Thursday 30 August 2012


The plan was to spend three days in Orlando at the amusement parks, then hire a car and drive the four hundred miles to Key West for the remaining ten days of the trip.

The children wanted to visit the Harry Potter attractions in particular. To that end I had sat through all eight of the films, so I would be conversant in the ways of warthogs and its various houses and owls.

In order that we would minimise the queues we had to get there for the opening, which meant getting up early. The thought of rousing two teenagers at the crack made my heart sink. However, they were up, dressed and raring to go. Dark Lady was too. It was just her rather reluctant husband who would rather have remained abed.

"Don't spoil it Alex. Don't spoil it." The words ran round my brain. It was for the children. So attaching a grin to my face, I made ready.

I think I was expecting a sort of fairground ride of the type I endured as a kid. Peeling paint, missing lightbulbs and surly gum-chewing bequiffed tattooed staff.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, apart from the tatts. America is the world tattooing capital. Even infants have sleeves of ink or so it seems.

The whole place was a revelation. The attention to detail was incredible. There were animatronic owls with real guano. The pictures spoke to you. The wand shop with the help of the shopkeeper chose a child's wand. There was disgusting butterbeer for sale (it really was vile). In one shop the angry book with teeth growled from behind its bars.

The only downside was my dislike of "rides". Try that again. The only up, down and sideways were the rides. Every themed attraction on the Universal lot seemed to involve being upside down for a considerable period of time. I'm not scared, it's the motion that makes my stomach turn over.

We whirled our way through Spiderman, The Simpsons, The Cat in the Hat and Dudley Do-Right's Rip Saw Falls. Or was it Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges? I forget. I chickened out of Dr Doom's Fearfall and The Incredible Hulk Coaster - check out the video on my Facebook page.

Two days at Universal and a day at Disney and I was all parked out. We were staying at the Hard Rock Hotel so the place was stuffed with memorabilia.

"Look kids, Dick Dale's Fender Stratocaster. He imitates the sound of the surf with his guitar."


Still, the food was good and they had beer.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did the children? Certainly. Did the DL? Definitely. Would I do it again? If the choice was mine, no. However I can honestly say I had a great time.

Wednesday 29 August 2012


Airport arrival and then to the check in. Dark Lady is a General when it comes to organisation, so we were briskly marshalled to the check-in desk. She had checked us in the night before, and had been trying for days to get us a seat allocation without success as the airline website wouldn't play ball and kept telling her that she couldn't reserve seats on the aircraft.

With this in mind we arrived early so we could pick our seats.

"I'm sorry, these are the only seats we have available. All the others have been allocated" beamed the woman on the desk.


"All the others have been allocated. We keep a few back."

"We've been trying for weeks, and the moment the flight was opened on the internet twenty-four hours ago we tried to get on to reserve seats and the website wouldn't let us."

"Well I've no idea about that, but these seats are all we have left as the flight is full."

DL was fuming by now as she has a very highly developed sense of injustice. She is not given to shouting (luckily for me) but when she gives you the Paddington Bear hard stare the temperature drops by several degrees.

"You messed up the seating allocation when we went on our honeymoon. Changing it so we couldn't sit together. The year before we reserved seats and on the day you changed the plane at the last minute so we didn't get the seats we wanted. The company I work for always uses your airline for its business travel, and you tell me there is nothing you can do?"

"Sorry, no."

"Can we speak to a supervisor please?"

A person was duly summoned, and the DL politely and patiently explained the situation.

"Sorry" said the supervisor.

I think all that happens under these circumstances is that the higher up the management chain and the larger the salary, the person is trained to say "sorry" with more gravity and sincerity. It amounts to the same thing:

"Hard luck buster!"

We trudged onto the plane for our nine hour flight only to discover shortly after take off that the much vaunted in-flight entertainment system wasn't working. So we couldn't see any movies or anything.

When I say it wasn't working, it was for absolutely everyone else but us. Luckily the children had working TV. Just not the Dark Lady and myself.

"Sorry" said the steward. "I'll try and reboot it."

BOOT... Nothing.

"Sorry" said the steward. "I'll try and reboot it again."

BOOT... Still nothing.

"Could we please speak to someone in authority?"

A nice lady was summoned.

"Sorry" she said. "This really isn't good enough". She produced complaint forms to fill in, which the DL did - crisply, efficiently and accurately.

I suggested getting wildly drunk and trying to open the door mid-flight. She disagreed and carried on writing.

The nice lady re-appeared with a bottle of champagne substitute.

"Very sorry" she reiterated. "We'll put a note on the computer so that the staff will know about this on your return journey. You are flying back from Miami, and our aircraft are more modern on the route so you shouldn't have any trouble. I'll try and reboot the system once again."

BOOT... Clank whirr. Success! We had movies... two hours late but they were there. Now the rest of the trip should be plain sailing. Shouldn't it?

Tuesday 28 August 2012


Fab two weeks in Florida. A real test too. This was the first proper family holiday. How would I cope with a wife and a 13 year old boy and a 16 year old girl?

Would there be tantrums and furious rages followed by long sulks?

I say this not because they are difficult. It is just that I can still remember myself at that age. Little known fact I was the All England Sulking Champion back in '66. A fact overlooked at the time as most attention was focussed on England winning the World Cup that year.

After the show on the Friday we set off for Gatwick around 6am after everyone was shoe-horned into the car including massive amounts of luggage. (Dark Lady had packed for me.)

I was toting more clothes for a fortnight than I ever did for my month long trans America drives of a few years back. (you can view previous American Adventure blogs here.)

We set off and peace reigned.

This was going to be plain sailing!

Thursday 9 August 2012


Last full day before my first holiday with "the family". We are off to Florida.

I'm really looking forward to it. We've only really spent weekends together before so, as Step-father to a 16 year old girl and a 13 year old boy, I'm aware there could be teen tensions. However, I have factored certain fail safes into the trip. Diversions!

The first few days are going to be at the Harry Potter experience park thingy in Orlando, Florida.

In preparation I've watched all 8 films. So I'm good to go. I know Voldermort. I can name Slitherin as one of the Hogwarts Houses and Robbie Coltrane is a big grubby bloke and there is a very irritating elf thing called Knobby that gets killed and - I'm ashamed to say - I was glad.

Then we are driving 6 hours down to Key West. We've got a good deal on a big car. So if there is any risk of argument, all four of us can be separated by several feet.

When we get to our apartment, Jamie and I are going to go on a scuba diving course. This lasts three days.

So whilst the Dark Lady and Ella lie on the beach soaking up the rays and fighting off the attentions of oily Lotharios, we shall - in theory - be exploring reefs. Though in practice I think we may be in the pool trying to get water out of our masks.

My mate, Tony, who is a very experienced diver sent me this useful piece of advice:

"Slow movement and slow deep breaths. It is wonderful. Don't kiss any sharks"!

The fortnight will fly by. As I have told the family

"We will have fun. THAT IS AN ORDER"!

Wednesday 8 August 2012


A rather frustrating day, all in all, in which the Borgs’ opening conversational gambit came to mind

"resistance is futile"

Sometimes things just don't go your way.

It should have been a simple thing. It should have been an enjoyable day.

However, the low level devil struck.

Hold it, hold it........!

It was an enjoyable day. Just plans didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped.

The plan was to drive from London to the Midlands to see my Dad. Then head over to Halfpenny Green Airfield and do a spot of flying.

I'd agreed with Steve (who runs the Hadair flying school) that I'd be there about 11.30 as that would be when the plane was available.

Like airlines, all the while the aircraft is on the ground it's not making money.

First off, instead of dropping by my Dad’s house before flying, I decided to go after.

Steve was instructing when I arrived. So I had a cup of coffee and sat outside the control tower watching aircraft movements and chatting with various other aviation types.

Flying is a very social pastime. More time is spent talking and tinkering than actually aviating.

So by the time I was ready to go it was already noon, just enough time for thirty minutes in the air.

We taxied to the holding point adjacent to the runway for our pre-flight checks.

All complete, I radioed the tower that I was ready to go. Received clearance and opened the throttle.

Except nothing happened.

The engine revs rose but the plane refused to budge. As a novice pilot. I started to look around for possible solutions. Not in gear? Clutch in? Forgotten to weigh anchor?

Except that planes - as far as I am aware - don't work like that. Certainly not in my limited experience, anyway.

The brakes were jammed on. One of the discs had warped.

What do you do under these circumstances?

You call up the Tower. Tell ‘em your plane’s broken. Push it out of the way and do the long walk of shame back to the hanger.

So with time pressing there was nothing for it but to head over to see my Dad and then drive back to London

As I neared his house I remembered: as he is a very active 85 year-old, he had plans and had to go out around 1pm!

So I aborted that trip too and headed South.

Resistance is futile!

Tuesday 7 August 2012


The sun may not be shining too much this summer but it's not cold. In fact it's quite humid. This brings with it associated problems. Namely B.O.

On the bus this afternoon, sitting comfortably and quietly, marvelling at the speed efficiency and value of the London Omnibus whilst delighting in the relative silence.

Lately journeys have been continually interrupted by the lugubrious tones of Mayor Boris Johnson warning us of possible transport overcrowding.

I'm sure he has been busy doing things to make Londoners lives better. However, my inner cynic is seeing him as increasingly presidential and never missing a photo opportunity. The Olympics were awarded in 2005, fully three years before he came to power.

The process of winning the Games started even earlier. Yet he seems to have become the "face" which doesn't seem fair on all the people who've been responsible for its smooth running.

Meanwhile back on the 82, I was aware of an overpowering stench. Parts of the old carcass maybe feeling the ravages of time: I now need specs for reading, the waistline is now 34 and not 28 as it was in my teens, and there seems to be the odd fleck of grey in my beard. However, I am still blessed with a very acute sense of smell.

It was horrendous. It was coming from underneath my seat. Had I stepped in something dog-related? No. It was gag-inducing vinegary trainer-stench. I think the guy who they belonged to must have lived in them for several years without ever removing them or even thinking about changing his socks.

I prayed he wasn't going all the way into town as I was. I clamped my sleeve over my nose and prayed.

As luck would have it - and much to everyone else’s relief - his feet ordered him off the bus a few stops later.

When I got back home my senses were once again assaulted, this time by cooking smells. As the flats are all tiny and huddled close together it is suggested in the lease that tenants don't indulge in spicy cooking. If they do could they please open a window.

I think they may have misread the instructions and had opened the door allowing the niff to escape onto the landing.

So celebrity chefs. Today judging by the pong you are missing an addition to nouvelle cuisine:

Curried skunk in garlic and Durian. With sides of Kiviak and Kimchee.

Monday 6 August 2012


After the shoe on Friday it was into the car and to Wolverhampton to catch up on my flying. Another 50 mins solo achieved so now I only have 2 more hours to do before September 22nd to keep my licence.

Where does the time go? I only had to do 12 hours over 2 years after passing my test, the last year having at least 6 before a check flight with an instructor. Suddenly a couple of months ago I realised I was more than 6 hours shy.

Steve - who taught me and is now a good friend - is a long-suffering guy teaching the two disciplines. Three axis fixed wing. The sort that I fly. Also flexwing. Where you sit outside and so need helmets gloves and suits. This technology plays merry hell with his head.

After the flight it was off to Walsall to see my Dad, Sister and brother-in-law. Then to Oxford for another DJ Nerd night. Lot of fun. Most of the familiar faces where there.

The talk was as usual jingles, obscure TV shows and scurrilous gossip!

Normally we meet in a pub, have something to eat then try and find a pub to round off the evening. This usually involves a deafeningly noisy packed boozer, plus a lot of standing on the pavement making up the collective mind. If we were bees nothing would ever get pollinated.

Last Nerd Night in Birmingham we found an horrendous boozer. Lots of excitement emanating from the Gents toilet when it was discovered a bloke and a girl indulging in a spot of…Well, if they were in a 747 people would talk of the "Mile High Club". In this case I suppose it would be the "8 pint". Or the "19 WKD" club!

This time we found a relatively empty pub. Had a couple of relatively quiet pints then bed. (Alone).

Saturday and it was off to Hastings for a charity event. The AGM of The League of Friends for S. A. F. E (Charity number 1073504, if you fancy making a donation).

They provide respite care beds as part of the fabulous work that St Michaels Hospice do.

I had to be there by 4pm. I rolled up at 5 to..... To discover it should actually have been, er, 3pm. I was an hour late oops! There then followed a suitable period of grovelling by the President (me). Hopefully I made amends. Huge apologies to everyone who sat kicking their heels til I arrived.

Sunday and it was back to London and my gorgeous wife. I don't think she had moved from the settee. She is glued to the Olympics. It was the tennis. She gamely tried (and failed) to teach me the scoring system before we went out to meet up with friends and have something to eat before heading off to a tiny cellar to see the excellent Edwina Hayes, who kindly sang at our wedding.

She just gets better and better. She is also a wonderful raconteur. Her gigs are like a gathering of friends. If she appears near you, go see her. You won't be disappointed.

Then 90 minutes in bed before shoetime and the week started again

Thursday 2 August 2012


I think somehow it’s got under my skin a little in a way I never expected. Although I am still not a sports fan I am checking how Team GB is doing rather more than I thought I would. Producer Strangelove who - like me - never understands sport and in fact did ask me a couple of weeks ago:
“Whats the Olympics about anyway?”

He seems to have got excited about it too. We have a brief chat about stuff when we arrive before the shoe in the morning and normally the conversation is about what we are going to be doing on that day’s programme. Also future plans. Then if we have time we talk about we what we each did the day before.

Now we talk about the events we watched bits of (not all, of course, as that would mark us down as committed sports fans and we couldn’t have that now, could we?) We even know some of the names of the athletes and also a little bit of terminology too at a push……like “Velodrome”. That’s where they do cycling, you know!

I have a sneaking suspicion that once the Games are over we will revert to lumpen indifference to sporting endeavour.

“Manchester United have won the cup!”

“Which cup?”


However, we are still excited about Team GB and have actually started to count medals and check out the medal table. The other day I blogged that I wasn’t really fussed about the number of medals we win and in many ways I’m still not. It’s the fact we are hosts that is the major honour. Having said that it is nice to know we are best in the world at some sports. However obscure.

Finally a big thank you to you. The latest audience research has just come out and we have posted a big increase in Listenership to the show. So we thought we had to crow about it and at the same time thank you who have made it possible. You are our Gold medallists. Keep up the good work and we shall continue striving to be worthy of your loyalty.

P.S If it goes down we shan’t mention it. That will just be our little secret OK?

Wednesday 1 August 2012


I'm not in any way, shape or form a conspiracy theorist. The men DID land on the moon. There was no second gunman on the grassy knoll and HIV wasn't created by the CIA.

However, something does appear to be going on round my flat.

I'm not far from Lords Cricket Ground. This is where the archery is taking place. From the middle of last week things started going pear shaped, in a communications stylee.

My computer which works off a 3G signal resolutely refuses to connect to the internet.

Every time I try to make a phone call, even though my mobile is showing maximum signal strength, the person at the other end can't hear me properly.

I mentioned this to Vanessa Feltz who lives round the corner and she's having exactly the same problem.

To compound the felony, I tried to buy an item via a website. On Monday I tried and failed to complete the transaction online so I rang them up and gave them all the details on the phone. It took several goes as they couldn't hear me properly.

The next day they sent me an email asking for a six digit code, only obtainable from my card company. I rang them. Before we were cut off they told me there was no such thing, although they could see the transaction details on their computer.

I phoned the company back. They told me credit card companies often do that. If I rang them back, they may give it to me. Failing that I could scan my card and email it to them. My computer wouldn't log on, so I did it via my phone by emailing a picture.

That wasn't enough. They wanted a copy of my passport. Luckily I carry a photo of the relevant page in my phone in case I lose it on holiday.

Later that day, they emailed to say everything was now in order and I would receive my goods in 2-3 days.

It arrived this morning!

I think this is a ploy by a secret government organisation whose sole purpose is to drive its citizens mad.