Last night, the taxi parked up outside the Madeley home and I unwound my travel weary body from the back seat where I had been dozing since I’d fallen there from the airport’s arrivals hall. I was somewhat dozily counting out my taxi fare in silver buttons and fur encrusted humbugs when the front door of the homestead opened and Judy came out to greet me. I was happy to see her. Manchester had been a demonstration of one Londoner's lack of charm and the north's abundance of tolerence. Only, Judy wasn’t in the mood for stories of business lunches. In her hands was a black plastic bag emblazoned with a familiar gold font and logo. There was a moment or two’s pause before I planted a kiss on my fair wife’s cheek. I recognised the Waterstones bag but was suspicious that I wouldn’t like what was inside.
‘I’ve bought you a present,’ she said as I finally gave up counting paper clips and pocket fluff and slipped the driver a crisp twenty.
‘That isn’t another of those “self-help” books, is it Jude?’ I asked, wary that the last time she bought me a book, it was written by a spiritual guru who she had also invited around to the house. He’d proceeded to explain why I should give him 50% of my income in exchange for regular sessions involving colonic massage and prune juice.
‘No,’ said Judy, ‘I bought this knowing that you’d definitely approve.’
The taxi driver seemed to read my mind. He gave an all knowing sniff as he counted out the change in two pence pieces.
A good ten minutes later, I was indoors and able to open the gift. That’s when I gave the cry of fright that might have woken local residents and made some early news reports in the South East. My outburst was warranted since I hadn’t expected to find Alan Titchmarsh’s smug grin staring up from my lap. My first instinct was to reach for my pocket and throw loose change into his face. However, a gasp or two later, I realised my mistake. Titchmarsh was in caricature and rather than having the literary equivalent of organic fertilizer dropped into my hands, I was holding a lumpy goodness, a book that I would recommend to all my friends.
Despite writing for ‘The Daily Mail’, Quentin Letts has made much sense in his writing career and rarely fails to register a few laughs with his parliamentary sketches. His book '50 People Who Buggered Up Britain' was a quick read – I managed it in an evening – but packed full of observations that you’d only dispute if you were... well, a Daily Mail reader.
‘Did you enjoy the book?’ asked Judy this morning. ‘I fell asleep counting your chortling. It was more regular than clockwork sheep.’
‘Chortling was the only response to a book as good as that,’ I answered, ‘though I was somewhat disappointed by Quentin’s list. There were some glaring omissions that made no sense. As the instigator of all that’s wrong with this country, Peter Mandelson’s name should have been front, centre, as well as following up in the rear as he’s so likely to do. And no lesser an omission was the name of John Major. His programme of “care in the community” was one of the most misguided health policies of living memory. I blame his obsession with “charters” for what came later with the creeping, sycophantic politics of the ever mendacious Tony Blair.’
Judy looked across the table at me with a look of profound shock. ‘I never knew you were so informed about politics, Richard. I’m impressed.’
‘Oh,’ I said, gazing at the back of my hand, ‘I occasionally glance at Iain Dale’s blog and dip into the Devil. I’m something of a socio-political commentator at heart.’
‘You are that,’ she replied. ‘You should write your own list. I bet you might even get into the hardback charts with a book like that.’
Whilst it was clearly a cheap dig at my ‘Fathers & Sons’ sales figures, I thought that Judy had a point and I set myself to producing my own list. For reasons of brevity, I’ve decided to call it: ‘Richard Madeley’s List of Another 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain’. There is only one rule for inclusion in the list: nobody must be in Quentin’s book. After all, I wouldn’t want to try to match his verdict on Titchmarsh (‘he’s more prevalent than the municipal begonia’) and his ‘Ground Force’ militia.
What characters the presenters were, the embodiment of spray-on change and of instant improvement – and as such a betrayal of the most fundamental necessities for any gardener, which are patience and the nourishment of the soul from slow, seasonal change. Alan Titchmarsh offered the gardening equivalent of fast food. Does he care about the rhythms of the year, of the pace of Nature?’
Anyway, after fifteen minutes activity up in my den, I’d finished my list. It was harder work than you’d imagine but here it is, open to adjustment in the coming weeks and all suggestions appreciated. You might be puzzled by some of my inclusions but each one is made for good reason. If it takes my fancy in the future, I’ll write at length about each of them. They have all contributed (or are contributing) to the decline in our nation and done more than most to hasten the collapse of civilisation.
And & Dec (counts as 2)
Jordan/Katie Price (counts as 2)
Robert Kilroy Silk
Andrew Lloyd Webber
The Queen Mother
Roland (the fat kid from ‘Grange Hill’)
Norman St John-Stevas
Suggestions to the usual places: in the comments or to firstname.lastname@example.org.