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.