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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Ok, it's time for my yearly attempt to predict the Oscar winners...

Best Picture: LOTR: The Return of the King

Best Director: Peter Jackson

Best Actor: Bill Murray

Best Actress: Charlize Theron

Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins

Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger

Best Screenplay: Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Brian Helgeland (Mystic River)

Sean Penn is hot favourite for best actor, and frankly I'd give it to him every year, but he's not the most popular chap in Hollywood, and Bill Murray is the kind of likeable guy who's been around for ever, and will NEVER get this close to an Oscar again in his entire life. So I think those sentimental old fools in the Academy will take their chance to give it to him this time. But let's face it, I'm always wrong about these things...
Right everyone, it's February 29th, and you all know what that means - you can propose to me. I'm expecting a big response this time around. Inexplicably, I didn't receive a single offer of marriage on this day four years ago, but despite having gone bald and grey in the new millennium (which I'm sure was something to do with the Y2K bug), I'm confident of a different outcome this time. After all, I now have my own website, and everyone knows that if there's one type of guy that all the girls go for, it's the internet geek with a page about his mental health problems.

So if you could all form an orderly queue and be patient, I'll try and sift through the offers and make a decision by the end of the day. Thanks.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Following confusion from certain readers (I couldn't possibly name names) (but it was Paula), I've decided to post here, in all its glory, the Daily Mail article about Lower Harlings. Having read it, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's little justification in labelling this place the "cul-de-sac from hell", but remember - Lower Harlings is home to two people who have to live their lives as 'Mr & Mrs Squirrell', and if that's not hellish, I don't know what is.

Although, on the bright side, I might write a children's book about their adventures.

Cul-de-sac from Hell!

Friday, February 27, 2004

Fantastic news. The Daily Mail's sensationalist reporting of non-stories is bringing in new visitors to my website. I've just had my first referral from Google searching for the words "Lower Harlings, Shotley Gate, Suffolk". I'm very tempted to add a Lower Harlings souvenir section to my Shotley Gate page, just to satisfy all the gossip hungry tourists who are now starting to turn up. I don't actually have anything interesting to say about the cul-de-sac from hell, but having read the Daily Mail article on my return to the UK, I can safely say that neither did they. But I'm not averse to making something up.

And having just used the phrases "Lower Harlings" and "Shotley Gate" twice on this page, (er, make that three times), the moment Google updates its listings, I'm going to have Lower Harlings (4 times) fans from all over Britain dropping by in their thousands. I might start selling T-shirts. "My friend moved to Shotley Gate, and all I got was this lousy cul-de-sac". Or something.

I'm also pleased to report that having had my third such website hit this week, I'm now ranked 6th out of almost 6,000 websites for the words "Can a laser pointer drive a cat insane?". Which is flattering, considering I don't even know the answer myself, despite all the extensive personal research I've carried out. But seeing as my cat died a few weeks ago, following two and a half years of wanton laser pointer abuse, I'm probably not the best person to ask.

And let's face it, I'm also the fifth most popular world source for the phrase "Dalmatian statues", and I know bugger all about them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I wrote an e-mail yesterday to the American Transportation Security Administration to complain about their destruction of my boxes of paper. I took great care to make the point that I understand the need for security, and am not objecting to my bags being searched, merely to the totally unnecessary damage to my property. I gave them flight numbers, dates, and contact details, and settled back in expectation of a comprehensive personal explanation and apology for what had occurred.

This morning I received this:

Thank you for your electronic mail message concerning your travel experience. We are sorry you were unhappy with your recent travel experience and hope that the following information will be helpful.

On February 17, 2002, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assumed responsibility for security at all airports in the United States. TSA was required by
law to replace contract screeners with a workforce of Federal screeners by November 19. Incrementally, airports were staffed with Federal screeners until TSA met that mandate. One of our key objectives has been to ensure that all passengers consistently receive professional and courteous checkpoint processing while maintaining our high level of security. Along with expanded training on the enhanced security procedures, each Federal airport screener receives training on professional and courteous conduct to make the process run smoothly and reduce the inconvenience to the public.

A variety of security measures are applied to the baggage and/or persons of passengers selected through the screening process, including random searches. This random element prevents potential terrorists from "beating the system" by learning how it operates. Leaving out any one group, such as senior citizens or the clergy, would remove the random element from the system and undermine security. We simply cannot assume that all future terrorists will fit any particular profile.

We intend to monitor the number and nature of complaints we receive to track trends and spot areas of concern that may require special attention. This ongoing process will enable us to ensure prompt, corrective action whenever we determine that security screening policies need modification or specific employees or screener teams are the subject of repeated complaints.

We encourage you to visit our website at for additional information about TSA. All travelers, and particularly those who travel infrequently, are encouraged to visit the section on travel tips before their trip. The website has information about prohibited and permitted items, the screening process and procedures, and guidance for special considerations, that may assist in preparing
for air travel. You can go directly to these tips at

We appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns with us. We are confident that the training that we provide to the new Federal workforce will result in a courteous and professional staff of security screeners so that your unfortunate experience is not repeated.

TSA Contact Center

Marvellous. Obviously putting my name at the top of the e-mail was too much of a hassle. As was making ANY reference to my particular complaint. And forgive me, but I don't remember claiming to be a pensioner or a nun either.

Still, it's good to know they're confident that the training they're providing will eventually "result in a courteous and professional staff". There's something for us all to look forward to. I feel better already. And on the bright side, I don't feel so annoyed with the screener who destroyed my property now. I'm more annoyed with the person who sent the e-mail.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I've just been down to the post office to post a card to someone who claims she's too ill to read this blog. It's the first time I've been out on the mean streets of Shotley Gate for two and a half weeks, and clearly whilst I was in Texas, the people of Suffolk have been driving around aimlessly just waiting for my return. I'd only walked 200 yards down the main road before I was stopped by the driver of a small van, which led to the following friendly chat:

"Can you tell me where Kings Lane is please?"
"Kings Lane?"
"Yes, Kings Lane, Shotley."
"Kings Lane, not Kingsland?"
[Cue close examination of a piece of paper]
"Oh yeah, it could be Kingsland."

I honestly wonder how people have managed without me. If I didn't walk down the main road at least a couple of times a week, no one would ever get anywhere.

Monday, February 23, 2004

I'm slightly outraged. Upon returning home, I discovered that both my bags contained slips of paper saying that they'd been randomly selected to be searched by the Transportation Security Administration in Dallas, and that the entire contents had been checked by a 'screener'. Which I suppose is fair enough (if a little irritating), in the current security climate.

But now this morning, having finally unpacked everything, I find that they've ripped open all three of the boxes of posh cotton paper I bought in a Texas Wal-Mart last Monday. And rather than merely snipping the adhesive seal with a pair of scissors, and carefully opening each presentation box, they chose instead to use sheer brute force to get inside, and pull open the corner of each one, ensuring that the sides of all three boxes are ripped.

The irony is that I've never before had any kind of desire to bomb an airport. But now they've done this...

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Uhhhhhhhh... I'm home. And now I sleep for a week.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

I still haven't escaped the food. I'm now in the Virgin Clubhouse at Washington airport, with three hours to eat free comestibles before the connecting flight to Heathrow. I've already managed chicken strips and my second tenderloin steak in three days. Then they forced cake and ice cream on me. And now they've stocked the bar with free home-made cookies. The only thing stopping me from exploding is the fact that every time I return from the other side of the clubhouse with a plate full of cookies, Big Sis says "oooh, can I break a little bit off..?", then proceeds to snap them all in two and eat half.

I'm also a bit concerned about the middle aged American Virgin woman who's serving us. She's treating me like a long lost son. She's already fattened me up and offered me a shower, and she keeps patting me on the back every time she brings me a drink. Next she'll be doing my laundry and telling me to wrap up warm.

Oh, and there aren't any reality TV stars in this Virgin Clubhouse. It's just not good enough.
My gastronomic tour of Texas is coming to an end. We returned to Grapevine Mills last night and paid a visit to the Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream parlour where you choose a flavour, then choose an 'add-in', and they mix it up for you on a cold stone slab. I chose cheesecake ice cream with chopped up Snickers bars. Which I'm sure can help weightloss as part of a calorie controlled diet.

We also went to the Neiman Marcus outlet store, where I found an Armani leather jacket reduced from $2250 down to a mere $560. I wanted to buy it, but Big Sis objected on the grounds that it cost $560. She was clearly missing the point, which is that we'd be saving $1690.

Anyhoo, we leave for Dallas Fort Worth Airport in a little over half an hour, which is probably just as well, because if I stay in this country much longer I'm going to be the size of a hippo. I won't be able to look Alison from Big Brother in the eye next time we meet.

I'll be back in the UK Sunday morning. And I expect you all to be at the airport to meet me.

Friday, February 20, 2004

I've just seen an advert in the local paper for Culver's Frozen Custard Butterburgers. I've no idea what they are, but I want one.
By the way, the yacht club are holding a Polar Bear Tournament on Saturday night. Yes, that's right, a Polar Bear Tournament.

No, me neither.
Having been here for eleven days, we finally made it as far as the Chandler's Landing Yacht Club last night - a distance of about one hundred yards. It was a humanitarian mission for me - Big Sis is paying memberships fees (she's quite the old sea dog) (well ok, she's never been near a yacht in her life, but they have a gym, and she's big on lycra) which includes $60 worth of food from the restaurant every quarter. Having never eaten there before, she needed to use up her $60 allowance before the end of the month to fend off the (obviously unfounded) accusation that her membership is a complete waste of money. My role in this venture was to turn up and eat $60 worth of food, a challenge which Sis foolishly thought would be beyond me. Until I ordered the stuffed tenderloin steak, from the section where they don't even tell you the cost of the dish, because if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

It turned out to be another fab meal for me. It was slightly less fab for Big Sis, who, after having a one-to-one chat with the chef about how she doesn't eat meat or fish, was presented ten minutes later with a spinach salad sprinkled with bacon bits. When asked to take it back, I could tell the waiter was tempted to say "but there's no actual meat in our bacon bits", but in the end he bit his tongue and brought her another one. Which they'd kindly made without bacon. And instead added chopped boiled egg.

Big Sis doesn't like boiled eggs.

But my starter was lovely. As was my main course, which went surprisingly well with Sis's pasta, which she shovelled onto my plate having decided she didn't like that either.

For dessert, the waiter refused to provide us with a menu, and instead reeled off a choice of four radically different cheesecakes, three of which I'd never heard of, so in a panic I chose the chocolate one, it being the only name I could actually repeat back to him. He then presented me with a slice of ordinary cheesecake with a bit of chocolate sauce on top. I realise this may not sound very funny in the cold light of day, but having already been given a vegetarian salad with bacon, and an egg-free salad with egg, the chocolate cheesecake with virtually no chocolate was enough to send us both into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which almost made me bring up my tenderloin steak, and gave Sis agonising stomach pains. Although I do think her pains were due in part to the fact that she hadn't actually eaten any of the three dishes she'd been presented with that evening. Which is probably why she insisted on digging into my cheesecake the moment we managed to stop laughing for more than five seconds.

But anyway, I've promised to return to Texas once every three months just to use up Sis's food allowance. Although next time we might just order $60 worth of cheesecake.

Tonight we're heading back to Grapevine Mills for one last night of intense shopping before I fly home tomorrow. I've been studying the mall map, so I know how to avoid the nail bar this time.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I am IN LOVE with broadband internet access. I've spent the entire afternoon downloading 614MB (614MB!!!!!) of audio files of Nick Abbot's old shows on Talk Radio from 1996 to 1998, and copying them all onto one CD to take home with me back to prehistoric dial-up land. I'd be there for months trying to do that on my quaint little Freeserve connection.

These are the shows which more or less kept me alive for a good couple of years, and the scary thing is, hearing them again now for the first time in more than six years, I can actually remember a lot of the calls almost word for word. Which is worrying seeing as I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast most days.

Without doubt the best moment of the afternoon was being reunited after all this time with Elizabeth from Cheddar, undoubtedly the finest radio phone-in contributor this country has ever seen. I still remember the moment when she announced to the nation that Cliff Richard is her ancestor ("but he don't know it"). And now I have it on CD. I'm in hog heaven.
Life Lesson 782a: When using squirty mayonnaise, don't turn the bottle upside down and squeeze it sharply when it's almost empty, unless you want to produce an air powered fountain effect which leaves you with mayonnaise all over your jeans.
Hmmm... that superscript text didn't really work did it. All my lines are squashed. Damn HTML. Give me a typewriter any day.
(I've been reading an article about how to write like David Foster Wallace, so I've learnt to use superscript footnotes. I'm practically an HTML expert. I'll be writing computer manuals before long.)

Texas weather is still weird. Yesterday was not only sunny, but genuinely warm. I felt overdressed just walking down the street in a light jacket. Today however, I find myself in the middle of a hurricane1. It's blowing a gale out there, and the usually calm lake between here and Dallas looks like the sea around Cape Horn2. Fortunately this house has a 'tornado room'3 built into the lower level, so I'll be transferring the cookie supply to that part of the building forthwith.

We made it to the Addison Improv last night, and Big Sis actually felt better for it, which just goes to show that laughter is the best medicine. Unless you're asthmatic, in which case it's ventolin. We were treated to three comedians in the course of the evening. Well, two comedians and one guy who shouldn't give up the day job4. And we had a good view of the acts, sitting as we were, right at the front by the stage. That'll teach us to be the only people in Dallas who bothered to book a table in advance and order a meal.

The first act was (coincidentally I'm sure) the guy on the door who checked our tickets when we came in. He showed more flair for that particular line of work, and once on stage treated us to his hilarious routine about "retards at the supermarket". It was a joy from start to finish5.

Second was Marvin Michaels, who I must admit I thought was great6. He did 20 minutes, but I could happily have watched him all night. His hair was slightly distracting though.

And then came the headliner, Brian Malow, who despite only having one 'l' in his name, likes to pronouce it 'mallow'. I'd be willing to bet his nickname at school was 'Marsh'. He did an hour, during which he discovered that there were some old family friends in the audience who he hadn't seen for 15 years. It was like an episode of 'Surprise Surprise'. I got quite emotional. He also started his anti George W Bush7 routine by asking how many of us love the man. A room full of Texans spoke as one. Brian then dropped a lot of his intended material.

It was kewl8 though, and there were few enough people in the club to give it a conversational feel, like we were all just sitting around chatting as a group. Except that one of us was paid to be there. And being British, Big Sis and I were actually too reserved to join in. But still.

[1] slight exaggeration
[2] probably
[3] Jody Foster's panic room without the surveillance monitors or annoying child
[4] the world needs waiters
[5] I'm being mildly ironic there. Can you tell?
[6] no irony that time
[7] he's the President. No, really.
[8] and phat

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Big Sis is ill. Obviously I can't stand people who whinge about their physical ailments at the drop of a hat (by the way, I'll be updating you all on my sunburn later), so I'm hoping to keep her quiet by means of a home-made get well card. She's currently holed up in her bedroom, meaning she's one of the few people in the world who phones in sick to work and then actually stays in bed, rather than slapping on some make-up and hitting the nearest mall.

Of course, when I was at death's door last Friday I did hit the nearest mall, but I didn't wear make-up, so it's ok.

We have tickets for the Addison Improv tonight - a Dallas comedy club, which (bizarrely) we had recommended to us at the eyebrow waxer's. We're going to see a guy called Brian Malow. I chose him due to the fact that his bio says his comedy is "shot-through with a healthy dose of science references", which isn't a claim you hear every day. And besides, the comedian who's on tomorrow night has a dodgy photo, so I was forced to rule him out on those grounds alone.

Having booked our (non-refundable) tickets online, I did a search for Brian Malow and found audio clips of his stand-up routines (see link above), which are actually pretty funny. Sis helpfully pointed out that I probably should have researched his comedy before booking the tickets, but hey, I like to live dangerously.

And I'll be encouraging Big Sis to live dangerously too, when I force her to leave her sick bed tonight and drive me there.

As for yesterday, well I formed a bond with my pet scorpion, who I named Maury after a tacky talk show I seem to have developed a taste for over the past 9 days. I introduced him to Sis when she returned home from work, whereupon she casually informed me that they get black widow spiders and tarantulas around here, and I should check my bed last thing at night. Before adding "I didn't tell you because I thought you might not come to stay if you knew". She then forced me to flush Maury down the kitchen sink.

I'm beginning to understand why Sis was so keen for me to take out medical insurance before I came to visit her.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

I've just returned home from another 3 mile jaunt around Yacht Club Drive (45 minutes, I'm sure I'm getting slower, it's the fudge cookies, they're weighing me down), to discover a scorpion in the kitchen!!!!! Really! Admittedly it's only about half a centimetre long, so it's the scorpion equivalent of a money spider, and as such may not be at the very top of the 'most deadly' list, but even so, I feel quite brave just remaining in the same house as this beast.

Actually, now I think about it, maybe it's just a baby, and they actually grow to be three feet long. Ok, I'm leaving.
We never made it to the shoe shop in the end (I was personally disappointed), and our fifteenth attempt to buy stamps for my postcards was thwarted by the post office's decision to close in honour of President's Day, but despite these setbacks, we somehow made it to Southfork Ranch yesterday. And we only got lost about three times. I'm not saying the place is only there for gullible foreign tourists, but when people living half a mile away don't know it exists, and your companions on the guided tour are all Japanese holidaymakers, you do start to wonder.

But personally I thought it was wonderful. I admire anyone who can milk a tenuous link with an old TV series to such an extent. It turns out that all the interior scenes of Dallas were filmed in the studios of California, so I did wonder why we were touring the inside of the house and taking photos of a stranger's bedroom. But it was still fab. The house is barely any bigger than my sister's, but as the tour guide was quick to point out the moment we arrived (to avoid anyone asking for their money back), the TV show deliberately filmed it with wide angle lenses to make it look bigger. As well as using editing tricks to make it appear that the drive was half a mile long, and the swimming pool Olympic sized. In reality Southfork is just a little country cottage with a pond in the garden.

Big Sis and I attempted to recreate the death plunge of Kristin (Sue-Ellen's errant little sister), by pretending to fall over the balcony into the pool, and taking photos of the event. Our acting wasn't very convincing. So all in all it was an accurate recreation of the show. Sis also encouraged me to sit on Miss Ellie's bed next to the sign saying "Do not sit on the bed", so she could take my photo.

Having captured on film the gun which shot JR, and the wedding dress of Lucy (who, having studied the Dallas family tree, I am reliably informed was the grand-daughter of Jock), we drove on into the town of Parker. Where we'd been for about 20 minutes before we found out we were actually in Plano. But it mattered not, because wherever the heck we were, the place contained a charity shop!!! For someone like me, this was almost as exciting as the tractor ride from the Southfork gift shop to the house (about 100 yards - obviously too far to walk). It was about five times the size of any Oxfam I've ever been in, but disappointingly the sections were exactly in proportion to the size clothes they contained - the 'small' section was tiny, the 'medium' (that's me. No, really) wasn't much bigger, but the 'extra large' department went on as far as the eye could see. Why couldn't I find a shop like this when I was 23 stone, that's what I'd like to know.

But anyhoo, I bought some Calvin Klein jeans for $6.99, and what's more, they fit me. Which will come as a surprise to anyone who's familiar with my habit of buying designer jeans I can't wear.

In the evening we visited the local Wal-mart for no particular reason. I found that good quality paper is half the price it is in the UK, and considered how much I could fit into my suitcase and still be able to move. In the end I settled for some stunningly gorgeous paper made of 100% cotton, so my next play is going to look so impressive it won't matter what I actually write.

Tonight my sister's landlord is coming over to look at the freezer, which doesn't seem to be working (so technically it's just a cupboard). So we were up til 1:30am tidying the kitchen. Apparently this landlord chappy is a 72 year old multi-millionaire, so I suggested that Big Sis leave her copy of 'Be Worth It' casually lying on the worktop in the kitchen (or possibly in the fridge), in case he has a couple of spare million he'd like to invest in a new theatre production. I've seen 'The Producers', so I know it can be done. I think I'll leave some of my business cards in the cappuccino machine and then offer him a coffee.
Just to keep you all updated on the current def con terror alert level in the US...

Or if you prefer to view the terror level on a scale of Sesame Street characters, from Oscar for green (feel free to let your guard down) to Elmo for red (prepare to die)...

Terror Alert Level

Monday, February 16, 2004

My cold is actually getting better now. I know you've all been rooting for me (in a "God, I wish he'd stop going on about his cold" kind of a way), so you'll be pleased to know I'm on the mend. But the sunburn is touch and go. Remarkably I didn't pack any aftersun lotion for this trip. I feel a fool now. But still, I'll soldier on.

Big Sis has the day off work today, so we're soldiering on over to Southfork Ranch. At least that's the plan. Sis wants to "pop into a shoe shop on the way", so frankly we'll be lucky to make it to Southfork before sundown.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Texas weather is weird. I was actually planning to moan about my ill health today, in another transparent attempt to get some sympathy, but as it happens, yesterday's snow has been replaced by bright sunshine and blue skies today, and I've had a kewl time in downtown Dallas. So I'll postpone the complaining (only temporarily of course) in favour of some grassy knoll chat instead.

But first let's return to Valentine's Day. Out of the blue (well, grey), I was chatted up by a pretty girl at the eyebrow waxers yesterday. She saw me waiting alone on the comfy sofa reading the women's magazines and looking at the hair removal menu, and with my sister out of the picture, saw her chance to pounce. Unfortunately she was only about five years old. But she was clearly smitten, and told me she was tidying up the magazines just for me. We then chatted for a good thirty seconds. Which technically makes this my most successful Valentine's Day yet.

Full of newfound optimism (and a certain amount of phlegm) we ploughed on through the snow to lunch at Schlotsky's Deli ("Funny Name, Serious Sandwich") in the unlikely named town of Terrell, which also featured the Tanger Outlet Center - a row of shops which had the audacity not to be housed inside a giant air-conditioned mall. We bought up the entire contents of 'Vitamin World' in an effort to cure our ills, and I very nearly purchased a bottle of pills called 'Male Confidence'. It sounded like just what I need, until I read the back of the bottle. I didn't buy it.

Unfortunately my new magic pills failed to pick me up, and by last night I was reading through my medical insurance documents and wondering if I could get a home visit from a qualified nurse.

Today however, I woke up in a different Texas. The three inches of snow had vanished overnight, the ground was dry, and the sun was shining. So over breakfast we decided to head on down to the local murder scene at Dealey Plaza.

I'd just like to break off for a moment here, and mention my skills as a clairvoyant. Eleven months ago, before Big Sis even knew she was moving to Texas, I wrote the following exchange of dialogue in my play 'Ledgers':

ROBYN: So how about you?

PETE: I think I might take a holiday. There's a whole world of high rise buildings out there. I might go to Dallas. Jump off the book depository onto the grassy knoll.

ROBYN: Well if you're gonna do something, you might as well do it in style.

PETE: Exactly. Alternatively I may just go back to bed until teatime.

Now, that last bit was fulfilled within a couple of days. And has been re-fulfilled many times since. But the Dallas bit, is that spooky or what? I clearly have some kind of second sight. And what's more, I'm available for children's parties.

And like Pete, I never did jump.

Is it my imagination, or is this blog getting more and more self-indulgent?

Anyhoo. We found Dealey Plaza in the west end of Dallas, and with much excitement took about half a dozen photos before realising we were actually in the wrong place, and the grassy knoll was on the other side of the road. Undeterred, we stood and listened to a conspiracy theorist who was trying to flog CDs, took note of all the landmarks he pointed out, then politely refused to buy anything. I posed for numerous photos in front of numerous death-related points of interest, then we made our way to the JFK memorial, where we stood in quiet contemplation. And then bought smoothies.

After lunch we made our way into the Sixth Floor Museum, which is in the old Texas schoolbook depository building from which Lee Harvey Oswald did or didn't shoot the Prez, depending on your personal gullibility level. We looked out of the window at the scene of the crime, felt quite impressed by Oswald's marksmanship, then arrived at the electronic guestbooks, where you can leave a message on the computer for subsequent visitors to read. Big Sis felt we should add something profound, in a cynical attempt to get our message into one of the permanent displays. I dictated, she typed, and after about twenty minutes and a hundred rewrites (during which we rejected my suggestion to use the phrase "speaking on behalf of all British people"), we finally managed to come up with two sentences which we felt encapsulated the right blend of reverential shmaltz.

And with great excitement, I can now reveal that our comments are there for all to see on the museum website! I'm so proud. So click here and scroll down to the page with the messages for 3pm this afternoon (currently page one). Big Sis and I are there in all our glory.

Having walked around Dallas' historic district without a jumper all afternoon, the weather went to our heads, and we drove home in the convertible with the roof down. For two people with colds, in the middle of February, that wasn't perhaps the wisest plan. But ironically my cold is now the least of my worries. Twenty four hours ago I was complaining about the sleet, snow, and freezing temperatures. This evening I'm sunburnt.
We're off to downtown Dallas today to see Dealey Plaza and the sixth floor of the old book depository. I plan to investigate the JFK assasination conspiracy theories by standing on the grassy knoll and throwing snowballs at my sister.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

I think I may have to officially upgrade my condition from common cold to Asian bird flu. I am not a well bunny. But happily, Big Sis has caught it now too, so at least someone knows what I'm going through.

I had to leave my sick bed in the middle of the night to eat a medicinal banana and pop a couple more orange pills, whereupon I passed the living room window and discovered that a thick layer of snow had arrived from nowhere. It's now been snowing non-stop for about ten hours, and the local TV stations are declaring it a record-breaking Texas snow day. Or something. Apparently more snow has fallen today than should fall in the entire year in Texas. Which has kinda put the dampers on our trip to Southfork. Apparently the bridges between here and there are very icy, and not fit to be crossed by ill people who sometimes forget to drive on the right. By a fortuitous stroke of luck however, there are no bridges between here and the eyebrow waxers, so Big Sis has made the most of a bad situation and booked herself in for 2:15pm.

As for yesterday, we made it to Grapevine Mills, which in contrast to the Galleria Mall, stays open to the outrageously late time of 9:30pm on a Friday night. We arrived at 7:20pm, spent an hour in the first shop we went in, then had the misfortune of passing a nail bar. Or rather, NOT passing. I was confidently assured that it would take a mere 15-20 minutes to sort out my sister's nails, so I wandered off and looked in an autograph shop, where I considered buying a signed photo of Britney Spears for $250. And wondered why Steve Martin only cost $65.

Fifty minutes later, the nail bar finally agreed to tag and release my sister. The mall was about to close, but on the bright side, Big Sis had a nice new coat, and gorgeous nails. And I got to carry her bag.

We then went to the Rainforest Cafe, where they have a thunderstorm every twenty minutes, and animatronic animals to put you off your food. I pondered the fact that we were meant to be in a rainforest, and yet there were two big elephants nearby. I decided they were probably lost. Big Sis's pasta dish was so awful she had to send it back, but it was ok because my fish sandwich was actually really nice. So overall I liked the Rainforest Cafe. It would've been better if I hadn't had to look at a big hairy gorilla all evening, but what could I do - she's my sister.

(I apologise for that joke. Have I mentioned that I'm ill?)

It's Valentine's Day today, which is obviously a big date in the calendar for someone like me. Due to major snow drifts, I haven't been able to get out to check the mailbox yet, but no doubt it's creaking under the weight of cards from all the cowgirls and waitresses I've made a big impression on this week. Either that, or restraining orders from their lawyers.

Friday, February 13, 2004

We didn't make it to the corned beef night in the end. Big Sis refused to go, using the flimsy excuse that she's been a vegetarian for the past ten years. She'll probably try to get out of tomorrow's Valentine's Day singles night as well, just because she's got a long-term boyfriend.

Instead, we returned to the Galleria Mall, to give it the proper attention it deserved. I bought some more cheap and tacky gifts, resisted the temptation to buy a cuddly armadillo, was fascinated by an 'automatic picture hanging machine' which turned out to be a plastic spirit level, and watched while Sis joined the serious shoppers in some hardcore retail therapy. We also found the only branch of McDonalds in the western world without a restroom. (That's toilets to you English people). I actually opened the door to what I thought was the gents, saw a bucket on the floor, and panicked slightly before I realised it was actually a cleaner's store cupboard.

My cold is worse today, despite taking some brightly coloured orange pills from the local supermarket. It's probably not helped by the lack of corned beef in my diet. So I'd welcome some sympathy. Or money. But mainly sympathy. And I've also ripped my jeans, which I blame on the fact that the seats in Big Sis's car are too low, and I had to sit down suddenly whilst trying not to drop all her fancy boutique purchases, or tread on the box of fudge cookies on the floor. It was an accident waiting to happen. I may decide to sue.

But on the bright side, we're heading out to Grapevine Mills tonight, which describes itself as "the first super-regional, value-oriented megamall in Texas". I'm not entirely sure what all that means, but if they use the term 'mega', it's got to be good. I think. Not that I want to give the impression that I'm only here to shop. I also plan to take in some culture over the weekend - we're planning a trip to Southfork Ranch. Apparently they have the actual gun that shot JR.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I walked down to the 'Mansell Community Park' this afternoon. I assume it's named after Nigel, the Formula One racing driver - judging by the way Texans seem to drive, it makes perfect sense. The place was deserted, save for myriad squirrels, but I found that some young tykes had tangled up the swings, so I did my bit for community service and untangled them. Whereupon I decided it would be irresponsible of me to leave without ensuring that they worked properly. So I had a swing for 5 minutes. Until I started to feel self-conscious about being a 30 year old man alone on the swings in a children's playground. So I left.

I trekked onwards until I arrived at 'Chandler's Pond', which warned that it was only for the enjoyment of residents and their guests, and included a sign stating that swimming was prohibited. Personally I felt the sign was unnecessary - the fact that the temperature was only a few degrees above freezing ought to have been enough to stop residents stripping down to their swimming trunks.

I returned via the Chandler's Landing Yacht Club, who are advertising a corned beef night tonight. I'll just repeat that for those of you who are assuming it's a typo: a corned beef night. Just how empty would your life have to be?

Obviously I'm going though.
Oh, and you can get life-size cardboard cut-outs of George W Bush for $24.99 at the Galleria Mall. If anyone would like one, just let me know.
This morning's breakfast experience was a sanitary towel commercial which informed me that "during your period, sitting for a long time and then suddenly standing can produce surprising leaks and odour". I think that's a case of too much information. I'm never giving up my seat to a lady again. Or if I do, I'll make sure I leave before she gets up. I never did like surprises.

But anyway. The Galleria Mall (which I'm told is pronounced 'gall-a-REE-a maul', but which I insist on prounouncing 'ga-LEER-ia mal' just to annoy people) was indeed a mecca for serious shoppers. Or to be more precise, serious shoppers who go to bed early. They shut at 9pm. Which is a problem when your Big Sis finds herself summoned to unexpected (and pointless) meetings at work and gets home two hours late. In the family of pedestrians, the sister with the Chrysler convertible is king, so I was forced to wait by the door in my coat and stetson until she returned.

But we had an hour at the mall, which proved to be enough time for me to buy a few tacky gifts with which to disappoint loved ones back home, and also a stack of postcards, not all of which are cheap and tasteless. We then bought smoothies, and for the second time this week were faced with the puzzled response of "You want WHAT???" when I insisted on ordering the Strawberry & Banana variety. Texans, it turns out, pronounce Banana as "b'nanna", and when faced with a cultured voice saying "banARna", they panic, assume you don't speak English, and call for back-up.

When the shops closed (apparently within minutes of our arrival), I insisted on having my photo taken in front of the mall Valentine's Day balloon display, for reasons I haven't quite put my finger on yet. But no doubt that will be appearing on my website photos page before the end of the month.

From the mall, we headed for the Outback Steakhouse, where we ate... um... pasta and chicken. We also chatted at length to our 22 year old waitress who, having discovered that we're from England, informed us that she's only been out of Texas three times in her life (and two of those were Florida). I was about to invite her to Shotley Gate, when she mentioned that her boyfriend is a bouncer at the local nightclub. So I hastily changed my mind. But the girl kindly informed us that Dallas is a dump, and that she'd always assumed everything was bigger in England. She also looked a bit lost when we mentioned going to see where JFK was shot. I'm not sure she'd heard of him. But she did tell us that Fort Worth Zoo is twice the size of Dallas Zoo, and that in San Antonio you can poke dolphins. Well ok, she said PET dolphins, but I'm sure if she knew me better she'd have said poke.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


1. It's pouring with rain.
2. I've woken up with the beginnings of a cold.
3. The local cable channel showed an explicit advert for genital herpes while I was eating my breakfast.
4. It looks like Dallas Zoo don't have aardvarks.
5. And the monorail doesn't open til March.
6. The Spinach Alfredo pizza I ordered last night was disappointing.
7. I still haven't got the hang of using the automatic ice dispenser in the kitchen without ending up with ice all over the floor.

But on the plus side...

1. It only costs $3 (about one pound eighty) to get into Dallas Aquarium. I wonder if they let you poke starfish?

Going back to the humph side...

8. I've just found there's no pound sign key on this American computer. It's bordering on racism.

Returning to the pluses...

2. We're going to the Galleria Mall tonight. The website claims it's for "serious shoppers", so we'll be mixing with professionals. I only have $150 in cash to my name, which probably makes me an amateur. But an enthusiastic amateur nonetheless.
3. I've been researching the Dallas theatre scene. Interestingly, following on from the Off Off Peachtree Theatre in Atlanta, who were interested in my play 'Ledgers' last month, and who specialise in British plays, I've now come across Theatre Britain, a Dallas theatre with exactly the same philosophy. Although they do seem a little too obsessed with pantomimes. But still, it's kinda interesting. In Britain we spend all our time watching American films and TV. Over here, they're busy setting up theatres just to perform British plays. Go figure, as I believe they say in this part of the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Oh my god. I know they say Americans are lazy, but I've just been for a quick 2 mile jaunt around the neighbourhood to justify the pizza I'm about to eat for lunch, and I saw a woman taking her dog for a walk by riding along in a golf buggy with the dog attached to the back via a lead. It looked quite fun though. I wonder where I can get a golf buggy at short notice..? And a dog...
Hmmm... you'd think that with 500 channels to choose from, I could find something worth watching on TV. Apparently not. Although I have discovered that Whoopi Goldberg advertises Slim Fast, so my channel hopping wasn't entirely in vain.

I'm at home alone today - my sister has been forced to go out and earn a living to pay for all the food I'm getting through. I'd lost close to a stone since Christmas, to compensate for the half a stone I put on whilst writing 'Be Worth It' in the autumn (the price of being a dedicated playwright - no time to exercise, but strangely plenty of time to eat), so I'm keen to see how much of that I can re-apply in the next two weeks. I seem to be burning off quite a few calories though - my sister's kitchen has 42 cupboards and 24 drawers (yes, I counted them), so it's like an episode of The Crystal Maze just trying to find the food I'm looking for.

Yesterday featured my first experience of a Texan supermarket. I found the shopping cart difficult to handle, as the rear wheels don't swivel, unlike their British cousins. It meant I had to do a lot of 3 point turns, and manouvering became increasingly tricky the more ice cream I loaded into the cart. I also found that Edam cheese is extortionately expensive, so I was forced to buy white chocolate fudge cookies instead.

Later, we went for an afternoon stroll down to the Chandler's Landing Yacht Club. Big Sis had clearly heard of my flirtation with Shotley Sailing Club, and was keen to compete. We looked at the skyscrapers of Dallas over on the other side of the lake, realised we could no longer feel our feet due to the cold, and hastily made our way back. We then hiked three miles around the gated community, saw more squirrels than people, looked at the millionaires' homes, I wondered again how my sis had wangled a free house here, considered asking her employers if they'd buy me one too, then came back and ate iced buns.

In the evening we ventured forth to Circuit City. Which turned out to be more of a shop than a true city. Think Currys on steroids. But without Linda Barker (thank god). I'm not at liberty to say how much Big Sis spent on electrical items, but it earned her another 2000 air miles from her Virgin credit card, so we're not talking a 50 cent fuse here. One of the boxes was so big we had to open the roof of the Chrysler convertible in order to get it onto the back seat. It's an everyday hassle for us all, isn't it - I can't tell you how many times a week I have to roll back the roof on my convertible to get my purchases in. Ok, I can. I drive a Skoda, so it doesn't happen very often. I'd need a tin opener to roll back the roof. But still.

I'm off now to look up Dallas zoo on the internet, and find out if they have aardvarks.

Monday, February 09, 2004

I'm in Texas! Hurrah! However, far more exciting than that, is the fact that having posted the message below yesterday, I got up from the computer, walked around the corner, and there, sitting in one of the comfy armchairs, amongst the other clubhouse virgins, was none other than Alison, formerly of Big Brother, and now of Celebrity Fit Club. I stared at her for a while, she stared back in that "oh my god, there's a nutter looking at me" kind of way, I considered chatting her up, but in the end I decided that if I only had 20 minutes until my flight, I really ought to be eating more free food, and not wasting my time talking to celebrities. So I headed for the smoothie cabinet instead. I kept an eye on Alison though, in case she started eating the danish pastries, and I'd be forced to report her to Dale Winton and that scary sergeant major guy with the big lips.

Anyhoo. The 8 hour flight to Washington featured more binge eating on my part, whilst watching 'School of Rock' on my little TV, and listening to The Darkness, in between watching episodes of The Office and Will & Grace, and trying to fall asleep to Alan Partridge. My free on-board massage was cancelled due to lack of time. I was not a happy bunny. Despite being placated with a priority voucher ensuring me the first massage on the return flight.

At Washington, the friendly immigration guy told us to watch out in Texas for men in pick-up trucks with gun racks on the back. So that was nice.

We wandered around Washington airport, I ate my first bona fide American hamburger (disappointing), and we chatted to a grumpy man on the United Airlines desk, who'd clearly been off sick the day they'd done the lesson on customer service. Then we had a 3 hour flight to Dallas in economy, which was a bit of a culture shock. No free facials and cream teas there.

An hour long car journey later, with Sandy the taxi driver, who grew up in Death Valley and once went down the Grand Canyon on a donkey (it's details like that which bring this story alive), and we arrived at Big Sis's house, the interior of which is remarkably similar to the Osbournes'. Only with fewer crucifixes and pets. I'm not sure how much blackmailing my sister had to do to persuade her employers to pay for this place, but she clearly has a talent for negotiation. And I told her so, as I relaxed by the jacuzzi with gold plated taps.

It's 12:30pm now, and almost lunchtime. It's approaching 20 minutes since I last ate, so we're off out to buy more food.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

I'm in the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow airport, en route to Texas with a big sister and her big wallet. I've eaten more free bacon rolls than is probably healthy, drunk an entire month's recommended fruit intake in the form of free smoothies, and now I've found there's free broadband internet access too. Did I mention we've been upgraded to first class?

Last night was spent at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel, which at four stars, is roughly four more stars than I'm used to. I'm not saying I'm unaccustomed to luxury, but I did get quite excited to find I had an executive trouser press in my room. I was slightly less excited to discover that the mini bar expected me to pay £1.60 for a Mars bar and £2.70 for a can of coke. But on the plus side, my bed was so wide that you could barely see from one side to the other, due to the natural curvature of the Earth's surface.

My room was remarkably warm (I suspect the people below were furiously pressing the entire contents of their suitcase. I know I was), so I opened the window and drifted off to sleep around midnight. Whereupon I was rudely awoken at 12:10am by a car alarm going off outside my window, which then proceeded to chime merrily every two minutes, until at 12:30am I finally got up, closed the window, and elected to sweat into my luxury bed linen instead. I wouldn't mind, but for £78 a night, I feel the least I should be able to expect is a porter with a sledgehammer to put the offending vehicle out of its misery.

By 1:00am I'd given up on sleep, so I chose instead to make good use of my time by devising a set of aliases for use in America, utilising the age-old formulae handed down through the generations:

EXOTIC FOREIGNER ALIAS (Favorite Spice + Last Foreign Vacation Spot)
~ Paprika Munich

SOCIALITE ALIAS (Silliest Childhood Nickname + Town Where You First Partied)
~ Boris Basildon

DIVA ALIAS (Something Sweet Within Sight + Any Liquid in Kitchen)
~ Ribena Flash

GIRL DETECTIVE ALIAS (Favorite Baby Animal + Where You Last Went to School)
~ Kitten Woodlands

BARFLY ALIAS (Last Snack Food You Ate + Your Favourite Drink)
~ Thai Bites Bacardi

SOAP OPERA ALIAS (Middle Name + Street Where You First Lived)
~ David Downs

PORN STAR ALIAS (First Pet's Name + Street You Grew Up On)
~ Snowy Clay-Hill

JEDI NAME (First 3 letters of your last name + first 2 letters of your first name, First 2 letters of your mother's maiden name + the first 3 letters of your hometown)
~ Garph Hosho

That done, I conspired to book the taxi for the morning in the name of Ribena Flash, only to find my sister had got there first and unforgivably used her real name. She's just not entering into the spirit of this trip.

Right, Big Sis's luxury massage will be finished shortly, so I'd better go and find some more free food before we leave the country. I also need to complain about the lack of virgins in this clubhouse. There's such a thing as false advertising.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Right, I'm off to Texas (the US state, not the DIY store). Will someone vote for Peter Andre while I'm gone? And let me know the result. Thanks. Oh, and if you could water my plants as well, that would be lovely.

Friday, February 06, 2004

I'm going to Shotley Sailing Club tonight. I'm not a member, but I look a bit like Captain Pugwash, so I'm hoping they'll let me in.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

I've joined the Universal Church of the Interactive Network, and I hereby promise to abide by the 10 Holy E-mail Directives:

~ Thou shalt not spam.
~ Thou shalt not believe everything on thy screen.
~ Thou shalt be wary of the urban myth.
~ Thou shalt use thy spellchecker.
~ Thou shalt think before thou sends.
~ Thou shalt not burden thy brother with superfluous attachments.
~ Thou shalt be prompt.
~ Thou shalt exercise brevity of text.
~ Thou shalt exercise restraint in the use of emoticons, for they are the most holy of textual expressions.
~ Thou shalt learn and use universally acceptable acronyms, as all others are an abomination.

Although that 'brevity of text' one might prove a bit of a challenge.

... and I also enjoyed Jennie Bond's comment last night that everyone should vote for her because there's never been a middle aged queen of the jungle before. She's obviously forgotten Wayne Sleep last year.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

I think we should have Peter Andre stuffed and preserved for the nation.
They do say that by 2008 there will be more pensioners than children in the UK, and the number of people over the age of 80 will rise by 65% in the next 25 years. People, I have seen the future. I went to the Wednesday afternoon matinee performance of 'The Turn of the Screw' (a title so close to 'The Taming of the Shrew', I think it's technically plagiarism) at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich today. At least I think it was a play I went to see. It felt more like a rally of the grey power movement. Not that I'm ageist, but when the woman sitting next to you is so old she expects to find room at your feet for a pair of crutches, you know you've got problems. I was tempted to call for a heart monitor at the interval. And I have never in my life seen the Wolsey Theatre so packed. Not even Jim Kitson sold out the Wolsey. (If you just mouthed "who?", you clearly don't know me well enough). But there wasn't a spare seat in the house this afternoon. The woman to my right, who, at about 60, was in the first flush of youth compared to most of those present, turned to me before the play started and said "I think they must have advertised this around all the local churches". By which I presume she meant that everyone looked like they'd come straight from a graveyard.

But still, despite being the youngest person there by a good thirty years, the actual play wasn't bad. It employed the interesting idea of avoiding the use of child actors, by replacing the two young characters in the play with drawings projected onto the french windows. I'm not entirely sure it worked, but it's an idea which is definitely worth trying elsewhere. I for one would be willing to sit through an entire episode of 'Friends' if all the actors were replaced by mute drawings.

I have to say though, the lead actress, Shereen Ibrahim, was very good. On her RADA graduation page, she lists under 'special skills' that most vital of attributes: a full driving licence. So she clearly has the qualifications for the job. She's also played a lemon tart in the past, so you have to say her career's going in the right direction. I thought she was excellent anyway, despite the fact that they'd made her up to look alarmingly like Olive Oyl. Fortunately, twenty minutes after the show, I saw her coming out of the PDSA charity shop (me, not her; she's an actress - she wouldn't be seen dead in the PDSA charity shop), and I can vouch for the fact that in real life she looks nothing like Popeye's girlfriend. I felt she deserved a standing ovation for her performance, but sadly most of the audience couldn't stand up without the aid of a nurse.

Monday, February 02, 2004

My heart will go bowling,
And my body to science,
But my soul never met,
Year 2000 compliance.

Listening to a bit of late night Soltero...
Apparently parents in America are now naming their children after major brands. As we speak, there are babies in the US called L'Oreal, Armani, Timberland and Del Monte (the parents of whom are trying to teach him not to say no). Although admittedly this research was carried out by Professor Cleveland Evans, whose parents were clearly a little too fond of Ohio. So you do wonder what gives him the right to throw stones.

But more worrying is the news that a guy in Michigan has now decided to name his child after a software update. Bored with the American practice of naming sons 'Jnr', he's opted for 'Version 2.0' instead. So that's another child scarred for life. Fortunately, Jon Blake Cusack 2.0, as he's now legally called, only has to suffer that indignity for 18 years, at which point he can change his name by deed poll. His parents won't be affected of course, as he won't have spoken to them for at least five years by then. That's assuming he hasn't already shot them.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

I haven't voted on a TV reality show since 2002, when, in a moment of weakness, I panicked and voted for Will Young in the first series of Pop Idol. But all that is about to change. If Peter Andre isn't crowned King of the Jungle in a week's time, it will be a travesty of the highest order. The man's an all-round entertainer, and I haven't enjoyed laughing at someone so much since the last Eurovision Song Contest. We're even starting to think alike. As he said on tonight's show, "You know what really bugs me? I've sold over two million records".

Yeah, that really bugs me too, Pete. And I'm with you on the singing lessons as well.