The farcical nature of the lurid headlines that accompany any development in the Richard & Judy saga are perhaps more apparent to me than anybody else. Judy is far too engrossed in the affairs at her Snooker and Billiard Club for any of the headlines to really affect her, whereas I’m a man with his eyes fixed on the here and now, measuring the temperature of the cultural waters with my smooth and (some might say) debonair elbows.
‘How did they hear about our taking part in Strictly Come Dancing?’ I asked, as I drew Judy’s eye to the newspaper headlines from earlier last week. Her back was creaking with the strain of rowing us up the long stretch of river towards the start line of the pro-celebrity boat race they hold in our undisclosed part of rural North London each year. We were a little late on account of my forgetting to pack my parasol and Judy was rowing furiously to get us there on time.
Judy puffed out her cheeks as the boat rolled into a stretch of turbulent current. ‘I guess... they found out... because... you’ve been flapping... your yap... on Twitter again,’ she gasped.
‘I’m quite discreet whenever I tweet,’ I said in my defence as I stretched out with a loud yarn that ended with my hand dipping lazily into the water. ‘In fact, if it weren't such hard work, I would have brought my laptop with me now. I’d quite like to tweet about the pleasures of boating.’
One of Judy’s oars got snagged in a bit of weed and she cursed as she dragged it in. A fisherman’s line had got wrapped around the coxswiddle (forgive me if I don’t know the exact technical terms), binding the weeds to the oar along with a newly dead swan. I turned away as Judy set about cutting them away with her teeth.
‘Yes,’ I mused, ‘the pleasures of boating...’
Once we were back under way and Judy was into her 72 strokes per minute rhythm, she returned to the topic of our previous discussion. ‘You might think you’re discreet, Richard,’ she replied, spitting out a swan feather and a fragment of beak, ‘but you’ve already let slip about your nocturnal wanderings.’
‘I’m cursed with an unrealistically small bladder,’ I explained, lifting my hand from the water as I realised that it was likely to set me off. ‘It's not my fault I have to visit the bathroom five times a night.’
‘Well,’ sniffed Jude, ‘I suppose you can’t defy physics. A man either has svelte hips or a generous capacity for liquid retention.’
That, I couldn’t deny. The Madeleys have always been of a slender cast; our hips 24% narrower than the girth of the average ‘A’ list celebrity (discounting, of course, Phil Jupitus and Johnny Vegas). It accounts for my natural abilities to move easily around on a sofa. Many have been the times that people have asked me how I move from one position to another within the fraction of a second it takes a camera to change angle. I put it down to my whip-like hips. I can go from open-thighed casual banter to knee-tight penetrative questioning in the blink of an eye. Next time you meet me, ask me to show you my ‘hip crack’. There are not many people who are able to break the sound barrier with their pelvis. As far as I know, it’s just me, Tom Jones, and Katie Price, although I have been told that her hips are now mostly made from rubber so it doesn’t count if it came to World Records.
‘I should really get Dennis to put out a press release denying this,’ I said, picking up the newspaper again. ‘I know you’re eager for this Strictly Come Dancing gig, Jude, but I worry that it wouldn’t sit well with my new younger audience. I don’t want to alienate my Twitter followers by being seen doing the cha-cha-cha with Bruce Forsyth. No offence, Jude, but what would my followers think of their favourite Uncle Dick if he portrayed himself as part of “the older generation”? Oh no. I can’t just think about us now, Jude. I have to think about the likes of @lurethesea and @Boltonwanderer who are begging for me to teach them the banjo. And then there’s @LaChatNoir and @alangoodenough, good people and talented in their own special ways. There’s my good friend @trevward who is currently learning judo so he can become by bodyguard. And what about @Drolgerg? It’s a public service to keep a man like that off the streets. @midfieldgeneral too, with his unwholesome interest in “On the Buses”, or @rebeccaholder who is just finishing drawing my adventures in comic strip form. And that’s not even mentioning @red1hols (and his blog), @Rasberrysmile, @zebedeejane, @BigDaws, @weenick, @stormyjoolz, @PAFoster, @Jellybabycakes, @over40something (who also has a blog), @Cigleris, @2legs, @ladyliz, @MandyPandy32 (whose cause, Jude, I keep saying deserves promoting), @oleuanna, @Footbacon in Sheffield, @HomoAsbo (he scares me, Jude, he scares me), @RealMissyBlues, @Tori_Da (with her unfortunale Harry Potter obsession), @TrippyPip, @fuzzilu, @welshracer, @martinpickering, @lightnet1, @Catvamp, @maxine_c, @diskgrinder, @lauramcguire83, @kandysays and @debsa. Who is to look after them? Especially @debsa...’
By the time I’d finished with this quite spontaneous roll call from off the top of my head, we were about two miles further up the river and Judy had apparently forgotten that I’d asked her a question. We turned a final bend in the river and the start line came into view. The other boats were already ready and the race officials were soon waving us to get into line.
‘Better bend your back, love,’ I said. ‘Don’t want to annoy Trevor MacDonald. Not after he disqualified us last year after my urine tested positive for ambrosia.’
As Judy moved us into the outside line, a shout went up from a familiar and not-too-welcome source.
‘You took your bloody time,’ shouted David Dickinson from his canoe. He was already down to his vest and his muscles glistened in the morning sun like hand crafted walnut knobs on a Queen Anne commode.
‘Ah, belt up Dickinson,’ I cried, swatting in his direction with my rolled up parasol. ‘You should just get ready to suck at our wake.’
‘You cheeky bloody bugger,’ he cried back but I dismissed him with a two fingered wave.
‘Come on,’ I muttered to Jude, ‘let’s give him a run for his money.’
Were I a latter day Patrick O'Brian, I would describe how I, as both master and commander of my vessel, had tightened the rigging, lay aside my cucumber sandwich and given Judy a speech worthy of Trafalgar. I would describe how her sinews tightened like rope, taught in the stiffening nor-easterly, as, from the embankment, the cry went up and Ronnie Corbett’s voice echoed across the lake.
‘Ah, ha! Now then... Well! Ha! As the bishop said to the nudist... Oh my goodness! Go!’
Judy’s arms worked those oars like she was back skinning otters on our holiday in the Faeroe Isles. She has an upper body strength that belies her size and femininity. Many times we’ve had big name Hollywood actors on the show and, in the green room later, I’ve suggested they try arm wrestling with Judy. They look at me as though I’m mad but it’s only when Jude has rolled up a sleeve that they’ve realised I was serious. She beat Sylvester Stallone four times about five when we were back on ITV and he was in his Rambo prime.
Say what you like about Dickinson, he’s got some stamina. He stayed with us up to the mile mark but then caught some of our wash and lost ground rapidly.
‘You hear me Madeley? The next time you won’t be so bloody lucky!’
‘Well next time, perhaps you shouldn’t use a mahogany canoe!’
Judy liked that. Or I think she did. It was hard to tell the woman’s emotions when she’s as red as a beetroot and sweating like Lee Evan’s in a microwave.
As we crossed the finishing line, she fell back and I cracked open a bottle of champagne I’d brought with me to celebrate our -- or, I suppose, more correctly, I should say ‘my’ -- victory.
‘Well,’ I said, standing up and waving to the crowd. ‘Today, Richard & Judy have conquered the Thames. Who knows what other victories lie ahead?’
At those words, the right side of the ampersand sat up, her brow beaded with sweat. ‘So, does that mean we’re entering “Strictly Come Dancing”?’
I pulled my lips from the bottle and wiped the fizz from my lips. ‘We’ll see, Jude,’ I said, ‘we’ll see...’