Saturday, 24 January 2009

Anna Ford’s Mole

After a week of sitting in a cramped radio studio until one o’clock in the morning, it was a relief to be back on the spacious Madeley estate last night, helping Judy roll her new kegs down into the cellar. Since she’s taken up amateur brewing, my wife has spent a sizable part of our fortune buying the right equipment to open her own brewery. Barely a day doesn’t pass when the right side the R&J ampersand isn’t on the phone to either James May or Oz Clark, asking how to prepare her mash tun or when to add the yeast. When she came back from town last night, her four miniature shire horses pulling a cart loaded with large wooden barrels, it all felt a little too surreal for me. Yet I am, above all things, a loyal husband. After twenty minutes hard work, I rolled the last of the kegs down into the cellar and then stood back to wipe the moisture from the creaseless brow beloved by so many.

‘Not bad for a man of thirty eight,’ I said.

‘Fffft,’ said Judy as she began to unwrap the accessories that went with the barrels.

‘Okay... Thirty eight and some months,’ I said as I parked a tired cheek on the retired sofa we brought with us from ITV. It was a familiar feeling beneath me and I set to brushing away the dust from the sheet covering the indentation where Denise Richardson used to sit. As I rubbed my hand over that strange old crest and twin valleys, the exact shape and contour of Denise’s buttocks, I felt something strange beneath my fingertips. It was a shape I didn’t remember as being part of Denise’s lower slope.

‘Hello,’ I said, slipping my hand under the sheet as a man might slip his hand up a dress. ‘What’s this?’

Judy groaned as my hand emerged holding a dusty bottle.

‘Well I never,’ I said, immensely cheered by the discovery. ‘So this is where you hid them!’

‘Do you blame me?’ asked Judy, fingering her spigot.

‘I don’t blame you at all,’ I said, retrieving another two bottles. ‘In fact, I’m delighted. I’m sure they’ll have improved with age.’

We were talking, of course, about wine. But this was no ordinary wine. It wasn’t French and it didn’t come with elegantly designed label and hefty price tag. Yet this was the very rarest of drinks; none other than Bill Oddie’s fabled buttercup wine.

In the days when Bill was still an amateur bird watcher, not yet sure that he’d make a career out of his twitching, he had alternative paths that he had explored in fits of his usual high-pitched enthusiasm. He could have become the nation’s top astronomer if only he hadn’t lacked the necessary height to reach the eyepiece of the telescope I helped him erect in the attic of his hobbit hole. His involvement in the world of midget show ponies was the reason that Judy took up the reins (excuse the pun) and how she, herself, became one of the nation’s experts in horses under four feet tall. Eventually, Bill chose ornithology but, for a while, my bet had been that Bill would make his living from wine.

Bill Oddie’s Buttercup Wine is one of the great vintages of those post-Goodie years and it is still talked about in hushed voices among societies of London’s more knowledgeable tipplers. ‘Vin de Oddie’ is surprisingly light on the tongue, with a warm syrupy feeling that glides down your throat before returning with burst of citrusy aftertaste. It then slides down again, retreating with a woody flavour reminiscent of beards, before it comes back, rushing at you with a claw hammer and starts to beat your around your wrists and your ankles. I once drank a bottle of Bill’s wine and lost all feeling in my legs for three days. I remember one disastrous Monday when we had to film ‘This Morning’ with assistants carrying me between points in the studio to cover up the fact that I was still paralytic below the waist. It was after that episode that Judy took all my wine and hid it away. And this was why I was so happy to been reunited with my collection after all these years.

I carried the bottles up to the kitchen where I immediately introduced one to the corkscrew and then poured myself a healthy glass.

‘Are you sure it’s okay to drink that, Richard? It looked awfully yellow.’

‘As if kissed by a sunset,’ I said, in my best winespeak. I ran the cork under my nose to test the aroma. I gasped. ‘Ooh, Bachelor’s Super Noodles!’


I picked myself up from the floor and straightened my fringe. ‘Wow! This stuff has really matured. It’s a real MILF among wines.’

‘A MILF?’ asked Judy.

‘It’s a wine term, Jude. You wouldn’t understand.’

The glass was surprisingly heavy as I picked it up, the wine more like olive oil the way it clung to the sides.

‘Oh, Richard, please. Not all at once.’

Even I wasn’t that foolish. I rolled the wine around the glass, ensuring that its aroma would build in the bowl and make it both a taste and smell sensation. Then I gave it a measured sip before I swished the wine around my mouth, over my tongue, between my teeth, and ending with a quick gargle. I am, as you can obviously tell, a man who takes his wine seriously and in a professional manner. Only then did I swallow it.

‘Well?’ asked Judy, standing to one side and armed with the fire extinguisher.

‘Well?’ asked Judy, standing to one side and waving a burning cat around the room.

‘Well?’ asked the devil waving a fiery pitchfork in his hand.

‘Well?’ asked the devil, who fell away beneath me as I rose into the sky.

‘You’re a yeasty fellow,’ said Stephen Fry, floating before me, his green cape flapping behind him like the wings of the angel we all know that he really is. ‘Did you ever discover the secret of Anna Ford’s mole?’

‘I didn’t,’ I said, looking down. I was floating beside him, hundreds of feet in the air. Talk of Anna Ford’s mole made me suddenly maudlin and aware of the passage of time. ‘Am I imagining this?’

‘Yippee!’ said Bill Oddie who flew past me wearing the national dress of the bumble bee.

‘This is all your fault,’ I shouted after him.

‘Oh, shush now,’ said Stephen. ‘Can’t you see that Bill’s happy?’

‘I can’t feel my legs,’ I realised. I looked down and I was surprised by what I saw.

‘You’re probably wondering about the size of your ankles,’ said Stephen. ‘That’s because they aren’t your ankles.’

‘Not mine?’

‘Ah, indeed they are not. Those are the lovely ankles of Ms. Denise Robertson. You have her legs too and, I should imagine, her buttocks, though I have not ventured that far in order to test my theory. But rest assured, Richard, that I am confident that the rest is all you.’

‘I want Judy,’ I moaned.

‘Ah, here comes Bill,’ said Stephen. ‘Let’s see what he says about that.’

‘Wheeeee!’ said Bill Oddie, a streak of black and yellow beard, wings struggling to sustain a heavy paunch.

‘Richard wants to go home to Judy,’ explained Stephen.

‘I bet he does,’ said the Bumble Bee Bill Oddie. ‘But he still doesn’t understand the secret of Anna Ford’s mole? Should we tell him?’

‘I loved Anna Ford’s mole,’ I sobbed.


I felt a slap across my face. Stephen seemed surprised and then shook his head slowly.

‘Anna?’ I begged. ‘Tell me the secret.’

Another slap and I opened my eyes and found I was lying on the kitchen floor, my head resting on Judy’s lap.

‘That was wonderful,’ I said. ‘Stephen was an angel.’

She slapped me around the jaw, her knuckles rattling a couple of my teeth.

‘That’s for what you said about Anna Ford,’ she scolded. ‘And I’m hiding those bottles again. I should really pour them down the drain but I wouldn’t know what they’d do to the water supply. You always get like this when you drink, Richard. All I hear is you muttering about Anna bloody Ford.’

‘That was Stephen’s fault,’ I explained. ‘He mentioned her name. Bill was there too. He was a bee and you were...’


‘You were another angel,’ I lied.

She stood up and let my head slip and crack against the floor tiles. ‘Richard,’ she said, ‘if I live to be fifty, I’ll never understand you.’

I suppose she was right. I stood up, smiling as I was surprised to find that my legs were my own and that they still had feeling. My bliss was only compromised as I watched a certain devil take the remaining bottles of buttercup wine out into the garden. The night was soon filled with the sounds of digging somewhere over near the ornamental statue of Ainsley Harriot. Judy knows, I suppose, that it’s the one part of the garden I try to avoid. However, now I have a reason to travel that far and even the sight of Ainseley’s meat shank and a side order of sprouts won’t be enough to keep me away. Not now. Not while there remained three bottles of Bill Oddie’s buttercup wine hidden beneath the turf. Not when I’ve come so close to solving the mystery of Anna Ford’s mole.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Sucking Popsicles On Llanelli Hill With Stephen Fry

‘Heavens! Zounds! Bless my heart, though ’tis a thing of beauty and verily blessed within tw’pence of its life.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘It’s you.’

‘Indeed, indeed! ’Tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, calling you about your latest Twitterage.’

‘What about it?’ I asked, momentarily distracted as I packed my combination nostril tweezers / electronic pliers into a bag for my late shift at the BBC. ‘I’m in something of a rush, Stephen. You probably don’t know this but I have my own show going out on 5Live tonight.’

‘Indeed I do know,’ replied Fry. ‘I know all about it as I also listened to last night’s excellent discussion about America via an quaint little application I downloaded for my iPhone called...’

‘And your point?’ I snapped, knowing that I had to be firm. I really hadn’t time for a technology review and sometimes you just have to be strong for Stephen’s sake. He’s likely give you a Dork Talk column for nothing when the Guardian should really be paying him a small fortune.

‘Ah,’ sang Stephen, his voice booming. ‘My point is that I hope that you’re feeling better?’


‘From your recent gastric upset. I read your last Twitter post. I believe you had a problem brought on by sucking an iced popsicle on Llanelli hill.’

‘Oh, that!’ I laughed. ‘Never been to Llanelli in my life. As to there being a hill suitable for iced popsicle sucking, I wouldn’t know. Probably isn’t. Wouldn’t want to be quoted about that. Not the sort of thing I’d like to see in the papers. I can see the headlines now: “Madeley likes to suck iced popsicles on Llanelli Hill”.’

‘Quite, quite,’ mused The Great Fry, no doubt his green cape flapping, ‘but why did you send me a message implying that you were unwell?’

‘Because it was my entry into your Twitter competition,’ I replied. ‘You know how I enjoy word games. It made my afternoon coming up with that little gem.’

There was a gasp on the phone and I suspected that one of Stephen’s iPhone apps had updated as I’d been speaking. I was wrong. It was just the sharp intake of breath that one genius makes when he recognises another of his kind.

‘Really?’ he said. ‘But it was so eloquent. Far be it for me to question your skills, Dick, but I asked people to post a message in 140 characters that contain fifty letter “l”s. I wouldn’t expect something so poetic. You would have to indeed be a master of the English language to achieve such a feat.’

‘And achieve it I did, Stephen,’ I said and then allowed a long silence of my own to make my point.

The fact is that I was quite proud of my little composition in 140 characters. It was poetry of the Twitter and, I’m reliably told, one of the first classics of the 140 character form.

Lolly+Llanelli hill=fell ill. Silly! Roll, loll, anally full. Belly=bellows=flatus hell! Mill all local pills & swill llama milk. All well. LOL!

‘Well, well,’ said Stephen. ‘This does give me a little problem! Heavens! The word “shudder” was made for such moments and I would use it here except my doctor has ordered me off them for a week. Oh, heavens! Blast, indeed, and... Oh, shudder!’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘You must see, Dicky, that I can’t be seen choosing my friends, even if their entries (excuse that phrase for I speak not of your bottom) are so much more polished and pleasing than the rest.’

‘Indeed you can’t, Stephen,’ I replied. ‘And I expect nothing less than fair play. What’s the prize, by the way?’

‘Ah, Dick, you know I can’t say.’

‘Oh,’ I groaned. ‘Not another DVD of “Kingdom”! You know how Judy won’t take the last one out of the machine. You know she’s started to wear a cape of her own. You’re a bad influence, Stephen.’

Stephen hummed and ermed a little and then his voice rose an octave into that magical realm of voice where it normally dwells. ‘Dick, let us see what tomorrow brings. Should you win, I can promise you a gift that will make your days brighter, your life more pleasant, and make you the talk of the town.‘

I hung up the phone. I had to prepare for a radio show, even if it seemed that somewhere out there, there’s a cape with my name on it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Dick Bacon

Just had my hair cut ahead of tonight’s three hour bum ache as I host my first live radio phone-in. After a long debate with the barber about my suggestion that an Obama cut would symbolise the beginning of a new age of broadcasting, I eventually went with the old faithful of part-lift/half flop with a curl over the left lughole. It’s not a good idea to change a winning formula and I want to be at my familiar best when I take up the reigns of the Richard Bacon show on 5Live at 10pm.

Only, to be perfectly honest, the whole thing has already gone nipples vertical, as it were. It happened the moment I walked into the BBC studios this morning thinking I was about to have a chat with Richard about his show and all the innovations I want to bring to medium of radio.

I was met in the foyer by some small puff of a PR assistant who led me to a small office where she left me in the care of a young chap. He was typical of BBC researchers, sitting behind a PC and spending most of his hours searching YouTube.

I took a seat, smiled politely at him, before looking at my watch. I had a dinner appointment with the Ant percentage of Ant&Dec and I didn’t like to be left waiting. I suppose I’m also use to being the bigger fish over at the Channel 4 pond and now in Watch’s modestly sized aquarium. But, in the BBC, you’re always reminded that there are always bigger fish and that the name Madeley counts for very little in a waters dominated by the likes of Wossy and Clarkson.

So, I waited and waited and the young chap on the keyboard kept clicking away as he downloaded more inane clips of animals doing party tricks. All pleasant, I suppose, if you enjoy waiting for things to happen in the company of imbeciles. Only I’m not that kind of man. It wasn’t long before I began to huff and mutter as I repeatedly looked at my watch. My message seemed to get across. After a few minutes, this young upstart fellow says ‘fancy a drink?’

‘I suppose I do,’ I replied, looking again at my watch. ‘Coffee. Four sugars...’

And off he went as I carried on waiting for Bacon and growing more annoyed with each passing minute. Five more minutes pass before the youth comes back carrying something hot and sweet in polystyrene.

‘We’re all out of sugar so I had to use sweetener,’ he said as I set my lips to sipping java.

‘Sweetener!’ I tutted but it wasn’t a soft, slightly annoyed tut. This was the sort of tut that would shatter poorer quality porcelain. Thankfully, all my crowns are cast from Tungsten and have been given a glaze of the same ceramic they use on the Space Shuttle’s heat shield. My tuts are as hard as bullets. Especially in cold weather.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

There was something about the youngster’s attitude I didn’t like.

‘You know what sweetener does to a man’s procreative orbs, don’t you?’ I asked, fixing him with a leathery eye. ‘I don’t suppose you do. Well let me tell you...’

I then launched into a five minute tirade about sweetener addiction and the effects it can have on a man’s most potent juices. Just as I was coming to the end via a small digression on the inefficiency of assistants in show business, the PR girl came in again.

‘You okay, Richard?’ she asked.

‘Okay?’ I spat my indignation. ‘Not when this loaf gives me sweetener in my coffee. My manliness diminishes with every second the stuff is in my system.’

She seemed unconcerned and turned to the loaf in question. ‘Richard? Is everything okay?’

‘Fine,’ says the loaf from behind his desk. ‘Could you please call security?’

‘Richard?’ I repeated as the girl headed off.

‘Richard Bacon,’ he said as he stood up, his knuckles white as he gripped the back of his chair.

‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘Bacon!’

‘Just like the meat.’

‘I see,’ I said. ‘So you’re Richard Bacon...’

‘Like the...’

‘Just like the meat.’ I laughed. ‘So you’re more meat than loaf...’ He didn’t seem to appreciate my play on words so I thought it best to get on with making an apology. ‘I’ve made an awful fool of myself,’ I said. ‘When they told me I was filling in for Richard Bacon, I think I must have been thinking about Richard Baker. Now I come to think of it, he must be getting on a bit to be hosting three hour talk shows past midnight...’

‘Lucky that he isn’t,’ said Bacon, who grew a little easier and lowered the chair from over his head. He took my hand in his and gave it the traditional BBC shake with his little finger tickling my wrist.

‘Sorry about that,’ I said. ‘It’s just that you look too young to have your own show on 5Live.’

‘I’m actually forty three,’ he answered, ‘but please keep that quiet. I’ve not undergone years of treatment with the goat glands to ruin the illusion.’

‘Oh, I know how to keep a secret,’ I said. Which is true. Nobody reads this bloody blog so anything I write here is as safe as if I’d announced it on a weeknight on Watch. ‘All I can say is that I hope I look as good when I’m forty three.’

In the end, I had a good half hour minute chat with Bacon about tonight’s show. I promised that I’ll be gentle with his guests and I won’t plug my highly acclaimed book, ‘Fathers & Sons’, more than ten times an hour after midnight. We parted as friends, with him enthusiastic about all of my innovations.

‘But remember what I said about the goat glands,’ he said. ‘Don’t mention them to a soul.’

‘You just go and enjoy your holiday,’ I said. ‘Leave the worrying to me. If playing Westlife albums backwards and live ritualistic invocations to the spirit of Marconi don’t drive up your ratings, I don’t know what will.’

He laughed like any carefree forty three year old would laugh when going on holiday and leaving his successful national radio show in the hands of a professional with a new haircut and a quiff or two of sexiness.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Why I've Not Been Sleeping

Hell of a week last week. I think I’ll say that again and, since I don’t care what Judy says about the carpet, I’ll do it in capitals. HELL. OF. A. WEEK!

Was that too much? It’s just that, as Paul O’Grady once discovered, there are only so many times a man of my undeniable charm but limited patience can be insulted before he strikes back. Only this time, there’s no need for any bottles of hot chilli sauce, plastic funnels, nor any rubber gloves and boxes of doggy treats.

‘I’ve got a good feeling about the Algerian entry,’ said the voice on the phone.
I rubbed my eyes and peered over at the digital. 4.30 in the morning. This was the third time in the week that the phone had woken me in the early hours. The bed squeaked as Judy rolled over, disturbed. She muttered something about monkfish before she lifted the duvet and slid beneath Slumberland’s finest. The snores resumed but the voice remained indifferent to Judy’s plight or the significance of large gilled North Atlantic anglerfish to the ongoing narrative.

‘I’ve got a few witty remarks about the Lithuanians,’ it said. ‘You want to hear them, Dick? Or would you prefer to hear all my Pole jokes?’

‘It’s you again, isn’t it Graham?’ I replied.

‘Of course it’s me,’ said Norton. ‘Who else would be talking about the Eurovision at four thirty in the morning? After all, I’m the only person the BBC have trusted to host the Euro gig.’

History. That’s what this came down to. History, a presenter with leading-man good looks, and the BBC mafia. If it’s the stuff of a Guy Richie film, this would be the moment when the camera makes a quick detour up the trouser leg of an extra and then does a quick 360 degree time-lapse business around the bushes and to that moment about a month ago when I was standing in one of London’s trendier media cafes. Queue the caption. ‘Somewhere in Soho’.

‘He’s here, everybody!’ cried Harry Hill who could clearly see everything from atop a pair of brothel creepers with six inches of creped soul. ‘Lock up your onions or they might fly away!’

If I’d known how those strange words would one day leave Judy muttering ‘monkfish’ at four thirty in the morning I might not have joined in the applause as I stood there, shoulder to shoulder with all the nation’s top presenters. Jonathan Ross was in his pink eel-skin suit (sourced from renewable eels) and Michael Parkinson was in something made from unemployed mine worker. Joining us were Des O’Connor, Paul O’Grady, Brucie Forsyth, Alan Carr, Angus Deaton, Sandy Toksvig... Even Alan Titchmarsh was there, sitting by the fire with a cup of Horlicks resting on his lap.

‘By ‘eck,’ he said. ‘This is a proper do.’

He was right. It was very proper do, only there was no time to reflect on my position among the nation’s ruling elite. There was a sudden ripple of applause and the crowd parted to allow the honour guard to enter the room along with the man we were all there to meet.

I recognised the earlobes immediately. They were earlobes I was hoping to follow; earlobes I hoped to emulate. They were earlobes that had suffered many years of abuse from listening to Eurovision hits; earlobes in London to announce the name of the man or woman who was to land the most highly prized job in television.

‘My children, becalm your beating hearts!’ said Sir Terry Wogan. ‘Too much... It’s all too much for a tired old pro to bear in his dotage...’

What class! The Pope of Radio 2 then began to walk slowly down the line of celebs, shaking our hands. He paused at Wossy and Jonathan kneeled down and kissed the papal ring on Terry’s little finger.

‘Bwess you, good sir,’ said Ross. ‘You are a fine example to all of us pwestenters who hope to follow in your fine footsteps. Now is there any chance I can get your phone number? I might need to wing you in the future, should I discover people impersonating you on Twitter.’

Terry smiled and blessed him with a hand to Jonathan’s brow before he moved on to me.

‘Richard. So good of you to make it,’ he said.

‘It’s not weally Wichard,’ whispered Wossy, leaning into the conversation. Terry ignored the slur, which has been sadly repeated on other occasions and despite the evidence otherwise.

‘There’s always room on the good ship Beeb for hearty fellows with few discernable skills,’ said Wogan in a confident voice. ‘I’m sure you’ll fit right in.’
From anybody else, it would have been an insult. But this was Terry and Terry means a lot to me. Finally, with great ceremony, Wogan went over to where Titchmarsh was sitting.

‘It’s Terry Wogan,’ explained June Whitfield who was acting as Alan’s minder for the day. ‘He’s come to announce the name of the next presenter of Eurovision. You’d like to host Eurovision, wouldn’t you, Alan?’

‘By eck! It’s a proper do!’ cried Titchmarsh again, so excited that he raised his mug and splashed his Horlicks all over June. I’m not sure the poor fellow understood a thing of what was going on. He’s not been the same since they Charlie Dimock’s breasts were dropped from BBC1.

Finally, Terry made his way to the fireplace where he posed for photographers and then it was time for the ceremony, which was to be led by the head of BBC light entertainment. Personally, I still blame the guy for the second series of ‘Little Miss Jocelyn’ so I paid little attention to a long and frankly boring speech about the role of the colour pink in the BBC light entertainment department. But from what I did hear, pink has a surprisingly important role and, naturally, it was all music to Jonathan’s ears which were pink to their own considerable lobes. By the time the speech was over, I felt distinctly out of place and I thought it a bad omen that Terry was handed a pink envelope containing the name of the chosen presenter.

‘Ah,’ said Wogan, ‘it’s been many a year since I was in a room, much like this one, eagerly awaiting Diddy David Hamilton to open the envelope to see who would follow him in this great role. It’s a great honour for any presenter to be given the job of commentating the Eurovision Song Contest; to be sent to foreign climes to mock the tastes of our continental friends. And now it’s time to see which of you will be given the high honour of continuing my xenophobic rant towards foreigners. I see some of our most talented names in presenting in the room. I also see Richard Madeley standing there. Ah, Richard. You’re a man after my own mustard. We’ve both been cut from the same cloth. Good luck to you, good sir!’

‘Good luck everybody!’ cried Titchmarsh to the great amusement of all. ‘Ooh, it’s a grand do!’

There was a twinkle in Terry’s eye as he tore open the envelope.

‘And now, with no more further ceremony,’ he said, ‘it’s time to announce the name of the scurvy dog who will be following me on the good ship Eurovision. And... that person is...’

There was a collective gasp. Had I even heard the name? I must have heard something because I stepped forward as if to shake Terry’s hand. Luckily, I was spared any embarrassment when a mirrorball rolled past me and unfurled itself in the middle of the room to take Wogan in its arms. I thought it was some strange form of pink protest until Terry returned the hug but thankfully none of the kisses.

‘By ‘eck, that was a proper turn of events,’ said Titchmarsh who was now standing at my side, June Whitfield on his arm. ‘Imagine them giving the job to him. Ah well. It means my Aunt Rose won’t be watching it this year. Too many references to sausages. My Aunt Rose doesn’t like references to sausages. But by gum, this was a grand do!’
And like that, it was over with Graham Norton taking the applause and the best job in showbusiness. Queue the time lapsed trouser leg and back to me in my bed at four thirty on a weekday morning.

‘Listen Graham,’ I said, softly so as to not disturb Judy, snoring heavily somewhere under the duvet. ‘I hold no grudges. The BBC have clearly decided that Eurovision is going to abandon its small but loyal following among heterosexual men who only watched it for Terry’s witty banter and the legs on the sultry French dancers. If the BBC are to ignore a man as talented as the man Madeley and choose to embrace the camp aesthetic in a spectacular way, then I’m glad they’ve given you the job.’

‘Really?’ squealed Norton. ‘You really mean that?’

‘I do,’ I said. ‘I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful night in Moscow with your double entendres and I predict that the national outcry will mean that the BBC will seek out a safer pair of hands next year. Perhaps a handsome pair of hands that know how to make subtle but biting references to the Turkish entrant’s moustache and her resemblance to a Chuckle Brother.’

And with that, I hung up the phone.

‘Who was that?’ muttered Judy.

‘Nobody of importance,’ I said as I lay smirking in the dark. ‘Now get back to your monkfish. I’ve got to think of something funny to say about Bulgarian glam rockers in time for next year.’

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Exploring Vole Country With Bill Oddie

Bill Oddie owns one of humanity’s better souls. There’s no less flattering way of putting it. Nestled in that body of his beats a heart so pure that it’s thought to be in time with nature’s own clock. There was a moment today when I realised that just to be in the man’s presence is an honour. His breath smells of wild nettles and he has small barbs on the backs of his hands were wild creatures can grip as they sup the heady nectar oozing from his sweat glands. I can honestly say that the exciting days and long drawn out nights I’m spending with Bill are making me more aware of his special qualities. Hell. I've even seen him suckle a weasel. Is there anything more honest and true than that?

We’d spent our morning tickling trout on the stretch of Scottish river that Bill maintains up here on behalf of the wildlife. It’s a lush paradise for all types of fauna, including the grit toad, the gasping adder, and the rare Highland vole (about which, more later). Yet as much as I love Bill and would have happily bore him children if we'd met in my childbearing days, I did feel that the morning was less than advertised.

I’d travelled all this way to Scotland expecting to finger some fish only for Bill to insist, at the very last moment, that I could only tickle his trout if I wore woollen mittens to protect the oils that cover their delicate scales. Water heavy mittens and temperatures below freezing were not what I was expecting when I agreed to this caper. By eleven o’clock, I was so disenchanted that I made only half-hearted attempts at inducing laughter in the trout, who, it turns out, are the most selfish of creatures. Once they realised they were getting nothing from me, they’d slip from my numb, cold fingers and go seek their pleasures between Bill’s waders. I’ve seen similar behaviour at recordings of the Paul O’Grady show, so I recognised the signs that a performer should retire while he still can. Only some, like O’Grady, keep going and put honest men and women out of business. Ruin them. Force them to wretched satellite channels, only a dozen or so channels up from the porn. What kind of life is that for a man with great ideas and a wife with a novel to plug?

However, I digress.

Around lunchtime, I managed to persuade Bill that we’d tickled enough trout for one morning and I suggested lunch.

‘I have some pickled onions and quorn sandwiches in my binoculars case,’ he said with an enthusiasm you couldn’t smash with a mallet. ‘I’ll share them with you, Dick. Nothing like pickled onions and a bit of quorn to warm you up for an afternoon wading among the trout.’

‘Much as I appreciate the offer, Bill,’ I answered, ‘I doubt if your binoculars case could hold quantities of neither pickled onions nor quorn to satisfy my appetite. Let’s call the ticking off for the day and go look for a local tavern and perhaps sample its honey meads.’

‘Taverns? Honey meads?’ scoffed Bill. ‘There aren’t any taverns around here.’

‘Then let us embark on a quest to find a country pub,’ I replied. ‘Isn’t it often said that you can’t walk five minutes in Scotland without smelling some freshly brewed hops?’

‘That’s true but not in this part of Scotland. This is Presbyterian country. Most pleasures are outlawed around here. Do you know I even needed a license before we could tickle the trout? And before they gave me that I had to promise that we wouldn’t go touching any nipples.’

I felt a slightly guilty flush develop around my cheeks. Nobody had mentioned that the nipples were out of bounds.

I thought it best to hurry matters on. ‘This is disturbing news, Bill,’ I said. ‘Where am I to get a pint?’

He laughed. ‘Nowhere! There isn’t a pub within fifty miles of us.’

I could hardly see a reason for humour and with barely a wave to the trout, I set off in search of lodgings and something alcoholic and warm.

Walking in Scotland with Bill Oddie was such a rare experience. It was past noon and the cold of the morning had been turned a touch more pleasant by the breaking of sunlight through the clouds. We’d been walking some time, me leading the way as Bill went bounding over the fields and occasionally returning to the road to hand me some fresh owl droppings that he’d found. Yet it was about five miles down the road when the incident happened.

There was a vole lying at the side of the road. We’d been walking along when Bill stumbled across him. Well, actually, Bill didn’t stumble. It was more like me nearly falling on Bill after I'd slipped on the poor creature’s innards that had been spread across the carriageway.

‘Oh, the poor little mite,’ said Bill, kneeling down to close the vole’s lifeless eyes.

‘Looks like a car got him,’ I said. ‘Dunlop. I recognise the tread pattern across his back, all four bloody feet of it.’

Bill wiped a tear from his eye as he stood up. He’d left his jacket across the remains of the poor dead vole.

‘We should buy him,’ he said.

‘Bury him?’

‘You can’t leave him here. Not like this. It’s undignified.’

I looked up the road, imagining a hot toddy waiting for me in some warm snug with access to repeats of the Richard&Judy show on Watch. ‘Oh, it will be alright,’ I said. ‘A cat will come along at any moment and lap that up. Isn’t that the way with nature? He’ll be food for some passing crow within the hour. I promise you, Bill.’

Only Oddie wouldn’t listen to reason. He spent the next ten minutes digging a small hole by the side of the road and then transporting the dead vole into that makeshift grave.

‘I’m surprised you don’t need a license to do this,’ I muttered as Bill stood over the grave and bowed his head.

‘Do you think we should say something?’ he asked.

‘I could say a fair few things,’ I replied in a threatening tone. Only, one look at Bill and I realised how terribly cruel I was being. ‘Of course I could say something, Bill. In fact, I’d be delighted.’

As you probably know if you’ve read ‘Fathers & Sons’ (reasonably priced at Amazon and getting even more reasonable by the day), I’m blessed with a mastery of words. However, nothing could have prepared me for that moment when I had to compose a valediction for a mole lost by the side of a Scottish road. I wish I could recover the words I’d said there but they have been lost on that lonely stretch of tarmacadam and vole juice. All I do know is that by the end, Bill was sodden with tears; his beard a single strand of bedraggled hair, matted together and smelling like damp straw. As I stood and watched him play the Last Post on his favourite duck call, it was then that I realised that Bill really is a very special person. He’s a one off; the champion of owls, defender of the hedgehog, and a friend to animals everywhere. And as soon as I’d scraped the last of the vole from my shoe and kicked it into the grave, I was only too happy to start filling in the hole on behalf of my good friend who could only stand there, blubbering out his vows to fight even harder to have vole tunnels installed under every road in this country of ours.

When I was finished heeling in the earth, Bill looked up at me, his face hardened into a look of solid ardour.

‘Never again,’ he said, gripping my arm. ‘Never again.’

‘Never again, Bill,’ I agreed with compassion. ‘Now let’s go get a drink and help me rinse this taste of vole out of my mouth.’

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Richard Madeley The Otter

The blog might well go quiet for a couple of days. Bill Oddie has offered to teach me to tickle trout on his own private stretch of Scottish river. However, no harm will come to the fish. We’re only going up there to tickle them. Nothing more sinister than that and the sight of two middle aged men standing thigh high in cold water and stroking fish. Who knows, if the mood takes us, we might even stroke each other. I'm always up for having my stomach tickled.

I confess that I’m somewhat reluctant to go. The thing about Bill is that he loves his otters. Bill Oddie has seven otters. Each one is named after his closest friends and that includes me. Richard Madeley (the otter) is a ferocious little critter who has tasted human blood and clearly enjoys it. I’ve only handled him once and he took a quarter of an inch out of my thumb. Bill said it was being playful. I said that if I went around taking a quarter of an inch out of my guests, the show wouldn’t be the success it is on Watch. Actually, scrub that last remark. Perhaps I should start nipping the guests. It’s not as though I’m not tempted. The viewing figures might go up. And l like the headlines. ‘Madeley Savages Neil Morrissey.’ Might well get an OBE for that. Or perhaps a knighthood. If some bloke on a pushbike can get one, I don’t see why the nation’s most loved talk show host wouldn’t get one for turning feral.

So, please feel free to talk among yourselves until I come back on Friday, fresh from two days of avoiding Bill’s otters but tickling his trout.

The other bit of news I have for you is that since I’ve gone back to writing this blog myself (no more friends helping me out) I’ve discovered a new lust for life. I feel ten years younger and even the hair is growing back on my upper legs and thighs. Judy noticed it the other day when I was sitting on the sofa recoding the show. Hairs were poking through my nylon slacks. Can you believe it? A man my age and I’ve had to start shaving my kneecaps again!

That’s it. Bill is already here. I can hear him trying to sell Judy his collection of Wedgewood figurines of the great owls of the world. I better go before she buys the bloody things. If I can blog from Bill’s remote Scottish cottage, I’ll do so. Otherwise, I’ll see you Friday with many tales of trout well tickled.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Anal Probes, Cow Mutilations, Cilla Black

Strange lights lit up the sky over our undisclosed part of South East England last night. The first I knew of them was when Judy shouted me from our indoor swimming pool where she’d been partially submerged for about an hour before she was due to have her nightly trombone practice. Abandoning the research notes for my new book, ‘Pirates & Stumps’ (which I've decided will be next year's 'Richard&Judy Book of the Yaarrgh'), I went rushing from the living room to find Judy dripping on the veranda and staring out into the garden.

‘What are those strange lights?’ she asked, pointing a wrinkled finger westwards.
I handed her a towel before I went out to investigate. I wasn’t happy that she proceeded to follow me out into the cold night air but that’s Judy. She’s got the thermal resilience of an arctic vole. To be honest, I was also less concerned about my wife’s wellbeing than the meaning of the lights she’d pointed out. They were strangely coloured discs of radiant energy flashing in some odd yet non-random sequence. Clearly, there was only one explanation.

‘It’s the alien invasion!’ I said, believing it. ‘Thank God for that! This can only be good for us, Jude. Perhaps it will take an extra-terrestrial to see that our place is on terrestrial. With some higher intelligences in charge of the world, we’ll see out stars rise.’


‘Mark my words, Jude. Unless, of course, they’re the other sort of alien...’

‘The other sort?’

‘You know... The sort that go in for anal probing and mutilating cows.’

‘Ah,’ she replied. ‘Channel 4 viewers.’

‘That sort of thing, yes,’ I answered. ‘Probably enjoy Polish animation and the films of Jean Luc Goddard.’

Judy looked worried as she watched the lights. ‘I’m not happy about this, Richard. What if they are the other sort of aliens with their probes?’

‘Then Paul O’Grady will be quids in, as they say. He’s get another series. No doubt about it.’

‘But shouldn’t we do something?’

I shrugged. ‘What can we do, Jude? If this is, as I suspect, the alien invasion, then we can only sit here and wait until they want to speak with us. Perhaps they’ll make us their spokespeople.’

‘I don’t like the sound of that,’ said Judy. ‘Richard&Judy’s Anal Probing and Cow Mutilation Club is not something I’d want to put my name to.’ With that pronouncement, she wrapped the towel tightly around and turned back towards the house.

‘Where are you going?’ I asked.

‘I’m ringing Cilla,’ she said.

I shook my head, baffled by the faith that Judy puts in Cilla Black. I turned my attention back to the lights and walked deeper into the garden, away from the house and the illuminated carp pond, solar lit shrubberies, and the halogen lights that Judy set into the path when she laid it last summer. At the bottom of the garden, I sat down beside our ornamental Ainsely Harriot statue that Judy cast in concrete last year. Judy spends many happy hours on that bench but this was one of the rare times I had gone and sat there. I averted my gaze from Ainseley’s haricots, as I’ve taken to describing his beans, and I watched the light show. I had no doubt that Cilla Black could hold back an alien invasion for an hour or two but, unlike Judy, I knew that Cilla’s voice would eventually pack in and the invasion would go ahead.

After about five minutes sitting there, I began to have my doubts about the whole alien invasion scenario. It wasn’t so much that the lights seemed to be less dramatic than I’d originally thought but I had detected a low level noise to which they seemed to be moving in rhythm. It was if some bad music was being played in a house on the other side of the Madeley pond/lake.

I rushed back into the house to find Judy on the phone with Cilla. I didn’t have time to get involved so I grabbed my coat and headed out the house and began to walk down the street in the direction of the music.

Before I reached the end of the road, a head popped up over a hedge. It gave me quite the start, given that it was wearing a Arabian turban with non-matching Kenyan tribal gown and Manchurian dragon slippers.

‘Michael!’ I cried to Michael Palin. ‘What you doing there?’

‘Observing the lights,’ he said.

‘You’ve seen them, then? What do you make of them?’

‘It’s the alien invasion, isn’t it?’ His turban bobbed about with excitement. ‘It’s what you’ve always talked about. Or I do hope it is,’ he said. ‘I’m desperately in need of a new long distance journey I can film for the BBC. Michael Palin’s Earth to Centuri has a ring to it, don’t you think?’

‘I’m afraid I don’t think it is the invasion,’ I told my excitable friend. ‘It seems to be coming from a house down the road. You fancy coming along as I investigate.’

Michael thought for a moment and then his face broke into a huge grim. ‘Michael Palin’s Journey From Some Undisclosed Location in South East England to Some Other Undisclosed Location in South East England. Quite the catchy title. Haven’t got my camera team but I could quite easily get a book out of it. Count me in.’
And so we set off, me in still in my slippers and Michael dressed like a third-rate stage magician. The music led us on and grew louder once we turned the end of the road.

In the next street, the lights were at their brightest. I could sense Michael’s disappointment as he saw the beams of light coming from a nearby back garden and lighting up the low cloud base. The was also the unmistakable throb of music accompanied by some high pitch shrieking that was a frightening as it was familiar. The house itself stood higher than the rest and was decorated in white plastic facia with a few pink flamingo illuminated in their plastic glory stuck around the front lawn, which had been spray painted a green turquoise.

‘Rather a tacky end of another exciting Palin adventure,’ said Michael.

‘I agree,’ I replied, looking at the windows painted in a garish shade of yellow with pink curtains beyond.

I began to walk up the path, determined to find a reason why Cilla Black had been put on the alert for alien invasion when there was a yell from the side of the house and a figure came running towards us.

‘Hell,’ said I as I recognised the figure. Although he was more tanned that me, with brighter teeth too, and darker hair, he was still the embodiment of everything that the name Madeley doesn’t stand for. In a way, you might say he is my direct opposite; the negation to everything that’s positive and wholesome about me. You might even say that he was the Anti-Madeley.

‘How the hell did you get in?’ asked Simon Cowell, not at all breathless and with his high pectorals perked with adrenaline and stimulated to the point of twitching. ‘This street has restricted access. How did you get past the gates?’

‘We’re celebrities too,’ said Michael, adjusting his sagging turban so he stood a bit taller.

‘Yes,’ I added. ‘No doubt about it. The gates recognised us and swung open.’

‘A likely story,’ laughed Cowell. ‘I’ll give you thirty seconds to get out before I call my bodyguards, who happen to be a very talented close harmony boy band called “Knuckles Inc.”. Look out for their single next Christmas, their techniques for breaking kneecaps in about twenty seconds.’

‘Pah, idle threats,’ spat Palin as he turned on his dragon heels and began to run.

I watched him retreat before I turned back to Cowell. ‘How the hell did you manage to buy a house in this area? I thought we had rules about your sort moving in.’

‘Oh, you can do what you like down there on millionaires’ row,’ he said. ‘This is billionaire’s row.’

‘And the lights?’

‘I’m having a small barbeque and outdoor disco for friends,’ he said.

‘Bit chilly for that, isn’t it?’

He looked at me, his lopsided grin even more lopsided and full of grin. ‘You don’t have your back garden fully centrally heated, Richard?’

The point was cruelly made. I didn’t wait around for the debut performance of Knuckles Inc.’s hit, so I trudged back down to millionaire’s row, feeling my pockets pinched by the desire to have my own back garden centrally heated.

I got back to the house to find Judy dressed in fatigues and ready for combat. Cilla Black was apparently on her way and would be parachuting in within the hour. I didn’t have the energy to explain. I did contemplate mentioning to Judy about centrally heating the garden. She’s a dab hand at plumbing and electronics and could do it on the cheap. However, that would involve my explaining about Cowell and that would mean another call to have Cilla Black stood down for the evening. Planes were already in the air. It would be easier to have her land and explain it all then. As Judy went out to prepare the landing strip with flares, I headed for the kitchen and something to settle my stomach. Even without any anal probing, I was still in for a long and painful night.

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.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The Economic Crisis Finally Hits The People That Matter

Dark days, my friends. These are dark days. You don’t need Bryan Appleyard to know which way the wind blows. The signs are more ominous than that. Last night I saw an Elberry with cloven hooves. He was riding a horse and his name was Discount and Bargain Buckets followed with him.

You might wonder about this apocalyptic talk. There is a reason for it. I saw ‘Fathers & Sons’ discounted at Borders yesterday. ‘50% off cover price’ was a wounding blow and I was lucky to have Judy there to catch me before I cracked a brow on a stack of hardbacked Jamie Olivers. I know we’re going through difficult financial times but I never thought it would get as bad as this. Japan’s economy might have collapsed, along with the world’s banking system, but the readership for heartening tales of families hasn’t diminished. In fact, it’s probably grown as people look to invest in the old favourites such as love, friendship, and all things that come with the Richard&Judy seal of approval.

To make matters worse, as I lay on my back and Judy dragged me heel first from the shop, I looked up at the passing shelves of bargain books and saw Bill Oddie’s new autobiography piled high.

‘Bill,’ I said, some hours later when the pethidine had kicked in. ‘You’ve been discounted. You’re 50% off at all Borders stores.’

There was a thud on the line and some minutes of silence.

‘Bill?’ I said. And then I repeated myself with a few more urgent ‘Bill’s.

Finally, there was a sound of some movement and the phone made a scraping sound as Oddie’s weak voice came back on the line.

‘Sorry, Dick,’ he said, ‘I seemed to have blacked out there for a moment. You said my book has been discounted?’

‘Not only yours but mine as well. 50% off “Fathers & Sons”, that beautifully crafted tale of family relationships, that has had reviewers writing odes of praise to its goodness. Half price for a book that highly valued is a crime. In fact, it’s so good, I wouldn’t even send a complimentary signed copy to sympathetic bloggers who might have spent years working to help my improve my image among the British public. I say they can queue up with the rest of Normality Street and pay at the counter for the honour of reading my words.’

‘As they should, Dick. As they should. It makes me think that books as good as ours should have price protection. I can’t believe they could have been discounted so quickly. This is terrible!’

‘Yet it’s not all bad news,’ I said, trying to ease Oddie’s concerns. ‘They were discounting all the celebrity autobiographies. O’Grady was marked down, so was Jonathan Ross, Dawn French, Julie Walters, and that Alan Carr, who, between you and me Bill, I wouldn’t cross the road to hit with a claw hammer.’

‘Stuff the lot of them,’ agreed Bill, who was sounding much more like the Oddie we’ve come to know and love and feed with peanuts. ‘But what I want to know is what we’re going to do, Dick? I had planned to invest my book money into a new owl sanctuary for the south west. I even had a name for it. Bill Oddie’s Owl Sanctuary Trust. BOOST would put owls on the map. Nige had even agreed to work there weekends, running classes in cravat management and advanced owl nurturing.’

‘Another blow,’ I said, really feeling for Bill’s loss. ‘You’re not alone in regretting the news. I had plans for my royalties too. The Richard Madeley Commando Training School was going to be the ground-breaking initiative for spreading the news that going without underwear is both hygienic and comfortable.’

‘Oh,’ groaned Bill.

‘Oh, indeed,’ groaned I in reply.

‘Oh, for goodness sake!’ groaned Judy who had at that moment walked into the room, carrying her laptop and the 1700 pages of the manuscript to her new novel. ‘Won’t you hang up that phone and stop being so bloody ridiculous? When my book comes out, I’ll be sure to earn a fortune. What are you worrying about? The world is crying out for an epic tale of miniature horses, Cornish smugglers, cross-dressing Dukes, harpsichord salesmen, and the Irish turnip industry. We’ll make millions, Richard. Millions!’

I shrugged as I hung up the phone. There was nothing else I could do. I would sink or swim based on the public’s love for tales of turnips. It is as it is and it’s never been any other way.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A New Year Message From Dick Madeley

I was in a famous London bistro last night, arm wrestling Gordon Ramsay for blind orphans (to aid them, not win them), when I was reminded that I hardly lead an ordinary life. There I was, surrounded by some of London’s top showbiz personalities (and Noel Edmonds too), who had gathered together for a good cause and were happy to dip into their millions to put money on my opponent to win. A lesser man might have been compliant but I had the orphans in mind. A victory for me would be a victory for the cause of bouncy castles and trips to Conway. I couldn’t care less if the bout was so one sided. These celebrities couldn’t know that arm wrestling is one of my party tricks and that I’m impossible to beat due to extended arches in my ball sockets. What began as a slight genetic abnormality would end in a cash bonus for the kids.

Yet, as I looked up into Gordon Ramsay’s big red sweating face as he strained against my immovable sinews, I noticed a vein throbbing at the side of his temple. I could see that it was no ordinary vein but a vein at least 15% thicker than those found in the average human head. That of Ross Kemp, for example, or perhaps a Chuckle Brother. It was then that I realised that those of us who are ‘true celebrities’ really are a breed apart from normal folk. Each of us are blessed with these small genetic abnormalities that should make us freaks but help us rise our heads above the rolling fields of vanilla DNA.

Science, I think, would prove that more blood pumps though our system in a day than dribbles through your bodies in a weekend. We celebrities live life faster and are capable of feats of remarkable skill. We are testament to the power of the dominate talent gene. We were born to party late into the early hours of the New Year with Jules Holland, dance until dawn with Ruby Wax, and sup red wine from out of Cheryl Cole’s odour eaters. We can even endure the company of Lenny Henry when it’s called for. We are remarkable yet humble people, with abnormal qualities that are rarely mentioned. There are men like my good friend Bill Bailey whose sweat glands produce a potent musk that’s highly prized by butterfly collectors who use it to seduce their prey. I’m talking about woman like Jan Leeming who left the BBC to run a puffin colony in the Orkney Islands and recently spent seventy two hours on a sea cliff just to incubate a clutch of eggs. Need I mention that Stephen Fry is incapable of growing nose hair, a rare form of alopecia that has given him his sonorous voice and a career reading audio books? I’m also talking about great men like John Cleese who, despite his advancing years, is blessed with super strong shanks and exercises for half an hour each morning on a pogo stick. Make no mistake: these are all remarkable people but quite average celebrities.

These were the thoughts that occurred to me as I waited for my arm wrestling bout with Gordon Ramsay to finish. I was waiting to see what happened when an irresistible force met an unmovable object. In the end, the result was predictable. Gordon eventually sank back defeated and shook his head.

‘You’ve got a ******* elephant bone up that sleeve of yours,’ he said somewhat bitterly. ‘What the **** have you been eating? Holy ******* Gordon! There’s no way I could lose. Are you certain you weren’t cheating?’

‘Language, Ramsay,’ I said and nodded over to where the representatives of the blind orphans were sat. ‘You tried your best but the Madeley bicep has spent years holding on to badly designed sofas. It has developed a rigidity from which it’s impossible to move it.’

His lips pressed together to lock in a look of contempt.

‘And I’ve spent all my life mixing batter,’ he said as he rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bronzed bicep, at least 18% larger than the average bronzed bicep. ‘There’s no way you could withstand the power of baby Gordon.’

‘And I,’ said a voice from the crowd, ‘have spent many years playing with gears on cheap hatchbacks but even I couldn’t beat Richard in arm wrestling. Admit it when you’ve met your match.’

Ramsay looked to where Jeremy Clarkson had emerged. Jeremy is another of the blessed, only his slightly higher than average arches on his feet gives him a height/arch ratio smaller than most men and gives him extra speed when wearing soft leather moccasins in a petrol rich environment.

Not that Jeremy’s gifts were apparent to Ramsay.

‘Sit down, old man,’ Gordon answered, standing up to his full five feet seven and a half inches. ‘This is between me and Madeley.’

‘Oh no it isn’t,’ said Jeremy, valiant as ever, probably on account of his arches.
Just as things were about to turn ugly, Judy pressed her way through the crowd and stepped between the pair of them.

‘Hold on, you two,’ she said. ‘Let’s not end the year with a fight. Gordon, don’t make me have to sit you down.’

Ramsay dropped to his chair, chastened no doubt by the sight of Judy’s forearms, crafted from granite, honed by years of plastering. They too are a genetic trait which have helped her in her career. A woman who can get a lid off a tight jam jar 50% quicker than her closest competitor is always going to have a few extra seconds in life’s great race. Just ask Katie Humble who owes her career in nature programmes to webbed feet.

With Judy’s intervention, the crowd began to dispel as a bundle of charity donations began to appear in Judy’s hands. Feeling good about my contribution to the cause of blind orphans, I gave Gordon a piece of advice that I thought would also help him in the future.

‘Always trust in what you’re good at,’ I said. ‘With veins like yours, you should make more of your anger. Have you thought of getting into wrestling?’

‘Wrestling? I’m a chef for ****’s sake. Why would I want to go into wrestling?’
I patted his arm, golden bicep and all. ‘We all need our alternative paths. What happens when the cooking fad goes away? Think about it, Gordon. You need to be more like Alan Titchmarsh. A jack of all trades.’

‘And an utter **** at every one,’ spat Gordon.

I couldn't disagree with him on that point. ‘Just think about it Gordon,’ I said. ‘Just think about it.’

Which I believe he will do and, should he take my advice, he would be hugely successful. He'd look good in spandex.

And that’s my advice to you, here at the beginning of 2009. But not about the spandex. I mean: stick with what you’re good at. Don’t aspire to anything above your station unless you’re born like me, with extra thick earlobes, a slight elevation in my right-side mons mascularis, and an elbow that even batter beating TV chef’s can’t bend.

Happy New Year, normal folk. Happy New Year!