While comedian and prop-maker Martin Soan was painting the public areas of my home at Fleming Towers, the subject of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee came up, like it does.
“When I first met my friend Don,” Martin told me, “he just challenged me all the time. Exactly the same as when I first met Malcolm.
“Malcolm told me: I’ve fucked all the women round here. And I said to him: Fine. That’s great. Cool. So then he knew I was no competition.
“Don did exactly the same thing. We’d been thrown together like me and Malcolm and Don just casually said: I could kill you. I know how to. And I told him: Fine, mate, but why? You don’t want to kill me.”
“And he said: No. I don’t wanna do that. But I could if I wanted to.
“And I said Fine again and he knew I was no competition.
“When Malcolm and Don eventually met, they did exactly that same face-off to each other that both of them had done to me individually when they first met me. It might be a machismo thing.”
“I think it might be,” I agreed.
“It was a face-off to test the other man,” said Martin. “If you were to reply How are you going to kill me? You can only kill me if you’re within five paces of me, then he’d know he has a competitor.”
“So,” I said, “in this face-off between Malcolm and Don, who won?”
“Well,” said Martin, “they accepted each other. I think Don, with his Northern work ethic, lost out to Malcolm, really. Because Malcolm already had the air of celebrity. There was mutual respect there.
“The most beautiful story Don ever told me,” said Martin, “and the most tragic, was when he was doing a job and he had to get up very early on a Sunday morning and he was driving along the M62 in the North, which goes over the Pennines. It’s the highest motorway in Britain.
“There’s this long valley you go along and you can see the other end which is like four miles away or something.
“It was early on a Sunday morning. No other traffic at all. Very early. And he was driving towards the sun and he saw a swan flying low over the motorway towards him in the same lane.
“So he changed lanes.
“And the swan, still flying towards him, changed lanes.
“Don changed lanes again.
“The swan changed lanes, still coming towards him.
“Whatever he did, the swan mirrored him to the point that they collided.
“The swan flew through the windscreen into the cab.”
“And the van crashed?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Martin. “Completely wrote off the van.”
“Don has talked long and hard,” said Martin, “with loads of different types of people and the only theory anyone can come up with is that the swan was confused and was flying towards the sun’s reflection in Don’s windscreen.”
“Face-offs with swans very seldom have a good outcome,” I said.
“No,” agreed Martin.
“Did Don return the body of the dead swan to the Queen?” I asked.
“No,” said Martin.