man and comprises a large field which the owner wants to turn into a tourist hot spot.
‘The thing is, Richard, they want our ideas for tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow?’ I cried. ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier? It’s impossible now...’
‘Not for you,’ said Judy, displaying all that faith she has in my super abilities, which makes our relationship so strong.
‘But you can’t honestly expect me to come up with ideas off the top of my head so late at night,’ I begged her.
‘But that’s what we need for eight o’clock tomorrow morning or we lose the contract. Twenty resort destination ideas for the over 65s, based around an empty plot of land in the middle of the Isle of Man.’
I sank back down into my chair and closed my eyes as Judy got her notebook ready. After fifteen minutes, I’d got up to nineteen ideas.
Richard Ideas for the Blackberry Manor Theme Park
1. Udder Fun -- milk your own dairy cow
2. ‘Teat World’ – similar to Udder Fun but could involve any lactating mammal.
3. The Stilt Museum – break your hips in style
4. Taffy Pulling – a visitor attraction either about making toffee or a dating scheme for Welshmen
5. Gnome City – a miniature city populated by garden gnomes
6. The Brassiere Patisserie – we bake ‘em, you wear ‘em.
7. Donkey Sanctuary/Nunnery – funds itself if you think about it
8. Spongecake World – a multi-story museum detailing the history of cakes with a layer of strawberry jam in the middle
9. Miniature golf – with miniature golf instructors, all under three feet four
10. What Was it Like in the War Grandad? – Relive those WW2 memories stuck in an Anderson shelter with a book of coupons and a stick of lard
11. Name That Rash – All the fun of the rash! Get rashes, give rashes, watch them develop, learn all the cures, fun for all the family, the itchy treat that keeps on giving
12. Pick Your Own Coconuts – Shimmy up your very own a palm tree! Exhilarating and good for the thighs!
13. Name That Spoon! – the Isle of Man’s biggest spoon collection
14. Pan For Gold! – Butterscotch Nugget Gold!
15. The Hole – Enjoy the view from the Isle of Man’s deepest hole (which is neither a pitshaft nor a natural cave system)
16. A Brief History of Curtains – an interactive tour where the over 65s get to look out of the curtains of the rich and famous.
17. Extreme Sports for the Over 65s – knit your own bungee rope
18. Traditional Tea Garden – rule over an exact replica of a colonial tea plantation and then taste the produce of your brutal lash
19. Pimp My Mobility Scooter – drag racing at a dizzying 8mph!!!
Judy sat back and gazed at the list. Tears of relief were in her eyes.
‘You’ve done it again, Richard,’ she said and planted a kiss of my cheek.
‘What’s that for?' I asked. 'I’ve only done nineteen.’
‘Oh, I’ve got a good idea for the twentieth,’ she said and scribbled a final line of the page.
20. Richard Madeley World – a theme park dedicated to the most wonderful man on the planet.
What could I say? I simply couldn’t argue with that.
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
I think you know me well enough by now to recognise that I’m not a man who makes casual enemies. I’m much more likely to harbour a long standing grudge which will gestate into animosity and from there take on all the characteristics of a feud.
My latest feud began when I spotted this...
It prompted the following letter which I posted this afternoon to Google's headquarters. I hope you're all standing with me and will join me in my boycott of Google's services until this injustice is rectified. I hope particularly that you'll stand with me tomorrow. I'll be up in Manchester in the morning before rushing back home to record the show in the afternoon. As a consequence, my blogging activities might be somewhat delayed.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
A strange shade of email discoloured my VIP inbox last night. Ominously, like some electric eel, it had slipped through a hole in my message rules and found the keep net I have reserved for communications of only the highest importance. There it sat, this eel-mail, you might say if you were to excuse the pun, floundering around among messages from Stephen Fry, Michael Grade and other men and women of international standing. I don’t mean to be rude when I say that this message was much too humble to keep such company. It was from Elberry, you see, and was in such a strange shade of puce that it clashed terribly with Stephen Fry’s messages, which always arrive in that royal blue hue he wears on his cape.
I opened Elberry’s message with trepidation and found that it was a follow up to the comprehensive list of book recommendations he’d left on my previous post. Only, now he was warning me against mentioning a certain book club that has just announced the eight writers that are to be this year’s Chosen. It was all the more ominous because Elberry had sealed the message with ancient runes.
With Judy out of the house and the threat of litigation in the air, I was rightly concerned and decided to ring Elberry this morning and to ask him to explain his oddly coloured message.
The phone rang an age.
Typical NHS, I thought before a voice, polite yet hinting of menace, answered.
‘Elberry,’ said Elberry. ‘Man, sage, poet, mercenary.’
‘Hi Elberry, it’s Dick Madeley here.’
‘Dick? How do you know this number? I’m at work. I can’t speak now... I’m surrounded by wild MILF.’
I had no idea what he was talking about.
‘Cut out the Anglo Saxon lingo, Elb,’ I said. ‘You know I can’t tell a grey elf from a wood MILF. And I only wanted to ask you a quick question. Why do you say I shouldn’t mention the Richard&Judy Book Club on my Appreciation Society?’
‘Ah! Hmm... Urgh...’ he replied, showing off one of the many languages he speaks. Only, unbeknownst to him, I speak fluent Serbo-Croat and understood the meaning of his ‘ah hmm urgh’ gibe.
‘There’s nothing wrong with my elbows,’ I told him, ‘and I fail to see what they have to do with the book club.’
He seemed suitably scolded and I knew he wouldn’t underestimate a man called Madeley again.
‘Sorry about that, Dick,’ he said. ‘I just thought you’d be wise if you didn’t confuse people by recommending books on your site. You know... What with the blog not being officially recognised by the Richard&Judy Foundation.’
‘Only because Judy doesn’t agree with my blogging activities,’ I reminded him. ‘It remains one of the great disappointments of my life. And you know how much it still hurts that people still doubt that it’s really me writing my blog.’
‘Even so,’ said Elberry. ‘I’m just warning you. You don’t want to be getting letters from your own lawyers. They’re a craven lot who will pluck you eyes from your head and eat them under the full moon while making wild bestial noises reminiscent of rabid owls.’
‘So, recommending books is now a privileged activity?’ I asked, not liking the sound of this elitist nonsense. I was quite ready to have it out with Elberry, even if it did mean going barehanded aginst him and his French-made duelling fountain pen.
‘You know I don’t mean that,’ said Elberry.
‘But you don’t think I should try to use my blog to justify this year’s selection to anybody out there who might have reservations about the judging process?’
‘I’m all for promoting reading to as many people as possible,’ he replied, no doubt finding it difficult to try out that strange new tongue known as diplomacy. ‘Except the chavs, of course. We should encourage chavs towards cigarettes, alcohol, hard drugs, and high speed car chases in second-hand FIATs.’
I was about to point out that high speed chases in FIATs is a bit of an oxymoron but I had bigger points to score.
‘Surely, Elberry, in order to promote reading, we must also find the new writers who haven’t had a chance to succeed in this cruel and ever-crowded marketplace. We need to find those obscure literary gems, lost in our small towns and shires, ignored by agents and publishers alike, and have yet to see their genius recognised, their books read by the wider public.’
Elberry sucked on his teeth and then went silent.
It was the kind of silence that fell across Europe in 1938.
‘You think we’ve made a mistake?’ I asked.
‘All I’ll say is that I’m a bit surprised that you’ve chosen Rebecca Miller’s novel as one of your summer reads.’
And there it was! Now I could see the point of Elberry’s email.
‘It’s a damn fine book, or so I’m told,’ I answered. ‘And sorely overlooked. I do like to help a struggling novelist crawl out of poverty.’
‘But Rebecca Miller is married to Daniel Day Lewis!’ cried Elberry. ‘They live an idyllic life in the middle of Ireland. What about me? Surrounded by MILF who don’t understand a word of Latin?’
That I didn’t know. Not about Elberry and his classically ignorant MILF but the bit about Ireland.
‘All the more reason to include Rebecca in our summer reads!’ I said, trying to cover for my ignorance. ‘Can you imagine how hard it must be for her as an unknown Irish writer to get agents and publishers to notice her work? And all because her husband has won a few Oscars! I might add that Daniel Day Lewis’s father wasn’t a bad writer himself, but I still think it gives Daniel no right to steal all the limelight. I’m just delighted that Judy and I can help redress the balance.’
Elberry fell silent again and I could hear the sound of him playing with his new manual typewriter. The clack of keys was quite militaristic, like the sound of chopsticks in a North Korean noodle factory.
‘Look Dick,’ he said after a few meditative moments. ‘I’ve said what I wanted to say and if you choose to ignore my advice, well I can’t be held responsible for the consequences. I just think it rather odd that with all this talk of promoting unknown talent you go and choose the daughter of America’s most famous playwright.’
At this point I might have confessed to having had a little influence on the selection process since I’ve always been an admirer of Arthur Miller’s work. Only, until Elberry had pointed it out, I hadn’t associated the two names. It was all disturbing. Like an enigma wrapped in a puzzle, rolled into a ball of wool full of knots and left out in the rain.
Was Elberry right? Had we made a mistake?
I hung up the phone and sat thinking about the problem until Judy came home.
‘You look glum,’ she said, dropping her fishing gear behind the door.
‘I’ve been on the phone to Elberry,’ I said.
‘The crazy wizard temp with a passion for Old English and hobbit porn?’
‘He can sometimes talk sense,’ I reminded her and went about repeating the conversation I’d just had with Elberry the Wise, Elberry the Grey, Elberry of Many Colours Including Puce.
‘Oh,’ said Judy. ‘Take no notice. Elberry is just jealous like all unpublished writers. They can get so bitter. Yet it would be different if we were helping to make their names. It’s so very petty of them to even mention the fact that we’re promoting the wife of an Oscar winning actor (who was son of a poet laureate), the daughter of the most famous playwright of the twentieth century who was once married to Marilyn Monroe. Does that even matter, so long as the book is bloody good?’
Judy, as always, was the cooling salve on my fevered conscience.
‘You do make me feel so much better, Jude,’ I said. ‘In fact, I’m going to go and pick up Rebecca Miller’s new novel and I’ll read it for myself. Just to prove that we’ve not chosen it out of nepotism...’
‘That’s very good of you, Richard,’ said Judy. ‘And who knows... Perhaps you’ll even pick up a few tips from a proper writer.’
‘But I am a proper writer,’ I objected.
‘Now come on Richard,’ she smiled. ‘You know that’s not true. I mean you haven’t even been published...’
Sunday, 15 June 2008
It’s a remarkable coincidence. On the day our Book Club finally gets the attention it deserves from the serious press, I also happen to be launching my own one-man reading group. He may be winsome, witty, handsome in a Burt Lancaster kind of way, but he’s definitely only one man. And he's also looking for your book recommendations.
To cut a long preamble short: if you’re interested in giving me your favourite reads, just jump to the end of the post where I explain what I’m interested in reading, along with my pet hates so you can avoid leaving comments suggesting that I 'give Jilly Cooper a go'. For a more detailed explanation of how I come to be asking you for advice, there follow a few hundred words of confused waffle. It’s the reason why I’m rather late posting to the blog this weekend. I was busy indulging myself all of yesterday.
Bookshops are my secret addiction. On the one hand, there’s so much that’s good about them that it’s hard to pull oneself away without spending a fortune, but, on the other, they can make one wistful, chagrined, and all the other emotions that tend to afflict heroes in eighteenth century sentimental novels. I rarely get chance to spend as long as I like browsing for books. Yesterday I did just that. It explains why I’m still feeling such contrasting emotions. It’s probably why I’m feeling a little depressed.
There’s much that terrorises me in a bookshop. There’s the constant irritation of seeing books by the latest celebrity guru promoted as the answer to our problems. This week, Waterstones are pushing Sting’s collected lyrics. Not that there’s anything wrong with pushing Sting collected lyrics. In fact, so long as we're pushing them over a 90 degree edge followed by a drop of few hundred feet terminating in some sharp rocks, I'm happy to help do the pushing. Then there are the books by misfits who hardly deserve to be described as ‘a human being’, let alone deserve book contracts. Drug dealers, ex-mafia hard men, corporate swindlers, porn stars, Delilah Smith: they’re all there, demanding our money with menaces. And then amid all the lurid tat is the unlurid tat. Middle-class, middle-of-the-brain mawkish sentiment usually involving the words ‘moving’, ‘tender’ or ‘relationships’ in the blurb. I steer clear of them. Finally, there’s the great bulk of contemporary fiction that’s quite adequately written, sometimes attaining the quality of good prose, but it all leaves you feeling neither one way nor the other. They are the books you read and abandon before the end.
My current drug of choice is literary criticism. For my sins, I bought James Wood’s ‘The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel’ after I’d finished reading his essay on ‘Hysterical Realism’ for a second time, just sitting there in the Waterstone’s armchair. Engrossing stuff. In fact, I hardly noticed that I’d been sat for nearly an hour among the books on photography. My head was framed by Angelina Jolie’s breasts on one side and, on the other, a collection of Pirelli nudes. The essay troubled me in ways I’m not sure I can explain beyond the fact I was wondering why I was getting so many covert yet admiring looks from the shop's male customers. Wood writes so eloquently about novels that share the common trait of a kind of baroque surrealism; an abundance of florid and overblown characters, lack of traditional narrative, a reliance of comic juxtaposition to overcome the absence of meaningful plot. He picked out DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’, Pynchon’s ‘Mason & Dixon’, Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’, Rushdie’s ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’, and David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’.
He could hardly have picked out a series of books to which I have a less troubled past. As a genuine fan of DeLillo’s ‘White Noise’, I found ‘Underworld’ long, flat, and ultimately unrewarding. It was saved by the final hundred pages. Pynchon remains an author I feel I should ‘get’ until I actually pick up something of his and I am reminded why I find him unreadable. Rushdie’s personality prevents me from reading anything of his, despite friends who recommend his earlier work. As for Zadie Smith, I’d prefer not to go down that path full of bitter resentment and half-acknowledged jealousy. The only book I haven’t had a troubled run in with is ‘Infinite Jest’, though I’ve come close to buying it on many occasions.
They are books which, to Wood, ‘abolish stillness, as if ashamed of silence.’ Most troubling to me is his criticism that ‘these novels continually flourish their glamorous congestion’. I think of my own autobiography, now approaching 30,000 words, and I wonder if the world is ready for another ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’? I worry that the narrative of my life isn’t strong enough; that there’s not enough stillness. Is my prose strong enough? Is it the stuff of contemporary fiction section or the shelves tagged as ‘light entertainment ghost-written pap’?
All of which got me thinking about good writing and my book club idea. Only, rather than telling you what you should be reading this summer, I want suggestions. I want to read some new writers whose novels embody the very meaning of great prose.
Let me make this explicit. I don’t want to read some unpublished manuscript you happen to have lying around unless the name on the cover happens to be Amis with the initial ‘K’ or ‘M’. I don’t want to read your vanity published history of World War 2 submariners, the history of your great aunt’s wedding cake, nor your book about collecting seashells. I don't want any PDFs in my email box. I also don’t want to read ‘chick lit’ or anything written by a celebrity name. So, please, no Katie Jordan or Colleen Rooney. I’d prefer to avoid anything too postmodern or ‘meta’. No James Joyce. I’m not at all interested in reading any book that gives me an insight into another culture unless there is something more to it than it just being about a different culture. No thrillers unless they do more than simply give me the specifications of the latest sniper rifle. Comedy I like but with the restriction that it has to be something that’s going to challenge me. Terry Pratchett can write a good gag but I find that his books bore me quite quickly. I’m looking for something different. I was tempted by ‘Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf’ by David Madsen but knew nothing about it and hadn't the money in my pocket to gamble. But that’s the sort of book I’m looking for. Something that will excite and surprise me. Most of all, I want to read prose that will make me shiver or weep with awe.
I intend to keep a running list of books I’ve been recommended and to update it as I get through them. I might even write a review when I have strong enough feelings about any particular book.
Thursday, 12 June 2008
‘There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about “the working classes,” and satisfy themselves that a day’s hard intellectual toil is very much harder than a day’s hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they know all about the one, but haven’t tried the other. But I know all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn’t money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pick-axe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near to nothing as you can ciper it down – and I will be satisfied too.’Mark Twain, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’.
As I am helpfully reminded at least eight times a day, the new series of ‘The Richard&Judy Show’ begins on Monday. That’s fine with me. I don’t use the word ‘work’ to describe the activity of chatting with interesting people on a sofa for an hour a day. It might be challenging, deeply intellectual and occasionally dangerous, but it also makes me happy. I’ll also be writing all the time, my laptop stuck under a cushion on the sofa, and often blogging from the set.
However, once the series comes to an end, I’m seriously considering taking up a new line of work. I know we’ve signed a contract to go over to satellite TV but I think I’d be much more suited to driving petrol tankers for a living. I know that I’ll certainly be better off.
If these underpaid souls can go on strike because they don’t earn over £41,000 a year, I think most of us are in the wrong jobs. When I heard of their demands on Sky News this morning, I thought at first that their unreasonable wage demands must relate to the danger of their jobs. These are the men and women who are behind the wheel when tankers roll over on motorways, go screeching down the crash barriers, sparks flying. It only takes one spark to ignite all that petrol and then BOOM! I’ve seen it happen so often in films. It must be dangerous work and at least twice as dangerous as that of any squaddie who goes into battle in Afghanistan for the princely sum of £18,000 a year.
I must admit, though. From personal experience, it’s a rare day when I see a petrol tanker go sidling on its side down the motorway. I don’t know about the relative dangers of the Afghan front line but I do see what nurses do each day and the same is true of teachers and the police. So, could somebody please explain to me why the driver of a petrol tanker earns twice the amount as my friend who works as a secondary school teacher, who is in school at eight in the morning and rarely finishes marking homework until ten o’clock at night?
Or is Twain right? Will we all do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near to nothing? Do we need to pay these people a fortune to tolerate the mind-numbing banality of following a map to petrol station forecourts? If so, then I should have earned £100,000 every time I head up to Manchester. And I should pay the same for the chance to do what I’m about to go and do. I’m going to write and I will be satisfied too.
I said I probably wouldn’t post tonight because I’d be too busy getting drunk alone in my hotel room here in the heart of Manchester. It was clearly a lie. I am posting and although I’m happy to report that I’m suitably braced to the gills with alcohol fortified with paint thinner, I'm not alone. The Titch is currently asleep on top of the TV (vodka, it seems, doesn’t totally agree with his sense of consciousness) while Elberry – tempestuous, wonderful, psychotic Elberry – is, even as I type, out on the balcony, threatening to jump unless he’s brought four young hobbits and a ring of immense power. As for myself, I’m drinking myself through a bad patch. It has been one of the most difficult and tiring days of recent history. There have also been tears.
I’ve just come off the phone with Judy who is quite distraught. She’s been overlooked for the job of treasurer at her local Pool & Billiards Association. It was not a job she was particularly wanted and, to be honest, had only applied for out of spite because her direct rival in the association had declared her intention of going for the job. That’s not to say that Judy wasn’t the best qualified, had the seniority, had the respect of her peers, and, to be blunt, deserved the honour. Yet to have lost out to a woman with gigantically large character flaws has been quite hard for the old girl to take. I can’t wait to get back down south so I can console her properly with long lectures on the way the world never rewards the virtuous, how evil conquers all, and that people who spend their days plotting mischief usually get career advances before those of us that don't.
Ah! I see that Elberry is trying to pull the TV set from the wall and I have no doubt that he intends to throw it over the balcony into the crowds of intoxicated lags and lagerettes heading home. This, I fear, is what happens when Selena Dreamy makes a promise to join us in our revelry and then disappoints us with excuses about Labour ministers and flying ducks. Or at least I think that’s what she said. I can see I’ll have to intervene before Elberry goes too far. I’m not against these randoms act of violence but The Titch is still sleeping on the TV and I wouldn’t like any of my blog’s loyal readers to end up fried on Manchester’s tram lines.
So I’ll end it here. And without a picture. Lola has rightly brought me to task for posting too many photographs taken through Madeley-o-vision. I’m overdoing it on the facial deformities. Let’s restore some balance with lots of heartfelt pretentiousness torn straight from today’s notebook. It’s not funny and is full of that worthiness that comes of those afflicted with delusions of significance.
I’ll try to speak more sense with you all tomorrow.
As written in my notebook:
I’m beginning to dislike myself. Not just what I am and who I’ve become, not this version of Me but the one who turns in for work and grows more manic with every passing hour. Each morning I wake up and find that there’s more to dislike. Eight o’clock and I’m sluggish at my desk. By noon, the tedium has warmed me frantic. Three o’clock and I’m unable to sit still. I say foolish things, embarrass myself. Animals repeat the same actions when distressed. I’m walking the same carpet. Desk. Window. Cooler. Desk. Window. Cooler. Desk.
Perhaps I’m listening to too much Philip Glass. I don’t understand music but I can be evangelical about Bach and Glass: the phrases, the small nuances that change, the sudden expansion after so much that’s been contracted and small. For three months I listened to nothing but Koyaanisqatsi. Now I'm in love with his soundtrack for 'Mishima'. Stunning every time. It reminds me that there no need for a kaishakunin when lead your life by timesheets and use a wireless keyboard.
Somewhere deep inside me, I think sparkling waters still ripple. Good thoughts still condense; ideas drip and form pools where there once were lakes. Yet it’s not the routine of office life that I mistake for misery. It’s the silence. It’s the evaporation. It’s knowing that I could be doing something so much more meaningful with my time. My life. This one shot.
Am I too old to develop ADHD? I find myself fashioning a pair of pince-nez spectacles from a paper clip and the two foam circles taken from the top of a pack of recordable CDs. They sit on my nose and people give me strange looks. I’m so utterly bored.
There’s nothing here that lacks meaning. My are thoughts are disjointed because I’m disjointed. My brain is consuming itself. It’s four o’clock. I make a foolish remark and somebody makes me feel insignificant for being so politically incorrect. How could I misjudge things so badly? Why can't I just be myself and say what I want? Except that I’m on melt-down. This is creative energy channelling itself into the wrong places.
I've escaped. I'm travelling through the city, sitting behind a man on a tram. Grey suit, hair brushed Donald Trump style like a lid operated by a pedal and your foot. One day the wind will catch it and the lid will open. Them we’ll all know what he’s reading. I can only see that he’s holding typewritten pages. I see the line: ‘Arthur slipped off his rat mask’. It’s a manuscript for some unpublished story or novel. A woman is typing away on her laptop across the carriage. A thin guy looking sick, emancipated, jots in a notebook. He probably wants to be Dostoyevsky. Everybody here is a writer. This too makes me hate myself. There are too many words. The world is preserving itself for posterity. Words,in and for themselves, are never worth preserving. Only intentions. Art is not random. It's designed. I don't think writing makes you a writer. That's just a deal people make in order to discount their misery by 20%.
Waterstones. End of the day. I pick up a book. Published. Envy. I read a line randomly from the middle. ‘A child’s pleasure ran through him’. I hate the line and put the book back. I buy myself some Philip Roth instead. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
I was spying through the garden fence this morning when Ian Hislop caught me.
‘Just admiring your new lawnmower,’ I said, though I confess, I was blushing just a touch between nose and ears for reasons other than guilt at the thought that he might suspect I was trying to get writing tips from his wife, Victoria. I had a far more likely reason to feel embarrassed .
Since the Hislops bought the big property that backs onto our garden, I’ve been trying to avoid letting him know we were neighbours of his. I feared that viperish wit he's known to dole out on those mentally inferior to him. One withering remark from him and I might begin to feel bad about my life and my part-time office job in Manchester.
‘And why, pray tell, were you examining my lawn mower?’ he eventually asked in that high-handed way he has which involves energetic fluttering of his eyelids. ‘What, exactly, were you doing?’
‘You mean doing generally or in particular?’
‘I mean doing in that garden,’ he said. ‘God in heaven! You don’t actually live here, do you?’
‘Comes as a bit of a shock, doesn’t it?’
‘Just a bit,’ he answered.
‘Well, I do live here and so does Judy. This is our home. We also have a beaver but it lives in our pond. We’ve named it after Stephen Fry. Not the pond, of course. Fry deserves nothing smaller than a lake or large inland sea. I mean the beaver. It’s called Stephen Fry. We’ve lived here ages. Buried plenty of skeletons in this garden, I can tell you... Though not literally. That would be murder. I just meant metaphorical skeletons... And, anyway, if I did have to get rid of a body, I wouldn’t bury it in my garden. I’d bury it in somebody else’s... Though not yours. Although I’m sure it’s a fine garden for that sort of thing. No, I wouldn’t need to because I haven’t killed anybody... But I might have accidentally drowned Fred Talbot when I scuttled the “This Morning” map in the pond. I’ve written about it on my blog....’ There was a long silence during which I probably did too much grinning. ‘Do you have a blog, Ian?’
That’s typical of what happens when you meet Hislop. He’s got this way about him that makes you confess to the most ridiculous things. His place is really with some police force. Stick him in a room with an innocent man and, I swear, inside the hour they’d be doing vocal gymnastics like a canary in counterfeit sweatpants.
‘Well, jolly good,’ said Ian, climbing astride his lawnmower. (I looked away as he did his striding. When a man wearing shorts starts to stride, I find it’s always better if you look away.) ‘If I were you, Richard,’ he said as he began to rev the throttle, ‘I’d seriously think about getting yourself a job. You’re going to rot, standing around at the bottom of your garden and spying on other people’s lawnmowers. And if you ask me, there’s also something indecent about it.’
And with that he was off, the editor of the nation’s premiere satirical magazine, cutting a swathe of green in his own rather overgrown back lawn.
Now, you might say that I’m a stubborn old sod who never learns his lesson. Yet this encounter did teach me two things. The first was that Ian Hislop loves a noisy lawn mower as much any celebrity who happens to come in below five feet in hip-cropped shorts. The other is that he’s acutely perceptive about a man facing a crossroads in his life.
You see, we’ve again reached the point of the week when I go down to the bottom of the garden to do some thinking, a little planning, and spread the occasional smatter of tears. Tomorrow is the day when I shed the skin of the lovable TV host and become, for a better want of words, Elberryesque, as I challenge my knees to the long trudge to the station and then a day working on the dark side of the moon which, in this case, looks remarkably like Manchester.
I’ll be working up there for two days but my nights will be spent looking for work. I hope to find something to rescue me from what is rapidly taking on all the characteristics of a rut. I want work that challenges me. Creative work. Work for a man who writes 2000 words of a blog before breakfast and then invents illuminated liquorice sticks in his garden shed before noon. I don’t mean temping work; shuffling files, euthanizing fax machines. I want work that tests a man with my unique qualities. Judy thinks I’d be a whiz as a copywriter or design guru. Give me the next Pepsi campaign and I’ll give you Leonard Cohen singing before a wombat chorus. Never been done before. Bound to be a hit.
Only, the trouble with being so famous in one line of work means that it’s hard to find work in another. I have been sending my CV to different companies in the hope of landing some small role in advertising. They usually send them back thinking I’m joking. When I do get an interview, it’s more out of fascination and the chance to get an autograph.
‘But haven’t you got a show on Channel 4?’ they ask.
‘I’m looking for a change,’ I tell them. ‘It’s very well for the press to say that I’m earning a few million a year but I’d be much happier if could clear twenty grand on a regular basis.’
‘That’s rather hard to believe,’ they say. ‘You’d rather have less than the UK’s average wage instead of these huge contracts?’
‘That’s just it,’ I tell them. ‘The contracts are all in Judy’s name. I’m just an honest Joe without a penny in his pocket.’
‘Do you have any qualifications?’
‘Honorary or academic?’ I ask but at this point they usually close their files and show me the door.
Oh, I could write more of tonight's rambling post but I’m merely delaying the inevitable. I have to go to bed. I can hear that Judy will soon be finished on the trombone so I’ll simply say that I’ll see you on Friday, if not sooner. I’ll try to post tomorrow night from Manchester but if you don't hear from me, I'll have emptied the mini-bar in room 318. And if anybody fancies joining me, I'll be taking my travel Scrabble...
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
There must be something in the water that occasionally grants me what I like to call 'The Vision'. No sooner had I posted that trivial bit of nonsense about gnats yesterday than the whole neighbourhood was invaded by bugs the size of house bricks. These were mean creatures and attracted to anything that was shiny, brightly coloured, or giving off a strong aroma. Naturally, David Dickinson stood no chance.
All that glistening, orange sweat heavily scented with French cologne: it was manna to the giant gnats. As Judy and I watched from the safety of our air conditioned front room, Dickinson went running down the street, waving his arms about his King Louis XIV perm.
‘Get away, you bloody fools!’ he cried. ‘Gnats! It’s the bloody gnats!’
‘Oh Richard, you must do something,’ said Judy as I stood there chuckling to myself.
‘I am doing something,’ I replied. ‘I’m standing here chuckling. I swear there’s a show in this. I should go and get my video camera.’
‘I mean you should go out and save him. You know that you’re immune to all wounds except that of a Vorpal blade.’
I hated to admit that Judy had a point since this was also a matter of principle.
‘You want me to save the man who has had nothing but bad things to say to me since the Michael Palin incident?’ I looked at my darling wife’s face, illuminated by virtuous concern for a man it is really quite hard to like. ‘Okay, okay,’ I said, turning for the front door. ‘I'll play the hero for once. Be ready to let us in. And if he says something cutting about the sofa, don’t say I didn’t warn you. He once made Stephen Fry cry just with the word "mahogany".'
I dashed for the Range Rover and made it untouched by the giant gnats. From there it was simply a matter of following the screams of ‘beware the bloody gnats!’ all the way to Ronnie Corbett’s front garden where I found Dickinson fighting his way through deep foliage.
‘I’m here to save you,’ I said.
‘Richard? Is that you?’ cried David. ‘They’ll bloody follow you, you know? Gnats! Bloody big gnats!’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘We’ve got to get you to a safe place.’
‘You’re so bloody kind,’ said David, pointing to me.
‘I know I am,’ I answered, choosing that moment to snap the above picture with my camera phone. I thought a picture of the man’s humiliation would be a good thing to own. I could always use it to remind him of the great debt he was about to owe me. (It looks even better if you click on it and see it in full resolution. You get a real sense of the gratitude in the David's eyes.)
However, his thanks were short lived. As we ran for the car, David began to rant about the bugs being a message for the neighbourhood.
‘The bloody bugs are all Madeley's fault!’ he cried, wide eyed, slack jawed, and senseless. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time but he was only wide-eyed, slack jawed and senseless because he’s allergic to gnat bites. That was left to Judy to spot, which she quickly did once I got him back to the house.
‘I don’t think his bottom lip should be that big,’ said Judy.
‘Ob corb ib nob subbbobed bo be bis blooby bib!’ replied Dickinson.
To be fair, I hadn’t noticed the inordinate size of his bottom lip because the whole of his face had swollen to something like twice its normal size. By the time we got him to the hospital, he was looking less like David Dickinson and more like Clarissa Dickson Wight.
And that’s where we left him being pumped full of antihistamines.
The last I heard was his telling a nurse that it was ‘like a blooby blague of bocusts senb dowb by Gob!’
‘Do you think that’s right?’ asked Judy. 'Why would God send a plague of gnats after David?'
‘Why?’ I laughed. ‘Because God has a bloody good sense of humour! That's why.’
Monday, 9 June 2008
I’m busy writing my memoir today (I’ll reach 20,000 words by the evening or my name’s not Madeley) so it's only a small update this afternoon, which, I suppose, is only fitting given that I want to answer the many people coming here wanting to know ‘what are gnats good for?’
It’s strange how my blog attracts sudden waves of visitors searching for the same thing. The ‘John Noakes riding naked’ epidemic has thankfully passed, though 'Vanessa Feltz's cleavage' seems to be a stayer. At the moment, however, Google is bringing me nothing but questions about ‘custard creams’ and ‘gnats’. Well, I’ve dealt with custard creams on many previous occasions and I think it’s only right that I turned my attention to the humble gnat.
So, I'm proud to present you with:
Richard Madeley’s Top 10 Things That Gnats Are Good For
1. Scrabble. I’ve annoyed Stephen Fry on many an occasion when I’ve used that odd ‘GN’ combination to get my ‘genuflect’ on a triple word score.
2. Gnats are nature’s irritants. If it weren’t for gnats, we’d pick on the Welsh.
3. If it weren’t for the gnats that get stuck to cyclists’ teeth, many vegetarians would get no meat in their diets. Being naturally low on carbohydrates, they are also an excellent addition to any low-carb diet. Eat nothing but gnats and I guarantee that you won't feel bloated in the morning.
4. ‘Gnats’ rhymes with ‘spats’ which means we have one of my favourite self-penned verses:
If a gnat wore spats
And a bowler hat
Would they let him dine
At Michael Caines?
5. Picking a gnat from your ear can be one of the most pleasurable things you can do with your little finger. The relief when you squash the little bugger against your eardrum is quite exquisite.
6. Gnats cheer me up when Judy holds one of her insufferable garden parties each summer. There’s much fun to be had watching Vanessa Feltz trying to swat gnats away from her blancmange.
7. Simon Cowell fears all gnats, which is why I always keep a bag of them in the glove compartment.
8. Gnats don’t eat caterpillars. Which means that we have Grizzled Skipper, the Green-veined White, the Painted Lady and the Greater Unspotted Nigel.
9. Gnats never voted for New Labour.
10. Gnats give talented TV types the chance to make exciting new documentaries such as ‘When Gnats Swarm! Narrated by Richard Madeley’.
Sunday, 8 June 2008
I no longer have political dreams. There was a time when I lived by the Westminster clock; from the early morning when I'd gently rub myself in front of a picture of Margaret Thatcher, to the long nights when I'd sing along to the latest Neil Kinnock LP. I had (and have) no political affiliation beyond the fact that I loved the lot of them. Vain, preening, full of their own self-importance: politicians seemed to represent everything I loved about myself. They were also likely to put a few extras quid on the expense account, which I personally took as proof that we’d voted for rational human beings much like ourselves.
Pretty much the same is true of Mary Poppins. Judy Andrews always represented the Richard Madeley that had gone into the business of social care rather than journalism. Though she wasn’t a Romford lad, she was honest and down-to-earth, in addition to which, I always fancied flying by umbrella and wearing button up high heel boots with heavy duty child-friendly dresses. That, however, is a story for another day... All these things were rattling around my brain when I went to sleep last night. They explain the dream I had.
I suppose it was really more of a nightmare, partly brought on by a reheated chicken curry I had for supper while watching a Sky News report about Caroline Spelman's nanny. In the dream, Gordon Brown appeared floating outside my window dressed like Julie Andrews. He was clutching a bag of knitting in one hand as he held onto the umbrella with the other.
‘Well, hello,’ he said in that deep voice he has. ‘I’m your new nanny. Gordon Popinions.’
‘You’re a bit heavy to be floating outside my window,’ said the dream Madeley. ‘And aren’t you a bit too male to be called yourself a nanny?’
‘My government is proud of the real achievements we have made in making it possible for people from all sections of the British people to feel so helpless that they’ll now take the jobs that previously went to Polish immigrants.’
‘So that’s why you're outside the window?’ I could see his point. He clearly needed the money. However, I also had needs that required satisfying. ‘I had been hoping for something Swedish,' I admitted. 'Something like an au-pair, perhaps. Heavy on the pair...’ As you can see, the dream Madeley had none of my wit.
‘So, do I get the job?’ asked Gordon, trying to rearrange his moobs so that he might show them to their best advantage. ‘I’ve got a spoonful of sugar that’ll help the medicine go down. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll bribe you with a tax cut before the next general election. Would you like me to sing you a cockney song involving Pearly kings and queens?’ At this point he began to sing 'Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)' and I mentioned that with food prices, it would hardly be tuppence.
At this point, Gordon's face clouded. 'Why don't you just go and **** yourself and **** three *** up your **** **** and **** it with a *****?' he said.
I closed the window. It wasn't the abuse being hurled at me by our prime minister dressed as a woman and floating outside my window that did it. Even in my dreams, thoughts of things Swedish had taken over. For the rest of the night I'd be occupied by far more salubrious activities involving Vanessa Feltz, the Swedish women’s netball team, and three dozen tubs of Bird’s custard.
Saturday, 7 June 2008
I can’t remember the last time I’ve been ridden so hard.
That said, it felt especially good to wake up next to Judy this morning. I’d crept in around dawn, the last half-mile of my journey home in the company of the milkman on his float. It had taken me all night to get back from Manchester and I'd spent long hours trying to answer the question that had been troubling me. It might be the last of cocktails in my system but I just couldn't remember the last time I’ve been ridden so damn hard for so long...
Grim though it is, when freed of my duties at Channel 4, I travel up to the North West for two days each week to work on new series of ‘Eye of the Storm’. Production continues apace, with our focus now on interesting phenomena involving water vapour. Yesterday, I spent eleven hours in the studio providing the voiceover for a montage about clouds that resemble famous celebrities. Since the producers appealed for shots from the public, the offices have been overwhelmed by photographs of clouds that look like Madonna, Vic Reeves, Gordon Brown (it's not difficult so long as the clouds look leaden enough), and even Bruce Forsythe. We’ve had our researchers looking through for the best of the pictures and we’re how in the processing cutting them together for a two part special to be shown at Christmas.
Two-part specials always mean longer hours in the studio. We ran over last night because we’ve been trying to catch up with the schedule that was interrupted by the recent Russian invasion of Manchester. Only some things just can’t be rushed. By ten o’clock last night, my voice had gone. It was sounding light and rather whisperish and nothing at all like the baritone Richard you’ve come to love and admire from TV. It was getting on toward eleven when the producer finally allowed me to go but only once I'd agreed to work Wednesday and Thursday next week to make sure the show is ready for to show the buyers from ITV.
By that time, I’d missed my usual InterCity for London Euston but I knew I could still catch a train to Birmingham and then figure out transport from there. I knew it would be as dash for Piccadilly Station so as soon as I came out of the production offices, I turned right for the short cut that leads through the Gay Village. At that time of night, the village is getting pretty busy but I was wearing my obligatory disguise of false nose, moustache, and beret, and I’ve also adopted the habit of wearing a large beauty mark above my right eye.
I was jogging along down the road that leads behind the NCP car park when I heard a voice calling out in the night.
‘Look at me, Ronnie!’ it said. ‘I’m mincing! I’m mincing!’
And sure enough, there running from a bar, was a tall man who was in the early stages of a mince. He was wearing a white shirt adorned with a fading picture of Erasure, jeans torn at the knees and rear pocket, and had a light pink rinse to his long blonde ponytail. His mince became pronounced once he was away from the pavement and by the time he was dodging traffic in the middle of the road there was no doubting this was a mince with fur on.
What was most disturbing about this little tableau was the fact that he was running towards me and had a look in his eye that suggested that I should know him. My first reaction was to look over my shoulder and see if there might anybody else around for whom this show of affection – and indeed, mincing – might make more sense. Seeing that nobody was taking any notice of this character, my second instinct was to run. By then, it was too late. A fully developed mince can cover two hundred meters quicker an gold winning Olympian on drugs. Arms had wrapped themselves around my neck and I was being assaulted by an aftershave that had lips attached.
I pushed him from me, fearing the worst for my beauty mark and Groucho moustache. ‘I’m not Ronnie,’ I said, trying to clear the taste of unknown Mancunian from my mouth. Only my assailant wouldn’t have it.
‘Of course it’s you Ronnie!’ he said. ‘Who'd forget that beauty mark? And I’d recognise that voice anywhere. Don’t you know me? It’s Kenny. Kenny Rogers!’
I could see at once that it wasn’t that Kenny Rogers. He was much too young, too slim, beardless, and hadn’t had a string of contemporary country-based MOR hits in the 1970s. Nor do I recall the real Kenny Rogers having a tattooed tear dripping from his right eye.
‘So, Ronnie,’ he said, his hands on his hips and as eyed me up, down and probably around. ‘You’re going to tell me how you are doing? Still wearing the beret, I see.’
I was too tired to argue and feared that too convincing a denial might have compromised my disguise. The last thing I wanted to admit to at nearly eleven o’clock on a Friday night in the middle of Manchester’s Gay Village is that I was the answer to many a gay man's prayers. Many of the village’s residents will have 'discovered themselves' sitting in front of ‘This Morning’, which in its time had quite a following among the gay community. I was probably the first man they found attractive and they had since passed many years full of repressed lust, not to mention the anger they must feel about my having a full-bodied woman waiting for me back home. I wouldn’t have the heart to tell these poor love-struck men that I wasn’t for them, yet the alternative was a fate far too grim to contemplate. Need I add that I wasn’t even wearing underpants?
And so, adopting the guise of the mysterious Ronnie, I admitted that I was well and that, yes, I still wore a beret. I hoped that the admission might end the conversation quickly and I would still manage to catch the last train south.
‘It’s simply wonderful that you’re here tonight, Ronnie,’ said Kenny Rogers, lacing his arm through mine. ‘Imagine. Tonight of all nights!’
It was stupid of me, I know, but I had to ask. ‘Why? What’s tonight?’
He pushed me away.
‘Away!’ he said. ‘You don’t know?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You honestly don’t know?’
‘I really, really don’t know.’
‘Away!’ he said again.
‘I am away,’ I smiled but wondered if I were far enough ‘away’ that I could turn on my heels and reach a policeman in time.
‘You don’t know? Ronnie, you’re here on tonight of all nights and you don’t know?’
I was getting frustrated. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Look,’ I said. ‘You either tell me what’s tonight or I’ll slap you so hard...’
But Kenny was just too happy for words. He began to clap his hands and bounce on the tips of his toes. ‘Oh, Ronnie!’ he squealed. ‘You’ve not changed!’
‘At least not my beret,’ I said, sourly.
‘Oh my God! I mean you’re been sent by heaven! You’re going to win it for me. I know you will. And then I’ll let you slap me as hard and as often as you want...’
And with that, he grabbed by hand and began to pull be town the road towards the larger of the two canals I knew I would have to avoid that night.
Now, you’ll just have to trust me on this because I know it’s unlikely that it’s happened to you but should you ever find yourself in disguise, wearing a beret, without underwear, in Manchester on a Friday Night, being dragged into the heart of the Gay Village by a man with a heavy mince and a tattooed tear, you too will begin to mince. It’s inevitable. I hadn’t gone ten steps before I was going from foot to foot with the top half of my body swaying from one side to the other, my right elbow resting on my right hip and my arm off at a telling angle. I tried to protest that I had somewhere else to go but Kenny wouldn’t have any of it. He seemed to think that my fate lay in the village.
I could see why he might think that. Having worked eleven hours, my voice was shattered and little more than accented lisp.
‘On Kennie! You’re going much too fast for me!’ I cried.
It sounded a lot less manly than it does when written in ever-so-muscular prose. It certainly sounds more masculine when you don't hear it echoing from streets camper than a bag of feather dusters. As for me, I was dragged along behind Kenny and had little time to notice the sheer number of bright colours on display.
‘I’m on the only straight in the village,’ I mumbled to myself as I watched a pair of transvestites dance the tango along the side of the Manchester Ship Canal.
Kenny was too excited to take an interest and pulled me to a bar that had a large sign hanging over the front of the building. The sign read ‘Tonight Only: The Bareback Rodeo’.
‘Remember it?’ asked a rather-too-keen Kenny Rogers.
‘Who can ever forget the bareback rodeo?’ I replied, wondering how deep this hell of mine might run.
He pulled me after him and we entered the bar which was packed with men in leather, tight t-shirts and the occasional revealing knicker/bra combination. I was still in disguise but felt relatively dowdy in comparison. I worried how they’d greet a man who looked like a Restoration version of Grouch Marx in an overcoat. I needn’t have worried. As Kenny led me to the bar, the room fell silent for all of one split second and then...
‘Ronnie!’ they all lisped in unison. Soon I had drinks being pushed into more hands than I remembered possessing.
After I’d ingratiated myself with old friends who had known Ronnie from years back, Kenny appeared at my side. ‘It’s all arranged,’ he said. ‘You’re taking my place.’
‘Away!’ he squealed. ‘You can’t back out now. Not when you volunteered. Anyway, Mr. Smartypants, you’re going last since you’re now the favourite.’
He led me deeper into the bar until we came out into a small disco that had been converted for the night with the introduction of dozens of large bails of hay. The middle of the room was brightly lit where the hay formed a small ring covered in sawdust. I looked for the place where the animals would be led but the gathering crowd made it difficult to see what I was looking for. And then Kenny squeezed my arm. He pointed up to a large board where my name was being chalked.
‘Bad luck. You’ve got Dr. Dunlop,’ he said. ‘Thighs like rubber. They say he never lets go.’
No sooner had I mentioned the doctor’s name than there was a tug at my trouser leg. I looked down and saw a dwarf looking up at me. The dwarf was wearing jeans and a chequered cowboy shirt. This look of a truncated John Wayne was topped off by a children’s cowboy hat tied under his chin with a length of string.
‘Never had the pleasure,’ said the dwarf in a high rather-falsetto voice, ‘but I’ve heard a lot about you.’
‘Dr. Dunlop,’ said Kenny point to the diminutive figure.
‘Until the ring,’ said Dr. Dunlop, touching the rim of his cowboy hat.
‘Notice the look of fear in his eyes?’ asked Kenny. ‘He’s heard of your reputation. You better get changed. It’s starting soon.’
He led me to the gents where he handed me an outfit that squeaked in my hand. I gave it a quick inspection, recognising a full-body rubber suit with a handle stitched onto the back. I shrugged and slipped into the bathroom and into the first empty cubicle. Ignoring the noises coming from the adjacent stalls, I slipped out of my clothes and into the outfit.
If you wonder why I’d gone along with this, I’d decided that it was one of those hellish episodes it’s better to rush through with barely a look to either side. Only by resisting fate do you prolong your agony. It was a bit like agreeing to go on the Graham Norton show and then trying to escape from the Green Room. It quickly becomes a nightmare. Or, at least, it does in my personal experience.
Only when I had my legs in the suit and had begun to pull it up my body did I realise that the outfit was not as 'full body' as advertised. What I thought was a rather generously large opening for the neck was not for the neck. As I squeezed my head through the only suitable opening, I felt my bottom emerge from the large gaping hole at the back. I thanked providence that I’d had the sense to attach my false nose and moustache with superglue.
Out in the ring, Kenny greeted me with a kiss.
‘Let’s get this over so I can go,’ I said as I watched one of my competitors bounce around the ring with a small figure gripping hopeless to his back. A couple of wild bounces and the rider was off and cursing his luck in typical miniature cowboy fashion.
Suddenly, the hall went quite as a growing chorus of voices slowly began to chant together. ‘Ronnie. Ronnie. Ronnie. Ronnie...’
I, Ronnie, could not disappoint my audience. I suppose it’s that pride that comes from being a professional in light entertainment. Even there, wearing a black rubber body suit with my buttocks hanging out the back, I could do nothing but step into the ring and try to give my public what they wanted.
And what an hour that was! They say it will go down as one of the greatest sporting contests in the history of Manchester's Gay Village and I understand that a brightly painted mural in day-glow paint has been commissioned to commemorate the event. As for me, however, on the business end of history making, I had just fallen to my hands and knees not knowing what to expect. I’d seen how the other contestants had fared against the experience of the professional midget rodeo stars, some shaking, others bucking like wild mustangs, but all eventually succeeding in dislodging their riders. As soon as Dr. Dunlop on my back, I began to crawl around the ring trying to shake him free. Kenny was right. The Doctor’s legs were tight against the rubber suit that provided more grip than would a sweaty flank. As the determination to throw him began to gather in my mind, I began to work myself into a frenzy. I began to throw my rear up into the air to the great appreciation of the audience who cheered each time my buttocks reached a new zenith of buck.
Yet Doctor Dunlop never once let go. As I jumped and shook, I only felt him loosen his hold for a fraction of a second and that wasn’t enough to react. He was soon back firmly sitting on my back, an immovable object and all the time cheering himself on in that high child-like voice.
I began to tire after half an hour and the crowd grew quiet as the battle turned into a prolonged stalemate. I might have collapsed and admitted defeat, so worn out after a long day’s work. Yet Fate was going to have one final say in my evening. Dr. Dunlop did something that changed the complexion of the whole fight and ensured that I would not stop until the midget was defeated.
I had slowed to a crawl in order to catch my breath. I thought Dr. Dunlop would do the same. Only, as I took my first gasp, he gave a ‘yee-haw’ and slapped me on my rump. This, in itself, might not have produced the effect he so desired. I’ve had many people ‘yee-haw’ at me and almost as many slap me on my behind. No, what produced the response that will live long in the annals of Manchester history, was the fact that he then proceeded to stick his finger where no finger but my own or those of invited medical professionals are allowed to stick them. Afterwards, Kenny told me that it was Dunlop’s reputation for irritating his mounts with his so-called ‘magic finger of doom’ earned him his medical sobriquet and had made him such a firm favourite on the midget buckaroo circuit.
Well, no man likes to be humiliated and there’s no greater way to humiliate ‘Ronnie’ Madeley than by having a dwarf push a finger up his bottom in a room full of slightly drunk transvestites. I began to lash out, throw my rear in the air until I was literally standing on my hands. And I did not stop when my chest began to cry out in pain. I bucked and bashed and rolled and twisted until my whole body was one uncontrollable ball of rubber forever on the bounce. Yet still the little fellow hung on.
There had to be a breaking point. It came in the sixty second minute. In the end, it wasn’t Dr. Dunlop who gave out. I was only aware of the sudden loss of weight on my back and the sight of a dwarf in cowboy hat and boots flying into the crowd. Only then was I aware of the sensation of cool air on my back. Dunlop had lost, not because his famously strong thighs had failed him but because my suit had given way under the stresses to which I’d put it. Perhaps it had perished or had a design fault but the suit had split in two, all the way down the back. As the crowd rushed forward to congratulate me on my famous victory, I clasped the last of the rubber to my body before I was lifted high onto shoulders. Later the suit was ripped from my grasp by an eager patron wanting a trophy from the night.
An hour later, I was standing naked at the bar drinking another celebratory cocktail when Kenny Rogers appeared at my side. In one hand he held a thick wad of money and in the other the tied bundle of my clothes.
‘Some of this is yours, Ronnie,’ he said, offering me the cash, but I was just happy to have my pants back. I didn’t know how long my moustache and false nose would remain on my face given the amount of sweating I’d been doing.
‘Keep it,’ I said, slipping a leg into the trousers.
‘Oh, Ronnie, you were always the best,’ he said.
To which the bar sang their agreement to the beat of a Europop beat. Once I was dressed, I said my farewells. They raised their pink cocktails towards the door and I saluted them with the last of my ‘Sex on the Beach’ but all the time thinking only of Judy.