Sunday, 4 January 2009

Toast and A Ham

A quick phone call and I had the facts I needed. It did indeed appear that I had a great great great uncle who crafted false limbs from cork to enable pirates to float should their ships sink. It’s a fantastic story which I intend to write up into a book. ‘Pirates & Stumps’ will be my next best seller and I hope to have it ready in time for summer.

The research will take me some weeks, which delays the real pleasure of sitting down with my laptop and crafting words. I take so much satisfaction from writing about my family that I found it somewhat disappointing that Alan Titchmarsh should bad mouth my attempts this morning.

It happened at a breakfast held in Westminster that brought together the nation’s best selling writers to celebrate our past glories and look to ways to boost the economy in these difficult times. The government had organised the event to promote the fact that more books were sold this Christmas than during any previous year. I, of course, didn’t labour the point that it was the first Christmas that a book was out under the Madeley name. Which made it all the more annoying when Titchmarsh piped up.

‘By ek!’ he said from the top table, ‘it’s so good to see you all here at this special event. It reminds me of the day my Aunt Glady’s petunias bloomed early one warm January morning up there in Yorkshire. To see all your radiant faces... Well, it makes an old gardener’s heart melt. It really does.’

I had to sip my water at this point. I’d been struck by an unexpected rise of bile in my throat.

Titchmarsh turned cards and continued his speech.

‘There are so many good things to say about the past year’s work. We writers are a special breed. We require special soil, just the right balance of shade and sunlight, and a firm hand when we begin to sprout in the wrong direction.’ He then began to quote some W.B. Yates before he paused for laugher. There wasn’t any. Nobody laughed at W.B. Yeats. Not even Mrs. W.B Yeats who’d probably heard them all before.

Titchmarsh was unmoved. I’d hoped he’d have taken the hint and cut his speech short. It wasn’t to be. He carried on squealing like a fire in a dry compost heap filled with hedgehogs.

‘But from where I’ve been sitting in my shed, I’d say it’s been a good year. I’ve finished writing three new novels, which should be coming out soon. “The Maltese Fuchsia” will be the first in a series of detective stories I’m setting in Yorkshire about Sam Spade, a private eye and expert in shrubs. My next book is a sequel to “Trowel and Error” which I’ve called “Throwing In The Trowel”.’

Again, he paused for laughter. I examined my nails as I waited for the silence to die down.

Titchmarsh cleared his throat and seemed to mutter another ‘by ek’ before he was on to his next card.

‘I have big hopes for “Throwing in the Trowel”,’ he continued. ‘It’s a gentle story set in Yorkshire about a gardener whose battle with depression takes a comic turn when he discovers a secret formula for growing giant sprouts.’ He flicked cards. I wondered how many cards he had in the pile that ran an inch thick. ‘Finally, there’s “Hoe Down”, a story set in Yorkshire about a working girl who finds therapy and just a touch of romance in a herbaceous border. I might have broken a few taboos with this one and it will be the first of my books to have a warning sticker on the cover. So if you don’t want to read some quite graphic descriptions of petticoats and ankles, you better not read it.’

‘Good idea!’ shouted somebody.

Titchmarsh looked my way as though suspecting it was me. I couldn’t deny it. It might have been me.

‘Yes, it’s been a good year, all told,’ he said. ‘We’ve had some bumper blooms and some quality books. But I’d like to make special mention of Dick Madeley’s “Fathers & Sons”.’

I sat up in my chair. I hadn’t expected that. I had expected a twenty minute snooze before Titchmarch finished and they served bacon. I gave a wave to the crowd and looked up at Titchmarsh, though I didn’t like the tone in his voice when he piped up again.

‘Ooh, ay! I see that Dick is with us today. And looking as tanned as a proper apricot. We don’t get sun like that up Yorkshire way...’

‘You don’t get apricots either,’ I said. I don’t quite know what I meant by that but I’d been caught rather flat footed.

‘I wanted to mention Dick’s book because it has outsold all the other celebrity blockbusters this year,’ he said. ‘I think that deserves a round of applause.’

I gave another wave as the collected great and good of showbiz, publishing, and politics honoured me by slapping their paws together.

When I sat back down, I noticed the look in Alan’s eyes. I realised that I knew what a plant must feel like when he comes as them with a fork.

‘Yes, Dick has outsold all of you this year. Except, of course, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Alan Carr, and Paul O’Grady.’

I gave a shrug. There was no shame in coming fifth in that list but I had wished that he’d mentioned it earlier.

Except he wasn’t finished.

‘Bill Oddie, Jimmy Savile, James May, Eric Idle, Paul Young, Richard Hammond, John Prescott, Simon Cowell, Terry Wogan, Eric Sykes, Norman Wisdom, Tom Jones, Jeremy Clarkson, Esther Rantzen, Cleo Lane, John Humphries, Shirley Bassey, Roger Moore, Simon Clegg, Gloria Hunniford, and Ross Kemp.
I sank lower into my chair.

‘And that’s not to mention a humble gardener from Yorkshire. Like I said, a good year for Dick and a good year for all of us. I think we all deserve a round of applause.’

After such a public humiliation, I could hardly be expected to stay for the whole breakfast. I slipped out once they began to dish out the crusty bagels. It was half a mile to the station and I walked through a rather grey London morning simmering with resentment and vowing that with ‘Pirates & Stumps’ they’d have a literary masterpiece that even malicious Yorkshire gardeners couldn’t ignore from their sheds.


Joey Joe Joe Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joey Joe Joe Jr. said...

Oops, deleted my comment there.

Titchmarsh was forgetting the celebrity autobiography 'Me Cheeta', uniquely lacking a 1/2 price sticker today in Waterstones I noticed. I assume so many like myself, based on Nige's glowing review, are enjoying these wonderfully frank memoirs that a discount was felt unnecessary.

Tessa said...

Oh god. Now look what you've gone and done, Dicky. I'm in tears. Cascades of 'em. Pouring down my pretty cheeks. (First fall this year, too.)

Fifth is such a bad place to be, isn't it?

Hic, sniff, P.S. Do take heart, poor Dick. I've a very strong feeling about Pirates and Stumps.

Dick Madeley said...

Joey, Nige's support of 'Me Cheeta' has always saddened me somewhat. I've never understood why he couldn't praise 'Fathers & Sons' with the same enthusiasm. I think it's probably because I'm not a monkey.

Tessa, don't cry, though I know we both have reasons to. I didn't mind fifth but fiftieth... I also have great faith in 'Pirates & Stumps'. I've already got the tagline ready. It's going to be 'Richard&Judy's Book of the Yarrrgh!'