((After further delays caused by picking up the norovirus while looking after my good lady wife in hospital, we resume the story))

Annabelle – a female acquaintance of Melba’s (though his head being encased in bandages meant we didn’t have a male primary source for this information) had left us on a bit of a cliff-hanger as she read out Melba’s account of his meeting with Lola Whitecastle. Melba’s notes having been ruined by a toast machine and an ice bucket, Annabelle decided that was the time to go off and get herself a small cup of machine produced coffee style liquid.

“I never thought he was competition” I whispered to Francois Devine.

“Melba? Competition? Hahahahaha” he roared. Melba looked over to us, Francois Devine’s laughter having penetrated his plaster of Paris headgear when my sensible whisper had not. “Melba couldn’t compete against a Star Trek supporter on an obstacle course” he added.

Seeing that Melba was now aware we were talking about him I decided to join in with the ribbing. Being critical behind someone’s back is satisfying but to air their inadequate laundry in public is even more so.

“By taking the woman out to breakfast at her hotel he’s simply wasted thirty five pounds which he could’ve spent on something more productive.”

“Is breakfast at a Premium Oasis really £17.50 these days?” asked Francois Devine, missing the point of my remark entirely.

“So I believe. I prefer to smuggle a box of Bran Flecks in with me and make do with what little milk I can squeeze out of a couple of UHT cartons but each to their own.”

“Very sensible of you” he commended. “I too try to economise by only attending three of the four sittings at breakfast. For although it may claim to be all you can eat, in my bitter experience the staff at a Premium Oasis will attempt to move you on (by force if necessary) if you’re deemed to have spent too long at table. Once you’ve left the environs of the restaurant you must purchase a second ticket if you wish to eat all you can during a second wind.”

He sighed at the unfairness of the world, looked down at his two broken eating arms and sighed again, longer and louder at the even greater unfairness of the world.

Annabelle put a stop to his rather garlicky despair by returning with her cup of coffee style liquid and picking up where she left off.

“So Melba’s notes have been ruined and he’s had to go back to Lola Whitecastle’s table with just some juice and a couple of slices of bread.”

I sensed she was editing the story but since it was boring me somewhat I let it slide. I’d take a copy of his diary entry in due course so I’d have a complete version in my archive were I ever in the mood to consult it.

“Lola said she’d helped herself to the pastries and put a few in my satchel which she wanted back when we were safely out of the restaurant. She spun me a line about a couple of hungry nephews who lived round the corner but I’m not as naïve as Dennis Brent and Francois Devine think I am. I’ve got a girlfriend.”

Annabelle blushed and smiled sweetly at him. Francois Devine coughed loudly to break the little romantic spell and return her to business.

“I – I’m Melba again – told her I was a big fan of her work and listed eight or nine things I’d memorised from IMDB the night before. She seemed impressed that anyone would remember her appearance on Russell Harty’s chat show, especially knowing that she’d appeared on it with Patrick Mower and Jimmy Tarbuck. I was definitely making a good impression. I complimented her on the first five series of ‘I Live in a Bungalow’ and then offered an opinion that the later series weren’t of the same high quality. This was a carefully chosen opinion that I’d borrowed from an interview she’d given to the TV Times in 2001. She put her hand on mine and agreed with me.

‘Why do you want to write my autobiography?’ she asked.

I told her what an amazing opportunity it was, how excited I was at the thought of going through her incredible archive, what an inspiration she’d always been to me as a child and how I felt that I could do justice to her remarkable career as I was younger and more in touch with the modern world than some of the older telehistorians bidding for the contract.’”

“He means you, Dennis Brent” lied Francois Devine.

“He means you, Francois Devine” I said at exactly the same moment. We rolled our eyes and went through our complicated but necessary verbal and physical routine to banish the evil spirits that might otherwise be released if we speak the same words at the same time. Some have dismissed it as mindless superstition but on their heads be it.

“Lola seemed to like what I was saying so I played my one remaining trump card – a PowerPoint I’d put together to explain my strengths and the strengths of my proposal. Unfortunately, when I showed it to her on my mobile telephone she said she couldn’t read it without her glasses. Glasses which, it turns out, were up in her bedroom. She suggested we go up together and get them but I was a bit worried I hadn’t eaten enough breakfast so opted to stay down in the restaurant. She reluctantly agreed. I read out the main features of my presentation and described the clipart pictures I’d used to illustrate them but I could see her short sighted eyes glazing over. Suddenly – after an omelette and a pot of fresh coffee – she decided she’d had enough to eat and was also late for a meeting. She shook my hand and told me she’d be in touch. We then walked out of the restaurant and were immediately set upon by a waiter accusing me of violating the terms and conditions of my entrance to the buffet by removing hotel property – i.e. some pastries – without the consent of the manager. He grabbed my satchel, pulled out three Danish pastries, a cinnamon whirl, two pain-au-chocolate and a croissant, each neatly wrapped in a napkin.

‘What do you call this?’ he demanded. I tried to explain that Lola had put them there but when I turned to get her confirmation I saw her scurrying off towards the lift as fast as her new hip would allow. I told him he could keep the pastries as they weren’t very nice (a lie – they were delicious) and that I wouldn’t be coming back to the Shagford Premium Oasis any time soon. He told me to wish pain and misery upon Francois Devine (he guessed I must know him when he found me trying to steal food) and also upon Dennis Brent (because anyone that knows Francois Devine must also know Dennis Brent).

I left the hotel angrily – my pitch had been a disaster, the restaurant staff had been rude and Lola didn’t seem as bowled over by my young-telehistorians-are-better-than-old-ones argument. The speed with which she left me will either be an anecdote we’ll tell when we appear together on the Graham Norton show to promote the book (yay) or something I’ll come to hold against her for the rest of my life, thus adding to the bitterness which will consume me like it has consumed Dennis and Francois (boo).

Fingers crossed.

Melba x’”

We stared at him. He waved his hands apologetically and scribbled something about artistic licence on his pad. But it would butter no parsnips.

“Melba” I announced, “you are henceforth in Coventry.”

“For a long time” added Francois Devine.

“I don’t know what that means” said Annabelle.

“Melba does” I explained coldly. A loud gulping sound from inside the bandages told us that Melba did indeed know how awful Coventry was, especially our distinctly bitter version of Coventry.