Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Greater Bearded Tit and Me

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.

‘Who is?’

‘Rory.’

‘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.

10 comments:

Lola said...

Well, another classic post. It had drama, pathos, a cliffhanger ending, and Rory McGrath, who is a fine chap. We discover that Fred is not in the lake with the beaver after all, and to top it all, you used the word 'hirsute'. Urbane yesterday and hirsute today, two of my favourite words in such quick succession that I'll have to go for a lie down.

Dick Madeley said...

My evenings studying on the local college's 'Short Story Writing' course are paying off, I think. I just wish I had time to polish them to the high standards of my teacher, Mrs. Harvill, who would be shocked to hear that I publish work only nineteen minutes old.

I'll try to make tomorrow's word a particularly good one.

Lola said...

I quite like 'isthmus', if that's any help.

Dick Madeley said...

'isthmus'* it shall be, Lola. And you will thereafter have a footnote in the great Richard Madeley story.. It shall read:

*This word was requested by Lola and Richard worked long into the night to make her dream a reality in this highly amusing tale which finally made his name and fortune as a writer.

Lola said...

Too much pressure. If I hadn't already, I'd have to go for another lie down.

Dick Madeley said...

There might be a slight problem with the 'isthmus'.

I'm away in Manchester tomorrow and Friday so I've asked a friend to blog in my place. If he finishes his piece in time, he promises to squeeze the word in. However, at this stage, we can't promise anything.

I know you'll now have a sleepless night but this is the best I can do... Sorry.

Barbara said...

I'm still waiting for the surgeon and pliers story, sounds like a good one.

Katharos Drakkina said...

Hah! I actually remember the weather man. I can't remember anything else about that program, but I do remember the weather man, bless 'im.

Hope your mission of mercy to bring him back into civilisation is successful.

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