Thursday 31 March 2011


As usual, no sooner had I finished the previous blog I started thinking as to what the next (i.e.this) one should be about.

If you have followed my scribblings over the last few years, you will have noticed that - unlike some of my esteemed colleagues in this industry - I am not very "showbiz".

This is probably due to a horror of parties and dressing up. Also these events tend to be on in the evening, so it’s a little difficult to "Party like its 1999" when you realise that you are restricted to one glass of wine and two sausages on sticks and will have to leave before the event gets going.

Just the one glass of wine in case one staggers in to the studio a few hours later, switches on the microphone with some difficulty and slurs the words:-

"You're my pal I love you......what you looking at? Alright then, outside I can take you" before bursting in to tears.

Two sausages on sticks only, as three would bring on the whole world of roaring indigestion. Nothing like trying to get to sleep with what appears to be a blast furnace bubbling inside, not to mention the accompanying gusts that follow.

Dressing up is another horror. I have always hated the phrase "Suited and booted" and the idea of having to squeeze yourself into a suit in order to have one glass of wine and things on sticks strikes me as hell in spats. I am built more for comfort.

Another reason also for not attending many of these events is the ever-present threat of "dancing".

Some people are born to twist. Others just have no shame.

Any attempt to dance (whilst sober anyway) just causes a severe hotness in the head and face area and the desire to hide. There is that glib and twee phrase "dance like no-one’s watching".

Nonsense. They ARE watching and they are sneering!

It may have been the result of attempting waltz lessons when I was 8. My partner was called Prudence and she was 9 and, to my untutored eyes, "statuesque" and fully a foot taller than me. When you weighed in at about 4 stone and three foot tall, this was a big difference. She also insisted on leading and wouldn't let me put my arm around her waist (which admittedly was a bit of a stretch). Every time I attempted this feat she would slap me!

Another down side of the crazy showbiz merry-go-round is status.

Not being a recognisable TV face also means you start off at these events at a bit of a disadvantage. For some reason the Spitting Image puppet of David Steele comes to mind. In my minds eye I am smaller than everyone else and poking out of David Owen's pocket.

I am still smarting at recalling an event a few years back when I was chatting to Ken Bruce; I had just got to the punchline of some very witty anecdote when a well-known Scottish TV and radio personality interposed herself neatly between Ken and myself, and so the punchline was spat into the general area of her shoulder blades.

Ken, gallantly realising, attempted to introduce me but I was ignored.

Another occasion a few years back was when another well-known TV and Radio personality had complained that there were no "eligible men at the BBC". We were at the same function and heading for the door. I beamed hopefully and opened it for her and she swept past without even glancing in my direction.

So you can see why I do tend to stay away from such events. My fragile ego can't stand it.

Sometimes though you have to make the effort and the time to go to stuff otherwise life would be very dull indeed.

The other night Radio 2 hosted a gig by Taylor Swift, the 21-year old US country sensation.

I was a little suspicious how someone so young would cope. She is a trouper, explaining throughout the performance the reasons behind and why she wrote the songs and what they were about.

The Dark Lady was working so I took Susan the Finance (she’s not a banker so don't hate her).

Susan occupies a very special place in our hearts as she introduced us in December 2009 and for that I will be forever grateful.

She had never been to the legendary Abbey Road studios before and was also keen to see Taylor.

She was excellent and the audience was made up of an interesting variety of people. If you listened to the gig on the red button or were even there you may have noticed at the end of every number the screams were very high-pitched. There were a lot of teenage girls and gay men in the audience. Taylor writes and sings songs of teen angst very well. I also loved the constant use of "heart hands" by the audience and her just to show "the love". It was an ideal gig for me. Not a big monster event. Nicely low key, and it finished at 9pm so I was in bed within 20 minutes after seeing Susan to the tube station.

Then it was off to another non-showbiz - but also vitally important - event; to the Midlands to see my Dad and also my sister. As you know if you have been tuned in regularly, I ask your advice on so many things including what to buy Nell (that is her name. Short for Petronella, a name my parents gave her and laughed at! They also called me Norman after my Dad's Dad so that was a little bit better I suppose, but a name I resented for years but now would not part with.)

She has just taken early retirement after years in administrative and secretarial work; she has seen the world of work change from the typewriter to the word processor to the computer. It used to be traditional for retirees to be given a clock.

So off I went and found and bought a nice clock. So nice I thought that I would keep it myself, which was not really the intention and I was roundly slapped by you for my selfishness.

The other weekend, the DL and myself hot-footed it off to visit the establishment where we are having our wedding "do" at the tail end of this year. We wanted to keep is simple and – again - unshowbizzy. So we effectively wanted a pub. We have found a place that fits the bill with lots of Oak beams and open fires and so we went to try out the food.

It was lovely but something was missing. We agreed it was too "posh"; we wanted chips!

So we had a look at the bar menu and asked if we could make a change to the wedding menu which was readily agreed, and now the guests are going to get to shovel fish and chips down them and also have cheese and biscuits. Now that is more like it and unpretentious too.

Whilst we were wandering back to the car park, we spotted a shop selling all sorts of stuff including rather interesting clocks. Result! Nell loved it and already has a place in mind for it and it suits their house and decor.

The only downside to this excellent day was that we spent so much time having a good look round that I got a parking ticket.

Wonder if I should phone them up to try and get off the fine using that well worn phrase:

"Don't you know who I am??"

Don't forget to make a song request for the Listener's Library. Think of a track you haven't heard in awhile, a track that is special you would like to share, or a song for Feelgood Friday. Visit here, I look forward to hearing your suggestions. And 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).

Monday 21 March 2011


We left the blog last week on a cliff hanger: The Dark Lady was hurrying to Gatwick airport to catch a plane to Paris (Most romantic city in the world, you will remember).

I had told her I was on my way to the French capital to meet her, having spent the previous few days in Normandy with friends. The idea being we would meet up at Orly airport and have a night in a hotel in Paris, then drive out to the countryside to link up with our friends.

I, however, was really on the ferry back to the UK to give her a big surprise!

You may have noticed the increased use of photographs in the blog. This we think makes it a more entertaining experience than just plain text and it also give Producer Dr Strangelove an extra fun task other than sorting out the grammar and punctuation. So it is always a good wheeze to add something to have him surfing the web for hours looking for exactly the right shot.

Having had breakfast on board…

…I then retired to my cabin and had fitful dreams, including one of Bernard Manning in his underpants.

I didn't really have that dream but we have not featured him for a while and it is always good to stick that stock shot up there so we don't forget him!

Drove home to Hastings and went to the pub. As I sat with the newspaper I sent a series of messages to the Dark Lady:

"On my way to Paris now. Can't wait to see you at the airport early tomorrow x x x x"

"Traffic terrible so stopping at Dreux for the night. Soon be tomorrow x x x x x"

First thing the following morning I set off for Gatwick. I had pre-booked the car park so sailed in, hopped on the bus to the terminal, found out where our check-in was, sent a text:-

"Not long now...area B is where the Paris flight checks in. x x x x x "

Then I waited.

Not long after, I noticed a little anxious face scanning the departure board trying to locate the non-existent Paris flight.

I sidled up and uttered the words:

"Where do you think you are off to then?"

"Wha?!? You!???!!! You are in Paris” (the most romantic city on earth).

"I am standing right here and we are not going to Paris after all." I beamed.

"Where are we going....Hastings?" (Second most romantic place on earth)

"No. The third most Romantic place on earth"

"Golders Green?"

"OK fourth.... Venice."

I had squirreled a couple of tickets a few weeks earlier and so the flight times were the ones I had given the DL. Just the destination was different.

There then followed several minutes of excited squealing. Hopping up and down. Hugging, Kissing and cries of...

"You fibber. I thought we were going to France" and "How can I ever trust you again you beast!" (Well, language of a similar nature. I wouldn't want you to think that she was a member of the Famous Five or a refugee from Billy Bunter).

"Yarooh some bounder's snaffled my tuck" etc.

However, as a basically honest person I knew that it would only be a matter of time until something terrible would happen.

Her face is always a picture when I spring a surprise...although I know that it can backfire.

Like waking up and finding all my clothes had vanished so I was unable to leave for work unless I borrowed one of her dresses. Actually, this has never happened that is just a recurring stress dream. Although at the BBC, I doubt anyone would bat an eyelid if a bearded middle-aged bloke turned up at 1am in a frock.

Not been to this fascinating city for over 20 years and can hardly remember a thing about it.

The DL had never been. So we were going to spend nearly four days discovering it together.

It is only a couple of hours by air and another hour by water bus to the city centre.

When we arrived it was pouring with rain and had recently snowed. Not an auspicious start.

The hotel brochure had given the hotel a glowing review and there was a picture of a grand palace. When we arrived we were told that we weren't in fact staying in this hotel but one with a slightly similar name and in a tiny pokey room in the roof with non-functioning air-conditioning

"Finished for winter" we were told by receptionist. So it was either too hot until we opened a window and then it was too cold. We had the only room on this floor (unless you count a staff locker room and roof storage). Not an auspicious start.

Am currently waiting for an explanation; a grovelling apology and compensation from the travel company for the misleading information. If you are going any time soon check your details very carefully.

Undeterred we set off for St Marks Square in the drizzle. The place was packed and then we realised why: it was Carnival time. Everywhere we went people were dressed in dazzling costumes and masks.

It did set us thinking: Do the number of bank robberies and other crimes increase at this time of the year?

"So, can you describe you attacker?"

"He was wearing a mask"

"Oh, brilliant! That really narrows it down. Just look around. You are the only person not wearing one. I am a policeman and I am wearing the special Carnival issue copper mask."

You may have noticed that I have not gone down the path of "Funny foreigner" and added and I an A or an O to the ends of words to make it sound Italian. It wasa temptinga though…er…i!

It was so cold and damp that my bonce was feeling it, so we bought a typically Italian raffish hat and then we realised neither of us had brought our reading glasses so we had to buy a pair and share them. It may have been a better bet to have bought them before we purchased the hat!

The following morning the sun shone and revealed the city in all its glory, and it really is beautiful. We strolled around and the DL - with her superior sense of direction and grasp of language - soon had us criss-crossing the city on foot and by river bus. River buses are brilliant; arriving every few minutes and whisking you to all parts of the city via the main canals and the lagoon. It is also a fantastic way to see the city. Being so ancient there are a fair few cranes about and constant renovation work to stop it vanishing beneath the waves, or just collapsing with a rumble and a crash.

We only managed one wrong turn and that took us to "Cimitere", which even-non Italian speakers like us realised was the graveyard. Situated on its own island it was serviced by water hearses.

We did wonder what life would be like for the average Venetian if they were to suffer from sea sickness. There was quite a swell on the lagoon some days and the buses did hit the pontoons with quite a clang.

We didn't do the gondola thing as it was eye-wateringly expensive and, as a result, nearly every one we saw was packed to the gunwales with tourists (apart from the occasional Oligarch who had hired one). So from time to time we saw a Gondolier punting a perma-tanned, middle-aged man and a tiny much younger blonde woman down the Grand Canal.

This may mirror a topic much in the news in Italy at the moment. Premier Silvio Berlusconi's alleged sexual shenanigans with much younger women and his "Bunga Bunga" parties.

We did see T-shirts on sale with the slogan: "I (heart) Bunga Bunga"

We walked, we rode the buses, we had ice cream, we had chocolate, we were fascinated and horrified in equal measure to visit the "Ghetto" and to discover Jewish persecution was rife here hundreds of years ago, and the word “Ghetto” derived from the Venetian language. It reminded me of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, which I did for O-Level English literature. The fact that there is a police lookout hut in the square shows that, alas, things have not advanced a whole lot over the years.

One thing we found curious was that Venice was not an all-night hopping city. In fact they are rolling up the canals by 11 and even earlier. This apparently is because the last water bus to the mainland leaves about then, so all the waiters have to be on it as few blue collar workers can afford to live there. DL sprung for a fabulous sea food dinner. They dragged a groaning platter of fresh fruits of the sea out for us to have a look out. A few minutes later they were back with all of it....cooked. A momentary pang for the lobster, who was very much alive a few minutes earlier, and we tucked in.

Just as well they brought the bill afterwards. It took our breath away and any appetite we had left vanished.

We visited most of the sights and vowed to come back in the winter when it is less crowded to do the bits that had the huge queues, such as the Campanile and the Doges Palace. It may be raining and cold but it will put a different complexion on the city.

On the plane back the Dark Lady turned to me and said

"That was the best fib ever."!


"You told me you were meeting me in Paris. I believed you. Does this mean you have bent the truth about other things???"

We both know that I can never lie because I have a guilty face. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to pop down the Police station and turn myself in just in case they have anything outstanding.

"If you do bad things, bad things happen!" she smiled.

"Apart from the hiccup with the hotel I think we got away scot free", I beamed.

We took the shuttle bus out to the car park at Gatwick.

Then it happened.

The driver zoomed past our stop. As a good Brit I sat there waiting patiently for our stop thinking he would be going round again. DL was wise to this and rushed up to the driver and asked him to go round again or we would end up back at the terminal.

We found the car. At the barrier we were unable to exit. There was nowhere to punch in the code I had been given.

"Use the ticket" said the disembodied voice on the helpline.

"What ticket?"

"Ah, I remember" hopping out of the car to get it from my wallet trying to ignore the queue of impoatient drivers behind me.

The ticket failed to function and hot with embarassment I had to pull out of the way of the honking and hooting drivers behind me and the DL went into the kiosk to find out what had gone wrong.

Somehow I had managed to park in totally the wrong car park!

As we drove away I saw her smile in the darkness. She knew. She also knew that I knew that she knew!

Don't forget to make a song request for the Listener's Library. Think of a track you haven't heard in awhile, a track that is special you would like to share, or a song for Feelgood Friday. Visit here, I look forward to hearing your suggestions. And 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).

Monday 14 March 2011


The other week after the show I returned to the rental flat and as I opened the door in the dim light of the hallway…(Now for lengthy digression so hold on!)

The flat is tiny. Not even big enough to swing a very small cat. In fact I would not be at all surprised if at Acme labs, boffins aren't working on a special tiny breed of dwarf feline with extra resilience so that it would not come to any harm should anyone decide to give it a whirl at any point.

(N.B. Before you march to the BBC with lighted torches, I am not advocating whirling any creature around to check how tiny your accommodation is. Although I expect estate agents would benefit from a superior measure of dimensions when it comes to describing the size of places on their For Sale or rental books.)

For "Deceptively spacious" read: "Small cat. Occupant has short arms."

For "Kitchenette" read: "No room for a litter tray."

For "Within a level walk of the shops" read: "We hadn't seen him for a few days and when we broke down the door there wasn't much of him left. His cat seemed OK, although it was bigger than I remember."

As I flicked on the light there was the sound of frenzied scuttling and I saw a mouse hurrying out of the bathroom in the direction of the bedroom.

How had it got there? I don't worry about mice as, frankly, I am considerably larger and with a whole raft of poisons and traps at my disposal so frankly I have the upper hand. Also as a kid I had a pet grey mouse of my own. It was called Henry. We were inseparable. We went everywhere together. Although I did most of the leg work with Henry in my blazer pocket, peering out every now and then to take a look at the surroundings and hoping for a small piece of Caramac.

It was a blissful scene; a cross between E.T. and Puff the Magic Dragon. Not realising that mice are weak bladdered, I just thought other kids were jealous so that was why they were keeping a wide berth. I had no idea that I reeked of piss!

My ex-friends took to calling me "Mouse-wet". I didn't care. I loved Henry and Henry loved me. Of that I was sure, although he was a little short-sighted so any sudden moves were liable to result in an agonising bite to the finger. He had strong jaws did old Hen.

Then one day I went to check on him and someone had released him from his cage.

Whoever you are I hope you burn in the fires of hell for that. Now, nearly half a century later as you lie in bed, I hope a small grey mouse appears in your troubled dreams, points a gnarled and furry finger at you and squeaks: "You cut me off from a lifetime of Caramac, you bastard!"

Meanwhile back at the small rental flat, a mouse has just fled into my bedroom from the bathroom. I hope he washed his paws. How did it get there? The apartment is on the fourth floor?

Mice may be nimble but it’s an awfully large number of stairs. He would also be too small and probably too puny to press the button in the lift.

What to do now? He was under the bed. I am referring to the mouse as a "he", I would guess that would be the case as the "she" was probably at home looking after innumerable babies and wondering as mice do: "Shall I pop down the shops as the cupboards are nearly bare. Hardly anything left, no chocolate or crisps to see me through the Eastenders omnibus. Not sure I can be bothered to go out in this weather. Hmmmm, what to do. I know, I'll eat one of my young”.


"Yes Mum"

"Stop playing with the X Box and come here a minute will you...."

I thought I would play the long game so retired to the bathroom and there "enthroned" with the door open waiting. Shortly after - to the sound of pizzicato violins of the type all the best cartoons use - out tiptoed the mouse. Looked up, saw me beaming at it with my trousers round my ankles, and with an audible squeak it fled into the kitchen behind the washing machine never to be seen again.

I checked with the people who run the block and they said that there had been various mouse sightings lately. They put this down to the maintenance work that is going on. As I have mentioned on the show and in blogs before; the flats are about sixty years old so things are beginning to drop off. The roof is being replaced at the moment and yet another person’s bathroom has succumbed to "pipe rot", whereby the water and drainage system has corroded so needs replacement. Sadly, as the plumbing is buried in the concrete floor of the bathroom, they can only be accessed with a pneumatic drill. These drills are a lot more sophisticated than the ones that road menders use. These have a "sleep timer" on them; the moment I am asleep in the morning the drilling starts!

Since that one sighting all has been quiet on the vermin front. Although there are some little green boxes marked "poison" by the skirting boards in the corridor which may also have a bearing on the lack of wildlife.

Just over a week ago I had some time off; thanks to Lynn Parsons and Tim Smith for sharing the week between them.

As usual the Dark Lady was really busy with her advertising business.

"Fabulous stocks, great range. Fandango on down one get one free etc"

She loves it when I do "Voice over man"; I love the way she smiles grimly at me. I used to do ads a long time ago, mainly for the radio. I still remember the 100 takes it took to do the commercial for the butchers in Liverpool which had the slogan:-

"You can't beat the meat"!

As you know by listening to the show and reading my various ramblings what keeps me young is my mental development halted at the age of fourteen. Dr Strangelove, the producer, is still actually fourteen or thereabouts so it is a dangerously sniggery combination at 2am each weekday morning, I can tell you.

As DL was working very hard she was only able to take the Thursday and the Friday off.

So I hatched a cunning plan.

"I'm off to France for a few days, dahling. I've got you an air ticket to Paris so I'll meet you at Orly airport first thing Thursday morning. We'll have a night in a nice hotel and then head off out to our friends in Normandy”.

"Ooh lovely,” she said.

Let’s face it, a night in one of the most romantic cities in the world with, er, me. OK, so let’s just stop at "most romantic cities in the world” shall we? Not sure how it got that reputation when there are so many other cities around.

Try it. Say the name of a city and add the words

"Most romantic city in the world" and see if you smile at the thought. It could be a game for the show:

"Coventry" Most romantic city in the world.

"Baltimore" Most romantic city in the world.

"Dusseldorf” Most romantic city in the world.

There is a distinction that has to be made here. She is as trusting as she is adorable, not gullible. She wants this made clear!

Off to France I went clutching - nay - dragging her suitcase. Boy was she in for a surprise!

Reminds me in my mind’s eye of This is your Life with Eamonn Andrews

"You haven't seen him for 43 years. We've flown him 5,000 miles to here, tonight, your old friend....

(Man bounds onto set, subject doesn't recognise him at all then it dawns on him it was someone he loathed and hoped never to see again as long as he lived.)

The days went by as she toiled in London and I didn't toil in France. On the Wednesday the plot swung into action with a selection of misleading texts.

"On my way to Paris now"

"See you at the airport in a few short hours"

"Traffic terrible so stopping at Dreux for the night"

"Don't forget to pick up your ticket from the check in desk in area "B" at Gatwick.”

Whilst I was sending these texts I was actually on the Ferry to Portsmouth.

Heh heh heh. *Strokes imaginary pedigree cat* (N.B Estate agents note: large duplex size Siamese)

What happened next? Find out in next week’s exciting blog. Unless I get sidetracked again…

Don't forget to make a song request for the Listener's Library. Think of a track you haven't heard in awhile, a track that is special you would like to share, or a song for Feelgood Friday. Visit here, I look forward to hearing your suggestions. And 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).