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...’