Our new, rented, rural retreat has caused Matthew to take on an entirely new facial expression. Not all the time, just whenever I mention the problem of the kitchen table. "Oh for God's sake, not that bloody table again," he says, scrunching up his eyes, jutting his lower teeth out, gyrating his jaw and bringing his forehead down to meet his clenched fist so that he looks like Bruce Forsyth on The Generation Game.
The table in question is antique pine, perfect for a Dorset cottage kitchen and, according to my brother Noel, who living near the property has placed himself in charge of all such matters, the only decent pine table currently on sale in the entire country.
The drawback is that the table currently resides in Suffolk and the quotes we have had for transporting it to Dorset led Matthew to suggest that it would be cheaper to move that county a couple of hundred miles to the west. But Noel refuses to give up. Noel never gives up. He says he has the bit between his teeth, an expression he often uses when he becomes obsessed about something.
Rarely have I known Noel to be as obsessed as he is about this table. The only competitor is his other obsession, a long-standing one, with Radio 1 DJs, and particularly with that genial fellow Diddy David Hamilton. Diddy is someone Noel is now, due to his obsession, very friendly with. Although it could have gone either way. Not that there is anything wrong with taking a lively interest in erstwhile Radio 1 DJs. The satirist Craig Brown (who lives in Suffolk, but is not the vendor of the table) has done for years. Although Craig Brown, one suspects, does not display a Diddy David Hamilton tea-towel on his wall. But Noel is obsessed, and last week it dawned on me that his new obsession with the table and his long obsession with Diddy were about to collide.
It was decided, after many anxious phone-calls, that the table would fit into either my car, a Volvo estate that is not quite as deep as Noel's, or Noel's car, a Peugeot that is not quite as wide as mine, and that Noel would drive from Dorset to London in order to lead me in a convoy to Suffolk. The plan was that we would then bring the table back to London, where, if need be, it would be temporarily removed from Noel's car, while Noel fulfilled an engagement the following day to drive Diddy David Hamilton to the West Midlands for a Kaleidoscope event. Kaleidoscope is a non-profit-making organisation whose members devote themselves to paying due respect to vintage television and radio programmes and – hence Diddy's required presence – their presenters.
"Yup, yup, the environmentalist's dream scenario," said Matthew when I outlined this itinerary. "And to think people worry about the Chinese building a new coal-fired power station every 14 minutes."
We arrived safely in Suffolk in our two cars by mid-morning, and a very amiable and helpful vendor, former Army, lifted the table almost single-handedly into Noel's car. He seemed to know what he was doing and said that Noel's car was the better option. But he was wrong, because halfway in, the table became wedged. It was quite firmly wedged and it didn't look as if we were ever going to get it out. It was then that Noel began doing a dance and wailing.
"Oh my God, oh my God," he wailed, "you don't understand what you have done. You don't understand that this time tomorrow I am driving a celebrity to Stourbridge."
"Really?" said the former table owner. "Who's that then?"
"Diddy!" wailed Noel, and the table vendor looked puzzled. "Diddy?" he said. "What, you mean Ken Dodd and the Diddy Men?"
There was a brief moment when Noel stopped his dance and a look came into his eyes that made me wonder if he might have quite liked to drive Ken Dodd to Stourbridge, but it was a brief moment and I might have imagined it.
"No, no, no," he cried, re-commencing his dance, "not Ken Dodd! Diddy, David Hamilton!"
"Oh well, in that case," said the vendor, "we will have to get this table out of your car. We can't have Diddy David Hamilton being driven in a car that has a table wedged in it, can we? No, we most certainly cannot!"
Shortly after 3pm our convoy left Suffolk, with the table in the back of my car. I drove behind Noel, and I could see that he was still shaking his head for most of the journey home. He had been shaking his head for hours, muttering: "If anything had happened to this car when I've got to drive Diddy tomorrow..."
And he was still shaking it when, having stayed the night with Matthew and me in Shepherd's Bush, he set off at 5am to collect Diddy from his home in Barnes by 9am, a journey of approximately three and a half miles.
We received bulletins from Noel throughout that day – Diddy being mobbed by Kaleidoscope members; Diddy "reeling off gag after gag – brilliant, no wonder he was known as 'one-take Hamilton'"; Diddy shifting many copies of his 1986 autobiography and boasting that Tony Blackburn only sold six copies of his autobiography in his home town of Bournemouth. The last, rather dreamy call informed us that he'd dropped Diddy home after a magical day and he was off to Dorset. "I pranged the car on Diddy's gatepost," he said. "But what does that matter now?"Reuse content