04
Mar

No Voice!

In the words of Tony Bennett, “I left my voice in Radlett Centre” or maybe not.  But that is the last place I saw or rather heard my voice.  I’d like to sincerely thank the fantastic audience who stuck with me till the bitter end of the performance.  There’s a lot of the lurgy around judging by the pile of cough sweets and throat soothers people left for me at the CD stall I felt like a spurious trick or treater.

I was unable to present my weekly Radio 2 show, thankfully the wonderful Guy Barker stood in for me at very short notice.  So here we are day 4 of miserable coughing and hoarseness.  I’m grateful for all the remedies people have emailed in indeed I’m trying as many as I can.  It seems drinking lots of water is top of the list so I’m chugging as we speak, alternating room temperature with hot water and fresh chopped ginger and homemade sage tea which smells like a liquid roast dinner both are very comforting.

Now I’ve always been a huge advocate of hot water with ginger, lemon and honey, but some say that the acid in the lemon is bad for inflamed vocal folds – who knew?

I’m spooning honey and I’ve tried a few propolis or bee glue lozenges.  Propolis is very popular amongst West End singers for keeping the voice in tip top condition but I’m not sure if this is purely a preventative measure.  Another showbiz remedy is gargling with Sanderson’s Throat Specific, I’ve also heard it called paint stripper, but I’ve ordered a bottle and will report my findings.  I started gargling with dissolvable aspirin but apparently this is a real no no for singers, much better to stick to salt water or the sage tea gargle wise.

Regular listener to the show Maureen Lipman recommended fresh pineapple which contains bromelain an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties and it’s packed with vitamin C.  This is definitely helping with pain and mood being one of my favourite foods.

One suggestion I’m trying tonight as I haven’t been sleeping which sounds wonderful is massaging the neck, throat and glands with a mixture of tea tree and lavender oil.  I’m big on recommendation and thought it only polite to pass on these pearls of wisdom. Special thanks also to the fella who shared his pack of Worthers Originals with me.

25
Feb

Dentists!

There’s a very nice cafe just along from the dentists. I thought I’d have a cup of tea whilst I write this in the vain hope it will take my mind off the fact that in 53 minutes I’ll be two doors down with my heart in my boots.

I tell myself again and again that my fear of going to the dentist is totally irrational, but where else does someone ask you where you’re going on holiday whilst jabbing a needle deep into your gum? Actually our dentist in Bath is delightful, he was born in Keighley so of course he’s lovely, he takes pleasure in the fact I’m terrified and by making fun of my fear we both end up laughing and the visit ends up being no where near as bad as think it will be.

Of course seeing the dentist is a walk in the park compared to the hygienist. For a short time they employed a woman who was Beelzebub incarnate, both Muddy and I left our respective appointments convinced our teeth were on the verge of falling out and it was all our fault because we were miserable failures toothbrush wise. The current hygienist is very nice… for someone who chooses to make a living scraping unpleasant substances from teeth and poking your gums till they bleed. She’s like a primary school teacher in fact after my last session I got a very well done and a big gold star.

Of course I appreciate if we didn’t have dentists and hygienists we’d be in a very sorry state but despite doing my best to put into action the things they tell me to do, daily flossing, electric toothbrush yada yada, I only have to look at a boiled sweet to need a filling.

Which is what happened just after Xmas so here I am. Now I’m suddenly remembering what I had for dinner last night. As kale is back in fashion we’ve been eating it like its going out of er fashion. Steamed kale with tons of raw chopped garlic and lemon juice being a particular favourite. Poor Mr M, I’m sure he will instantly regret uttering those immortal words “open wide”.

I suppose if there’s one plus point – it’s the anaesthetic. I always leave in a party like state of mind like I’ve had at least bottle and a half of wine.

05
Feb

Read the small print!

Muddy and I are now entering week four of the necessary but irksome diet. In my mind Mud doesn’t need to lose any weight which is more than can be said for me.  it’s going well but it’s just SO BORING.  I’m sitting on a train nibbling carrot sticks trying to make the bag last till I get off in Bath, but then when I get on the next train I’ve a whole apple to look forward to whoopee!

Until two weeks ago I’d found comfort and solace in the small mixed seed pots sold at my local supermarket. I discovered if I ate one seed at a time I could get through 2 episodes of Mad Men without thinking of biscuits. Each pot contains 108 calories…. Or so I thought till I happened to be shopping in a different supermarket. When I picked up one of their similar mixed seed pots I was horrified to see it contained 5 times more calories granted it was a slightly bigger pot but still.  I plonked them back on the shelf in a  “Hmph I’m not buying these seeds when I can get the low calorie ones at the other place” type manner.

As the day progressed and cogs in my little brain slowly clanked about I thought “hang on! They were the same seeds just in different pots.”  When I got home I picked up my supposedly low calorie pot, in massive writing across the top it says 108 calories.  Once I peeled the transparent wrapper off the pot and looked closely I could just about see in small black writing “a typical 25g serving contains.” On a back drop of seeds and fruit this is virtually impossible to read.  On the bottom it states a weight of 60g, so I had been eating more than twice the calories I thought I had and fair enough once a flood it doesn’t matter but when you’re counting calories it all adds up.  If I’d had a mixed seed pot every day for a month I would be 4500 calories over my limit a difference of about 1 lb 5 oz in weight.  It shouldn’t be allowed.

Actually the thing that’s really surprised me is how much I’m enjoying eating less meat and more vegetables like marrow and aubergine although to be honest our cork dinner mats are looking quite tasty by 6pm.

28
Jan

News of Muddy

The National Health Service is forever getting a kicking, I’ve always found it to be nothing short of brilliant.  Last Thursday Muddy had to have an operation on her foot to remove a lump that was pressing on a nerve.  We pulled up outside the West Mendip Community Hospital a small but impressive modern building at midday.

The waiting area was just across from the tiny canteen.  I thought it was a bit harsh all these people waiting for surgery who had been fasting since the night before having to endure all the lovely food smells wafting across the way.  Mud grabbed my arm “See him over there – I’m sure that’s the surgeon who’s doing my op…. look he’s having a massive roast dinner… he’s going to be sleepy after eating all that… actually he looks quite tired already.”

I left Mud at 12:45, and asked what time I should be back to pick her up. I was surprised when the nurse said 2:15.  I dashed home to have a bite to eat as I’d been fasting too out of solidarity and got back for 2pm.  I was just queuing for a cup of tea when they called my name. “Is she awake?” “Oh yes wide awake and very perky.”  The last time Mud had an op she rang my manager Doris whilst still on her anesthetic cloud to say she was staying in a marvelous hotel and to not forget to send posters to Hull.  The staff were wonderful but I had to laugh when they produced a hideous black sandal to go over Mud’s massive heavily bandaged left foot.  The look on her face was a picture, I told her it looked like it was supposed to go on the right foot. Apparently one size fits all.

We waited for her blood pressure to come up a bit, although as I pointed out I would be driving her home so it would most likely be normal if not high by the time we arrived.  Muddy can’t drive for 3 weeks. The good news is I haven’t hit anything yet, so far I’ve managed a trip to Solihull to sing with The Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra plus the jaunt up to London for the radio show, both occasions made me realise just how much she does to help. Sometimes we all need to remember the help we get from others.

22
Jan

Chris Barber!

One of the perks of having a radio show is the guests.  Chatting to fascinating people about music you love isn’t really work.  A couple of weeks ago Legendary British trad jazz and blues trombonist Chris Barber came into the studio, I offered him a brew to which he answered, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a biscuit is there?” a man after my own heart and any nerves I might have had about interviewing this pillar of the British popular music scene disappeared although I was relieved we had good biscuits that week.

Chris a very sprightly 84 talked about the scarcity of jazz records during his youth, he had no interest in most of what the BBC piped out of his wireless so hunted down every ‘hot’ disc he could.  In the early 50’s he formed Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen with clarinetist Monty Sunshine.  In 1954 Pat Halcox took over from Colyer on trumpet and outfit became The Chris Barber Band.

Their version of Sidney Bechet’s ‘Petite Fleur spent 24 weeks in the UK singles charts selling over one million copies. Banjo player and vocalist Lonnie Donegan was a member of the band and his appearances with Chris of songs such as ‘Rock Island Line’ triggered the skiffle movement of the mid 50’s.  Otilie Patterson a great addition to the band, married to Barber for many years, was a terrific blues singer.

A true music lover in particular the blues he’s helped along many musicians and inspired such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Ray Davies and Peter Green.  He was responsible for organizing the first tours of American artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters in the late 50’s.

Read Chris’ autobiography Jazz Me Blues, it goes 100mph and is full of anecdotes.  Whilst we were talking Chris mentioned a book that he’d found discarded at the American Eighth Air Force Base in Bassingbourn as a boy.  Written by stalwart of the 1920’s Chicago Jazz scene Mezz Mezrow, Really The Blues told the story of jazz like it was full of vice and scandal, it inspired a very young Chris to find the records Mezz wrote about and nearly 70 years later I’m pouring over my own copy looking for the very same records.

The great man is still touring – 34 dates alone from Jan to April of this year!  Jazz – it obviously keeps you young.

15
Jan

New Year Detox No. 2!

In case you missed last week’s gripping installment, Muddy and I having been inspired by the juicing guru Joe Cross’ weight loss documentary, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”, started a 3 day juicing detox.  We’re both very impulsive, once motivated we wanted to get started the morning after watching the film.  Five juices per day and a meal of only fruit and vegetables plus water and herbal tea. Day 1 was surprisingly easy, even though we missed 2 of the 5 juices, we had an avocado salad for dinner and went to bed feeling quite smug.  This is going to be a breeze.

The first two juices of Day 2, carrot, apple ginger and kale cucumber celery apple lemon ginger, were really great, but by lunch time we’re both missing coffee and also finding it difficult to fit any more liquid in on top of the 2 ½ pints we’d already drunk.  Another 1 ½ pints of Gazpacho pulp for lunch, same quantity of more green juice mid afternoon and ditto of pre dinner red juice sweet potato, carrot, red pepper, beetroot, apples orange.  I must stress all the juices are delicious but by now I’m not feeling so good and I’ve got headache.  We manage the rest of yesterday’s salad with some roast aubergine, but minutes into episode 2 of Transparent I have a full blown migraine and have to go to bed.

Day 3 missing coffee so much it’s making us quite cross although really enjoying the first 2 juices of the day.  My migraine is still banging on and at several points during the course of Thursday I almost give up and eat a biscuit but decide I’ve come this far…  We couldn’t face the Gazpacho pulp at lunch so replace it with water.  It’s difficult to stomach pints and pints of fluid when you’re not used to it, unless it’s beer of course, so drink as much of the afternoon and pre dinner as possible.  Go to bed quite soon after dinner feeling thoroughly miserable.

Friday I sprang out of bed with clear head, backache noticeably improved, we’ve continued to have 2 juices a day and 2 meals, still off coffee and salt and honestly feeling better than I have in years, in fact if I hadn’t fallen down the stairs I think my back ache would have virtually gone.  I’ve lost 11lbs in a week.

09
Jan

New Year’s detox

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  We did, although it was totally exhausting.  Eating a ton of rich food doesn’t help, yesterday feeling lethargic I remembered a documentary our friend Chris While had mentioned about this unhealthy fat ill fella who through drinking fruit and vegetable juice for 60 days became an Adonis-like happy healthy glowing sort of chap – so we watched it.

It was quite inspirational, large unwell Australian Joe Cross drove across America talking to other large people about their eating habits all the while drinking his juice after 60 days he’d lost 6 stone, stopped all his medication.  Around day 40 he meets an overweight trucker with the same auto immune disease.  Phil the trucker eventually calls Joe for help, over the rest of the film we then watch Phil shrink from nearly 30 stone to 15.  Like I say the people involved looked so rudely well we thought we’d have a go at a three day detox taster course.

Luckily we still have a juicer left over from our last Jason Vale juice master craze so I blew the dust off it whilst Muddy went shopping. The idea had been to go first thing but we had loads to do.  Once unpacked I could barely see her over the huge bags of kale, spinach and parsley, 18 cucumbers, 12 peppers, 42 carrots basically a small mountain of fruit and  vegetables.

Having missed the breakfast and midmorning juices we dived straight into the gazpacho lunch pulp.   4 plum tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 2 celery stalks, 1 red pepper, 2 cups of Parsley and 1 lime produces about 1 ½ pints each of surprising tasty yet earthy liquor.  Next is the afternoon snack juice of kale spinach cucumber and clementines, followed by pre-dinner juice of sweet potato, carrot, red pepper, beetroot, apples and orange then a meal of only fruit and vegetables – pretty much what we’ve been drinking all day but in chunky form.

Muddy reckons she spent about £80 on ingredients which admittedly is a lot of dosh, roughly £13.33 each per day, but then I think of what I’ve consumed and quaffed over Christmas, the weight gain incurred etc.  I’d love to feel fitter and have more energy so we’ll give it a go.  I’ll tell you how we got on next week. In the meantime I’ve kale and clementines to pulverise.

11
Dec

Farewell to Grant

This was our 4th visit to Brighton, but whereas usually we drive there, park at the venue, eat, sing and drive home this trip was purely social.  We were attending a one year old’s birthday party, the yearling in question is actually an independent supermarket called hiSbe.  The brain child of sisters Ruth and Amy Anslow, hiSbe stands for ‘How it SHOULD be.’ They sell a large range of fresh food and groceries – all the stuff you need for a weekly shop, but wherever possible the goods come from local suppliers, and all concerned want to produce healthy sustainable products and at a price that everyone can afford.

Before you all rush out the door – there’s only one branch at the moment and that’s in Brighton – but the Anslows of hiSbe have big ideas so remember the name.

Muddy is in serious cleaning and decoration mode, anything standing still is either polished or sprayed silver or sometimes both.  Alan the dog and I are making an effort to keep moving.

This week we start our annual Christmas tour – The Festive Fiesta.  First stop of the sleigh London, then Exeter, Maidstone, Birmingham, Bristol then we head north for the remaining two shows

A few weeks ago we threw down the gauntlet to the talented folk of Yorkshire and surrounding areas to apply to take part in our Massive Festive Fiesta at The Royal Hall in Harrogate on Thursday 18th December, after many hours of difficult decision making, we are ready to announce the first two successful acts, exciting saxophonist Emma Johnson and accordionist extraordinaire Thomas Hardaker.  This will be a real feel good fest, one which we’re hoping to make an annual event in Harrogate.  Musical director Grant is leaving us after the tour to move back to Australia and we want to give him the best send off possible so the Christmas dates have added good cheer.

Our last concert of the year takes place in the Settle’s beautiful Victoria Hall, pianist Grant Windsor and I played there on Valentines Day and had a brilliant evening, it’s a hidden gem just a few hundred seats with a wonderful atmosphere.   Originally the December show was to be another duo performance but as it’s Grant’s final concert the whole band will be squeezed onto the stage.  There’s a Jing Jing a Ling in the air – This will be a tour to remember.

06
Dec

We’re Stuffed!

Take That turned on the Christmas Lights in London on Sunday November 16th and declared it, “The official start to the party season.”  Is it me?  Why don’t they just bring Christmas forward to September then we could get Easter out of the way in December?

If I ate and drank like I do between 24th Dec – 1st January from mid November I would be in a very sorry state, but since Summer it seems the supermarket’s have been out in force trying to tempt us by whatever means they think fair.  Tempting offers on sweet tins the size of space hoppers, not to mention discount booze. A gallon of Baileys for £12.

I have to admit I am rather partial to the old Irish cream – having mocked it for years I was finding it worryingly moreish that is until I worked out that my little glassful was equivalent to nearly 300 calories!   If I had a daily dose of that from November 16th till New Year’s Day that would add an extra 13,800 calories to my waist, 4 Quality Street sweets per day 7,222.  The average mince pie contains 289 calories. Over the new 46 day festive marathon this equates to 13,294.  Some of these luxury buttery biscuits contain nearly 100 calories each and I can never have just one so throw in a couple of them a day and that’s 9,200 calories.  A handful of nuts 243 calories multiply that by 46 equals 11,178.

I read that on average we consume 7,000 calories each on Christmas Day alone, that’s 3 1/2 times the recommended intake for women.  A full turkey dinner with trimmings is equivalent to 1450 calories add another 1174 cals for pudding, custard and brandy butter.

It’s bonkers when you see it written down not to mention obscene when there are so many people in the world without enough food to survive, but the truth is many of us over indulge, but whereas in years gone by when Christmas lasted at most a week I knew I’d put on a few extra pounds but also knew it wouldn’t take long to get rid of it again, if Christmas party season is now over 6 weeks long. We could be looking at a couple of extra stone.

I know I’m exaggerating but if we don’t maintain our self-control at the checkout.  We’re going to be stuffed – literally.