BEST WEEK EVER – THANKS TO VERA ESPECIALLY

Saturday: half a pint

I meet Jennifer Lu, a friend of the friend who asked me, “Can you show Jennifer a little of London?” Ms Lu is from Beijing, a Chinese philanthropist, super-smart and worldly-wise, aged only 25. Her job — get this — is to work out what the money her tycoon father has made in business can do to help the planet. I think we are probably talking billions rather than millions, but the sums don’t enter the conversation! My first thought is that Jennifer should drink beer in a pub, which she has never done before. I choose The Dove, on the river walk in Hammersmith. And Oliver’s Island, a beer made by Fuller’s, the brewery just down the road. She enjoys it, I can tell. No, actually, I’m sure.

And now Chelsea

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This is Jennifer’s first football match. I explained the rules and that Chelsea would probably beat Manchester City, even though this has not been a very good season for my team. Jennifer enjoyed the three goals, although I felt they were probably scored at the wrong end. In the run-up to the game I had to do that very British thing of explaining the offside rule and I drew the picture below on my iPhone: I told her,

The blue player on the right is offside, because he was ahead of the three red defenders when the ball left the foot of the blue player on the left.

 

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Sunday: my brilliant dancing genius friend

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I took Anna, 9, to see Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite dance at Epsom Playhouse. I count Natalie as a real friend since Strictly and I am so full of admiration for what she does — she makes music physical! She and Ian danced like angels at Epsom Playhouse and I could see Anna was entranced as she watched. Then we had a little bit of Nat-time later so the whole evening was perfect. If you love Strictly, see this show. It’s called a Touch of Class.

Monday: I can’t believe this

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I really CAN’T believe I am sitting beside Vera Lynn. As part of the Soldiering On Awards, I met Vera and interviewed her for my Radio 2 show. Then I presented her with an award for Outstanding Contribution to armed services personnel and charities (to be officially received four days later at the Soldiering On event.) At 99, Vera would quite understandably find a home visit from someone like me, carrying a microphone and the digital equivalent of half an hour of blank tape, a chore. But actually she warmed up the room with her stories and those amazing sparkling eyes.

A picture of Vera Lynn, being shown to me by Vera Lynn

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I had that really amazing spiritual double-take: I am with one of the great icons of the 20th century. Now that our interview is finished, she has asked if I want to look at her photo albums. Being shown pictures of Vera Lynn in the 1930s is entertainment enough, but being talked through those pictures by Vera herself was almost an out-of-body experience. I hesitated before taking these snaps of the experience as I didn’t want to break our concentration for a second, but in the end I took out my camera because I wanted to share this with you. Here Vera shows me a photo from Burma. She wore fatigues, she explained, “because you couldn’t travel in civilian clothes.” A young soldier is snatching a cheeky kiss.

The last word

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Vera has the most piercing gaze — you see it here. She is showing me a picture of Len Edwards, the pianist who travelled everywhere with her, carrying a pistol. Then we made to leave. She remained in her chair and I couldn’t resist turning back to her one more time before I passed out of the room. There were other conversations happening, but I wasn’t listening. Again she fixed me with those eyes. Very simply and precisely, as if it was a statement of fact, she said: “Goodbye.”

Monday: magic with a bubble

One of the producers on my show told me that if you film something that is over very quickly — like a child creating a big bubble — you should do it in slo-mo. So I tried it with my daughter’s industrial bubble machine and got this amazing effect. Anna, 9, had kept asking me: “Come out in the garden, daddy, and watch!” The garden turns out to be almost too small for her soap bubbles. But I am so glad I came out.

Tuesday: Parliament, with Beast

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I think that when we air this Dennis Skinner documentary (May 17th on Radio 2), it will be one of the best I’ve ever done. Dennis, Labour MP since 1970 and known as the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ because of his ferocious, no-fear approach to his Conservative foes, has a softer side. I won’t say too much about it because the story involves his mother Lucy and her passing and I want him to tell it in our programme. But the main point is summed up below:

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Incidentally, I was excited to see a cycle lane being built right next to Parliament. This roads feeds traffic from Westminster Bridge to a particularly nasty roundabout because cars can zip round pretty fast. So hopefully the segregated lane will save lives and spare cyclist injuries.

 

I came, I saw I conked out

The joy of my Radio 2 show is the way it edges into madness. Today we have ex-teacher Simon Waugh raving about Shakespeare. Being a delightful eccentric he has arrived in a Roman toga (or, as my editor calls it, “a tonga”). He is going to quote Shakespeare passages which he has known all his life — from memory. The listeners do the same down the phone. The joy of Simon is that when he forgets a couple of lines he simply makes up his own Shakespeare and it sounds just as good. What a trooper. But the day was not without its problems. I must remember to listen more carefully to callers after this incident …

Wednesday: a message for the place where I started

Dryburn Hospital Radio in Durham offered me a live microphone as a student (not the safest thing to do!). Thirty-two years later and I’m congratulating them on their new magazine. I’d always rather send messages handwritten, so I wrote this, photographed and emailed it. Hope it spreads a little pleasure to the people who do the hardest and best work in the whole of radioland. Let me know if you see the final version.

Getting some sleep

Love this guy. Dr Tim Cantopher is a psychiatrist who has written some brilliant, easy-to-read books about stress and depression and is ALWAYS interesting and friendly when he speaks to my listeners about their everyday problems. Here we discuss sleeping better — everyone wants to know how you do it, and his main tip is: you don’t have to “do” anything. Trying to sleep is the problem. You have to change your lifestyle a little and reduce what he calls your arousal, and sleep will come. But he puts it a lot better than I can in his book.

Thursday: Selfie of the Year

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Don’t laugh! Paul Simon — God of music — has come to see Ken Bruce. I pop in for my trail and am keen, in that slightly-desperate loping way, to get into the group photo. I would like to thank the person from the record company who took this for ensuring that Paul was in the centre of the frame and that I am visible. I might need to work out an explanation as to why we only see Ken’s right ear, since it was his programme. (PS I know it’s not a selfie — that’s when you hold the camera yourself. But a selfie is coming to mean “any picture taken of yourself by a device for whose use you are billed at the end of the month.”)

Double negatives: the campaign starts here

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Two things I read this week. One, in the Spectator, is an attack on Boris Johnson by Nick Cohen which does that fatal thing — starts with such a confusing double negative that it sends the reader sprawling. The second is a notice above the Radio 2 microwave. Think it’s clear? Read it several times and gradually clarity evaporates, and you wonder whether you are being told to leave the building while your food heats up. The Campaign Against Double Negatives starts here.

Friday: best awards ever?

A powerful image from the Soldiering Awards which I mentioned. Clive Smith says — with deliberate but still painful humour — that he is “blown away” to be credited for inspiring many injured soldiers. His legs were both partly blown off by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, and you can see the results. But he has been so strong. Do read about Clive and all the remarkable finalists and their stories here. I took this shot from behind him as I watched because I was struck by the image: how proudly he stands, and talks, on those prosthetic limbs. The whole night was a huge success and I left feeling energised, lucky … and above all grateful to those who serve.

And that’s my week!

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