Tuesday 28 July 2009


Holi holi holi holiday taaaahm! Was looking forward to it immensely then just before it started things began to go a little pear-shaped….

The plan was for a romantic tryst in an isolated farmhouse in rural Normandy. However at the eleventh hour there was a slight change of plan: She received a better offer, and wisely took it!

So things changed. A week of romantic meals for one. Skipping hand in pocket through fields of rolling corn. lying on the grass outside at midnight looking at the stars as my ear was nibbled by ants. ( Noel Coward figure: "STOP THIS WALLOWING NOW. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER YOU PATHETIC WRETCH…..SLAAAP! Cowardly Richard Attenborough figure "Thank you sir. Sorry sir" )

So it was down to the supermarket for nice food and drink and cheap DVD's as I joined the single blokes shuffling through the ten items or fewer "file d'attente triste de perdant". (my online translation site gives this to be "sad loser queue").

Weather was variable so I watched TV in the evenings and walked between the raindrops during the day. The countryside is fab around this part of France and I realised that I was covering quite a lot of ground. 12 Miles the first day. 15 the second and 13 the third. Upshot of this though ,apart from the slightly smug feeling, was the slightly less pleasant sensation of spectacular blisters. The first walk wiped out the sandals. The second two did for a pair of plimsolls. What on earth prompted me to take this ludicrous course of action I do not know. Without the correct footwear we as humans are nothing.

Imagine great moments in history with inadequate equipment. Tenzing and Hillary don't make it to the summit of Everest because one of them forgot to pack his Crocs. Bannister fails to beat the four minute mile barrier as one of his flip flops comes off as the bell goes for the final lap. Or even "That's one small step for man…a giant leap for Man..olo Blahnik!"

Amid all the walking, eating and "Shrek 2", "Last Action Hero", a Clint Eastwood boxed set and "Windbag the Sailor" (I am up to DVD 4 of my Will Hay 9 disc retrospective, film fans), a little light relief when the Rudds blew into town. They were on their way to Zeebrugge to get the ferry back to Hull where they live, and are excellent company. Also slightly eccentric which is a definite plus. They decided to drop in to lift my mood. Matthew is a roving radio DJ and his wife Helen is in finance. That is what they tell me although I think they have a secret life:

We fired up the barbecue and the cows in the field opposite peered over the fence to find out what we were cooking….your mates to be frank, guys. "Time for a picture I think" I said grabbing the trusty camera phone. "We don't do pics. Our wedding photos were the only ones we have allowed to be taken." Hmmm, either they have a deal with HELLO or OK. Failing that they are spies. That is my take on it.

We sat up talking and drinking wine except Matthew who sat up talking and drinking beer. "I never drink wine" he proclaimed. Although as we struck sofa camp at about 3am he was last seen draining a third of a bottle of warm Rose!

Next morning I was up with the lark and into the village to collect some warm croissants before they headed off to the ferry port in Belgium. Probably stopping to take some secret photographs of military installations along the way.

Last day and feeling considerably cheered, minor crisis two occurred:

For some unaccountable reason I have to be able to see what the time is. It may be having been around clocks for this job for the last 30 years. So I wedged the buckle of my watch in the crack of a beam as I lay in the bath. Suddenly due to a shift in gravitational force it fell into the sink - a distance of about 4 feet. No damage or so I thought. Next morning I woke up and discovered I had slept for nearly 14 hours. Hang on, no I hadn't. Three of the "batons" on the watch face had snapped off and were snagging the second hand causing the movement to jam. I had to shake them free and reset. This kept happening all the way back to the UK until I could take it to be repaired and try and find my reserve timepiece.

Slight disappointment three happened at the beginning of week two. I was due to help my mate Steve Wilkes the micro light instructor with a charity function he was attending. This would have involved the two of us flying from Halfpenny Green aerodrome near Wolverhampton to Wales so that he could take sick children on joyrides. Much to everyone's chagrin the weather wasn't good enough so we weren't able to go. So disappointed children and no free flight for me!

Home to Hastings and more walking was called for. This time however I was going to go "prepared" I went into a camping shop to buy some special walking trousers and blister- proof socks. These seemed to be constructed of woollen outers and a cotton liner which moved independently. So trousers..check. Socks…check…ludicrously inappropriate footwear??? Not this time buddy. I dug into the back of the wardrobe and brought out my walking boots. Last worn when I was 17! The only item of clothing that still fits me..and I still possess for that matter.

What about the time? I need to know the time! I have discovered I walk at a steady three miles per hour. So needed to keep tabs on my progress. Find schoolboy refugee watch in drawer…check. 39 years old and last worn 22 years back before I bought the current timepiece which is at the watch garage waiting for the estimate. I was ready to rumble.

First day I decided to walk from Hastings along the coast to Eastbourne and catch the train back. By the time I reached Sovereign Harbour I was in agony. My feet although not blistered were aching and felt as if they were on fire. So I trudged into the shopping centre and bought some gel insoles to reduce the jarring of heavy person in big boot on road. Having sat on a rock in the car park (not exactly a noted beauty spot!) to eat a sandwich, I decided that I was too knackered to continue the remaining mile or two into Eastbourne so decided to turn back.

With a gentle breeze behind me and the sea to my right, off I set. Potential Scout troops and Military organisations never ever let me anywhere near the front of one of your "yomps". What made me embark on this course of action was bafflingly short on logic.

Can't imagine Ranulph Fiennes clomping all the way to within a mile of the North pole where a helicopter awaited to take him home and then deciding to turn round and walk all the way back because it seemed "more sensible". Pevensey Bay, Normans Bay, Cooden Beach, Bexhill, Bulverhythe, on and on I trekked. Steam issuing through the lace holes of my trusty brahn boots.

By the time I winced into St Leonards on Sea nearly four hours later I was not only footsore but my thighs were red raw. A 22 mile round trip in total. Following on from this, I decided a couple of gentle days were called for so 2 pootling ten milers:

The first through Alexandra Park and the back streets of Hastings and St Leonards which was great as it was less arduous and gave me a chance to reconnect with "my town". Looking up above the shop fronts to see the architecture and reading information signs telling me about the area’s history.

Then it was a stroll through the country park heading east, sweating like a bull in the heat as I toiled up hill and down glen puffing and panting as fellow hikers looked oddly at this purple faced man with the odd squeaking noise (it was the chafing….a word that describes a whole world of pain) who also smelled strange.

I had noticed this myself and was unable to put my finger on it. I was "musty".

It was only when I got into bed that night that I realised what was causing it: 36 year old leather boots and a 39 year old leather watchstrap. So if we extrapolate this further, if I live to be 100 I can only assume that I too will smell as musty. A man with old leathery skin looking a little like a wrinkled suitcase that has spent more than half its life in a wardrobe.

I am glad to be back. It is far less strenuous!

Thursday 9 July 2009

RAIN AFTER THE SUNSHINE...don't you mean 'sunshine after the rain?'

Got back from seeing my Dad in the Midlands on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon so decided to walk from London's Marylebone Station to Shepherds Bush to see Jimmy Buffet. Only found out about the gig by accident and have always wanted to see him. He rarely tours the UK and so far as I could see this was his only date. Getting a bit footsore by the time the theatre hove into view and revealed an amazing sight: A huge queue of people dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Clutching inflatable parrots, sharks and beach balls. Women wore hula skirts and there were a lot of straw hats in evidence as well.
Met up with Al Booth who is Bob Harris' producer and in we went. No support act and on came Jimmy. Bare foot T shirt and Bermuda shorts. I think he had run out of shoes as he did throw flip flops into the audience from time to time. Over the years I have seen musicians throw drum sticks, plectra, roses in the case of Al Green. Rod Stewart kicks footballs into the audience. I have seen countless Panto Dames throwing sweets into the audience. However footwear was a first.
The place was rammed and it was wild from beginning to end. It was a wonderfully mixed crowd all ages and walks of life. Sitting next to us were two Rastafarians who like nearly everyone in there knew all the words. Jimmy spent the whole time smiling he must have been well pleased with his reception. I have been to concerts where the act has received a rapturous reception however I have never seen this level of fan worship. It wasn't a gig it was a big party. It was really uplifting. When I told Tim Smith about it he was apoplectic that he had missed it. He is a huge admirer of the man. So much so I think he counts himself as a "Parrot head" as he fans describe themselves. More on Tim later.

Tuesday another day and another concert. Normally I try not to go to see things on consecutive nights However sometimes there is no choice if you want to see artists who rarely appear on these shores.
Ry Cooder was a case in point. I saw him back in the mid 70's when I was a student he was appearing at Birmingham Town Hall. Guitarist friend of mine was an uber fan and arranged front row tickets. The man was a revelation playing virtuoso and understated guitar. I remember when he finished a gentle solo during "Dark end of the street". There was only a smattering of polite applause. The loudest noise came from the front row where I was sat. It was a collective sigh. I then recognised craning to see his fingers every guitarist from all the local bands in the area.
This time Ry was appearing with Nick Lowe and they did a selection of old and new stuff of their own and from when they had collaborated in the past. Not sure how many of the audience were from local bands but glancing up to one of the boxes at the Lyceum in The Strand I espied Eric Clapton. I mentioned on the show that the gig was only about two thirds full which was a shame and someone quite rightly pointed out that the tickets were very expensive which was true. However I think their rarity value must have inflated the price to between £50 and £85. Reminding me of a point remark I made on the show about the ticket prices for Dolly Parton a few months back which as I recall were more than £100. Someone on that occasion pointed out that if you were a true fan it made little difference as you HAD to see the artist. This was the case with Ry and if he is only going to tour the UK every 30 years or so there is precious little chance of him coming back! So money well spent. Every song was a highlight through to the encores of "What's so fun about peace love and understanding" and "Little Sister".

As I have mentioned on the show and on the blog before. No American Adventure this year due to the state of the economy and the exchange rate. So no month off for me this time However I am taking a couple of weeks out from Monday and will be spending it here although I may pop over to France at some point to see friends although not decided for definite yet. Simon my producer has been wheezing and coughing all week poor chap but still soldiered on even though he was feeling and looking (sorry mate but you did look slightly peaky) awful. Also the fabulous weather we have been having has suddenly become somewhat changeable. So if the Gods don't smile upon me I could spend two weeks in bed with swine flu listening to the rain beat down on the roof. Wow I am such a catch!

I am back on the 27th so look forward to talking with you then. In the meantime Tim Smith will be keeping you entertained. He will also be popping up on the Steve Wright Show. He is going to need a holiday by the time I get back.

Friday 3 July 2009


One of my best friends from school Simon, who I have mentioned on this blog before, phoned me to say that his daughter was coming over from the U.S where she now lives with her boyfriend and wondered if they could see what middle aged reprobates get up to in the world’s most exciting capital city. As luck would have it I had intended to go see a band who I have featured on the show before, and although I am still unsure about their name due to my faulty memory and it being too difficult to remember, this act are beginning to make tentative forays to these shores and were due to play a gig at the legendary 100 Club in Oxford street on the Friday.

Normally we go see a band then head off to a pub in Camden where DJ's play interesting retro tunes on their wheels of steel and the place stays open until 1.30am. Then it’s burger time and a walk back to the flat feeling that even though we are middle aged we can still cut it with the young ‘uns.

Simon, Kate and her beau turned up at my flat mid afternoon and we headed off along the canal towpath pointing out sights such as Little Venice and the blue plaque for Guy Gibson of Dambusters fame (they vaguely remembered the film). Also Arthur Lowe. (They remembered "Dads Army"). We stopped off for a pizza then caught the tube down to the Thames embankment and walked across the bridge to the Festival Hall as Travis (for this is his name) wanted to see Big Ben, as this was his first time in the UK.

He knew it was named after the bell and not the tower. He is no stereotypical American tourist and has done his research as well as having a bone-crushing handshake. I remember Kate's mother saying to me years ago that children keep you young. I still feel the opposite as more and more things turn out to be off the radar as they were either eggs at that point in time or just too young to remember. Also I couldn't help feeling that they were: "nice intelligent fun er YOUNG PEOPLE. And a credit to their parents”. Just typing those words and I have grown a long white beard and my hair has turned grey.

Then we walked up through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, stopping in at a pub where the er "youngsters" opted for a half of Guinness each. Again Travis had done his homework and knew all about it and that it wasn't pronounced "GuyNess" as many of his compatriots did when I had travelled across his country with American Adventure One and Two. Many was the time in a bar in the Midwest when people found out I was from the UK: "Ah you mean England…that is where you have that beer….GuyNess".

Then it was off to the club for Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Simon had had a peek at them on YouTube beforehand and the, er, children hadn't heard of them. They were a lot of fun and described their work as Hillbilly or Hippie Pink Floyd. They are going to be doing festivals this summer and hopefully coming over more regularly in the future. They have been booked for Celtic Connections 2010 as well as other gigs over the next two years. Go see them if you get the chance as they are a lot of fun with some unusual instrumentation.
Simon had been dubious but was won over by the performance and the um, kiddiewinks enjoyed them even though they were not sure about their image. They were engagingly scruffy, they thought.

Then it was the tube up to Camden and as the three of them were staying in Balham we asked when the last train went and were told quarter past midnight. That meant either a very swift pint as by now it was quarter to twelve, or a cab back. Into the pub we went and I asked what everyone was having. The youngsters said "Nothing, thank you". So I said to Simon: "Looks like you are on the 12.15 then". Then they were gone. I sat there nursing my pint and thinking: "Wee uns…no stamina".

Next day it was off to Hastings to meet up with my mate Clive who I have known since we were at college together and discovered a mutual interest in sitting in pubs talking rubbish to each other and we have continued pretty much in the same vein ever since. He was off to see a friend of his, Jacqui, perform in the pub. She has a big voice that filled the boozer. All the crowd pleasers and - rare for many pub turns - she had an act. She had banter and could really sell the songs. Here she is midway through "Big Spender". As Clive remarked when he saw the pic: "God, I look a lech".