December 10 is a very important day for me: it was my mother’s birthday, and every year on that day my three brothers and I check into a hotel to have a meal and to raise a glass to our mum. She was only young when my dad died: she raised four of us on her own, and since I’ve been a parent myself, I’ve truly appreciated what a feat that was, and how much we owe her. She used to worry we wouldn’t stay in touch after she’d gone; she needn’t have done.
That tradition marks the start of Christmas for me: my brothers and I exchange presents, because we won’t be together on 25 December. That’s just the four of us – my wife Lisa and our sons Harry, 24, and Tom, 23, who end up trapped with us for five days. We have some funny little rituals: on Christmas Eve we gather round the TV for a show called Practical Caravan. When a caravan comes on with what we consider to be a particularly nice feature, we all cheer and applaud.
I’m the youngest of the brothers. The older boys were all very boisterous and funny. I was shy right up until I started performing with Jim Moir, whom you maybe know as Vic Reeves. I’d quake at the thought of speaking to a stranger but being on a stage was completely different. I’d never have imagined I’d become a performer, but there you go. In 2015 I was told my arteries were seriously blocked. I needed open-heart surgery. It was a big shock, and afterwards I spent a lot of time feeling very sorry for myself, sitting on the sofa watching TV. And then my old friend Paul Whitehouse started nagging me to go fishing with him. He’d had heart problems, too, and he knew how important it was just to get out of the house. A few months later, away on a riverbank, he said, ‘I wonder if we could make a TV show out of this?’ I think that’s the reason Gone Fishing works – it comes out of real life. It’s a day of me and Paul fishing the way we would be anyway – but there are cameras there.
Jim and I still perform together. He’s also a keen birdwatcher, which is very handy for me. The other day I saw a bird with a little black cap on, and an orange tummy. I had no idea what it was, so I phoned up Jim. It was a redstart, apparently.
Since my operation I’ve stopped smoking and I’ve also had to adapt my diet, but the biggest curse is, I’ve had to start exercising. I’m not a natural. At the moment I go walking every day with my wife Lisa in Ashdown Forest. We like watching the surroundings change with the seasons; it’s about living in the moment.
Since my brush with mortality I appreciate so many things that had gone unappreciated before in my life, such as my home and my garden. I guess you could look back on an event like a heart crisis and see it as something positive. Provided you recover, of course.
And Away… by Bob Mortimer is published by Gallery UK..
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