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Thursday, December 30, 2004

When I said I planned to do nothing for two days, it obviously included blog posts, but the good news (or bad news, depending on your point of view), is that I'm back! And I'm full of the spirit of hogmanay. Well actually I'm full of cheese straws and Kit-Kats, but that's the fault of Lisa's mother.

The highlight of Lisa's brief stay in Shotley Gate was undoubtedly my decisive victory in 'The Big Fat Quiz of the Year'. Lisa may have known who made the tea at Band Aid, but my superior knowledge of Hell's Kitchen and Sven Goran Eriksson's sex life enabled me to seize victory at the end. It was just a shame we didn't have any money riding on it.

Having proved myself the fount of all world knowledge, I returned Lisa to Brighton on Tuesday evening, in time for our 7 month anniversary on Wednesday, a landmark we celebrated with a visit to the drive-thru McDonalds. We're nothing if not classy. Lisa also managed to get to work an hour late, take twice as long for lunch, and then leave an hour and a half early. Which is the kind of work ethic I admire.

On the downside, it barely gave me enough time to browse Brighton's charity shops and buy clothes which don't fit me. I did get a pair of Calvin Klein jeans for £4.49, and they do fit me, but of course with Christmas over, I'm now going to start losing weight like nobody's business (no, really), so it's only a matter of time before they're falling down around my ankles.

Which is a common sight in the parks of Brighton.

Anyhoo, I did make it to the 'Africa Collection' shop where I bought many of my more rustic Christmas presents at the end of October. I was naturally thrilled to find that everything in the shop is now 50% off the marked price, and I could've saved an absolute fortune if my family hadn't insisted on having presents on the 25th. But I've learnt my lesson. They're getting nothing now until January 2006.

I returned to Shotley Gate late last night to find that one of my neighbours was clearly banking on me staying in Brighton for the new year, and had taken advantage of my absence by outrageously parking in my designated parking space. Which is probably a big enough event to make the next issue of 'The Shotley Noticeboard', under the headline 'Parking Fury in Tudor Close'.

If I was my neighbour at number 3, I'd have reacted by calling in the army and having the offending vehicle blown up (not that I'm suggesting he's intolerant), but me being me, I just parked elsewhere and chose to respond by quietly moaning to anyone who'd listen.

It obviously worked - the car disappeared an hour ago. Hurrah! Another victory for incessant whining.

Monday, December 27, 2004

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without embarrassing photos.

Natural blonde

Unfortunately I don't have any.

But I did manage to put on a paper hat and eat myself into a coma. I think my stomach reached its maximum capacity at around 3:15pm, but interestingly I didn't stop eating until shortly after 7pm. Having consumed a second slice of chocolate cheesecake at approximately 6:15pm I informed my sister-in-law that I'd definitely gone too far, felt physically sick, and may very well throw up at any moment. Ten minutes later I helped myself to another slice of cheesecake.

My presents this year included 3000 sheets of paper and two printer cartridges (anyone would think I was a writer), enough petrol money for two trips to Brighton, and a pig dressed as Santa. While my brother decided that now we're both in our 30s he should go for a more mature gift. So he got me a radio-controlled plane. He's coming back in a few days so we can play with it together.

As for today, I'm off down to Brighton with my guitar for a bit of community singing in Lisa's living room. I'm taking chocolates in case the crowd turn ugly (or should that be uglier?), and as an extra precaution I've told Lisa to get them drunk before I arrive. So hopefully I'll be well-received. All I need now is a dog on a piece of string and a cardboard sign.

Oh, and before you ask, no, I'm not a natural blonde.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Ding Dong...

('merrily on high', not 'the witch is dead')

Well, for those of you without calendars, it's Christmas Day. Hurrah! And a very merry Crizmus to one and all. I've already started celebrating by opening a bottle of Marks & Spencers Mulled Whine, sorry I mean wine, which went particularly well when I bored through the metal cap with my corkscrew. Honestly, they should put some kind of warning on the bottle if they're going to hide a screw top under the pretty festive wrapping where the cork should be.

But not one to waste a photo opportunity, I took a picture of it with my new camera, and turned it into a piece of monochrome pop-art, in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. Well, the Crashes.


I've already pulled a cracker this year - May 29th to be precise (I can't believe I just used that line), but there are still mince pies to be scoffed, and Santa hats to be worn, so I'm off to my parents for some free food, and to brace myself for the reaction to the plastic novelty tat I bought in Brighton at the end of October.

Abi Titmuss everyone, and a prosperous new year.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I stopped to get petrol yesterday morning on my way to the nether regions of Ipswich, and attempted to use our country's fine new 'Chip & Pin' system to pay for it. After sticking in my card and waiting in vain for the machine to verify my pin number, the assistant eventually gave up and informed me that there are so many people nationwide doing their Christmas shopping that the system can't cope, and you could wait half an hour for it to verify your number. Meaning I had to sign for it instead.

So the technologically advanced new system increases security and cuts fraud... but only if the shops aren't too busy.

Anyhoo, I made it to my parents, where I found my sister in possession of a multi-coloured talking toucan. I didn't bother asking why. I did take a couple of festive photos of Big Sis with my shiny new camera though, both of which she insisted I delete, and one of which she deleted herself when I kindly refused. I hate digital photography. It was so much better when embarrassing photos were burnt permanently onto a bit of film.

I told my Mum at lunchtime that I wouldn't be pigging out until Christmas day, so by the end of the afternoon I'd only eaten half a tube of Pringles, two pieces of chocolate cake, some After Eight mints and a couple of sausage rolls. I held firm and didn't touch the mince pies.

But amongst the party food I did find time to view endless (well it seemed like it) photos on Sis's laptop, and listen to my Dad playing trout music on the violin. I also discovered that we have an iPod owner in the family, and felt quite jealous.

But on the plus side, my sister's decided to stay in America til 2006, so I may be able to squeeze in one more free holiday. Assuming she can build up a few more air miles in the next six months. Keep spending, Sis.

I've also had an expert opinion on my cat from a leading authority on Persians, who was posing as an odd-job man at my parents' house at the time. Apparently his wife breeds them, so he claimed expert knowledge, and in between cleaning the patio with a power-washer, declared that my little Chloe is a Persian Blue with a good face. Which is one in the eye for Melee, who claims she's ugly as sin, and addressed her Christmas card "To Phil & Lisa (but not Chloe)".

Anyway, family socialising over, I stayed up late last night working on a little extra home-made Christmas gift for Lisa. I won't be revealing what it is until Boxing Day though, partly to create a bit of excitement, partly to maintain an air of suspense, but mainly because I know it annoys her.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Well she cut it a bit fine, but with less than 48 hours to go until Christmas Day, Lisa's card has finally arrived.

Beary Christmas

It's a bear on a pudding. A festive combination which just isn't seen often enough in my opinion.

But I have no time to wax lyrical about ursine desserts - I've just received a text message announcing the arrival of my sister at my parents' house. And seeing as she's flown all the way from Texas, I probably ought to make the effort to drive 15 miles to see her.

After I've finished watching the Big Brother Pantomime, that is.

Victor, who told us in the last series that "they call me the milkman, because I deliver", has just announced that "they call me the baker, because I make bread". Which is interesting, because milk and bread were the two items he asked for in the diary room. After announcing he was a rapper slash part-time hitman. In his dressing gown.

I'm just waiting for "they call me the farmer, because I talk bullsh*t".

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I was reading an article today about the three UN hostages who were released in Afghanistan at the end of November. Well, I wasn't so much reading the article, as looking at the pictures. But every picture tells a story, and what this one appeared to tell me was that Lisa and I were lucky to see the Human League in Ipswich last week, because until a month ago they were clearly being held captive in the Middle East...

Human League ........ Hostages
................ Human League ........................................... Hostages

I think I've proved my case quite conclusively there. No wonder they sang that song about the Lebanon.

Anyhoo, the good news of the day is that I've wrapped up all my Christmas presents. And a shoddier bit of festive gift-wrapping you're not likely to find. But hey, it's the thought that counts. And I'll be forcing my family to sign a statement to that effect on Christmas morning before they're allowed to open them.

I also received an e-mail from my chum Helen, with her verdict on the meeting with Lisa last week. Helen confidently declares: "She is such a sweetie, you lucky, lucky boy!!!", which is a bit over the top if you ask me. But then she also uses the phrase "spooky dooky", so frankly I don't think anyone should listen to a word she says.

In addition I've been preparing my set-list for a Christmas concert I've been asked to give in front of a specially invited audience in Lisa's living room on Boxing Day. After much discussion, Lisa and I have narrowed it down to an eclectic mix of Senators and Matchbox Twenty songs about pain, infidelity and mental illness. So it should be quite festive. Although I've been informed tonight that the specially invited audience don't actually know anything about it yet. Which isn't good. Especially for them. But on the plus side, I've been assured that Lisa's nephew will dance to anything.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I returned home from Brighton late last night (sadly alone) to various items of news. One was a postcard from my sister in the Big Bend National Park in Texas. It featured this picture...


... on the back of which my Big Sis had written "I saw this and thought of you". So that's her off my Christmas card list.

Apparently the creature in question is called a 'Javelina' (pronounced 'hav-uh-LEE-nuh'). The postcard informs me that they're short, fat, nearsighted, and are active in the late afternoons. So quite why my sister thought of me, I'm not sure.

My second item of note was an e-mail sent to me via my SoundClick music page. It reads:

"I live in Woodbridge, and was wondering if you have any albums out/available".

Marvellous. I have a fan! And what's more, they're local. I knew if I stuck that music on the web for long enough, eventually I'd find someone who liked it. And it only took a year and a half.

On the slight downside, the person in question forgot to fill in their name and e-mail address, so I don't actually have a clue who they are, and I can't respond. But hey, it's the thought that counts.

Thirdly, I checked my lottery numbers for Saturday, to see if I can now afford a house in Brighton. The winning numbers were:

5 , 16 , 22 , 25 , 27 , 30

I'd invested a whole pound in a May themed lottery ticket which included...

5 (the month of May)
26 (the day Lisa and I are going to see Neil Diamond)
28 (the day we're going to see Duran Duran)
29 (our first anniversary)
31 (my age)

So 25, 27 and 30 come up, and I have 26, 28, 29 and 31. Is it just me, or is that something of a travesty? It's like the bingo all over again.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Not content with the Human League last Monday, Lisa and I returned to the 80s last night with the 'Here & Now' tour at the Brighton Centre. It was a step up in musical quality after we'd spent the afternoon being subjected to a plastic nativity scene in the living room of a friend's mother, which (she was keen to demonstrate) blared out festive music and meaningful words (in an American accent) at the touch of a button. Lisa wondered if it cost less than a fiver. If so, we've found our wedding present for a certain couple next March.

Half an hour of novelty tat later, and we escaped to the pub for the afternoon with the woman's son, who regaled us with stories of neglected kids at the school where he teaches. Although personally I don't think it's that bad to make your children eat Super Noodles for every meal.

But the main event of the day was the evening's musical extravaganza, which featured live performances from... [fanfare please]...

Limahl... Living in a Box... (don't worry, it gets better)... Bucks Fizz... (soon)... Nik Kershaw (hurrah!)... Belinda Carlisle... Kim Wilde (yawn)... and... Midge Ure!

Limahl kicked it off with three of his biggest hits. He was actually quite good, and I would've called for an encore if it wasn't for the fact that by the end of the third song he'd actually covered his whole career. Coming up with a fourth hit was clearly a bridge too far for the dodgy-haired popster.

The same could be said for Living in a Box, a name which has probably proved spookily accurate for the three band members since the 80s. The singer sounded like he'd been smoking sixty a day for the last twenty years, but he managed to belt out their three hits with gusto. And without feeling the need to play the guitar he had hung around his neck.

Next up were 'The Original Bucks Fizz', back together for the first time since the 80s, and original in every way except the actual line up. But hey, we had Cheryl Baker, and that's good enough for me. It was good to see that their dancing hasn't come on at all in the last two decades, but they were strangely enjoyable in an embarrassingly cheesy way, and Lisa and I even got to our feet for 'Making Your Mind Up'. I wasn't too proud to do the actions either.

The first half was completed by Nik Kershaw, who, I have to say, was the star of the night for me. He was clearly no bigger than a midget, but the guy can play a guitar and belt out a pop song with the best of 'em. It was just a travesty that he only got to play four songs (compared with the Fizz's six), and missed out Don Quixote - the one record of his I actually bought. He deserves a comeback tour of his very own. Though as Lisa said, probably in a pub rather than the Brighton Centre.

After the interval we came back to Belinda Carlisle. Not very exciting, although her backing singer was clearly a trained tambourine player, and the woman can presumeably now cook after being in Hell's Kitchen. Not that she was able to demonstrate that ability in five songs.

She was followed by Kim Wilde in a black leather cat suit. I was never that wild about Kim, and she did go on a bit. Though on the plus side, she appeared to have Morpheus from The Matrix on guitar, who she finally revealed at the end to be her little brother. But even so, I was calling for the return of Nik Kershaw.

Kim out the way, it was left to Midge Ure to wrap up the evening, and he was surprisingly good. I sang along to Vienna (even though I'm barely old enough to remember it, obviously), and tapped my toe to 'Fade to Grey', whilst Lisa attempted to explain to me who 'Visage' were. The entire cast of this musical pantomime of nostalgia then returned to the stage for a moving rendition of 'Feed the World', along with all the crew and their children.

Lisa couldn't spot Nik Kershaw, but I helpfully pointed him out. He'd blended into a row of small children, and was hidden behind an eight year old.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Well I successfully lost my bingo virginity last night, but it didn't so much make me triumphant and rich, as confused, bewildered and poor. How doddery old pensioners manage to keep track of that darn game, I'll never know. I was struggling from the moment Lisa handed over the money, and I was presented with all manner of different coloured booklets and numbered slips of paper, the like of which I haven't seen since my A-level maths exam.

Of course, I was expecting a nice relaxing sedentary pace when it came to the actual game, so I was somewhat startled when the woman on the stage started barking out numbers like there was no tomorrow. I thought she was handing out her phone number to the men on the front row, but no - I was somehow supposed to find the time to search for each of these numbers on my bingo card and cross them off with the felt tip pens we'd just paid a quid for, whilst simultaneously checking to see if I'd won anything - a feat of lightning quick reflexes and speed of thought which was frankly beyond me. I've never been so stressed in all my life. It was all I could do to avoid a full blown panic attack.

The highlight of the evening for me was the interval, when we were granted a reprieve from the advanced mathematics, and allowed to drink water and take sedatives. I considered calling for oxygen, but didn't want to embarrass my companions. So I went to the gents toilets instead for a bit of a cry.

Fortunately in the second half Lisa's Mum showed us all how it was done by winning £25 for a single line (which she successfully claimed after getting a woman nearby to cause a diversion by coughing, while she checked with Lisa that she'd got the right numbers), and not having got within three numbers of a full house all evening, I suddenly found myself on the verge of a £500 jackpot. I only needed number seven, and the woman with the apathetic voice called at least another six numbers before anyone won. So if any one of those had been a 7, I'd be rich. But they weren't. So I'm poor. It was a travesty, and I still haven't quite got over it.

But it was an experience. Although next time I might do something a bit less stressful, like bungee jumping.

Friday, December 17, 2004

It's my Mum's birthday today. So...


I couldn't possibly reveal how old she is, but on the day she was born a third German spy was hung at Pentonville Prison, and the government increased rationing for Christmas. So we're not talking the 60s here.

Sadly I can't be there in person to give her the bumps, due to being away on important business in Brighton, but Lisa and I are planning to mark the occasion by taking Lisa's Mum to the bingo tonight. She's not actually very keen to go, but Lisa and I are, and we need a token pensioner to take with us. And besides, I'm legally obliged to treat a mother today, and she's the only one available. So she's coming, whether she likes it or not.

Yesterday turned out to be a blog-free day, due to the fact that I realised I'd driven 630 miles in 6 days (all in the name of love, naturally), and therefore felt we should have a brief afternoon nap to recover. A brief afternoon nap which turned into a marathon sleep. Lisa's first words when we awoke were "Have we missed Richard & Judy?". As it turned out, we barely caught Eastenders.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Not content with Suffolk and Sussex, Lisa and I made our way over to Cambridgeshire (via a traffic jam on the A14) yesterday afternoon to visit my pal Helen, who felt that after six and a half months of me no longer being single, it was about time she was introduced to Lisa. I'd left it until December in the hope of getting extra Christmas presents, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed. Obviously I won't admit to having opened the present I received, but suffice it to say it was a DVD and I enjoyed watching it this morning.

Our evening involved a roast dinner at my aunt's house in St Ives (which Lisa has finally accepted isn't in Cornwall), after which I was forced to endure an episode of Eastenders before being allowed back to Helen's house for some chatting and Ebay bidding (sadly not for giant bobble hats). When Lisa went to the toilet, Helen took the opportunity to tell me what a nice girl she is, before grabbing me roughly by the arm and saying "you be good to her" in a menacing tone of voice. Honestly, anyone would think I'm a rampaging womaniser.

Although it has to be said that if the aardvark keeper at Colchester Zoo became single I'd have to seriously consider my position. And if I ever find a female bagel chef...

Anyhoo, the meeting over, Lisa and I made our way back to Shotley Gate for the night, before returning to Brighton this afternoon via my parents' house, where we filled up on sausage rolls, mince pies and chocolate cake (can help weightloss only as part of a calorie controlled diet). In return I gave them my cat for five days.

We arrived back at Lisa's flat to find a Christmas card and party invitation from a couple of dodgy characters. So thanks to them. Lisa's Elvis sideburns are on order. Personally I'm going as Elvis Costello.

Talking of fat burger-eaters (and I don't mean Lisa), I've had a website hit for the phrase "battered beefburgers". Which wasn't particularly exciting, until I discovered I'm actually the only website in the known universe (well, on Google) that features that phrase. So does that mean The Happy Fryer in Shotley is also the only place you can buy them???

They're 50p each, in case anyone's wondering. And they're very nice. But I'm not sure how many WeightWatchers points they are.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

It's Phil

He looks nothing like me.

But fortunately he can sing, and what's more, we made it into Ipswich in time to hear it. We also arrived in time for the support act, who were worth catching. It's not every day you see three young men with a plug obsession, dressed in white lab coats and standing behind keyboards doing a cross between Kraftwerk and Gary Numan.

Here's a plug for their website:


So that was 'Trademark'. Lisa turned to me after the first song and said "I think they've missed the boat by about twenty years", but apart from that they were quite good.

The Human League were better though. We were standing after only two songs (which is a shame - I paid good money for those seats), and we bopped our way through an hour and a half of 80s synth pop, some of which I actually recognised. It was surprisingly good anyway, and unlike our recent Beautiful South experience (which turned ugly), the Regent was reassuringly nutter-free. You get a better class of music lover in Ipswich.

Although Lisa did see someone throwing up in the foyer.

Monday, December 13, 2004

One day Brighton, the next Shotley Gate. Lisa and I are back in Suffolk for the 80s synth pop event of the year (well ok, there isn't much competition) - The Human League at the Ipswich Regent. I'm obviously very young, so I barely remember the Human League, but Lisa assures me they were quite big in her day. That was before CDs of course. I'm hoping they'll just play 'Don't You Want Me' over and over again, otherwise I might be a bit lost.

Doors open in... um... 10 minutes. And it'll take us 25 minutes to get there. But hey, popstars are never on time. Hence the decision to stop and write a blog post first.

I'm glad I booked tickets for the correct date anyway - this time tomorrow the stage of the Ipswich Regent is being graced by Jim Davidson. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Oh, and one more thing: a friend of Lisa's thinks I look a bit like Phil Oakey. Apparently he's the one who does most of the singing. (The other two, by Lisa's own admission, can barely hold a note). Our seats are quite near the front, so for him it'll probably be like looking in a mirror.

That's if we get there before the concert finishes...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Lisa and I baby-sat her two nephews last night in return for some cheese & onion crisps and the children's supply of Hula Hoops (which Lisa stole from the kitchen). I knew it was going well when nephew number one hugged me goodbye and told me to have a good time - I was only giving his parents a lift down the road to the station. But hey, I was going to be gone a full ten minutes, and by that point we'd bonded.

But we had a good evening. Nephew one and I played video games, Lisa watched Eastenders upstairs, and nephew number two slept through the whole thing. I also enjoyed the book about the lion at bedtime, after which I tucked in Wile E Coyote and Daffy Duck, and went back to playing with the Lego.

This afternoon we ventured into Brighton town centre for a bit of christmas shopping. Which involved buying toys in Gamleys, clothes in Next, and wine from Marks & Spencers (mulled for me, boxed for Lisa). We also met an old man in a gold suit at the bus stop wearing a sign proclaiming the second coming of some deity I'd never heard of. It began with 'M', but that's probably not good enough to be saved. It might help if I could remember the whole name of my potential saviour. Although if his followers have to wear ridiculous hats like the one this chap was sporting, I may prefer to remain in eternal darkness.

Friday, December 10, 2004

When it comes to celebrating a one year anniversary (which is still six months away), a Neil Diamond concert alone is never enough. So despite the fact that Lisa and I already have tickets to see the hoary old warbler at Ipswich Town football stadium on May 26th next year (3 days before our 12 month millstone, I mean milestone), I've just booked tickets for Duran Duran's one-off gig at Birmingham City football stadium on May 28th.

Tickets went on sale at 9am, and by the time I got there at 9:45am they appeared to have already sold out of the seated areas (unless it's just me they didn't want to sell them to), which goes to show firstly that there are a lot of people stuck in the 80s, and secondly that most of their fans are too old to stand. Lisa falls into both categories. But she's also so keen on Duran Duran that she once managed to get the day off work to go and see them in London by telling the boss her grandmother had died. Which I'm sure is something she won't mind me revealing on this blog. So we've gone for the standing tickets.

So that's Duran Duran and Neil Diamond next year, The Human League in Ipswich on Monday, and the Here & Now 80s reunion tour (featuring Bucks Fizz) the following Saturday. One day we might actually go and see someone who's had a hit since 1989.

Anyhoo, I'm off down to Brighton now for a bit of baby-sitting. But while I'm gone, make sure you put in a bid for the world's biggest bobble hats. They're THE winter fashion accessory for 2005. No, really.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I received my free copy of 'Babergh Matters!' today (the cheery exclamation mark is part of the title - they even use it when they're referring to themselves in articles about domestic violence). This latest issue of the district council's magazine contains an article entitled:


It begins, "Efforts to increase the number of affordable houses in local villages received a boost in September when Babergh planners gave the go ahead for..."

For what, I hear you cry? For a dynamic new town in the Suffolk countryside? For a modern housing estate? For a couple of blocks of flats?

No... "for five homes in Upper Layham."

As Ian Tippett, Babergh District Council's Housing Enabling Manager, proudly declares: "Babergh and its partners are pulling out the stops to build new affordable homes."

Notice he doesn't say ALL the stops. Presumeably because pulling out all the stops might involve building more than five homes. It's no wonder I can't get a council house around here.

But in other news, I've received a hit from MSN Search for the question "Can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?". It turns out I'm the number 4 web resource for that issue out of 35,485 sites, so at least I have a new career as a theologian.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I love a bit of narcissism, so I was naturally excited to come across a website this afternoon entitled 'Who Links to Me', which automatically tells you... um... who links to you.

As well as helpfully letting me know that all the pages of my website link to the main page (thanks for that), this handy tool informed me that I'm mentioned on a site called 'Something Beautiful', where I undoubtedly fit in perfectly, but also that I've inexplicably found my way into the Wikipedia Encyclopaedia.

They don't yet have a picture of me, or information about my natural habitat, diet, or life expectancy, and fortunately details of my breeding habits are sketchy, but they do use the word 'anthropomorphic', which sounds quite good.

It also raises the interesting point that if stuff I casually refer to on my website ends up being quoted in encyclopaedias, then I really ought to be laying claim to a lot more impressive achievements.

So I'd just like to state for the record that I'm single-handedly responsible for writing The Simpsons. Thanks.

Monday, December 06, 2004

In this morning's post I received all the way from America... (fanfare please)... my NaNoWriMo postcard, thank you card, and sticker...

I support National Novel Writing Month. And Ipswich Town.

... in return for being an Extraordinary Helper (I'm listed next to someone called Joanna Gardner, who I think is my piano).

As the thank you card states,

"At National Novel Writing Month, we have one mission: To change the world, one writer at a time.

Actually, scratch that. We have two missions. The other mission is to see if, in a limited amount of time, we can consume more coffee than all of Finland."

Well I'm pleased to have been instrumental in achieving one of those objectives anyway.

I'm also quite excited today because I've discovered what part my niece is playing in her school nativity play. The director obviously feels that her demure sensitivity and lack of pretension precludes her from being leading lady material, and makes her more suited to a supporting role.

Lisa's nephew is playing one of the three kings in his nativity play, which, he informs us, "is about Jesus this year" - something of a surprise there. They obviously wanted a break from tradition. By coincidence, my niece's nativity play is also about Jesus, but sadly, with the lack of decent parts for women, she's been handed a slightly less pivotal role.

I had my fingers crossed for donkey, or possibly sheep. Even star would have done. But no. This year my niece will be a nut. I'm saying nothing.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Am I right in thinking that Paul Burrell has become a national treasure overnight? The man's a star. Anyone who can shamelessly begin a sentence with the words "I can't believe how much support I've had over the years from Tom Hanks", and continue with that theme for a good five minutes when it's clear the person you're talking to couldn't give a monkey's, is completely wonderful, and should be stuffed and preserved for the nation. And if he isn't crowned King of the Jungle in 24 hours time, it will be a travesty of the highest order.

But then I said the same thing last year about Peter Andre, and look what happened there. The British public are insaniacs. I'll be voting for you though, Paul, don't worry, so that's two votes guaranteed: me and Tom Hanks. And he can probably afford a couple.

Anyhoo, top news of the day (apart from discovering this afternoon that Microsoft Word's dictionary doesn't know the word 'kerfuffle') (so I used it four times in one paragraph of my novel, just to make a point) is that I had a visitor arrive at my website today after Googling for the words "sings of depression". Which is quite spooky coz I've no idea how to diagnose depression, but I often hum Radiohead songs while I'm doing the washing up.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I entered the Scoop 6 this afternoon (that's the equine equivalent of the pools) where you have to pick the winners of all six of the afternoon's horse races. Obviously I didn't win - if I had, I wouldn't be writing a blog post, I'd be writing a cheque to Brighton & Hove Council, and moving my stuff into the Royal Pavilion. But I did get two winners, two 2nds, one 3rd and one 4th, so I'm planning to start a campaign to have a share of the pool paid out to people who just "have a good stab".

Not that I'll need to make my fortune from gambling for much longer. The Racing Post are currently accepting nominations for their poll of the best and worst racing websites on the net, and one of the categories is "Best home-made fansite celebrating racing". So despite the fact that my main website features 69 different pages, only one of which is about horse racing, I've shamelessly nominated myself under an assumed name. Which I'm sure is perfectly legal. So once the judges turn up and recognise me for the top racing pundit I clearly am, I should be signed up for a weekly column in the Racing Post in no time at all, and set to replace John McCrirrick on Channel 4 by the new year. Hurrah!

While I'm here, may I also just say a public thank you to King Nicholas (England's other monarch), for officially appointing me Blogger Laureate of the Copeman Empire. It's an honour, and I am truly humbled.

Though if I don't get a company car by the end of the week, I won't be happy.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Today's moderate slogan of the day, as seen on a US pro-democrat, pro-choice, anti-war website:

"Republicans want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers."

Marvellous. Nothing controversial there. Apart from the words.

I've also been enjoying a newly discovered blog entitled 'Koo-Koo Puffs'. It's only been live for the past month, but its author has already found time to share the following:

"I whant to be a basketball player when i grow up and i'am going drink apple juice so i can be tall. so i can duck when i play basketball.and iwill be rich and then buy me a nice car and a nice house with swimpoo. and so i will be famus. and i will be on the magazine and on books. and when i go some were the people get there artercraft from me."

Ah yes, I too dream of buying swimpoo, being famus, and having people ask me for my artercraft. Actually I like the word 'artercraft'. I think I'll try to drop it into casual conversation and see if anyone notices.

Anyhoo, it's interesting the effect that a lack of a deadline has on my writing. Having stormed through November on a stress-fuelled wave of high-octane novelling (?), I'm now finding it remarkably difficult to knock out the last remaining chapters. It somehow seems more appealing to watch Richard & Judy, drink Fairtrade hot chocolate, and surf the web for blogs called Koo-Koo Puffs.

But I did manage to struggle my way to a thousand words this afternoon. I would write more this evening, but there's a children's spelling competition just started on BBC1, and I can't be expected to ignore something like that.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Today's 'Trisha' featured a girl who can only have sex with her boyfriend in the dark.

WHY? I hear you ask.

Because he's got the names of all his ex-girlfriends tattooed on his body, and she doesn't like seeing them when they're making love.

How many ex-girlfriends, you say?

Just the odd 14.

Honestly, some people are just too sensitive. I'm sure it wouldn't bother Lisa if I had the names of 14 other women tattoed all over me.

But anyhoo, the sex in the dark is obviously working, because they're expecting a baby.

And they're planning to get married.

Although the bloke admits that his facial tattoos are stopping him getting a job.

Which I believed, until he mentioned that he also can't read or write.

Some men just have 'good catch' written all over them.

In his case literally.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I returned home from Brighton last night (after staying to watch 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here', which says a lot about my life), and sent Lisa a text message at 1:30am to tell her I'd got back safely, so she wouldn't worry. As it turned out, she'd only worried until mid afternoon when her mobile phone network finally deigned to deliver the message. Marvellous.

I came back to the news that I'd missed the official launch of...

My Shotley. And yours too.

... the new parish website, which I was kindly asked to take charge of back in April, and which has finally been launched eight months later, after I not-so-kindly said no.

The home page confidently declares "You can make things happen here", beneath which is a disclaimer just in case anyone actually believes that.

But they've made an excellent job of it, and I'm not just saying that because I get a mention on there. It's fab, really. Though I'm a bit annoyed that the photo on the 'Shotley' page manages to cut off my flat. In addition there's a section entitled 'You Tell Us' for expressing your views, so I plan to complain about the fact that Shotley Playgroup have changed their name to 'Kidzone', which makes them sound like a boy band if you ask me.

Anyhoo, I've finished posting the first ten chapters of my novel on that other site today, and what's more, I've already had a promise to read it from His Majesty King Nicholas, which just goes to show the appeal of my writing. None of yer riff-raff around here, y'know - I attract bona fide royalty.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 30
Words Written: 50,132
Words Remaining:

I dunnit.Oh yes indeed. As losers such as myself are fond of saying, "I'm a winner". After a day of intensive beavering, my novel's been officially validated, and what's more I've got the certificate to prove it, which I've downloaded, printed out, and will be handing out at Christmas, along with a copy of my novel, to numerous people who don't want it but will be forced to accept it (and that means you, Melee). Hurrah!

The 50,000 word target may have been reached (god only knows how), but the novel's not actually finished, so it'll be another week before I'm able to accept the inevitable bids from publishers, but if you're so inclined you can read the first ten chapters here. That's if I've posted them all by the time you read this. Which I won't have done. So don't bother frankly.

Anyhoo I'm limiting it to ten chapters for reasons of self-control, which is a shame really, because I feel the novel doesn't reach its high point until chapter 13 when Mirkin says:

"It’s high time to rattle and roll,
The scenario’s out of control,
It's just not my day,
I’m running away,
From six postmen, a slut, and a troll."

And the clairvoyant bear doesn't put in an appearance until chapter 15. So I may be forced to reconsider. But for now I'm sticking with ten.

Anyhoo, yesterday's parcel did indeed turn out to be my Christmas present, and what's more I was allowed (forced?) to open it there and then. It turned out to be a new digital camera, which is exciting in the extreme, not least because it suggests Lisa must have come into some money without telling me. But it's lovely, and I'm very grateful. Even if Lisa won't let me post a photo of her here.

Christmas over, we went to the Beautiful South concert in the evening, which was very good. That's if you're the sort of person who enjoys being sat next to the only nutter in the building for two hours. And I don't mean Lisa.

My suspicions were first aroused when the woman seated to my left, who appeared to be on her own (I wonder why?), started doing some intricate hand movements to the support act, 'A Girl Called Eddy', who played nothing but bluesy down-tempo folk music to which it was impossible to dance. Lisa and I decided she must be a personal friend of Eddy, thus explaining her enthusiasm for the music, and chose not to let it bother us.

At least not until the support act was over, when Ms Nutter decided to engage me in conversation. It was a little difficult to follow the precise thread of the woman's statement, since every other word began with 'f' and ended with 'king', but she helpfully added some two-fingered gestures at the point where she lamented the lack of respect given to Beautiful South fans, so those combined with the frequent expletives gave me the gist of her opinion on those who criticise her. She also informed me that her 17 year old daughter was sitting four rows behind us, and that she thought the support band were 'f'ing brilliant. We discussed at length the article in that evening's Brighton Argus, then, as the lights went down, my new friend warned me that she'd come here to enjoy herself and might therefore get a bit excited.

Thank god for the warning. As the Beautiful South struck up their first chord, my seated neighbour began a dance routine which consisted of bouncing up and down in her seat, waving her arms around, pointing a lot, and turning around to gesticulate at her daughter (who was presumeably hiding her face and claiming not to know the woman four rows in front).

Interestingly, this lady had a large bruise on the side of her face, which I had thought was a sign of domestic violence, but soon realised must have been self-inflicted at a previous concert. Personally I was leaning as far into Lisa as possible to avoid serious injury myself, as the flailing arms threatened to either blind me or leave me with major internal injuries. Lisa wasn't helping much by dissolving into fits of laughter every two minutes. Personally I was too scared to laugh.

After an hour of being the only person in the whole seated area doing anything more than toe-tapping, Ms Nutter heard the opening bars of 'Perfect 10', whereupon she turned to me, said "Oh f**k it, I've had enough of this f***ing b*ll*cks" and got to her feet, where she attempted a recreation of Ricky Gervais' classic dance from The Office.

I began to fear for my life, but fortunately a member of security arrived at this point and led her away by the arm. We didn't see her again after that, but I'm sure her daughter was thrilled. There's nothing better when you're 17 than seeing your mother dragged off by security at a pop concert.

Monday, November 29, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 29
Words Written: 42,445
Words Remaining:

It's the penultimate day of NaNoWriMo (which is why I'm so obviously close to finishing my novel - 7,555 words in 24 hours - piece o' cake), but far more important than that, it's also mine and Lisa's 6 month anniversary. Half a year. Which means I've now spent approximately 1.6% of my life with Lisa. She's spent slightly less than that with me, but that's because she was born in a different decade.

I believe the 1/2 year anniversary is polystyrene, which would explain the parcel which arrived this afternoon, and which I've been banned from touching before Lisa returns from work. So naturally I've given it a good shake and held it up to the light, and I feel confident it's my Christmas present. So I'll be insisting on having that later, on the grounds that it's almost December.

This evening The Beautiful South are playing at the Brighton Centre in honour of our anniversary (presumeably), so we'll be going along to that. I hear that Fatboy Slim's going too, so I plan to corner him and Zoe in the interval and ask them the secret of their happy relationship. I might take my laptop too and write a chapter of my novel during the songs I don't know.

It's been a fab six months anyway. I think I struck lucky for the first time in my life.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 28
Words Written: 41,168
Words Remaining:

Obviously when it comes to 30-day novelling, the time to take a weekend off is two days before the end, when you've still got 9,000 words to write. But I still feel strangely confident. Possibly because if I look like falling short of the target come Tuesday night, I plan to cheat and include all the words I've written on my blog this month to push me over the 50,000 word finish line.

But anyhoo, I put the novel aside yesterday to make my way down to Brighton Marina, where Lisa and I successfully met the friend from London who had failed to make it past the wreckage of stricken lorries on the M25 two weeks ago. It was worth the wait, as we had a nice lunch, during which the friend and I decided that Lisa and I should take up ballroom dancing in the new year. I quite like the look of the Jive on Strictly Come Dancing. I've been inspired by Aled Jones. And according to this friend (who travels the world dancing with dodgy men), it's a good way to lose weight.

So with that in mind, I ordered the toffee cheesecake and then went back to Lisa's flat for chocolate eclairs.

Today I've been reunited with my two playmates from Friday, who sadly failed to assist me with a chapter of my novel. I did however manage to play a game in which Tweety Pie joined forces with Clifford the Big Red Dog to form an axis of evil which succeeded in defeating the mother from The Incredibles (who came free with a Happy Meal). We then watched Fungus the Bogeyman whilst stuffing ourselves with fruit pastilles. It beats being a writer any day.

Friday, November 26, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 26
Words Written: 40,929
Words Remaining:

In a shock of gargantuan proportions, I've actually managed to do a bit of writing today, whilst simultaneously providing quality daycare for Lisa's two nephews, one of whom spent the afternoon attempting to distract me by eating Lisa's make-up, so that I'd leave my laptop unattended, enabling him to rush over to the sofa and attempt the mass deletion of my novel. He's clearly a budding literary critic. I got my own back however, by writing him into chapter eighteen as a variety act called 'The Human Dustbin'.

A couple of hours later and big brother returned from school, allowing me to pass a few relaxing hours chasing him with a cuddly hamster and attempting to do colouring-in with nothing but a biro, before the brothers realised they could join forces and both ride me around the living room.

Lisa's role in all of this was to disappear off to see 'Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason' as part of a girls' night out, on which I was not allowed to go for reasons of gender discrimination. So she's out on a Friday night enjoying herself, while I'm at home with the children. Just a little glimpse of the future there methinks.

As for last night, we successfully sat through the first public showing of Lorraine's holiday video, whilst stuffing ourselves with trifle and quiche. I ate twice as much as everyone else in an attempt to recreate the authentic feeling of queasiness I'd be likely to experience on a cruise, and came away feeling more than a little fat, prompting Lisa to propose a wager of £5 this morning that she can lose half a stone quicker than I can lose a stone. The bet's on, so watch this space.

Oh, and I must just say a thank you to Lorraine for my holiday gift - a diver's watch, bought on the cruise ship. Which beats a stick of rock any day. Though personally it wouldn't fill me with confidence to know that the crew of the ship are flogging waterproof watches. I'd be making for the lifeboats immediately.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 25
Words Written: 39,069
Words Remaining:

Ah yes, a grand total of 249 words in two days signals the fact that I'm back in Brighton. And what's more I'm about to be reunited with Oscar, the white haired chap that Lisa and I managed to keep alive for 11 days last month, despite not being 100% sure which part of his body we were meant to be rubbing suntan cream into.

In addition we're being treated (some would use that word loosely, but not me) to a viewing of Lorraine's holiday video from the cruise she took while I was greasing her cat's ears and answering her phone to dodgy men. Apparently the video includes footage of Lorraine swimming with dolphins, but knowing Lorraine as I do, and taking into account the fact that the cruise set off from Florida, I'm assuming it's the Miami Dolphins football team, and probably features more oiled muscles than fins.

While I'm here, can I just put in a request for someone to explain the new Norwich Union car insurance advert to me? Having become sick to death with the one where Craig Cash (of Royle Family fame) tells us that Norwich Union quoted him happy, which was handy because he then "ran into an old friend in town", doing a certain amount of damage, Mr 'Anything For' Cash is now back with a new advert. However, in this one he's even happier because he announces that he's just been given two months free cover for having 4 years no claims bonus.

So how does that work then? Was the previous advert set four years earlier? Or is Craig blatantly lying about his claims record to the happy quoting fools at Norwich Union? I'm very confused.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 23
Words Written: 38,820
Words Remaining:

My NaNoWriMo t-shirt arrived today. Yes, when it comes to writing 50,000 word novels in a month, I've been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Obviously I look fab in it, but unfortunately I can't post a picture of myself wearing said item on account of the fact that 30-day novelling has turned me into an unsightly sloth. I'm stuffed full of bagels, I haven't been exposed to natural light since last Tuesday, and my beard's longer than the hair on my head.

So I'm fat, pale and hairy, and frankly you don't want to see it.

But here's an accurate representation of my t-shirt on a slimmer, less stressed person...

My friend wrote a 50,000 word novel, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

I'd also like to use this opportunity to criticise the entire UK mail order industry. I ordered my shirt online on Thursday night, from the suppliers in America, and was offered four delivery options. Being a skinflint with a lot of patience, I naturally rejected such fancy notions as air mail, overnight couriers, or first class, and went for the cheapest option, which mentioned the word "Economy" and cost about £3.

That was Thursday night, and my t-shirt made it here from Ohio for 7am the following Tuesday. Why can't we do that in this country?

Anyhoo, I started work at 11am this morning, and by 4:30pm I'd successfully written 400 words. Yes, you're right, it is impressive. Clearly producing 6,800 words in two days had drained me a tad. Although I did manage to negate the evil effects of yesterday's triple six by naming the southern grasslands in my novel The Lords Prairie.

But a quick phonecall to Lisa's aunt this evening, whose idea of a joke it was to tell me that Lisa was out with her boyfriend at the time (they're nothing but trouble that family), perked me up sufficiently to make it to 2,150 odd words for the day.

To write 50,000 words in 30 days I'm supposed to average 1,667 words a day. Which means by the end of day 23 I should be on 38,341 words. And that, dear reader, means I'm currently 479 words ahead of schedule.

Which is handy, because it means by this time tomorrow I'll only be 1,188 behind.

Monday, November 22, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 22
Words Written: 36,666
Words Remaining:

I admit I was slightly unsettled when I stopped writing at 9pm, clicked the word count button, and saw quite so many sixes. I expect it's payback for all my references to the YMCA in my novel (that's the Young Mountaineers Cheese Association, if you're wondering).

Obviously I had to stop on the dot of 9pm as the new series of 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here' is on and it's important to get your priorities right, though I was slightly confused when I mis-heard the word 'elements' at the start of the show and thought Ant said the celebs "have had to live with the elephants". Mind you, they are gonna have to raise the stakes for the next series, so you never know.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 21
Words Written: 34,008
Words Remaining:

I was reading the blog of a fellow NaNoWriMo participant this morning. Scott, a 31 year old software engineer from Seattle, who likes soccer and hiking, happened to mention that on Wednesday 10th November, having been at work all day, he got home late, sat down at 8pm feeling exhausted, and wrote 1600 words of his novel in 41 minutes.

I hate Scott from Seattle.

I'm not even sure I can type that fast.

But it did inspire me to my most productive novelling day so far, writing 4,000 words, which is about an hour and a half's work for Scott. Though his novel probably features fewer clairvoyant bears and runaway yetis.

I'm still slightly behind schedule, but my aim is to be right back on track by this time on Tuesday, so that I can head down to Brighton for the rest of the month, safe in the knowledge that I can blame any subsequent failure on Lisa.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 20
Words Written: 29,887
Words Remaining:

I'm proud to say I didn't watch a single minute of Children in Need last night. I'm even prouder to say it was because I was busy writing my novel (and talking to Lisa on the phone, but that doesn't sound so impressive). I can't watch Children in Need without being reminded of Friday, 24th November 1988, when I broke my ankle and was forced to lie on the sofa in agony watching seven hours of tedious fundraising. I'm not sure if the agony was due to the ankle or the TV coverage. And before you ask, no I didn't break my ankle doing a sponsored parachute jump for Children in Need. I was actually walking out of a Home Economics lesson at the time (strange but true). If it had happened ten years later I'd have felt obliged to sue the school for not gritting the path, and made my fortune. So many missed opportunities...

Anyhoo, I don't really need to make my fortune from frivolous law suits when there are frivolous TV shows I can bet on instead. Not content with winning £13 on the horses this afternoon (well one horse -I'm choosy with my gambling) I made more than twice that on a mare of a different kind by shamelessly betting on which dodgy musical act would be voted off the X Factor tonight.

Which is handy, because it's paid for me to go and see those self same dodgy musical acts perform live. Yes, it's true - Lisa and I have tickets for the X Factor tour at The Brighton Centre in February. Told you I was shameless.

Friday, November 19, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 19
Words Written: 26,818
Words Remaining:

Moral dilemma of the day:

Is it acceptable for someone to use my writing as part of a high school language course without telling me?

And more to the point, without giving me large wadges of cash?

Well ok, forget the cash, I'm not in this for the money. If I was, I'd have got out years ago. But I digress...

I've just checked my website referral stats to find that I'm suddenly receiving numerous hits from the Emporia High School in Emporia (the clue was in the title), which is in Kansas, corn capital of the US.

It turns out that if you're a member of Ms Cutrell's Language Arts class, then your homework assignment this week is to read through my micro fiction.

And they say educational standards are slipping.

If George W Bush had received this kind of quality education in English literature, the world might not be in the state it's in now. But with Ms Cutrell's fine selection of source material, I'm sure the country can only go from strength to strength. And I'm taking full credit for the improvement.

Right across America (well, Emporia) eager young minds are thirsting for knowledge, reaching out to be educated... and then arriving at my website to read stories about wardrobes, pigs, and cross-dressing blondes. It's entirely possible I could be inspiring a whole new generation here. Though quite what I'm inspiring them to do, I'm not sure. But it's an honour all the same.

Now stop reading this, and go and do your homework before your father gets home.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 18
Words Written: 26,235
Words Remaining:

I was slightly miffed today to receive the news that after careful consideration, the Sussex Playwrights Club have decided, on balance, that they'd prefer not to hand over great wadges of cash for the right to stage my last play.

But fortunately I still have my gambling addiction to fall back on, and anyone who read this post a couple of weeks ago would, like me, have lumped on Patches in the 3:00 at Wincanton this afternoon. He was barely out of hospital after a breathing operation (I'm not calling them wind operations any more), but he made it off the recovery ward in time to show up at the racecourse and romp to victory as expected. It was a triumph, not just for me, but also for anyone trying to give up smoking. (Thanks go to Lisa for that bad joke).

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 17
Words Written: 25,361
Words Remaining:

I've successfully passed the halfway point of my novel, which is a psychological shot in the arm, not just for me, but for everyone who's bored with me talking about it. And what's more I still had time to slag off Ben Folds on the phone to my pal Helen, who bought me the concert tickets for my birthday. She said she hopes Ben doesn't die before June. I said if he does, I want tickets to his funeral. That was about as sympathetic as it got.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 16
Words Written: 22,686
Words Remaining:

I wrote 1,906 words this morning. Not of my novel, obviously - this is me we're talking about - but rather in numerous e-mails about the health of Ben Folds (formerly of Ben Folds Five fame, now of very little fame at all), who has decided (outrageously, in my opinion) to cancel his Cambridge concert next week, for which I've had tickets since JULY, due to him feeling a bit under the weather.

Not as under the weather as I felt when I heard the news late last night, I can assure you.

So the fact that Lisa and I have organised our entire month around our attendance of this concert, with Lisa booking time off work many weeks in advance, and me leaving Brighton yesterday a day early, safe in the knowledge that I'll be back there on Sunday to pick her up for this musical extravaganza, means NOTHING to the short balding piano player, who is apparently suffering from exhaustion.

Driving down to Brighton and back, then to Cambridge and back, then back down to Brighton, all in the space of four days, is clearly less tiring than sitting at a piano and warbling a bit.

Not that I'm bitter at all.

Oh, by the way, did I say the concert has been cancelled? It hasn't. It's been postponed. Marvellous. Postponed until the middle of June 2005.

But hey, at least we've still got tickets to go and see Paul Weller in Brighton next Thursday.

Well, we would have if he hadn't gone and cancelled too, claiming to be suffering from laryngitis. What is it with these malingering popstars??? Haven't they heard of vitamin C???

Monday, November 15, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 15
Words Written: 21,862
Words Remaining:

It's interesting the number of words I can write by 4pm providing Lisa's been at work since 8:30am. Statisticians would say there's a correlation there. Anyhoo, having met Lisa for lunch at the dodgy pub which doesn't sell Bacardi, but which is now claiming to sell 69 different varieties of rum (eh?), we're meeting in half an hour to go for dinner at an establishment known as 'Pinocchios'. Lisa should fit right in, as she's still trying to claim that the only reason she didn't beat me in 'The Great British Pop Quiz' on Saturday night was because she made an honest mistake on the T-Rex question and accidentally chose 'drum' when she knew all along that 'gong' was the right answer. I'll be watching her nose with interest tonight.

Oh, and yes, I know that I'm now officially half way through NaNoWriMo, and therefore should have written 25,000 words, but I'm pretending I haven't noticed.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 14
Words Written: 20,208
Words Remaining:

What you really need when you're running an hour late for a lunch date is a phone call cancelling the whole thing. And as unlikely as it sounds, that's what we got, thanks to a tanker which decided to have a lie down on the M25, shutting it completely for the day. Did I mention that the friend we were due to meet was coming all the way from London? Oh, well she was. Until the tanker incident anyway. But she had a nice day out on the M25 in the sunshine, so it wasn't a wasted effort for her.

Lisa and I, meanwhile, took the unexpected opportunity to go and visit another friend and her newborn baby. Our 1pm lunch date cancelled, we realised we now had plenty of time to get ready, so having told the friend we'd be there at 2:30pm, we duly made it there for 3:25pm.

We followed that up with a visit to Lisa's uncle and aunt. The aunt was foolish enough to ask about my writing, so I gave her the rundown on my novel. She won't be making that mistake again. In the end she had to give me an apple turnover to shut me up. But it was very nice, so it made all those hours of writing worthwhile.

And yes, you're right, I HAVE had a successful day's novelling - 150 odd words (literally). That's a 1500% increase on yesterday. I'm picking up the pace like nobody's business.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 13
Words Written: 20,054
Words Remaining:

If you think it's not possible to have only written 10 words in two days, you'd be wrong. But they're 10 words which move the plot forward substantially. Well ok, they're not. I basically reworded one sentence. But hey, if I write 10 words EVERY day, I'll be finished by the end of November... um... 2012.

Today we're meeting a friend for lunch at Brighton Marina, and our plan (since yesterday) has been to leave the flat at midday. I'm not saying we won't make it, but... well frankly we won't make it. Neither of us have had a shower yet, Lisa's making a bacon sandwich, I'm writing a blog post, and we're meant to be out of the door in ten minutes.

It's just another kerrazy fun-filled weekend in Brighton. Oh, and I'm out of Honey Nut Cheerios.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 11
Words Written: 20,044
Words Remaining:

Twenty thousand words down and the quality threshold is lowering, but methinks a weekend away will revitalise my creative output. Or possibly just put me irretrievably behind schedule. Either way, I'm off in the morning, with a laptop under my arm, and the remotest chance of having written anything by Monday.

And boy do I need a break.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 10
Words Written: 17,518
Words Remaining:

(No, I haven't written any more words in the 24 minutes since that last post. Get off my case).

I'm probably breaching copyright here, but I just wanted to post the latest entry in the Daily Q & A section from the NaNoWriMo site, on account of it being amusing in the extreme. Well, I thought so.

"Q: Marki Shalloe, two plays have been produced based on novels you wrote for NaNoWriMo. How did this happen? And what advice would you give other novelists who want to write for theater?

A: A good playwright biographs her characters, maps out her scenes, and knows exactly where her plot is going. But we’re talking about me, who does nothing but drink copious amounts of whiskey and tear out pictures in Vogue just in case I ever get wardrobe money. I panic at deadlines, which makes me a natural for NaNo.

I joined NaNo because two friends offered to mess up my Significant Hair if I did not. I am from Georgia, originally Alabama, and we take our ‘dos very seriously, therefore, I NaNo’d. And to my surprise, I found it was a great way to force me to do the pre-work a diligent and serious playwright (i.e., not me) would do.

How did the whole off-off-WAY-off Broadway thing come about? I was lucky enough to have written a couple of plays before this, one about pirates and one about self-abuse. It turns out that people really like pirates and self-abuse so I became popular and invited to all the really good parties, if I brought the liquor. At one of these I was approached by Process Theatre, which is a lovely and brave place that does stuff like “Steel Magnolias” with an all-male cast, so it was a natural fit.

“How quickly can you have us some new stuff?” they asked, and I replied: “Why, I have something almost ready.” I had, of course, no play at all. But I did have “Four Glasses”, my original Nanovel about a female alcoholic who is bitter and unable to connect with people and is not an autobiography shut up. They bit, and it was produced last year. I brought whiskey and pizza to rehearsals, so was a shoo-in for production in 2005. “What do you have ready?” they asked, and I answered that I had this terrific new play called “The Suicide Manual”, which was my 2004 Nanovel and not a play at all, only they didn’t pick up on that because of the whiskey. “The Suicide Manual” is being produced next March. It makes fun of Virginia Woolf, Freud, Auntie Em, and is very, very cruel to Sylvia Plath, none of which I could have done without the support of hundreds of NaNos naively doing my research via the forums.

Moral: If you want your Nanovel to become a play, remember that the play doesn’t actually have to be written for you to sell it. Punch up the dialogue and don’t panic—you know your characters by now and all you have to do is remember they can’t move off a 12 x 12 space. Find theatres open to new work and whisper that you have something very new, which won The National Novel Writer’s Prize in 2004. Only don’t use pirates or self-abuse. Those are mine."
NaNoWriMo Day: 10
Words Written: 17,518
Words Remaining:

I'm now exactly one third of the way through NaNoWriMo, so if we multiply my current word total by three to see how I'm getting on, we get... um... where's my calculator... ok... we get... 52,554. Blimey, I'm ahead of schedule, who'd have thought it. But that does include the most criminal pun I've ever committed to paper (well, Microsoft Word), which came to me this evening during a break from the goose tobogganing scene. I couldn't possibly repeat it here for fear of arrest, but for future reference it occurs in chapter nine, just after the bit about eating your siblings.

As a de-stressing activity today, I've also attacked my cat with a pair of scissors.

Touch me again and you die.

It's a bit like topiary, and I think I have a definite flair for it, but it's very much a work in progress, so don't judge me too harshly.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 9
Words Written: 15,269
Words Remaining:

Well I did watch 'The Curse of Noel Edmonds' last night (and very informative it was too. He's more than just an annoying tit in a beard. He also gave the world Mike Smith), after which I went to bed, where I lay awake for some time considering the advice of Chris 'NaNoWriMo' Baty, and promptly decided to abandon my plans to send my main character to the pub, in favour of having him kidnapped by a giant goose. Which made sense at the time, I swear.

It was clearly a stroke of some genius, and I immediately got up from my bed and wrote another 400 words in my pyjamas, which sounds like the kind of lifestyle rarely seen outside an episode of Wife Swap.

Happily, this decision enabled me to make numerous references to Mirkin's goose being cooked, going on a wild goose chase, looking for Mother Goose, and comments such as "have a gander at this goose". Though I'd like to point out that I've limited myself to just one use of the phrase "goose juice". It's a writer's job to exercise self-control, and I didn't want to go overboard.

So all in all, the novel's going well.

Monday, November 08, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 8
Words Written: 12,943
Words Remaining:

Ooops. I may have successfully passed the 'quarter of a novel' point, but I'm grinding to a halt fast (if that's possible). And that's despite getting the weekly pep-talk e-mail from Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo this morning. In it he says:

"Week Two is when you'll likely begin having some second thoughts about your participation in NaNoWriMo. It's the point when the effects of sleep-deprivation, mind-wearying creative output, and a shortage of leisure time will combine to create the infamous Week Two Wall.

You'll know you've hit the Wall when you start thinking that the whole endeavor is futile. When you start worrying that you don't have the time or imagination to pull it off, and you come to see your story as an unmitigated disaster that should be put out of its misery before the thing gets old enough to remember where you live."

Yup, that about sums it up. My only bone of contention is that I hit the Week Two Wall on day six, but I think that just proves I'm ahead of my time.

Chris also said...

"Let's set exciting crises in motion, and willfully place our protagonists in harm's way. Let's allow our characters to embarrass themselves, and let them make the kinds of dangerous miscalculations that form the heart of any juicy narrative."

... which bothered me slightly as I'd just decided that my next chapter would pretty much comprise of my main character going to the pub.

But still, the fact that I'm already behind schedule, and I'm booked up for the rest of the month attending Ben Folds and Beautiful South concerts, and being introduced to more of Lisa's friends, whilst fitting in the world premiere of Lorraine's holiday video, I'm sure means NOTHING, and won't interfere with my ability to knock out another 37,000 words in 22 days.

Start praying for flying pigs.

I could go and write another couple of hundred words now, but there's a programme on Channel 5 tonight called 'The Curse of Noel Edmonds', and frankly one has to get one's priorities right.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 7
Words Written: 11,872
Words Remaining:

Week one of NaNoWriMo is at an end, and if you think I'm probably sick of it by now, you'd be right. But worry not, I have diverting local news to clear the creative palate and allow me to start afresh on Monday morning (hopefully with fewer references to giant hippos roaming the Aero Plains)...

Ok. Well as mentioned here before, there are currently proposals being made for a new Haylink housing development in Shotley Gate, causing consternation amongst local residents, most of whom are busy trying to extend their back gardens so they can flog their houses to rich Londoners. But I digress. The latest exciting news on this subject is that the results of a traffic survey on the B1456 have now been published, in an attempt to prove the detrimental effect of the development on the "area of outstanding natural beauty we live in". And what's more, they're referring to Woolverstone there. I know, I couldn't believe it either.

The survey has been carried out by BBC newsman and part-time scarecrow maker, Laurie Mayer, who is chairman of the Woolverstone Residents Association. Here's a gratuitous picture of Laurie in his slippers:

Nice slippers.

No, it's not a picture of Adolf Hitler and Tim Brooke-Taylor enjoying a picnic together, though I can see why you might think that.

Anyhoo, Laurie has limited himself to just one use of the phrase "imagine the terror" (I wish I was making that up, but I'm not), and claims that if the 325 new houses are built, there could be an extra 3,429 vehicle trips being made past his house every day. Though quite how each new household is supposed to manage more than ten trips through Woolverstone per day, I've no idea. I expect they'll have to draw up some kind of rota.

Laurie (whose name unfortunately sounds like a big truck) says, "Try having a conversation with one of us in the front garden of any of the cottages along the main road. Noise levels already make this difficult."

No, it's the electric fences which make that difficult, and the knowledge that most of the residents own shotguns.* But thanks for the offer all the same.

Fortunately for Laurie, I'm here to set his mind at rest, for I happen to know that his projections ("imagine the terror") are fundamentally flawed. The Woolverstone statistics are based on the number of cars which passed at a given time on October 8th, and they're taking this as typical of an average day. Well it just so happens that I was passing at the specified time, on my way to Brighton, and my car has been included in the official figures. I even waved to Laurie as I passed. Well ok, I didn't. But I did admire his slippers.

The fact is that my trips to Brighton are not daily occurrences (thank god), so Laurie and the rest of the Woolverstone Residents Association can sleep easy in their beds - the situation ("imagine the terror") is not as bad as they feared.

*not strictly true, but it sounds good.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 6
Words Written: 10,251
Words Remaining:

The novel proved a real struggle today, right up until 6:45pm when I saw G4 performing 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' on The X Factor. The shock of a classical choral ensemble doing Britney Spears did more to perk me up than a dozen mugs of strong tea had done throughout the day, and I promptly knocked out another 700 words before the Strictly Come Dancing result.

In addition I was able to prove the worth of one of my most closely guarded racing secrets this afternoon. So closely guarded, in fact, that I thought I'd reveal it on this blog. About a year ago, I saw the retired racehorse trainer Jenny Pitman being interviewed on lunchtime TV, during which she mentioned in passing that during her career, every horse she'd ever trained which had undergone a wind operation, had won its very next race.

Which is the kind of information to treasure. Especially as it seems to work. With jumpers, anyway (by which I mean National Hunt horses, not woolly pullies). Today was the first run of the season from Royal Auclair, who'd undergone a wind operation in the summer, so I abandoned my usual cautious each-way bet, and backed him to win. Which he did comfortably, netting me £30. Marvellous. I've always loved that Jenny Pitman.

Friday, November 05, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 5
Words Written: 8,328
Words Remaining:

Remember, remember the 5th of November. I forget why. But for me it will be memorable as the day I hauled my clunking behemoth of a novel kicking and screaming back onto the right track. According to the figures projected by my (frankly overcomplicated) spreadsheet, I'm now on course to finish on November 30th. Though I haven't yet factored in the effect of tomorrow's horse racing coverage on my output. I could be back to December 6th by the time they cross that finish line at Doncaster.

Of equal excitement today was the arrival of Christmas present number 14, which I'd ordered online on Wednesday afternoon. It means I now have only one remaining yuletide gift to buy. I couldn't possibly reveal the name of the sole person I haven't bothered to shop for yet, but it begins with L and has fewer than 5 letters. With my current busy schedule, the individual in question will be lucky to get a satsuma.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 4
Words Written: 5,422
Words Remaining:

A slight improvement, but I'm still behind schedule, a fact I blame entirely on my sister, who had the audacity to get herself trapped inside a burning garden shed last night, requiring me to rescue her.

Well ok, it was only a dream, but the point is it stopped me getting a good night's sleep, which prevented me from writing to my full capacity today. So I really can't be blamed for the fact that my 'NaNoWriMo Report Card' (an Excel spreadsheet which I'm using to track my progress) claims I won't be finished until December 6th.

I'm sure I can write those 4,000 words tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 3
Words Written: 3,791
Words Remaining:

It's interesting the way my word count has remained suspiciously similar (some would even say identical) to yesterday's. It's ALMOST as though I've done no writing whatsoever today, which I'm sure can't be true for such a dedicated novelist as myself. It's probably a statistical anomaly.

But the good news is that I've won £22 from my shameless gambling on George Dubya to win the election. Although by saying that, I'm inadvertantly revealing that I put on more than the fiver Lisa thinks I put on. But hey, it was like betting on the stupidity of the American public. You don't get much closer to a dead cert than that.

I'm now back in the fair city of Shotley Gate, having arrived home at 1:20am last night and no doubt woken my neighbours by struggling up and down my steps with endless bags of Christmas presents. And having survived until mid-afternoon with no milk, I'm now in the happy position of being able to make a cup of tea. I've also been reunited with my cat Chloe, who I'm sure understands that I had no choice but to abandon her for a week and a half. Oscar needed looking after, and his owner had cable TV and a dishwasher.

Right, I'm just about unpacked now, so it's an early night for me, after which I'll only have to write the odd 4,000 words tomorrow to get back on track. Piece of cake.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 2
Words Written: 3,791
Words Remaining:

Despite venturing halfway into chapter three of my magnum opus today, I still found time to mingle with celebrities in Brighton town centre. Well, celebrities' trousers. Whilst browsing the menswear section of the Marie Curie Cancer Shop, I was intrigued to overhear the sales assistant trying to flog a pair of trousers to an unsuspecting customer on the grounds that Jimmy Somerville had personally popped in and donated them earlier that day.

The man clearly wouldn't have bought them otherwise, but despite openly stating his opinion that the trousers wouldn't have fit Mr Somerville, who he maintained was "quite small", the man was happy to believe that he had in his hands a genuine bit of brown corduroy belonging to the high-pitched popster, so he confidently handed over his money, and left satisfied.

Which is just as well, coz with my track record of buying trousers which don't fit me, I'd have snapped them up in an instant.

Monday, November 01, 2004

NaNoWriMo Day: 1
Words Written: 1,845
Words Remaining:

The novel's underway, and but far more important than that is the news that I'm up to 13 out of 15 Christmas presents, following my discovery of a shop called 'Kissing Frogs' in Brighton town centre. Obviously I should've been at home writing, but I saw the chance to buy some more yuletide tat, and I seized it with both hands (the opportunity, not the tat. Well actually I seized the tat as well).

I've also greased Oscar's extremities for the last time, as Lorraine returns home from her jaunt around the world's hurricane zones tomorrow morning. Which means Lisa and I have but a few hours to make the house look as though we've been taking care of it for the last ten days. I also have to find a way of fitting all my Christmas presents in the car whilst managing to leave room for Lisa. Though frankly if it comes down to a choice between the plastic novelty pap and the girlfriend, Lisa will be getting the bus to work.

I'd better get packing - we leave in 12 hours, and there's still a packet of teacakes in the kitchen. Lorraine and I may have become quite close over the past few weeks, but I'm not leaving those behind.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

You know you're getting your priorities right when you sit around on a Saturday night discussing whether there's enough time to get to Sainsburys and back between the end of X-Factor and the beginning of the Strictly Come Dancing result. The answer of course is no, so we elected to watch one, record the other, and pop to Sainsburys half an hour before they closed.

It was a successful shopping trip though, mainly because I was able to prove just how easily I'm swayed by a bit of packaging, by deciding to buy a packet of 'Cow Biscuits'. They're no more than Malted Milk biccies by another name, but having been amused out of all proportion by the name, and the guarantee of "A whole herd in every pack", I just had to have them. And that was before noticing the statement on the side that "No cow suffered in the making of these biscuits". I'm so easily amused.

This afternoon we elected to go and see the new Johnny Depp film 'Finding Neverland', which I thought was a movie about the arrest of Michael Jackson. It proved not to be so, and having debated at length which screening to attend, and arranged to drop in on Lisa's mother with takeaway food afterwards, we ultimately decided we couldn't be bothered to get ready, and chose to stay in instead. But hey, it's Sunday - it's allowed. We plan to make it out of the house before sundown though. Which, having put the clocks back, is in about... oooh, 15 minutes. And no, we're not going trick or treating.

Tomorrow's the first day of NaNoWriMo, and in a shock of earth-shattering proportions, I've now done a bit of preparation. Which is just as well because I've agreed to meet Lisa for lunch on the first two days of the month, so with one thing and another, my chances of making it to Wednesday with more than a couple of hundred words under my belt, are looking decidedly slim. Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The key to any successful relationship is to ensure that you spend quality time together, so yesterday, having reached the momentous milestone of 5 months, Lisa and I chose to celebrate by spending most of the day apart. Which just goes to show that if you force your boyfriend to meet you for lunch on a Tuesday with the words "Pleeeeease... I promise I won't ask you again this week", you don't leave yourself with many options come Friday.

So instead I packed Lisa off to work with a cheese bagel and passed the day quietly writing, charity shopping, and spending some quality time with a box of Sainsburys doughnuts.

I discovered that Portslade (which is the place I'm staying, not the prison from 'Porridge') features a 'Carla Lane Animal Shelter' charity shop. Their video shelves were surprisingly lacking in episodes of 'The Liver Birds', 'Butterflies' and 'Bread', and instead filled with Graham Norton, Ali G, and 'The Royle Family'. If I was Carla, I wouldn't be happy. I hung around for a while, but the woman failed to put in an appearance, so I wasn't able to ask for tips on successful sit-com writing. She's probably too busy rescuing under-priveleged hamsters these days.

Not wishing to waste a moment's drinking time meanwhile, Lisa went straight from work to the nearest pub (I believe she chose the one which currently has no windows, after they were all smashed in by Leeds United fans last weekend), so I wasn't reunited with the love of my life until 10:30pm when I arrived to pick up her and accompanying friend.

I was thrilled to discover upon my arrival in Brighton town centre that the designated meeting place to which Lisa had conscientiously given me directions the day before, was a road that's only open to buses and taxis. (It was news to Lisa). So I weighed up the pros and cons, thought what the heck, and drove down the bus lane to Laura Ashley's. Naturally Lisa and friend were nowhere to be seen, so I parked in a no parking area, pretended I'd broken down and let the stream of buses and taxis find their own way around me. My frantic calls to Lisa's mobile were of limited use, since she'd forgotten to take it with her. Again.

Fortunately I managed to avoid arrest until the pair eventually sauntered up five minutes late, and attempted to placate me by complimenting my driving all the way home while friend stated that we make a lovely couple and expressed her desire to buy a wedding hat. Lisa generously told her she's not coming to the wedding. My cries of "what wedding?" seemed to be lost in the louder cries of "you're one of my best friends, you are". It was really quite touching.

Roll on six months.

Friday, October 29, 2004

As an expert in information technology and all things PC, I naturally failed to fix the neighbour's computer yesterday morning. But to my credit, I got down on my hands and knees for a good fifteen minutes and fiddled around with the mass of wires behind the desk as though I knew what I was doing. In the end I claimed there was probably a bit missing, and admitted defeat.

The neighbour (who was remarkably unscantily clad as it turned out) received a phone call from her daughter just after I arrived, who wanted to be picked up immediately. Ms Neighbour assured her that she was halfway out the door as she spoke, before settling back and chatting to me for 40 minutes. Which is the kind of dedicated parenting I like to see. She also invited Lisa and I over at the weekend, so it's not just me she's interested in after all.

Having successfully loved my neighbour, I moved on to our absent hostess Lorraine. She's a woman with very little time on her hands - literally. She appears to have no clocks whatsoever in her house, save for a kitchen clock which, according to Lisa, has proclaimed the time to be 9:30 since bonfire night last year. So rather than look at that clock for the tenth time and panic that we're missing Wife Swap, I decided to buy it a new battery. It's now merrily ticking away, allowing us to see at a glance just how late we are in the morning.

In the evening we met Lisa's sister and Mr Durham at a nearby pub called The Stag's Head. We'd been assured that of the two pubs in Portslade High Street, this was the nicer, so naturally having been there for two minutes, we were wondering what in God's name the other one was like. The word "dive" was mentioned once or twice, and Lisa expressed the view that it was like a scene from 'The Wicker Man', before going on to criticise their carpets.

Her sister meanwhile was pressured into hanging up her coat by the kind of man you don't argue with, leaving her panic-stricken that it would probably be stolen, whilst simultaneously too terrified to go back and get it.

But a good time was had by all, and Lisa only hit me once.

Tonight Lisa's going out with the girls for an evening of alcoholism. My role in all this is to turn up at the correct time to give them all a lift home, and to prepare me for this task I've been informed that the last time one of these particular friends received such a lift, the car had to be stopped en route so that she could be sick. It's something to look forward to anyway, and the kind of news which makes me glad I'm driving my Mum's car.