25
Mar

A pair of…

There we were just thinking we couldn’t remember the last time we’d been to a party when bosh or rather ding an email arrived inviting us to celebrate twins Laura and Emma’s 40th birthday, the invite came with a fancy dress twin themed warning – “Come dressed as a pair of something! Anything from socks to Cagney & Lacey!”

Salt and pepper was the first thing that popped into my head, followed by a pair of gloves, trousers, followed by an actual pear indeed, I would have been more than happy to go as Cagney or Lacey as it had been one of my favourite TV shows as a kid.  As we were working the next day we wanted something that would be easy both to wear and that we’d be happy to walk through town wearing without people pointing.

Mud on the other hand had just one idea, which made her laugh for at least a week.  “I bet nobody else will go as a pair of those.” “No Mud you’re most probably correct but there’s a reason for that.”  No matter what else I suggested she still came back to her initial thought and laughed for another week, but how on earth were we going to make this costume?

The invite had coincided with a visit from bass player Simon and girlfriend Jess who happens to be a wardrobe mistress.  I have to say most of the conversation was taken up with design and construction of our costume. In the end she thankfully offered to make it for us.

A week before the party Jess met us at Radio 2 on a Sunday to hand over the goods and to have a fitting. It certainly made producer Cali laugh almost as much as Mud.  The costume only worked if we stood side by side and due to a height difference, various heel combinations were necessary. Muddy died a couple of pale pink long sleeved T-Shirts in coffee till they matched the fabric.

We got dressed at a friend’s house round the corner and walked to the party concealed under two ponchos.   Muddy was absolutely right – there was a salt and pepper, cow boys and Indians, Ying and Yang, Emma Peel and Steed everything you could think of but yes we were the only pair you would expect to find encased, albeit modestly, in a bejeweled black bra.

18
Mar

More diets!

Week 10 of the diet was going to plan, however an invitation to dinner from our friends Rosie and Yaz put a stop to that.   I’ll be honest weeks 5 through 10 had been rubbish in that despite sticking to my meager 1200 calories a day I didn’t lose any weight – NOTHING.  After much frantic internet research I discovered this miserable state of body affairs is called ‘plateauing’.   From what I understand through reducing your calorie intake to that of a dormouse, your metabolic rate slows to that of a sloth.  There are two ways to get it shifting again one is to bump up the exercise the other is to eat more for a few days.

It will come as no surprise to learn which route I took!  Of course had I not been ill with a cold for two weeks I would have been running from Britain but surprisingly I found that eating more comes very naturally to me.

Rosie is a ridiculously talented cook who can throw things together in a flash one of those irritating people who can make mayonnaise from scratch and everything in fact we’ve applied for her to go on masterchef… she doesn’t know it yet, anyway her tapas style starters were awesome, homemade cannellini bean hummus with lime, garlic, coriander and olive oil, baked manchego cheese with honey, wonderful little chorizo nibbley things with roasted salted almonds, great olives and a crusty artisan loaf.

Main course was succulent chicken thighs in a mystical rich sauce using preserved lemons, fluffy cous cous with overtones of dukkah – if case you’ve yet to try it dukkah is a delicious aromatic mix of nuts and seeds – baked aubergines with a herbed yogurt and pomegranate dressing and I think a fresh green salad but the four beers left over from New Year’s Eve did somewhat cloud my memory.

Muddy had baked her sweet potato chocolate brownies for desert, they sound weird but taste great and I had attempted a raspberry, ginger and orange coulis to go with them, which sounds nice but tasted weird or at least mine did although with a big dollop of crème fresh it all came together ok.

Gingerly, I stepped on the scales Bizarrely, despite eating more than I had since the beginning of January, I hadn’t put on any weight. In fact, thanks to Rosie, I actually lost another 2 pounds.

11
Mar

Ivy Benson and her singer

Parking outside Radio 2 last Sunday evening, a private car pulled up in front of us and a woman with blondish hair jumped out and sort of skipped/jogged into the building Muddy whispered, “I think that’s your interview.”   “Nah. It can’t be, the lady I’m interviewing is 90 in August.”

Joyce Terry (nee Clark) had been singing in Southport one evening in 1942 when Ivy Benson, famed all girl bandleader headlining at the theatre across the way, walked in and hired her on the spot, the 18 year old then stayed with band for the next five years.

I am passionate about preserving the memory and accomplishments of this inspirational woman,  who despite the misogynistic back biting and discrimination of the time fought on to become the BBC’s resident band in 1943, top of the bill at the London Palladium for 6 months in 1944 and the first band to be invited to play at the VE Day celebrations in Berlin 1945. Later that year on Christmas Day she performed a live concert from Hamburg broadcast to the British nation directly after the King’s speech. A favourite of ENSA Ivy and her girls toured Europe and the Middle East as part of the war effort raising morale wherever they went. Ivy passed away aged 79 in 1993 having led her band for 43 years.

If attitudes towards female musicians weren’t tough enough Ivy was constantly losing her girls to the charms of various dashing servicemen she later said “I lost seven in one year to America. Only the other week a girl slipped away from the stage. I thought she was going to the lavatory but she went off with a G.I. Nobody’s seen her since.”

Ivy offered financial independence to women musicians at a time when there were startlingly few platforms for them to be heard, she hired only the best including the legendary trumpeter Gracie Cole who eventually left Ivy to join George Evans Band to play lead trumpet unheard of at that time.

Incidentally the youthful sprightly woman spotted earlier was singer Joyce Terry. Joyce came on the show to talk about “Sax Appeal” a great new documentary on The Ivy Benson Band which aired last Monday evening on Radio 2.  Full of stories and anecdotes Joyce will definitely be back soon. “Sax Appeal”‘ will be available on the iPlayer for the next 30 days.

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.