Thursday, 27 November 2008
As this post goes live, you find me moblogging. That’s mobile blogging to you, though I might equally be said to be 'mob logging'. I’m currently on a train travelling into the distant north, Manchester bound, imagination stifled by this suit, and scowling at anybody who dares look my way. Have another doodle, blog friends, have another doodle. This tired old TV great is getting old. My comedy pimple is beginning to fade. How many more journeys will it continue to disguise my real identity from these commuters? They’re a miserable lot. Nobody speaks. Occasionally one of them will silently vent gas.
I never understand people who choose to vent in the confines of a crowded train with poor ventilation. It must be cowardly way to get back at the world without actually going on any kind of spree. I suppose it's possible they might go on a farting spree but it's probably not going to last very long. Or, alternatively, it will last a very long time but with many periods of inactivity.
Other than the mysterious devotee to flatus, the rest sit here playing with their toys. The iPhone users are a breed apart. As Elberry might say: everyone a potential killer. They certainly look down on the Blackberry users, though it’s clear that this second group have the better jobs. I have a Samsung. I don’t fit into either camp. My old phone is a Sony. It doesn’t even have a touch screen. People are right to treat me like the pariah I am. I'm listening to Nick Cave. It's loud. He’s singing about ’15 Feet of Pure White Snow’. It's the song I always associate with these trips into the north.
I think I’ll follow it with some Stagger Lee.
Soon I’ll be at Manchester Piccadilly, scooting off down the side of the GMPTE building. There are guards there that stop people photographing the building, which makes no sense to me. One of these days, I’ll try to snap a picture of the place just to see if I can get arrested. I didn’t think it possible to be stopped from taking pictures in a public place.
My mind is drifting. There’s a woman in the seat next to me writing questions for some seminar she’s attending. The questions are for Edward de Bono, he of lateral thinking fame. Question 1: ‘Do you think your ideas are as current today as they were in the past’. She’s clearly thinking laterally. I’m sure he’s going to hold up his hands and tell his acolytes that his ideas are outmoded and that it’s about time he retired.
Oh, now I’m just being sullen. Manchester makes me sullen but this mobile blogging isn’t a good thing. I'll try to post more later on. Of if I can't post, I'll Twitter. Does anybody read my Twitter? If a bear twits in the woods, does anybody care? Why does an eight hour working day really mean eleven hours? I miss Judy. And I also maintain that the mighty red is the king of all onions. I dare you to disagree.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
I don’t know how to feel about the day. I got up, did some odd jobs around the house, arrived in my den to find email awaiting me. I’ve trained Thunderbird to spot SPAM and abusive emails but the odd one still gets through. ‘I hate you’ read the first message I opened.
‘Sort of puts you in a good mood,’ I said aloud to the signed picture of Ricky Gervais that adorns the office wall. Ricky didn’t say anything. A rare positive for a day when all the omens are bad.
The rest of my afternoon was spent doodling and trying to write. I'm not a good frame of mind. I’m about to descend into a two day funk on account of a business trip up to Manchester. It is a city of many charms, fine art galleries, and some excellent restaurants. However, two days of proof reading the scripts for some of my future projects is not how I would choose to use my time. Yet it pays the bills, keeps me out of the house, and otherwise occupies me in these days of credit crunch paranoia. Yesterday was something quite special, which puts the misery of what’s to come into some perspective. It was so good to see Stephen Fry (you ask why is he always described as 'a national treasure' -- it's written into his contract) sitting on the R&J sofa. I had those cushions specially designed so that men of his height and buttock girth would feel comfortable when ad-libbing their way through their many anecdotes. I think the result was worth the effort and I encourage you all to tune in to ‘Watch’ tonight at 8pm (or ‘Watch+1’ at 9). Makes you wish there was a ‘Watch+n’ so you could stay with Stephen through the night.
With life being so hectic, I forgot to mention that I filmed The Eggnog Challenge show, which ITV are putting out this Christmas. As executive producer on the show, I had more creative input than I’ve ever had. I think the results will speak for themselves. A few of you have emailed to ask why I kissed Biggins on last night’s show. All will be revealed at the end of December.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Don’t you long for those days when a man could be caught strangling a ferret without having people judging him about it? I know that I do. It came to mind, earlier this morning, when I was caught manhandling a live rodent in the privacy of my own garden shed. Judy had assumed the worst: that I’d gone there with the intention of wringing some rattish neck. She just wouldn’t listen to reason and had even threatened to inform the RSPCA via their local representative.
‘What will Bill Oddie say?’ she asked, her panic only constrained by the shed doorway. ‘You’re getting a reputation as a serial rodent abuser, Richard. First it was house mice and then you killed poor Colin, John Cleese’s sweet lemur...’
‘That sweet lemur was trying to rip out your throat,’ I reminded her. ‘If I hadn’t smacked Colin with a copy of my hugely popular book (which is no misery memoir), you’d be without a larynx.’
‘Oh, a likely story, Richard,’ replied Judy. ‘Just like you told everybody that Stephen Fry had his arm broken by the flipper of an enraged manatee. Why can’t you just be a man and admit that you brought that ferret in here to have your evil ways with it? What is it you like about beating up these poor animals? It has to be something more than comic effect. Do you like to hear their little bones break? Is that what it is, Richard? Is that what excites you? Is that how you get your kicks?’
By now, I had managed to subdue the ferret my kneeling on its tail and I delayed explaining myself until I had carried the animal to the shed door where I cast it out onto the lawn. It bounced once and then made a dash for the fence and the safety of Ronnie Corbett’s vegetable patch.
‘Judy, if you’ll only listen. I’ll tell you how this happened.’
I then proceeded to tell her about the events of my morning which had begun quite innocently with the optimistic hope of drizzling some honey.
I woke up around eight, feeling nipped in the places where my toes had escaped the duvet. Judy was sound asleep, snoring in that baritone that is now so familiar and perfectly tuned to a low B flat. Rather than waking her, I slipped into my slippers (you might say, made for that very purpose), and went down to the kitchen to address breakfast. Because I was cold, I thought I’d make myself my favourite morning tipple: some hot water dosed with honey. The kettle was soon boiled and I poured a good amount into my favourite Monty Python Toby Jug, fashioned into a faithful facsimile of Terry Jones’ best grin. Now it was time for the honey. And that’s when disaster struck. I took Judy's favourite honey drizzler from the drawer and dipped it into a new jar of organic honey (a gift from a friend). I then gave the drizzler a twist and withdrew it sharply. It emerged handle only. The end had come detached and had sank in the depths of finest honey ever transmitted by the bottoms of Felicity Kendal’s bumble bees.
But you know that I’m not the sort of man to wail about a honey drizzler failing. If nothing else, I am a man of action. I immediately went upstairs and dressed myself for my workshop. Then I took the damaged honey drizzler into the shed intending to repair it.
Now, I have one of the best outfitted workshops in North London and it’s in that shed where I’ve made many of the inventions that have made my name in the world of science and technology. It’s there that I built Paul Merton’s pogo stick, added the rockets to Clarkson’s rocket car. It was there that I invented yeast free yeast and gave birth to the iCod, the world’s first genetically altered flat fish. Yet after my initial inspection of the drizzer, I knew that I’d need expert help. This was no ordinary break but wood that had been heavily fatigued by years of constant drizzling. I reached for the phone and the number of the only man I can call on in these emergencies.
Three rings later and there was a noise like an armed riot in a Columbian kindergarten followed by a familiar voice. ‘Ah, ’tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, though I fear my Nokia noise cancelling headset will struggle to overcome the ambient sounds of my location.’
‘Where on earth are you?’ I asked. ‘Sounds like you’re on a war front.’
‘A war front, indeed, Dicky. I am currently doing a bit of Christmas shopping. I’m in Hameley’s toy store where I am in the process of scoping out a BattleTech War Mage with World Destructor Kneecaps and Nipple Mounted Lasers.’
‘Cut the dorktalk, Stephen,’ I snapped. ‘Listen, it’s about this honey drizzler you bought me for Christmas seven years ago. I don’t know what reviews you read before buying it but the ruddy thing has already broken.’
‘I hope you’re not asking me for the receipt,’ mumbled the Great Man. ‘I fear that I keep them for only six years before I destroy them.’
‘Stuff the receipt. I want your help repairing it.’
Stephen chuckled. ‘But I honestly don’t see what I can do...’
‘It’s a spiral fracture,’ I said.
He fell silent, no doubt overcome by the manatee episode and his own spiral injury. ‘I’ll be there in half an hour,’ he said.
I opened my door nearly an hour later and ducked as nipple mounted lasers took aim.
‘You’re late,’ I said.
‘I know,’ said Fry. ‘It was a long line to the tills and I lacked the triple A batteries to power my nipples.’
‘So you bought it then?’ I said, nodding towards the robot.
‘Oh, tush. Indeed: gripes. How could I not buy such a sweet little droid? There will be much fun to be had over Christmas programming this to annihilate many a C list celebrity. But enough about my plans to destroy the talentless portion of our world. Show me the drizzer!’
I led Stephen to the shed and we began the long process of repairing the handle. The spiral fracture meant that we had to be careful as we applied wood glue and set the whole thing up in clamps. When it was time for Stephen to leave, he was exhausted and he had taxied off before he’d remembered the Battlemech Droid he’d left in the hall. Naturally, when I tried to ring him, his iPhone battery must have gone dead. Unable to reach him, I realised that I couldn’t leave his droid in the hall. Judy has few rules but I knew that she’d take poorly to the World Destrouctor Kneecaps.
I carried the droid to the shed where I made room for it behind my prototype for a Kranky firing Cannon. And that’s when I discovered the hole. It wasn’t a big hole but it was a significant breech in a shed that contains so many state secrets. The corner of the shed was now missing a good six inch circle of wood. I kneeled down and peered into the hole and found that I could see right through to the Corbetts’ side of the fence. If I’d known the layout of their garden, I might not have reached my hand into the hole, nor grabbed so tightly onto the first thing I felt.
At first, I thought it might have been one of Mrs. Corbett’s old stoles. Then I thought I’d put my hand into a crate of costumes from Ronnie’s cross-dressing days on the Two Ronnies. I thought perhaps that it might even have been the famous fur coat that he wore when he sang that song about the farmer judging the Women’s Institute’s sponge pudding competition. The whole thing was really a vulgar euphemism for something else and the thought of holding onto that coat encouraged me to try to pull it through the hole.
‘I hardly expect it to bite me,,’ I explained to Judy. ‘How was I to know that I’d put my hand into the cage where Ronnie keeps his prize ferret?’
Judy looked at me with a renewed look of love in her eyes. ‘If only you’d told me about Stephen’s robot earlier,’ she said. ‘All this would have made complete sense.’
‘So I’m forgiven?’ I asked.
‘Of course you’re forgiven,’ said Judy, wiping the trickle of blood from my cheek where the ferret had nearly taken out my eye. ‘Unlike the time you battered John Cleese’s lemur, this time you had good reason to attack that rodent. If only I had known, Richard, I might even have helped you beat it unconscious.’
The smile came easily to my lips. ‘Jude,’ I replied, ‘it’s thoughtfulness like that which has made you such a much loved public figure, a veritable mother to our nation.’
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Travelling home from Manchester, I was too tired to read – eyestrain is a real problem in this job – so I got out my Mp3 player and watched an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ instead. It was the episode in which Larry makes friends with a sex offender and invites him to a party at his house. At one point, the sex offender asks Larry how he came up with all the ideas for ‘Seinfeld’. Larry answers that he just copied them out of his life. The sex offender is impressed. ‘I’m not creative, so I don’t know how these things get written,’ is something like his response.
I could have told him the same. Everything I write about comes from my life. There’s not a word on this blog that isn’t, in some way, informed by what happens to me. The downside of all this is that people rarely believe that anything is real. They question if this is really a blog. I think I’m dismissed as some kind of freak. Not serious writing. I bet you even doubted if I suffered a pulled groin muscle yesterday yet it’s all true. The peas are true, all as true as my story about falling over and damaging my left knee earlier in the year while watching a mime in Manchester.
Which gets to the point of this brief post. My knee has been painful for months and I began to think that I needed it treated. Recent events meant that I ignored it. I don’t like doctors. I always think they made my father worse than he was. I read of Bryan’s blog the other month that doctors are the biggest cause of death. I try to avoid them when I can. However my knee has been bothering me. I was ready to book an appointment when, the other day, I kneeled down in a bookshop and my knee went ‘pop’. It was agony for a few hours but, a day later, it was feeling better than it has done in months. Salvation, I thought, had come to my knee. It was restored.
End of tonight’s preface. So I get off the train tonight and begin the mile long trek home. It involves a dash across a dangerous road and them down a poorly lit path that runs beside a railway. It’s one of the town’s oldest and most familiar shortcuts and it’s used by anybody who travels by public transport. For some reason it’s also completely unlit, angled to about 30 degrees, and, in winter, covered in leaves. And tonight I managed to fall over. Not only fall but tumble. I’ve hurt both knees, which are bleeding and bruised, and cut my left hand in about a dozen places. I have photographs but they’re too much for this blog. Yet the odd thing is that I found myself lying in a ditch laughing.
Some people came out of the darkness to help pick me up. They must have thought it odd that I was laughing after such a heavy fall. I wanted to tell them about my year: my cracked laptop screen, my debut novel cancelled a month before publication, being forced to abandon writing to take an unrewarding job, my left knee damaged by a mime, and then my father’s aneurism, months of worry, his death, the funeral. Of course, I couldn’t tell them. All I could do was lie in a ditch filled with leaves and mud, laughing and bleeding in the dark. I figured they wouldn’t even begin to understand. I’m not even sure that I do.
The office of the Richard&Judy Foundation (Northern Branch) sits mid-way down an otherwise undistinguished street in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Chinese District. We sit up on the first floor and our windows look out onto an alley where you will find the world’s smallest college (an office staffed by a woman with a moustache), one discarded trainer stuck on a pigeon encrusted ledge, a herbal tobacconists, and the rear doors of a Turkish restaurant. There’s rarely an hour in the day when the office isn’t heavy with the aroma of rich spices and fried animal carcasses, making it one of the few workplaces where even the non-smokers take regular breaks to go stand outside the building in order to catch themselves a breathe or two of ungreased air.
Such was the case this afternoon when the aromas became too much for me. I called a halt to work on ‘Eye of the Storm 8’ and I went downstairs to get beneath the cloud of slowly grilling donkey steaks and broiled mutton. You might think it an insignificant moment in my day. I did nothing more taxing than to walk up and down the pavement, occasionally shift the change in my pocket, brush back my mop, or jot a witty thought or two in my notebook. Nothing worthy of a blog post. That is, nothing until I shifted a particularly heavy handful of loose silver and felt a pain shoot across my groin. Locating it more exactly via Google Maps would put it at that point where my leg becomes something more special, to the left of the bald eagle, slightly to the front of my inner thigh, and right where a fifty pence piece was squeezed between a pair of humbugs. If there was such a thing, the spot would be on my forward facing buttock and it was in some exquisite agony of pain.
At first I feared rupture. It’s something I worry about all the time so I was well drilled in what to do. A quick inspection, looking for any swellings the size of snooker balls, and I realised that there was no red hiding behind my pink. I knew then that it was probably a torn groin muscle, the same injury I’ve seen footballers suffer many times. Just this morning, I read that Steven Gerrard has withdrawn from the England team complaining of the same thing. Only he hadn’t got his escaping from the stench of a lamb casserole.
I slowly made my way back to the office where news of my injury was received with little sympathy and a great deal of amusement. I slipped into the bathroom and from the toilet’s lonely cubicle called Judy on my mobile. She knows everything there is to know about muscle injuries having treated many a miniature pony for sprains and twisted leg ligaments. No sooner had I described the pain before Dr. Judy made her diagnosis.
‘I think you’ve thrown a bollock,’ she said.
I was struck dumb. Not with the thought that I might well have done myself a serious injury as much as shock at hearing Judy talk so openly about the male anatomy.
I calmed myself before I replied. ‘I don’t think I’ve thrown a bollock,’ I said. ‘I was hoping that you’d confirm that it’s a groin strain.’
‘Oh Richard! In the equestrian field, it’s known as throwing a bollock and I think that’s definitely what’s happened. You need to get yourself something cold to put on it. I suggest you get down the nearest supermarket and buy yourself a bag of frozen peas.’
And this, my kind, dear, considerate readers , is how I found myself venturing out into public without my disguise, hobbling through the centre of Manchester in search of the nearest Sainsburys.
It was a long walk as I took small, slow steps, and I’m still not sure how I made it. I must have been in a bad way because I was only in the supermarket’s freezer section about a minute before an assistant came up to me. I suppose it was obvious that I was in pain, grasping at the cold meat section and muttering curses at Ainsley Harriot’s face peering up at me from the pork sausages.
‘I’m after peas,’ I managed to say.
‘Certainly sir,’ she replied. ‘And what kind of peas do you want?’
‘In a bag,’ I gasped.
‘Yes, well, we sell lots of peas in bags...’
‘We sell an excellent choice of peas. We have petits pois, sugar snap peas, marrowfats, garden peas, hand shelled peas, mange tout, processed peas, chick peas, chick peas in water, organic chick peas, mushy peas, split peas...’
‘Any of them,’ I said as my groin painfully went into spasm.
‘Well, unless sir explains what kind of peas he’s after...’
‘Look,’ I snapped. ‘I don’t give a fig what sort of peas they are. Can’t you see that I’ve thrown a bollock!?’
I suppose I cried this a little too loudly. I soon felt a security guard brushing up against my side.
‘What seems to be the trouble?’ asked the three hundred pounds of unstrained muscle.
‘Won’t you just get me a bag of peas?’ I pleaded.
‘I was asking him what sort of peas he wants,’ explained the assistant so far unwilling to give me assistance. ‘Then he started to talk dirty about... well, you know. About his testices.’
‘Testices!’ I laughed or cried, depending on your attitude towards tears rolling down a grown man’s face. ‘You mean testicles. And I just want frozen...’
It was an explanation too late. Say what you like about the lack of gentility in this day and age but I suppose it’s good to know that a man can’t start talking about these things in a frozen vegetable section of the local supermarket. With hindsight, it was wrong of me to say those things and I’m fully behind the hand that gripped my arm and dragged my body forward. Lagging somewhere behind my body were my legs, and then trailed my groin. Every inch of the march to the manager’s office was agony. And let me assure you that behind the bald eagle, there are plenty of Madeley inches to feel pain.
Five minutes later, I was sitting before the manager. Sweat was dripping from my forehead as I tried to sit comfortably with a heavily damaged groin/forward facing buttock.
‘Now look here,’ began the manager, ‘I won’t allow you to abuse my staff.’
I looked up. My feverish brow probably not adding to any favourable impression.
‘I am in agony,’ I said. ‘I just want something cold to put down my trousers.’ He gave me a look so I thought it best if I explained. ‘I’ve pulled my groin,’ I said and proceeded to describe the site of the injury, the character of the pain, and the frequency of the spasms.
He sucked his teeth. ‘Sounds like you’ve thrown a bollock,’ he said. ‘Best thing for you is a bag of peas.’ He patted my arm. I had found a fellow who understood my suffering. ‘Or even better, some large runner beans. They’ll last longer than peas. Long enough to get you home...’
Well they lasted a good time. Peas are good but beans are clearly better. I’m now lying in bed, trying not to move as I have a pack of Harrod’s Finest Frozen Broccoli on my lap. I also have another day’s work ahead of me and a groin that’s ready to pop at any moment. You want to know what it’s like being ‘A’ list celebrity. It’s no different to being run of the mill. It’s just that the frozen vegetables are better.
Monday, 17 November 2008
I returned home in the small hours to find a comment sitting waiting for me on my blog. ‘Why Ruth Maddoc?’ asks Mutley the Dog. My brows revealed no degree of surprise over my late night mug of Horlicks. They’d spent a day with people who wouldn’t stop asking me the very same question. My eyebrows had become blasé, you might say; indifferent to what was becoming known as ‘The Maddoc Question’.
My list of ‘Another 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain’ has certainly caused some debate in celebrity circles but nothing has worried the ‘A’ listers more than the supposed illogical inclusion of Ruth Maddoc. In many a person’s mind, the woman is an innocent and any accusations hurled her way are as unwarranted as a hammer attack on the late Mother Teresa. In my defence, I have no problem with Ruth Maddoc. The woman may well be a saint, a veritable Teresa of the Welsh Valleys, and I don’t blame her one bit for what’s happened to the nation. My real gripe is with ‘Gladys Pugh’, the character she played on ‘Hi De Hi’. It’s my belief that the nation lost its senses around the time that Gladys first appeared on our screens.
‘Hi De Hi’ was the comic equivalent of Bovril: loved by many, hated by me. Some might savour the idea of cow pureed into a thick paste but I find it as appealing as minced udder or roasted horn. And when it comes to BBC comedies, I think there’s nothing at all appealing about ‘Hi De Hi’. I’d rather chew on raw bullock than listen to Ted Bovis sing Elvis, Peggy the Chalet Maid jumble up her words, or Spike dress up in another of his ‘hilarious’ costumes. Yet each of these are petty dislikes compared to the deep moral indignation I feel towards Gladys Pugh. The country hasn’t been the same since she arrived on the scene. Constantly aroused and breathy with desperation, she was the amateur nymphomanic with hair so black and cropped that it looks like it’s been mined right from the Welsh coal seam. I never appreciated Lisa Stansfield until she rid herself of the Pugh crop and the glockenspiel has had a similar low place in my opinion since Gladys first wielded the hammer to chime out those infernal four notes. There’s no coincidence that I’ve not holidayed in Wales since the days of ‘Hi De Hi’. Every time I hear the Welsh accent, I also hear ‘hello campers’. I see the prim seriousness, the predator in yellow, fascistically sexual and indifferent to the cares and needs of others. Gladys Pugh was the nation’s favourite apprentice vulgarian and was so thoroughly modern.
Her obsession with sex – I’m tempted to call it ‘repression’ but it was hardly that – transmitted itself to and through the nation. It’s still with us, sitting like a herpes scab on our collective lip, becoming almost deviant in its assumption that we are driven only by the pheromone. Pugh was the catalyst of the new England arising from the Thatcherite dream of the autonomous individual, liberated from work by shares and owning their own home. Instead of a nation of Morris Minors with slightly aspirating exhausts, we became a nation of gaudy Jaguars, loudly throbbing and boastful of our torque. The people who laughed at Gladys Pugh were the same people who suddenly began talking about sexual functions over the garden fence. Is there anything as dangerous yet modern as sexual functions over a garden fence? But I say it’s not something to be encouraged, especially not if you’ve got a wide herbaceous border.
To counter the Pugh Complex was Jeffrey Fairbrother, the epitome of English sexuality. Shy, retiring, slightly at odds with women but not without an interest in other shapelier Yellowcoats, Fairbrother was very much the epitome of the England of the 1950s. Yet he barely lasted a few series before he was replaced. He was our one and last hope. His failure our own to withstand the crudity that has since overcome the nation. The crass manner in which Pugh chased him was tantamount to a call to arms to all who now go gadding about the streets, casting off their inhibitions and cornering any mate in a darkened bus shelter or lay-by.
‘Hi De Hi’ was the place where a nation learned to make love in a stationary cupboard. We’ve moved on, of course. Stationary cupboard or cupboards on the move: there’s nothing that people won’t do to satisfy the Pugh Complex. Gladys taught the nation to be fiercely desperate. She led the charge, breathing her frustration in the faces of the disinterested. Predatorial and wily, Gladys Pugh is the abandonment of poetry, metaphor, and veiled meaning. She is overt and present, as erotic as the odour of an armpit. She is sexuality today in all its prurient, scatological, oozing and ejaculatory abandon. Hi De Hi campers. Hi De Hi.
Friday, 14 November 2008
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.
Before I get around to writing up the real business for the blog and trying to trump yesterday’s piece on decorating, I want to get something off my chest. I need to get this out there just to settle myself and help me find a better mood. Today my knee is in a bad way. It popped yesterday as I browsed around a bookshop but it’s not been right since I fell over after rubber-necking a mime all those months ago. I’m also slightly off-centre after a long day of business meetings in Manchester. It was a day that challenged my normally placid temper.
I was having lunch with my good friend, David, who, as you know, recently lost his father and is slowly trying to find a sense of purpose in his life. Also at the meal was an individual I will call ‘Terry’ who happens to work in TV but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe as a friend.
The meal took place at a very pleasant restaurant just off Deansgate. Half way through, Terry had to take a phone call.
‘Ah, hello Cindy,’ he said, leaning back in his chair and addressing the room in a loud commanding voice . ‘I’m here in a sleazy little bistro in Manchester with Richard and his friend.’
I looked at David whose face darkened. His knuckles went white where he gripped his fork. Being from the north, he takes this sort of insult to heart. I know from having lived up there for so long that disparaging remarks about your home get pretty tiresome after a while but they are never so bad as when mouthed by a man who spends his days working from dingy offices in London’s Soho.
Things didn’t get better later in the meal. I had managed to calm David down with a few meaningful glances, as though to say ‘I’m sorry, I know he’s such a prat’, when Terry mentions that he’s had a tough time.
‘Earlier this year, I had to write two scripts in a month,’ he said and turned to David. ‘You wouldn’t believe the pressure. It was just like you must have felt when your father died...’
The silence around the table was like nothing I’ve ever known. I didn’t know what to say and I honestly don’t know how my friend controlled his temper. I think I would have punched the man and considered the consequences later.
Which brings me to the point of the post: if I’m not surrounded by them, I am at least constantly at the mercy of people who it would be fair to describe as ‘idiots’. In all fairness, they are hacks. Terry is a hack; successful in business, with money to throw around at whatever personal project he wishes, but without the wits to know when he’s hurting the people around him...
And I don’t know why I’m telling you this except I just wanted to put it on the record and get the weight off my bad knee.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
The new banner and associated desktop need some explaining. What began as an exercise in decorating the bedroom ended up as a philosophical enquiry into how nature invidiously includes Rory McGrath in every significant event. The man is perennial and I don’t mean the year long sprouting of his body hair. He just gets everywhere.
You see, during my absence from your computer screens, I took the opportunity to enroll at the local community college where I thought a course of Home Improvement classes would inspire me to greater things in the bedroom. The ceiling has needed Duluxing for some time but I thought it high time that I put something up there that would be an improvement over woodchip and a slap of white emulsion.
Mr. Ketterick was the teacher who welcomed me to the ‘Beginners Painting and Decorating’ class three weeks ago and it was eight o’clock in the evening when I sat myself in the room filled with other men middle aged looking for leadership in the act of hanging wallpaper.
‘The key to success with home decorating is patience,’ declared Mr. Ketterick from the front of the class. He was wearing white overalls and a poor quality toupee. More than patience, I thought a tab of wallpaper paste was clearly the key to the latter remaining on his sloping brow. 'Yes gentlemen, it's patience that you will learn in this class. Patience which will help you hang wallpaper the right way. Patience that will help you apply a coat of paint in the correct manner...'
I looked at my watch and realised that at the pace he was setting, it would be months before we’d get to the nitty gritty of mixing crushed horse bones in large plastic buckets. I decided it was time for some of the inquisitorial skills that have made me millions.
‘But don’t you have any tips that you can pass on in a minute or two?’ I shouted from the back of the room.
‘Ah, Mr. Madeley,’ said Mr. Ketterick. ‘Gentlemen, we have a real life celebrity with us tonight.’
‘Indeed,’ I said, ‘but to hurry you on... Any tips?’
‘For painting a ceiling? It’s just I want to get cracking with it, you see.’
He thought for a moment longer than I’d normally allow on the show but this was real life and there weren’t any ad breaks coming up in my rearview mirrors.
‘Tips...’ He pondered for a moment longer. ‘I’d say don’t stand directly under the brush and never load it with too much paint.’
I jotted down these two gems in my notebook. ‘Excellent,’ I said, as I stood up and headed for the door.
‘You’re not staying?’
‘It’s something I’ve learned from years of meeting men and women who achieved greatness,’ I replied. ‘They don’t wait around learning the detail. We’re people of broad brushstrokes and that’s especially true when it comes to making brush strokes. You’ve given me all the help I needed. I’m sure I can pick up the rest as I’m going...’
And with that, I walked out of the classroom.
The next day I was armed with my two tips along with a set of step ladders and a wife nervously looking into the bedroom from the landing.
‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing Richard?’
Judy normally does all the DIY jobs in Madeley Mansions but when it comes to anything requiring finesse, it’s left to the only person in the house that doesn’t wear underpants.
‘I know exactly what I’m doing,’ I replied. ‘You forget that I’ve taken a college course. And with what I've learned, I’m going to decorate our ceiling in a way that’s sympathetic to the bedding but also a little more inspiring when you lay down for sleep at night.’
Judy frowned in that we she has when she’s not sure that I’m totally right but she ten minutes later she appeared at the door with her outdoors coat on. ‘I’m going to see Cilla,’ she announced. ‘The poor thing has got a problem with her gas central heating and I want to be there when the man from the gas board comes around.’
I waved her away. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ I said. ‘I’ll be busy most of the day.’
She left me but I didn’t hear her drive away. I was too busy with a paint brush clamped between my teeth as I used a thumb dipped in ‘Harvest Tint’ to outline figures on the ceiling.
Now, to cut a long blog post short, I have to ask you to fast forward the action by seven or eight hours. In the dying light of the day, I was putting the finishing touches to my masterpiece. I’d just dotted a spot of light in the last eye when Judy walked in the room.
‘How was Cilla’s gas?’ I asked and thought immediately of a funny quip. Only, one look at Judy told me to store the quip for a better day when we can all laugh at Cilla’s gas. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Who the bloody hell is that?’ asked my darling wife, the art critic.
I looked up at the manly figure stretched across the ceiling.
‘That’s a neo-classical Bill Oddie,’ I replied.
‘Neo-classical? It looks more like Rory McGrath!’
And here, you see, we have the point of this little narrative of mine. I looked again and, sure enough, I could see that Judy was right.
‘Bloody hell,’ I said. ‘How on earth did that happen?’
‘I’m not lying in bed looking up at Rory McGrath,’ she declared. I was sure she meant it.
‘It’s uncanny,’ I agreed.
‘It’s enough to give me nightmares.’
Judy’s eyes went around the ceiling to where Jeremy Clarkson, Jonathan Ross, Keith Chegwin, and Alan Titchmarsh all looked down at us in their naked glory.
‘And I’m not happy with what you’ve done with Keith Chegwin’s winkle,’ she said. ‘And why have you made it point to my side of the bed?’
‘I know what it needs,’ I said. ‘An owl sitting on the end of it.’
Judy looked at me. ‘An owl doing what?’
‘If I put an owl on Bill Oddie’s finger, you’ll no longer think of Rory McGrath. It’s the lack of an owl that’s causing all the problem. With an owl, there’d be no mistaking Bill Oddie.’
‘Richard, I was talking about Keith Chegwin’s winkle. What are you going to do about that?’
‘Perhaps another owl?’ I suggested.
Judy looked up to the ceiling. ‘Perhaps a sparrow,’ she said. It was the last helpful contribution she made to the debate. I was left to work late into the evening, rendering sparrows on the ceiling.
And there you have it. In all its glory and ready for your desktop: the story of how a sparrow came to sit on the end of Keith Chegwin’s winkle. I know it was a bit of a lengthy explanation but I think I owe you the full story for when somebody peers over your shoulder and asks why there’s a picture of a naked Keith Chegwin with a sparrow sitting on his winkle. And then perhap's you'll explain why my own manhood is obscured by an American Bald Eagle.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
A strange thing happened on the other side of everything that’s gone before.
I was walking in Manchester when a stranger approached me and asked me why I wasn’t still writing my Appreciation Society.
‘It’s simple,’ I replied. ‘A close personal friend of mine suffered a difficult few months and I gave him room on my blog to detail his personal suffering. In light of that, I thought it poor taste to continue to be so frivolous or go on about how unendingly successful I am. There’s a time for being humble, you know. All great men recognise that at some point in their lives.’
‘Bah!’ said the stranger so forcibly that he melted the waxed tip of his moustache. ‘Nonsense, Dick! Your blog is a gift to the world. It gives great joy to the lesser millions. I’m sure that even a man who has suffered some personal tragedy in his life would see that eventually an enterprise as great as the Richard Madeley Appreciation Society should continue. Dare I say that it should flourish? Heavens!’
I gave the stranger another look as he towered over me by a good twelve inches. Being, myself, a rather sexually sublime six feet two, I estimated that the man’s height topped out around the seventh imperial foot and all of that height seemed faintly familiar to me.
‘I’ll give it some thought,’ I said as I tried to disengage myself from the man’s grip and move off in the direction of the junction between Chinatown and the Gay Village where oriental men wear florid shirts. I had an appointment to keep with a producer who had contacted me about doing the voiceover for his line in budgerigar breeding DVDs. I knew from personal experience that it’s not good to keep a budgerigar handlers waiting. Geoff Capes once turned me upside and rectally fed me millet for being just ten minutes late to an interview with the World’s Strongest Fat Man.
‘Look here,’ said the stranger, not allowing me to go. ‘You must take up the reigns of your much missed blog. You owe it to your public, you owe it to Judy and you owe it to your friends.’
‘My friends!’ I scoffed. ‘Since when do they miss my blog?’
It was a good question. Bill Oddie received the news of my blog’s closing with a faint smile and a comment about it being ‘good for the owls’. Clarkson had scoffed somewhat before making a rather distasteful crack about taxi drivers and sped off in his jet car. As for Judy, she had be relieved that I had abandoned my passion for detailing her private life in such a public way. She had celebrated the end of the blog by burning my private papers in the back garden.
‘Not all your friends are so cruel,’ announced the stranger after I’d explained this to him.
‘Oh, you fool!’ I snapped. ‘You don’t know the celebrity mind.’
At once, I regretted being so rude and risk losing my disguise of the comedy pimple and large orange wig fashioned in a fetching combover.
‘Oh but Richard, I do understand them,’ said the stranger. He looked up the street one way and then up the street the other before he raised his black eye patch and peeled back one half of his Hercules Poirot moustache.
‘Fry!’ I cried, stumped to the tips of my shanks by the man’s presence. Suddenly the seven feet all made sense.
‘Ah, indeed, ’tis I, Fry,’ said Stephen Fry. ‘Here in Manchester dressed like a piratical Belgian problem solver. I have travelled all this way by black London taxi cab to say that you’re missing. Set aside all this talk of tragedy. Return to what you do best.’
‘You mean presenting the TV version of the perennial family favourite board game, Cluedo?’
‘I mean writing your blog,’ said Stephen as he readopted his disguise.
I left him standing beside the art gallery, adjusting the poppy on his purple cape, and I was soon in the heart of Chinatown, sharing noodles with the budgerigar man. But Stephen’s words lingered long after the taste of soya sauce and fried eel had faded. On reflection, I did allow my friend’s sadness to get the better of me. Much as I appreciate what he went through, how can I live without my blog? I have missed writing it and cannot leave it on such a sad note. It’s too dramatic to say that I’m back since I never really went away. But I will say that I’m stepping out from my disguise, casting aside the comedy pimple, and doing what Stephen Fry would want me to do: telling the world about the life of a ‘A’ list celebrity, revealing the contents of Judy’s dresser, and being the web’s foremost expert on just about anything and everything.
I’m back but now I’m sexier than ever...