Monday 24 November 2008


OK so it’s four weeks before Christmas or "Winterval" if you prefer. Already we can see the signs. Ignore all the music in the shops and those horribly smug ads on the TV with members of Take That,Twiggy and that woman with the corkscrew hair that doesn't appear to possess anything to wear other than underwear. We are beginning to reap the rich rewards of people getting festive. This is usually expressed by the adoption of fancy dress.

This is just a way of getting a picture of top producer Andy who along with Simon has to suffer the seemingly endless torment of working with me first thing in the morning. It is a rota thing so whilst one is in the studio staring at me and willing me to burst, the other is in the office rocking slowly back and forth …being counselled by their co-workers.

Whilst I was temporarily filling in the Saturday evening 9-11pm slot for the last three weeks (and thank you for all your kind comments, by the way) Andy was on a credit crunch night out exploring a new "theme" restaurant. His friends had invited him to the opening night of a new Mexican place….it turns out was their place! When Andy and his wife turned up they were handed a hat and a moustache each. For some reason Andy's' wife decided not to be photographed in her sombrero and 'tache.

This prompted a thread on the show as so many things tend to. From what I remember we ended up designing the perfect low budget evening in. Which may or not involve some dressing up. Lets face it - it is what we Brits do best. Panto season will soon be upon us. Up and down the country people who once appeared in "Home and Away" or "TV's Love thy Neighbour" are gearing up for their biggest earner of the last 12 months as "Baron Hardup", "Widow Twanky" or "Wishee Washee".

Having given you a convoluted reason for a rather fine picture, here are two more. Once a year for the last we reckoned five years, the Reverend Andy who you can hear doing "Pause for Thought" on the Sarah Kennedy show and the wonderfully committed volunteers invite me to open the St John’s Church Arts and Crafts Fair. There are a multitude of reasons for this. From my point of view it is a chance to meet some excellent folk and ingest some of the finest sandwiches and cake you will find anywhere. From the good Reverend's perspective it increases the size of his flock by one. He is of a mind that if you turn up to church regularly you are part of his congregation. I turn up once a year so that makes me regular enough for him. That is top thinking!

Whilst I was looking at the stalls I noticed the first sighting of "Antlerwatch" for the 2008 season. Fran Courtney who is a potter, and makes some amazing stuff using leaves as templates, decided to brighten proceedings by donning a pair of fake antlers. It must be stressed here that in reality she would not qualify for "Antlerwatch". We will be posting the rules on the website round about December 8th when the campaign starts in earnest. In a nutshell it is the fallout from office parties which involve drunks wearing flashing antlers weeping or arguing into their mobiles whilst clutching a shoe with a broken heel with the other hand. Although I didn't check her shoes, she had no visible cell phone and was stone cold sober.

Whilst chatting with a number of people I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. "You may not remember me" he said. It is difficult to place some people out of context. "I am your Doctor". Luckily I don't see him very often. The last time being five years ago. We are of similar age so whilst people were glugging coffee and sticky cakes and rich sandwiches, we started chatting about statins and prostate checks. He admitted that he wasn't on statins but perhaps he should be. I wondered how he checked his prostate. Was he a contortionist with maybe a mirror AND a glove? "I get my Doctor to do it" Ah …yes of course! So I may pop by his surgery for a once over at some point. I can assure you of one thing: That is a picture that isn't going to turn up on any website!

Whilst on the subject of campaigns, the 2008/2009 truck-writing season is going very well. I think it is going to be our most successful year to date. In previous years we have, when the dirt on vehicles has softened, encouraged people to write our nonsense slogans to spread the word about the show. In the past we have had "Slap My Top" and "Boloxnia or Bust" which have spawned successful websites. (The links to them are available from my page on the R2 site)

This year we have gone for two. Since a furious listener described me on the Ken Bruce show as a "Swirling cesspool of filth" after a couple of mild remarks about commercially available cocktails (of the type that lead to Antlerwatch so Drinkaware - wow this blog fits together like a jigsaw) it was decided the acronym S.C.O.F would look good on the back of trucks along with "Seek the Dark", we are getting dozens of reports from all over the country. This is most heart-warming so thank you and keep up the good work. We hope to start adding pictures to the Radio 2 website on this theme fairly shortly.

Monday 17 November 2008

BANG! (Up To Date)

Where was I now....ah yes a couple of weeks behind - sorry about that! Here’s the reason: Too much going on. As you can imagine it’s been an ‘interesting’ few weeks here at Radio 2 which has meant I have had some extra work on with our ‘Best Time Of The Day Show Omnibus’, which has been going out on a Saturday evening. A casualty of this extra show has been the weekend and, on the first Saturday, a Steve Winwood gig which was a shame. However you came out in droves to support the new time slot, so that was a comfort.

Still, I have managed to see the ‘Easy Star All Stars’ at a small club. They were top fun doing their ‘Dub Side of the Moon’ album and tracks from ‘Radiodread’. I think you can tell by the titles what they were up to. They have featured on ‘Lester’s Library’ a few times over the years so it was good to see them live.

The following weekend, Libido Boy made another appearance in London on his way to a hot date, and we found time to go to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith to catch up with Eleanor McEvoy. She’s an artist who I’ve added to the file ‘Can Do No Wrong’, which is a thread we’re going to try on the show in a future edition. It was just her with her electric and acoustic guitars, her Mandolin and her fiddle and the most wonderful voice. She can raise the hair on the back of your neck. It had all you needed for the perfect venue as well. Stackabye chairs, Formica tables and a bar.

As we left she was signing CD's for her fans in the foyer. She gave L Boy a peck on the cheek and I thought he was going to faint with pleasure.....I got a peck on the cheek and a hug!

A midweek visit to the Royal Albert Hall for a terrific evening watching, or should it be ‘witnessing’, the good Reverend Al Green. The audience lapped it up and he just had to sing the first line of a song and the rest of us filled in the next lines - such is the power of his catalogue. First act I’ve ever seen who had a Red Roses Roadie. He sang and dispensed flowers to the Laydeez, who hugged and kissed him. Now I know why people get into music; it’s for the sex.

Went off to see a friend of mine who, like so many, is suffering from the downturn in the economy. We met in a curious tea shop which she recommended, not only for the quality of the produce, but for its idiosyncratic toilets. Yes, those pods are individual khazi's complete with a mirror mood lighting and music. I had to go. Felt like a kid. Not sure if the music was the same in each one - perhaps they could have changed it depending on the need? Ambient music for prostate trouble and death metal to drown the screams caused by the rigours of constipation!

As we had tea and buns, she told me that because a lot of her freelance work had dried up due to the recession (Which I gather is now official), she had to accept a job which normally she would have run from at great speed. She’s terrified of flying and hasn't been on a plane in 25 years. She is teetotal. She is also very fair skinned, so isn’t a fan of sunlight. However needs must, and so she had to accept the offer to go and do a bit of journalism, writing about a Vineyard in Australia!

Went out for a couple of drinks with friends after work and bumped into New York musician Nell Bryden who had just done a session for Bob Harris. She is top fun and she brought her band with her. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but she had the call to play for the troops in Iraq. I’d sent her a text message whilst she was away and she said it was the weirdest feeling getting a text from the UK, while sitting in a Blackhawk helicopter "Somewhere in the Middle East".

Apparently the gigs went well and the guys in her band were saying that they felt incredibly safe surrounded by soldiers and artillery. One weird quirk which was the opposite of the sign I saw in a bar during the last American Adventure which read no guns in the bar. Out there in the canteen, the sign reads ‘No Gun No Food’, so everyone keeps their weaponry with them at all times. They actually admitted that they felt safer there than they did in Brooklyn.

Friday morning, as the opener to Children in Need Music Marathon, for my final library track I played my contribution to the ‘Bandaged’ CD that the TOGS had organised. It’s a rendition of the Terry Scott classic ‘My Bruvver’. I’d not heard the finished version so listened to it with my ears peeking between my fingers. My Aunt, who is a music teacher, emailed to say that a new career beckons - she always did have a black sense of humour. Although it may be that some studio time needs to be booked so I can ‘re-imagine’ my copy of Decca's ‘The World of Charlie Drake’ (Blue spot for the stereo version. Red spot for the Mono you may recall). I can just hear myself murdering ‘My Boomerang Won't comeback’, ‘Mr Custer’, or maybe even ‘Naughty’ YEST!

Needless to say all this socialising and fun has meant that Blubberwatch has collapsed. Willpower is needed....but it is getting so close to Christmas now.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

A Nerdy Night In Manchester

I had warned people when I sat in for Ken Bruce the other week that there was going to be another ‘DJ Fun Nite’. This is where various mates from the radio industry get together, eat and drink far too much and bore for Britain on a wide variety of subjects. They also talk about jingles and try and remember obscure "b" sides from equally obscure singles. One guy is such an idiot savant he can even tell you the colour of the label. Think ‘Rain Man’ with probably more farting. If you ever find yourself in the proximity of us on one of these evenings, flee before the life-force is sucked from you.

I am running approximately two weeks behind on the blog at the moment. This is due to there being a lot going on, so this night out took place on Friday 24th October.

The way it works is that somebody ‘curates’ the evening. Invites go out. A lot of people say they will definitely come. Then the day before - or on the day itself, there’s a stream of phone calls and emails from people saying that they can’t make it!

This one was going to be in Manchester. I’d not been there for years so I decided to drive up from London - stopping in the Midlands on the way to see my Dad, before heading up the M6. Bad mistake on a Friday afternoon. There were no accidents, but the traffic was terrible and it took more than 4 hours to travel 80 odd miles.

Thanks to the masterful Sat-Nav, I found the hotel easily enough but that was where the problems started. It was a modest city centre place with car parking underneath. The building was on stilts, so the spaces were tiny and a nightmare to access. Everyone who turned up that night had a horribly frustrating time inching back and forth until they gave up and left their vehicle half-in and half-out of a space.

By this time I had donned the mantle of my alter ego: ‘The Sweating Curmudgeon’. This is a bit like the Incredible Hulk, but with a worse temper and also probably slightly more odiferous. I stomped into the hotel in order to get some change for the car park as the ticket machine didn't give change. As I recall, an overnight ticket was £7.50. I handed over a tenner took my change and stomped back down the three flights of stairs I think it was a below-ground car park. I then discovered they’d given me ten £1 coins!!! "Boom"!!! Luckily, I found a 50p in my back pocket, which meant that a return trip wasn't necessary.

I checked-in, was given my room key and then discovered that the whole world was staying at this place: seven stories and two lifts of which only one was working – ‘Double Boom’.

Saw everyone gathered in the bar waiting. "Just have a quick shower as I am really feeling grubby.” Got to the room, (Look away now if you are of nervous disposition), clothes off…into the shower. No soap, nor shampoo and just one small towel. ‘Triple Boom’.

The room had obviously been a former crime scene. The door frame was splintered and had been hastily repaired. There was a sofa against one wall without a cushion and on the base there was an ominous stain. I checked the carpet so see if I could see any tracks where the body had been removed. One quick rinse later I was steaming in the bar. (Clothes on).

We had a drink and waited for everyone to arrive before heading out to the restaurant. As we left I noticed a slightly tipsy bloke texting frantically. The restaurant was very good and the mood improved as the drink flowed and the food arrived. I had corned beef hash.

After that we went to a swanky nightclub on the 23rd floor of a hotel and accommodation block in the centre of the city. Our hosts had fixed it so that we had a VIP entry. This meant we swished past a long queue of ‘Lairy blokes’ and ‘WAG wannabees’. Into the express lift and up we went. Lynda Bellingham of ‘Loose Women’ fame was there, although she seemed very well behaved. I’m not a nightclub person but it was very upscale and there were great views of Manchester at night. They also had a clever trick in that the tables were lit from underneath. This meant your cocktail, (Freddie Fudpucker anybody?), looked terrific and so did you.

Friday night, as it was pointed out, was not the night for the ‘WAG wannabees’ as all the footballers were tucked up in bed ready for the match on the morrow. So maybe the ‘Lairy blokes’ we saw earlier were reserve players chatting up the WAG second team. It’s a stereotype, but one that I found funny. When I was in Newcastle before Xmas last year, we noticed that even at 2 o'clock in the morning, a lot of the young women were spectacularly underdressed. The same was true of a lot of the girls we saw in Manchester, with one main difference. They were wearing layers and layers of fake tan and makeup to keep them warm.

At about 1 o'clock we headed back to the hotel where the bar had filled up with a spectacular selection of drunks. One of the bar staff was despatched from time to time to ensure that they were all sitting upright and hadn't given in to the temptation by having a lie down on the banquettes.

The tipsy texting guy was still there but he was now the fantastically drunk haphazardly texting guy. "What is the problem?" Debs, the only woman stupid enough to want to go out with us, asked the bloke with genuine concern in her voice. "My gurfrensh dummmmmmmpt mi" he hicced. "What happened?" "I schleptt wiv hur besht frenn". At this point you could hear any slight sympathy drain from the room like water gurgling down the plug hole!

Ended up in bed about 4am having put the world to rights as far as anyone can recall.