Thursday 29 April 2010


It has been a lightning week which started with a fantastic weekend.

Friday and it was off to Shrewsbury with the “Dark Lady” as we had been invited to the International Cartoon Festival, an annual event where the finest cartoonists and caricaturists are invited to give talks and exhibit their work, as well as doing huge cartoons on mighty flats in the town square on a given theme. Last year it was Darwin. This time it was “Myth and Mythology”.

First, we had to get there. As you will know from previous blogs and tweets, for a bear of very little brain (i.e me), booking train tickets via the internet is not as simple as it is probably for you.

This time I found that all the cheap tickets had gone so the alternative was to go “first class”.

This is not something I have done more than a few times in my life and always when others have been paying. (Not the BBC but other organisations, for example a press trip).

It didn’t’ seem that much more than the standard fare so I booked two tickets.

When we arrived at the station “K…..” was surprised and delighted as she had never ever gone first before.

Turned out it was not so much first but standard and a bit.

True there were free sandwiches and drinks. True there were lamps on the tables. True the seats were wider and a bit more comfortable. True there was crockery on the tables.
What was untrue that this was the lap of luxury for as the conductor/guard explained

“This is an old train so the coffee machine doesn’t work. We don’t have facilities for hot snacks we don’t….. “and on it went; a list of things that this train didn’t have.

What it did have though was a terrifying “whoosh clatter” every time another train went past that rattled the crockery which also threatened to fly off the table whenever we went round a corner.
I had never noticed how busy and how twisty the line is from London!
Got to the hotel, ears still whistling from the racket and booked in. Lovely old coaching inn in the heart of Shrewsbury. The lift announced its arrival on the second floor with a groan that sounded very much like an ocean liner arriving in port.

Being an old hotel and also built on a hill we turned right went up a flight of stairs. Left down a flight left up and down another flight right up a flight then up another couple until we arrived at our room. I think this was obviously where one of the cartoonists got the idea for their work, “Escher dreaded bedtime”.

Then it was off to meet Roger Penswil and his wife Hazel and we were whisked off to eat. Roger is perhaps better known to you as the cartoonist, “Foghorn”. He may be in his 60’s but has embraced new technology so tends to use computers to draw rather than pen and ink.

It was interesting to see and meet cartoonists whose work I had admired, and very much like people who have heard me then see pictures of me and say, “Never pictured you looking like that!” I, for instance, never realised that “The Surreal McCoy” was in fact a woman. It was gratifying to see a good number of cartoonists were women.

I discovered that night that cartooning is not a job. It is not a calling. It is a disease. The table cloths were covered.

Given another few glasses of wine they would have started on the walls and then on each other.

Got to bed quite late. It was hot so had to have the window open and outside young people were doing that young people thing.

“Leave ‘im ‘ees not worth it”

“You were lookin’ at my bird…Etc.

I think they bus in these people as I am sure I have heard them outside the rented flat in London and outside my house in Hastings. They certainly figured large when the show came from Birmingham and I lived on the canal boat, the Blue Pig, then moved into a house.

Perhaps it is the late 20th early 21st century version of the night watchman
“3 o’clock and all’s well.”

“4 o’clock and ‘ees still not worth it”

Next morning, back to the restaurant for breakfast and the whole place was festooned with the remains of the previous night’s revelry. Every inch of the place seemed to be covered in bits of tablecloth with cartoons all over them. All brilliant and inventive and gratifyingly some were wonderfully rude.

We then went to the market hall to hear Guardian political cartoonist Martin Rowson talk about “Giving offence”. He seems to have annoyed pretty much every political figure he has drawn judging by the tales he told. This struck as probably on balance being a good thing.

Then it was out into the sunshine to see the work that was going on. One of the cartoonists had also added a list of things that he had overheard the public saying the previous year.

“The council are paying for this?”

“They’ll never print anything that big”

“You earn a living from this?”

“Where are the toilets?”

Most of this week has been spent getting ready for AA3.

Had I got all the documents I needed?

Cash for the cab from the airport to the hotel.

Online check in - check.

Satnav loaded with US maps (It is but I am not sure how it works)

All bills paid that needed to be before I returned.

Rushed and bought 5 pairs of new pants. (My late Mum would be so proud)

Did the portable digital audio recorded I bought work so I can send stuff back via the “Audio boo” website.

Incidentally the address is the same for my Twitter account, @alexthedarklord

Then phoning friends and meeting people before I go.

It feels a mite strange. A bit like I am emigrating. Even though I will only be gone for 4 weeks.

Quick visit to the Midlands to see my Dad and meet a load of friends and colleagues from the BBC.
We met in a café round the corner from the Mailbox where the show used to be based.

We had coffee. It was then I noticed that I had been given a cup which would have made a Nun blanche.

This is the last weekly blog. For the moment.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on them over the last few years.

From next week it will be time for “American Adventure 3”.

The plan, if there is such a thing, is to drive from Seattle to the Florida Keys then back up to New York City.

I will be blogging pretty much daily, Tweeting and audio boo–ing as well as making regular phone calls to the shoe so you can chart my progress.

Tim Smith will be keeping you entertained for the first fortnight then Lovely Lynn Parsons will have a turn.



Micky B said...

All the best, Mr Lester. Have a great AA3. May the weather be with you.

marianne said...

Thank YOU Alex for taking the time to share your life with us good luck with aa3 look forword to hearing about your adventure take care hurry back

Paul F said...

Standard greetings Dark Lord,

Looks like you're already in the air by now, so I guess you'll pick up these comments when you get to Seattle read this at some point?

All the best for your AA3. I'm yet to figure out Twitter, but having followed your last two coast to coast exploits I'll be reading the regular blogs of your progress across the states.

Being a daytime person I miss the 'shoe' going out live, but I have recorded this morning's show which I'll be listening to today. After that I have some shows from earlier this month to keep me going in your absence.

Thank you for the blog also. Its always a pleasure to read your personal, sometimes candid, ramblings. I don't always comment, but I'm here, lurking :)

Safe journeys, have a good time, and looking forward to your return in four weeks.

Paul F

Annie said...


You are very generous.

Like many, many others I look forward to following your progress on AA3.

I read your tweet from the departure lounge at LHR; 'K....' has made such a difference to your life hasn't she?

Take care and enjoy your holiday!

Fatbloke said...

"standards" Lark Dord,

Hope the trip turns out as good as AA1/2 seemed to.

If it looks like you might cut the NE corner of Oklahoma on the way to Florida, you can always call on "Mad Keith" (Route 64 - he sounds like a hill billy and looks like Harold Shipman - and he's a top bloke....) as you pass through....

Looking forward to reading the musings on the Blog....

Slyppery Syd said...

Thanks for making us all laugh Alex. Looking forward to hearing your adventures ... and mishaps. May hope the daftness continues on your return. Have a good time .. and behave.

GrrrNasher said...

Hey up Alex, Hope you have a great time. We will miss you. Have fun.

Amy Amani said...

Welcome to the States, Alex! Should that volcano erupt again, you are welcome to crash here. You wouldn't be the first ;)

Amy in Denver, CO

Anonymous said...

Substandard greetings, boss!
Mr Goddard here, purveyor of cartoon type things to the shoe.

Shame I couldn't get to meet up in Shrews - but I have a note from that unpronounceable volcano explaining my absence. Nice review of the event. The tablecloth demolition seems to get more extravagant every year.

Just in case Roger takes umbrage at slight textual errors I should point out that his surname is Penwill, not the (admittedly funnier) Penswill and that he's not better known as Foghorn (that's the name of the PCO magazine) but known to many as 'Roger Penwill'... which is his name.

Enjoy yourself up that America. Look forward to reading the updates. And take Ms Amani up on her offer if volcanic ash strikes again. She's a very good host.