Sunday, 19 December 2010
BIG EYED BEANS FROM VENUS
Weekend before last, DL and I set off to find a wedding venue. We wanted somewhere quiet, rustic and low key so have been scouting around various towns and villages which have a selection of pubs which may or may not be able to do weddings and civil ceremonies.
We also wanted somewhere that would not break the bank.
With that in mind we crossed Westminster Abbey and Skibo Castle off our list.
We have found somewhere that fits the bill and are now going to book it. Can't tell you where or the date as we are still in negotiations with the Beano, Razzle and Rust and Corrosion Gazette as to who gets the rights to our bash.
It has also been an opportunity to do a little shopping. With a slightly bigger extended family than last year this means more gifts. There is the DL's Mum for instance. Need to create a good impression there so joke shop fart powder or a whoopee cushion is a non-starter.
There are two children who deserve something, although I could threaten to turn into "Victorian Stepfather" and give them a lump of coal or maybe a nut and an orange.
Whilst we were looking through an antique kitchenware shop in Rye (many of the items I possessed myself, handed down from parents and grandparents) we heard a rumbling of drums and the explosions of fireworks outside. This, frankly, is better than the rumbling for drums and explosions of fireworks inside.
There appeared to be some kind of parade going on in the gathering darkness. Earlier we had seen various people in Victorian dress wandering about and the odd bod of carol singers. Lots of stalls selling chesnuts and mulled wine. I was driving so no nuts for me!
We watched as local schoolchildren and adults marched past banging drums and leading a couple of rather small bewildered looking reindeer. Then came Santa on his sleigh. He is no mug, this Santa guy, and has learned stuff from helicopter technology for - as well as skids on his vehicle - he had wheels.
They rumbled and drummed by and we went back home to meet some friends in the pub.
All week I have been telling you that I am about to do the blog and the Christmas cards. However, other things have got in the way such as people turning up unexpectedly for coffee or a rip snorting rock and roll visit to my accountant. However, this is now Saturday when I am typing this and the cards are still not written.
DL and I went off to Abbey Rd studio's scene of such musical triumphs as the Beatles, Elgar, Star Wars, Charlie Drake and my winning contribution to last year’s Children in Need single.
This time it was a live broadcast of a concert by KT Tunstall.
I quite like her without being an enormous fan, but one of the many privileges of this job is getting to go see artists at special events like this.
DL was more of a fan but she was as astounded - as was I - by the sheer musicianship.
KT has been doing a lot of touring and as a result her band were a very tight unit, which was just as well as there were quite a number of songs that relied on percussion and vocal loops and delays, so it as fascinating to witness her and them building the song from nothing. It was also a testament to the BBC engineers and the sound guys that it all went like clockwork and not a beat was missed.
Hour later I was back in bed for a short night before Friday’s Shoe.
Friday lunchtime and no Christmas cards being written as I had been invited to the Music Publishers association lunch. This involved about 800 people wedging themselves into the Hilton in London's Park Lane to blow up balloons and heckle the speakers, and also to chow down on turkey with all the trimmings. This is a lot of fun. Speaker this year was comic, Marcus Brigstock, who unfortunately started with the same gag that Hugh Dennis did last year:
"Anyone from Norfolk here???"
He espied Culture Secretary, Ed Vaizey, in the audience and so gave him a lot of stick. This went down pretty well with everyone (except Ed Vaizey, I would imagine). Still, it is a British national pastime. No matter what your political affiliation it is nice to put the boot into MPs at every possible opportunity. Likewise if you are a politician you should expect this and take it in good part. Lets face it, with the odd horrible exception we Brits would rather throw the occasional egg or shout insults at our elected representatives rather than shoot them or blow them up.
The lunch finished with a rousing reworking of “The 12 Days of Christmas”. We were all given things to blow and shake along. Reminded me of band lessons at kindergarten.
By that time the weather was beginning to close in so it was a rush to the train to Hastings before the trains to Hastings were halted due to "wrong type of snow".
It still took half an hour longer to arrive and by the time I did the news was just startling to circulate that Captain Beefheart had died.
I was instantly transported back to the time I saw him at Birmingham Town Hall as a 16 year-old. Supported by Foghat, as I recall. His music was/is strange yet compelling and has featured on the show from time to time over the years. It was with a certain sadness that I opened the big box of concert tickets that all music fans (nerds) keep to remind them of memorable gigs they have seen.
Hang on.....I saw him twice!
Thursday, 9 December 2010
DECK THE HALLS
As far as the logistics are concerned, we are thinking of setting a date at the tail end of next year, probably early December. We are going for low key.
This is a mutual decision and not one suggested by myself in an attempt to save money.
Since we met, the DL has weaned me off buying the cheapest packets and tinned goods at the supermarket without going crazy and feasting on Panda Caviar with endangered double-organic chocolate pudding to follow.
She has a point. A cup of tea now seems to taste better in our house and "ACME Tuna flakes" are probably better suited as cat food. In fact some years ago when I lived on the Blue Pig - my canal boat on the cut in Birmingham - I used to buy 24 cans of the aforementioned tuna flakes at a time and on one occasion a woman sailed past with an identical selection and stated "I've got my cat food" whilst I thought "I've got MY food".
Low key means that the His and Hers thrones a la Beckhams are out. As is the hiring of a Scottish castle like Madonna. However, a mild and only partially serious suggestion of a quick trip to Las Vegas and a quickie Elvis jobbie met with a flat refusal.
So there will be something in between although for the moment we are not fixating on it.
OK and Hello magazine have been very quiet as well, so we think it is unlikely that we will be able to offset the cost with a massive advance from a glossy magazine.
My mate Matthew Rudd of Nerd Night fame suggested we did a Johnny Vegas and sell the pics to VIZ for the princely sum of a pound or maybe some other magazine that doesn't usually print wedding pics.
Right back into the show and life after getting back from New York and we hit the snow.
Had intended to head off to Hastings leave the car there and travel back by train. Luckily last winter’s memory has not faded of a similar attempt. Slipping and sliding down the A21 past abandoned cars and then upon reaching the railway station seeing the word "Delayed" on the indicator boards. What the train people actually meant was "Cancelled". In fact at the end of the day no trains had run at all. This is where memory fails, but I think we were herded onto coaches and taken to Tonbridge Wells where we were left for hours in the freezing cold as no trains arrived until we were herded onto another coach to take us up to Tunbridge where we eventually managed to find a chuff-chuff that actually was able to move.
If we are starting to have these winters again on a regular basis after decades of mild ones hopefully public transport will take this into account and make plans accordingly.
Relatives of mine who relocated to the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside are now thinking of moving again as they have been snowed in for days for the last two years. Last week there was five feet of snow drifting up against their garage door. So heaven knows how you must be suffering further north than them.
As we are heading at a dizzying pace towards Christmas I have been out buying and wrapping gifts for the DL, her children and my family.
I actually enjoy the process of deciding and sourcing gifts for people. I have read that it is about giving the person something they would like rather than giving them something you think they ought to have or just.... something.
We know that petrol station gifts don't cut it. Clothes are tricky unless it is something that the person really likes and admires. It is a minefield in case it is perceived as an attempt to "smarten someone up". A tweet came in last week suggesting that as I was getting married that perhaps I should cut my hair short and shave off my beard.
I don't understand the logic as if I did that I wouldn't be the person the DL knows. It was she who suggested I kept the beard which I grew on American Adventure 3 last summer and anything that gets out of the daily chore of shaving at 01.00am is good with me.
You may as well say to someone: "You know George, I think I would prefer it if you changed your name to Darryl. I think it suits you better"!
Am now ahead of the game, although I can feel a little smugness and inertia beginning to kick in. I have bought gifts for my family and the DL and her daughter, Ella. Although not got anything for her son Jamie yet.
(Jamie don't worry you are not going to be "the little boy that Santa Claus forgot”. However, you can forget the Bugatti Veyron for two excellent reasons: 1) I am nowhere near rich enough for a car like that. 2) You are not old enough to drive for another 6 years so it would just gather dust out in the street).
All is needed now is that last couple of presents. All the others have been wrapped.
Then it is the annual cheese run as every year; since my Mother died, my Sister and Brother-in-law have taken over Christmas Day duties which they are brilliant at.
My sister does the food. My Brother-in-Law, John, does the washing up (although they now have a dishwasher so his duties may be lighter this year). My Dad brings the wine, and I over-cater in the cheese and biscuits department.
I am having a two-centre holiday this year as I will be with the DL and her family Christmas morning, then my Sister and Brother-in-law for the day, and then back to the DL place for the evening and more eats.
Remember Henry Kissinger? The politician who invented "shuttle diplomacy" back in the70's?
This is the festive version which is frankly a lot more fun, although it does involve some travelling, but hopefully far less arguing and stress.
Now all I need to do is the Xmas cards.
Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter, just click here, and - using the same login - you can hear me on Audioboo by clicking here?
Thursday, 2 December 2010
START SPREADING THE NEWS
The big draw for greedy old me is the cake. They have some of the best refreshments in town and this year I decided that I would forsake breakfast so I could pack more in. This I did and then wobbled out of the church in the direction of the car and headed for Heathrow Airport.
I arrived about ten minutes ahead of the Dark Lady. We were off to New York for a week and I had planned some, er, "surprises"!
Surprise one for both of us was how empty the plane was. This was great news for us economy travellers as there was more room to stretch out.
We arrived about 8pm and - unlike previous trips to the US - negotiated immigration relatively simply and quickly. Unlike the two hours it took to get out of Los Angeles airport for "American Adventure 2" in 2008.
Chatty cab driver into Manhattan and the most wonderful view of the city at night, as well as showing us the "spaceships" that featured in Men in Black, which were towers constructed for the World’s Fair in 1939-40.
To save money we had rented an apartment. It was brilliantly placed just of 6th Avenue in Midtown so it was walking distance to all the sights.
Sunday late morning and surprise number one:
Walking down the street and the DL spotted the Harlem Gospel Choir soul food brunch on offer at B.B King's.
I must admit as a middle-aged Briton, as you are stuffing yourself with chicken wings and grits, it is a bit of a shock to hear someone yell from the stage:
"I lost my kids, my house. I was homeless. I was addicted to Crack for ten years until the Lord saved me"!
"Er, fancy another drink, dear"?
"Mmm, yes I'll have some Or...' I TELL YA I WAS A CRACK WHORE!!!"
"Shall I wait until this number is over?”
"Yes, probably wise"
"I WAS WITHOUT HOPE...IN THE GUTTER...AN ADDICT"
Surprise number one had been a result.
Later that evening I suggested we get the subway to the Lower West Side to find a bar.
The City Winery was hosting an evening with the Veteran Jazz pianist and songwriter, Mose Allison, whose music I have adored for years. A man who may be in his 80's but who has always been effortlessly cool.
I had bought the tickets a couple of months earlier and since I got them the evening had been upgraded to a "celebration of his work" with a load of special guests.
When we arrived at the venue- an old warehouse with large picture windows along its front - the soundcheck was still going on and so we were not allowed in.
Peering through the window, the Dark Lady suddenly said...
"That looks like Elvis Costello"!
It was. He along with Jolie Holland a wonderful singer called Lea Delaria and a number of other musicians sang a load of Mose Allison songs before the great man took to the stage.
His voice isn't what it was but he is still a mesmerising performer.
Surprise number two had been a result.
We spent the next day walking around Manhattan and doing a little light shopping, as well as strolling the length of the High Line, an abandoned overhead railway line which is now a linear park with terrific views. The weather was cool and clear and the sun shone. We were having a fantastic time.
One of our favourite places is Grand Central Station as it is such an iconic building and we have seen it featured in so many films over the years.
During American Adventure 3 last summer, we had spent a lot of time in bars watching the basketball and got quite into it. The Secret Squirrel had been at work....
"Oh look, it’s Madison Square Garden" purred the Dark Lady as we emerged from the subway.
"Shall we go take a look"?
With a lightning movement that would have unnerved Billy the Kid, I drew two tickets from my jacket: The New York Knicks v the Charlotte Bobcats.
The whole exercise was not only entertaining but baffling in equal measure.
From what we could gather they run around a lot whilst overhead screens tell us to cheer and show pictures of celebrities in the crowd drinking beer. There was also a message saying “drunken behaviour and profanity will not be tolerated”. Imagine that at a football match. Profanity is the only language spoken at Premiership level, I gather.
By the time the final minute came around the scores were level. The crowd were then brought to a carefully engineered frenzy by a plethora of organ jingles and slogans flashed on the screen.
"Make some noise"
"Eat more fruit"
(I made that last one up)
Not sure if fruit was ever on the menu. There was beer and pretzels and hot dogs. I had bought a "foot long"....well in fact in the end we bought two. Not that I am greedy but the first had been blasted from my hand by someone who resembled "Ugly Betty"; in her rush to take her seat she swiped it from my hand with a carrier bag. Didn't apologise and used the napkin to wipe the mess off her seat as if it was my fault it was messy. We think she had some learning difficulties so we didn't pursue it and the DL, realising my bottom lip was starting to wobble, hurried off to get another foot long.
By the final minute we were on the edge of our seats and eventually the Knicks won 107 points to 110.
Following day we decided to take a trip round Manhattan by ferry. The Dark Lady has an unerring sense of direction whereas I have no idea where I am going most of the time and, even on the final morning, turned the wrong way coming out of our apartment block.
She wanted to get a better idea of how New York was put together and what better way than with a three-hour cruise with the Circle Line Ferry company. We cruised down the Hudson and for three hours the guide gave us a spectacular and often screamingly camp commentary. We came back armed with facts. My favourites were the origin of "sugar" as Jazz slang; “sugar” meaning money, hence Duke Ellington and his contemporaries lived in an affluent area that got to be known as "Sugar Hill". The other, which explained the gridlock and the curious multi-storey car stacking devices on parking lots, was that a million cars stream into Manhattan daily finding only 500,000 parking spaces. And this in a nation that loves its guns!!
Surprise number 4 took place the following evening when I told her we were going to take a stroll downtown and I knew exactly where I was going, so to "stick close by me" as I turned uptown for several blocks before realising my mistake and turned back the way we came, until we arrived outside Radio City Music Hall. Another iconic building which I had visited in 2008 when I had seen Steve Miller and Joe Cocker there.
"Get in line, they're queuing too".
She gave me a "don't mess with me" look. So I didn't.
It is billed as “spectacular” and it was. Amazing dance routines with the Parade of the Wooden soldiers being our favourite. You can see some of the routines on YouTube. With the aid of back projection we were treated to the sight of hundreds of tap dancing Santas. Frankly, that is worth the price of the trip alone. It was utterly wonderful and we loved it right down to the two organists that emerged either side of the stalls to play us out. Not one but two. The Americans don't do things by halves.
Surprise number four. Result.
Thanksgiving arrived and with it the Macy's Parade, watched by around three million people along its route. It is famous for its inflatables and marching bands and it goes on for hours. We found a vantage point on a rock at Columbus Circle and stood, getting increasingly uncomfortable clinging onto a tree as the parade passed. SuperMario, Spiderman, Spongebob Squarepants, The Pilsbury Doughboy, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Scooby Doo, a globe, various balls from assorted sports and many more were hauled past. No dramas this year apparently. However, in the past some of the inflatables have gone rogue and crashed into lamposts and had to be shot at and stomped down to prevent injuries.
We both love Diners so the day before we left we decided to visit the Carnegie Deli which is famous for the size of its portions. Everyone who enters leaves with a doggy bag. We were no exception. DL decided on the "Reuben" open sandwich (which was turkey topped with cheese) with a side order of pickle. It looked like a human head under a cheese blanket arrived with an allotment of dill.
I "plumped" - as they say in magazine and newspaper food columns - for the "Woody Allen", which was half corned beef and half pastrami. We also ordered fries but luckily the waiter forgot them.
The sandwiches contained a pound of meat apiece.
In the evening, in a vain attempt to walk off some of the damage, we found ourselves in an Irish bar on West 50th Street called Emmett O'Lunney's. As we sat at the bar a woman who later introduced herself as Heather and was in the military, said to the DL
"Your are gorgeous. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen" then added
"I'm not gay or anything"
She then turned to me and said:
"You are quite beautiful too...if only you would cut your hair and shave your beard off"
She was very drunk. Although I had to agree with her on the first part.
We bought her a drink and she bought us a T-Shirt each.
The flight home wasn't until Saturday night so we wandered around Manhattan and the DL went and had her nails done as I did a little more light shopping.
I suggested we wandered down to Bryant Park, one of our favourite haunts having discovered it a little oasis of calm in the centre of Manhattan on our previous trip.
This time there was a skating rink in place and a load of little shops selling all sorts of Christmassy stuff like candles and decorations.
We sat and watched the skaters for a while. DL loves to skate but is not fully recovered from her neck operation so was advised against it. Relief for me as I can't skate so would have had to watch from the side lines. It was cold so she went and got us a hot drink each.
When she sat down I pounced. Whipping a small box from my inside pocket in a manoeuvre that would have made Paul Daniels proud I asked…
"Will you marry me"?
She just managed to blurt out a startled "yes" before bursting in to tears and pouring coffee down the front of her coat. Just as well I hadn't asked her in an Italian restaurant, they would have had to hose the poor girl down!
Surprise number 5. Result!!!
Friday, 19 November 2010
For some unaccountable reason, women seem to be in short supply on these nights out. There are quite a number of women broadcasters and yet they always seem to be washing their hair the night the Nerds sweep into town.
This one was going to be in York and, surprise surprise, was going to be "curated" by a woman!
Had not done any organisation for the do myself other than trying to work out whether to drive or go by train. This was dependent on how the Dark Lady was feeling after her neck operation from a few weeks back. She is in pretty good shape now with most of the pain gone, although her left arm is still a little weak and her voice is still wheezy. Although, in order to keep the peace, I have stopped laughing at it now. (Wow guys I am such a catch!!)
In the end I elected to go by train. This was a rather uncomfortable and horribly expensive mistake. An off-peak walk-up return ticket London to York was an eye-watering £103.
What compounded the felony was the total lack of available seating. So yours truly spent almost three hours sitting on the floor at the blunt end of the train. Every so often having my toes would be run over by the buffet trolley driven by a poor bloke who had to spend his life negotiating luggage, sprawling legs, toddlers left to roam by uncaring parents and some bloke parked grumpily and plumply slap bang in the middle of the trolley turning circle at the blunt end of the train!
Got to York and had a monumental wait for a taxi to take me to the hotel where I was going to meet the rest of the gang. As is usual on these occasions, this is about the time of the day when the "regrets" start to arrive.
"Sorry can't make it after all, there's been a birth/death/illness in the family"
This time, however, there were a few recession based excuses that I can fully understand, particularly when
you take into account the parlous state of the British radio industry these days.
"Sorry can't make it, been told I have to work a double shift/been fired/broke"
Also there was the usual...
"Sorry dog ate my homework" excuses as well.
On this occasion the curator didn't come either (she being a woman, the "she" is a giveaway I think). This
reminded me of a friends 21st birthday when we were students. We arranged to meet in a pub and he never turned up as "he didn't feel like it". So that just left poor Charlie Jordan on the woman front for this Nerd Night. She is used to this stuff by now. Charlie is very highly regarded, not only for her talent and professionalism, but also the fact is she is always great company.
I can still remember working in darkest Yorkshire back in the very early 80's when the bloke in charge of the radio station referred to one of the women staff as "an honorary bloke". Being a PC person (well, I try....."phwooar look at the ti....." STOP IT ALEX) with hindsight it should really have been the other way round as she went on to become a very senior person at the BBC in Ulster and he....disappeared.
It was great to catch up with the usual gang and also see some new faces there, including Jules Bellerby who was a colleague of mine from 25 years back. He tells me he has a picture of us in those days in the attic. All his own hair and teeth (although I was gratified to note it was greying at the temples).
"Where's Julia?" Julia is his wife of many years and also a seasoned broadcaster in her own right.
"She didn't think she was invited."
She was no mug as I recall from the mid 80's. Obviously deciding an evening in front of the TV was infinitely preferable to jingle chat.
Beer, restaurant, then the standard trudge round the city to find the hotel where we could have a few more beers. The restaurant staff sent us the wrong way despite the protestations of my god son Michael, who is training to become an airline pilot, so was a dab hand with the sat nav in his phone.
In the end, Mathew Rudd decided that it was worth a chance dropping into a hotel we were passing to ask. His persuasive, smooth DJ patter reaped the expected dividend and 16 slightly tipsy blokes and one sober woman were invited in to drink beer and talk about donuts, music beds and "throwing forward". Until the bar shut at 2am.
The following morning it was back on the train for 11-ish. This time it was bliss (sort of); a seat (although the table was awash with stale beer and soggy newspapers). Not wishing to stereotype, however, but the train had just come down from Scotland via Newcastle.
Back into London to link up with the Dark Lady in time to jet off to Hemel Hempstead (home of the famous "Box 14" 35mm Kodak, film fans) in order to go to the pub to meet her mate Brian for his 50th Birthday. There was a cracking band and excellent food and a cake in the colours of Queen Park Rangers. (I had that last bit explained to me). Chatted with friends of the Dark Lady old and new. One slight hiccup when a woman asked me what time my show was.
"2 til 5 in the morning?? No-one's listening. Everyone's asleep!" she opined. She was obviously a "light" so had no understanding of the real world. So I let her off. Although mentally I was shovelling earth on her dismembered corpse.
Another late night but a lot of fun and Brian's Dad attempted to explain fly fishing to me.
From what I gather you spend a lot of time out in the cold and drizzle drinking beer and wine and eating sandwiches.
On the subject of fish he said, segueing neatly (ah segues - we are back at Nerd Night again), to the following, when I was dispatched back to the rental flat with my luggage which now had the added bonus of containing two helpings of the DL's famed and excellent fish pie.
When I got back I discovered that there had been some leakage and so my clothes, bag and computer were soaked in fish pie juice.
It's a devil to get cod stains out you know. It also sets up quite a stench. So next time I go to a coffee shop or a library to use their Wi-Fi you will know it's me as I will be the bloke surrounded by cats.
On the Monday it was up to see my Dad, Sister and Brother-in-Law, John. It was his birthday at the beginning of the month so it was a chance to catch up and give him his present: a travellers' wallet. He is retired and my Sister is following suit in the new year, so maybe they will get more time to travel!
Dad, meanwhile, had been busy making stuff in the garage. I am still scarred by the wooden Spirograph he constructed for me when I was eight. At that age you want what all your mates have got. The store-bought stuff. Now I am immensely proud of him for his carpentry talents and wouldn't swap it for anything. Having said that there is a certain "Boy Named Sue" quality about it.
Obviously buoyed by the success of this, more than forty years on he has built a "Harmonograph". This apparently was all the rage in Victorian times. The paper is placed on a moving deck which is operated by a pendulum and the pen is attached to an arm which moves in a different direction via another pendulum.
Now you know where I get it from.
Am away next week as the Dark Lady and I are off to New York for a few days ....I have a few surprises up my sleeve. I shall report back. In the meantime, make Tim Smith as welcome as you always do as he is holding the fort. Supported by Dr Strangelove and his wide variety of hats.
While I am away, if you are pining for my the sound of my manly tones, don't forget you can hear my latest Audioboo, in which Dr. Strangelove puts forward those tricky questions you have asked (such as "what do you watch on the telly?") You can log onto Audioboo by clicking here. With the same login, you can also follow me on Twitter, and get the lowdown on The Adventures of Alex, as and when events happen.
And while I am away keep those suggestions for Listener's Library coming in. As it is the festive season approaching you may want a nice Christmas tune with jingle bells on, or to make a nice Christmas dedication...or to completely hijack the whole thing with some heavy rock anthem or an MC Hammer song. We are a broad church so all suggestions welcome. Visit here to submit your request.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
STONES IN THE ROAD
OK, in truth I did have a long standing arrangement to meet up with my mate, Libido Boy, to go out and paint the town a middle-aged red. As someone said on the show the other morning, "when given a choice of sins, you choose the one that gets you home early". This baffled producer Dr Strangelove, as did another suggestion from you: "You can dress as young as you like but you will be found out by a flight of stairs"! His face was a picture.
Yes friends, it is true that sometimes people’s mouths just drop open as they struggle to comprehend what is going on. Still, he can always beat me with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Madonna, Westlife and Elias and his Zig Zag Jive flutes.
So leaving the DL howling in pain....
OK, she was in some discomfort as the healing process has started and her vertebrae are starting to fuse following the removal of a badly slipped disc in her neck.
Her son Jamie had pointed out (somewhat unhelpfully) that - as it was Halloween - she could go Trick or Treating with him and she wouldn't need any make up as she had a Frankenstein scar on her neck. He will go far that boy. Not sure where but certainly a long way. The scar, by the way, is fading fast; my suggestion of a tattoo by it reading "Cut here" didn't go down that well, though.
Odd as I have seen that tattoo many times on blokes over the years. Never women though. Although I have seen cat paw marks tattooed onto their breasts which must have seemed mildly amusing at the time; thirty years and three children later it may not have seemed such a corker of a wheeze.
DL gave me her blessing and waved a misty-eyed and stoic goodbye as I left to meet L_Boy and she rushed inside to catch X Factor and Strictly, her two guilty pleasure TV thrills.
We had arranged some time ago to go and see Mary Chapin Carpenter. One of the draws was that she was being supported by Tift Merritt who we had seen and enjoyed with Teddy Thompson a year or so back
We had to get to London's Barbican Centre. Being the weekend a lot of the Tube lines are closed for maintenance work, so we decided to walk. We strode out towards the Thames and, after an hour, arrived at the Embankment when I realised that perhaps the Barbican was not really the Festival Hall; I had become confused as we had been to both in the past. So we needed to be.....erm, in fact, some long way further North-East. In truth, not all that far really from our original starting point. Doh!
We were also running out of time as the concert was due to start at 7.30. We needed a cab. Everyone else had the same idea as we wandered fruitlessly round Euston and Kings Cross stations surrounded by young people in fancy dress off to Halloween parties....mainly it would appear by cab!
Then by a supreme stroke of good fortune we found one, leapt in and off we went at breakneck speed (11 mph, this is London - home of the traffic signal and grid lock). Arriving with seconds to spare we threw ourselves out of the taxi, hurtled up the stairs, past a display featuring a De Lorean car for some reason and a smiling usher. Libido Boy was convinced that he said "Hello Alex" when we came in and that he knew me. There was no look of contempt on his face so I doubted that was the case and he must have misheard.
In keeping with our rough, tough, hard men out on the town image we stopped at a concession stand and selected a bag of sucky sweets and arrived at the door just as it slammed shut for the first song by Tift Merritt. We waited and then in we went. We had seats high up in the gods so the figures on stage were in plain view, but with no discernible facial features. Whatever happened to opera glasses that you rented by popping 6d in the slot and removing them from the bracket in front of your seat?
Not sure what has happened to Tift Merritt either but she seemed to have gone all introspective and was given to agonised vocal swoops and mumbling which was a shame as I love her records.
Barbican is a very civilised venue with polite applause, little whooping and - strangely for these times - few people trying to record the gig or take pics with their mobile phones.
The headline act came on and we settled down for some quality music and more sucky sweets. Neither of us had seen her before but we knew her stuff. She didn't disappoint. Great band, wonderful songs brilliantly sung and some interesting and amusing introductions to the tunes, including one about kissing a dog which provoked a resounding "eeeeewwwww" from the refined crowd.
We enjoyed it a lot but it was a somewhat detached performance.
During a quieter song I was aware of the man sitting next to me. Obviously a music journalist who had been taking copious notes, had stopped his frantic scribbling and was snoring gently head back notebook about to slide to the floor.
Wonder what his review read:
"After a cracking start with some old favourites Mary moved onto tracks from her new alb..........................................................................................."
Once the show was over it was town painting time which meant we had to get from The Barbican to Camden in order to cram ourselves into the Elephants Head pub with the bright young fashionistas, all trying to look like Lily Allen, whilst older and eminently more sensible people played Reggae, Ska and Rockabilly on the Wheels of Steel.
First we needed a cab. The streets were thronging with Devils, ghouls, zombies and Draculas. Never realised that Transylvania’s most popular mode of transport was the Hackney carriage!
Plunging a stake through the heart of the nearest…well, we learned that drunken vampires don't move very quickly, we managed to flag a cab and off we went at breakneck speed (between 5 and 11mph due to drunken ghouls flinging themselves in front of the vehicle trying to flag it down, not realising the yellow hire light was unlit)
As we disembarked the driver looked at us smirked and said, "You'll be lucky to get a quiet drink here tonight, Camden's always mad on a Saturday but this being Halloween as well..."
This is the part of the evening we particularly enjoy in true middle-aged fashion. Libido Boy is addicted to crisps and has to have a packet with every pint. So we stand there waiting for a seat to become vacant, guzzling beer and eating crisps as he worries about his salt intake and I worry about my units of alcohol.
He is also very gregarious and will talk to anyone as he is genuinely interested in people. On one occasion he tried his halting Spanish on a Catalan couple who seemed interested in his efforts, albeit nonplussed as they spoke perfect English.
In between sets he struck up a conversation with the woman DJ. Didn't catch her name but she was from San Francisco originally so we knew a few of the same Radio guys out there. She was also an artist who found her most creative period was at night and so listened to the show which was nice to hear.
Then it was swap over time and tall thin DJ came over to chat and we talked music and the radio whilst Libido Boy continued to worry about his salt intake. By this time I had forgotten about my units.
We were satisfied to note that by the time last orders came round at 1.00am we were the only people left; all the Lily Allen and Pete Doherty clones having tottered off to bed...or so we thought. A blow for the stamina of the middle aged man! However we soon realised by the bedlam in the streets outside outside that they were in fact all going off to clubs or parties.
Nothing for it but a burger from our favourite street corner vendor with L-Boy asking for "English Mustard", as usual, from a baffled man whose first language isn't English. He pointed to the two sorts of dressings on offer for his burgers; "red stuff" and "yellow stuff". Two Cheeseburgers with red AND yellow stuff, hang the salt intake!
Then a lonely walk home through the deserted streets with one rock and roll thought in our minds.
"Wonder if there is a bin to discard the wrappers on the way home"
Don't forget to add me to Twitter @alexthedarklord (click here to do so) and also use the same login to hear the latest Audioboo (click here).
Also, still keep your Listener's Library suggestions coming in. As we are approaching Christmas, maybe your favourite Christmas song or - even better - you favourite anti-Christmas song! Or maybe a nice dedication for 'im or 'er indoors, awww. Visit here, I look forward to seeing - and hearing - your suggested records.
Monday, 1 November 2010
18 WHEELS AND A DOZEN ROSES
This is not something to be undertaken lightly. You don't really want anyone messing with your spine, especially not in your neck. You can imagine all the horrible thoughts that want through our heads.
Then the night before the op there was the consent form to sign. This listed all the possible complications. These were far worse than the ones our overactive imaginations had already listed.
Up to that point, the care had been spectacular and the staff wonderful. Nothing was too much for them.
The DL was then transferred to another hospital to be prepped for surgery. We were told it could be 8 hours in theatre. So with me telling her as she was in theatre she was the "star", I left them to it and went home and stared at the wall. Four hours later the phone rang and she was back on the ward.
The Neuro Surgeon had done an excellent job. The terrible agonising pain had all but gone. She could wiggle her toes and move her hands and had a small dressing on the front of her neck where they had gone in to remove the disc. However, she had been left with a very wheezy voice which is a cross between Marge Simpson and the old guy from The Dick Emery Show.
Next day, however, things rather deteriorated. We had been aware of someone in a ward nearby who seemed to be channelling the late Senor Wences and his puppet, Pedro. Ironic really, bearing in mind the potential horrors of the operation was a head in a box.
The patient and the nursing staff went through the whole
"Close a the door pliz"
The surgeon had told her she could go home within 24 hours of the operation. DL felt too wiped out to go so opted to wait a couple of days.
After the umpteenth time, the staff tried to change the dressing and failed to remove the sterile film from it correctly so it wouldn't stick. One time there was even a search to find a wound on her back to dress that didn't even exist.
"Wheres the wound?"
"On my neck"
"No, its not you had spinal surgery...it’s at the back"
"The Surgeon went through the neck"
"Why did he do that?"
"How am I supposed to know? I am not a surgeon!" (followed by a lot of wheezing).
Food was interesting too.
"Onion soup, please"
"There....the pasta you ordered"
"Cup of tea?"
"Here you go"
DL decided to discharge herself 24 hours early fearful for what they would do next.
One thing that was evident was the care and good wishes from you, friends and family.
Barely an hour went by without another bunch of flowers being delivered. At one point I was dispatched to the Nursing station with a large box and told:
"Please take these off us.....we can't manage any more chocolate."
DL loves flowers and said it was like a florists.
I am not so struck due to the overpowering smell and so think…Undertaker!
She is now at home and still has a wheezy voice which is slowly getting better. The pain is there but is nowhere near as bad and hopefully will go completely soon.
She has been very brave and rises more in my esteem everyday.
Life is sort of getting back to normal.
Susan the Finance (Don't hate her, she is not a Banker) and I went off to the Radio 2 Electric Proms last week to see Elton John and Leon Russell. Susan will always be someone who I am indebted to as she introduced me to the DL in the first place.
I wanted to see Leon Russell. She wanted to see Elton and we both wanted to see Rumer and Plan B.
Elton came on and ran through a few of his songs hits and album tracks and introduced Plan B who did a rather strange version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”. Susan and I looked at each other!
Then it was Leon's turn. We were sitting on the far side of the auditorium from him so all we could see was a shock of white hair and beard, dark glasses and a piano. Some very acceptable noises came out of the speakers but we weren't sure if was actually real; he could have been a dummy.
Rumer came on and did a cracking version of "This Masquerade"
Then it was back to Elton who announced they were going to do the whole of The Union album they have just made; a former Radio 2 Album of the Week. Track by track and in order.
I like the record but it is a bit heavy going listening to 14 songs from a CD which is new and largely unfamiliar.
Susan looked at me and I looked at her.
By the time they got to "Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)” Track 13, Susan looked at me and I looked at her and we headed for the exit.
After waiting a while longer than normal on the show and with increasing numbers of inquiries from you, Dr Strangelove and I decided it was time to kick off the 2010/11 Truckwriting season.
We opened it up to you and in came the suggestions.....all inventive. Many too rude to broadcast!
Steve the Cabbie came up with the one that we deemed most appropriate:
"We're Alex Lesters' lovely overnight people".
You are and I thank you for that. Long may we all continue.
Sightings have already been reported which is excellent thank you.
Wallop away, lovely overnight people!
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (click here) and, using the same login, you can also hear my Audioboos, sort of like a DVD extra of the show (click here).
Plus, let me play you a song! Think of a song you haven't heard in ages, maybe a rare album track you think we would like to hear or a song that reminds you of a particular time in life, maybe make a dedication, or request a song you just love to sing out loud to, or one that will have us all LOL-ing. Visit here to do so, I look forward to hearing what you come up with.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
I WENT DOWN TO ST JAMES INFIRMARY
I remember years ago, after a particularly traumatic relationship failure, reading a self-help book which told me that it was like “bereavement" and that it was likely that sleep patterns would be disturbed, so it was probably a good idea to tune into late night radio.
"Er, excuse me," I thought, "What happens if you are the guy doing the late night radio"?
Just over a week ago the Dark Lady damaged her back and has a prolapsed disc in her neck. In other words, she has slipped a disc. She is in terrible pain and has spent the last week doped to the eyeballs in a hospital bed. To give you some idea of what it is like; Women tell you it is like childbirth without the respite between contractions.
To translate that for us blokes with a notoriously low pain threshold; it is like a mild dose of constipation and we know how agonising that is!
No wonder she is on Morphine, poor thing. Despite the agony, she is in remarkably good spirits and I have decided that as she is on the way to becoming a dope fiend; I am going to buy her a beret and a saxophone. We are expecting various calls from the music business asking if she has any to spare.
We now have to wait and find out if the disc will go back in or if she needs surgery. We have been inundated with good wishes and she has had to shoo my mournful face out of the ward on several occasions.
I am sure you have been in the position where someone you love has been hospitalised and has suffered terrible pain. It is the feeling of helplessness which is so difficult to cope with. You just want to "magic it better".
Dr Strangelove, my constantly-cheerful producer and butt of endless jokes on the show, has not escaped unscathed this week suffering an unexpected bereavement. I have suggested he pops up to the hospital so the DL can shoo his mournful face out of the ward as well.
The show is a great solace and thank you for all the daft stuff you are still providing on a daily basis. For this, we are very grateful, and it gives us a lift in the small hours. Sorry there have not been many Tweets over the last week but, as you can imagine, I have been somewhat preoccupied....which of course led to my mournful face being.....etc
On a brighter note…
Last weekend it was my Godparents 60th wedding anniversary.
My Auntie Stephanie and Uncle Norman have been a vital part of my life for ever and they are terrific.
Being of slightly, ahem "mature" years, they have a huge extended family as well as zillions of friends. So it was to Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire last Saturday to a school gym where a bash had been laid on. There was a "soft play area" for the children, an amazing buffet and some very amusing speeches. The best part was to witness the high regard in which this couple are held.
My Uncle who has recently celebrated his 90th birthday was up a plum tree with a pruning saw a few days ago, and has played the organ in the same church every Sunday for more than 70 years. Stephanie is the organiser doing so much for the community. They have hardly spent a night apart in all those 60 years. If they ever need a poster boy and girl for marriage, sign this couple up now. They are an inspiration. They have been on the phone to me this week more concerned about the DL than themselves and have cheered me and my mournful face up.
Sunday and it was nice to get to Hastings Old Town once again in order to judge the Classic Car show. I have been doing this for a few years now and it is always a joy, being a bit of a petrolhead. The only slight disappointment has been that I have had to change my act slightly.
Gone are the days of saying, "I remember these...my Grandad had one of these"
This was replaced by "I remember these....my Dad had one of these"
This year to my horror I realised.... "I remember these....I had one of these!"
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
DON'T LAUGH AT ME BECAUSE I'M A FOOL
Friday night, the Dark Lady and I went off to the O2 in London's Docklands to see Santana.
As I said on the show and via Twitter, I have been waiting to see them/him since I borrowed my sister’s copy of Abraxas back in the very early 1970's.
Never been to the main bit of the O2 before so was looking forward to it immensely.
You may remember a few years ago (when it was known as the "Millenium Dome") it was branded a white elephant and a waste of taxpayers money and politicians and tabloid newspapers queued up to put the boot in. How things change and now I gather it is the most popular and successful music venue in Europe.
The band were due on stage at 8pm so there was time for eating and a quick drink. Lines of people stretched along the malls between the restaurants and bars. This was not good.
DL has been here loads of time so she knows the drill. "Won't take long, we will be eating in no time" she said, as we joined the throng outside a burger emporium.
My face was obviously telegraphing my feelings as it took on its "petulant child" expression.
You may think this is not a very nice trait; however, to my way of thinking, it explains my youthful good looks!
She was right. I was wrong. Within five minutes we were at our table.
8pm sharp on came the band with minimum fanfare as they immediately created their own.
Drums, Congas. Timbales. The band were a percussionist’s dream. They thundered along and very occasionally - to my untutored ears - we would get a tune we recognised. "Smooth”, “Maria, Maria”, “Black Magic Woman” and "Oye Como Va", which was the highlight of the night for us and it was fascinating to see the audience change from attentive to "grooving" (We are middle-aged don't forget, hence that terminology).
Carlos brought on his fiancée - who is a respected drummer - in order that she should pound out a lengthy solo. That is when the first seeds of doubt began to be sown in my mind. The words "Vanity" and "Self-indulgence" appeared at the front of my brain.
On and on they thundered with extended jams and tracks neither of us recognised. Then disaster struck: Carlos stepped up to the microphone to talk to us!!!!!!!!
I remember him being interviewed on The South Bank Show a few years back by a plainly baffled Melvin Bragg. Simon Mayo had him as a guest last week and said it was like talking in a different language.
Carlos Santana is a superb artist and musician but he talks in 1960's Hippy Californian.
This doesn't play very well with a bloke from Walsall and an electrician’s daughter from Barnet.
Midway through his lengthy treatise on "energy" and "light" and the "Universe" I was reminded of the Frank Zappa track: "Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar".
He did but by that time I am afraid the spell had been well and truly broken, and we as one decided it would be a good idea to "beat the rush" and get the Tube home during the encore.
Entertaining but he could have been so much better.
Then the news broke about Sir Norman Wisdom.
I was immediately transported back to my childhood when my Mum took me to the pictures to see The Early Bird. I have blogged before about the opening sequence when Norman comes down the stairs, stumbles and takes all the wallpaper off with his arm. I am not sure I have ever laughed quite so hard since.
My Mother probably thought I was choking on the odd plastic thingy which was usually supposed to be a whistle in my threepenny "Jamboree Bag".
Norman was King after that for a very long time before I jilted him for the Marx Brothers and The Goon Show.
Sorry Norman, but as a kid the rather sentimental "love interest" thing went over my head. I wanted more falling down which you did so superbly.
We have his films and should be grateful for them. I look forward to a season of them on the TV shortly.
Then one of my old stamping grounds and another part of my childhood went up in flames. I am referring to Hastings Pier.
All my life I have been connected with the town. First through my Grandparents who lived there and - for the last twenty years - so have I.
As a child we would run around the pier and play the slot machines. Among these were sliding penny machines; a tray loaded with coins would move back and forth and, by judicial addition of more coins in theory, some would drop off the edge of the tray and down the chute into my youthful sticky hand. There were table football games, which were works of art with the players leg actually moving to kick the ball and their strip was hand made of what looked like wool. There was rock and candy floss and a speedboat that took passengers for a quick trip up and down the coast. We went on it once and it was terribly exciting and we had a tarpaulin that you hitched over your legs to stop yourself getting too soaked.
In 1966 on the apron at the front of the pier, a Space Age metal building called the "Triadome" was erected containing the recently completed Hastings Embroidery as part of the celebrations for the 900th anniversary of the Battle.
My sister, being three years older, loved the pier as there were bands on and boys! (hopefully of the type Mother had warned her about). The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and many others appeared there. My friend Clive (who is rather more of a historian than myself) told me that the last appearance with Pink Floyd of Syd Barrett took place in the concert hall at the end of the pier.
It gradually became neglected and tatty and rather sad. I remember one dreary cold winter’s evening in the early 80's walking onto the pier and past one of the Bingo stalls. Half a dozen pensioners sat flicking the plastic shutters across the numbers as they were called as they had a console in front of them rather than a sheet of paper. The first prize was a 2lb bag of sugar or a catering tin of baked beans!
However by then they did have a "What the Butler Saw" machine as a retro exhibit. The answer for you excited teens is: Not a lot really. A woman dancing with a broom in her underwear to be exact.
In its last incarnation before its closure four years ago, as it was deemed unsafe, it was decided to make it a sort of upmarket bazaar with no slots. So in came the shops selling Dream catchers and bits of driftwood and shells, which duplicated the dozens of other shops around town selling Dreamcatchers, bits of driftwood and shells. When this didn't work furious voices demanded that what was needed were slots and the cycle began again.
We have a family picture of my Mum as a rather goofy teen standing on the pier in about 1935. Now part of my family’s history, and part of thousands of other people memories, lies in smoking ruins; ironically, just as it looked like some progress was about to be made towards its restoration.
Before the war Hastings boasted two piers. Now there is the remains of one. It would be criminal to let this one disappear too.
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