Saturday, 17 October 2009

Getting intimate with Mr Showmanship

I love brash, big budget, bums-on-seats West End musicals.  Sister Act is sassy, Priscilla is camper than Christmas at Julian Clary's, Billy Elliot will move you to tears, Wicked is, well, wicked, and, for me, Hairpsray manages - just about - to be a brilliant, backcombed cut above even all the rest.

But don't forget that countless other shows are being performed nightly, often in tiny, out-of-the-way venues. Some will be bum-numbingly bad but others will knock your socks off (and isn't that equally true of big budget theatre in any case?). 

In other words, if you've already seen all the blockbusters that tickle your fancy, try the Fringe.  It's an incredibly cool, in-the-know thing to do, and tickets prices are far lower, so you can impress the boy- or girlfriend whilst saving £30-£40 a head!

Until 8th November, your best bet for high camp without the high price is Liberace Live from Heaven at The Leicester Square Theatre in which Bobby Crush, who rightly bills himself as Britain's Top Piano Entertainer, portrays the world's top piano entertainer of all time.

The premise is simple: Liberace finds himself at the Pearly Gates where he has to convince a panel of angels (played by the audience) that he merits a place in heaven rather than descending into the fiery furnace.  It turns out that God (played on voice tape by Victoria Wood - inspired casting) is a George Gershwin fan.  Cue keyboard medley of everything from Rhapsody in Blue to I Got Rhythm via Embraceable You.

Musical interludes punctuate the entire show, in fact, including a brillaint recreation of Liberace's famous invention, boogie woogie 16 to the bar (which is the standard, eight to the bar variety but with the left hand going at twice the speed; a real finger-buster as any pianist will tell you).

Bobby Crush delivers an absolute tour de force, not only matching Liberace's complex, high-speed, flawless pianistic technique but also offering a wholly convincing impression of the man who, despite his cheesy lines and fake-as-a-nine-bob-note fixed smile, was, for several years, the highest paid entertainer in the world.  His outrageous costumes are recreated too, a gobsmackingly gaudy parade of sequins, feathers and fur.

There's a more serious side to the evening.  Liberace was a troubled soul, a gay man living in a age when homosexuality was still illegal.  Discovery would have meant social and professional ruin, which is why he sued The Daily Mirror in 1959 after one of its columnists dared to hint that he might not be the marrying kind.  Such was the sexual naivité of the time, the jury believed the false testimony of this mincing old fruit who had never married (at least Rock Hudson put on a convincing act!) and awarded him massive damages.  God is therefore rather put out (whilst St Peter, voiced by Stephen Fry, becomes nothing short of apoplectic) that Liberace had sworn on the Bible to tell only the truth .

Will the joy his music and showmanship brought to millions outweigh his blasphemous deceit in the minds of the audience of angels?  Will they decide that he was more the victim of a cruel, illiberal age or a phoney, money-grabbing sinner?

The show is playing at the Leicester Square Theatre's basement studio in which even an audience of 60 constitutes a tight fit.  That means, as is usually the case at fringe venues, that everyone gets a ringside seat, unlike in the big West End houses where sitting in Row Z or two floors up can leave you feeling divorced from the action.  Intimacy borne of proximity is one of the Fringe's greatest attribtues even when, paradoxically, as in this case, it's fringe in the heart of the West End. 

Indeed, the 'angels' in the front row are so close to the action, there's every chance of their being knocked sideways by the heavy, swirling hem of Liberace's floor-length, white fur cape.  And, for twenty-odd quid, you can't ask much more of a night out than that!

(photos courtesy of and

Friday, 16 October 2009

A case of (non-mistaken) identity: footnote to a previous blog

I'm just back from Waterloo where I reclaimed the suitcase I left on the train yesterday.

The guy in the lost property office was very chuffed to meet me.  "Are you Bill Buckley, the radio presenter?" he asked.  I confirmed this, with my best approximation of a modest shrug.

"Oh, I really used to love listening to you in the night on LBC," he gushed.  I thanked him.

"And wait until I tell my parents I've met you!  They were huge fans of yours when you were on BBC Southern Counties."  I muttered something about that being very nice.

"Right, I've got your case here," he continued.  "Do you have any form of identification?"

"But you know who I am!" I protested.

"Oh yes, but I can't hand anything over with some form of identification."

A credit card, carefully scrutinised, sufficed.....

Queues for food and queues to meet a foodie

Celebrities are wont to bemoan the price of fame but not to give thanks for its awesome power.  Last night, I witnessed that power in Guildford. 

Surrey's county town recently acquired a branch of Jamie's Italian, the restaurant chain belonging to TV cheeky chappie and culinary campaigner Jamie Oliver.  It's in an ugly 60s building some distance from the attractive, quaint high street but only a narrow pavement away from the town's vile and thunderous one-way system.  And yet, at 7.15 on a Tuesday night, the place was packed and a queue of 40 (yes, 40; I counted twice because I couldn't believe it, either) stood patiently outside.

I daresay the cured meats, olives and pastas are perfectly nice (though a bit uneven, according to critics) but I doubt very much they're that nice.  What's more, it isn't particularly cheap, and the chances of Jamie himself stuffing your ravioli are slimmer than a fasting supermodel.  Yet, with any number of mid-priced alternatives a short stroll away, 40 people preferred to wait outside, inhaling bus and lorry fumes, for as long as it took.  Ah, the power of celebrity.

Talking of celebrities, I was in town to interview Tom Parker Bowles and Dr Hilary Jones as part of the annual Guildford Book Festival.  (Next week, I shall return to gently probe BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, chef James Martin and Radio 2 stalwart Ken Bruce.) 

For the benefit of those who've been living on Jupiter for the past few years, Tom is a food writer and broadcaster (and son of Camilla, now Mrs Prince Charles, as it happens) whilst Hilary has been dispensing medical advice from the GMTV (and, before that, the TVam) sofa for the past 20 years.

The usual format at these festivals is that an author is interviewed by someone like me in front of an audience, the members of which then buy his book and queue up to have him sign their copy. 

Tom was first on at The Electric Theatre to flog his latest work, Full English: A Journey Through the British and Their Food. 

We've met before but in a radio studio: he was one of my last interviewees when I hosted LBC 97.3's Sunday afternoon Food & Drink Show.  I was removed rather hastily from that post - and from LBC altogether - a few weeks ago for the crime of presenting a couple of programmes at deadly rival BBC London 94.9.  Tom nipped in and took the show over.  Well, someone had to, and good luck to him because, despite being Eton- and Oxford-educated and both stepson and godson to the heir to the British throne, he is the most modest, affable, ego-free guy you could ever hope to meet.  Actually, my theory is he's like that because of, rather than in spite of, his privilege.  I think, consciously or unconsciously, he uses his niceness to wrong-foot jealous souls looking for reasons to dislike him.

He arrived in casual jacket, combats and trainers with just one assistant provided by his publishers, as is the usual practice.  There were no hooray hangers-on and no security goons muttering into headsets, nor were there any pop-star demands for designer vodka or M&Ms with all the blue ones taken out.

We chatted before the performance about Leona Lewis who, only the day before, during a book-signing session at Waterstone's in London's Piccadilly, had been punched, and punched hard, by all accounts, by a deranged male 'fan'.  Was a rabid class warrior or the maitre d' of Simpsons on the Strand (about whose breakfasts Tom waxes less than lyrical in the book) waiting to give him a good whack in the kisser, we wondered? 

We agreed there's little you could do to eliminate the possibility; you could check fans for concealed weapons as stringently as if they were about to board a plane, but Leona's assailant just used his fist and you can't ban those.  And a security guard would need reflexes like lightening to get between a fist employed without warning and an author's face.

The interview and the subsequent signing passed off without incident, needless to say, as did the following sesssion with Dr Hilary Jones, another charming, articulate interviewee who turned up without even a publisher's assistant.

The only blip in this otherwise silk-smooth excursion involved my suitcase - again!  Regular readers may remember that Iberia recently flew me to Gran Canaria but only managed to get my case as far as Madrid.  This time, the fault was all mine: I got off my train home at Vauxhall, leaving it in the luggage rack.  The lost property department at Waterloo was unable to tell me whether it had been found - you have to wait until the following day for that information for some strange reason. 

I do hope I get it back, not least because it contains a copy of the new book by Frank Gardner, one of next week's interviewees, and I've only read the first third, let alone sketched out any questions.  Frank is a distinguished journalist who would see straight through an ill-prepared interviewer.  And, as excuses go, I doubt he'd be any more impressed by: "Sorry, Frank, I left your book on the train," than any schoolmaster ever was by: "Sorry, sir, the dog ate my homework."

pictures courtesy of and         

Monday, 12 October 2009

A funny turn (well, quite a few actually) at the theatre

I was at The Palladium last night.  I've seen countless shows there over the last 30 years (current incumbent Sister Act is highly recommended), but a visit still invariably induces a frisson of excitement, thanks to Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

For baffled younger readers, I should explain that this was TV's biggest entertainment shows of the 60s.  Everyone from Judy Garland to The Rolling Stones topped the bill, and it launched the career of Bruce Forsyth (yes, kids, that's right, the old duffer on Strictly who thinks racist language is no big deal).  It was a "variety" show, a concept which might leave the under-25s further confused.  This means it featured professional entertainers, rather than hairdressers, school kids and odd-looking spinsters with learning difficulties desperate to change their lives.  These were people who had polished their craft over many years and so could already juggle, perform magic tricks, tell jokes, dance or sing (sometimes all of the above) to a high standard without the intervention of a Simon Cowell-esque Svengali.  Because they were so experienced, they didn't get nervous and sing sharp, nor were they critised by a panel of judges or voted off by the public.  (I know - how weird is that?!)

And this was in the days of two television channels.  Yes, honestly, kiddywinks, there were only two, and there was no box you could buy or service you could subscribe to to give you more.  Your choice was the po-faced, we-know-what's-good-for-you BBC or the tits-and-tinsel, let's-'ave-a-larf ITV.  Snobby families claimed they never watched ITV but its often far superior audience figures proved they were liars, guiltily enjoying Stars and Garters or Coronation Street with the curtains drawn.  A legacy of the two channel era is that, to this day, I sometimes catch myself wondering what's on the other side when I intend to flip through the countless channels at my disposal. 

This duopoly meant successful shows routinely attracted audiences of 20 million or more, and Sunday Night at the London Palladium was one such.  It predated colour TV, of course, so, each time I visit the Palladium, I'm not only chuffed to stand in the space I gawped at from our living room every week but am also mildly shocked to discover it's not in black and white. Rich red is, in fact, the interior's dominant colour, just as it should be in a proper, traditional theatre.

Last night, I was there for a tribute concert for the late Danny La Rue.  Again, bear with me, fellow oldies....  Danny la Rue was the first true cross-dressing superstar before Dame Edna was so much as a purple-coiffured twinkle in Barry Humphires' eye or Lily Savage had shoplifted her first bottle of peroxide.  He was a glamorous, glittering exaggeration of womankind and one of the biggest stars of the day.  (Mind you, we never quite 'got' him in our house: "What's so clever about that?  It's just a man in a frock.  When's Jimmy Tarbuck coming back on?  See what's on the other side, Mother.")

I went because good friends were on the bill.   Believe me, I didn't want to, even though the show was raising funds for The Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund which looks after superannuated performers, many of whom think they're still in summer season in Blackpool whereas they're actually sitting in a care home in Twickenham.

The trouble with tribute or charity shows is that they are buttock-clechingly embarrassingly under-rehearsed.  They're always held on a Sunday at a West End theatre in which another show has been playing Monday to Saturday.  That means there's only one day to sort everything out, a near impossibility with numerous turns wanting to run through their act, sound, lighting, a band and goodness knows what else to contend with.

The other problem is they are buttock-numbingly long.  Four hours-plus is not unusual.  This is because the entertainers agree to do eight minutes but, once the spotlight hits them and they hear laughter and applause, they just can't help themselves and do 17 minutes instead.

I'm delighted to say that last night, neither criticism applied.  Okay, the show did run three hours 35, but it was so entertaining, it seemed half that length.  And, miraculously, it was technically almost faultless, too.

Many of the acts had a delightfully retro feel - how often do jugglers, ukele players or Irish dancers get a slot on TV these days, more's the pity? - and star names included Ronnie Corbett, Barry Cryer, Anita Harris and Roy Hudd (I can't even get started on explaining that lot to younger readers).  More surprisingly, 70s prog rock god Rick Wakeman popped up, playing the piano beautifully and proving an effortlessly droll raconteur.

Special mentions (partly because they are my friends but mainly because they deserve it) go to Hilary O'Neil and Bobby Crush.  Hilary is a criminally under-known singer, dancer, comedienne and impressionist, and I have never seen her be less than brilliant in any of those departments.  Bobby, meanwhile, bills himself, with total justification, as Britain's Top Piano Entertainer.  He is about to star as Liberace, the world's top piano entertainer of all time, at The Leicester Square Theatre (more about that in a future blog, no doubt) and treated us to a preview, performing a Dusty Springfield medley in one of Liberace's trademark, OTT, spangly costumes complete with dazzling, fixed smile (so not camp at all, then).

I downed a few white wines at the after-show reception and mwah-mwah-ed the great and the good of showbusiness, all of whom were kind enough to pretend they knew who I was.  I was even kissed first by warm and wonderful King of the Jungle Christopher Biggins.

I've nibbled around the edges of showbusiness proper throughout my broadcasting career, and I love and admire its full-time practitioners; fearless, funny, feisty folk who suffer a thousand setbacks but never give up and always give 110%.  Contrary to public perception, their lives are more about grit and graft than glamour and gracious living.  If they had an ounce of sense, they'd jack it in and do something more steady and less demanding, like being an astronaut or running a small country. 

If you've ever left a theatre feeling better than when you went in, be thankful that, in their misguided madness, your laughter and applause outweighs the back street digs, the broken promises and being on first name terms with the clerk at the benefits office.

(picture courtesy of

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Toff his trolley

Just watched David Cameron's speech at the Tory conference.  Well, it was either that or dust the skirting boards.

He wants the same choices for all our children that he had.  I can't help feeling Eton may become rather oversubscribed.....

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

I'm just a boy who can't say no

My stomach is distended.  I look like I'm about to give birth to twins.  I'm full to the brim and it will keep me awake tonight.  And I've no-one to blame but myself.

Today, I lunched with my accountant and had dinner at an Italian restaurant I was reviewing for the website,  Two meals out in one day is one too many, as far as I'm concerned.  Still, I told myself, if I kept the lunch light, it would be perfectly manageable.

My accountant's offices are in Pimlico, one of my favourite bits of London because, whilst it boasts the architectural grandeur and some of the gentility of neighbouring Mayfair and Belgravia, many of its residents are quite poor, so there's a pinch of vibrancy, scuzziness and madness to leaven the mix.  It also positively teems with restaurants, especially as you near Victoria.  We peered at the menus of many before settling on a Mexican joint which irresistibly offered two-course lunches for a tenner.

The starter duly arrived.  It was huge.  Only a starving navvy could have seen off the vast mound of tortilla chips, melted cheese, guacamole, tomatoes and goodness knows what else.  Only a starving navvy or I, that is.  Because I can't leave food.  If it's on my plate, it goes into my mouth.

The main course was of equally insane proportions, although I suppose I should have been grateful it wasn't even bigger.  Again, I polished it off, fretting all the time about how I would manage a single radicchio leaf a few hours later.

Of course, when dinner time came round, I put away parma ham with melon, sea bream a la Meuniere and panna cotta with the utmost efficiency, even helping out my dinner date with her selection of vegetables and new potatoes for good measure.  Which is why I am now lying around, nursing my pot belly, loathing myself and groaning 'never again!'.

Why do I do it?  Why can't I put my knife and fork together neatly when I know I've had enough and calmly step away from the plate?

I can't recall my mother threatening to withold the rhubarb crumble unless all the carrots and cabbage were consumed.  Many parents back then engaged in that kind of bargaining.  Either that, or they guilt-tripped their kids by pointing out the starving Biafrans on the television news.  Either tactic would probably be classed as abuse these days, bound to lead to eating disorders but, when you witness the narrow diet and non-existent table manners of some of today's children, it makes you think grandma had a point. 

My mum never resorted to such measures because she never had to; I wanted to finish my vegetables because, like everything else she served, they were delicious. 

How my heart goes out to those whose mothers were lousy cooks (and I remember the surprise of eating at friends' houses and discovering that some of their mums certainly were).  How melancholy their childhood mealtime memories must be, although they presumably remain constantly surprised at how good most of what they eat in adult life tastes in comparison, which is a happy state of affairs, I suppose.  I, meanwhile, am wont to compare, invariably unfavourably, the shortness of pastry, the crispness of chips, the fluffiness of mash or the richness of gravy with what mother dished up 40 years ago, day in, day out, apparently with little effort and usually to little acclaim.

Miraculously, I've completed half a century without becoming obese but, as the metabolism slows, it's sure to become harder.  Will I ever learn to quit when I'm sated? 

I doubt it.  Believe it or not, I've just experienced a pang of hunger.  Like buses, they never come singly so, if I don't go straight to bed, I shall find myself at the fridge, assessing my options for a late-night snack.

I am a hopeless case but I can live with it.  Salvation and salivation are mutually exclusive, it seems.  I'll take the latter every time.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Footnote to a former blog

I promised you a couple of blogs ago that I'd report back following my inordinately long wait to collect pre-booked tickets at Paddington.  Just how long would 'Worst' Great Western deem it reasonable to have to stand in line?  Now that I'd nobly brought the problem to their attention, what scheme would they devise to stop it happening in the future?  How much compensation would I receive for missing my train?

Their email had landed!  Lewis Gale, a customer services advisor, apologises and appreciates "how frustrating this must have been".  What's more he has logged my comments "as a complaint against the station on our system" (against the station!  On their system!  I'm starting to feel like a bit of a rotten telltale...)

There's more: "Senior Managers (note the capital letters!) will see the details in our regular report and can take any action to improve the situation for the future."

Wow, what a result!  Power to the People!

Oh, hang on a minute, though....  None of my questions specifically addressed.  No promises of any action.  No dosh....

Isn't it great how modern technology enables "them" to patronise and fob us off so much faster and more easily?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Does that Cheddar need ironing? Pass it over...

I'm back from debuting as a judge at The World Cheese Awards in Gran Canaria where 2,440 pressed curd creations from 34 countries vied for the honours.

Not since the 90s when I globetrotted for BBC TV as a Holiday Programme reporter have I encountered such wistful envy from friends.  The sunshine!  The five-star hotel!  Not to mention all those five-star cheeses!  'Ooo, you are lucky, Bill!", "You get all the best gigs," "Bring a Brie back for me!", they chorused (and: "Huh!  You call that work?" harrumphed one or two of those less imbued with generosity of spirit).

And yes, I am lucky and I do get at least some of the best gigs but, as I used to parrot like a mantra during the Holiday Programme years, it's hard work, not as glamorous as you'd think, and stuff goes wrong......

On this occasion, stuff went wrong from the off.  We British judges were to fly from Heathrow at a very civilised 12.10, change at Madrid (the new, Richard Rogers-designed terminal is every bit as sensational as critics have made out, incidentally) and arrive at Las Palmas at 18.25 in time to shower and change for a judges' welcoming dinner.

Then came a sequence of events, involving a knackered plane, a crashed computer system, no assistance or organisation by Iberia or anyone else, endless queuing, and an attempt to convince a puzzled Heathrow immigration official that my journey had started at Heathrow (resolved when her colleague leant over to gush about how she loves me on the radio).

We finally checked in at our hotel at 3 in the morning.  Oh - and my bag didn't make it until 5 the following afternoon.

After four hours' sleep, we were bused to the Alfredo Kraus conference centre (famous Spanish tenor, Austrian forebears, hence incongruous name).  We dribbled out onto a terrace which overlooked an impossibly perfect bay where, below an azure sky, surfers, swimmers and sunbathers took full advantage of a sparkling sea and golden beach.  Was there one judge so dedicated to fermented milk products that they wouldn't have dashed from the building, ripped off their clothes and, with a mighty 'woohoo!', dived into the Atlantic, given the choice?

Instead, we were ushered into a hall where 20 judging tables groaned with more cheeses than the most ambitious deli ever dreamt of; soft ones, hard ones, tiny ones, some as big as yer 'ead; Goudas and goats', manchegos and mozzarellas, cottages and camemberts.  There were almost as many camera crews, radio reporters and earnestly scribbling print journos, too. 

And, get this: it's a spectator event!  Two tiers of delegates, taking a breather from the accompanying trade festival, hung over the rails to watch our every move.  What entertainment they could possibly have derived from our nibblings, noddings and jottings, I cannot imagine, but then people watch cricket or darts on the telly so I guess there's nothing they won't gawp at.

As a rookie judge with only a layman's knowledge of cheese, I did wonder quite what I was doing there as I changed into my paper white coat (most of the other judges had brought their own cotton jobs, of course, with their names embroidered across the chest, some accessorizing with dinky little white hats).

Luckily, one of my team mates was Cathy Strange whose business card described her as a 'global cheese buyer' as well it might: she supplies no fewer than 280 stores across Canada and the US.  We were also joined by John Axon, a Gruyere consultant with his own shop, The Cheese Hamlet, in Didsbury who has been judging for nearly 20 years.  I felt in safe, Gorgonzola-perfumed hands.

We were to consider appearance, body, flavour, and taste and texture balance in categories with snappy names like 'blue vein, any variety, uncut, natural rind', 'mozzarella, fresh cows' milk in ball (large or small)' and 'hard cheese produced on farm or dairy with a total output not exceeding a weekly average of 2 tonnes'.

Soon, phrases like 'inconsistent piercing', 'uneven rind formation' and 'aging fissures' were tripping from Cathy and John's lips.  I was saying things more like 'Mmm, this one's yummy!', and 'Ooo, you'd definitely have seconds of this at a dinner party!'  Actually, that was pretty much why I was there; to represent the informed customer and bring the experts back to reality should they take an overly specialist view (which they didn't).

Oh, by the way, if ever you need a cheese ironing, I'm your man, thanks to John, who taught me.  You know how cheesemakers stick that curved tool into a great big cheddar and winkle out a thin cylinder of the stuff for tasting, rather as if they were extricating a cork from a bottle of wine?  Well, the implement is called an iron (they cost a fortune and a wide variety of bore width is available, you'll be relieved to hear), and the operation is called ironing (warning - don't get confused and try this at home on your best blouse). 

My big (and, thankfully, unfounded) worry was whether I'd be able to nibble my way through up to 80 varieties without losing my critical faculties at best or losing my breakfast at worst.  As at wine events, containers were provided for spitting out samples (gosh, I bet there's a stampede for the job of emptying and cleaning out those!) but, as Cathy and John didn't spit, neither did I.

Not all the cheeses were ambrosial.  In fact, one or two were downright nasty.  A sweaty, putty-like substance with the addition of about a thousand times too much black pepper will long linger in the memory for all the wrong reasons.  But some were terrific, and it was an experience I wouldn't have missed.

That took us up to lunchtime, and I think the organisers hoped we'd attend some rather specialised lectures during the afternoon on subjects like maximising yield and international marketing.  Having had three and a half hours' sleep through no fault of our own was the perfect get-out for us British judges who would surely have nodded off in any case, so the majority of us opted to sleep, either on the beach, beside the pool or in the cool of our darkened rooms.

I chose the last option and was roused at 5 by a porter with my long lost suitcase.  So pleased was I, and so befuddled by sleep, I blurted out something like: 'Oh my God!  You're wonderful!  I will love you forever!'  This was probably a tad excessive, especially from one clad only a pair of  brightly checked boxers, kindly loaned by Radio 2 food expert Nigel Barden.  I'm guessing the porter may have preferred five euros.

With nightfall came the awards dinner.  After cava cocktails outside to make the most of the balmy, 25-degree night, we ploughed through apple and mango gazpacho (much less weird than it sounds), meltingly moist local pork fillet (although a mixed fruit skewer stuck in the top was a culinary flight of fancy too far) and a biscuity, caramelly concoction with mint ice cream (enticingly named 'typical dessert' on the fancy menu card).  No cheese involved anywhere, you will notice.  What a wise chef....

Part way through, a group wearing medieval monks' attire with just a hint of Baron Hardup from Cinderella took to the stage.  These were the elders of the Guilde de Fromagers, formed in 1969 (so why the Middle Ages costumes?) to big up the cultural and historical importance of cheesemaking.  The surreality of deadly serious Frenchmen processing through a Gran Canarian function in fancy dress was gloriously ramped up by their choice of music, a recording of Land of Hope and Glory.

They inducted several new members, including Cathy, my fellow judge, and Bharat Mistry, Tesco's technical development manager for continental cheese who had leant me a phone battery charger when I was still suitcase-less the night before!  I felt quite emotional to see my newfound mates singled out for this great honour, although it's possible my immoderate enjoyment of various Canary Islands wines was partially responsible for the tears of pride pricking my eyes.

Finally, organiser Bob Farrand announced the supreme champion, a goats' cheese from Canada.  This instantly prompted thoughts of a transatlantic jolly in 12 months' time: we were in Gran Canaria because one of the island's cheeses had triumped in London in 2008 - it's a bit like hosting The Eurovision Song Contest.  However, London is the most likely venue for 2010, I understand.  Oh well, at least that rules out hours of confusion at airports and lost luggage.

Speaking of lost luggage, my bag was the absolute first off the plane back at Heathrow.  I was so astonished, I let it complete two circuits of the carousel before allowing myself to believe it was mine.....

(photo courtesy of