One of the perils of writing about your life in a national newspaper is that people rush to judgement about you. And not only that, they know how to find you. This column in a previous incarnation was titled Tales of the Country, and in 2003, about a year after I started writing it, I got a letter from a fellow who lives three miles away, which, in this neck of the woods, counts as practically a next-door neighbour.
"It is a pity you do not restrict your contributions to The Independent to your sporting interviews," he thundered, "as your Tales of the Country are exceedingly trite and patronising." He went on in a similar vein for a few more sentences, vigorously lambasting me on all sorts of counts, and then he wrote, "Hey ho, on a positive note I cannot believe the number of times you appear to have emptied your septic tank. Something is wrong. We have emptied ours twice in 22 years." The key to the whole exercise, he advised me, "is the nitrification tile or perforated plastic pipe which takes the septic tank's effluent. It must be of sufficient length (150ft-plus) and surrounded by coarse/medium gravel. Yours sincerely..."
As I wrote at the time, this marked a new stage in the evolution of the poison-pen letter, someone not sending me his own effluent in the post but considered technical advice on what to do with mine. I was almost touched.
Anyway, I hope that Mr Effluent will be duly outraged to learn that those Tales of the Country columns, which inspired a moderately successful book of the same name, are now to be adapted for the stage. A theatre company called Pentabus, based in Ludlow, approached me a couple of months ago to ask whether they could make a play of the book, and the plans are for it to tour village halls around this time next year, and perhaps even for it to be staged on Broadway. Sorry, I meant in Broadway. I'm told that the United Reformed Church Hall on the High Street is a smashing little venue.
In our house, however, we are already getting ideas above our station. Jane wonders whether we might be able to interest Andrew Lloyd Webber in a Saturday teatime BBC1 reality show, in which women will audition for the chance of a lifetime to play her at Pudleston Village Hall. They could call it Wife of Brian. Failing that, she hopes Pentabus are aware that Julie Christie lives not far away over the Welsh border, and might be tempted to tread the boards again, albeit the boards of Clun Memorial Hall rather than the Royal Court. As for who should play me, Daniel Craig might fancy a break from the rigours of James Bond movies, although Jane thinks that Richard Griffiths could better capture my essence. Whatever, I do hope that there will be a role, or at least a mention, for Mr Effluent.
It's all very exciting, but also rather alarming. It's one thing chronicling my life in print, whereby one can only picture people reading about my family and me, but sitting in a darkened auditorium among a paying audience as actors recreate the pratfalls with which our first year in the country was replete, is a different matter entirely. And what about those theatre critics, whose pens spill even more acid than Mr Effluent's? So far I've had to withstand only the barbs of literary critics, a slightly less savage breed, although they can be hard enough.
My latest book, a memoir about growing up in front of the telly in the 1970s, has been widely and on the whole generously reviewed. Unfortunately, I have never quite learnt to do what Laurence Olivier advised young actors: that if you laugh off the bouquets, you can more easily shrug off the brickbats. Consequently, I was thrilled with a marvellous review of my book in The Mail on Sunday, but aghast when it was slated in the Daily Express. It was also reviewed in this newspaper, I should add, by a former colleague of mine called William Cook who suggested that I have built my career on "cheerful bonhomie" and wrote that another colleague once described me as "a journalistic Val Doonican". I dropped William a note saying that I didn't know whether to laugh or croon.
Either way, I might be laughing, or crooning, on the other side of my face on Tales of the Country's opening night.