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!!!


georgiegoodnight said...


Unknown said...

Many congratulations

Unknown said...

Congratulations to you both, wishing you years of happiness together.

MarkW said...

WOW!! The DL must be still under the effect of the painkillers! :-)

Congratulations to the both of you.

Unknown said...

OOOh me Goblins and Slap my top!!!!
Congratulations and hope you both have a wonderful life together.

Unknown said...

Woo Hoo good on both of you!! And what style Alex, 15/10 for that. Y'all have a wonderful life together (as they say down South) Best ~ CW

Matt said...

Congratulations Dark Lord. I had a sneaking suspicion that you may have had this one up your sleeve.
Best of luck to both of you, but especially to the Dark Lady

Dave Nightingale said...

Congrats Alex & the DL!

I hear John Foster is costing up wheelbarrows as we speak.. :)

May you grow old and make beautiful music together...

Slyppery Syd said...

Hisss hisss .... What took you so long? Congratulations. We will be looking forward to the Wedding goofs ... oh this will be fun! WALLOP.

Unknown said...

yes! Such a good thing, well done, well DONE, WELL DONE, fantastic.

London Saint said...


Maid of Kent said...

Congratulations to the both of you !! Hope that you will be very happy together.
Gives the rest of us hope that we might fall off that "shelf" yet :D

Unknown said...

Congratulations!!! May you have many years of joy together.

Les Batt said...

Well done Alex! My hearty congratulations to you both! About time you gave up the batchelor life! And what a stunner she is too!
Good luck

Kontiki turnip said...

well done Mr and Mrs Dark Lord, slap me to, ooh me goblins, please be the first on antler watch this year, antlers inmadisson square gardens would had been top, best wishes, chunk.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Congratulations! Hope you asked The DLs father for her hand in marriage >.<
May you both be happy and have a fab life together chuck :D

On another note, how could you eat that sandwich? T'was bigger than the DL!

yorkshire_chris (from

mwhite229 said...

How fantastic - 2 royal weddings within this year perhaps?Many congrats to you both

Unknown said...

Congratulations and well done from the German in Australia

Unknown said...

She's a brave woman! Wishing you the very best. From David in Wonderland, and The Tupperware Queen

Lady Fluff said...

Biggest congratulations to you both - may you grow old together sharing the same pillow

Martin Lower said...

Wow...Congratulations to you both!

mwhite229 said...

Hey Alex, how does your lady feel about sharing the rest of her life, and all the gossip, with all of us (as well as you)- I am sure she will have taken that into account before saying Yes.

Mike from Pudsey said...

Many congratulations to both of you. Alex you can now pay for the ring!

Annie said...

An exceptional blog and great news! Warmest congratulations to you both! What a great year 2010 has been for you Alex!

Annie said...


The context was so romantic - the stuff of dreams (well done Alex!).

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Micky B said...

Wow, Mr Lester ! I wasn't expecting that. Many CONGRATULATIONS to you both. A great ending to a wonderful trip. All the very best for the future.

Merry said...

I am SO impressed by all the planning that went into your proposal. Thank goodness she said 'yes'. 'Congratulations' to you and 'Best wishes' to the Dark Lady, as etiquette dictates. She IS the most beautiful woman in the world (and I am not a lesbian either).

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caravandoctor_glyn said...

Congratulations DL and Pork Lard!
Does this mean that blubber watch requires an amount of acceleration to facilitate you fitting into the nuptual photographs without the aid of clever software???
Wishing you both all the happiness in the world!!!

Amanda Christine Cox said...

Congrats Dark Lord, Dark Lady is very pretty. And how could she say now after all you spoiled her.

I'm going to show hubby this, as an example of How It Should Be Done.. too late for us alas but I might get something out of him.

Now.. how are you going to find a morning suit to fit?

Sooz1812 said...

Wonderful news! Wishing you both loads of love and laughter for your future together. Great planning, DL - setting the bar very high for the many years you will have together, mind you!

malc said...


Jen said...


tobacco jack said...

congrats on the proposal,that picture of you looks just like a fat cat, i knew you had a beard but thats just ridiculous!i can still see its you ,...just,.. from the build!