These words started life as ‘tweets’ on Twitter where I spend a fair bit of time. They were written 'live', just as I thought of them, and tweeted to my followers.
Tweets are restricted to 140 characters so they are presented in this form, although you have to imagine each ‘stanza’ vying for attention on someone’s screen among an ever unfolding stream of other people’s tweets.
They have been edited a little for the sake of clarity, the odd grammatical or typographical error. And of course they are works of fiction.
Tales of Paxman
I approached Paxman, knowing he felt very at home lolling about on the moral high ground. Spare a few pence for a cuppa, guv’nor, I begged.
Paxman came right up close, peering into my eyes. Mouth close to my ear, he breathed “It’s my day off. I neither ask nor answer questions”.
“I’m not looking for an answer, just a few pence, sir”. I had nothing to lose. He bustled past. “Get in touch with my people”.
In a way I was glad he moved off so swiftly. I headed away through the crowd. I now had his wallet deep in my pocket. And his comb.
Back in my hideaway I decided to delay the pleasure of rifling through his cards, sniffing his cash. I took up a piece of tissue paper and
folded it around Paxman’s comb. Soon I was humming the Newsnight theme with an effective kazoo. I detected the whiff of ancient macassar oil.
No doubt the Pax, an erudite lover of all things Victorian, would only pomade his bouffon with the authentic unguents. After a while, my lips
somewhat numb, I put down the comb kazoo and picked up the great interrogator’s wallet. Well used, the stitching still sound, a feint smell
of well-bred leather and studio lights. Let’s see who you really are, I muttered, and butterflyed the wallet open. Empty. At least, no cards,
no folding stuff, no oyster card… nothing, except, a little origami crane. Yes, of course I unfolded it.
Written along its length were the words “You didn’t think this was a real wallet, jerk-off?”. I carefully re-made the little crane. Ebay. Paxman’s Origami Mantra - ten bob.
Except, how on earth was I going to explain the provenance? No, this was one for a private collector. And I knew just the man who’d want it.
Say, in theory, I had an origami crane featuring a short message from Paxman with a water-tight provenance - who would the ideal buyer be?
The main collector of Paxman memorabilia is of course Michael Howard himself. I’ve sat in his snug, watching him replay that interview.
Howard wavering endlessly between feeling he won that argument, Paxman’s a fraud for god sake! And knowing, just knowing, he lost it.
This has become an obsession for Howard. Following a brusque handshake after the show, Howard found himself holding Paxman’s pen.
A cheap, charity biro - not the beautiful Guilloche fountain pen, he’d been flashing about on the set. Howard pocketed it. Later he wondered
if Paxman had forced it on him, like a conjuror. Why would he? But why the pen swap? Why was Paxman using it? It didn’t matter. It took on
some kind of talismanic quality for Michael Howard, as if the unresolved tensions of whether he’d taken it or been given it somehow matched
the ambiguity of the earlier battle of words. Was Howard the victor or the victim? From that day he began to idly ask colleagues to pick up
any odd Paxman-related jewjaws from the Newsnight set. He found himself - this was odd - going out of his way to befriend a young researcher
on the show. And his brushed-off embarrassment when people began to comment hid a much more complex sense of shame than anything sexual.
He felt himself locked still in combat with the old Interrogator. And thus his “collection” began to gain a significance he hardly dared
contemplate. As if by owning Paxmabilia, he could gradually erode the other’s advantage. Howard didn’t believe in magic, beyond the rituals
of his beloved family heritage. And yet here he was, practising some form of bogus voodoo - how ridiculous, just a bit of fun, perhaps time
to “come out” about it, contact the papers, make out it was just a bit of fun, maybe a photo shoot together, the two old adversaries.
But Howard knew he could not do this. He knew that without performing certain rituals before bed, he would wake in the night in terror.
This he told me as we sat in his snug, his box of magic on his lap, the interview looping on a DVD. I knew he’d pay well for the crane.
Paxman Breaks Fast
“Did you threaten to make me a piece of toast?”. It’s in the rack, Jeremy. Let’s not start this again. “But did you threaten to make me…”
Now, as many of you know, Paxman has a number of properties dotted around the home counties. But I doubt there’s many know about his little
bolt-hole in the Winnersh Triangle (an area made famous by Ricky Gervais, and consequently rather touristy these days to my mind).
As a courier for a prestigious courier company (national, no less) who operate in that area, it was inevitable that I would find myself
upon occasion delivering fancy goods to his apartment in a modern purpose built block in a location I will keep to myself - as you’d expect.
Well, it so happens that on one occasion I chanced upon the national treasure as he was approaching his front door. I had a largish box for
him, so he bade me wait a moment so I could lift it into his little pied-a-terre. I admit I was baffled as he stood for an age punching endless numbers
into the security pad outside his front door. Eventually there was a protracted beeeep and he pushed the door open, stooping to pick up a
pile of post, most of it circulars of the type with which we are all familiar. I deposited the parcel and was briskly ushered out the door
with a cursory handshake. As I walked back to the van I noticed he had palmed me a 20 pound note. Good on him. At first I thought no more
about it, but after a while I begun to wonder about that long sequence of numbers he punched in. His hand seemed to follow a repetitive
pattern over and over again, at least a dozen times. What on earth could it mean? I began, I admit, to dwell on this - perhaps a little too
much. To the extent that, to my shame, I admit that I grew sloppy in my work and sadly, without going into distracting details, I lost my job.
On the up side, this gave me plenty of time to spend on what I’d begun to call “The Paxman Problem”. I began to frequent his neighbourhood
I’d watch from a distance, monitoring his infrequent visits, my binoculars tightly focussed on his security pad. I couldn’t make out the
sequence, but eventually I managed to work out that he repeated it a total of 14 times. I’m no John Nettles, but it didn’t take much more
than a couple of googles to work out the significance in Paxman’s life of the number 14. The next day I approached his front door with huge
trepidation. It was unlikely he would be there, his visits were sporadic but never more than once a week. I raised my finger to the key pad
took deep breaths to steady my hand and started punching in… not numbers, but letters: d-i-d-y-o-u-t-h-r-e-a-t-e-n-t-o-o-v-e-r-r-u-l-e-h-i-m
Did you threaten to overrule him - over and over. 14 times, in fact. And then? Beeeeep. The door popped open. Shit. Shit! What to do?
Without thinking, I slipped inside and shut the door. Immediately I could hear footsteps - oh no! pounding towards me… but… no. Wait.
I’m a fool. Be still, my beating heart. More deep breaths, and tippy toes, into his suave little pad. Very batchelor, very chrome and black
leather. Just what you’d expect I suppose. No feminine touches here. The pile of circulars there on the dark glass coffee table.
I wended, I suppose. Wandered, wended. But all the while knowing I was heading to the bedroom, the paxroom. It was twilight in there, the
blinds down. Black satin sheets, all rather tawdry and predictable, the trappings of a wannabe lothario. But there, on the dressing table
a row of ornate, silver backed hairbrushes, and - my goodness, I burst out laughing - ten of them! All in a row for god’s sake!.
I picked up the first. Hard bristles, wiry salt and pepper hairs entwined. Of course you sniff the things. A genuine smell of a man.
I teased out the hairs, looked at them in my palm. Picked up the next brush, this one softer bristles. I extracted more hairs. By the time
I’d plundered all ten, I had a fair old ball of paxman hair in my hand. A couple of minutes later I slipped out of the flat, and high tailed
it for the bus stop, absolutely exhilarated, muttering “never again, never again” to myself, fingering Paxman’s fur ball in my pocket.
Never again, I said, standing in front of my own dressing table mirror, holding the little knotted ball of hairs up to the light.
Well, of course you know the rest. Never say never again. And sure enough, you can’t give up a rush as powerful as that. I went back.
And again. And yet again, countless times. He’s never caught me. I’ve seen him, once or twice. I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t recognise me,
although he might for a moment, as he passes me, feel a twinge of recognition at the texture and gentle aroma of my salt-and-pepper afro.
The Whole Paxman And Clarkson Thing
It was Clarkson’s idea originally, and of course Paxman hated it. Hated it! But Clarkson wouldn’t give up, organised a conflab over a pint.
Paxman listened as Clarkson plotted out “the journey”, in all it’s marvellous, multi-layered post-everything 21st Century complexity.
“Of course the beauty of it is, Jeremy, that whatever we do, however we do it, none of it will be in any way… real. At heart, it remains
unknowable. I doubt that even we will know what really happened.” Paxman, to his amazement, begun to feel won over by the idea.
He felt strung along - but willingly! And actually rather impressed by Clarkson’s erudite, cool unpicking of it all. “You’re not who I
thought you were” opined Paxman. “We none of us are, my dear Jeremy”. The Jeremys shook hands. “Alright, I’ll do it. I must be mad!”.
Paxman gave Clarkson his trademark wry smile and tilde eyebrow. “When do we start?”.
Hung on the back of Children In Need, Paxman knew that reproducing the dance routine from Pulp Fiction would seem to any outsider to be a
very risky ploy for the Jeremys. How could he sit there and interview top politicos after that kind of performance? He’d be completely
Gallowayed, like the “sexy” kiboshed cat. Respect! But Paxo traced Clarkson’s very well signposted route map in his mind, and marvelled once
again at how it was plotted along a sort of Moebius strip, so that whatever convoluted twists, turns and somersaults they took, they would
end up right back where they started. Magical. So the rehearsals began, in one of Clarkson’s barns out in the sticks. At first Clarkson took
the Thurman role, with Paxman as Travolta, but somehow it didn’t gel. In fact the whole project nearly came unstuck right at the beginning.
If there was no chemistry, there was no show. They decided to workshop it. Do it as Brangolina, as Humphreys and Naughtie. Then, swap roles.
Immediately, Paxo felt at home. He was Thurmann. And Clarkson was Travolta. It was happening. And so it went, just as Clarkson had predicted:
a pitch perfect performance, accolades in the popular press, outrage in the serious papers. Clarkson riding it out with his usual macho
buffoonery. But Paxman! It was like he was riding a rollercoaster along all the well-trodden routes of post-modern irony. First he was out,
then he was in. Andrew Marr blanked him, then he started getting the big interviews - international stuff, and found himself invited down
to Marr’s place in Devon, and had to laughingly rebuff Marr’s increasingly desperate attempts to get in on the action. But - here’s the thing.
Perhaps Paxman should have taken that Moebius strip and played about with it. Seen what happens if you take a pair of scissors and cut along
its length. He had not anticipated that what started as a surprising friendship with Clarkson should become so intense - to the point where
they became “The Jeremys” for a while. And then, Clarkson watched his friend soar and bump away. Clarkson waned, while Paxman’s star burned
ever brighter. The scissors started to snip along the Moebius strip. Gradually splitting them apart. Paxman began to feel it. But that’s ok.
He new the road map now. They would end up back where they had started, surely. The laws of physics. Oh… Jeremy. Jeremy Paxman. He did,
at last, take a pair of scissors and cut around the Moebius strip. Two loops - what a relief, they’d ridden round the track together and now
… he pulled the loops. Twisted, thin rings of paper. Inextricably linked. Apart, but forever together. Oh my god, what had they done?
The Jeremys. There they are, shuffling along, arms interlocked. Faces twisted, ravaged, gaunt, heads twisted in opposite directions, never
to look at each other again, never to be apart. Uma Paxman and Jeremy Travolta.