Excerpt for Stairlift to Heaven 3 - Almost There by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Stairlift to Heaven 3

ALMOST THERE





Copyright 2014 Terry Ravenscroft

Published by Terry Ravenscroft at Smashwords







Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





A RAZZAMATAZZ PUBLICATION

****

This book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved grandson, Daniel, who died on Sunday August 10, 2014 at the age of just 25. I would willingly have taken his place. But unfortunately that option isn’t open to us.



Give a man a steak and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to exploit the self-service checkout system at Sainsbury’s and he’ll eat steak every day.” Daniel Maney, 1989-2014.

About the author



The day after Terry Ravenscroft threw in his mundane factory job to become a television comedy scriptwriter he was involved in a car accident which left him unable to turn his head. Since then he has never looked back.

Before they took him away he wrote scripts for Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Alas Smith and Jones, Not the Nine O’Clock News, Ken Dodd, Roy Hudd, and several others. He also wrote the award-winning BBC radio series Star Terk Two.

Born in New Mills, Derbyshire, in 1938, he still lives there with his wife Delma and his mistress Divine Bottom (in his dreams).





Also by Terry Ravenscroft



STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN

STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 2 - FURTHER UP THE STAIRLIFT

STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 4 - STILL HANGING ON

CAPTAIN’S DAY

FOOTBALL CRAZY

IT’S NOT CRICKET

JAMES BLOND - STOCKPORT IS TOO MUCH

I’M IN HEAVEN

INFLATABLE HUGH

DEAR AIR 2000

DEAR COCA-COLA

DEAR PEPSI-COLA

LES DAWSON’S CISSIE AND ADA

THE RAZZAMATAZZ FUN EBOOK

ZEPHYR ZODIAC

SAWYER THE LAWYER

CALL ME A TAXI

GOOD OLD GEORGE

DEAD MEN DON’T WALK

THE RING OF THE LORD

STAIRLIFT TO HEAVEN 3

The dramatis personae are the same as before; me, The Trouble, and my good friend Atkins from down the road. Like Ol’ Man River we just keep rolling along. Though not as quickly now.



April 2 2013. NIGHTS OF OLD AGE PASSION.



In our bed, The Trouble turned to face me. The half light of the full moon streaming through the bedroom curtains illuminated her face, still lovely in her seventies. I leaned my head forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. She squirmed and gave a little sigh of contentment.

I hadn’t known she was awake. Chancing my arm I kissed her full on the mouth. She responded, pressing her Julie Christie lips to mine. We held the kiss for a long moment. Finally she broke it and spoke the words she’d spoken to me many times before. “Go and put your teeth in.”

I kissed her again in the hope that, seized by the moment, she would forget all about me not having my false teeth in (a constant proviso whenever she consents to having sex with me). It was not to be however and she quickly broke off the kiss with the words “It’s like kissing an excited jellyfish.”

This of course is just one example of how much more difficult it is for older couples to have sex whenever they have a mind to. When you’re young it’s no problem; you both fancy it so you just get on with it. When you’re older there is no end to the obstacles to be overcome before you can get down and get dirty. False teeth to be put in, as I have already mentioned, artificial legs to be taken off (if they’re likely to get in the way) or put on, (Evans, a one-legged man who drinks in The Grim Jogger claims that if he doesn’t wear his artificial leg to bed whilst having sex with Mrs Evans he is unbalanced, and due to all the thrashing about often describes a complete circle of both the bed and Mrs Evans whilst having it), wigs to be put on (if you’ve taken yours off and your wife/husband doesn’t like being made love to by a bald-headed lover), hearing aids to be put in (if you want to hear the moans of passion), or taken out (if you don’t), glasses to be put on if you want to see your lover making the moans of passion, glass eyes to be taken out, and God knows how many other pieces of apparatus old people have to wear in order to have some sort of a life. (Atkins reports that Mrs O’Shaugnessy, who lives opposite him, and whose husband has made much use of the National Health Service’s range of artificial aids, claims there is less of Mr O’Shaugnessy that gets into bed with her than spends the night elsewhere.)

I got up and made my way to the bathroom, where my teeth spend the night in a Manchester United mug on top of my bathroom cabinet. I put them in, gave my armpits a generous blast of Lynx, and quickly made my way back to bed. Not quick enough however because, even though I’d only been gone for a couple of minutes at the most, The Trouble was fast asleep. It isn’t the first time this has happened. How on earth one-legged men who wear a hearing aid, a wig, a glass eye and false teeth go on I really don’t know. Perhaps they keep them all on when they go to bed in case they get lucky?

I really must start keeping my teeth on the bedside cabinet or I might never have sex again.

****

April 5 2013. ONE CHILD EATS FREE.



The Trouble was out for the day, I didn’t fancy cooking, I did fancy a steak. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone I paid a visit to the pub I’d passed in the car a few weeks ago, the one that’s ‘One Child Eats Free if Accompanied by Parents’ sign had been nagging away at my Larry David inclinations since I’d first noticed it.

“This one child eats free business?” I said to the young waiter, smart in his corporate uniform - although I don’t know what the epaulettes on his tunic were for unless it was transporting bottles of wine if his hands were full.

“Sir?”

“One child eating free? How does that work?”

The waiter looked at me as though the offer was simplicity itself and beyond his powers of communication to elaborate on. He tried nevertheless. “Well if a family comes here for, like, a meal, one of their kids gets it for free.”

“Just one of the children? If they have one child the child gets a meal for free, if they have two children just the one of them gets a meal for free, even if they have ten children just the one gets a meal for free?”

“Just the one, yes.”

“And of the parents taking advantage of your offer how many children do they have, would you say, on average? Three maybe? I would guess three.”

The waiter thought about it for a moment. I waited patiently, just grateful he was giving my query the consideration it deserved instead of dismissing it out of hand as I half-expected he would. “Two,” he said eventually. “It’s more like two.”

“And how many people dining have no children at all?” The waiter hesitated, perhaps already tiring of my bothersome questioning. I tried jollying him along. “I’m sorry to be such a pain but I am a man who likes to get his facts absolutely right.”

The jollying worked. “Not a problem.” He thought on it for a moment and said, obviously unsure of his ground, “Half?”

“We’ll say half. So on average, half the people dining have no children and the rest have two children, one of whom eats free?”

“Right.”

“Which means that for every six people dining, one of them is a child who is eating free.”

“On average, yes.”

I did a quick calculation and said, “I’m ready to order. I’ll have the 8oz sirloin steak at £12, medium rare.”

“Chips or wedges?”

“Chips. However I am only going to pay £10 for it.”

“What?”

“I’m only going to pay £10. For the 8oz sirloin and chips.”

“It’s £12.”

An explanation was required. I set about providing it. “This free meal that one child gets if it’s with its parents? Where does the money come from to pay for that?”

“What?”

“Well the steak doesn’t come free; you have to pay the butcher for it. The potatoes for the chips don’t come free; you have to pay the greengrocer for them. And the chef doesn’t cook the steak and chips for you out of the goodness of his heart; you have to pay him to cook them. Unless you’ve found a very altruistic butcher, greengrocer and chef.”

The waiter dwelled on this for a moment. “The cost is, like, all in with the cost of the other meals.”

“The meals that are paid for you mean?”

“Right.”

“So the £12 sirloin steak dinners subsidise the free sirloin steak dinner for the child - the real price is £10 but you charge £12 to make up the cost of the free steak for the child?”

The waiter dwelled again. “Well you could say that.”

“I’m not saying it, you’re saying it.”

“Well…. yes, then.”

“Well I refuse point blank to subsidise the meals of other people’s children. Why should I? It isn’t my fault they’ve got children; I didn’t ask them to have children. Furthermore, I can’t take advantage of your offer because I don’t have any children. And when I did have children there weren’t any pubs giving children free meals. So I want my steak for the proper price, the fair price, I want it for £10.”

He shook his head. “I can’t do that.”

I put on a peeved expression. “I didn’t have this trouble at Berni Inns the time I ordered a children’s portion when I wasn’t feeling very hungry.” I did, they refused point blank to let me have one, but the waiter wasn’t to know. “They served me without question.”

“Well I can’t.”

“No? In that case I’ll tell you what I can do. I can go out and return with the first child I see. I’m sure they’d like a free sirloin steak and chips. Then you’ll be stuck with having to provide two sirloin steaks and chips for £12 whereas now you only have to provide one for £10. Do the maths.”

The waiter saw a straw and clutched at it. “You have to be the child’s parent.”

“Your sign doesn’t say that. It says ‘One Child Eats Free if Accompanied by Parents’; it doesn’t specify that you have to be the parent of the child. I’ll bet lots of grown-ups get free meals for kids who don’t belong to them; uncles, grandmas, stepfathers, bits on the side. Do you ask for birth certificates or passports? Of course you don’t. I would also point out that your sign doesn’t specify the age of the child to whom a free meal will be provided if accompanied by its parent - I have a forty eight-year-old son for whom I could justly claim a free meal.”

After digesting this the waiter said, “I’ll be back in a moment.” He wasn’t, but five minutes later the manager arrived at my table. He didn’t look much older than the waiter and was sporting one of those ‘why on earth would anyone deliberately want to have their hair cut like that hairstyles’, which didn’t endear him to me. He smiled solicitously and said, “What seems to be the problem, sir?”

The waiter would have told him what the problem was but I told him anyway just in case he hadn’t fully got to grips with my reasoning. He took it all in without reply, thought about it for a moment, looked around to assure himself that he wouldn’t be overheard and said, “You won’t tell anybody, will you? If I let you have the steak for £10?”

“Not a soul,” I said. I added a little encouragement. “You should go a long way in the restaurant business once you’ve lost the hairstyle.”

****

April 8 2013. WHEN I’M CLEANING WINDOWS.



Fortunately the man who had got the wrong side of me this morning lived only about a mile away. I was accompanied by Atkins, not just for moral support but because I needed a ladder to do the job and didn’t fancy carrying one all that way in addition to the bucket of water.

The journey passed without incident, except for an enquiry as to where the fire was by a man under the impression he was a comedian, and a further query from another man with similar pretensions of being a comic who asked us if we’d like to buy a second-hand fireman’s helmet, both of whom we studiously ignored.

About half-an-hour later we arrived at the man’s house, one in a terrace of six in the older part of town. I placed the ladder so that it bridged the side of the front downstairs window, and without standing on ceremony, but standing on the ladder, dipped my wash-leather in the water, wrung it out and set about cleaning the window. And not before time; it looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned for years.

Fortunately the man was at home. I could just about make him out through the grime-stained glass, sprawled out in a chair watching TV. He was a bigger man than me, though running to fat, so I was glad I’d taken the precaution of bringing Atkins along - a friend at my side might help deter any unpleasantness of a physical nature that I might encounter. (Atkins is as big a coward as I am when it comes to fisticuffs but fortunately he looks a lot tougher than he is, a bit like a dodgy, podgier Clint Eastwood, and can put on that man’s Dirty Harry look of barely concealed menace at the drop of a hat.)

The man saw me the moment I slapped the wash-leather on the window and started sloshing it around. Despite his bulk it took him less than five seconds to reach the front door, and in a very agitated state.

“Hey you, what the fuck do you think you’re playing at?”

“Cleaning your windows,” I replied nonchalantly, without bothering to look at him.

“So have your fiver ready, we don’t do credit,” said Atkins. (I hadn’t asked him to say this, but Atkins is not a man to stand idly by.)

“And what is sauce for the goose,” I said.

“What?”

“Tit for tat,” Atkins explained, and then went on, unnecessarily I thought, and a bit recklessly since I was six feet up a ladder, “Or in your case, twat.”

“Bollocks,” said the man. “Anyway you can clear off and quick about it, the pair of you; I don’t want my windows cleaning.”

I paused to look down at him. “I didn’t want the windscreen of my car cleaning when I stopped at the temporary traffic lights on Market Street this morning. But you took it upon yourself to clean it, and then had the effrontery to charge me a quid for the privilege.”

I had heard of the phenomenon of men of dubious character appearing suddenly from nowhere and cleaning a car’s windscreen when its driver had stopped at traffic lights but I had never witnessed it before today. It is usually the sort of naked opportunism that goes on in big cities, not sleepy little Derbyshire towns. And from what I’d heard the perpetrators were usually Rumanians, or hailed from some other Romany country, which wasn’t the case in this instance as the man who cleaned my windscreen and who was now looking at me as though he wanted to kill me was as British as fish and chips.

On arriving home I had returned to the scene on foot; it was only a few hundred yards. The unwelcome windscreen cleaner was still going about his unlawful business. I stood and watched for a while. All but one of the drivers whose car windscreens he cleaned paid up, no doubt fearing a bent wing mirror or worse if they didn’t, as indeed had I. The one driver who refused to pay didn’t get a bent wing mirror for his pains but a gob of spittle on his freshly-cleaned windscreen, just as he was driving off. He pulled up as soon as he could, no doubt in order to exact some sort of revenge, but by that time the miscreant had made himself scarce, only to return minutes later when it was safe to do so.

A little later, apparently when he had made enough ill-gotten gains for the day, the man departed the scene. I followed him home.

Now, I continued to clean his window. “Don’t forget to get right into the corners, you’re not doing portholes,” Atkins advised me. “If we’re charging him a fiver we need to make sure he gets good value for money.”

“Huh,” the man scoffed. “You can clean away all you sodding like but if you think I’m paying you a fiver you’re even dafter than I think you are.”

I stopped cleaning the window and turned to him again. “And are those your last words on the matter?”

He scowled. “Just piss off will you.”

Taking this as a no, as they say, I inhaled deeply, drew up sputum from my respiratory tract and spat it out on the window. The rivulet of gob, satisfactorily green, slid down the pane. A shame really because I’d made rather a good job of cleaning it.

The man was speechless. His powers of speech soon returned however, evidenced by his shout of “I’ll get you for this you bastards,” but by that time me, Atkins, the ladder, and the bucket were safely on our way home.

****

April 17 2013. WATERSTONE’S.



The Head Book Buyer

Waterstone’s

Brentford

TW8 0EX



Dear Head Book Buyer



My book Stairlift to Heaven has now passed 45,000 in sales since it was published in ebook form three years ago, during which time it has received in excess of a hundred 5 Star online reviews. Would you be interested in stocking the recently published paperback version? I realise of course that it is not perhaps as attractive a proposition for you as, say, Victoria Beckham’s Roadkill Recipes, or Graham Norton’s Knitting Tips, both of which I am sure you would welcome with open arms and a blank cheque, but sales of this order are not to be sniffed at. Try to steer clear of pollen whilst you are making your deliberations.

I await your answer, but with little hope.



Yours



Terry Ravenscroft



I sent the above letter to Waterstone’s over a month ago. I haven’t received an answer as yet, but then I didn’t expect one. I know Waterstone’s of old.

For an author to write a book and get it published is only half the battle. The other half, and a much more difficult half, is getting it onto the shelves of the High Street bookshops, or any bookshops come to that.

A few years ago when I self-published my first book Dear Air 2000, and not having a publishing house behind me, it was up to me to get bookshops to stock it. In an effort to do this I called in at my nearest branch of Waterstone’s with a view to obtaining the name and address of the person at their head office who was in charge of buying new books. I needn’t have bothered and could have spent the time more profitably; crying for the moon suggests itself as a more advantageous alternative.

On entering the shop I asked the girl behind the counter for the required information. As luck would have it the manager was nearby and overheard me.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“I’m an author.”

“We don’t stock local books.” The words were spoken summarily and accompanied by a snotty-looking expression.

I felt like hitting him. As a writer, however, I am aware that the pen is mightier than the sword, so exercised restraint. I applied logic. “So if Stephen King or John Grisham lived locally you wouldn’t stock their books?”

“I meant books of local interest.”

“My book isn’t a local interest book. It’s me that’s local, not the book.”

He ignored this. “Anyway if you want to get your book into Waterstone’s shops you would need to approach the manager of each branch individually.”

“Are you telling me that Peter Kay dragged his carcass round every branch of Waterstone’s in which you are now selling his vastly over-rated book?”

“A different criteria applies for big names.” He meant ‘criterion’, not ‘criteria’, but who was I to correct the grammar of a Waterstone’s branch manager?

“In that case,” I said, “would you be interested in stocking a book from a little name that might become a big name if only you and your fellow managers would stock his book?”

He thought about it for a moment before answering. “Possibly. It all depends on the deal: whether or not we have it on a sale or return basis; what discount we require - it is rarely less than sixty per cent (which incidentally, had I managed to get them to stock my book, would have left me owing them money); whether or not you want us to display the book in our window, with the associated charges, all manner of things. However I’m too busy to go into all that right now.” He started to move off.

I didn’t argue further; I know when I’m beaten.

Waterstone’s are already running scared and have been going down the tubes ever since ebooks hit the ground running in the UK. In fact only the other week their boss Tim Waterstone was bleating in the press about how ebooks were wrecking the hardback and paperback publishing business. In fact they have done exactly the opposite; they have given new authors a marketplace for their books where previously, due to the policies of Waterstone and his ilk, none existed. If it wasn’t for ebooks you would not be reading this now, or any other of my seventeen published books. (Which might be no bad thing, but you get my point.)

I am not a vindictive person but I certainly won’t be shedding any tears when the bosses at Waterstone’s and bookshop chains like it - W H Smith is another - are forced into closing their stores, which is inevitable, and getting off their fat arses and working for a living like most of the rest of us have to do. And who can blame me?

****

April 24 2013. BODIES.



According to an item on the television news yesterday fifty per cent of women are unhappy with their bodies. It’s a good job they didn’t ask men because I wouldn’t mind betting that a whole lot more than fifty per cent of us are unhappy with women’s bodies. I know I am, not least because for every woman I encounter who has a gorgeous figure with magnificent breasts that point out proudly in front of them like the proverbial chapel hat pegs, long lovely legs and a pert little stroke-worthy bottom, there are at least ten who either have enormous pendulous breasts that point in embarrassment at the floor, legs like sparrows, or bottoms that droop down lower than a horse’s nosebag, and very often all three. (In case I should be accused of being a male chauvinist I readily admit that the proportion of men with similarly unattractive bodies is at least as high as that of women - one has only to look at the serial pie eaters and ten pints of lager a day drinkers that constitute the average football crowd for confirmation.

Leaving aside the fifty per cent of women who are unhappy with their bodies and the ten per cent who are, that leaves forty per cent who presumably couldn’t care less about having enormous pendulous breasts that point at the floor, legs like sparrows, etcetera. Fortunately I am not married to one of them. I am married to a woman who, although one of the fifty per cent of women who is unhappy with her body, it being over seventy years old being just one of them, does care about it.

Evidence of this, if it were needed, can be found in our bathroom. There, we have two wall cabinets. One of them, as big as a small shed, belongs to The Trouble. It is filled to overflowing with cosmetic lotions, potions, creams, oils and unguents of a bewildering, expensive and never-ending variety. Avon doesn’t call at our house, it lodges with us. There is no doubt at all that The Trouble’s aids to beauty improve her appearance; however if I were to spend a similar amount on my looks I would look like a cross between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The second of the cabinets, a much more modest affair, technically belongs to me but is also used by The Trouble as an annexe for anything she can’t get into her cabinet. This means that I have to put my sole aids to keeping myself presentable, namely my shaving tackle, toothbrush, hairbrush and deodorant, on top of my cabinet, where it battles for space with even more of The Trouble’s beauty aids.

Almost half my wife’s waking hours are spent putting on these beauty aids. The rest of the time is spent taking them off. The length of time when they are all on before she takes them all off is no more than fifteen minutes at most, during which time she has to fit in the cooking, cleaning and ironing. Which is why I end up having to do most of it.

“You want me to look nice, don’t you?” she said to me loftily, when I complained.

“I want York to look nice when we go there next week but I don’t want to have to give everywhere a coat of paint first,” I replied. A waste of breath of course.

One day, if ever she gets too far the wrong side of me, I am going to superglue all her bottles and tins and boxes of beauty products to the bathroom cabinets. That day is not too far away.

****

April 27 2013. DOGGING.



In her new autobiography The Power of Positive Drinking the actress Cleo Rocos claims that Diana, Princess of Wales, once dressed up in drag - an army jacket, cap and sunglasses to be precise - in order to accompany Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett and Cleo herself to a London gay nightclub whilst incognito. According to Rocos’s recollections the group spent the entire afternoon before the trip ‘drinking champagne in front of re-runs of The Golden Girls with the sound turned down’ but substituting their own dialogue instead, (I bet Diana was typecast as Rose). Only after tiring of this did Diana insist on joining the three on a night out.

On learning of the above some observers have expressed the opinion that perhaps Ms Rocos’s positive drinking has been a little too positive if she thinks people are going to fall for such an unlikely tale, and in all probability is telling porkies in order to sell more copies of her book. In fact a former bodyguard of the Princess’s has gone so far as to say that what Cleo is claiming is quite impossible as Diana was constantly under his surveillance. This may well be the case; however, as there has been more than one instance in the recent past that has demonstrated police bodyguards aren’t perhaps the most dependable people in the world when it comes to keeping an eye on royalty, Cleo may very well be telling the truth.

My personal knowledge of her character would support this. When I had the pleasure of working with her some years ago on the Channel 4 TV comedy series Assaulted Nuts she came across to me as a thoroughly genuine, honest person, someone who would be unlikely to say that something had happened if it hadn’t. During the series we got to know each other quite well and I suppose that because she was aware that I have written a couple of autobiographical books myself she asked me to take a look at The Power of Positive Drinking in its first draft form. I still have a copy. In it Cleo talks of several more occasions when Princess Diana asked her to accompany her, in disguise, to places where it would otherwise have been difficult for her to go without causing a fuss. Why these anecdotes didn’t make the finished book I have no idea, but here they are now, for what they are worth.



Diana gave me a call the day after Freddie, Kenny and I had accompanied her to the gay bar. After she had thanked me profusely, and told me that she was sending me a little memento in appreciation, she mentioned that she had always fancied going to a Strip Club and asked would I take her on the first available day she wasn’t too busy shopping. I agreed, and two years and five months later (just my little joke, it was only five weeks later) we met up outside the Pink Pussycat in London’s Soho. So she would look like the type of man who frequents strip clubs I had advised her to dress up in either a dirty raincoat, crepe-soled shoes and a ratting cap, or as a member of the House of Lords; wiping her nose on her coat sleeve every two minutes and the fag dangling from her lips was her idea. We watched about six strippers before leaving. The only thing I remember her saying during the entire performance was “I’ve got nicer tits than that one.”

On the next occasion she expressed a desire to see how the other half lived she asked me to take her to Lidl to do the week’s groceries shop. This time she wore an old headscarf she had borrowed from her mother-in-law, a quilted anorak, soiled trackie bottoms and down-at-heel trainers, an outfit that made her quite indistinguishable from the average Lidl’s customer, thus assuring her anonymity. After she had gone round the shelves and filled her trolley to overflowing for about £2.50 she really got into the spirit of things when a man bumped into her with his Zimmer frame and she turned on him and spat out, “Why don’t you look where you’re fucking going you blind old twat.”

I took her to several more places that as a princess were off limits to her, but the one that stands out was the night I took her dogging in Hammersmith. I had no idea what people who go dogging look like - I would have guessed at Billy Connolly or Jonathan Ross - so I told her to use her imagination, and she turned up in a double-breasted lounge suit, brown brogues and a Prince Charles face mask. We peeped into the back of a few cars and watched people having sex and in her excitement Diana tried to wipe the steam off the window of one of them and the good-looking big buck-naked black man on the back seat shook his fist at her, or at least I think it was his fist. At another car, when the woman got out and walked away Princess Di, with an expression of deep yearning, tried to take her place. However the rich Arab on the back seat instructed his chauffeur to drive off. Then in another car the man caught us watching, wound down the window and said to the princess, “You again Charlie, you bloody pervert!”

It was soon after that she started going around with James Hewitt.



Of course Cleo could have made all this up. As indeed some people are claiming she did with the visit to the gay bar. Wiser heads are not so sure. But why only the gay bar story appears in the finished book, when in my view it is no more detrimental to the memory of the Princess Diana than the other stories, I have no idea.

****

April 30 2013. MASTERCHEF.



It is the final of BBC’s Masterchef. The show’s presenters JOHN TORODE and GREGG WALLACE approach the cooking station of finalist DEAN COOK. They are hugely impressed by the large array of ingredients he has brought along with him.



JOHN: Well young Dean, you’re certainly not short of ingredients. I see fillet steak, goose confit, duck breast, lamb’s liver, aubergines, courgettes, rice, truffles, a large selection of Indian and Chinese spices, fois gras, saffron, pakchoi, sprouting broccoli, asparagus, carrots, honey, potatoes, four different kinds of beans, flour, butter, eggs, apples, blackberries, strawberries, mangoes, chilli peppers....so tell me, what dish are you going to create for us with all that lot?

DEAN: A Big Mac.

JOHN: A Big Mac?

DEAN: I thought I’d save my best dish for the final.

GREGG: But....why then all these other ingredients, Dean?

DEAN: They’re so the Big Mac will come as a surprise to everyone.

JOHN: Well it’s certainly come as a surprise to me! But isn’t a Big Mac just a wee bit unambitious for a Masterchef final? I mean in the semi-final you cooked a truly mouth-watering pan-fried medallion of monkfish with saffron ravioli, a lemon and lime beurre blanc sauce, deep-fried okra and parmesan feuilles. It was absolutely wonderful. When I think about it I can still taste it.

DEAN: You’ll still taste the Big Mac without even thinking about it. You’ll taste it for weeks. That monkfish and saffron ravioli I made was shite compared to a Big Mac.

GREGG: Perhaps you put your own take on it? Apply a few twists maybe?

DEAN: No, it’s just a straightforward, honest-to-goodness, standard Big Mac: well let’s face it, how can you improve on a quarter pound beef patty, pasteurized processed American cheese, lettuce, Big Mac sauce, pickle slices and onions, on a bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes, water and high fructose corn syrup sesame seed bun? I’m loving it.

JOHN: Well maybe you are loving it, Dean, but I find it difficult to see our panel of gourmet judges feeling the same way.

GREGG: I agree, John. However maybe Dean’s dessert will make him our Masterchef winner this year? It certainly will if it’s anything like the plate of pudding heaven he conjured up in the semis. Dean, I have to say that your coconut soufflé with buttered rum ice cream and caramelised pineapple was to die for. So tell me, what will you be tantalizing our taste buds with this time?

DEAN: A McDonalds Baked Apple Pie.

GREGG: Whaaaaaat?

DEAN: The one that’s so hot that when you bite into it it nearly burns the roof of your mouth out.

GREGG: And you think an apple pie that nearly burns the roof of your mouth out is going to win you the Masterchef title?

DEAN: No but it might shut you two posers up for a few bit.

****

May 4 2013. WHAT’S IN A NAME?

“That frog has got a lot to answer for,” said Atkins. “There must be fewer American’s babies called Kermit than Italians babies called Pinocchio.”

“I bet.”

I imagined the meeting of two souls at a pre-Kermit the Frog party.

Hi, I’m Jessica. What’s your name?’

Kermit.’

Hi, Kermit.’

And post-Kermit the Frog.

Hi, I’m Jessica. What’s your name?’

Kermit.’

Get out of here!’

“It’s a real name though, apparently” said Atkins, breaking into my thoughts.

“Right. There was a Kermit Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt.”

Atkins grimaced. “Well, America. I mean it’s the land of daft names. Bubba! What sort of a name is that?”

“A daft one. And Babaloo. Remember him? Babaloo Mandel? He was one of the scriptwriters on Happy Days.”

“A good job he was a scriptwriter; he wouldn’t have got much work as a surgeon. ‘And this is Doctor Bennett, who will be carrying out your heart transplant, Doctor Babaloo Bennett.’ ‘Like hell he will!’

Atkins and I have eminently sensible forenames of course. Mine is Terence, which along with its shortened version Terry means ‘Poet’; Atkins’s is Richard, which, with its diminutives Rich, Richie and Rick, means ‘Brave and hardy’. As far as Atkins is concerned I would have been tempted to place ‘fool’ in front of ‘hardy’, but there is no doubting the man’s bravery. And Richard can also be shortened to Dick of course, which in Atkins’s case is also often appropriate, but that’s by the by. But what on earth can Bubba and Babaloo mean that makes any sense? I don’t know, but my bet would be on ‘A by-product of whale blubber’.

Anyway that’s how our new daft Christian name game started. It ended with Atkins and I doing a street survey in an effort to find out if any Brits had been saddled with names as ridiculous as those given to our transatlantic cousins by parents who should know better.

Armed with clipboards we ventured onto the High Street. (Carry a clipboard and members of the general public will answer anything. We once had no trouble at all getting answers to the question ‘How often do you masturbate?’ although it’s true that we chose not to ask a couple of vicars and a bishop, all three of whom looked as though they spanked the monkey regularly but would be unlikely to admit it). On our survey we didn’t ask anyone under age twenty as nowadays there are many people of that age who are called silly names as a matter of course, Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo and Fifi Trixibelle spring to mind, thanks to the likes of Jamie Oliver and Bob Geldof, but there are many more examples; it was only mature adults we were interested in.

It was really hard going. Lots of Davids and Johns and Williams. Very few Kermits, Bubbas or Babaloos. None at all in fact. There was a Benedict, but that name is more pretentious than daft. The same can be said of the one man named Brinsley that we encountered. We were just about to give it up as a bad job and make for home when we struck gold.

“Do you mind telling me your Christian name?” I said to the man in the Manchester City football shirt.

“Yes I bloody well do,” he said, and moved quickly on.

“It’s Stepney,” said the woman with him, his wife.

“Stepney?” I thought that perhaps the man’s parents were Londoners and had called their son after the area in which he was born. Stranger things have happened. Stranger things happened now.

“His full name is ‘Stepney Brennan Foulkes Sadler Dunne Crerand Charlton Stiles Best Kidd Aston Littlewood’”

Being a fan of Manchester United I recognised the names immediately; the players who comprised the 1968 European Cup-winning side.

Stepney Brennan Foulkes etcetera Littlewood was by now out of sight.

“He gets a bit touchy about it, being a big City fan,” explained Mrs Littlewood.

“Well he would.”

“Do you reckon any Americans have called their kids after Superbowl winning sides?” mused Atkins, on the way home.

“I wouldn’t bet against it.”

“Still, it’s good to be as good as them at something, isn’t it.”

****

May 9 2013. OK!



Whilst waiting my turn in the checkout queue at Tesco’s yesterday I passed the time by glancing at the covers of the magazines on sale there, vying for space, and losing easily, with brochures on how you can join the Tesco Bank, buy Tesco Insurance, acquire a Tesco Credit Card, take out a Tesco Home Loan, and probably visit a Tesco Brothel, though I didn’t spot a brochure for that (although you can put me down for it, especially if you get bonus points and 5p a litre off petrol).

The main headline of OK!, accompanied by a photograph of pretty Coronation Street actress Samia Ghadie and her latest boyfriend Sylvain Longchambon, read: ‘I’m so happy I’ve had a boob job and Sylvain has moved in’.  My first thought was ‘Good for Sylvain, I wouldn’t mind moving in with Samia’s boobs myself’. Then I realised that what she meant was ‘I’m so happy - I’ve had a boob job and Sylvain has moved in with me’.

Why hadn’t the journalist responsible for the headline noticed this? I realise of course that correct English usage, or at least English that makes some sort of sense, is far from being a priority on celebrity-obsessed rags like OK! - the ability to not let the facts get in the way of the story being the prime quality most demanded of their journalists - but even by OK! standards the headline was a bit sloppy. I wondered if there were any more such gems inside. Maybe ‘Prince William says he is hoping for a Ferrari for Christmas and Kate is expecting a horse’? Or ‘Cheryl talks about her love of chimpanzees and we meet her new lover’?

My interest aroused I opened a copy. On page 25 I learned that the Spice Girls are devastated that their show Viva Forever is to close after six months. (Maybe a better title for the show would have been Viva for Six Months?) There was a photo, taken at the show’s opening night, of Gerri Halliwell hugging Jennifer Saunders, the woman responsible for the script. Gerri would have been better off strangling her. Or perhaps she was trying to strangle her and it only looked like she was hugging her? You could hardly blame her, if the reviews of the critics and the response of the theatre-going public are anything to go by. It was reported that all five Spice Girls were at a loss as to why Viva Forever had failed. It failed because the show was shite, girls.

I flipped to another page. Blonde airhead Holly Willoughby, talking about presenting This Morning, was saying: ‘I’m proud of my brain because I can interview the Prime Minister one day and talk to someone with two vaginas the next’. I suppose she was referring to the range of people she interviews, but if that’s the case she might have chosen a better example as personally I can’t see that it makes a great deal of difference whether you’re talking to one cunt or two, but there you go.

In the hope of spotting more gems from Holly and quotes from devastated Spice Girls I put the magazine onto the conveyor belt with the rest of my shopping. “It’s for my wife,” I explained to the checkout man, in case he thought I was quite mad.

When I got home I put it in the magazine rack to read later, however this morning it wasn’t there. “Have you seen an OK! magazine anywhere?” I asked The Trouble.

She crinkled her brow the way she does. “And what would you want with OK!?”

“I want to read it of course.”

“You? The man who thinks all ‘celebrities’ should be hung, drawn and quartered.”

“I wanted to see if Holly Willoughby discloses anything more about her interview with the woman with two vaginas.”

“The woman with two vaginas?”

“I was reading it at the checkout at Tesco’s and naturally I’m anxious to know as much as I can about a woman so blessed.”

The Trouble shook her head, perplexed. “I can’t think why; it takes you all your time to manage a woman with one vagina.”

Talk about one below the belt. I suppose it’s my own fault for criticising her laundering of my socks.

“I’ve been glancing through it, it’s on the kitchen table,” The Trouble went on. “Don’t throw it away when you’ve finished with it, I’d like to read it myself.”

In fact Holly Willoughby had nothing more to say about her interview with the woman with two vaginas. But I’ll bet her sidekick Philip Schofield was all ears.

****

May 15 2013. FAVOURITE LINES.



I strode out onto the stage of the magnificent Victorian 1000-seater auditorium that is the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. At centre stage I stopped and looked out at the three chocolate box-like tiers of seats, seemingly towering over me. I cleared my throat, gave a confident smile and began to sing.



#And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friend, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain....#



I broke off and then said, in my best American accent: “Nice to be back in good old England, ladies and gentlemen; a li’l old country where I just know I’m always gonna get a warm welcome.” Then I turned to the TV director and film crew who were waiting to interview me and said, “Sorry, but I’ve always wanted to do that.” They just laughed, bless them, which is more than can be said for The Trouble, who edged her chair a little closer to the sound man in an effort to fool people into thinking she was with him and not me. (The Trouble had come along with me not to hold my hand but because after my interview we were continuing on to the Lake District for a few days holiday.)

To commemorate the death of Les Dawson twenty years ago ITV are producing a programme entitled An Audience with Les Dawson. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work, but apparently they will be using a hologram of Les to which an invited audience will ask predetermined questions. The pre-programmed hologram of Les will respond to them.

My interview was about my working relationship with Les. When we were discussing his comic creations Cissie & Ada the interviewer asked which of all the lines I’d written for the characters was my favourite.

The favourite of many people is the one in the Art Gallery sketch [1] after Cissie, eyeing the naked statue of a man says, ‘I wonder who sculpted it?’ and Ada replies ‘I don’t know but he wasn’t short of clay’. Others plump for the line in the Holiday sketch when Cissie says to Ada, ‘Tell me Ada - girl talk here - when you went on your honeymoon, were you virgo intacta? and Ada replies, ‘No, just bed and breakfast’.

However my own favourite bit is the reference to the Japanese lovers in the Christmas sketch when Ada is criticising the eating habits of her relatives: ‘I was ashamed, Cissie. Ashamed. Did you see them round my running buffet? They were like a shoal of piranha fish. Anybody would think they’d never seen food before. Did you see his cousin Mavis going at my home-made mutton pate? The brazen hussy scraped half the willow pattern off my meat plate; I’ve got two Japanese lovers stood in mid-air and no bridge’.

This was followed later on by Ada saying, when talking about the husband of a neighbour, ‘He only married her because he goes fishing and he thought she had worms’. Which I also quite liked. But apparently the producer didn’t because he cut it out.

Another line which won’t survive the cutting room floor - An Audience with Les Dawson being an ITV show - is the remark I made when the interviewer asked me what it was like working with Les and I replied it was just like working with your best mate, a bit like Ant working with Dec except that we were funny.

I was talking to the interviewer for about half-an-hour, although I don’t expect much of what I had to say will be used; but then I wouldn’t expect otherwise, the show is only an hour long, which means forty-five minutes after the commercials have gorged on it, and many other people were giving their memories of Les - I followed Cilla Black and preceded Barry Cryer in the interviewing process - and at least three others, including Les’s wife Tracy and his daughter Charlotte, had already been interviewed that day. I don’t mind at all, and I’m sure the others won’t - after all it is Les Dawson, not me, who the audience will tune in to see.

****

May 16 2013. BREAKFAST.



After the Les Dawson interview The Trouble and I carried on up the M6 to the Lake District, or as Atkins calls it, the Better Bring Your Wallet District, and he’s not wrong.

On the first day we were the only ones staying at the guest house in Ambleside, however on the second morning three Russians appeared in the dining room at breakfast, two men and a woman, all in their twenties I would guess. When the guest house’s owner Mr Meakin asked them what they would like for breakfast one of the men replied, in almost perfect if clipped English, “I would like the full English breakfasts. My friends, one would like the poached eggs on toasts, one would like the scrambled eggs on toasts with bacon. And we would like exactly the same tomorrow morning and we would like it a 5.45 am.”

The Trouble and I exchanged amused glances. We were obviously thinking the same thing; that if they were in Russia they might get their full English breakfasts, poached eggs on toasts, and scrambled eggs on toasts with bacon, at 5.45 am, and if they were in a guest house anywhere else in the world they might get their breakfasts at 5.45 am, but they were in Britain, where there is as much chance of getting a 12 course banquet served by a dozen naked virgins riding pink elephants as there is of getting breakfast at 5.45 am. Didn’t these insensitive Russkies realise that British guest houses are run for the benefit of the owners and not, as is the case in any other country, for the guests?

Mr Meakin soon put them right. “Breakfast is served from 8 am until 9 am.”

“Yes but we are climbing up a mountain in the morning. We need to have our breakfasts before we climb up the mountain.”

“Then you’ll just have to climb it when you’ve had your breakfasts between 8 am until 9 am,” said Mr Meakin, making it clear to the Russians that they were already climbing a mountain if they expected him to serve breakfast at 5.45 am.

“But that will be too late to climb up the mountain,” the Russian pointed out. “Between 8 am and 9 am we will be coming back down the mountain. We are meeting with our friends in Keswick at 10.30 am and climbing up another mountain. If we don’t have breakfasts at 5.45 we will not be able to do that.”

Mr Meakin looked at me with a ‘can you believe these people?’ expression. I looked suitably sympathetic (well he hadn’t brought my kipper yet and my thinking was that if I was supportive I might get two). Mr Meakin turned to the Russian and said in a voice that brooked no further argument, “Then I am afraid you won’t be doing it, because breakfast is served between 8 am and 9 am,” and went to get their breakfasts.

I don’t know whether the Russians went up the mountain because I didn’t see them again. Come to that Mr Meakin didn’t see much more of them either because they left without paying.

****

May 21 2013. COPING WITH YOUR PROSTATE GLAND.



One of the few good things about being old is that you can pass on the benefit of your experience to those who have yet to reach old age. In no area can this advice be more useful than that of the prostate gland. Almost forty per cent of men will suffer with this most troublesome of glands sooner or later. It will be to their great advantage to take note of these words. Women readers too would do well to heed my advice; although there is little chance they will have to suffer anything like the agonies that men suffer with a malevolent prostate gland, their partner possibly will, and they will be in a position to sympathise with him. (Speaking of bodily pain I will never forget my paternal grandmother saying that giving birth to a baby was only like having a good shit. Over the ensuing years I have had much pain with my prostate gland, and many good shits, and believe me the former is far more painful.)

Just one of the problems a faulty prostate gland brings to the party is of course a much-increased need to urinate. I have already dealt with this at some length in my book Stairlift to Heaven, and have had letters of grateful thanks for my advice. However that guidance was about dealing with the problem whilst indoors, in the privacy of one’s own bathroom, whereas this further advice covers what to do when you are outdoors and suddenly need to pee. Which you will be doing on more occasions than you will care to remember. Been there, done that. Well, done it eventually.

The advice comes in three parts. Urban, Suburban and Countryside.



URBAN

If you are on foot.

Don’t waste time looking for a public convenience; nowadays you have more chance of finding the Secret of Life. Instead, look for a pub. When you have finally found one - currently not quite as rare as public conveniences but getting there fast - go in. As landlords take great exception to people entering their pubs just for a pee, make straight for the bar and order a drink. If you intend to drink it, order a short, a whisky or something - if you down a pint of bitter you will be defeating the object as you will very soon be in need of another pee and looking for another pub.

If you remain in urban surroundings for very long the continual ordering of drinks can turn out to be quite expensive. What I do in these circumstances is order a drink at the bar, tell the landlord I’m just going to the toilet, then when I’ve had a pee sneak out while he’s not looking. However if you happen to be in an urban area when the affliction strikes the very best advice I can offer is to get yourself into the countryside as soon as possible.



If you are driving a car.

Always carry a bottle in the boot. It can be either plastic or glass. Plastic is safer, as it won’t break, but glass is more aesthetically pleasing to the touch, more tactile as they say on Flog It. The chosen bottle should be of a capacity large enough to comfortably contain your day’s peeing. I prefer a demi-john, as used by home-brewed wine enthusiasts. This has the advantage of holding a gallon - sufficient volume for the most troublesome of prostate glands - and is thick enough to withstand a bit of rolling about in the boot without getting broken.

The correct procedure when the need for a pee suddenly strikes is to pull in to the side of the road, open the boot, and, using the lid of the boot as a shield from prying eyes, pee into the bottle. Whilst you are doing this - and given the fact that although prostate sufferers are very often in need of a pee, a pee isn’t going to arrive with undue haste - you will need to keep glancing over your shoulder to check if anyone is coming. If they are, and you have started peeing, you are in trouble, since although it may be difficult to start peeing it is a lot more difficult to stop peeing once you’ve started.

The thing to do here is to brazen it out and hope that anyone approaching from behind doesn’t see what you are up to. A nonchalant whistle can help. I recommend something jolly by Gilbert and Sullivan.

To do anything else would mean that you’d probably end up with a boot full of urine, either because the distraction of seeing someone approaching causes you to miss the bottle, or in your panic on seeing them coming you drop it. Or, if you are unlucky, both.



SUBURBAN

If you are on foot.

Always carry an empty bottle with you. Not a demi-john this time, especially if you have partially filled it, as people might think you’re selling lemonade. Don’t sell them any unless they are financial advisers or solicitors. If you opt for a fairly small bottle, say half a litre, you won’t look out of place; although the fad of carrying a bottle of mineral water everywhere is not as prevalent as it once was it is still fairly common.

After satisfying yourself that there is no one about, pee in the bottle. Choose a spot outside a house with a large hedge so you can pretend you’re admiring it, especially if it has been subjected to topiary. You could also pretend you’re looking for a bird’s nest. If you can do bird impressions this will help. (I do a very good flamingo, but as you don’t get too many flamingos in privet hedges I’ve never used it.)

To give yourself sufficient peeing time, choose a long stretch of straight road - there is nothing worse than someone coming round the corner when you are in mid-pee (which brings with it the spilled urine problem outlined in URBAN If you are driving a car). A good tip, especially if houses with suitable hedges are in short supply, is to actually stand at a corner whilst urinating. This will allow you to see who is coming in both directions, thus giving you time to place yourself in the street from which they aren’t coming. If someone then appears in that street, hard luck. You could also of course be spotted from above, say if the owner of the house happens to be looking out through the bedroom window. If this happens you can tell them you’re a builder examining the pointing with a view to giving them a quotation. If they ask what the bottle is for tell them it’s thirsty work. There is a slim chance they could be thinking of getting a quotation to have their brickwork pointed, in which case quote them twice what you think a fair price would be. Then go and buy a trowel, sand, and cement, since a genuine builder will quote four times what a fair price would be, so your price will probably be accepted.




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