Monday, 17 August 2009

The Prick and the Porcupine

I have to ask you to forgive me. If there was a reason for filling Saturday’s blog with an unforgivable level of the black stuff, it was my exhaustion after two days in Manchester.

I’d been up north, lending my honeyed tones to a new wildlife documentary for Channel 5, which quite took it out of me. You can expend significant reserves your lung juice on tricky lines such as: ‘Deep in the swampland of Baluchestan, the hunters are waiting to hear the mating call of the whelk-eared porcupine, the world’s rarest spined mammal. Their pelts can fetch nearly two hundred dollars on the open market. Most will end up as luxury pouches worn by Japanese wrestlers in the highly illegal sport of space hopper sumo...’ The skills required for this kind of gig have to be up there with hosting ‘Have I Got News For You’ in terms of getting the intonation right. Phase it wrong and you’ve either slandered a heron or suggested Tory Party politicos like to mate in Norfolk marshes.

I suppose it’s why I’m on the big money but I always return home deflated after one of these recording sessions. Saturday, I felt worse than ever. A thirty stone sumo might well have been sitting on me whilst wearing his whelk-eared pouch. I wouldn’t have had the energy to complain if he had. I was certainly in no mood to be told that my latest comedy script had hit another obstacle within the BBC.

As a consequence, I spent the day sleeping or sobbing, sometimes both at the same time, occasionally with added brow beating, self-loathing, paranoia and raging alcohol abuse. However, Sunday morning, I woke up clear headed and sporting something of a surprised look on the old A1 visage.

Or, at least, I did once I opened my eyes and found myself lip to lip with a large yellow beak.

‘Well? What do you think?’ asked the beak.

I blinked and the beak floated away to reveal a large fluffy head connected to an equally fluffy body by a length of flexible ventilation duct. I didn’t require Bill Oddie to spot the big yellow ostrich in the room. Nor did I need the ‘Who’s Who of Celebrity Ostrich Riders’ to recognise that perched on the bird’s back holding the reins was my dear wife, Judy. The illusion lasted all of three seconds before I recognised the legs sticking out from beneath the bird’s body. I could see the Granada Reports tattoo on Judy’s ankle peering through the thinly stretched yellow stocking.

‘Judy? Why are you dressed as an ostrich?’ I asked.

‘Oh, Richard!’ she replied. ‘Don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten!’

‘Forgotten wh...’

I suddenly remembered. It was the Sunday the 16th of August, the date of this year’s ‘Bernie Cliftonfest’, when those of us in showbiz honour the nation’s finest funny man. The five mile sponsored ostrich run takes in the whole of this undisclosed area of North London and would raise hundreds of pounds for Bernie’s favourite charity for failed trombonists. As you know, Judy is one of the charity’s patrons and this perhaps accounted for the enthusiasm she put into getting me up out of my divine Slumberland.

‘I’m too tired,’ I moaned. ‘I couldn’t sleep my way through five miles, let alone run it.’

The ostrich beak came in and pulled back the sheets to reveal my nakedness, glory be its name.

‘Get up, Richard. You are not going to let me down,’ she said. ‘You’ve got an hour to be ready.’

As if to warn me, there was a loud clap of an ostrich beach snapping shut and a sudden sharp pain in my lower left cheek.

‘Godfrey Paul Daniels,’ I moaned. Judy just snorted and went padding out of the room, possibly to top up on millet before the run.

I rolled over, stretched, and lifted myself into an upright position. I gazed at the yellow stockings draped over the end of the bed and smacked my lips once before I grabbed the phone.

It rang ten times before the voice answered.

‘Terry? It’s Dick Madeley here. Glad I caught you. Listen. I’d like to take you up on your offer. Yes, that one. I know it’s a bit short notice but...’


My wife has as remarkable a facility for stating the obvious as she does in turning ordinary words into mild vulgarities.

‘Great leaking buckets of water, Richard! You’re not wearing your stockings.’

‘I know I’m not. I didn’t fancy them,’ I said, brushing down the tailoring of a casual safari jacket and cream chinos. On my head was perched a pith helmet that matched the outfit. I looked like the product of a breeding programme between Michael ‘Zulu’ Caine and Winsor ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ Davies; just the kind of ‘lovely boy’ who could ‘blow the bloody doors off’ anything, if asked.

‘You can’t come dressed like that,’ said Judy. ‘The stockings are integral to the clever illusion of riding an ostrich. Without the stockings, you ruin the effect of the balsa wood legs!’

I looked at Judy and then across at all the celebrities lined up across the start. They were all completing clever illusions of their own. Jamie Oliver’s ostrich was apparently free range, accounting for the lack of meat on the bird’s legs. Daniel Craig was straightening his tie and putting on the style in his pinstriped ostrich with rocket propelled knees and bullet proof beak. The only real disappointment was Phillip Schofield’s ostrich, which I didn’t think was all that special. In fact, I thought it lacked any single discernible talent, though it was well plumed and would appeal to the 40 to 70 year old age group.

Judy frowned at me as she stood at the end of the line. ‘If you let me down, Richard, I’ll never be able to forgive you. I hate to think what Bernie would say if he saw you like this.’ She moved in closer, perhaps for ‘the kill’. ‘Listen here, lugnuts,’ she hissed, ‘you either get into that costume now or I’ll tell everybody about your letter.’

‘My letter?’ I asked, trying to pretend I didn’t know to which of the many daggers in my heart she referred.

‘Your rejection letter from the BBC. The one that said you’re not even in the top 10% of people sending them scripts. The one that said they didn’t read past the first ten pages. The one that said you’re about as funny as linoleum...’

I took a few steps back. ‘I get the message,’ I replied and tried a smile. It didn’t work. Judy’s beak moved from side to side like a fluffy cobra preparing to strike. That’s when I spotting my mate Terry, waving to me from the back of the crowd. ‘Look, it will be okay,’ I muttered and planted a quick kiss on Judy’s beak. ‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ I added and sauntered off through the sea of soft yellow ostrich fuzz.

I found Terry unlatching the back of his trailer. ‘I knew you’d make it on time,’ I said.

He didn’t seem that impressed. ‘I hope you know what you’re doing,’ he replied. ‘I’ve had to leave the otters frisking in the bath.’

I told him to spare me the tales of his frisking otters and to get a move on. Five minutes later, I was back at Judy’s side, only she was distracted for a moment, picking bits of pink fluff from her ostrich’s costume where she’d rubbed up against Graham Norton’s bird.

‘Well,’ I said, from a couple of feet above her, ‘I’m ready.’

She turned to me and gave a scream. ‘What’s that?’ she asked, using her ostrich’s head as a barrier to fend off the amorous attention of my mount.

‘This,’ I said, ‘is Patrick. Patrick is a genuine African racing ostrich.’

‘Get down at once, Richard,’ she snapped. ‘You’re going to kill yourself.’

As if to prove I was the master, I tugged the rein.

‘I can assure you that he’s quite tame,’ I said, calmly. ‘He’s maybe a bit randy but he’s certainly very tame. And he comes with Terry Nutkins’ seal of approval, which, in this case, is actually a real seal.’

Judy replied with something unkind about Terry Nutkins whilst Patrick began to show interest in Graham Norton’s plumage. Wedged up there between his wings, I could feel the shiver of sexual excitement run through Patrick’s body each time Graham limbered up for the run by bending over and touching his toes.

It was something of relief when the starter’s pistol cracked. Patrick responded immediately and strode off with me acting as little more than a very handsome observer with an impeccable tan. Within a hundred yards, we’d left most of the field well behind. It was just me, Dame Kelly Holmes, and Ben Fogle in the lead, and Fogle was fading quickly.

Now, here’s an interesting fact: did you know that there’s very little difference in pace between a real ostrich carrying a well proportioned man and a middle distance Olympic champion hampered by rubber ostrich boots? As I took the first turn, I was on the outside of Dame Kelly. I could see the sinews standing proud on her neck, her beak moving in metronomic rhythm with her legs.

‘Would this be the wrong time to ask you about the state of middle distance running with in the UK?’ I shouted down to her.

But the question only seemed to spur Kelly on and she quickly pulled out a lead of a metre or more.

I’ve conducted hostile interviews like this before so I knew how to respond. I kicked my heels and Patrick found an extra gear.

‘Do you think that the London Olympics will be a success or a financial disaster?’ I cried as we again pulled level.

A look of fear came to Kelly’s eye but again she kicked.

I kicked too and Patrick gave a shriek and picked up his pace.

‘Kelly, do you think that woman with high muscular torsos can retain their femininity given the modern approval of the larger mammary?’

I think that’s what broke her. She reached for another kick but found it wasn’t there. However, a heel against Patrick’s backside and we leapt into the lead.

‘Tallo ho!’ I cried, lifting the pith helmet from my head and giving Dame Kelly and the vanishing pack a wave.

Five miles later, the finishing line was in sight. My buttocks were getting a little sore but I could not care less. I was already thinking of my victory speech and how I would use it as a vehicle for a withering assault on the woeful ability of the BBC’s Writer’s Room to spot ‘talent’. It probably accounts for why I wasn’t looking behind me. With only a hundred yards to go, I was suddenly aware of a shape in my peripheral vision.

It was Jeremy Clarkson in a motorised scooter decked out in ostrich feathers. He opened his throttle and grinned that offish grin he has. I kicked my heels one, twice, and thrice into Patrick’s flanks but I can only assume that he was as shocked as I to see the nation’s top curly perm blazing past.

Clarkson took the line by a rubberised bumper/beak.

I wasted no time and slid from Patrick’s back and racing up to Clarkson who was preparing to respond to the adulation of the crowd. He had already unfastening his trouser belt and lowered his trousers. He was now in the process of inking the word ‘Losers’ across his bottom, cleverly adapting the topography to form a particularly scornful ‘o’.

‘What’s your game?’ I demanded. ‘You have just spoilt a friendly charity race by using a mechanised monstrosity.’

‘No more than you ruined it by taking a real ostrich to an ostrich race,’ said Clarkson.

Even if I knew he was right, I wasn’t about to back down.

‘This isn’t the last you’ll hear about this, Jeremy,’ I warned him. ‘This will be on my blog before the week is out.’

‘Ha!’ he cried. ‘So says the man whose scripts are a laughing stock within the BBC.’ And with that he turned his back on me, bent over and the word ‘Loser’ reared up to great me.

I would have felt particularly offended by this final humiliation if it wasn’t for what happened next. It is perhaps best not to describe it in too much detail, though, needless to say, the best efforts of Terry Nutkins and three firemen couldn’t stop Patrick from finally fulfilling his intentions in a way that was beautiful to see. After two minutes, I left the commotion behind me in order to find Judy, who placed a rather respectable fourteenth. I wanted to shield her from a sight that even I’d have trouble narrating for Channel 5.

‘Did you win?’ she asked, breathless.

‘I placed second but I’m not bitter,' I replied. ‘To the victor go the spoils and all that...

Judy rubbed her side. ‘I’m going to be sore in the morning,’ she grinned.

I placed my arm around her waist and guided her away from the finish line. ‘Not as sore as some,’ I promised her. ‘Not as sore as some...’


Lola said...

Lovely! Those BBC types don't know talent when it presents itself. This was almost as good as the miniature pony show story, which is still my favourite.

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

Thank you, Lola, for reading it. In fact, I'm amazed that anybody read it. I know it was a bit long and lacking in miniature show ponies...

Joby said...

Patrick is a genius!

I've often wanted to dress as an ostrich and attack Clarksons chocolate star (of course, finding the right time to do it)- but seems your new friend has beaten me too it!