Friday 30 January 2009


Hmmmm, so much for the roaring success of Blubberwatch. Since I went back on the diet I lost 2lbs last week, and this week? Nowt! I think my scales may be stuck at just over 12 and a half stone. It’s a bit like the film "SPEED", I suppose. If for some reason the scales dip below a certain weight somebody or something will explode. I am going to have to start calorie counting rather than guessing that the sandwiches weren't that fatty.

A friend came for the weekend so I decided to show her my town. Hastings. This involved a six mile walk on the Saturday. Along the sea front in the bracing winter air and back through the park. We headed down the Old town where I used to live.

When I was a child it was full of pokey junk shops where I would spend hours rifling through trays of old and foreign coins, gingerly moving from area to area in case I accidently brushed against something and there was a rumble and a crash and several hundred years worth of accumulated curios and bric-a-brac would come roaring through the shop like a Tsunami of old stuff. The bill for the damage back then would have run into at least sixpence.

I lived in that part of the town for ten years and loved it although change did come albeit slowly and with it a gradual realisation that it was turning into a bit of a theme park. So I moved further up the seafront ten years ago. It always good for a visit though, with a good variety of shops pubs and restaurants. However there is only one shop that can truly be called a junk shop which is in the High St. I have bought odd bits from there for a few pence over the years. What amazes me is that whenever I go past the stock seems exactly the same. I wonder if you own a shop like that you regard the stock as "friends" and so you can't bear to let it go. I think antiquarian book shop owners probably feel the same. This is not an exact science but in my albeit limited experience if you see a book in the window of a shop that you would like. The store is shut with a sign in the window saying; "If closed phone *****" which of course you never do. Although on one occasion I did find a shop open with a book that I liked the look of. So I am the proud owner of "It’s Trad Dad", a tome by Brian Matthew from the early 60's. The shop owner did look a bit mournful I thought when I exited.

We walked on the beach looking at the fishing boats and visited to the Fishermans Museum home to the "Hastings Lugger" and old sailing boat and also the charity the "Winkle Club" of which I am a very proud member. It is a while since I have been and was delighted to find a picture of my Grandparents taking part in a parade. My Granddad Norman Lester was Town Clerk. His name was plastered all over municipal signboards. Including ones in the reservoirs and ponds in Alexandra Park which declared: "No fishing or Swimming by order N.P Lester Town Clerk". He used to tell us kids that at night when we were asleep he would row out with these signs that he had painted himself in his shed. We of course believed him. I am the proud owner of a sign from some now long demolished tennis court changing rooms which trumpets "Belongings in these lockers are left at owners risk" N.P Lester Town Clerk. I have it up in the hallway at home.

After walking through Hastings and back home via Alexandra Park we felt it was time to examine and consume our purchase. The Old town has an excellent fish market and so all day we walked around sharing the crab carrying duties.

As a bloke out to impress I have a couple of "signature dishes", one of them is dressed crab. I lived in the tiny fishing village called Staithes up near Whitby during the mid 80's and was taught by Edna who was the landlady of the sea front pub "The Cod and Lobster" how to dress crab and remove the "dead men's fingers" the gills which folklore tells us are slightly poisonous however I think they are just nasty tasting so it is not quite so daring as preparing a Japanese Blowfish for instance.

I should have checked a little more carefully. When I prised the shell open there was precious little meat inside I think the crab had just shed its shell for a bigger one. Crabs obviously don't worry about dieting. For them it’s all about bulking up. They don't have bigger and smaller or even "target" shells in their wardrobe. "After Xmas I am going to drop a shell size. I am going to have to cut out the carrion". Still, it was a tasty snack and can't have been responsible for the lack of weight loss this week. Crab 1 Alex 0.

Then we went off to the Marina Fountain in St Leonards for a few drinks and a live band. The pub knows its market pretty well so it often has rock and metal covers bands on. I think I must have heard "Whole Lotta Rosie" performed to a variety of standards by about five or six different groups over the years. Friends of mine who go regularly can tell the difference. I am spoiled with my job being in the privileged position of getting to see the finest original live acts so sometimes I forget and apply professional standards to what are enthusiastic semi-pro players. However one thing does bug me. I still can't see why you need to mic up a drum kit in a pub. I have banged on about this before (ho ho). It makes the band unnecessarily loud and conversation impossible. In the old days before the smoking ban at least the press of people would soak up some of the volume but these days half the customers are outside at any one time.

On this occasion it was skiffle night with Hobo Jones. A trio of blokes dressed as tramps pretending to be Lonnie Donegan. They went down pretty well despite doing "The Rock Island Line", a song I loathe.

Not had a good walk round town for ages so it was good to get back in touch with where I live and see some of the changes that have occurred and how the park has grown back after an extensive and expensive refurb a few year back. Now if only someone would come up with the money to get the pier back open as it has been shut for a while due to it being declared unsafe. If you have a few million to spare, come to Hastings - its lovely.

Thursday 22 January 2009


Well I hope so. This is the first week of the whole new me. As opposed to last years "whole new me". "Blubberwatch" is back. Not missing the beer during the week and have found that I have more time on my hands to eat. Err no that is not what I meant. Sitting drinking beer and reading the paper has been replaced by visits to the gym and then going home and reading the paper with a couple of sandwiches and a smoothie. This is the way forward although I have yet to see any benefit. Reading in the paper of a new diet pill for the overweight. However it isn't on the market yet here and it does smack of cheating. Plus as I confidently tell myself, I am overweight not obese. Watch this wobbling space.

The gym has been interesting in that I have been twice and spent on average half an hour on exercise bikes and treadmills watching my heart rate rise until I am sweaty, breathing hard but not spots before the eyes and falling to the ground in a dead faint.

There are a number of people who seem intent on killing themselves by too much exercise, blowing like whales and flicking perspiration everywhere. I part company with them at this point as I can’t see the fun in it. As I outlined on the show this week, half an hour on the treadmill watching "Deal or no Deal" can be a mite dispiriting so that I asked you for other diversionary tactics or better still more appropriate TV shows to watch whilst I was exercising.

In a nutshell to précis the results (and this is not a scientific survey) : The general consensus was to watch women's bottoms. If I do this my time at the gym I expect will be short.

It has been a week of music. Saturday Libido boy and myself trogged along to the legendary Abbey Road Studios to see a Radio 2 special featuring ELBOW and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Amazing evening and then off to the pub, yaaaay! Found a quiet pub. Well it was quiet because there were hardly any people in. The reason became apparent just as we sat down. Excruciating karaoke by a selection of drunks in cowboy outfits. Sally Traffic to the rescue as she phoned to say we should meet at a nice little boozer she knew not far from the BBC. We grabbed a cab and arrived to see a distinctly drenched Sal standing outside a closed and darkened boozer in the pouring rain. A brisk squelch and we found another so the evening wasn't entirely alcohol free. Still, the experience was good for heart, liver and soul.

Sunday and Libido boy wanted to visit a charity shop to buy some more shirts as last time he came to visit he left his bag on the train and lost everything. This is where things got weird. For some reason that doctors can't fathom he lost his sense of smell. So I was his "proxy nose" and had to sniff the armpits of the shirts and a jacket he was thinking of buying to check they were clean. Now I know how dogs feel. I am a fully trained B.O. and fabric conditioner mutt so if there is a catastrophe somewhere in the world I can quickly be flown in to find clean and not so clean people buried in the rubble!

Tuesday lunchtime and it was to a "showcase". Record companies arrange these from time to time so we can check out new artists. I find this useful for "Lester's Library" as it is always nice to hear new people. Judith Owen is a singer songwriter who has an album called "Mopping up Karma" out. She sings nicely and plays the piano. However I wasn't struck by the material.

What intrigued me though was that she was given to very lengthy explanations of each tune before she performed them. I was trying to think where I had heard this technique before then it occurred to me. Have you ever seen the film "A Mighty Wind"? It was by the "Spinal Tap" people and was concerned with the US Folk boom. In it there is a group called "The Folks Men" and the character played by Harry Shearer - who these days is perhaps better known as one of the voices on "The Simpsons" - is given to long and tedious and extremely serious and involved introductions to their material. Life imitating art? Harry Shearer is married to Judith Owen!

That evening and it was down to a small club with a TV announcer friend to see Ruthie Foster, who sings blues, gospel, reggae, you name it. She was fantastic. I have featured her a couple of times on the show. She encored with a Bob Marley medley that nearly took the roof off. Prior to that she had performed a stunning version of one of my all time favourite songs "People Get Ready".

The venue was a basement with little or no seating, so we had to stand. Trish was wearing the wrong shoes and so she was in such agony that she had to leave after a couple of numbers leaving me to enjoy the rest of the gig. However she didn't depart without reminding me of an event when we were announcers together on BSB in the early nineties. (They were the satellite company with the "squarials", you may recall). Just before BSB "merged" with SKY and we were all fired, a new announcer joined us on the team…..Rob Brydon. For some reason I don’t remember him at all. I would doubt he remembers me either.

All in all a great week and there is more music to come next week too. We also discussed on the show exactly how intelligent animals were. Compared to Einstein- not very - was the conclusion. This is now the perfect excuse to leave you with a picture of my Dad's cat, Jersey.

Thursday 15 January 2009


It’s only a few days, but Xmas and the New Year are now but a distant memory.

Good and cold too, although I have a cynical snoot for exaggeration and hyperbole. It has been cold and friends have reported burst pipes and there was some ice on the fountains in Regents Park in London but it wasn’t, to my knowledge, "Arctic" was it? To me "arctic" means -30C, ice a foot thick and small children’s tongues being frozen to lamp posts.

In my rented flat I thought I’d check out the heating as it began to get a mite chilly. Also I had a friend to stay and I didn't want them to think I was a miser who wouldn’t turn up the central heating.

It’s a communal system which means the hot water is allied to the heating. When others in the block decide to have baths and showers the general level of heat falls. I discovered this to my cost when it’s been ‘tubby time’ at about 11.00am. Temperatures have not risen so the water is sometimes annoyingly tepid.

I have three radiators - two in the living room and one in the bedroom. They are hidden away behind some sort of built in screen thingy. I took the front off the bedroom one, switched it on and bled it. It heated up a treat but then started to smell a bit so I vacuumed the dust off it. One radiator in the living room was fine, but the other was cold. On investigation I realised why: It wasn’t connected to any of the pipes and it was just resting against the wall in its little cabinet. Still I have the electric fire which I mentioned in a blog last year. If things get cool enough I will give it a go and see how long it takes for the fake flame lamps to burn out.

Another way the normality has been achieved, is that the last of the Xmas chocolates have been eaten and "Blubberwatch" has restarted.

You may remember that after "American Adventure 2" last June/July, I went on a diet and quickly lost a stone and a half. I then came to rest at about 12.5 stones and nothing I could do seemed to budge it. Bearing in mind my target weight was two stones lighter, this has turned into a sorry state of affairs. So ‘New Year, New Idea’ means that I have rejoined the gym.

I’ve not been a member since I left Birmingham last year when the show returned to London after a 13 year absence. So far I have been seen and registered. Looking at my diet, it’s with a heavy heart that I have identified one of the possible causes of the lard accretion. Beer! So with immediate effect I am not touching a drop during the week.

This is fine as I’ve long realised that I’m a creature of habit, rather than having an addictive personality, so I just need something else to occupy me during the usual pub time of 4 or 5pm ‘til bedtime. Hmmmm I think I might like to become a sex addict. This seems to be a very fashionable condition to ‘suffer’ from. If it’s good enough for David Duchovney, it’s good enough for me! After all he isn't fat! The aim is to reduce the truck tyre round my middle to a more manageable one belonging to a small family saloon.

I still have my ‘target trousers’ of the finest black leather. Although judging by the feedback from you when I have mentioned them on the show, you’re running about 90% against me squeezing into them. Well put it this way if they are good enough for Marc Almond. Dale Winton and….well anyway, I will just have to see how I get on.

Another way of telling the world is back to normal is that there is live music on the horizon once more. Some gigs already pencilled in for the next few weeks include Elbow, Morrissey, Beth Hart. Ruthie Foster, Lisbee Stainton and Teddy Thompson. It’s a great job this, and one where you get to see some new and emerging artists, as well as the ‘greats’.

With that in mind, it was off to the legendary Ronnie Scott's club in London's Soho to see Anthoney Wright a singer with a great soul voice whose new album ‘Feet on the Ground’ is released in February.

It was a showcase which meant there were a few nibbles and the place was packed with ‘Meeja’ types. He was a bit shy, but in great voice and he had an excellent band. What was disturbing was the audience: I felt very unsophisticated and provincial in comparison. There was a tsunami of "Dahlings" and a typhoon of air kissing going on. I’ve never witnessed so many spectacularly shallow people under one roof since the 1980's. I thought these types had died out more than twenty years ago, although the pony tails and the brightly coloured spectacle frames seem to have been replaced by a motley collection of modish hats. Particularly among middle aged men. I presume that in the intervening two decades they have lost their pony tails due to male pattern baldness and have had their eyes lasered, so the specs have gone too.

"Great gig", I gurned as I clumped out in my smock leaving a trail of cow dung and straw behind me.

Thursday 8 January 2009


Well here we are back again with the first blog of 2009. Christmas was as enjoyable as it always was. The boot of my car even on this date till smells slightly of cheese. A pungent Camembert is like an embarrassing memory. You think that time will erase it but it still comes back to haunt you at the most unlikely moments.

Went up to the Midlands Xmas eve and spent the night as I often do in my still unsold house. Like so many people I have changed estate agents, dropped the price and still no joy. If one more helpful person suggests; "Have you thought of renting it?" I may have to thcweam and thcweam and thcweam!! The whole street is now awash with "For Sale" and "To Let" signs. Things are dead out there. I am sure you have noticed. If you haven't - a greeting : "Welcome to you, Alien being from another world. You wouldn't want to meet our leaders."

Christmas morning it was off to my sister and brother in law's house. My Dad was already there and we did the usual salty snacks, big proper lunch with all the trimmings and then some. The door fell off the oven at one point but luckily the turkey was ready by the time that happened.

Decided to go through the card which included a triple helping of sprouts and xmas pud, mince pie custard and cheese cake. There followed chocolates coffee and Wallace and Gromit. Plasticine really sticks in your teeth! (nyuk nyuk nyuk).

The cheese was so pungent that it had to be kept in the conservatory until it was allowed indoors. It was aged to perfection being only 3 days away from its consume by date. I suspect cold fusion was taking place as the middle had all but turned to liquid. After "The Curse of the Were Rabbit" it was time to head back south to London as I was due on the following morning.

Doing shows over the Christmas and New Year period always feels a little strange as the times often change. I was inhabiting the far more sensible 4-7.30 slot which felt very comfortable and there was a lot of fun feedback from you. A surprising amount when you consider that everyone was supposed to be on holiday.

Looking back on 2008 with mixed feelings.

Early in the year I left friends and colleagues behind after 13 years in Birmingham which was bittersweet as it was a shame to go but exciting to return to London and the hub of things after all that time.

Finding somewhere to live and realising just how cripplingly expensive London is. Got a nice flat to rent overlooking the park so I spent the summer walking to and fro from work.

Being back in the centre of things meant a lot of gigs to go to. Highlights included Willie Nelson, Al Green, Eleanor McEvoy and Southside Johnny. All totally different but wonderful in their own way. Also a variety of venues from the Royal Albert Hall to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith. Already booking for 2009 so it promises to be a musical year.

American Adventure 2 (the blog is still there, as is 1) came and went. 6,300 miles in all weathers. Spectacular scenery and equally spectacular U.S paranoia. Seeing the beginnings of the slump that has washed over us in the last few weeks. I may have brought it back in my suitcase like a disease or a poisonous insect. For that I apologise.

I think American Adventure 3 is going to have to wait for a while for a number of reasons. Not least it is a lot more expensive now that the exchange rate has plummeted. New Radio 2 Controller in the offing who may not want me to have a month off (unless they fire me of course then I will have plenty of time but no money at all so won't be going). Thirdly not sure it is diplomatic or tasteful to go off on a huge foreign jaunt when so many people are losing their jobs and battening down the hatches. Not going to win many friends if they turn on the radio and hear me boasting about an exotic holiday.

Here at Radio 2 it’s been a fun year in the main. New team of Simon Tester and Andy Warrell who are great blokes who know how to have a good time and what makes for a fun show. So working with them is a pleasure as we sit around being foolish in the early hours. You have been well up to your usual standard and as the audience figures show, wonderfully supportive. For that I thank you, and keep spreading the word, S.C.O.F. and "Seek the dark" being our new slogans for the truck writing season, S.C.O.F standing for "Swirling Cesspool of Filth", a description applied to me by a listener when I stood in for Ken Bruce who I had obviously upset for some reason . I took it as a badge of honour and thought that it should not go to waste.

Did a few stand in shows in 2008 as well as Ken. Depped for Claudia Winkleman on what was known as "The Weekender" before it had a change of name. This was terrific fun to do and outside my usual comfort zone, although it was great to be doing some interviews again and a pleasure to meet actor Bill Paterson. The aftermath of that was a very drunken night out which involved me dancing for the first time for ever. Well, this century anyway.

Also got to sit in for Terry Wogan when he lost his voice one day last week. Not done that for a while either.

The weirdest gig was filling in the vacant Saturday slot for three weeks on a temporary basis vacated by Russell Brand when he resigned. It came with a totally different brief so was not meant as a replacement like for like.

This point was missed by half a dozen die hard Brand fans who emailed to say they hated me. Some even before the show had started. Also a number of journalists. Notably Miranda Sawyer in the Observer who described me as; "edgy as a beach ball in a Pringle tank top". It was an album track show, love, not a comedian replacing another comedian! It was rather wounding at the time. However, you develop a reasonably thick skin after a while.

What was interesting and heart-warming was - apart from the dogs abuse from a few people who seemed to think I had personally removed Russell from the airwaves - most people got in touch to say thank heavens they had got their Saturday nights back. You win some you lose some. Finally a chance to do "Friday Night is Music Night" with the great George Fenton and the wonderful BBC Concert Orchestra. George has written so much from "Bergerac" to "Gandhi" taking in "Cry Freedom" and "Groundhog Day" in the process and was a thoroughly nice bloke into the bargain.

"Nerd nights" have also been a feature of 2008 with DJ's from different stations meeting up for drinking and eating in a variety of locations from London to Hull to Birmingham to Manchester to Leeds. Budget hotels are always a feature of these events. Delighted to see that the horrible place we stayed in in Manchester turned up in a newspaper expose of budget hotels and their lack of hygiene the other day.

On the whole 2008 was a terrific year which I have enjoyed immensely. I hope that 2009 despite all the economic problems turns out to be a good one too.

I shall keep on "swirling" and I hope you will keep on listening and spreading the word!