Thursday, 3 April 2014

LET ME HEAR YOU SAY YEAH!

Been a couple of weeks since my last missive. In that time I've been on stage at the O2 in London. Had a lovely week with the light of my life Mrs Lester the Dark Lady and eaten a ton of cheese been on a couple of long walks and have now decided to follow the latest healthy living advice. Which knowing my will power and how arduous it seems to be. Will probable last until halfway down the next paragraph.

You may have noticed over the years that I have got into Country Music in a big way. The first of my American Adventures back in 2007 was largely responsible for that. I've always liked certain artists such as Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. However the 1970's cheese fest of the Lynn Andersons' and Conway Twittys' plus the lachrymose Irish and ersatz British stylings of that period frankly left me cold.

I can still remember going to a pub in Wolverhampton in the mid 70's to find the place packed with Black Country Cowboys shooting their guns at the ceiling and whooping!

This did nothing to help the cause!

However being stuck in a car alone for days driving deserted roads in middle America with no company but Country Radio changed all that. I wept my across the Bible Belt. Whimpered through Wyoming and blubbered  my way round Boise Idaho.


I can still remember being at my Dads house after the trip watching one of those mid afternoon quiz shows presented by those generic swarthy middle aged blokes who's previous presenting credits had been fronting

"What's your furniture"? on Discovery House.

"Name the capital of Idaho"

"Boise" piped up Lester Minor.

"How did you know that"? Demanded Lester Senior surprised at the intellectual capacity of the youngest of his two idiot children.

"Country Music" I replied.

"Hmmmffnn"!  He responded returning to reading a very big and hard book.

It was whilst in the USA I got it. The music was a mirror of the lives and aspirations of small town America. Where most of the population would be born grow live and then die. Many without leaving the State and most not seeing the sea let alone leave the country.

So it was to London to the Country to Country festival which has benefitted from being a co promotion with Radio 2 this year and there was a cracking line up.


I was invited to introduce a couple of the newer acts on one of the pop up stages.

The bonus side of this was that I got a free ticket to that evening gig.  This job is all perks!

The arena holds around 50,000. The stage where I was. was marginally smaller erm like 1000 times smaller and was situated outside one of the fast food outlets.  This didn't prevent me from introducing the excellent Stephen Kellogg who I've featured on the shoe a couple of times and it was a pleasure to meet him and watch him in action.


The arena line up was Martina McBride who I saw there a few years back (check back through the blogs. She's there).

Deirks Bentley who the Dark Lady and I saw at the Ryman in Nashville in 2010 on my last American Adventure. (Check back through the blogs. He's there.)

They were both in fine form and the crowd went wild for them particularly Deirks who is a terrifically likeable showman.

Next up were Dixie Chicks before the headliners Zac Brown Band.

Unfortunately due to a self inflicted injury. I was too unwell to continue so retired hurt for an early night.

As part of my middle aged health regimen I rarely drink during the week these days. However the previous evening I had been out....late and so had a terrible headache.

JUST SAY NO KIDS! IT'S NOT BIG AND ITS NOT CLEVER.


One of the side effects of middle age is the realisation you are not immortal. Friends get ill. Some die young. (Check back through the blogs. My best friends Clive is there).  So it's a salutary lesson that should be heeded.  With that in mind The Dark Lady who being considerably younger than me I don't consider to be middle aged has decided we should be a little more sensible.

So off to France on holiday we went.  This is usually a riot of cheese. Rillets du Porc. Gallons of wine of varying hues and pain chocolat with extra butter in the morning.


Not this time!  We bought fruit and went on a couple of long walks. We had wine and cheese but only a couple of varieties rather than a dozen stinking out the fridge. The car and us.  She cooked fabulous wholesome meals.  We went through the card at the Boulangerie.  Gone were the Baguettes. Batards and Ficelle.  To replaced by Festive and our favourite Festigrain.  Which seemed to be a bit like the Festive but with extra roughage.

Back in the UK. We went to the wedding of our trainer Wes and his lovely bride Katie.  With no trainer and no willpower.  How were we going to survive the two weeks he'd selfishly taken off to go on his honeymoon?


Walking seemed the answer. So last Monday I met the DL at her office in the heart of London's West End and we walked back to her house 7 miles away in the North of the city.  The clocks having gone forward it was very pleasant and felt quite summery.  We weren't too footsore when we arrived at her place a shade under two hours later.

The news broke earlier in the week that 5 a day fruit and veg wasn't enough. It should be more like 7-10!

With that in mind I've been trying to attain this goal.  On the first day I took the Ford Mid Life Crisis for its MOT. Luckily it passed however a banana went amiss in the process so I was only on 6 portions by bedtime.

The following day I found the offending fruit in the boot!

So off to the studio with my regulation apple and Satsuma. To find that at some point the satsuma vanished.  The culprit was Vanessa Feltz who'd purloined it to give to Chris Evans as a birthday present!


Order is now restored and I have been on target for a day or two now.

2 fruit and 5 veg. To be frank. It's not very appetising. I now know how gibbons and Mandrills feel.

It may not make you immortal. It may prolong your life and is undoubtedly good for. However as I said in the show:  In the early morning methane fug of the number 51. You will long for death!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

THIS IS MY SONG


After the "low level devil" of the last blog and the last couple of weeks. I hope things are getting back in even keel again.

We have had a week of terrific shows and you are really on form. Thank you.

Producer Kid Methuselah has got a spring in his step. Maybe because the weather is better or perhaps because he has walked and cycled off the huge amount of tiffin we gorged on courtesy of his local bakery.  He tells me there is a flat for sale above this establishment as he is toying with buying somewhere rather than renting. He is tempted but maybe for the wrong reasons. The smells would drive him wild and he would be unable to concentrate on playing Grand Theft Auto during his time off, if all he could think of were buns!


However he would have previous on this.  I gather that inmates of Alcatraz would go mad if the wind was in the wrong direction from the Ghirardelli chocolate works on the mainland.

 Thirty years ago I worked briefly at BBC Radio Blackburn. It was January and I had been sent there for two weeks, on loan from a central pool of broadcasting juniors. The smell here was very different. There was a bone works doing a spot of rendering just across the street.  The stench was appalling although to the seasoned members of staff they scarcely noticed it. To the tender nostrils of this 24 year old it made me gag. I would park my car in the car park, clamp a handkerchief over my face and rush into the building. Much to the amusement of the old timers.



Around midday the call would go round the station

"Pie van"!

As a small truck selling mouth-watering cooked treats would arrive. Staff members would saunter out into the stench and drizzle and order and eat on the hoof. Seemingly oblivious to the large numbers of hooves and worse being turned into glue the other side of the road.


Back to the present or at least the very recent past.

Dark Lady and I went to see the wonderful Edwina Hayes on Sunday night as she has spent the last five weeks touring with the legendary Fairport Convention.  We have a particular soft spot for Eddy as she kindly sang "Feels like Home" at our wedding two years ago reducing the assembly to mush -  and causing the Registrar to halt the proceedings whilst tissues were handed to all and sundry.

Unforgettable.  If you have not heard her version of the Randy Newman song, it’s on her excellent album ‘Pour Me a Drink’. And then get a copy of the film ‘My Sisters Keeper’ starring Cameron Diaz as her version is featured.  No matter how butch, manly, rough-tough or stoic you are... Have a hankie handy!


She was in fine voice and was much appreciated by the capacity crowd at London's Union Chapel. We were very touched when she name checked us from the stage.

As you may be aware a few years back I qualified as a Microlight pilot. However not having my own plane I have to hire one. One of the stipulations of the licence (which is commendably sensible) is that you have to fly twelve hours as ‘Captain’ or solo every two years with at least six hours being flown in the final year. In addition, an hour with a qualified instructor to ensure you are up to scratch and haven't fallen into any bad habits. If you fail to keep up your hours you lose your licence and have to be retested.



A year ago I barely scraped under the wire. So it's now into year two and because of a lot of personal stuff in 2013 I hardly flew at all. So I now checked my log book and realised that I needed 10 hours by the beginning of September.

The weather has been so awful that the runways where I normally fly at Damyns Hall in Essex have been waterlogged being grass. So I've been back to Wolverhampton a couple of times to get some hours in as there is tarmac at Halfpenny Green airport so no problems with the moisture.  It has been great to link up with my mate Steve Wilkes who runs the flying school Hadair and whilst catching up with a lot of flying friends there. It is a very sociable pastime, enjoyed by men and women from all walks of life.

So I've been flying with him a couple of times. The first trip didn't count towards my hours as he had to be sure I was competent!  I wouldn't want to bend his rather fine aircraft! The weather has been glorious and the ‘skills’ are coming back.  So I now have a mere nine hours to do before September!

When I've not flown I've decided as it seems to be (for the moment anyway) spring! It was time to get the walking shoes on s o I've completed a couple of ten mile walks. I'm sure I can do better than grabbing a Tube train to the end of the line and trudging back through grim London suburbs.  However that would require planning - something I am not brilliant at. Which may go some way to explaining why I got behind with the flying!



Friday, 7 March 2014

SPLISH SPLASH I WAS TAKIN' A BATH!



At the start of the year I blogged that despite 2013 not being the best year of my life so far due to personal loss I was basically an optimistic person.  However the "Low Level Devil" appears to be out to test me in this regard.


If you are new to the concept of the "Low Level Devil". He is a creature who spends a few minutes every so often trying to undermine your life. Usually in small ways hoping eventually to push you to a tipping point where you become so frustrated, stressed and angry that you want to shout at nuns, box the ears of apple-cheeked kiddy winkies and steal cuttlefish bones from the bars of parakeet cages.

.
In the grand scheme of things it is generally a minor irritation compared to the big things in life like: Are your family and friends OK? Do you have your health? Do you have a job? Do you have a roof above your head?

However it can get a little wearing after a while.  You start to become paranoid. Everything is suspect. That twinge. Is it the start of a major illness? No reply to that work email. Are you about to be downsized and replaced by a machine?

That fridge is making an odd noise. Is it about to explode? Your best friend hasn't phoned back. Have they really hated you all these years and have been laughing at you behind your back?


Those really cool clothes that make you feel like a million dollars. Did you just hear the shop assistant snigger as you left the store?


Someone glanced away momentarily as you were talking to them. Are you that dull? So unimportant they were looking for someone else to rescue them from your clutches. Or do you have halitosis so powerful it would fell an ox at fifty paces!

Your partner has 'a headache'. Is this because your best moves just don't hit the spot? Or they have been having an affair with the milkman? Milk woman? Milkman/woman's horse for the last twenty years and shortly hoof beats in the night will tell you your suspicions were correct and the only person on your street who didn't know was you?


Not sure how far along I am this route but its been quite annoying recently.

If you've been tuned to the "Best Time of the Day Show" lately, you will have heard that a month ago my car - the Ford Mid Life Crisis - decided to pick up a nail in one of the tyres. Sadly too close the edge of the tread to be repaired so it had to be replaced – and there was plenty of tread left on it!

Imagine my annoyance/fury/incredulity when I set off for the studio last week to discover I had another puncture.  Which also was too close to the edge of the tread to be repaired forcing the purchase of another new tyre.

Shortly after that the hands free phone system decided it wasn't going to let me call anyone any longer.  Admittedly the car is seven years old so maybe I should expect things to break. Perhaps it's been hacked by the Russians or even MI5?  Nah. More like my number is flashing up and no one wants to talk to me.

The Dark Lady is a firm believer in patterns. Hence she told me not to worry as bad things happen in threes.

"I'm sure you're right" I said as I got into the remains of my car and rattled back to the rental flat. You know the one where the boiler didn't work properly and expired the moment the weather got to its coldest this winter. Prompting a replacement a shivering no hot water week later.


It's was about 9pm Sunday evening when I got back and put the key in the lock.  Door felt a little stiff as I opened it. Tried the light switch. Nothing. No power.  So using the 'assisting light' on my not very effective and reliable phone which runs out of battery unaccountably in about an hour sometimes without me even touching it. At others it will go for quite some time despite me making lengthy phone calls.  Hmmm fuses had tripped.

Switched them back on. Turned on the light and the full horror was revealed:

The place had been flooded. Water had been coursing down the walls. There were stains all over the ceiling and the curtain rail had fallen down as the plasterboard softened with moisture. The central heating was on so had contributed to a rather evil hot house at Kew Gardens ambiance.

No light in bathroom due to the fitting being full to the brim with water. When I inspected it further, two pints of foul liquid splashed all down my front.  "Naice!

Whilst I know this amount of moisture is small compared to the terrible flooding that you have endured in many part of Britain recently.  I do feel a little like the Queen Mother when Buckingham Palace was bombed during the war.

"We can look the East End in the face"!

It appeared that the person upstairs had used the handheld shower. Left it running and on the floor and had gone out!

So far the carpets have been cleaned and I've washed a load of sodden clothes.

Now I have to wait at least a fortnight until the walls are dry enough to redecorate. Somebody get me a nun!

Of the perpetrator no sign. I have banged in the door. No one has seen him....I know what they look like though:
 So where will he strike nex....!!!!

B#^{%]*]*[x!.....my computer has just collapsed.

"GET ME TWO NUNS....ONE JUST ISN'T GOING TO BE ENOUGH"!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

BUT I WON'T DO THAT!


Just back from a week off and thanks to Nicky Chapman for taking up the cudgels.  A curious expression at best. I now have the cudgels back and intend to batter you with them for a while yet.

The first part of the week was spent in my spare bedroom filling CDs. The Dark Lady being busy with her work as a tycoon. From what I can gather she is usually in top level meetings. Yelling "buy rollmops! The markets dropped out of chest freezers! I don't like your price!"

Before slamming the phone down bawling out a minion and then lighting another big fat cigar.
I'm not entirely sure how her job works although I know she is nothing like that. I have merely portrayed her for comic effect as her contemporaries and her industry press will attest.

Personally my brief excursions into the commercial world have usually involved me being fired by someone who enjoys firing people.

That is why I have never hankered after a management job.

I've been "playing the buffoon". "Buffooning". "At the buffoon" since 1977 now.
So after three days of solid CD filing. (There are a lot). I still had quite a few to go.
I then found a big bag of them in the boot of the car and I hit the wall.  I went downstairs and watched TV for a bit and went to the pub.
It was the musical equivalent of dieting. It was all going very well and then you realised you just can't face another plate of lentils. So you went and bought a pork pie.

Luckily rescue came in the beautiful shape of my wife who knows me so well. So we hopped on the ferry and went to France for three days and trudged around in the pouring rain. Eating a variety of breads and drinking a variety of bottled wine.

We practice our terrible French by walking to the local boulangerie and pointing at French sticks.

We have been going through the card and a current favourite is "Festigrain" which is more of a granary than the usual baguette. Although we have yet to ascertain the difference between "Festigrain" and "Festive" which looks pretty much the same.

We booked an outside cabin for the overnight crossing as we have countless times before. This time the noise of the engines was deafening and we had little sleep. In the morning we complained and were told with a Gallic shrug.

"Next time request a different 'cabeeen' on a different deck, further away from the engines"!

We were six decks above the engine room. So no idea now noisy it must have been for people lower down.

One thing I've earned from you on the shoe this week was that the Gallic shrug should be accompanied by the word "boff"! (Pronounced Bowf).

We will practice this next time we are over.

Now back in harness and Monday after the programme Producer Kid Methuselah and I set off to Birmingham International for the last flight in the last surviving DC-10.  We met Janice Long and our mutual friend Chris. Janice had a closer relationship with the plane than we did as she was a "Laker Lady" cabin crew back in the 70's

The flight was packed with errr "enthusiasts". There are enthusiasts for everything pretty much. From Musical Saw Players through long distance pogo stickers to transport geeks.
The moment the seat belt light went off they were up and photographing every inch of this frankly decaying relic. I like aeroplanes and fly myself. However I've never had this level of enthusiasm for anything. It seemed to me to border on mania.
They were having a lovely time. Not that we weren't I hasten to point out.

Although the nice man from the airline was obviously aware of the PR value of this as he was interviewed to within an inch of his life about the planes and his plans which included brand new aircraft and a cut price fare to New York.

Just as well as this thing was so ancient and decaying. There were rather ominous stains in the cabin. Bits of trim were hanging out and the legacy of thirty plus years. A billion in flight meals. A gazillion cigarettes....this craft still had ash trays!  As well as hundreds upon thousands of nervous stomachs impregnated the tatty 70's Draylon interior. Giving the plane a rather unusual and not to say too pleasant odour.

We flew to the Scottish Borders and the enthusiasts applauded the take off and the landing. Something which perhaps we could try in other walks of life.  Try applauding the bus driver when he stops and starts. Clap loudly when you are served the first (and probably last) pint of the night down at the boozer. Whistling and hooting your appreciation when you ask a policeman the time.

This would make for a different and more polite society I think. Although rereading the above it may actually be misconstrued. So it's more of a calculated risk.

When we got back there was more applause for the long suffering cabin crew.  They must secretly be aching to get to work on the latest state of the art plane rather than rattling around in that old whiff bucket.

Janice was being interviewed by everyone with a notebook and a microphone as the enthusiasts realised they had real living history amongst them.

The Kid and I legged it to the train clutching our certificates

We'd had a lovely time and it was a privilege to be invited onto the last ever DC-10 passenger flight.  I can add that experience to two trips on Concorde. Travelling on the footplate of a steam engine and a Diesel Multiple Unit. Driving a traction engine. Living on a canal narrow boat for ten years. Travelling on the flight deck of an airliner from Teesside Airport to Heathrow and being allowed to turn one of the engines off upon landing. Travelling on the last ever Humber Ferry. Being allowed on the bridge of a cross channel ferry (twice) and going to Paris aboard the Orient Express...........
 
Oops.
My name is Alex Lester and I am a nerd.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

DOWN CAME THE RAIN!



With the horrifying pictures and the reports coming out of the Somerset Levels and other waterlogged parts of the UK. It is difficult to imagine what it must be like if you are sitting at home in front of a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea and a Bourbon or two.

Across the various TV channels reporters in wellies are trudging through floodwater bringing us the grim news. Although rather irritatingly are often standing in front of it so we can't actually see the true horror. My genuine heartfelt sympathy if you are suffering terrible privations. I heard the story of a friend of the Dark Lady who's mother has just died and who's house flooded as she was ebbing away in hospital.  How cruel is that?


I know it's a particular bugbear of mine. Television can be a box crammed full of nice and often not so nice scenes. Why do people have to block the view by standing in the way?

I think we should call this the "Hello Mum" shot.




To my mind it serves no useful purpose but gets the reporter on the telly so their parents can be proud.

What other things serve no useful purpose?

(DJs aside that is. Thought I'd get that one in quick before you did.)

I seem to remember a 1977 film "Oh God"! with John Denver who somehow ends up communing with God played by George Burns. At one point when talking about how he created the Earth he's asked if he made any mistakes:

"Avocados. Made the stones too big.....and Ostriches. No use to anybody."

Hmmmm maybe you can help with this one.

Perhaps we could have categories such as:

1) Pointless

2) Useless

3) Ludicrous

4) Dumb

5) All of the above. However without them life would be somehow and unaccountably diminished.

This is not going to be exactly a scientific survey. Nor am I suggesting there should be some terrible witch hunt to track down and exterminate the culprits. Witness the examples I mentioned from the film above.  I like avocados despite spending a romantic Boxing Day in A&E when the Dark Lady managed to lacerate her finger attempting to remove one of the big stones.  Also Ostriches look funny and their feathers somehow set off hats worn by elderly women. Also providing tantalising cover for burlesque dancers.

So maybe they'd fit in category 5.

So, lets give it a go shall we?

1) Leaf Blowers. You spend ages blowing dead leaves into neat piles only for the wind to blow them away again.  Surely a rake would be better? Better still a bad a stiff broom and a pair of those gigantic plastic hands to scoop them up after.  You'd look rather silly but the job would get done.



2) Public phone boxes.  If you forget your mobile you won't remember anyone's number so you can't use them. They probably don't work anyway. They are horribly unhygienic having been used as public conveniences although in London anyway the only purpose they seem to serve is for Tourists to stand next to and be photographed and for Prostitutes to place their calling cards.


3) Sporting mascots and mascots generally.  Grown men in funny suits. This is somehow going to make you feel good about where you live. Your favourite team. Or somehow make you quit smoking?  I speak as someone who earned £3 per day as a green gorilla back in 1974. That was a long summer I can tell you. Friend told me of a guy dressed as a cigarette who was tipped up and rolled down the street by some rough boys.  Football mascots are all bonkers and as has been pointed out. If your team is called upon to observe a minutes silence before the start of a game. It is hard enough for footballers to refrain from rearranging themselves. Spitting. Chewing gum. Emptying their noses onto the pitch one nostril at a time without standing next to a 9ft blue and yellow chicken.


4) This is a category that is wide open. Every nation has its dumb folk. Be it a Neanderthal knuckle dragging attitude to others of a different colour or sexual pursuasion. Or a seeming inability to be self aware enough to realise they are a figure of fun. Reality TV is crammed with them pontificating about stuff they know nothing about. Or celebrities who feel duty bound to refer to themselves in the third person. Rap "stars" are good at this...oh and getting shot.


5) This is very simple and possibly boil down to one thing and one thing alone which fills all of the categories I've outlined:

BUNNY EARS!



Now over to you.