Sunday 19 December 2010


Been a musical week in some ways, incorporating nuptials and Xmas shopping…

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???"


"Gimme six!"

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


After the excitement of last week’s blog and the proposal, which was luckily accepted by the Dark Lady, can I start by saying we are both very touched by all your kind messages and your good wishes.

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


With the sounds of Frank fading in my ears, I hot-footed it to...Hastings; it was time to do my usual short but cheerful speech (Charity yak 12A, speech watchers) at St Johns Church in St Leonards-on-Sea Craft and Art Fayre. They have a lot of willing volunteers and a load of stalls all selling a variety of stuff, much of it made by the talented hands of those present.

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.

"Wow wouldn't that be just brilliant?” she squeaked.....a fraction of second before I produced the tickets from my coat.It was fabulous as both of us love Gospel Music without having any particular belief. There was a whole lot of testifyin' going on and it was done as a church service in many ways, with lots of people yelling "Amen" and a lot of hands being waved. Each member of the ensemble took a solo spot, talked a bit about themselves and sang - and wow did they sing.

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"


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.

I suggested we pop down to Penn Station to have a look at that and see if it was as spectacular.

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.

Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon was present at this game.

The scores seem to stay level for much of the time. Play stops frequently for the players to go off the court and be replaced by cheer leaders or small children who have mini basketball games and other competitions. Every play is repeated on the screens and is sponsored by someone. The screens often meant that I missed what was going on as I was watching the replay. There were also small screens around the court with 24 seconds marked on them, which we discovered later was something to do with the amount of time that was allowed in possession or something. This appeared to be to ensure that the audience didn't get bored.

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"

"Go Knicks"

"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.

Surprise number three...result.

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.

This time of the year it’s the Christmas Show with the famous Rockettes. With - by now - practiced ease, I whipped two tickets from my pocket and we joined the queue. What a queue it was. The crush was such that with people trying to collect tickets and others trying to buy tickets and everyone trying to get in we missed the opening of the show. I asked one of the ushers if we could get in any quicker as we would miss the start and was told:

"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!!!