Monday, 13 October 2008

From Durham To Edinburgh

The moustache leered at me from beneath the dripping edge of a sou'wester.

‘Could you make it out to Denise?’ it wheezed. ‘And can you write that she looked better as a man?’

The pen made a staggered leap across the page leaving an awkward ‘Madeley’ in its wake. I would have thought it had got used to the odd requests I’ve been receiving during my book signing tour of the country’s bookshops. In Durham, a man carrying a shih tzu in a pink tutu had asked me to make the book out to ‘Bill’. I was happy to oblige. ‘Oh, wonderful!’ he exclaimed, holding his copy at arm’s length and showing my signature off to the dog. ‘Can you see this, Bill? The kind Mr. Madeley has signed a book for you. And after all the horrible things you’ve said about him.’

In Birmingham, I’d been asked to sign a book for a man’s mother. ‘Her name is Beryl,’ he explained. ‘And it would be great if you added something about her pickled onions.’

‘Pickled onions?’ I repeated. ‘What on earth am I supposed to say about her pickled onions?’

The man looked at me as though I were the one wearing the hand knitted cardigan portraying the Life of Judy in a dozen types of stitch.

‘Don’t tell me you didn’t get them!’ he screamed, his face reddening before it headed towards the blue end of the Dulux colour chart. ‘We sent those onions by first class mail! First class mail!’

My pen hesitated over the page. It’s always difficult when a fan has sent me a gift that the production office failed to pass on. It’s even more difficult when the fan has a tattoo on his neck that resembles your own wife. I cast a look to the right arm of his cardigan where Judy was also reading the news in her Granada Reports glory. I had been worn down to a hole which revealed a series of biceps you wouldn’t want to annoy.

‘To Beryl,’ I wrote. ‘Your pickled onions were the finest we’ve ever tasted.’

He took the book from me and slowly scanned my penmanship, which isn’t just easy on the eye but has been praised by Rolf Harris as an model of calligraphy. Finally, the man turned to look at me, a tear taking a slow route down his cheek. ‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ he said, beaming proudly. ‘Mother will be so happy. She’ll be the proudest girl on E Wing!’ The last I saw of him was a shape running off across a Birmingham car park, sequins forming a large ampersand fading into the night.

This book tour has left me with so little time to write that all these examples crowd for space in this hurried post as I make my way to Rotherham. There was the man in Liverpool who told me he was channelling the spirit of the late Russell Harty.

‘Could you sign it for Russell?’ he asked. ‘He’s your biggest fan on the other side.’

‘I have a wide appeal,’ I said, trying my best to humour him.

‘There’s no need to be smug,’ he replied. ‘Otto von Bismarck thinks you’re a git.’

I fixed him with a stare. ‘But that’s only because we never did agree about the outcome of the Austro-Prussian War,’ I replied as I scribbled my name on his copy of the book and moved on to the next person in the line.

Things were no more normal north of the Border. In Edinburgh’s Waterstones, I met a man who claimed to be the modern Pétomane and told me that he’d be perfect for the show. I didn’t know what he meant until the tune of ‘Scotland the Brave’ began to emanate from beneath his kilt. The first few bars were fine but they were followed by the aroma of partially digested haggis. I quickly scribbled my name on his copy of the book and took a break from signing while the room was ventilated. When I got back, I was entertained by a woman who could play her dentures like castanets whilst her husband danced the flamenco. Both of them bought copies so I was forced to sit through the complete routine. I said nothing when an incisor came loose and bounced from my forehead.

I arrived home tonight. The slight bruising above my right eye has almost disappeared and only the faintest outline of a tooth remains. I found my blog silent, a few emails from outraged fans demanding that I explain my gaff on the Chris Moyles show, and a few are from non-fans who want me to disappear forever.

‘Blog no more, you filthy imposter!’ say some.

‘Write another book!’ say others.

‘Do you want us to send more pickled onions?’ asks one odd man from the Midlands.


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