Thursday 27 August 2009


Bit of a quiet week last week. So emboldened by the walking and the resultant weight loss, have decided to keep at it. Despite me pontificating about humans being waterproof and not worrying about a bit of rain, it is probably a good idea to get as many miles in before the autumn is upon us.

Another bright hot sunny day so it was a walk along the towpath of the Regents Canal to Little Venice with its floating cafe packed with tourists and parents and the constant wailing of infants. One of the many reasons I have never been particularly broody.

Parents have my admiration for being able to put up with the noise their children make. Whenever I have been in relationships where there have been "step" children I am not sure I acquitted myself very well.

After a seemingly very short time I wanted to go and hide in the shed to get away from the barrage of sound. If kids came with an on/off switch that may be better. Although the temptation to leave them in the "stand by" position until their early twenties may count against me if I ever audition for the post of radio "Uncle".

Next this afternoon on the BBC Light Programme, Uncle Al says. "Shut up children everywhere!"

"It's different if they are your own.", friends tell me. I am not sure that I could take the chance. It would seem a pretty awful option for a child to have me as a Dad glaring at them and shushing them all the time.

I also consider myself "eco friendly" by not cluttering up the Earth with offspring. As I have said to Ken Bruce - who has five, or is it six : "You have had my share".

I was walking, wasn't I, when I was distracted into that diatribe by howling infants......!

See - they make it very difficult to concentrate and keep your mind on track. I headed up towards Wembley along the canal towpath with the railway and the dual carriageway for company as well as cyclists whooshing by, some ringing their bells to warn me and others just assuming that I had eyes in the back of my head.

Being a terrible dreamer and living inside myself a lot of the time I don't notice a lot of things although sometimes odd things work their way into my consciousness such as the block of flats that seemed to be held together entirely by satellite dishes. Can you remember a time when we didn't have these "luxuries"? Fewer channels to watch but less electronic clutter.

A few people were out fishing and in the sunshine and seemed unconcerned if they didn't catch anything. That must be the answer if you are an Angler. It is all about the peace and tranquility. It would I suppose defeat the object of the exercise if your blood pressure rose in frustration because you hadn't a keepnet brimming with well and truly tickled trout at the end of the day. I have mentioned this on the show before that if the fishing is going according to plan and you pass an angler, they will always wish you "good morning" no matter that it may be four in the afternoon. They are so relaxed that they have lost track of time.

There are exceptions to this. Notably being if you are involved in sea fishing. It must be difficult to maintain a feeling of tranquility and equilibrium when you are pitching and tossing in thirty foot waves in the middle of the night and in danger of being washed overboard. That or perhaps you are a whaler so you are also pitching and tossing in thirty foot waves in the middle of the night and in danger of being washed overboard with the added nagging thought at the back of your mind: "You know this is SO wrong!"

I was sure it wouldn't take long and yes, the first "Michael Jackson is alive and in hiding" blurry video has been posted on YouTube.

It is nice to know that old habits never die. Although I am never sure how the conspiracy theorists make their choices.

Not heard any "Bing Crosby is alive" nor "Ted Moult spotted in Safeway" rumours lately.

However whilst not wishing to fan the flames of speculation I can tell you that Elvis is definitely alive and well as I saw him on the sundeck of a block of flats not seven days ago. Shortly after this shock sighting I found fifteen pence on the ground as well as a discarded lighter which still worked. So how many of you can boast that you spent a very pleasant four hours walking looking at boats, graffiti and roaring traffic and made a profit into the bargain!

Friends are one of life's great joys and I am very blessed in having a number of lovely close friends although whether they would describe me as "lovely" is another matter. Friends also know what your likes and dislikes are. So having mentioned that, Janine and Dusan came to see me the other day with an "unbirthday" present. They had seen this and thought of me.

"It is an Aloe Vera plant. We know how dreadful at gardening you are but thought your house could do with an unmurderable bit of green. We also know what a rotten cook you are too so when you burn yourself yet again (I once boasted a set of Sergeant's stripes on my forearm that took several years to fade, after an abortive attempt to wrest a reluctant chicken and mushroom pie from the oven) you can just clip a bit off and rub it on the wound."

I am blessed.

Wednesday 19 August 2009


The walking regime continues. I am not one for map reading and compass bearings and finding routes across fields. In short I’m not made of the right stuff to be a ‘rambler’. The thought of marching across country with a ski pole, talking to Janet Street Porter fills me with abject terror. I once saw her in the old town in Hastings with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and her then squeeze Normski. I tiptoed past. She made me nervous as she’s one of these people who always look ‘certain’.

I enjoy walking, looking in shop windows and looking at the boats when I am tow or river path walking. That will do me fine and that way it doesn't seem too serious to me. I am not intellectually rigorous enough to do ‘serious’. My sister and brother-in -law and my dad however are ‘WALKERS!’. For them it’s fields…it’s hills…it’s a long way. No prospect of them getting fed up halfway round and getting the bus home.

Decided to take the tube all the way up to Stanmore -where the Jubilee Line ends, and walk back to the rented flat. It was an overcast day but no matter. After I’d been walking for approximately half and hour I spotted a sign for the RAF Museum at Hendon. So followed the signs for a mile or so and I arrived to see a fibreglass Spitfire and Hurricane and a couple of boats. Is that all there is I thought? There were two large hangers and the all important sign: ‘Admission free’. I needed no more prompting. Entering the first building there were planes everywhere from different parts of the world and different theatres of war.

Quite a lot of interactive stuff too. So elbowing the kids aside, it is holiday time after all, and there was a diverse crowd in. I decided to have a go at being an air traffic controller. How hard could it be? Answer: Extremely. I had three goes trying to safely land a 747 and a Lear Jet. They were low on fuel. Who to get in first? I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say I have the utmost respect for ATC be they at a tiny provincial aerodrome or Heathrow. The pressure must be indescribable. I have heard, and don't know if this is true, that they need to take 20 minutes out of every hour to have a rest in case their brains get scrambled.

Meanwhile back at the virtual airport with me in charge. By now I would expect the flames to have died down, the next of kin to have been informed and work to have started clearing the wreckage of three planes. Hundreds died and for that I can only say I am sorry; I wasn't up to the task.!

As you will know from previous blogs and listening to the show, I love reggae and a bit of a coup last week when ASWAD, (described by the MC as "The Mighty ASWAD", and I am certainly not going to disagree), hit town. They were doing a special showcase of tracks from their new album ‘City Lock’. They did explain that as it was lunchtime, they were outside of their comfort zone as they were night-owls as most musicians have to be. They may have made more than 20 albums over the years but they still have an infectious enthusiasm. They put out a single a couple of months ago which was a cover of a Howard Jones hit ‘What Is Love?’ Frankly it was disappointing, so it never made it onto the show as part of ‘Lester's Library.’

The new single ‘Calling’ is a whole lot better and a real return to form. However so fazed were they by the fact it was a lunchtime gig, they couldn't remember which of the two songs they were about to perform was in fact the single, so they introduced the wrong one.

They had thoughtfully laid on Caribbean food which looked fab, but due to "Blubber watch" I passed on it.

I know Blubberwatch has become a bit of a joke and a broken record, but I’m honestly sure that I’ve now cracked it by looking at my diet a whole lot more carefully and walking around 20 miles per week. I am extremely fortunate in that my working hours (yeah right that's work!), means that by the time I’ve had a sleep there are a couple of days a week when I don't go into the office later so I can spend them out in the fresh air.

Over the past month I have shed a stone and am now the lightest I’ve been for two years…. although I do need to lose another stone at least, before I reach roughly my target weight.

Having said that there are two concerns: 1) I don't want to end up looking like Nigel Lawson. You may remember he lost a colossal amount of weight and forever after he’s looked like a balloon you find behind the settee two weeks after the party.

2) According to many websites and manuals with a frame my size and a body my height, I should in fact weigh slightly less than air.

There are many unrealistic graphs out there making us feel inadequate. When I visited my doctor a couple of months ago for a routine health check he commented that I was: "Overweight but not obese" and " an average drinker" Woo hoo singles all round!

Walking from the Radio 2 studios to Charing Cross station the other morning to get the train home to Hastings, I noticed this dragon nailed to a wall near the entrance to Chinatown. It’s a great part of the city with some fabulous places to eat and also some of them are still open in the wee small hours of the morning.

Later that day as I walked back from the station, I could hear the sound of cymbals and drums. Looking up the street I saw a crowd enthralled by a dragon doing the Chinese version of ‘The Hucklebuck’ .However I wondered if various cultures get heartily sick of some of their national symbols. Particularly the noisy ones.

Part of the British reserve is the desire for quiet. Not for us the firing of guns into the air in celebration: no dragons, no drums. So if you are British and have a headache you know that there is little that can disturb your peace on a day of celebration.......hang on I forgot the Morris Men!

Thursday 13 August 2009


Being rather narrow and bound by routine, once I decide on a course of action it can be very difficult to dissuade me from a chosen path. That pun aside (I loathe puns) I had enjoyed the walking on holiday so much despite the blisters and the obvious health benefits that it seemed like a good idea to carry on.

There is much to be said for working during the night as it means the days are your own.

Caught the tube down to Canary Wharf and decided to have a saunter through London's Docklands and to see how far I got. The added bonus was that the day was reasonably fine. Not too hot and any showers were small and sporadic.

Rain is not a big problem. Never sure why we Brits worry about it so much. To listen to some of my colleagues you would think a small shower was the beginning of the flood and the whole nation was going to be found somewhere in the mid Atlantic clinging to a log. Also we forget one of the very basic principles of evolution. (If you are Creationist substitute "God’s will" here). We humans are basically waterproof. Once we get wet we soon dry out again. So off I trudged and walked all the way to Poplar and round the Isle of Dogs back opposite the Millennium Dome and continued mile after mile through miles of new build with even newer graffiti and friendly welcoming signage, eventually finding my way to Westminster. By the time I heaved myself onto the Underground I reckon that with my usual stroll back through the park I had completed about 14 miles.

The following day dawned hot and I felt like I needed to get to grip with the upper reaches of the tidal Thames so this time I caught the tube to Hammersmith, scene of many a concert at the Apollo (formerly the Odeon) as well as the fabulous Irish Cultural Centre.

Found the Thames path and off I went crossing the river at Barnes Bridge. All the place names were evocative of the Boat Race and had me thinking back to my childhood when we had to support Cambridge as my Dad had been a student there although probably as a spotty Herbert teen I had supported Oxford in a futile attempt to get a rise out of my parents. Without success. "The Surrey Water...Mortlake". It was a really hot day and passing me in the opposite direction strolled Rula Lenska. I toyed with the idea of giving her my autograph but she was with a bloke and I would imagine she could hold her own so I scurried past. Reached the point where the Grand Union Canal joins the river by means of a lock not far from Kew, and turned back.

As I crossed the bridge back onto the north bank I noticed a settlement on some waste land. A shanty town was in the making on land earmarked for development. The recession seemed to be working its evil magic in that people had been onto the streets but at the same time building work hadn't commenced due to the economic circumstances. The inhabitants appeared to be a tribe of dewy eyed idealists as a rainbow banner read: "Be the change you wish to see. The land is yours". There was also a smaller banner which read: "Topsoil needed". Which I concluded meant: "We are trying to expand our empire" or failing that: "The land we got ain't very good and we want yours which is better".

By the time I had hauled myself into a pub back in Hammersmith steaming gently in the heat another 12 or so miles had passed beneath my weary feet.

Thursday was a take it easy type of day. I am still trying to find a new watch, however there are so many that the more I see the less certain I am. With me a timepiece is for life not just for Christmas. My last one lasted 22 years. I am currently using my schoolboy one which is 39 years old and gains two minutes a day. This is no real problem I suppose unless you have had a watch that is always accurate pretty much to the second. Then (back to the top "folks") it can upset the routine. Well, certainly the carefully crafted fur lined rut I have dug for myself over the years. (Animal rights activists please note this is "fun" fur and no animals were harmed during the typing of this sentence.) So a gentle stroll through Regents Park and taking the long way round I found there was a lot more to it than I realised. Normally hurrying through it using the same paths every day, it is larger than I realised with some wonderfully laid out flowerbeds and even more ponds, water loving birds and hence more guano than is possible to walk round. At one point in one of their wilder sections I happened upon what at first glance was another settlement. Although on closer examination it turned out to be an art project. Whoever it was had had the bright idea of building some ace tree houses. As exhibition spaces. They were under construction so not sure what sort of art is going to be installed when they are complete, nor for how long.

Reminded me of my one night in a partially finished tree house as a Wolf Cub. It was about ten feet up in a yew tree. By partially finished I mean no sides, no roof and not a lot of deck either. You don't get a lot of sleep thinking if you turn over you are going to plummet to the ground. Still had that happened to any of the members of our "six" we would all have been fast tracked to our first aid badge.

Talking of art, as you know if you are regular to this blog and the show, I am a sucker of cartoons be they printed or animation. So I am a regular visitor to the Cartoon Gallery in London's Little Russell Street. Next time you are in London go visit. I was there just before Xmas for the Giles retrospective. This time it was for an exhibition of the work of the wonderful Rowland Emett. He was the genius who invented the machines for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang including the car. The centre piece of the display was his "Moonlander" which was made from old bicycles and included such inspired touches as a motorised dustpan and brush to collect samples. It seemed familiar and then I realised that back in 1981 when I worked in Leeds it had been on display in the Merrion Centre there. I found myself having a lengthy discussion with one of the volunteers of the merits of Emett v W. Heath Robinson. Pretentious moi? By the time I made it new watchless back to the flat I reckon the feet had clocked up another 8 or ten miles.

Friday and the day dawned. Dread in my heart, I boarded the train for Hull. I first visited when I worked as a boy broadcaster for the BBC back in 1979. Back then the city was grimy, run down and smelled of fish. It also had the best burger bar I think I have ever visited which revelled in the name "Mmmmm Yankeeburger!" They were my staple diet. Hull like Birmingham and so many other cities has been redeveloped. The docks are now filled in or swanky marinas and the warehouses are upmarket young people’s apartments. All this in many ways is an improvement. However in others I think it tears the character out of a place.

Why though was there dread in my heart? Why, it was Nerd Night again. The time when DJ's from around the country get together and talk broadcasting, eat and drink too much and actually have a rather fine time. I had "curated" the last one in London. This time it was Thorngumbald resident DJ Matthew Rudd who had sorted this one. He and his long suffering wife Helen kindly invited myself, Martin Emery from Tower FM and his girlfriend Debs to stay at their house rather than needing to book into the likes of the "Tokyo Love Hotel" as in previous visits.

Debra likes to come along to these events to remind herself what Dorks blokes can be. It is like a psychiatrist observing a group session through a two way mirror. We all met in a pub next door to the restaurant and within seconds someone’s mobile rang. It was the "Good Morning Britain" theme tune. I had visions of the boozer being filled with the sounds of mobiles playing "Nationwide", "Noggin the Nog" "Radio Tees 257 News" and the opening theme from Severn Sound’s jingle package that Kath Baxter composed and produced back in 1984.

We or rather Hull ran out of steam about 1am after several gallons of beer and a slap up feed. I have noticed that "Blubberwatch" - which is back on again with a vengeance after losing a stone in a month - has slowed again. Lost a pound this week. Not sure why things have been grinding to a halt in the weight loss department. Although I was sent this picture taken about 1.15am which may have some bearing on the above.

Wednesday 5 August 2009


Seems ages since I hit the town for any live music. As you know if you have read any of these blogs I have a passion for it. Although often times the artist you really want to see doesn't do your favourite song or in the case of a friend of mine who went to see Bob Dylan and Chris Rea they fiddled with the arrangements so that the songs didn't sound like they had hoped.
It is the artist’s prerogative I suppose- but to rejig the audience’s favourites does seem a little rash, if those are the tunes they we know and love. Still I have no idea how I would feel if I had to perform "Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bed post overnight" every evening for 40 years!

Monday evening and it was out to see Lucinda Williams. Or as my mate "Pino" says: (She is half Filipino) "Another of your ropey old country and western Muppets". She doesn't understand as she is into dance music.

Lucinda comes from the end of the spectrum which I gather is called "Alt-Country". Not sure what this means. As you know I don't have a lot of time for music journalists however I think what the NME/Smash Hits crowd mean is that it is country music that they deem cool enough for them to be allowed to be seen listening to. The rest being just rubbish for the masses (that means us I think.)

From the moment she hit the stage there was trouble. Her body language screamed "I don't want to be here". A couple of numbers in she launched a tirade against the audience and our flash photography. "I am not an F"£$$%%^*ng fashion plate!" Then she told us she was on edge and this was not helping. Couple of false starts and then another tirade against the winking LED's as by now everyone had stopped using their camera phone flash. Incidentally I took my picture without the flash in case she reads this and suddenly turns up at my door and yells abuse through the letterbox. To be frank as much as I admire her as an artist and have a number of her albums, I was so tense waiting for the next outburst that I left after an hour.

Friend of mine "The Scottish whirlwind" phoned. So called because she is always rushing around doing stuff and she had managed to grab a couple of tickets for Booker T of MG's fame and did I want to go. I dare not refuse because she is a nanny and so like her charges you have to do as you are bidden. Plus I wanted to see the man responsible for Green Onions and Time is Tight. So it was off to the Bush Hall which is a tiny standing up type venue where I saw Dan Reed and Tony Joe White recently. Support act was Florence Rawlinson, a Mike Batt protege. (He was in the foyer sporting a very unusual hair colour). As I described her on the show when I played her single she reminds me of Joanna Lumley meets Joss Stone. She is 20 and looks great with a good voice and band. Whether that translates into sales time will tell. A middle aged bloke tottered up to me and asked "what was the name of the singer who killed herself?......I am trying to tell my companion that she was the only white singer who was any good". A little sweeping I thought but still. "Janis Joplin" "That's the one". When Booker T hit the stage he returned and said "Who's this again?." "Jimmy Smith" I chortled.

A lot of swirling Hammond has passed under the bridge since the "hits" and whilst he and the band were very enjoyable, trouble was it was sweltering in there. We were beginning to feel a bit faint and I was sweating more than Sydney Greenstreet in the "Maltese Falcon". After about half an hour of instrumentals that we didn't recognise even though he and the band got a nice groove going, a few numbers after "Green Onions", the "Whirlwind" declared that she needed some "Vocals" and so we went round the corner to the pub.

Friday and after a few weeks doing what he does Libido Boy put in an appearance. We walked from my flat to the Thames embankment and then all the way to the Tower of London where we got the river bus down to the Millennium Dome.

The river looked wonderful and there were a number of old barges plying up and down. Plus we got to see the bridge open.

Martina McBride, despite being a massive star in the states, was over and playing the smaller venue within a venue the "O2 Indigo". We had been promised a chance to say a quick hello to her before the gig. With typical American efficiency and paranoia, there were any number of burly security staff and special stickers with "Meet and Greet" and our names on.

Along with other fan club members we were ushered backstage where we made slightly awkward small talk for a few seconds and had our photographs taken with a rather bewildered looking Martina before being ushered out again. What was good to see was the audience was made up of all ages which is a positive sign. Country is no longer for the elderly.

She seemed very nice and although the meeting was brief I did manage to tell her about you and the show and how I had done the U.S. trips and brought back a load of her stuff and other similarly mainstream country and had played it on the programme to a largely positive reaction and how that the UK is beginning to embrace the genre again hence her visit 14 years on from the first one and how her latest album was the Radio 2 album of the week and that country had suffered with a cheesy image in Britain because of those old standards like "Rose Garden". All this information tumbled out. She looked even more bewildered at this point. I had also decided to make her feel at home by going dressed as an American tourist as you can tell from the photo.

She was excellent doing not only her own stuff but also terrific covers of "Over the Rainbow" and "Hit me with your Best Stuff" which demonstrated what a great voice she has but also she slipped in a couple of "standards": "Help me make it through the night." and er..."Rose Garden"!