This morning, my life took an unfortunate turn towards the vulgar and I feel it's only right to warn you that a trouserless Madeley awaits you below. Since every crevice of my being will soon be open to your inspection, I’d also be most grateful if you could warm your hands before you pass this point. Cold fingers need not apply.
While I go about alienating the more prudish amongst you, I want to say that I didn’t set out today intending to bend before you in this undignified manner. This pose just happens to be the perfect position from which to describe the events of my day. I have been left, you see, compromised and with my dignity exposed. I can only ask you to grip the torch tightly between your teeth as I spread my buttocks before your interested-yet-repulsed gaze. This won’t take long and, again, let me assure you that it was most definitely not what I wanted.
After all, the colonic was not my idea. Judy suggested it over breakfast.
‘Cilla claims they’ve done her the world of good,’ she said as she served me up a bowl of All Bran Extra Fibre.
I didn’t need those dehydrated twigs of evil to I know what my wife was up to. Since I got the call from the BBC asking me to appear on Newsnight's ‘Late Review’, Judy has been worrying that I’ve started to show the symptoms of early Ekow Eshun fever, the effects of which happen to be identical to those of severe constipation. Pretentiousness is hard to deny, especially when you spend your time pressing your lips together, fluttering your eyelids, and then waxing lyrical about the pretence of subjectivity in postmodernist Nordic subculture as seen in the Tate Modern’s challenging exhibition of Knut Hamsun’s earwax sculptures on loan from the Norsk Folkemuseum. I also think it’s wrong of Judy to accuse me of 'turning Eshun' when she knows that I’ve started to make a list of all our differences. I keep it in my man purse, right next to the copy of Foucault's 'History of Sexuality' I've been annotating in my own glorious and ever-so-superiour hand.
None of this impressed Judy who continued to frown whenever I mentioned Newsnight.
‘Not everybody who goes on that show is backed up down below,’ I said as I began to hack through the bran with a machete and spoon. ‘There must be a few well regulated bowels working on Newsnight...’
Judy sniffed as she levelled her gaze at me. ‘Kirsty Wark?’ she asked.
I could see her point.
‘Look, if I agree to have this colonic, you’ve got to allow me to go on the show. Last week they talked a lot of drivel about the new James Bond book by Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) and I want to set them straight about villains with monkey paw hands.’
‘Oh, Richard. You and your monkey paws. Is there nothing you won’t do in order to talk about them? All I’ve been hearing about lately is monkey paws, monkey paws, monkey paws... Enough with the monkey paws!’
‘But it’s important that the world knows what I know,’ I replied. ‘It’s fine for Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) to use a monkey paw as a key narrative device, but he’s not really addressed the whole monkey paw issue.’ I was getting into my stride. ‘This monkey paw is the elephant in the room but the Late Review didn’t even mention it. Instead they just came out with a load of old nonsense about Faulks (writing as Fleming) writing the book in six weeks. What’s that except pure middle-class angst because they fear they might have lowered themselves to read popular fiction? Then they couldn’t stop worrying that it might affect Faulks (writing as Faulks) and his more “serious” novels. I say stuff his “serious” novels. I want more monkey paws. I want more Bond. Paul Morley was the only one who spoke any sense and, as for Rachael Campbell-Johnston, chief art critic of The Times, I felt sorry for the poor woman. She’d only read "Casino Royale" and spent most of the time judging the book by the films. I wanted to tell her that the films are an insult to Fleming (writing as Fleming).’
The rant had taken more from me than I’d realised. As I tried to get my breath back, Judy set her spoon to one side of her bowl and took me by my hand. ‘Richard, I think it’s about time you found yourself a proper job,’ she soothed. ‘I don’t think it’s good for you, sitting in your room alone for so long...’
‘All I’m saying is that they didn’t do the Bond books any justice. When I go on the Late Review, I’m going to prove to the world that Fleming was a fine prose stylist and better than most of their charming but dull highbrows. And then I’ll tell the world the injustice that Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) has done to the whole monkey paw cause.’
‘Have your colonic first,' suggested Judy, 'and then we’ll see about the paw.’
And there ended the merry preface to this unhappy little tale.
It was later in the morning and I was being driven into the city in search of a colonic to help me set the world straight about Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) and monkey paws. I’d asked Stephen Fry to drive me since I was still in no mood to look Clarkson in the face. I can’t deny that his rocket car would have been the perfect vehicle to get me to an appointment I would happily delay and you know how much Jeremy would enjoy talking monkey paws. But Clarkson was off with AA Gill, playing the games that sophisticated people play with their peeled chins, and I was with Stephen, moving slowly through traffic.
It was when Stephen insisted on stopping at yet another set of lights, citing his blemish free driving license as a reason not to rush, that I began to grow restless. The thought of having a rubber hose pushed between my cheeks had begun to weigh heavily on my mind and I decided to turn to Stephen for advice.
‘Ah, the pleasure of a newly-rinsed colon,’ said Stephen Fry with a crooked smile. ‘You cannot anticipate how your quality of life will improve. Dear old Hugh Laurie swears by them. He even has a woman of Swedish descent on his staff. She's there, any hour of the day or night, to give him a colonic should it be required. You could eat your dinner of that man’s sphincter, it’s so clean. Claims it’s the reason he’s such a big star in Hollywood.’
‘They really care about clean sphincters that much in America?’ I asked.
‘I hardly think so,’ chuckled Stephen. ‘I was talking about his love for "a well washed men's room". How do you think he invented a limp for his character in “House”? If it wasn’t for a fortunate clash in his diary, he might not have turned up at his casting interview only an hour after having his monthly swill. The poor chap could hardly walk but Fate is a playful mistress. The producers thought it a perfect touch for Dr. Gregory House. Isn’t that a wonderful anecdote? You really can't beat a touch of celebrity, plenty of bottoms, and a happy ending. Don’t you agree?’
‘Fascinating story,’ I replied and sighed as Stephen slowing despite the lights ahead showing green.
‘It is hardly surprising, though,’ he continued. ‘I myself have seen my own life improve since I started to demand a clean back passage.’
‘There seem to be many ways of describing something so disgusting,’ I noted.
‘I’ve discovered many new talents that my cluttered old colon had been preventing for many a year,’ said he to whom none of life’s experiences remains a mystery. ‘I never thought I’d be able to juggle but now I’m a three ball man, with four in the air on a good day.’
‘I can already juggle,’ I was relieved to tell him.
‘Then how about the trombone? I mastered it in three months. It’s amazing how much extra space your lungs find once you give your lower intestine room to breath.’
For a moment I wondered if it could be that healthy breathing through your lower intestine but thought it best not to question Stephen who tends to be right about most things.
‘I’d prefer to leave the trombone to Judy,’ I said. 'She's still trying to master the instrument and practises before she goes to bed every night. I can't handle the thought of joining in. In my opinion, there's no instrument less suited to a duet than the trombone.'
‘Ah, well, fret not, dear Richard,’ said Stephen stopping at the now red lights. ‘I promise you that you will not regret this experience. And who knows what new talents you’ll discover once you’re been sucked clean.’
It had to be one of the oddest conversations ever to take place at the traffic lights on Kensington High Street but it was somehow reassuring to know that Stephen's colon was as clean as his driving license.
We found the clinic shortly before twelve. Apparently one of London’s best, it looked quite chic in dressed brickwork and brass plaques that almost obscured the door. Discreetly named the 'London Arse Hospital’, it stood well back from the street as though it were itself nervously waiting the prod of a hosepipe. We went in and I signed myself in at the reception desk before climbing to the second floor waiting room. It was there that I was surprised to find two characters I knew quite well.
‘Ah, dear me,’ muttered Fry. ‘We would do well to avoid those two. 'Tis Trinny and Susannah. They can kill a man at ten paces and have a very low tolerance for tweed.’
I’d never seen Stephen so nervous but it was too late to back out of the room. The nation’s favourite fashion stormtroopers had spotted us the moment we’d walked through the door.
‘Trinny!’ I exclaimed, kissing her an inch from her cheek. ‘Susannah! What are you doing here?’
‘I’m Trinny,’ said Susannah as she gazed unimpressed on Stephen’s suit.
‘And I’m Suzanna,’ said Trinny, also giving Fry the bad eye.
‘Most confusing,’ said Stephen, who I actually thought looked quite smart in his purple cape and hunting britches.
‘We’re regulars,’ explained either Trinny or Susannah. ‘We come here once a month. Can’t get enough of it.’
‘Really?’ I said. I wanted to ask more but a nurse had arrived and was already trying to smear lubrication on my buttocks. I kissed Trinny again. ‘Well, be good,’ I said. ‘I hope it all goes well for you. Have a good flush!’
‘Flush?’ exclaimed Trinny or Susannah (writing as Ian Fleming). ‘We’re not here for a flush! That was so last year! We’re having it pumped back in. Does us the world of good.’
‘Heavens!’ said Stephen suddenly looking quite pale as I was escorted away.
It is not worth troubling your last meal with the specific details of the next half hour. Let’s just say that I was taken to a sterile room where I was greeted by an elderly woman wearing rubber gloves and Wellington boots. I removed my trousers, lay down, and tried to settle myself with 'Devil May Care' while valves, tubes, buckets, and a powerful diesel pump were attached to my more sofa-friendly end. The sensation was not what I expected and I found it particularly hard to concentrate on my book while watching the contents of my flushed innards pass by me in long transparent tubes. It baffles me why they have to use transparent tubes, though they did afford me a glimpse of the shilling I'd inadvertently swallowed three Christmases past. It was a small comfort and finally explained my inability to walk through airport metal detectors and the times I thought I had more change in my pockets than I could ever account for.
‘I hope Sebastian Faulks (writing as Ian Fleming) appreciates what I’ve just been through,’ I said as I limped slowly out of the clinic. Stephen had my arm and helped me to his cab.
I winced as I banged my knee against the cab door. I was surprised to hear myself whistle.
‘Well, look at that!’ I said. ‘I’ve never been able to whistle before.’
Stephen patted me on the back. ‘There you go, Dick. A new world beckons. Who knows what other skills you will discover. Maybe you'll learn German or solve world overpopulation. Now let’s get you home. My tweeds would feel infinitely better if they weren’t around when Trinny or Susannah come out.’
‘I thought they’d have gone long ago,’ I said, not having spotted them when we left the clinic.
‘Well, that’s the strange thing,' said Stephen. 'As soon as you’d disappeared into your room, the nurses came back and took Trinny and Susannah into cubicles on either side. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the tubes that came out of your room went into these same cubicles. I can’t imagine why but I believe one of the dear ladies shouted something about spotting a shilling. Were I a less imaginative man, I would suspect that that which was once yours, is now theirs. The most remarkable form of wealth redistribution I think I've ever seen.’
I winced. ‘Well, may it bring them luck in every place but airports,’ I said and lowering myself gently onto the back seat of Stephen's taxi I gave a smile. There was something so deeply satisfying in knowing that all the bran I've been eating was now somebody else's problem.