Monday, 29 September 2008
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
Typing this straight into Blogger so excuse any typos. I'm just too tired to run it through a wordprocessor.
Is it just Britain that has that wonderful thing known as a 'train replacement service' whereby it's impossible to catch a train on a weekend? I spent a good few hours hour today being bounced around in the back of an empty minibus only to arrive fifty minutes late at the hospital where I found my father awake for the first time in days.
Not that he was in much of a mood for talking. Not when parents insist on taking children into hospital wards where there are seriously ill people who might not take kindly to screaming and tantrums.
Which reminds me to ask: why do nurses close the drapes around a bed and then proceed to describe in a loud voice what indignities they're performing on the patient? Today I heard the following monologue which went on for a while longer than I'll describe and in far greater detail. 'Let's have them down, shall we Peter? That's right... And now the other leg. Oh, what a mess you've made! I bet you don't do this at home!'
And why do buses always make you realise that your home town is really a hell? Or is it just like this on a Saturday?
Why do the government help families visit relatives in prison but don't help the low paid to visit parents in hospital?
However, you see some interesting things from the back of a bus, including my new favourite example of apostrophe misuse. Presented in classic bronze lettering next to a letterbox, not ten minutes from my own doorstep, was the following plaque:
Well, it amused me on a day otherwise free of laughter creases...
Friday, 26 September 2008
Forgive me. I’m listing a little to starboard tonight. An exhausting day at the hospital followed last night’s late trip home from Manchester where I enjoyed a meal with the crew from the production company. Not that I drank a thing given my duties this afternoon. In fact, my not drinking was possibly the talking point of the evening.
‘I don’t drink,’ I explained as I sat behind my tall glass of juice in a bar in central Manchester.
The crowd went silent, shuffled uneasily on their stools. A few looked to the ceiling and began to pom pom their way through some Benjamin Britten. Then, when the pom poms ran out and the silence became too much, Desperation elbowed its way for a seat at the table.
‘I think we need to get you a few sins,’ said one of the braver members of the production crew. I believe it was the director.
‘Oh, don’t worry about Richard,’ said my producer and the man I owe for this current gig. ‘Richard will have plenty of sins. I bet he’s the type of chap who likes to have bulldog clips attached to his nether regions.’
This afternoon, I spent a quiet couple of hours sitting at a bedside beside a sleeping patient, reading my Wodehouse and otherwise pondering this strange statement. To be quite open about it: I’ve never had a single sexual thought about a bulldog clip in my life. Trips to Ryman The Stationer have never been carnal delights. I’m beginning to wonder what I’m missing given that there is no aspect of the bulldog clip that excites me in the slightest. Are there bulldog clip fetishists out there, holding bulldog clip parties? Do bulldog clips even have a single innocent usage? I know I’ve never bought one and, at the moment, I can’t think of reasons to do so.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Being in the public eye means that I occasionally have to bow to the wishes of the people in marketing and promote products. I received a helpful reminder from the people at the Cheltenham Festival and reproduce the details here along with my reply.
Sun 19 Oct
"TV presenter Richard Madeley explores how being a father has changed over the last four generations in his uniquely honest and touching book Fathers and Sons. He joins expert and author Frank Furedi to discuss the speed of change in family life and the challenges facing fathers today".
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2008
10 - 19 October
With its signature blend of award winning writers, world-renowned thinkers and international star names The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is a hotbed of debate and discussion with a unique regency style. In this year’s literary line-up Man Booker Prize winners rub shoulders with the finest classically trained actors, whilst top class comedians appear alongside leading political figures. With more than 450 writers and over 350 events this promises to be an exhilarating ten day celebration of the written word.
For more information visit http://cheltenhamfestivals.com
Or call the box office on 0844 576 7979
And my reply:
Dear Organizers of the Cheltenam Literary Festival,
It’s so good to hear from you again. I can’t believe that the moment is so nearly upon us. I’m honoured to be headlining your festival and the thought of standing up there on the world famous Pyramid Stage leaves me quivering with excitement. And if you would like me to hang around after the festival and help you milk your cows, you need only ask. I know my way around an udder and have been fully trained in teat management.
As you know, ‘Fathers and Sons’ has taken remarkably little time to write. One moment I was writing a comedy about the Cornish herring fleet and then, lo and behold, out pops an autobiography I knew nothing about! Once I'd borrowed the title from Turgenev, the thing was done. You might say that it happened overnight and I would be very grateful if you could snag me a complimentary copy. You probably know that my debut novel was cancelled a month before publication so this time I’m certainly doing my very best to advertise your festival. There will be no repeat. Dick Madeley will see print! Even as I speak, Judy is training her troop of midget Shetland ponies to perform an interpretive dance routine based around Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’, with Denise Robertson playing the corpse of Addie Bundren. I swear that there won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time I run out on stage wearing my spandex cycling shorts. I’m also delighted that Pam Ayres has now confirmed that she’s available for the duet.
Your news about Oddie does disappoint. He was recently boasting that he attends your festival every year and was there when Shirley Bassey read from her autobiography whilst wearing Wellington boots. It is, however, very gratifying to hear that his stand selling ornamental owl jewellery is so popular with the hippies.
I hope that you and yours are well and that the current dry weather hasn’t affected milk production. Both Judy and I feel that it’s so important that we support a festival in which lactation plays such a vital role.
PS. Is it too late to change the promotional literature to include some puff about my being the spiritual successor to Conrad, a modern Nabokov, and literary heir to P.G. Wodehouse? At the very least, can you mention that my wife plays bridge with Jilly Cooper?
PPS. I’ve just visited your website and I’m astonished to find that I’m not listed on the front page. Roger Moore is a saint, a real mensch, but has he or Ben Okri ever discussed a particularly painful vasectomy on live TV? I think not. Did all my swelling mean nothing to you?
PPPS. You wouldn’t do this to Clive James.
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
I don't usually do memes but Posh Totty put me up for this one and I did say that I'm bored. I'm also supposed to use only single word answers but that's much too difficult...
1. Where is your cell phone? On the desk.
2. Your significant other? Not here.
3. Your hair? Scruffy.
4. Your mother? Coping.
5. Your father? Very poorly.
6. Your favorite thing? Writing.
7. Your dream last night? Clive James was making a documentary about the UK. I know. I don’t often dream about Clive James but last night he was very funny. I miss Clive James on TV.
8. Your favorite drink? Coffee, heavy on the milk.
9. Your dream/goal? Writing for profit.
10. The room you’re in? An office. Cream walls. Brown desks. Wall to wall unhappiness.
11. Your hobby? Writing.
12. Your fear? So many.
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Oh, sod off...
14. What you’re not? Happy.
15. Muffins? Okay. Bad for me.
16. One of your wish list items? A life.
17. Where you grew up? Home. Nearby.
18. The last thing you did? Answered the bloody phone.
19. What are you wearing? A suit.
20. Favorite gadget? My MP3 player. A Samsung P2.
21. Your pets? None.
22. Your computer? Sony laptop.
23. Your mood? Bad. Bored. Sad.
24. Missing someone? My father.
25. Your car? None.
26. Something you’re not wearing? Underwear.
27. Favorite store? Waterstones.
28. Like someone? Yes.
29. Your favorite colour? Black.
30. When is the last time you laughed? This morning.
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday.
The fates mock me. I’m in Manchester again and who do I see on Piccadilly Station at 7.50? Michael Grade. I gave him a nod, a smile, a flash of my cufflinks but he refused to shake my hand. I would have said something but I was rushing for the office.
But is this a sign of what I've become? A pariah, shunned by the very men that once begged me on their knees to adorn their morning sofa? Is this the fate of all handsome talent consigned to satellite?
Monday, 22 September 2008
I was over at the UKTV studios where Judy and I had just finished giving the press conference for our new show, ‘Richard and Judy’s New Position’. Only my new position was with my knees to my chest and balancing on the edge of a porcelain toilet seat. I’d been taking a few moments from the launch party to compose my thoughts when I’d heard my name mentioned outside the stall.
‘The problem with Madeley is that he’s nothing without Judy.’
So said a voice at the urinal. It had the brazen confidence that some men find in a public bathrooms. Thankfully, I am not one of those men. That’s why I was squatting there, fearing that the slightest sound might alert them to my presence. Not that I was bothered by confrontation but this wasn’t the day for scenes played out in bathrooms. Not unless I wanted my name breathed in the same sentence as that of George Michael.
‘The problem with Richard,’ said the other voice, deeper and with a slight lisp, ‘is that he’s nothing without Bill Oddie. I’ve heard that Bill’s the real creative force in that relationship.’
‘Bill Oddie?’ cried the first.
‘Hey!’ said the second. ‘Watch where you’re pointing that thing!’
‘I’m sorry but you can’t say things like that and not expect a person to be surprised. Bill Oddie isn’t really the force behind Richard and Judy, is he?’
‘So I’ve heard,’ lisped the second. ‘You’ve seen the ad for their new show? I suppose you’ve noticed how all the men are wearing cravats? That was Bill Oddie’s suggestion.’
I almost snorted in disgust. How could bathroom gossips get things so wrong? The cravats had been Nige’s idea and I’d agreed to them in order to help Nige get his break in big time choreography. That he’d been harbouring a life-long wish to put the steps to Broadway shows had come as a shock to me but I’d been only too happy to give him the opportunity to try his hand with real dancers. Not that facts such as these were standing in the way of the two men at the urinals.
‘Bill Oddie holds such a powered over Richard that it’s quite worrying,’ said the second, sounding more ‘in the know’ with every passing trickle of his diminishing stream.
‘But what about Judy?’ asked the first. ‘Surely she can’t agree with all this?’
I didn’t get the answer. Taps ran and towels were pulled from their dispensers. The bathroom door opened and closed and I was left alone. I slipped down from the toilet and opened the cubicle door. Nobody. Just I, Madeley, left alone with a particularly handsome reflection in the mirror.
Outside, the party was still going strong. Judy was dancing in the middle of the room, giving it the full mustard with Nige who was wowing the crowd with a display of South American dance steps complete with realistic bird calls. I wandered around, trying to recognise the voices of the two men that had been gossiping in the bathroom. If they worked on the show, I’d have their badges for what they’d just said about me and Bill Oddie.
I was on my second circuit when Judy broke out of Nige’s conga line and caught up with me.
‘I’m so glad we’ve made the change,’ she said, breathless. ‘I think this is going to be so exciting. Isn’t it good to be working with new people in new surroundings?’
‘I don’t suppose you’ve met a man with a slight lisp,’ I asked.
‘Just a slight lisp.’
‘I’ve not,’ replied Judy. ‘But why are you looking for a man with a lisp?’
‘Because I want him fired. I’ve just heard him saying some terrible things about Bill Oddie in the bathroom.’
‘What’s Bill Oddie doing in the bathroom?’ asked Judy.
I really didn’t have time to explain.
‘Richard, you’ve only been here ten minutes. You can’t really want somebody fired.’
‘We have to know that we can trust the people we’re working with,’ I answered. ‘We’re entering into a new contract and it’s important that people can trust us as much we can trust them. I’m not working with men who stand lisping lies about Bill Oddie at urinals.’
Judy placed her arm around my shoulder. ‘Richard,’ she said. ‘For once, let it go. This is a new beginning. Let’s start out with a clean sheet. You have to remember that we’re no longer on terrestrial TV. The name Bill Oddie doesn’t mean as much to these people. Some of them won’t even know who he is...’
It was then that the reality of the situation hit me. A sledgehammer on my brogues couldn’t have done more damage to my composure. The old girl was right. We are no longer stars of terrestrial TV. We’re in a different league. We’re playing by different rules. As I stood there, watching Nige whistle the mating call of the Venezuelan purple grebe with accompanying three twists and a heel kick, I understood that my outlook has to change.
It explains my silence of the last few days. You find me this morning a different man with a different mission. I’m going where no Oddie has gone before. This is missionary work, my friends, and it’s a brave new world that we’ll encounter from October the seventh.
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
It has come to my attention that many of you are already feeling the pinch and that even those of you who haven’t already rented out your holiday cottages in Cornwall still have a few concerns about the looming recession. Just the other day, Judy scooped a single spoonful of caviar onto her Ritz cracker, causing me to enquire as to her state of mind. ‘Enjoying the credit crunch,’ was her witty reply as she placed cracker against denture and gave the thing a bite.
And there we have it. With the current financial instability hitting hard so close to home, I realised it was worth a few moments of my time to commit my thoughts to paper. There are some of you that haven’t lived through a recession. You don’t remember the fun we all had in the early eighties and you’re probably wondering how you’ll cope. Should you put your money in gold or begin to stuff hard currency beneath your mattress? Is Bill Oddie an investable commodity and is Nige’s plan to milk butterflies really a viable business plan? Is the market ready for real butterfly butter?
The Madeley Line is to sit tight. In any situation, where the poor are to be made poorer, there are always investment opportunities. There’s a down side and an upside to every ‘market readjustment’. People had some tough times in the eighties but they emerged with ‘This Morning’ and a fresh faced couple talking testicular examinations at half-past ten from a weekday morning sofa. You simply have to look at it from the right angle, as you have to look at testicles from the right angle. We might all enjoying receiving gifts at Christmas but we must not forget that we also get Cliff Richard's latest chart hit. We must take the rough with the smooth and, though his testicles be smooth, I can assure you that there’s nothing as rough as Cliff at Christmas.
It’s why I say: invest in the people industries. White slavery is popular in any bear market but if you can find a stockbroker willing to take investments in bears, that’s even better. When people are stuffing hard currency beneath their Deluxe Slumberlands, a bear in the house affords additional security. Guests might ask if the bear still shits in the woods but you can reply: not when he shits behind the curtains. And what a surprise that is to any would-be burglar coming in through the French windows. Consider this a Madeley Top Bear Tip: bears are an excellent investment opportunity. And if you can stick a tap into their glands, you’ll be made for life. I swear by the stuff and rub it on my sore knee nightly.
When the markets are squeezed, Judy likes to buy penny shares. When my knee is squeeze, I want to spend a penny but I’ll also be your friend for life. Yet in a economic slowdown, I’m a man who likes to put my money in the established industries. If you can live with your conscience, weapons manufacturers are a safe bet at times of world doubt. Many of the world’s biggest recessions have been solved with a war on a global scale and those of you with funds in artillery and air launched missiles will be sure to profit. Some will say 'war profiteering' but I say good financial sense as passed onto me by Gordon Burns. When I advised Felicity Kendal to invest in munitions, people said I was crazy but look at Felicity now.
I’ll leave you with a final tip for those of you who might be on a budget. If you do find yourself down to your last million in the bank: don’t panic. A million can last at least a year if wisely spent, six months if you're married to a woman with a passion for miniature ponies. Either way, you’ll still be able to see off this blip in the economy from you chalet on a Swiss slope. If things get really bad, change you holiday plans. Third world nations are affordable, usually warm all the year around, and will welcome your hard currency. Judy and I often enjoy the pleasures of South America where on money goes further and there’s no midget pony you can’t buy with a Yankee dollar.
And, if all things fail, just remember the Madeley saying: it’s pink if it’s healthy but don’t touch it is it’s Guatemalan and smells of turps.
Monday, 15 September 2008
A friend writes:
"I’ve been thinking for a while that I should write something for Richard's blog; an update for those of you who so generously wrote to me the other week when I was at my lowest. It’s some way down the road now and procedures have been performed. My father has a permanent ‘shunt’ and after weeks of silence he has spoken his first words. Last Thursday, he said ‘hello’ to my sister and called her by a nickname only he uses. The specialists at the hospital expressed their satisfaction with his progress and yesterday he was moved to a local hospital. We can now get to visit him without it costing a month’s wages or involving a walk through a rundown inner city suburb.
Yet, as far as we’ve come, today we faced what feels like a setback and we don’t even know if it’s any way meaningful. Visiting my father today, my sister said that he looked better than when last she saw him. He spoke again, greeting her and this time also greeting a nurse that was tending to him. He was awake all the time, showing interest in what was going on around him. But as my sister was leaving the ward, a doctor asked to speak with her and my mother. The doctor changed everything.
We’ve met them before: doctors who refuse to be positive, who want us to be ready for the worst. The doctor asked those questions we all dread to be asked, implying that my father was seriously ill, that we should be concerned. We know he’s ill. He’s been in a specialist neurological unit for six weeks, undergoing surgery for an aneurism. Yet the local doctor couldn’t see the progress he’s made. To their eyes he was probably the sickest man on the ward. There was talk of a chest infection – he’s also been prone to those and has a constant wheeze – and the need for an x-ray, the results of which we will only know tomorrow. So tonight, we’re all in tears again; worried by a doctor’s words and driven to sniping at each other from the pressure we’ve all been under.
I’m probably more guilty than anyone for getting frustrated. That pressure has been relentless but now no longer in a visible way. I find it hard to work, plan, concentrate, write. I can’t stop dreaming of my father. I see him talking to me, the family laughing together, and then I wake up and realise the cruel hoax. At times, I find it all too much. Six weeks on and deep in a mid-life crisis, I find it hard to believe that things will ever get better. People say they do but I’m finding that there is always another thing to worry about, whether it is debts, jobs, and career in a global recession, or relationships, family, and health. I’m not in a good position ahead of troubling times. I have so many qualifications – the majority of which make me an arts graduate – that I’m next to unemployable, I had my last holiday in the early eighties (Wales), and my sole means of transport has two wheels and requires peddling. And today a doctor told us to fear the worse when, for six weeks, we haven’t dared contemplate anything better. These days it's what I understand as living."
Sunday, 14 September 2008
‘Aren’t you cutting the lawn today, Richard?’
I hadn’t anticipated the question but that’s just typical of what happens when breezes blow away the clouds and the rain steps aside in favour of a spot of sunny weather. About all I could manage was a sigh and a look of moral discomfort.
‘Again?’ I asked. ‘But I only cut it a few months ago.’
Judy lowered her Sunday Times. ‘You’re meant to cut it every fortnight during the summer,’ she said in that snippy way she has when distracted from her Sunday morning Appleyard.
I looked out on the garden and our acres of lush lawn. I had to admit that it had got a little out of hand. A dab of yellow in the middle was the cap of the gnome we’d had made from a full sized body cast of Bill Oddie. There the grass was approaching the four foot mark, already in long trousers and probably in need of a firm hand, if not a stern talking to.
‘Right then,’ I said, setting aside my novelisation of Chekov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’, ‘I’ll cut the lawn but I want you to remember this the next time I want you to help me, Jude.’
Judy muttered something that sounded like a promise and I went upstairs to squeeze myself into my lawn mowing clothes including bright orange overalls and fireproof balaclava.
Having a larger than average lawn means having a larger than average lawnmower. You can forget about Hover Mowers or anything by Qualcast. I own the most powerful lawn-razing beast in the region. In polite company, I call it ‘The Green Machine’ but privately prefer ‘The Dwarf Killer’ because of the many plaster dwarves that have gone under its blades, through its threshing mechanism, crushed in its mangle, and spewed out of its high velocity incinerating nozzle. It’s a high octane crop destroyer and has a top speed somewhere near the Mach.
I had backed The DK out of the garage and was in the process of swilling gas around the engine when a voice over my shoulder provided an interruption.
‘Sounds like you’ve got a supercharger in there,’ it said.
I turned off the engine and looked around.
‘Jeremy!’ I cried, delighted to see my old friend Clarkson. I even whipped off my balaclava to greet him with a smile. ‘How fortunate that you should be in the neighbourhood when I’m dealing with heavy machinery.’
‘Fortunate indeed,’ said Jeremy. ‘A coincidence that you’d find it hard to believe should you read about it in unpublished fiction.’
‘Pah!’ I said. ‘I’ve read much worse in published fiction. Technically minded men appositely arriving in the vicinity of lawn mowers is nothing new to me...’
‘So,’ said Jeremy, raising his eyebrows. ‘Are you taking her for a spin?’
‘More than a spin,’ I replied. ‘I’m doing the whole Madeley estate. It’s time to lay waste to grass.’
His eyes widened as if catching up with the brows. ‘I don’t suppose I can have a go?’
I jumped up as though my name were called in a tanning salon.
‘Jeremy, it would be an honour,’ I said, gesturing him to take the driver’s seat.
Jeremy slid behind the wheel and turned the big ignition switch. Then it was like the throttle cable was linked to his teeth muscles. His big yellow grin appeared each time the engine blew smoke.
‘Just take it easy,’ I warned.
But it was too late. With a squeal of caterpillar tracks and the sound of the twin chainsaw blades scraping against concrete, Jeremy was off down the drive and heading towards the back lawn. There was nothing I could do but watch as Jeremy hit the wall of grass and vanished in a cloud of smoke and cuttings.
When he emerged, fifteen minutes later, he was green with grass sap but high on destruction.
‘Wonderful machine,’ said Jeremy as he jumped from the seat.
I was more concerned about the state of The Dwarf Killer. After half a lawn, a long gash had appeared down its side and a fender was bent near the weed cudgel. More worrying was the evidence of something that had passed through the inlet to the edging scythes.
‘What’s this?’ I asked, wiping something crimson from the blades.
Jeremy peered down. ‘No idea,’ he said. ‘Perhaps a field mouse?’
I jammed my hand into the inlet and felt something soft. I gave it a tug.
‘Do field mice wear leather?’ I asked, holding out a piece of soft leather in an unfortunate shade of pink.
Jeremy just shrugged. It wasn’t even a reassuring shrug. This was that shrug that guilty men give in courts when they’ve already been given two consecutive life sentences for committing abnormal acts in graveyards with the residents of obituary columns.
‘Funny,’ I said. ‘I wonder how this got in there...’
It was at that point that I heard the familiar cry of Graham Norton drifing from across the road.
‘Mugwump! Oh Mugwump!’ he sang.
‘Damn distracting,’ said Jeremy.
‘It’s the name of the Graham’s dog,’ I explained. ‘An animal that gives scabid rats a bad name. I can’t tell you the number of times that dog has attacked me in my own front garden. A horrid beast which he pampers terribly by dressing it its own waistcoat fashioned from soft pink leather.’
Jeremy looked down at the piece of leather between my fingers and then looked towards the lawn mower. It took me a few attempts but I finally latched on to what he meant when he began to laugh like a manic idiot and his face flushed red.
‘Oh,’ I said, dropping the leather. ‘I see.’
Jeremy launched himself for the driver’s seat once again.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m going to see what’s hiding in the other half of your lawn,’ he said. ‘If I’m lucky, I might even hit Oddie.’
I hadn’t the heart to rob him of his illusions when he hit the replica Oddie five minutes later. It would have been a cruel thing to do when he’d done so much good, cut so much grass, and trimmed so much dog from my woefully overgrown life.
Friday, 12 September 2008
God gave me a banana. Of course, I don’t mean that he gave me bananas, per se, though if you swing your hips to that whole creationist rap, you might well believe it. In which case, he gave us bees, birds, bananas, and that Billy Blanks character who’s to blame for Judy’s slipped disk. Today, however, God was also the reason why I found myself possessing a banana. I emerged from Picadilly Station to find a member of His lot doling out free fruit to commuters. You might wonder why they were giving them to people in full time employment, rather than the poor, but as they say: God works in mysterious ways, which is this case also involved a little brown paper bag containing an apple and cranberry Fusseli bar (didn't he paint 'The Nightmare'?), a teabag, a sachet of sugar, and a badly written pamphlet which asked me, among other things, for ‘an indication of age’. Judy said that I should list my liking for Johnny Mathis and the general state of my teeth.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all this except I’m falling asleep at my keyboard tonight. The truth is that there’s nobody out there reading this. In the past four days, I’ve recieved one hundred and ninety two emails. Of those, one hundred and eighty eight were SPAM. Bigger testicles, more efficient shafts, things to do with ping pong balls: the usual quality communications from the heart of Russia. Two messages were from two separate people expressing their hope that I die because of some joke I once made about Harry Potter. One more email was a more general insult concerning my masculinity because of something I’d once written about Frank Lampard. How my masculinity and Lampard are linked I’m really not sure but there you have the way of the web. Nothing makes sense. The final email was a note from a casual blogging acquaintance, which made up for the one hundred and eighty eight SPAM emails, two death threats, and the more general insult about my masculinity.
All of which explains why, tonight, I’m in no mood to do my usual. Ratting on about showbiz is such a long way from where I am at the moment; worn down by commuting to Manchester. I didn’t get a seat on the train all week, suffered mild claustrophobia (or, let’s be honest, they were really panic attacks) wedged among commuters in the end of the two coach special, packed to the luggage racks with passengers normally cramped in three. This morning, the nausea was particularly strong. My headphones ran out of juice half way through Serge Gainbourg’s ‘Melody Nelson’ album and I ended up listening to the guard chatting to the guy who waves the trains off from the platform. I was still a stop two away from Piccadilly. I had no way to escape.
Perhaps somebody out there can explain duties of the chap with the paddle who waves trains away from the platform. Perhaps you are one of those souls blessed with a paddle whose job it is to wave away trains and you can explain the following snippet of conversation.
Guard: Working this weekend?
Chap With Paddle Who Waves Away The Trains: No, had a good month. £1200 after tax... Then I’ve been promoted to RO4. That’s an extra £300 quid, and it’s been backdated six months. Then there’s our usual 5.4% coming in, so I’m doing alright.
I forget the rest. I was dizzy and sweating like a fat man’s armpit. Depending on your point of view, I either have millions in the bank or £14 to last me to the end of the month. I need to get myself a better job. I need to abandon this futile idea of writing for a living (you know I'm not funny but, bless, you haven't the heart to tell me), change careers, perhaps fleece the uninformed working as a computer programmer. I build blogs. I know code. I know my SQL and PHP. I could earn a fortune in that spiritually vacant life where you fool those people that don’t understand computers by making them think you’re working some kind of tonic. That’s my fault. I don’t see it as magic. I always give my knowledge away for nothing. I’m an utter fool.
I’m rambling again because I’m tired. So tired. No structure to my thought. I’m talking to myself tonight. Nobody’s out there. Not even Nige whose owls I’ve been missing this week, Selena whose legs I think of when I’m lonely on the train, or Elberry whose brain scares me with the thought that it might get bigger and destroy the universe. I've not even been reading Bryan's blog. Much too tired for that. Much too busy eating bad food; 79p cheese and onion pasties from Greggs the Bakers.
And then there's this post. Such a sad, limp way to the end the week. I’ve not written enough, though I launched another blog earlier this week. It gives me a break, something to do. You know where it is or, if you don’t, email me and I’ll tell you where to find it. It might not last – they never do – but I’m not advertising it here. It’s somewhere where I wear a different pair of pants and don’t comb my hair.
God gave me a banana tonight. Judy says I shouldn’t eat it. She says it might be injected with something.
Comes to something when you can’t trust free fresh fruit given to you by God...
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
It was good to get away from Fort Madeley for the morning. The sound of Judy wading through dead moths is enough to turn any man’s stomach and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve set the alarm off by opening the wrong window or stepped through a high security door.
Although it’s come a little later than normal this year, the local Morris Dance is a chance for folk in the village to get together and worship the Old Gods, as we like to call them around these parts. Much cider is drank and a few virgins despoiled in the municipal allotments. It’s all traditional rural fare and I’m always happy to be there with my camera and to led my friends some support.
This year was of particular merit because it was a chance to see Stephen and Bill enjoying themselves. Stephen is a long time Morris Dancer but Bill’s new to the handkerchief and knee bells. Although they’re both long-time druids, as are many of us who live in this part of North London, this was the first time they had danced together and I thought they did so with particular alacrity. Watching the pair of them prancing down the high street, smacking their poles together was enough to made Judy weep. I took a few photos, some more candid than the rest, and for the sake of Bertas who I know enjoys these things, I’m happy to post one of them here.
This afternoon I’m heading down into my bunker to do some serious work. If any of you are thinking of calling by at the house, can I ask you to use the new intercom. Don’t try the drive until we’ve given you the all clear that the laser net is down.
Monday, 8 September 2008
The new electrified fence kept me awake for most of the night. Every few minutes, the light of the clock radio would dim as another moth bridged the high voltage lines and found God where our herbaceous border meets Ronnie Corbett’s vegetable patch. Why Judy decided to go the high security route remains a mystery to me. Even as I’d watched Stephen and Sir Clive fit the high voltage capacitors to the tops of the fence yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t see the sense of it. And now, from my side of the bed, the new security arrangements still seem like overkill, with all the emphasis on the killing.
‘At this rate, there won’t be any moths left in this undisclosed part of North London,’ I said as I lay there counting the latest casualty.
‘But at least we’re safe from prowlers tonight,’ replied the voice at my side.
‘Eighty three,’ I said, wearily.
‘It’s funny that Stephen never mentioned moths.’
‘I shouldn’t imagine he would,’ I answered. ‘He’s in love with the technology. There’s no room for emotion when there are gadgets to review for The Guardian.’
‘But I would have liked to have known about moths. I would have thought he might have checked the effect of these fences on wildlife when he reviewed them for Dork Talk.’
‘Eighty four. Perhaps that’s why his review of electrified fences hasn’t yet hit the newsstand. Could you imagine what would happen if this fencing went mainstream?’
‘Still, it’s good to know that it’s protecting us from prowlers. Sir Clive said that he’s had it installed around his house. He swears by it.’
‘Probably in rhyme,’ I speculated. ‘Sir Clive sits behind his electrified fence, writing essays about Milton’s quintessence.’
‘Was that eighty five or six?’
‘Five,’ said Judy.
‘I’m beginning to lose count. One dead moth is becoming much like the last. I’m telling you, Jude, that there’s something we can learn from this fence. It teaches us about the fragility of life and the eternal play of being against eternity.’
Suddenly the bed made a squeak in the darkness and I felt Judy sit up.
‘Oh, Richard. I’ve just had a terrible thought. You don’t suppose the fence is a danger to Bill or his owls?’
I reached out and stroked her arm.
‘Such a gentle thing, you really are, Jude. Bill will be fine. He’s safe in his rubber boots. And the owls will be flying well above the fence.’
The bed squeaked again as Judy lay down.
‘Only, I wouldn’t want to think that Bill is out there being electrocuted.’
‘Well that’s either the eighty sixth moth or the eighty sixth time Bill’s carried voltage this evening.’
‘Oh, Richard, don’t joke.’
To pacify her, I swung my legs out of bed and went to the window. I opened the curtains a touch to see the fence.
‘No sign of Bill,’ I said.
‘Is Graham still out there?’
I looked across the street to where Graham Norton was sitting outside his house on a deckchair reading under a streetlight.
‘Still there and still keeping an eye out for prowlers.’
‘Such a strange man,’ said Judy. ‘It’s no wonder he hasn’t married.’
‘Pppphhhzzzz’ said the electric fence.
‘Eighty seven,’ said I as I climbed back into bed. I knew I was in for a very long night.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
I woke up feeling a little more smug than is usual for a Sunday. I’ve always said that Amir Khan hits canvas quicker than Rolf Harris on a watercolour binge and last night he proved it. Judy was all tears at the breakfast table. Being a fan of British boxing, she’d been shocked to see her favourite fighter counted out within a minute of her pressing the red button on Sky Box Office.
‘Another Frank Warren masterstroke,’ I said as I laid into my toast with a left uppercut loaded with marmalade. ‘And well worth fifteen quid of anybody’s money.’
‘I can’t believe the lad’s got a glass jaw,’ she replied.
‘Not just a glass jaw, Jude. I’d guess he’s got a glass upper lip, a glass ear and probably a couple of glass knees. About the only thing of substance is his bank account. I’ve been telling your for years that he’s been promoted beyond his talent. But that’s what comes of turning boxing into a popularity contest. It’s fine promoting these young fighters but, at some stage, they have to get into the ring with men who can punch.’
‘It wasn’t like that in my day,’ sighed Judy.
Which was true. There were no easy fights when Judy helped establish female amateur boxing by becoming Manchester’s Amateur Middleweight Champion. I suppose that’s what made the defeat so hard for her to bear, so I left Judy ‘Firestorm’ Finnigan stirring her coffee and I went to catch some Sunday morning TV.
Or I would have had I not been disturbed by an unexpected repercussion of yesterday’s blog post. No sooner had I turned on ‘Mythbusters’ than a delegation of neighbours led by Graham Norton arrived demanding action about local security. Though they weren’t waving pitchforks and holding aloft burning torches, they were still as close to a rabid mob as a celebrity-rich neighbourhood gets in these image conscious days.
I was in no mood for their petition. Sundays are observed religiously in the Madeley home. I rise late, wear a thigh-high dressing gown all day, and do nothing more strenuous than watch the football or, when it’s in season, sit down with ‘Top Gear’ and plan my revenge on Clarkson. Sunday is a day of rest and definitely the one day of the week when I’m in no mood for David Dickinson talking about tripwires.
‘These bloody prowling buggers are everywhere,’ said David, fifteen minutes later as he sat there in the living room with one of Judy’s best china cups in his hands. ‘We need to organise a Neighbourhood Watch or the bloody yobs will rob us bloody blind. I say booby trap our bloody patios so the buggers will lose a leg if they come sniffing about my Chipendale.’
‘Ha! That’s right,’ said Ronnie Corbett, who was also in on this appeal, speaking on behalf people below five feet. ‘Just the other day I had to tell off my wife for leaving the house wide open. I came home at midnight and walked through an unlocked back door. I told her she should have locked it but she didn’t think Mr. Tiddles would know how to use the key to his cat flap.”’
‘So, you see,’ said Graham, as indifferent as the rest of us to Ronnie’s latest monologue. ‘I’m not the only one worried about prowlers.’
I looked around the room at the lot of them. I expected this sort of behaviour from Norton but not Felicity Kendal, Nigel Havers, or Michael Parkinson. Graham had clearly been round the neighbourhood hammering on the doors to rouse these local luminaries from their private lives.
‘Look here,’ I replied to the lot of them. ‘Can’t you see that this is just Graham’s personal vendetta against Bill Oddie? And I’m not going to be involved in anything that puts that man in any harm. Bill’s still traumatised after spending so long under Graham’s buttocks. I don’t think he’ll ever recover.’
‘Oh, that’s bloody it then!’ piped up Dickinson. ‘The bloody vandals have bloody won!’
‘No they haven’t,’ replied Ronnie. ‘Richard might still lead us. Come on, Dick. We need a man of courage and conviction.’ He turned to Graham. ‘No offence.’
‘None taken,’ replied Norton but I think he was still sniffy about my buttock remark.
I just couldn’t believe my ears. ‘A neighbourhood watch scheme is the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard,’ I explained. ‘You don’t really think I’m going to spend my nights walking outside your houses with a torch and a flask. You all need to learn to stand up for yourselves. Get a chin and stop being cowards. Isn’t that right Judy?’
Judy just shrugged. ‘If you say so, Richard.’
It wasn’t the affirmation I’d hoped for but it was enough to dismiss the gathering. I saw Norton off the premises and returned to my normal scheduled activities until around two o’clock when the doorbell rang. This time I approached it less cautiously. Two shadows were loitering on the other side but one of them looked distinctly familiar around the nose.
‘Ah! ’Tis I, Fry,’ said the undervalued Stephen, ‘and I am here with the latest in home security devices, as reviewed in my next Dork Talk featurette for The Guardian on a Saturday.’
He was also there with another figure who smiled at me somewhat embarrassingly.
‘Hello, Dick,’ said Sir Clive James. ‘I heard about your trouble with thieving rats, so I’ve come to help Stephen Fry lay some deadly traps.’
As you know, I worship the ground that Sir Clive inhabits but there are times when I find it hard to listen to a man who speaks entirely in rhyme. Nor, if I’m honest, was I much of a mood for Stephen, whose intentions can be good but whose enthusiasms lend themselves to excess.
‘But I don’t want any traps,’ I said. ‘We didn’t have a thief. We had a prowler. And it wasn't a prowler. It was just Bill Oddie.’
Clive held up a finger. ‘Ah, Bill Oddie’s a man who loiters in shrubs, where he watches sparrows feed on beetles and grubs.’
‘Dear god!’ I muttered before I gave in to a sigh. ‘Look you two. I don’t know why you think we need security but...’
Just then, Judy arrived.
‘Ah, Stephen!’ she said, running up to plant a kiss on his cheek. ‘So glad you could come. You too, Clive. Brought the stuff?’
‘All here,’ said Stephen, depositing a large duffle bag on the hall rug.
Judy clapped her hands with excitement. ‘Excellent. I’ll just go and get changed into my overalls and then I’ll help you install them.’
By now, I felt like I’d gone fifty four seconds with a Columbian lightweight bruiser. ‘What exactly is going on, Jude?’
My wife looked at me as though confusion is her usual habit for a weekend. ‘I thought we’d agreed to beef up the security.’
There had been no such agreement and I’m sure that she knew it. ‘I might have said that we need something to keep Graham Norton away,’ I answered, ‘but I was thinking more about a pipe smoking scarecrow dressed in tweed and holding something by Alistair MacLean while we play the Dambusters March. Can’t get anything more anti-Graham Norton than that.’
Judy shrugged. ‘Well, a few extra alarms wouldn’t do any harm.’
‘I agree,’ said Sir Clive.
We all looked at him, waiting for him to finish the rhyme.
His brows closed ranks. ‘With Judy?’ he added.
‘Shabby,’ I replied.
Sir Clive just shrugged. ‘It’s a terrible affliction, this rhyming addiction...’
What more is there to say? I just left them to get on with it. By four o’clock, the house was brimming with security devices and personalised alarms.
‘Remember: three hoots and it’s Oddie,’ said Stephen as he packed away his tools, ‘anything else you can shoot first and ask questions later.’
‘What about Norton?’ I asked, thinking it important to establish the real threat alerts.
Sir Clive bristled up, proudly. ‘When the cymbals clash, there’s something brash, loitering outside your room. But when a trumpet call, echoes down your hall, then Dickinson is your doom.’
I gave a cold shiver. ‘Clive,’ I said, ‘now that is real poetry. Keats never said anything prettier.’
Sir Clive beamed, Stephen looked on proudly, and Judy punched the air. The air was out for the count.
Saturday, 6 September 2008
The cry was startling; a limp, less-than-manly wail in the night that hinted of embroidered slippers and silk dressing gowns. It was not the sort of cry a man could ignore. This man threw back the sheets and ran for the window.
There it was again. A trilling call that penetrated thick curtains and triple glazing.
‘My god, Dick! Where are you?’
I pulled back a curtain and pressed my nose to the window. My breath clouded the scene but the sight was unmistakable. There, standing in the middle of Judy’s best astroturf, was a luminescent Graham Norton sitting astride a figure dressed in combat camouflage whose struggling gestures merged into the terrain. Look again and the figure would disappear, leaving Graham squatting in the middle of the lawn. Either way, it was a spectacle I couldn't ignore.
‘Richard? What’s wrong?’
Judy sat up in bed, peering out from beneath her eyeshades.
‘It’s Norton,’ I said, grabbing my trousers and slipping them over kneecap. ‘He’s out there riding a stranger on our lawn.’
‘Not again! What time is it?’
The digital didn’t hold back with the truth. ‘A quarter past four,’ I said, arming myself with a shirt and sweater.
I was down the stairs and unlocking the front door by the time Judy was out of bed. I could hear her heavy footsteps as she marched to the wardrobe and began to dress. I was glad to have her as backup. It made me feel like I was a member of NATO.
This was the third occasion on which Norton has woken me in the last month. The first two times, he’d come hammering on the front door claiming to have spotted a prowler on our property. Now, by the looks of things, he’d bagged himself a suspect.
‘Thank god!’ said Graham as I appeared on the porch. ‘I was beginning to wonder how long it would take you.’
‘What exactly are you doing, Graham?’ I asked. ‘And who’s that you’re sitting on?’
‘The Prowler,’ replied Norton, the brazen ‘P’ standing out from the reticent crowd. ‘I’ve sensed that there’s been somebody loitering in the neighbourhood and I waited up to see if I could catch him.’
The figure said something like ‘earnest gnus eat liquorice’ but the whole thing was muffled by Graham’s cheeks. They were doing such an admirable job of keeping the man’s face pressed down into the turf that you’d think that they’d had plenty of practice. I just shook my head at the banality of it all. Since Graham moved into the neighbourhood a few months ago, we’ve hardly spoke. The fact that he’s the prime candidate to take over from Terry Wogan on Eurovision has been enough to put him in my bad books and this latest episode was not going to change that. It’s bad enough that my own cynical approach to European pop has been rejected in favour of his crude innuendos but now he was subduing a pair of boots that I recognised only too well.
‘Could you get off him now, Graham?’ I asked, too tired for manners. ‘Not only have you made a terrible mistake but you’ve probably endangered wildlife.’
‘Wildlife?’ he repeated. The poor man just had no idea.
I nodded down at the green Wellingtons. ‘I suspect that the man currently struggling for air beneath your buttocks is the BBC’s finest nature correspondent and the man who’s is single-handedly restoring the owl population of this undisclosed area of North London.’
Graham looked down between his thighs. I think he was surprised to find Bill Oddie lying there.
‘Owls!’ shouted Bill as the weight came off his back. He stood up and lashed out at Graham who took the blow manfully.
‘Ooh!’ he said, rubbing the spot on his right knee where Oddie’s blow had landed.
‘What’s your game?’ asked Bill. ‘I’m out here waiting to see if the barn owls are taking to their new home in Richard’s shed and then you, you great nancy, come jumping out of the bushes.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Graham.
‘Sorry? Do you know how many years it has taken me to get the natural musk of the forest? I spent a month living with moles just so I could move among animals without them fearing me. And now look at me? I smell like a teenage girl left too long in Boots.’ He sniffed an arm. ‘Is that jasmine? Is that jasmine?’
‘That’s "Charm For Men",’ protested Graham.
‘I knew it,’ cried Bill, as though his world had come to an end. ‘I smell of jasmine! Oh, my mole musk! Gone! All gone!’
I wasn’t for charm, jasmine, moles, or even Bill Oddie. It was nearly half past four on a Saturday morning and Judy had just appeared on the doorstep wielding her best fairway wood.
‘It’s been a terrible misunderstanding,’ I said. ‘Bill, you should be thankful that there are men like Graham looking out for his neighbours. But Graham, you should be thankful that there are men like Bill looking out for the owls. I’ve given Bill permission to come and go as he likes on our property and I don't take kindly to your hiding in our shrubbery. I think you own Bill an apology.’
‘Apologise! To him! I shan’t.’
Judy was now at my shoulder and looked menacing with her 3 wood.
‘Graham,’ she said, ‘you will apologise this instant or I’ll knock you into next week.’
‘She can do it,’ I said. ‘It’s only a short par 4 away.’
But Graham was too proud to be moved by threats. That's what comes of being a protected species in the BBC light entertainment schedule. He brushed a few flecks of mud from his sequined purple jacket before he aimed a spiteful look at the shortest man on the green.
‘Bill Oddie,’ he said, ‘you might fool some people with all this talk about owls but I know different. It’s not right for a grown man to be prowling people’s gardens in the middle of the night. It's not even right for him to be hanging around BBC2.’
And without another word, he flounced off into the shadows, taking the charm of jasmine with him.
Bill just stood there, looking as grim as he is really quite harmless.
‘Come on Bill,’ I said. ‘Let’s pop around the back and I’ll wipe you down with some old leaves. We’ll have you smelling of moles before you know it.’
‘Yes,’ added Judy, kindly putting her arm around his shoulders. ‘You go with Richard. There’s not a man alive who knows more about compost.’
And indeed there isn’t. But it still makes a man happy to hear such kind words coming from his wife of so many years.
Friday, 5 September 2008
One of those friend, high on wit but low on effort, sent me the above attachment via email this morning. He was congratulating me on the recent purchase of Manchester City by investors from Abu Dhabi.
‘How nice of him,’ I said as I sat at my laptop at the breakfast table. ‘It’s a shame that I don’t support Manchester City, otherwise this barb would have found a worthy home.’
Judy carried on stirring her porridge and didn’t seem at all interested in the picture on my screen. A plan to raid Oxford Road’s shops had been curtailed when Cilla Black called it off on account of what the rain might do to her complexion. I have often suggested she try Ronseal but that’s the problem with Cilla. She just never listens to me. Not that I cared one way or the other. My friend’s email had me thinking about the next Madeley project and, as Judy stirred her slowly thickening oats, I made slowly thickening plans which I believe will help me reach that next stage of my career.
‘Well, that’s it,’ I said half an hour later. By then, Judy had finished her porridge and was spooning out a carton of yoghurt. ‘Judy, you’ve worried too long about my next job but I think you can worry no more. I’ve devised a stratagem.’
‘How’s that different to a strategy?’ she asked.
‘It sounds more impressive, to be sure,’ I answered, not quite knowing the difference. ‘And it also contains the word “gem”, which is exactly what my plan happens to be. It’s a gem of cunning.’
‘It doesn’t involve a pyramid scheme, does it Richard? You know you’ve been warned about those...’
‘Not pyramids,’ I said. ‘But it does involve Arab businessmen.’
‘Oh god,’ muttered Judy. I think she might well have discovered that her yoghurt was raspberry when she’d been expecting strawberry.
‘The sight of that camel made the think. Why don’t I sell myself to a rich oil sheik? A million quid up front and they get 100% profit from my next five books. They’d be happy, I’d be happy, and the world would be better off.’
‘Stunning,’ said Judy without much enthusiasm. I can only assume that her raspberry yoghurt was not even a good raspberry yoghurt.
‘It’s clearly the best way forward, Jude,’ I said. ‘I sell myself in exchange for Middle Eastern oil money and I only have to promise to write nothing that might offend them. No jokes about shaking the end of my pipeline. Things of that dubious nature. No more remarks about camels...’
‘It’s a brilliant idea,’ sighed Judy as she stood up and despatched her yogurt to the bin. ‘But if you need me, I’ll be lying down.’
‘Lie away, my temptress of the desert,’ I said as I opened a new Word document and began composing my letter to the Sultan of Dubai.
‘Dear Sultan,’ it began.
I assume you can guess the rest...
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Judy poked me in the ribs yesterday. Not unusual, you might think, nor unwarranted, but we were standing in the middle of the local Borders where I’d been examining the nostril of a large cardboard me that dominated the scene.
‘Hey!’ I cried as the elbow hit. ‘That was nearly kidney.’
‘I don’t care,’ said Judy. ‘Look at this.’
She held up a book.
‘Being A Scot,’ I read. ‘By Sean Connery.’
‘What do you think?’
‘I think somebody has a damn cheek. Have you seen what they’ve done to my right nostril with a felt tip pen. They’ve made it look like I encourage nasal hair growth.’
‘Oh, you and your nostril hairs! Richard, I’m asking you about this book. What do you think Sean’s thinking, publishing a book like this?’
‘He’s probably thinking that people don’t know how to be a Scot and that he has all the answers.’
‘Well I think we’ve missed a gap in the market,’ said Judy, tutting as she flicked through the pages covered with pictures of hairy knees and instructions on how to groom a sporran. She looked up at me. ‘I think it’s time for you to write another book.’
‘I’m already writing another book,’ I answered. ‘Didn’t I tell you how I made a drastic thirty thousand word cut yesterday, all in the name of plot?’
‘I mean a real book,’ said Judy. ‘One sanctioned by the official Richard&Judy Foundation.’
‘Oh,’ I muttered. ‘One of those books...’
‘“How to be English” by Richard Madeley,’ she said, writing the title in the air with a finger. The words hung there a moment before disappearing and I thought a moment about getting Judy a finger with a more indelible ink.
Once the spell was broke, it was my turn to issue a groan, officially sanctioned by the left hand of the ampersand. ‘Why on earth would I want to write a book like that?’ I asked. ‘Here I am. Six foot something of manhood widely considered the spiritual heir to Nabokov, Conrad, Wodehouse and Alan Whicker, but you insist on demoting me to the level of Jilly Cooper on horse tranquilizers.’
‘Nabokov,’ snorted Judy with much derision. ‘More like “turn-your-head-and-cough”.’
‘Besides, Jude,’ I added, deciding to ignore the cruel taunts. ‘What do I know about being English?’
‘Everything,’ she replied. ‘You’ve been English all you life and you must have a few tips and tricks to pass on.’
She had a good point. Being English comes quite natural to me. There’s rarely a day goes by when I’m not English from dawn to dusk and then for a few hours tacked on at the end. I doubt if there are many people who are as English as me. Cut me in half and I’d read ‘Romford’ through my middle.
‘You know,’ I said, ‘there might be some mileage in this.’
‘I’m sure there is,’ said Judy, putting Sean’s book back on the shelf.
Moved by this episode, I sat down last night at the Madeley Typing Machine and began to write a brief outline of my book.
How to be English by Richard Madeley
'Gareth Hunt is a euphemism for a handful of coffee beans. Dick Emery dressed as a women but wasn’t one of those men that likes to dress as women. Never make friends with a Bulgarian. Don’t perform a Morris Dance after eating beans. Don’t get shot in the gut: it’s a bad way to go...
In this wide ranging book, Richard Madeley (TV host and 1992’s Housewife Magazine’s Man of the Year) introduces you to the world of the English and provides vital tips on how to survive as an Englishman. He explains his own approach to being English with contributions from other famous Englishmen, including Stephen Fry, Bill Oddie, and Sir Clive James. Richard shows you how to make a fire by rubbing two house bricks together, how to cripple a camel using only a toothpick, and why custard is so important to the proper singing the national anthem.
If you’ve ever wondered what it means to be English, this book has all the answers.
God save Richard Madeley! And if God has a few minutes spare, perhaps he can stop off and save the Queen too!'
‘There,’ I said, presenting it to Judy at the breakfast table this morning. ‘Tell me that isn’t top advertising copy.’
She slipped on her reading glasses and went through it twice, nodding as she went.
‘That’s perfect,’ she said. ‘Now get upstairs and start work on the book. I’ll expect it to be finished this evening. I’ll arrange a nationwide tour for next week.’
‘Hang on,’ I said. ‘I haven’t even thought about a plot, a subtext, or even if it’s going to be first person and third.’
Now she slipped off her glasses. ‘Plot? After all these years and you’re suddenly bothering about plot. It’s never stopped you before.’
And there I leave it. The injustice written for all to see.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
There are mornings when I love coming to work in Manchester. Days like today when there’s just a bite of Autumn in the air. It makes it feel particularly good arriving in the city early. The buildings are at their best in the oblique light, casting strong shadows. The architecture is what nourishes me when I’m here. There’s always a building that I can stand and admire. That’s not to say that the city suddenly makes it to my list of Madeley’s Top Ten Haunts but days like this make my brain work in a random fashion and that’s always to be welcomed. Thoughts jump in and set their slippers amongst the usual bric-a-brac of half-resolved plots, story ideas and reminders to return Bill Oddie’s lawnmower.
Each time I arrive in the city, I’m struck how it’s growing upwards. The Hilton Tower dominates everything. It always makes me wonder why the lesser buildings stopped when they did. It makes me wonder why the builders of the Hilton tower stopped when they did. Didn’t they think to themselves: we’ve got to here so we might as well keep going? But I guess that’s the eternal problem of building these towers. They have to stop eventually. Every one of them is a testament to the architect’s failings. I suppose they’re a bit like blogs. Something eventually declares: here and no further.
Human failings are on show too. There was a young woman on the train this morning. Impeccably made up, though, in my opinion, a little too made up, her skin was like brushed terracotta and she had a presence like some Chinese god over in the corner of the carriage. Unfortunately, she was also on the larger side of petite – there’s no nice way of saying that which won’t immediately attract criticism but there you go – and she clearly aware of the fact. Yet hers was one of those faces that you can’t help but still see thin. The excess was quite different to the feature living at the centre. Her very being was like that of a very thin model onto whom weight had been so brutally applied. In a post-Nivea world where ‘big is beautiful’ and cellulite is to be admired, I’m meant to say that this didn’t make her any less attractive. I might even say that I believe this and she inhabited a rare place in female beauty. But I still do wonder how she copes. I wonder how she feels. That obesity could happen to me wouldn’t be such a huge loss. You can believe this or not but I’m on the raggedly side of scruffy and never look in a mirror. But when a woman so clearly cares about her appearance, invests so much energy into her looks, the result is a mixture of calamity and vanity, pride and tenderness, hope and despair.
Final thought for the morning. What use are one pence pieces? I’ve had nine of them in my pocket all week and I know I’ll never get rid of them unless I get into one of those hostage situations for which Elberry yearns when I get to throw a handful of change in the face of a Channel 4 extremist. Pennies only exist because companies refuse to price their products sensibly. They are testament to all those bargains that end with the 99p price tag. That I have so many pennies in my pocket marks me out as a man who likes a bargain.
Monday, 1 September 2008
‘Dick? It’s Stephen. Listen here, old chum. I’ve been getting a little worried.’
‘Worried?’ I replied, almost as a scoff. ‘Why worried? You’ve not agreed to narrate the next Harry Potter, have you? Your doctors warned you about that. Bad prose isn’t good for your health.’
‘Not worried about me,’ replied the Great Fry. ‘I’m worried about you. I’ve been observing your blog from afar and I have detected a note of misery about it.’
‘Oh, that’s not misery,’ I answer. ‘That was a touch of depression; a real cupful of melancholy with a snort of the blues.’
‘Snorting the blues is not your thing, Dick. Snorting the blues is not our way.’
‘Indeed it’s not,’ I answered, ‘but I’m having a tough time lately and I’m finding it rather difficult to maintain my normal chirp. Bill Oddie was round at the weekend and he compared my mood to that of a languid crow.’
Fry cleared his throat, clearly getting emotional at the mention of Oddie. ‘We are celebrities,’ he said, ‘and our world is one of rainbows and carnival wheels.’
‘Carnival wheels are all well and good for a man with nineteen book contracts, three series on TV, and a lifelong membership card to the panel of any Radio 4 quiz show. I, on the other hand, have got to make do with my upcoming show on satellite and whatever jobs I can find in the meantime. If I can make money teaching, then teaching it shall be. You know I’d much rather do something creative...’
Stephen fell silent as I knew he would. Being so successful, he often forgets what it’s like to struggle. And the last week has been a struggle. My mood had lapsed over the weekend to the point at which I had considered joining a BCA bookclub, buying three books for fifty pence on the promise that I’d have to buy six other full priced books in my first year of membership. I needn’t tell you, my friends, that there’s no surer sign that a chap is in a bad way than wanting to join a BCA book club.
‘Your problem,’ said Fry, after a few moments of high level cogitation, ‘is that you are not a box man.’
‘You’re clearly not. You see, you have failed to tick all the requisite boxes that make you an attractive candidate for the better class of jobs. Take it from me, Richard, that ticking boxes is the way you must go if you wish to succeed in ordinary life.’
I hadn’t thought of it like that. Yet Fry was so clearly right.
‘Box ticking? You know, I think that is my problem. I’m an individual with unique skills and an excess of charm. Yet where on your standard job application does it ask about your sense of humour or ability to knock out two thousand words a day while presenting the nation’s favourite tea time talk show?’
‘Precisely,’ replied Stephen. ‘You are unique, Richard, and you mustn’t forget that.’
‘I won’t,’ I said, wiping a tear of relief from my eyes. ‘I am unique. I am special. I am a Madeley.’
‘That’s the ticket. Now, you get back to working on your failing novels and I’ll return to penning my next chart topper. And remember, Dick, that nothing ventured nothing gained.’
I hung up feeling a little better about the world. Not being a box man suddenly felt so good and I resolved to allow all my boxes remain unticked.