Thursday 25 February 2010


After the show on Friday, we hot-footed it to France for the weekend. Made it to Folkstone and the channel tunnel just in time…to miss the train. Technology is so wonderful these days; all that was necessary was the insertion of a credit card and the machine flashed up: "Mr Lester you have missed the 6.50. You are now booked on the 7.20"

I think machines are taking over the world. The only ones that are there to ease your passage and make things worse (hmm, possible show thread here, I think) are the self-service check-outs at the supermarket. Whatever I try to buy, the machine invariably calls for a supervisor. Once the machine would not let me buy a copy of the Daily Mail as it flagged it up as an "adult purchase". For a publication that constantly rails against declining standards and declares how this country is going to "Hell in a handcart” ( - Richard Littlejohn), I was surprised that it was deemed to be so.

We headed for Normandy which, we soon discovered, was a long, long way away. 288 miles from Calais to be exact. Mainly motorway so it didn't take too long, and the journey was punctuated by some fine views and the spectacular bridge over the river Seine.

Who is “we”? you may ask. Why none other than the lovely ".........." who is still a bit shy. Although, here she is in the following picture as we enjoyed a Vin Chaud in a bar in a small market town.

Hmmm, I think she may be turning into "Harvey the Invisible Rabbit". She must have ducked out for a second.

Bit of snow on the Friday and a wonderful clear night sky, so we were able to stand outside in the freezing cold and identify the constellation: "that must be the plough". Does anyone know any others than that?

Ferry back Sunday afternoon which got us into Portsmouth at about 9.15pm in the pouring rain, and then a dash for London and an hour in bed before I staggered in for the shoe.

Monday night and it was off to see Beth Nielson Chapman. I am a big fan and have played her many times on the programme. She recently featured with her new album, Back to Love, as the Radio 2 Record of the Week.

A lovely intimate venue of London's Sloane Square called the Cadogan Hall. However, rather like the train man in a previous blog (who insisted that the Birmingham to London train that had Manchester written on it as "Destination" meant that was where it had come from, and "destination" meant starting point, and got quite shirty when a train load of potential passenger questioned his grasp of the English language), the tickets and the website said the doors opened at 7.30pm, as we wanted to see the support act, Marcus Hummon. I saw him a while back supporting Alison Krauss and really liked his work. He is best known as a writer these days although he does perform and was in Beth’s band as well.

We arrived at 7.45pm, made for the bar and noticed on the TV screens that he was already on stage. By the time we had glugged it down, as drinks weren't allowed in the auditorium, and made our way to the door to the venue proper the usher said, "he is finishing after this number so no point in going in".

"Why does it say Doors Open 7.30pm on the ticket if it means the support act is already on by the time they are supposed to open?". Came the answer: "That means the time doors open for the main act"!


Nice lady recognised me and came and said hello. This is a rarity as 2 episodes of Call My Bluff and 1 of Eggheads does not place me in the Chris Evans or Terry Wogan category of instant recognition.

We filed in and took our seats. As expected, Beth Nielson Chapman was wonderful and "........" and I found many of the songs extremely emotional. I was very touched when Beth thanked me from the stage for playing her songs on my programme.

About three tunes before the end though something terrible happened. I developed a tickle in my throat due to the dry atmosphere.

The music was subtle and not too loud, so to clear my throat or cough would have made too much noise and would have disturbed other people’s enjoyment. I’m never sure why people store up coughs and colds before concerts: "Honey, I have a massive cold coming on, let’s book for Swan Lake".

So my feeble attempts at clearing the tickle just caused "......." extreme mirth. She being a person who would be horrified if she thought she was inconveniencing anyone or spoiling their enjoyment therefore had to laugh silently. This, ofcourse, was the catalyst for me to start as well.

The last three tunes had us shaking with silent mirth. I was sweating and tears coursed down my by now purple face. She was glowing and pretty tears trickled down her lovely face.

We were willing the concert to end even though the music was spectacular. Every so often once of us would manage to get the laughter under control. The other would follow suit. Then, just as we thought we were in the clear, another giggle would well up and we would be off again.

By the time the concert finished we were husks.

Needless to say, this turned into a very successful thread on the programme this week and it would seem that we are not alone. So many of you have suffered from "Inappropriate Laughter". Funerals and weddings being a favourite location for a good giggle.

I wonder if it is possible to make it a certifiable disease or a chronic illness. "I am signing you off for a fortnight so you can miss that wedding as you seem to be suffering from a bad case of 'IL' "

"Thanks Doc bwwooo hhaa ha hahha haahhhaaa hh haaa!"

Thursday 18 February 2010


Things are now starting to move again now that we are half way through February.

Is it just my imagination, or does it take longer each year to get past Christmas and New Year?

Time was when by about 5th January (this is my sisters birthday, incidentally, if you would like to remember to send her a card), everything would be totally back to normal. It is creeping further and further into the year. Now it seems to be just before Valentines Day that Britain wakes up to the fact that everyone with a job is back and functioning. Not sure why this is. It may be a product of global warming as the newspapers always tell us that winter and spring seem to be moving. This may be because they are trying to keep up with that other moveable feast - Easter.
I say this because, as you may have noticed, there has not been a lot of live music in my life over the last few weeks. Something which was nagging at me. Then a deluge. The BBC Club (Note to tabloid editors here - which is funded entirely by voluntary subscription and not from the licence fee) was the venue for a showcase. These happen fairly regularly and they give producers and DJ's (the ones that like music, that is) a chance to see some new and emerging acts perform in an intimate venue.

I was treated to a total feast with not one but four different acts. A duo who, unfortunately, I found rather bland and forgettable; expect them to be one of the year’s biggest sellers when their first album comes out shortly (I was never good at picking "hits"; my track record over 33 years has been "Da DaDa" by Trio and "Boxerbeat" by the JoBoxers).

They were followed by a short set from the wonderful Jon Allen. "..........." (she is still shy) was very keen to see him as she had been on his website to try and download his new single, "When the Morning Comes", which wasn't released until last Monday. She had received a personal reply which had tickled her and he sought us out at the gig for a quick chat which was nice of him.

He was followed by Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam, a guitar-shredding 22 year-old bluesman from the Isle of Man who played a blistering set. Mama's Gun followed and did a whole soul thing which was a total delight.

Not unsurprising with music of this quality they have all made it onto the Radio 2 playlist. Having said that some things do end up on the playlist that I can't abide, however, we would all be very dull if we liked exactly the same things. This is why I find it rather sad sometimes that people write off music, musicians, radio, TV shows as "rubbish", and they "demand" changes via message boards and letters to the newspapers just because they don't personally like it.

It always amuses me when I receive an email in the electronic equivalent of green crayon which claims "I and all my friends think........" Since when did you and your "friends" speak for the whole nation, green crayon emailer?

The music was coming fast now. "............." and I went off to see an unplugged set by Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt; a masterclass in veteran singer-songwriters who had honed their craft over many years, at ease and enjoying each others company. Two guys, two guitars, two chairs and two tables, with bottles of water and plectra on.

They would chat between numbers about the songs and their lives until, after the second song, someone yelled "get on with it". They duly launched into another tune. After it was done, John Hiatt introduced the next one and, as he played the opening chords, he asked, "that brief enough for ya, the guy up the back? Perhaps he has a train to catch". This produced a roar or laughter and applause from the audience.

Is it me? Maybe I am getting old but heckling has its place in places like comedy clubs or at politicians. Not when it is just plain rude and pointless. ".........." thought I was being a little extreme when I pointed out that if I was a benign (or perhaps not so benign) Dictator I would institute the death penalty for rotten hecklers. I think perhaps as a child the guy didn't have many toys. Either that or he had a tiny penis, so he was desperate for some attention. It was a totally unnecessary interruption to a great concert.

They played for two and half hours to a near capacity crowd and for the last 30 minutes were joined by fellow songsmith, Joe Ely.

I am given to understand that BBC 4 recorded a similar gig the night before so check the listings. It will be worth it.

We are settling into the new routine with the change of hours. I know it is not ideal. Many of you have pointed out that you are not enjoying the early finish. Hopefully, though, this is not for ever.

Ss AKA Dr Strangelove, my producer, is finding the hours tough. He is a health nut who watches everything he eats and drinks. Is a constant presence in the gym and changes his hair like others change their underpants. However, over the last fortnight he has had a terrible cold which has now retreated, leaving the legacy of a comedy huge red spot where his nose used to be. We instigated a "Ss spot remedy" section on the shoe and all that you did was laugh at him!
Sympathy came there none. I thought it was hilarious. Dr Strangelove wasn't so sure so tried to camouflage it by dabbing fake tan on it.
End result: he looked like a bloke with a training WAG on his face.

As someone who does try (and often fails) to find the silver lining there has been an unexpected bonus to starting and finishing later. TRAYNS!!

I head up to the Midlands every week to see my Dad and, when they are available, my sister and brother in law. When the programme finished at 6, the earliest affordable train was at 6.50 and took more than two hours. Now I can scuttle off to the station and catch the 6.03 which takes under an hour-and-a-half. Then I can get the two hour version back in the afternoon. Total cost of return journey booked in advance on the internet - £17.50

The other week I had to make a last minute peak-time trip and for a "standard" return I had to fork out £140!! I cried all the way there, whilst I was there and all the way back again.

Thursday 11 February 2010


After the shoe finished on Friday, it was off home to prepare for a romantic weekend a deux: "………" (for she is shy) was coming to stay. Well, that qualifies as a deux in my book; a trois may be a bit of a stretch. Anymore and you are probably a Premiership footballer. I have spent too long having romantic weekends a un. Romance in this case meant The Guns of Navarone on DVD and eating too many sandwiches; I was looking forward to her visit immensely.

So what to cook?

Everyone has a signature dish and mine, apart from comfort/student food like chilli, is dressed crab. I learned how to do prepare this many years ago when I lived in a small fishing village in the North-East, not far from Whitby, in Staithes. I bought the house, "Venus Cottage" (Goddess of Love, classics fans), from a newly-divorced couple. Well, there was an irony in that. One of the pubs in the village was called "The Cod and Lobster ", which was perched on the sea-wall and had metal shutters to stop the windows caving in from the heavy seas. When there was a storm lashing, the chandelier would shudder as the waves hit the four foot thick walls. The sea would crash over the roof, down into the street on the other side and soaking any passers by. It would also occasionally come down the chimney and put the fire out.

The pub was run with a mailed fist by a woman called Edna, who referred to everyone as 'unny. She would don a long gown and sit by the fire each evening with a brandy balloon full of some murky substance (which looked to me like oil). With a quarter of a century of alcoholic experience under my belt, my liver and kidneys, I would hazard a guess that it was Tia Maria, the coffee based liqueur. This is one of those drinks, like Advocaat and Drambuie, that are only usually given as presents and, along with copies of SpyCatcher and A Brief History of Time, are placed in view to give the owner a veneer of sophistication in the eyes of their peers.

With a name like the "Cod and Lobster", as you would expect crab, was often on the menu.

One drunken night I fell into conversation with some of the fishermen who long-lined for cod for one part of the year, and fished for lobster with their specially made "pots" the rest of the time. I must have been babbling some nonsense, because at about 5am the following morning, as I lay in bed snoring, there was a hammering on my front door. Before I knew it, I was aboard a fishing "coble", as the small boats were called, out about half a mile off-shore in an oily swell as the guys - sandwich in one hand - baited up the pots with rotting fish. "Crab and lobster prefer rotten smelly stuff…..sandwich?"

We were out that morning for about an hour. The seagulls were wheeling overhead. The early morning sun was shining in a clear sky. I could see down to Whitby in one direction and up to Hartlepool in the other. A porpoise cruised past. I felt like death cooled down. The combination of a late night, oily swell and the smell of rotting fish conspired against my internal economy.

We made it back to dry land with seconds to spare. Once I had both feet on dry land I felt so much better. The Fisherman were effusive in their praise. "We thought you would be honking your guts up in no time. Most people do. Well done, although you did go very green".

I felt very proud as I drove across the moors early that morning to work. I startled a deer in the middle of the road, which stared at me for a moment then casually sauntered back into the undergrowth. I felt at one with nature as I rounded the next corner and ran over a squirrel!

Dressing crab is actually very simple. Just remove the "Dead Men's fingers" which are the gills and there you are!

However, you have to get the shell open first. This is where I experienced "Crab…The Revenge" as, using what feeble attempts at strength I possess, I hauled at the shell until it suddenly gave way, lacerating my index finger in the process. It is difficult to be romantic with blood gushing from a wound. Unless, ofcourse, it is a protracted death scene in a Western: "The gold is is is hidden in the…….rattle expire!"

This in turn gave us the idea for…Valentines Day, The Alex Lester Way, which is on the iPlayer for a week.

Thursday 4 February 2010


Oooh, the payne, the payne!

For much of the last 7 days I have been focused on trying to recover from this sciatica.

With that in mind, I have been a regular at the physiotherapist who has pummelled me, squeezed me, certainly hasn't teased me and has indulgently laughed at my half-hearted attempts at humour as I lay, walrus like, on this table with my head poking through a hole. This meant I had an uninterrupted view of the floor and my bottom in the air with a stream of “somewhere to park me bike" gags floating through my mind.

I have now developed a sympathy with people who suffer from chronic pain and can see how debilitating and wearing it must be.

In no way am I suggesting that what I am experiencing is anything other than a mild discomfort; a slight numbness around the knee coupled with difficulty in putting my sock on.

Recovery seemed to be going according to plan. The exercises had changed from knees-up-to-the-chest-and-turn-them-to-the-left-and-down in an attempt to free the disc in my spine which had bulged slightly, due to a lifetime of bad posture. So I have dedicated much time to lying otter-like on the settee with my feet up on the coffee table, watching TV.

After a few days, some improvement was noticed so the exercises changed to doing half-press-ups. This means not lifting the stomach off the floor, but just hauling myself off the bed with my arms and arching my back.

This was coupled with some acupuncture. Never had this before. Some people swear by it. Others put it up there with snake oil salesmen. Would I, after a couple of needles, leap to my feet in front of the carnival crowd, shouting "I can walk, it’s a miracle!" and throw my crutches away?

Well, lying down in a small room in a rather tatty office block in West London may not have the excitement, nor the crowd of a revival meeting, but the sentiment was there.

Would it hurt? Would I feel instant relief? Would it cause me any damage? A friend of mine some years ago let herself be used as a guinea pig for acupuncture and had a nerve injured by an overzealous student.

There was I thinking they practised on balloons. It’s a bit like being a bomb disposal person if you had to do that. Another thought strikes me. "What happens with very fat people?" You can be walking down the high street and suddenly there is a scream and an almighty explosion. Blood and offal rain down as another chubber explodes due to the wrong type of needle.

Apparently - and this is quite a good wheeze - they practice on each other.

Just think how good an idea this is. If you are a state sponsored torturer you would be expected to get a mate to pull your own fingernails out, or do a spot of water-boarding, before you headed off down the Students’ Union for more binge drinking and the Pyjama Hop during Freshers week.

Sniper? Well, your flatmate is drawing a bead on you right now......

The recovery was going pretty well. The acupuncture seemed to work and I even had a comedy bandage on my back to keep me in the right position.

I was getting the feeling back in my knee. The pain in my back was subsiding and it seemed I was pretty well on the road to recovery…until I had a visit from the fabulous "........."!

Yes, my gorgeous and rather shy girlfriend. She popped round the flat to see how I was on her way back from the office.

As she is shy, she is known for the purposes of this blog as, "Blank Space"

I had opened a bottle of wine and this is sort of how the evening panned out:-





Busy day?




double rrrrrrrr




hubba hubba

kissy kissy


glug glug glug



woo hoo



Ajaccio ajaccio

left hand down a bit


Rattel ham rattel ham





mind me.....




Gotta go see you later.



And that, ladies and gentleman, is why my recovery has been put back awhile.

Or, if you came in halfway through this blog…

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how the elephant got its trunk!