“I didn’t see it,” I said and Charlie Brooker just looked at me, bemused, shaking his head and smiling. I looked back down at my dinner and pushed a piece of lemon chicken around my plate. “I was probably watching Netflix,” I added.
“This is what I lo… like about you,” replied Charlie after he’d finished chewing. He shook his now empty fork at me. “I love that you don’t care about a Touch of Cloth II and all the other things I’ve done. You’re here just for who I am.”
“Charlie Brooker the man,” I said quietly. “I heard it was good, though.”
“People are going mental for it,” replied Charlie. “They’re comparing it to Airplane and Police Squad.”
“That’s because you copied Airplane and Police Squad isn’t it?” I said. Charlie considered this for a moment and then sat back in his chair and roared with laughter. He dabbed his eyes with his napkin and then shouted for Konnie who refilled our glasses with expensive wine from Waitrose before backing out of the room half-bowed. “I’ve just got a thing about watching things that aren’t The Simpsons on Sky. I just don’t do it. Never even check what’s on. It’s my problem, not yours.”
“I’ll get my assistant to send you the tapes.”
“Konnie!” Bellowed Charlie Brooker. She came in looking worried. “Send him the tapes,” he said pointing at me with his fork and Konnie nodded and backed out of the room. “She’s a treasure,” he said watching her go.
“She’s okay, did she make this? It’s delicious.”
“Did Konnie make this?” Asked Charlie Brooker, his eyes wild and dancing, a grin spread right across his face? “This?” He tapped his plate with his fork without taking his eyes off me. He was leaning forward.
“Yeah, the chicken.”
“Does it taste good?”
“Yeah, it’s delicious. I said already.”
“Well there’s your answer. Of course she fucking didn’t. She just makes jam. Don’t even like jam. No, what’s his name… lives next door.”
“Sven Goran Erikkson?”
“No, big guy. Black. Oh, what’s his fucking name?” Asked Charlie looking angry at himself.
“No, was on Read-” Charlie clicked his fingers. “Ainsley Harriott. He lives next door. He made this.”
“Can hear him crying,” said Charlie Brooker popping another piece of chicken in his mouth. I waited for him to chew it. He swallowed. “Cries all night.”
“He can still cook though.”
“You can say that again.”
“He can still cook though.”
“Heh, I wouldn’t have thought Ainsley was famous enough to live around here. He’s not on TV any more, he can’t afford it surely.” Charlie started coughing at this. I watched him. His face was red as he chewed furiously. He had a big bit of chicken in his mouth. “Are you okay?” I asked. Charlie gave up chewing and spat out his chicken delicately into his serviette. “Okay?” I asked.
“What did you just say?”
“I asked if you were okay.”
“Before that. You said something. Say it again.”
I couldn’t remember what I’d said. “I don’t remember.”
“No, you said something about Ainsley.”
I thought. I couldn’t remember. “It wasn’t important.”
“No!” Said Charlie Brooker. He looked serious. I tried to smile. “You said something about Ainsley. I want you to say it again.”
“I don’t…” Fuck, what had I said? Something racist? No, I’d only had two glasses of wine.
“Say what you said.”
“Erm, Ainsley Harriott, cooked the chicken. Cries a lot. Erm. Oh, I’m surprised he can afford to live around here.”
“That was it, say that.”
“Charlie I…” What I’d said wasn’t racist. I couldn’t afford to live next door to Charlie Brooker and I’m not even black.
“Fucking say it.”
“I’m surprised Ainsley Harriott could afford to live around here,” I said with a submissive face.
“Say it with surely on the end.”
“Say it with surely on the end?” I parroted. I was worried. Things weren’t making sense. I wondered if my drink had been spiked. If Konnie and Charlie were trying to drug me.
“Say it with surely on the fucking end.” I could feel Charlie’s lemony breath on my face from across the table.
“I don’t know what-”
Charlie slammed his fists down on the table causing the tableware to hop and me to blink violently. “Just say Ainsley Harriott can’t afford to live around here surely.”
“Ainsley Harriott can’t afford to live around here surely,” I said quietly.
“Well,” began Charlie, suddenly calm, “actually he has a range of sauces that make a lot of money, and don’t call me Shirley,” His face was just bubbling under. Rippling. Or was it a rolling boil? I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. Charlie Brooker had lost his mind. “Shirley!” He repeated.
“Shirley? Ah!” I went and smiled and Charlie Brooker dropped his cutlery and slumped back in his chair again roaring with laughter. He started tipping back on his chair. We were sat on white plastic garden furniture for some reason. All of Charlie’s chairs are white plastic and as he tipped back slightly one of the rear legs began to twist and he had to grab onto the table to stop himself from falling. The look of momentary panic on his face got me laughing. He started laughing a relieved laughter, with his eyebrows raised, and that made me laugh even more. We were both laughing very hard indeed. He was laughing harder than I was and looking at him made me laugh harder. Soon couldn’t talk. Crying. Charlie started squeaking something I couldn’t make out because he was laughing so hard.
“What?” I managed through the tears.
“Ainsley can’t afford his house!” Managed Charlie super high-pitched and we fell about again. “He’s getting… getting evicted tomorrow! I’m buying it!” And that was it. I was gone. I was on another plane of laughter, one between reality and Heaven. Tears and snot all over my face. Charlie grabbed my sleeve and shook it because he had no other ways of communicating. We laughed solidly for six or seven minutes. And then one of us would stop, get ourselves under control but look at the other one and we’d be off again. I have never laughed so much. When I got myself under control for the umpteenth time I made sure I didn’t look at Charlie. I twisted and I looked around the room instead while trying to breathe deeply. As my gaze passed one of the windows behind me I saw Ainsley Harriott outside looking in. Tears rolling down his face. I turned back to Charlie with an amazed expression upon my face and then turned back to the window. When Charlie followed my gaze back he literally screamed with laughter. Screamed. He was screaming with laughter and kicking his legs and banging things. It was too much. I couldn’t breathe. I was on the floor crawling around and holding my torso to stop it from splitting. I honestly thought I was going to die laughing.
I don’t know how long that went on for. Konnie came in at one point and asked us what we’d said to Ainsley which only resulted in more groaning, gasping laughing. It was hurting now. It wasn’t funny now. She said Ainsley wasn’t going to give us the dessert he’d made. More screaming laughing. Ten minutes? Half and hour? Don’t know. Alls I do know is some time later that night we were both sat back at the table eating bowls of jam and my throat felt like I’d swallowed a melon. Konnie had gone to bed.