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Thursday, March 31, 2005

It's surprising how little sleep it's possible to get when you're not only jet-lagged, but also suffering from a heavy cold which makes breathing a bit of a challenge. I've managed about three hours the last two nights. And not having slept on my own for more than three weeks, I now can't seem to drop off without someone next to me hogging the duvet and kneeing me in the back. But on the plus side, I'm single-handedly supporting the UK 3-ply tissue market. (From blowing my nose I mean. I'm not referring to anything else there). Personally I blame the bloke on the plane. If you have enough babies thrown at you, you're bound to catch something eventually.

So I feel a bit rough. And on top of that, it's the last day of March and I haven't even begun working on NaNoEdMo - the National Novel Editing Month. You're supposed to put in 50 hours of rewrites during the month of March, so with less than a day to go, and 50 hours still to do, it's looking a little unlikely that I'll be joining the list of winners. But I might still buy a t-shirt.

Fortunately, in an effort to cheer myself up, I've devised a fiendish and cunning plan to turn myself into a local celebrity. And international hate figure. Whilst in America, the following piece of excitement dropped through my letterbox...

It's Erwarton. And it's mine, all mine! Mwahahahaha...

The MyShotley site announced that every home in the area would have one by the end of January. So it's obviously a conspiracy that they waited til I was out of the country in March before delivering mine and asking me to return it by the 23rd. Anyone would think they don't trust me to give serious answers.

But anyhoo, it's choc-full of important questions such as "Should tourism development/attractions be encouraged in and around the local area?", so if enough people answer 'yes', we should be getting a theme park and a Palace of Wax by Christmas.

More exciting than that though, is the bold announcement of a forthcoming sister site to MyShotley, the wittily entitled The website doesn't actually exist yet, but presumeably it's in the advanced stages of planning, and is just a few short weeks away from launch.

Or perhaps not...

I've just checked, and they haven't even registered the web address yet. Yes, that's right, both and are still available to any member of the public willing to slap down about twenty quid. The parish council are advertising an address they don't even own.

You have no idea how tempting this is. Homestead, the website company I use, charge just £6 a year for an additional address which points to your current site. So right here, right now, I could spend six quid and have every resident within five miles of here entering '' into their address bar and ending up at my site.

Of course, I'd also become the most hated local figure since Linda Tonkin, when the parish council realise they've spent a fortune advertising my website for me, and have to start all over again from scratch. But they say there's no such thing as bad publicity...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Well I'm home, and what's more I've weighed myself. I couldn't possibly reveal the results for fear of frightening small children, but let's just say that Holland & Barrett should stop stocking those miracle 'weight gain' powders and start selling American ice cream.

Our journey home was mostly uneventful. I had to resort to an extra item of hand luggage after I failed to fit my cuddly manatee in my case, but apart from that it went smoothly. It was sad leaving Big Sis at the airport, but I didn't let it get to me quite as much as the lady in front of us, who was sobbing uncontrollably at the departure of her loved ones. I've seen less tears at a funeral. Although to be fair, the elderly woman she was saying goodbye to did look like she might not last the journey, so maybe it was understandable. Personally my mood picked up the moment we were through security and I found they sold hot cinnamon rolls at McDonalds.

On the plane we were seated next to a young British guy with dreadlocks, who welcomed us to the aircraft by immediately asking to be moved. The stewardess refused his request, so he made the best of a bad situation. And then asked again twenty minutes later. But after that we bonded. There was real love in his eyes every time I asked him to move so I could go to the toilet.

I managed to squeeze in three films during the flight - The Grudge (fairly rubbish), Cellular (even worse) and Vera Drake (very good). Backstreet abortionists beat kidnappers and murderers any day. I also enjoyed the real life events on board, particularly the moment I heard a thud, looked up, and realised the man across the aisle had dropped his baby on the floor. The woman sitting behind looked quite traumatised, but the happy father took it all in his stride and scooped up his daughter with the look of a man who'd done it a thousand times before. Frankly he was lucky she wasn't trodden on by the big fat bloke from premium economy who insisted on walking through our section every twenty minutes en route to the toilet. And I thought I had a weak bladder.

Once at Gatwick we boarded the little bus to take us to the terminal. Someone who had presumeably witnessed the earlier child-tossing event kindly offered Mr Butterfingers and his daughter a seat, but naturally he refused. If you're going to drop your baby, you might as well do it from a height.

Once through customs (do you have to declare manatees?) we were met by our respective meeters - my Mum for me, and Lisa's friend H for her (not the one out of Steps). Both had kindly agreed to give us lifts home, but only one was armed with Easter eggs. I eventually arrived home at 10am, tired, drained, and considerably fatter.

Having spent over three weeks with Lisa, 24 hours apart now seems a bit much. But the good thing about having a fellow jet-lag sufferer on the south coast is that you can chat on the phone at 4am, and write blog posts as the sun comes up. Talking of which, Lisa has already forced her mother to sit down and read the entire account of the past two weeks on my blog. As if that poor woman hasn't suffered enough.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

It's the last day of our holiday, and I've finally fulfilled one of my lifetime ambitions...

Phil & Saddam

Yes, that's right, I've met Saddam Hussein. Although judging by his expression in the photo, I don't think he was quite as pleased to meet me. He looks like he's comparing moustaches. Which is a bit unreasonable - I've only had three days to grow mine since the stetson photo.

Anyhoo, yesterday was our last full day in Texas, so we decided to make the most of it by heading over to Fort Worth in search of the zoo and the world famous (apparently) stockyards, where they regularly have as many as six cows. We'd formulated a detailed plan, which basically involved stopping for ice cream three times, so I was quite looking forward to it. Unfortunately we had reckoned without the Texas weather, which decided to bucket down with rain all morning. Julie Reinger would've been hysterical. But then she always is.

We delayed our departure by an hour, which I'd like to claim was to give the weather a chance to clear, but in reality was because I was still writing yesterday's blog post. We'd already abandoned the zoo idea by this point, after I'd very nearly managed to convince Big Sis that Lisa has an unhealthy obsession with poking aardvarks (she'll believe anything), but we set off optimistically for the stockyards. Via Braum's ice cream parlour.

By the time we reached Arlington the rain was like Sis's power shower, and Six Flags Over Texas looked empty (I knew we should've listened to that sign). We stopped for petrol, and having ventured three feet from the car to the petrol pump, Big Sis took the executive decision that a tour of outdoor cowboy country might be a bad idea. She wanted to head for a mall instead, but being a tourist with a taste for tack, I had other ideas, and after a short discussion (in which Lisa wisely chose not to take sides), we did a u-turn and set off for...

The Palace of Wax. Hurrah!

It's a dual attraction - half waxiness, half 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not'. I'd been to the one in Great Yarmouth, so I knew it was top quality entertainment. The Ripley's exhibit was especially fine. I particularly enjoyed the two-faced kitten, the two-bodied calf, and the goats which fall over when you give them a fright. My cynicism hit an all-time high though, when presented with a picture which they claimed had been painted in just 52 seconds by a woman called Conni Gordon. Having examined it in detail, and realised I couldn't paint something like that in 52 years, I publicly declared it to be a fraud, and considered asking for my money back.

So naturally I was thrilled to get home and find that you can watch her paint it on the internet. But hey, I'm sure I didn't make myself look stupid. That Mexican family definitely agreed with me.

Having exhausted our reserves of incredulity, we entered the Palace of Wax. It proved to be both interesting and educational. Particularly the display of historical political figures. And George W Bush. Keen to record the occasion on film, I asked Lisa to pose for a photo in front of Abraham Lincoln, prompting her to look around blankly and reply "Which one's that?". Which I didn't think could be topped, until thirty seconds later when Big Sis called me over to the other side of the room with a shocked expression on her face, and declared "I didn't know Martin Luther King was black!".

At which point I headed straight back to 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not' and told them I had a new exhibit for them.

An hour of waxy fun later and we headed to the Stonebriar Mall, via the Grapevine Mills Mall, where we picked up Sis's new glasses and had our second ice cream stop of the day. At Stonebriar we requested a table at 'The Cheesecake Factory', then popped into the bookshop next door where I bought a book called 'How to Win at Texas Hold 'Em Poker for Five Bucks'. It cost... $5.43. That's tax for you. I plan to read it on the plane on the way home, and make my fortune in the world of online poker. It shouldn't be too difficult.

At the Cheesecake Factory I ate... um... Shepherd's Pie. Followed by some obligatory cheesecake. It was very nice. The Shepherd's Pie I mean. The cheesecake was ok.

So that's it really. We leave for the airport in 90 minutes. Which means it's probably about time I started packing my things.

Put the Easter eggs in the fridge, I'm coming home.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Having enjoyed the thrills and spills of numerous u-turns in Big Sis's car, we decided to go one better yesterday. Sis took the afternoon off work and we headed over to Six Flags Over Texas, an amusement park in Arlington, just outside Dallas. It was officially 'Christian Youth Weekend' at Six Flags, but I'm quite youthful, and Lisa likes Cliff Richard, so we thought we'd be ok.

Having driven for 40 minutes, we were welcomed to the park by a big sign which told us it was crowded, and suggested we come back another day. But hey, if Jesus could feed the five thousand with nothing but a fish finger sandwich, I felt sure Six Flags could shove a few Christians onto a rollercoaster in double quick time, so we pressed on regardless.

Once inside, we headed for 'The Texas Giant', a 62mph, 14 storey rollercoaster, voted the best wooden rollercoaster in the world by a bunch of people who know about these things. It's the rickety sprawling thing in the background of this pic...

Time to die

So we joined the queue, noticed the sign which said it had a waiting time of over an hour and a half, and promptly left. It might be the best in the world, but we're not queuing for ninety minutes.

Instead we went for the Ozarka Splash, a log flume ride sponsored by a bottled water company. It had a bargain waiting time of just 25 minutes, and a death-defying plunge of... oooh, about ten feet, though judging by the expression on Lisa's face in the automatic photo, it was scarier than it looked.

From there we headed over to 'Chute Out', which sounds exciting, but really wasn't. Think Mary Poppins and a sofa, and you're halfway there. Big Sis summed it up with the words "From now on I'm only queueing for the major rides", as she disappeared off to join the ice cream queue.

A burger and fries later, we joined the line for 'Batman the Ride'. It looked a bit lengthy but Sis assured us it would be worth it. So we queued for 35 minutes, passing the time by wondering why there was a slow but steady stream of people ahead of us apparently giving up and leaving the line. One thing was certain though - we wouldn't be giving up so easily. It was 7:45pm and we'd only been on a log and a sofa. We'd be seeing this one out to the bitter end.

So anyway, after queing for 35 minutes, we eventually reached the member of staff who told us it was another two hours from that point, realised we weren't so keen to see the bitter end after all, and left.

A ten minute jaunt to the other side of the park, and we rejoined the now significantly shorter queue for the Texas Giant. Fifty minutes later, and we actually made it onto a rollercoaster. There was a camera taking your photo on the first drop; unfortunately I was rather too busy screaming with my eyes closed to actually pose. I've never been so scared in all my life. Meanwhile, in the seat next to me, Lisa was having a panic attack and asking to get off, and Sis was complaining she had a headache.

So that was fun. From there we ran (staggered) down to 'Titan', an 85mph rollercoaster which is more than a mile in length. It's the orange one in the foreground of the photo above. Yes, the one with the mildly steep drop. The queue was short by then. As were my reserves of strength. But we made it on there. And very nice it was too. Not that I saw much of it. Or heard much. In fact, it's surprising how little you notice when you've got your eyes firmly shut and you're screaming in terror. Let's just say that when I thought the plunge on the Texas Giant was scary, I didn't know what I was talking about.

The ride (and my ability to walk) over, we crawled back to the main gate and exited in serious need of counselling. No wonder they call it a Christian Youth Weekend - I've never heard the phrase "oh my god" spoken with such fervour, by so many people, and at such high speeds in all my life.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Well, we eventually decided against a 2,000 mile round trip to watch a baseball game (though I'm not sure Sis was entirely joking when she suggested looking up flights), so we chose instead to spend a night at the Addison Improv, a Dallas comedy club I visited a year ago. I was secretly hoping to see Marvin Michaels, a comic we saw briefly last year, and of whom I wrote in my blog on 19th February 2004, "I could happily have watched him all night".

Of course, it was asking a bit much to expect Marvin to just happen to be performing there again on the very night we return, 13 months later. And so it proved. Turns out he's on tomorrow night. Dammit.

But who needs Marvin Michaels when you've got Michael Prince. Well frankly, we do. It wasn't that Mr Prince wasn't funny, it was just that he had such a strong southern accent that we couldn't understand a word he said. But he did break off at one point and do an impression of Steve Irwin, the Aussie crocodile hunter. If he'd done the whole show in that accent, we might have stood a chance.

Fortunately Michael left after twenty minutes, and we moved on to the headline act, Pierre, who's one of those people who prefer to be known by just a single name. A bit like Lisa.

He started well, with the line "I'm half black and half white. So I'll steal from you, and then help you look for it." but it was a bit hit and miss after that. He had some good moments though, and Big Sis was particularly taken with his hat. If only he'd worn it when he met Leslie Nielsen...

It's Pierre. No really, it is.

Anyhoo, the comedy over, we popped next door to Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, where we decided one of the dueling pianists was definitely gay. Until he started talking about his wife. At which point we decided it was only probable. Lisa also attempted to buy a round of drinks, and so confused the barman with her English accent that he had to pass her over to his boss. That'll teach her to ask for lemonade in America. It's Sprite 'n' OJ around here.

We made our way home via Belt Line Road, a highway we'd come to know intimately after Sis had got confused on the way there and turned a two mile drive from the Galleria Mall into a ten mile road trip with four u-turns. I'd never felt so lost. Until twenty minutes later when Michael Prince took to the stage...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thirteen days into the holiday, and still no sign of a stetson...


But I do have a very fetching pair of Mickey Mouse ears.

Anyhoo, mine and Lisa's anniversary-of-meeting celebratory meal was a complete success. Big Sis had recommended a fine Italian restaurant called Cici's on the other side of town, and gave us a lift there at 7pm. As we drew into the parking lot, I helpfully pointed out to Sis that the restaurant appeared to be called Bella's, to which she responded "Oh yeah. Cici's must be somewhere else. But this one's cheap."

With such a glowing recommendation we'd have been fools to argue, so we made our way inside as Sis floored the accelerator in search of a safer part of town. Once inside, we waited to be seated, realised it wasn't that kind of establishment, and seated ourselves. Whereupon the waitress arrived, asked us what we'd like to drink, and Lisa ordered a glass of wine. At which point we found out they don't serve alcohol.

So like I say, it was a complete success. It turns out that the cute little bar by the door, with all the pretty wine glasses hanging up, is for decorative purposes only, and doesn't mean they were successful in their application for a liquor licence. But they were more than happy to bring us a couple of Diet Cokes in plastic cups.

Undeterred, we ordered pizzas, which arrived just as I'd finished filling myself up on free bread. To be honest, I preferred the 79 cent frozen pizza we got from Wal-Mart, but it was suposed to be a romantic anniversary meal, so I didn't say anything. Much.

Sis picked us up at 8:30pm, by which time she'd got a cross-head screw stuck in her front right tyre, and was fighting a constant battle against deflation. So the restaurant wasn't the only let-down of the evening.

We made it home, and decided to cheer ourselves up by checking the details of the baseball game we're going to tonight. Big Sis had kindly booked us three tickets for a Texas Rangers pre-season game against the Kansas City Royals. She'd been very careful to buy us tickets for a home game - after all, we wouldn't want to go all the way to Kansas just to see a bit of baseball. That would be ridiculous. It's over 500 miles.

So like I say, we have tickets to a Texas Rangers home game. A 'spring training' home game. And where is the Texas Rangers' official spring training home? Dallas? Houston? Austin? Nope.

Arizona. About a thousand miles away.

So if anyone wants three tickets to a baseball game in Phoenix tonight, just let me know.

Oh, and the name of the stadium where it's being played..?

Surprise Stadium.

I hate surprises.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It's exactly one year today since I met Lisa, and already we're growing apart...

Growing Apart

We should probably get a smaller table. It might bring us closer together.

I'm actually writing this at 1pm, which is when we met this time last year, shortly after Lisa had emerged from the toilets at Victoria station, spotted me across a crowded concourse, and rung her friend to say she could see me and I didn't appear to be armed. But of course germ warfare is easily concealed.

So to celebrate the fact that we've known each other a year and haven't tried to kill each other yet, and to give us another excuse to eat something, we're going out tonight to an Italian restaurant, in an effort to recreate our first meal together on March 23rd last year. It's like a Crimewatch reconstruction. But with slightly less blood.

Of course, if it's 1pm here in Texas, it's actually 7pm in the UK, so this time last year we were in Pizza Hut. Not that I want to give the impression that all we do is eat together. Sometimes we drink too.

Anyhoo, not only is it one year since I met Lisa, it's also 1 year, 4 months & 22 days since I watched the Japanese film 'Ring 2' and failed to understand a word of it (despite the presence of subtitles). Which is relevant, because last night Lisa and I had the pleasure of seeing the American version at the local cinema. And not understanding that either.

We went with Big Sis and her pregnant friend to 'Movies 8', Rockwall's finest multiplex, where they chose to see 'Man of the House', with Tommy Lee Jones reprising the role made famous by Richard O'Sullivan in the 1970s. I think. Lisa and I preferred to go down the horror road. Neither of us had seen the first film, but I'd enjoyed both Japanese versions, and could very nearly remember what they were about, so we thought we'd be ok.

Being a highly anticipated sequel, and with Movies 8 charging a very reasonable $6 (three quid) per ticket, I was expecting a packed cinema. Sadly it didn't seem enough to tempt the local residents - Lisa and I turned out to be the only ones there. I expect everyone was at home watching 'Robin's Nest' on cable.

Anyhoo, the film was mostly rubbish, but it did have one very scary moment. It was the bit where the woman from the ticket desk suddenly walked through the squeaky door at the back of our empty cinema an hour into the film. Lisa nearly jumped out of her skin. But other than that, I wouldn't recommend it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You know your holiday's going well when your host starts paying you to get out of her house. And so it was that Big Sis handed us sixty dollars yesterday afternoon and told us to leave. Personally I wanted to stay in and write my blog, but apparently that wasn't an option. We were packed off to the local train station with a timetable and a map, quicker than you could say "outstay your welcome".

Our destination was the Dallas World Aquarium, and our preferred method of transport (not that we had any choice in the matter) was the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) - a cross between a train and a tram which runs downtown every twenty minutes. Not that Sis has ever used it, but she was more than happy to look up directions to the station if it meant getting rid of us for a few hours.

As it turned out, we liked the DART. It's like the London Underground, only it's cleaner and it goes down city streets at 40mph whilst displaying adverts for torn earlobe repairs. Within half an hour we were in the west end, and with the aid of a map (kindly supplied by Big Sis, in a sort of 'take this map and get out' kind of a way) we soon found the Dallas World Aquarium and paid the exhorbitant entry fee out of our bribery money.

Aquariums (aquaria?) hold one advantage over zoos, namely that they tend to feature more fish than monkeys, which for a simianphobe (I'm not sure that word exists, but it should do) like Lisa is a major plus. So she was a little less than thrilled when we walked through the door expecting to see a tank full of goldfish, and bumped straight into the first monkey enclosure. But hey, she soon perked up once we were past the tarantulas and heading towards the vampire bats. They were next to the crocodiles. Which were just past the snakes.

A couple of otters and a kinkajou later, we actually saw some fish. They were a surprisingly small part of the Dallas World Aquarium, and were slightly overshadowed by the penguins and rabbits, though the highlight for me was undoubtedly the manatees. I've decided I want one. Mainly so I can ride it. I'd like a pygmy hippo for overland journeys, and a manatee for underwater travel. I've yet to find a creature capable of providing me with airborne transportation, but I haven't given up yet.

Anyhoo, we made it past the flamingos and leopard (a volatile combination), through the shark tunnel, and into the gift shop, where Lisa took pity on me and bought me a cuddly manatee for nine dollars. The place closed at 5pm, so at 5:20pm we eventually agreed to leave, and made our way down the road to TGI Friday's, where Lisa chose from the Atkins menu. And then stole my chips.

A quick jaunt over to the JFK memorial, and we caught the DART back to Garland, where Big Sis was waiting for us. On the other side of the road. It was 15 minutes before we spotted her. Anyone would think it was a high crime area.

Monday, March 21, 2005

This is time-travelling post 2 of 2. I could get used to this...

Having been lulled gently to sleep on Saturday night by the roaring din of Boeing 737s passing within a few hundred feet of my hotel room, I awoke on Sunday morning in need of a bit of fortification. So we checked out of the Sheraton Nul Points and headed straight for the local Waffle House. Lisa had promised me bacon covered in maple syrup, but in the end I plumped (which is an apt word) for the sausage and egg sandwiches with a side order of raisin toast. Big Sis meanwhile forewent the chance to eat fried food first thing in the morning, and chose instead to sit outside a sex shop and call her boyfriend.

Eating (and calling) done, we returned to downtown Oklahoma City in search of the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, what we found was a Harley Davidson convention and a basketball game, meaning the streets were full of bikers and people dressed in orange, and you couldn't park anywhere.

But undeterred, we drove around in circles for twenty minutes before pretending to be undercover basketball fans and paying five bucks to a man with a flag. The botanical gardens turned out to be very nice. Big Sis did a bit of sunbathing while Lisa and I attempted to take numerous self-timer photos of us looking squeezy in romantic settings, before being abused by a woman from the gift shop who tried to charge us six dollars to use her restrooms.

From there we drove to the state Capitol building, where Sis attempted to park in the Governor's parking space, before seeing a scary man in a black suit approaching, and changing her mind. We strolled around the building, looked at the oil wells, took some dodgy self-timer shots...


... and then went to Subway for lunch. The two sandwich-makers who served us were clearly thirsting for knowledge and keen to learn more of our homeland. They started by asking if England and France were two different places, and were surprised to hear that they are. I lost the will to live shortly afterwards. We sat down with the words "So France isn't in England??" still ringing in our ears, only to be interrupted halfway through our meal for the important question "Are U2 from England? I love U2!". We said yes, and kept eating. If they thought France was a small town just outside London, I didn't fancy trying to explain where Ireland is.

By this point it was 3:30pm. Big Sis, who had spent half the night watching The Weather Channel on cable, was convinced there were major storms and tornados heading our way, and that if we didn't leave Oklahoma by 4pm, we were likely to be hit by flying cows on the way home. So we made our getaway there and then. Unfortunately we got stuck in a lengthy traffic jam on the way back, and the drive ended up taking us five and a half hours.

It was particularly taxing, because with the clear skies, warm sun, and still, balmy weather we experienced for the entire journey, it became really quite hot in the car.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Due to pressure from certain people who insist that I go out and enjoy myself (against my will) instead of staying at home and writing blog posts, I've fallen a little behind with this thing. So I'm writing this on Tuesday and posting it the previous Sunday. It's a trick I learnt from Michael J Fox.

Having spent a leisurely 40 minutes on the phone on Saturday morning chatting to my mother, who had visited my flat, opened my post, and wanted to share the resulting good news with me, we eventually rolled out of Rockwall at 10:30am, an hour later than planned, but with smiles on our faces and a song in our hearts. Unfortunately none of us knew the musical of the same name, so I settled for singing the word 'Oklahoma' to the tune of 'Barcelona'. Until I was told I couldn't stay in the car if I continued.

I'd prepared for our trip by watching a five minute promotional video about Oklahoma City (apparently it's the surprise I've been looking for), and ordering a free visitors' guide from here. I requested it on Thursday morning, on the understanding that it would be posted first class within one business day, thus arriving before we left on Saturday. So with great predictability, it came first thing Monday morning. (Though obviously as it's currently 9am on Sunday, I wouldn't know that).

Our journey north was spent chatting about relationships (Big Sis knows where you can get cheap diamond rings), before accidentally taking a wrong turn, driving twenty miles on the wrong road trying to get back to the right road, before realising the wrong turn was the right turn, the right road was the wrong road, and ending up in a traffic jam. But we stopped for ice cream, so it was ok.

Once over the border into Oklahoma, we made a small detour to Murray Lake (it's just a load of water - don't bother), and stopped at two 'scenic turnabouts', which redefined the word 'scenic'. I've seen more panoramic window boxes.

Having decided to drive to Oklahoma City, Sis had naturally booked us into a hotel at the airport, and we eventually arrived there (via a wrong turn into the long-stay car park) after three and a half hours. Our hotel was the 'Sheraton Four Points', which, interestingly, is exactly what I'd give it out of ten. We'd been there half an hour before Big Sis told me it had recently been refurbished, and that what I thought was appalling unsightly damage to my bedroom wall was actually designer texturing.

A quick flick through the dodgy satellite channels, and we were off into downtown Oklahoma. Having already made murder a central theme of this holiday by eating hot dogs on the grassy knoll, we made straight for the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, which is now a rather fab memorial. Lisa and I tried to look contemplative and respectful, while Big Sis wandered around with a puzzled expression on her face, saying "Who bombed this again? And why?" in a loud voice.

As well as a reflecting pool, a monument, and a memorial garden, there's also a chain-link fence where people such as ourselves who have been touched by the events of ten years ago can attach keepsakes and mementoes as a mark of respect for the dead. Well I think that's the idea anyway. To be honest it was just a collection of Blockbuster Video cards and My Little Ponies. But I like to take part in these things, so having failed to persuade Sis to tie her handbag to the fence, I decided to leave my business card. The one that claims I'm a 'Playwright & Screenwriter'. I was quite deluded when I had them done.

Naturally I didn't want to look like a shameless tourist who couldn't care less about terrorist atrocities and is just trying to drive traffic to his website, so I instructed Lisa to look nonchalant and pretend we were examining the tributes with a tear in our eyes, while I quickly stuck my card in a prime advertising position.

Unfortunately Sis was on the other side of the road at the time, secretly taking our photo...

Quick, look nonchalant!

Forget Big Brother, it's Big Sister you need to worry about.

Fortunately, (and for the benefit of any Oklahoma City police who may be reading this), having attached my card to the fence, I realised it contained my home phone number, panicked about nutters calling me at home, and quickly took it down.

From there we headed over to Bricktown, and took a ride on a water taxi down a mile-long canal with a group of women from Wichita who had never seen ducks before. Our guide, Michael, insisted that we wave enthusiastically to any passers-by, some of whom waved back, others of whom merely attempted to prove the old saying that looks can kill.

Twenty minutes later we hopped off, ate at Zio's Italian Kitchen, then walked back down the canal, waving to Michael and his honking boat-load o' fun, before ending up at the Marble Slab Creamery for our second ice cream stop of the day.

We made our way back to the car via an open-air nightclub, where I took one look at the clientele, felt old and under-dressed, and decided I'd rather get an early night. And besides, I'd been treading on Sis's flip-flops all day as it was, so half an hour on a dancefloor and she'd have needed a chiropodist.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Yesterday morning saw the arrival of the Rockwall Herald - not only the local free newspaper, but also a cracking good read. It kept me entertained for a good two minutes. I particularly enjoyed the regular column by Jeff Parish. Well, to be honest I didn't read it. But I liked the title. It's a weekly editorial featuring the thoughts of Mr Parish, so naturally it's called... wait for it... 'Parish the Thought'! Marvellous.

The highlight though was an advert for the Helping Hands Thrift Store. Yes people, a Texan charity shop. It was right there alongside an ad for a funeral harpist, and it was perfect timing: it just so happened that Big Sis had the afternoon off work, and Rockwall was our oyster. We were free to go charity shopping! Hurrah!

So anyway, the first phonecall from Sis came at about 1pm. The next around 3:15pm. Well, let's just say she wasn't home til 4:30pm. Unfortunately the staff at the Helping Hands Thrift Store aren't willing to be helpful after 5pm on a weekday, so that was that idea up in smoke.

Fortunately though, the owners of 'Dollar General' are willing to work until 7pm, so we went there instead. Well, I went there. Big Sis and Lisa decided to go and get manicures and pedicures instead. This, it seemed, turned out to be the funniest event of the week - they were both hysterical by the time I picked them up, and frankly it was hard to get any sense out of them. But it seems they were abused by a couple of Vietnamese women who couldn't speak English, and who attacked them with an electric sander. They seemed quite happy about it though. I'm currently trying to persuade Lisa to write a blog post about the experience, but she claims she's on holiday.

Anyhoo, no time to write more today - we're off to Oklahoma City for the weekend. It was recommended by the woman I sat next to on the plane over here. Well ok, it wasn't. She couldn't stand the place. But we're going anyway. We're supposed to be leaving in half an hour and I haven't packed yet...

Friday, March 18, 2005

The highlight of yesterday's all-American slice of holidaymaking fun (apart from discovering a TV channel which shows Jerry Springer all day) was a trip to the local Wal-Mart. Big Sis, who's become quite attached to the idea of dropping us off places in an effort to get rid of us for the evening, suggested the place, presumeably because she's run out of vouchers for free squid.

We'd previously been threatened with violence if we bought any more food without first eating the vast supplies we'd already filled Sis's kitchen with, so in an act of supreme self-sacrifice, I made sure I ate nine frozen 'Bagel Bites' for lunch, and had an extra helping of ice cream. It was the least I could do.

When Sis returned from work, we hit the Wal. Naturally we'd promised not to buy more food, but Sis had asked us to get her some bottled water, and the thing about water is that it's in the food section. Very close to the Chocolate Turtle Bites. So frankly she only had herself to blame.

We soon moved on to clothes, with Lisa forcing me to try on a pair of $9 trousers against my will. I also browsed the Homer Simpson pyjamas, before deciding I was hungry and insisting we go to Domino's Pizza. A quick jaunt across the car park (high crime areas hold no fear for us these days), and we were there.

Having walked in and begun a debate on toppings, the man behind the counter looked me up and down, leaned in close, and whispered "I can probably do it for you for less than the price it says there". I thanked him, we chose a $12.99 pizza, and he charged us $9.99. It was much like my experience in a Hove charity shop a couple of months ago when the woman refused to accept my £4 for a denim jacket and only charged me £3.

Talking of which, here's Lisa wearing that jacket at the top of the Reunion Tower...

A £3 bargain.

You're right, she does only have one leg. Which is why I lent her my jacket.

(Is it my imagination, or is this blog becoming a bit Lisa-heavy?)

Anyhoo, it's nice to know that on both sides of the Atlantic, people take one look at me and assume I have no money.

Pizza eaten, we returned to Wal-Mart with a trolley (for Sis's water, obviously), loaded it up with food, and headed for the slimming pills aisle. Twenty minutes later Lisa had to physically drag me away before I completely cleared the shelves of miracle products. They even had bull's testicles in tablet form. But I'd run out of money by then.

We also considered buying a stetson for Crash n Donna, but the asking price of $25 was a bit outside our budget. We're going to a 'Dollar Store' this afternoon though, so there's every chance.

We eventually left Wal-Mart at 10:45pm, leading Big Sis to wonder aloud (tactlessly, in my opinion) how any sane couple could possibly spend so long in there.

I think she's just annoyed coz I won't share my Turtle Bites.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It had to happen. After ten months as a couple, and a lot of mature discussion, Lisa and I finally decided to try swinging...


Well ok, the discussion wasn't that mature. We actually just headed straight for the children's playground and argued about who should push who first. Which is what happens when us kids are left at home alone all day. Big Sis should've hired a babysitter.

Anyhoo, this holiday isn't all about eating, it's about giant reptile hunting too, hence we left the safety of Sis's house yesterday afternoon and ventured out into the local neighbourhood in search of scaly hell-fiends. Sadly we didn't find any in the Mansell Community Park, but to be honest Lisa was busy trying to see if she could get me to loop the loop on the swings, and I was busy screaming that I wanted to get off, so quite frankly we could've missed the man-eating reptiles. We did see a couple of squirrels though.

We also hung out by Chandler's Pond, where Lisa seemed particularly keen to take photos of me standing by the water's edge, presumeably in the hope that she might get a shot of the killer croc emerging from the pond behind me and dragging me under. It didn't happen, but I ended up looking fat in the photos, so I wish it had.

In the evening Big Sis drove us over to Carrabba's Italian Grill, a restaurant we'd chosen primarily because we had a voucher for a free starter. Our young waitress politely informed us that our accents were "awesome", as was our choice of food, my ability to find the restrooms, and the fact that I only wear glasses for driving (?). Frankly life appeared to leave her in a permanent state of awe.

We made the most of our free starter by choosing the most expensive item on the menu. And then not eating it. But hey, how was I to know I wouldn't like squid? Fortunately the main course was better, and having finished my own, I helpfully assisted Lisa in eating hers. The waitress then declared my appetite to be awesome, and we left.

Having greatly enjoyed our Monday night experience of standing outside a closed mall in a high crime area, we were fortunate enough to get a second bite of that particular cherry when Sis rolled up outside the restaurant at 10:15pm. Fifteen minutes after it shut. She claimed she'd been reading my blog and had lost track of time.

I've heard some far-fetched excuses in my time...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

My main website received its 10,000th visitor today. Which just goes to show what you can achieve with an army of Jail Babes fans and a few mentions of Julie Reinger. Though I'm still waiting for my first hit as a result of someone actually searching for me.

But to celebrate this important milestone, here's a rare photo of Lisa...

Lisa relaxes in her luxury home next to the state-of-the-art marble fireplace.

I was going for the 'Hello magazine photo-shoot' look.*

Anyway, as you can see, Lisa and I had a lot of time on our hands yesterday. Big Sis had to work late, meaning we had plenty of time to try out the jacuzzi in her bathroom. After a lot of consideration, we've decided we prefer jacuzzis to baths, in the same way I decided on Friday that I prefer first class to economy. I'm just not suited to the poor lifestyle.

Having received word at 6pm that Sis was going to be even later than anticipated, Lisa and I baked cinnamon rolls to keep us going. We were due to go out for a meal, so we limited ourselves to just three each.

Once home, Big Sis drove us over to the Saltgrass Steakhouse and dropped us off (indicating that it's probably another high-risk crime area). Sis has been a devout vegetarian for the past fifteen years, and spent ten minutes the other day talking about her hatred of country music. So you have to wonder why, when asked to recommend a restaurant, she went for a steakhouse with stuffed animals on the wall, which plays non-stop country music hits. I think she's trying to mess with our heads.

But we had a nice meal, the highlight of which was when the waiter turned up before we'd even finished the main course and asked if we'd like some cheesecake. I said I might do, expecting him to return with the dessert menu, only for him to turn up two minutes later with the biggest wedge of cheesecake I've ever seen. Now, I love cheesecake, and I also have a neverending capacity to eat, but this particular slice would've fed a family of five for a week.

So let's just say I left the restaurant feeling slightly ill. 10,000 isn't only the number of website visitors I've had. It's also the number of calories I ate last night.

* Lisa would like to make it clear that just because she's allowed this photo to appear on the web does not mean that any fellow bloggers who might be in possession of certain photos of her sitting next to a dodgy bloke in a wig, are allowed to publish such photos. Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated. And besides, she can take you down with a skipping rope from ten yards, so it's really not worth it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On Saturday it was 84 degrees and sunny. Today it's 50 degrees and raining. I'm dusting off the polo neck jumper as we speak.

Yesterday Big Sis went back to work, leaving Lisa and I free to watch trashy American TV and eat ice cream. We saw a very informative programme about Patti LaBelle, in which she told us how much she loves herself, how she's keeping it real (whilst being accompanied everywhere she goes by a security guard, and taking ten hours to get ready for a photo shoot), and how she's healed a lot of the world's pain, before claiming that the only reason she's not as big as Madonna is because people are racist.

I warmed to Patti the longer the show went on. Though obviously I wouldn't buy her records coz she's black.

In the evening Sis took us to the Town East Mall in Mesquite and dropped us off for two and a half hours while she went to the gym. Lisa and I made straight for the food court, and examined every outlet in turn before deciding which of the fine establishments would get our custom. Having travelled all the way across the Atlantic for the chance to experience an exciting new culture, I bravely chose a dish I'd never had before from a steakery joint I'd never been to. Lisa went for McDonalds.

Having failed to finish my gourmet chips with cheese and bacon, we headed down the escalator to a cookie shop and bought... biscuits, before wandering around the mall and meeting a man who heard our accents and immediately claimed to be from Bosnia. He seemed to think we might know it. Despite trying to engage us in conversation for the rest of the evening, we managed to get away and dived into Vitamin World where I bought a box of 'Throat Coat', a herbal tea which claims to add a protective coating to your throat and stop it getting sore. You're supposed to brew it for 15 minutes and then gargle before swallowing every mouthful, but so far I haven't stopped eating long enough to try it.

We finished up at Payless Shoes, where I impulsively bought a pair of brown slip-on shoes for twenty dollars. At that price, you know they're quality. And they're 100% man-made textiles. None of that animal rubbish.

Big Sis had arranged to pick us up at 9:15pm, so we were naturally thrilled to discover that the mall closed at 9pm. We stood outside hoping to avoid any drive-by shootings, until Sis arrived at 9:20pm, at which point she informed us that the Mesquite area, and the Town East Mall in particular, is considered a no-go area by a lot of people because of its soaring crime levels and generally high probability of being murdered, and that most of her friends wouldn't go within five miles of the place for fear of catching something.
She hadn't thought to mention it beforehand.

So it turns out we were wandering through the crime capital of Texas for two hours with an expensive camera dangling from my wrist. I did wonder why Sis floored the accelerator the moment she'd dropped us off.

But hey, at least the shoes were cheap.

Monday, March 14, 2005

How does one go about selling a photo to a postcard company..?

Wish you were here.

I think I could make my fortune here. I've even got a convenient bit of sky for the words 'Greetings from Dallas'. Or possibly 'Howdy from Dallas'. The only things missing are the giant reptiles.

Anyhoo, after eating leftover pizza for breakfast, we successfully made our way down to the west end of Dallas yesterday afternoon for a spot of sightseeing. First stop was the JFK memorial. I'm pictured there last February on my main website's photos page, looking distinguished and statesmanlike. A year on and I've lost none of my quiet composure...

(Note: Lisa has been cropped out of this photo for legal reasons).

Well ok, maybe I wasn't quite ready for that photo. But the back of my head looks remarkably good in a baseball cap. It hides my bald spot.

Having taken several pics, we made the diplomatic decision to scarper, after Big Sis overheard three American guys comment on how insulting it was to stand on the monument and pose for photographs. So we retreated to a safe distance, from where we watched as the three blokes in question promptly climbed on to the monument, lay down, and whipped out their cameras. And they say Americans have no sense of irony.

From there, Lisa and I headed for the Sixth Floor Museum in the old book depository building, while Sis indulged in a bit of sunbathing on the grassy knoll. The museum display was both interesting and informative. In particular we learnt that Chubby Checker wasn't chubby, and that Governor Connolly's wife had something to say about everything.

To be honest, we'd only gone there to sign the electronic guestbook and appear on the web, as Sis and I had done last year. Unfortunately, having been through the whole museum, including enduring a display of dodgy American art about the resilience of the human spirit in the wake of 9/11, which turned out to be a few paintings of hamburgers with words like "the burger is an all-American totem of hope", we found to our horror that they no longer have the computerised guestbook. Presumeably because people from Britain abuse it by attempting to post bogus messages on an irony frequency so high the yanks can't hear it. But undeterred, we made sure no one was looking and signed the old fashioned paper guestbooks instead.

I wrote "JFK opened my heart and touched my soul. The museum rocks". While Lisa went with "This museum has inspired me to get back to painting". I'm sure the curators appreciated our efforts.

Having spotted Sis on the grassy knoll from the window where Lee Harvey Oswald shot the Prez, I shot Sis with my camera, and we made our way back outside and bought hot dogs from a bloke who was prominently displaying a phone number for customer complaints.

We then hopped back in the car and drove to the Reunion Tower. At least, we tried to. It was only about a quarter of a mile away, but we took a wrong turn and ended up at a 7-Eleven in gang country. But on the plus side they sold an interesting range of aphrodisiacs and slimming pills. Possibly illegally. It's not every day you find a shop selling horny goatweed.

Ten minutes and two more wrong turns later, we made it to the Reunion Tower (from where I took the photo above), and ate cheesecake in the revolving restaurant at the top. Then it was back home via bail bond country (incorporating strip joint country) and the local liquor store, after which I drank the night away with a bottle of cherry flavoured cough medicine.

I'm still coughing, but my tongue's a lovely shade of red.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Godzilla's still at large...

Run for your lives!

Where's Steve Irwin when you need him, that's what I'd like to know. I'm dicing with death here. And I'm not sure my travel insurance covers reptile slayings.

But anyhoo, we successfully escaped the scaly creature of the night (and I don't mean Big Sis), and made our way to Southfork Ranch yesterday afternoon. I ditched my winter coat and teddy bear gloves in favour of my NaNoWriMo t-shirt and liberal quantities of sunblock, so I think the three coats and two jumpers I packed may not get a great deal of use this week.

Having arrived at Southfork, we trawled the gift shop for a souvenir for Lisa's friend Lorraine. She'd asked for the third series of 'Dallas' on DVD. She's not going to get it. Frankly she was lucky not to end up with a novelty watering can and a golf ball. But I'm sure she'll love what we chose.

We paid our $8.95 apiece for the guided tour and made our way into the Dallas Museum (a plastic gun and a couple of newspaper clippings) before embarking on the tram ride (a tractor pulling a trailer) over to the main house where we were given a twenty minute talk in the garage. We narrowly missed out on the award for 'Furthest Travelled Visitor' to a woman from Finland, although it was nice to hear an American guy confidently putting himself forward for the prize - he'd come all the way from Massachusetts, so was convinced he'd win. I don't think he was aware of the existence of other countries.

The lecture over, we made our way upstairs and sat on the bed next to the 'Do not sit on the bed' sign, before heading down to the swimming pool and being accosted by a Canadian woman who claimed to know Torquay. I mentioned Fawlty Towers and she looked at me blankly, so I think she was making it up.

We then chatted to the tour guide who was standing around drinking a cup of coffee. She mentioned Cheltenham, I mentioned horse racing, she took a photo of us with my camera, we walked off, whereupon Big Sis told us the woman hadn't been drinking a cup of coffee, she'd been holding out a cup for tips. Honestly, if you're begging for money, at least make it a bit more obvious. The woman's only got herself to blame.

Numerous photos later, we crossed the driveway to 'Miss Ellie's Deli' for ice lollies, then Lisa and I tried on stetsons (I was clearly born to be a cowboy - I haven't looked so good since I wore my Elvis wig), and I bought a cowgirl hat for my niece. We then left Southfork behind and made our way to BJ's Brewhouse for pizza. The waitress told us enthusiastically that they brew their own beer, and went through the various options with us. After which we all ordered diet cokes.

Interestingly, they charged extra for each additional pizza topping, up to four, after which there was no further charge. Obviously I couldn't resist that. So I went for seven toppings. My pizza was about three inches tall.

From there we went to the Grapevine Mills mall, where I was emotionally scarred by a nail bar last year, and ate ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery, where I accidentally (ie. deliberately) conned the confused assistant and got Big Sis's Vanilla and Snickers ice cream for free. We then went to the opticians next door where Sis chose some new glasses. After rejecting mine and Lisa's advice, she turned to the assistant for help with her selection. He looked her in the eye with a pained expression and said "Madam, no one chooses red frames". Big Sis had chosen three.

Fortunately she was outvoted, and we persuaded her to go with the tasteful black frames. Although as we all agreed, there's a fine line between 'cool' and 'NHS'.

Today we're heading into downtown Dallas for a tour of the city's murder sites. So brace yourself for another sensitive message in the Sixth Floor Museum guestbook...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I'm in Texas! (the American state, not the DIY store) (there's only so many times I can use that line, and I think I'm over the limit already). I haven't been here long, but needless to say I've already stocked my sister's house with donuts, pizzas and a giant-sized tub of ice cream, so it's going well. I even bought a tin of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, on the advice of Donna. She swears by them. Usually something along the lines of "Give me some more f***ing cinnamon rolls". Lisa meanwhile has been slightly more restrained, selecting various Lean Cuisine meals and a tube of 'Fat Free Pringles' (which goes against nature if you ask me).

Anyhoo, our journey here yesterday was a living hell. That's if you're someone who can't stand sitting in a little seat for ten hours straight. And I'm definitely one of them. On the bright side though, Lisa and I did attempt to miss our plane by playing on the 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' machine at Gatwick airport. Having seen me win eight quid on my first attempt, Lisa was naturally keen to have a go, and was doing very well until she got a question about horse racing, turned to me for help, I told her it was definitely 'B', and she lost the lot. But hey, that's life. I consoled her by spending my winnings on chocolate. And then eating it all myself.

Once on the flight, we ate sausage and mash, drank white wine (the air hostess said to me "Oooh, I'd have had you down as a red wine man". What does that mean???), then Lisa went to sleep, leaving me at the mercy of the woman sitting on my right. I'm not saying she was chatty, but I'm happy to tell you that she originates from Scotland, lived in Salisbury for a while, then Norwich, moved to Dallas ten years ago when her husband's job relocated, has three sons, the eldest of which is called Travis and is excellent at maths and science, lives in a five bedroom house with four bathrooms, has a low opinion of the Dallas school system (so they went private, obviously), doesn't like it when her sons say 'closet' and 'robe' instead of 'wardrobe' and 'dressing gown', had flown down from Glasgow that morning where she'd been visiting her father, has a low opinion of Oklahoma (but knows that it's four hours drive away), went to see Les Miserables on the day of the Madrid bombings (I still haven't worked out the significance of that. I think it might be code for something), spent Christmas Eve shopping in Washington, considers being a housewife in Dallas the hardest job in the world, and doesn't like cheesecake.

But apart from that, she said very little. I ended up putting my headphones on and pretending to watch The Incredibles til she went to sleep.

Having awoken herself, Lisa passed a large proportion of the flight filling in her green 'Visa Waiver' form. I'm not saying how many attempts she needed to get it right, but I think the stewardess was panicking that they might run out of them, and I was brushing torn up bits of green paper off my seat for the next hour.

Once in Dallas, Lisa and I were fingerprinted and asked if we'd brought any livestock into the country. We said no (nits don't count), and they let us in. Big Sis then turned up late with a frankly implausible story about having been throwing up all morning, and we made our way out of the airport. And into the 74 degree sun. In our winter coats. I barely made it across the car park without expiring. So much for Sis's advice to "dress for the cold". To her, 74 degrees is cold.

We soon arrived at Big Sis's house north of Dallas. There's a very helpful sign at the entrance to the gated community where she lives, keeping residents informed of any local developments. Last year when I was here, it was advertising a Corned Beef Night. This year it says "Dangerous Reptile Sightings. Do Not Approach". So we're keeping an eye out for Godzilla.

Having been up since 2:45am on Friday morning, we eventually made it to bed at 8:30pm local time. Which is six hours behind UK time. I'd do the maths, but it makes me feel ill.

Today temperatures are expected to hit 80 degrees, so we're heading off to Southfork Ranch to buy some soap-related tack. Well, we will be if Big Sis manages to get out of bed this morning. Having tucked us in last night, she went out on the town til the early hours. She's like an irresponsible parent - going out the moment the kids are in bed. It serves her right if she gets eaten by a dangerous reptile.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Blimey, it's past my bedtime. Lisa and I have to leave here at 4:30am tomorrow morning for Gatwick, where we're catching a plane to America, land of the free, and home of my sister. So the plan was to be in bed by 7pm. Obviously it hasn't happened, but I had some ham and cheese in the fridge which was dangerously close to its use-by date, so I've been forced to fit in a lot of intensive bagel-eating today, which has naturally put me behind schedule.

Gatwick is conveniently situated a mere 35 minutes from Brighton, making it ideally placed for anyone staying on the south coast. Unfortunately Lisa and I left there last night and drove back to Shotley Gate (conveniently situated an hour and three quarters from Gatwick). It may seem like an odd decision, but like I say, I had ham and cheese in the fridge, and a freezer full of bagels, so there was no decision to be made really.

On the way, we dropped in to Lisa's sister's new house, where we were given the guided tour by her nephew, before settling down to play some wholesomely violent video games. I was consistently impressed with the level of machine-gun efficiency displayed by today's six year olds, and despite being given the warning "I'm going to creep up behind you now and throw a grenade at you", I still didn't manage to avoid death. So much for being forewarned.

Anyhoo, I've weighed my case (26kg - about the size of two baby aardvarks) (which is surprising, coz I've only packed one) and we're ready to go. I've lost a stone since Christmas, so my aim for the next fortnight is to see how much of that I can put back on. Big Sis has already suggested we have breakfast at the local waffle house (where apparently they put maple syrup on the bacon), so I think we're looking at a minimum of 200%. Possibly in the first weekend.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Yesterday was International Women's Day, an important yearly event for the female cause worldwide. So it's nice to see that The Sun (not that I read it - I only flick through it for research purposes) have taken up the feminist baton and run with it, by launching a competition in today's paper entitled 'Win a Bronze Bust of Your Bird's Breasts'.

They pose the rhetorical question "does your wife or girlfriend want to have her boobs immortalised by artist Leigh Heppell?", the answer to which is obviously "yes", in which case you have to "send a snap of her assets" to the Sun offices immediately.

Lisa finishes work at 2pm today, and I've got my camera with me, so we should be able to catch the last post.

As of last night we're now officially packed for our Texan adventure which begins on Friday. With great dedication we headed into town at 4pm yesterday afternoon in order to buy last minute essentials for our trip. By 5pm Lisa had spent a good half hour in the Marks & Spencer's changing rooms, and I'd discovered you can buy duck sandwiches in the food hall. So it was going well. Fortunately we were strict with ourselves, and eventually walked out of the shop at 5:15pm, Lisa clutching a skirt and a top, and me carrying two syrup puddings with custard. So like I say, we only went for the essentials.

Lisa was equally strict with her packing schedule, insisting on watching Eastenders and half of Fame Academy before getting as far as opening her suitcase. I spurred her on by betting her a pound that Dawn would be voted out of the Academy, a bet she happily took, and another pound effortlessly won. Though she did try to argue that she shouldn't have to pay out as it was International Women's Day.

So that's the effect of the worldwide feminist movement - men casting their girlfriends' breasts in bronze, and women welching on dodgy bets. Germaine Greer would be appalled. That's if she wasn't busy filming the new series of 'I'm a Strictly Come Dancing Celebrity Big Brother, Get Me Out of Hell's Kitchen'.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

It's less than three days now until Lisa and I go on holiday, so with immaculate timing we've both started developing sore throats and coughs. I'm aiming to be in the grip of flu by this time on Friday so that I can claim a free nurse for the flight to America. There has to be some kind of reward for taking out travel insurance, and I could do with someone medically trained to plump my pillows on the way over there. (Do you get pillows in economy?)

Anyhoo, we didn't let our physical ailments stop us going to see Paul Weller last night, though we did arrive late and miss the support act, due to me being stuck here cleaning Lisa's boots, in a scene reminiscent of Cinderella. (And ironically I do have an ugly sister). I was offered a choice of holiday-related tasks, but the other one involved make-up brushes, and I do have my male pride to consider, so I went for the boot polishing job.

Having completed the task to my master's satisfaction (whilst listening to Lisa's tape of The Jam's Greatest Hits, in an effort to educate me for the evening ahead), I was allowed to take the pumpkin to the Brighton Centre, where we arrived just in time to hear Nic Armstrong & the Thieves say "Thank you and good night" and disappear off the stage. So when they hit the big time in a couple of months, we can proudly say that we saw them first. For about twenty seconds.

Paul Weller took to the stage at 8:45pm and played for a good two hours (I thought it would never end. But I mean that in a good way). From our vantage point I thought he looked a bit like an aging Phil Tufnell. With slightly more drug use. Talking of aging, I did get the impression that most of the audience were so old that they had dodgy bladders. There was a constant stream of people popping out to the toilet throughout the entire concert. The woman in the row in front of us went out twice. I don't mean to be critical, but if you've paid a fortune to see one of your musical heroes, at least go to the toilet before you sit down.

But anyway. I can't say I was blown away by Mr Weller's songs, but he certainly wasn't bad, and I tapped my toe through most of the evening, and even sang along to 'That's Entertainment'. So overall, I approve of the man. He's no Steve Brookstein, but with a bit of work he could get there in the end.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Yesterday was of course Mother's Day, a time to show one's appreciation for the lifelong efforts of dear Mummy with a carefully chosen gift which says 'I Love You'. Fortunately Lisa and I know how to express a bit of heartfelt gratitude when we need to, so we turned up at my parents' house yesterday afternoon and presented my Mum with a framed photo of us in our Elvis gear. She was visibly moved. Or possibly it was just shock. And disappointment. But either way, we hadn't spent much, and that's what matters.

On our way there, we'd stopped at Tescos so that I could buy the last (or possibly only) copy of the Sunday Express on sale in Suffolk. I'm not normally an avid Express reader (although Robert Kilroy-Silk's column is enough to tempt any man), but I'd received word that yesterday's edition featured an article on our very own King Nicholas. And I was not to be disappointed. It turned out to be a two page spread complete with photos (sadly not of the colour centrefold variety, although the article does feature the phrases "top-notch balls", "ghastly tongue" and at least two mentions of cucumbers, so you could easily be confused).

I particularly like the photo of His Highness eyeing up the Jordan's Country Crisp (now of course the Katie Price's Country Crisp) in the local shop, but I'm sure the bloke shown cutting our monarch's hair is the same bloke serving him a pheasant burger in the previous shot. He's clearly just put on a pair of glasses and is hoping we won't notice. I would post evidence to back up these claims, but sadly I'm now in Brighton, and Lisa doesn't have access to a scanner. It's like the dark ages around here.

Anyhoo, it's a quality piece, and not unlike a Just Seventeen photo story. Though I'd question whether "It is such a hoot" is really the kind of quote I'd want to see appearing in the national press.

But anyway, royal-watching over, Lisa and I spent a few hours at my parents' house mingling with family members whilst Lisa bonded with my niece and I ate all the food. I attempted to explain to my sister-in-law who King Nick is, received the comment "what's a blog?", and gave up.

With socialising done, we drove back down to Brighton yesterday evening for a Paul Weller concert tonight. Lisa's a bit of a fan, but being quite youthful, I barely know the man. I did once learn 'That's Entertainment' on the guitar, but it wasn't very entertaining. Lisa apparently likes 'Going Underground', which is slightly ironic - I struggle to get her on a tube train at the best of times.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Brace yourself for a serious interlude...

Back in June 2003 my pal Helen rang me up to tell me that she'd just played a CD of my songs to a friend of hers named Russell, who just happened to own a recording studio (as you do), and that he'd liked one of my songs enough that he wanted me to go and record it in his studio. Having fought off a major panic attack and crisis of confidence, I did so, after which he invited me to play at a garden party he was holding a week later. Cue panic attack number two, followed by a ten minute appearance on stage with guitar.

Well I received a phone call from Helen at 6:30pm last night to say that Russell had died from a heart attack in his sleep on Friday night. He was only 49. I wouldn't normally mention such things on this blog, but Russell did more for me than he probably ever realised. I had no confidence at the time, and very little self esteem, but by showing an interest in my music and encouraging me to do things I never thought I was capable of, he did a huge amount for my self belief, and helped make me the annoying ego-maniac I am today. If I hadn't met him, I'd probably still be cowering in a corner somewhere, refusing to say boo to a goose (a giant mountain goose, that's if you've read Mirkin Topp).

Having worked wonders for my confidence in the summer of 2003, I then wrote Be Worth It in the autumn and named one of the lead characters after Russell. So I'd like to consider that to be be my little memorial to him.

Here's a picture of Russell, Helen, and me looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights...

Russell, Helen & Phil

Anyway, it just goes to show that you never know what's just around the corner, and you need to make the most of what time you have. Which is something Russell definitely did.

So with that very much in mind, I put down the phone and went out in public looking like this...

The King Lives

... which is what happens when you know people who insist on getting married as Elvis.

Yes indeed, it was Crash n Donna's wedding party in Ipswich, and a very successful affair it was too. I was slightly concerned when we arrived at the Gainsborough Labour Club to find that I was the only one in a wig, but fortunately it turned out the party was down the hall in another room.

We successfully handed over our gifts - a smoking baby and a figurine of Elvis dressed as Jesus - and they were placed on a table with the other items attempting to win the prize for 'Tackiest Gift Under a Fiver'. I particularly liked the pack of paper serviettes which said "Welcome in 1996", and the straw donkey was truly horrible, but sadly we were all pipped at the post by a dancing Hawaiian girl with a dodgy motor. I still feel we were robbed, but what can you do - it's all politics if you ask me.

We then settled down for 'Barry Barnes - A Tribute to the King'. Personally I though Barry looked more like Freddy without the Dreamers, and he appeared to be singing along to an old gramophone record which kept jumping every ten seconds, but fortunately Donna's brother soon sorted out the technical hitches (from behind a smokescreen of dry ice), and the show went on, with Bazza giving it his all.

Which is more than can be said for the DJ, who made it through the evening without so much as a murmur. He did start waving his arms around towards the end of the night (presumeably in anticipation of receiving his fee), but otherwise he remained motionless, sitting behind a desk at the back of the stage.

Fortunately though, his music succeeded in getting Lisa and I to our feet, and we set the dancefloor alight in a manner not seen since Quentin Wilson did Strictly Come Dancing. I needed to burn off a few calories, since I was the only person in the room who managed four trips to the buffet. I'm not proud of it, but it was (a) free food, (b) nice food, and (c) only ten yards away, so frankly what do you expect.

Anyway, a good night was had by all, and Crash n Donna got through the evening without a major row, which is all you can ask for. So congratulations to the happy couple!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

It's ok, anyone holding an Elvis wedding party in Ipswich tonight can breathe a sigh of relief - this is the age of the train, so despite me refusing to drive down to Brighton yesterday afternoon, Lisa has managed to haul herself up here, and we're donning our wigs as we speak.

Well, I am. Lisa's refusing to wear false hairpieces of any description, but she's compensating by wearing a pair of boots which her mother has declared to be "very Elvis-like". Whatever that means.

So put the cheeseburgers on the grill, we're on our way.

Friday, March 04, 2005

This is just for Carol...

Getting worse...

And it's actually snowed even more since I took that this morning. I've decided Crash n Donna should postpone their party until... shall we say Thursday morning at ten?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Well, despite the fact that I was the only person in a half-empty theatre who wasn't a pensioner or a student, 'Death and the Maiden' turned out to be very good. The three actors were particularly impressive. There was Catherine Prendergast, who has apparently appeared in 'Casualty', 'Holby City' and 'Doctors'... (so she obviously looks permanently ill)... John Ashton, who according to the programme "played the doomed Martin in last year's TV London gangster drama 'Family'"... (ie. shot dead in the opening scene)... and Rolf Saxon, who has an impressive list of credits, including the role of Lieutenant Briggs in 'Saving Private Ryan', Philip Jones in 'Tomorrow Never Dies', and William Donloe in 'Mission: Impossible' (he's listed in the credits right above Jirina Trebicka who plays the pivotal role of 'Cleaning Woman'. Really, I've checked).

However, having researched Mr Saxon's work on the internet this morning, I've found out something far more impressive about him which, strangely, the theatre programme managed to omit. Probably due to pressure of space. But I'm happy to set the record straight here, so brace yourself...


How fantastic is that? I've seen a live performance from the bloke who talks about Tubby Custard for a living, and tells us that "Teletubbies love each other very much". I wish I'd got his autograph now. My niece would've been thrilled.

Anyhoo, whilst at the theatre, I also picked up information on an upcoming performance. Back on January 7th, young Melee advised me to read a book entitled 'The Mole Who Knew it was None of His Business'. It was a book, so obviously I didn't bother. But lo and behold...

Winnie the Poo?

... the stage version is coming to the Wolsey theatre for one night only. Well, one morning only. The only problem (apart from the fact that it's a show about... um... poo) is that I'll be in America at the time. But I'll be expecting a full review from Melee. It says it's suitable for ages 4+, so I think she'll be allowed to go.

In other theatrical news, I received an e-mail this morning confirming that Ledgers is going to be performed in Chicago. Which sounds impressive until you realise we're talking a school hall here, and a bunch of 15 year olds. But even so...

In slightly less good news, I'm supposed to be driving down to Brighton tomorrow and bringing Lisa straight back here for the Elvis event of the year on Saturday. I've bought a wig and everything. Unfortunately the view from my living room window currently looks like this...

Snow Way

Anyone got a snow plough?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I read an interesting statistic last night (which is interesting in itself, because according to recent research, 87.9% of statistics are not very interesting at all). Apparently relationships are FIVE TIMES more likely to break up in the two weeks before, and the two weeks after, Valentine's Day. And judging by the evidence of the last fortnight, it would appear to be true. I've heard more tales of woe just lately than Denise Robertson, the This Morning agony aunt (and that woman's seen a lot of tragedy).

Lisa and I went through a rocky patch ourselves, when she brazenly told me to "shut up" during a conversation about Celebrity Fit Club. I was pushed to my limits that day, I can tell you.

But the good news is we've survived the four week window of woe, and probably won't break up now until we're stuck together for a fortnight in Texas later this month.

Changing the subject, I'd just like to point out a small amusement for people who are easily pleased. My newly revamped and updated comments system now supports Gravatars. Hurrah!

It means that if you go to, enter your e-mail address and upload a small picture, that picture will then appear alongside every comment you make on this, or any other Gravatar enabled blog. It's a major step forward in visually enhanced commenting. And a chance for me to spend hours online looking at pictures without feeling guilty.

Right, well I'm off to the theatre now to see...

Is that Sigourney Weaver?

I've been watching programmes about torture all week on Channel 4, so I'm in the mood...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I hate to be self-indulgent (which is a barefaced lie if ever I heard one), but would someone mind telling me what happened in America on Saturday? I know I've harped on about this before, but the page which (sadly) attracts the most visitors on my main site is my (frankly dated) Jail Babes article. Mainly because the site it refers to is now defunct and a lot of criminal-loving weirdos have been left unfulfilled and searching for sexual satisfaction. Which leads them to my website.

Well the page has become quiet of late, with no more than half a dozen visitors per day. Until Saturday afternoon, that is, when this happened...

77 Up

Now these are UNIQUE visitors, not one lunatic visiting 77 times. And every single one of them came from America, via a search engine. In fact I had 19 hits within the space of ten minutes at around 9am US time. What was it, 'National Do-a-Search-for-Jail-Babes Day'??? Did someone shout "GO!" at 9am, and everyone ran for their PCs???

Even scarier is that it's NOT the first time this has happened. Back on 10th July 2004, that one page had 96 hits in five hours, as this attractively vague graph of the past two years demonstrates...

Graphs R Us

That first blip was when the article was published on the Wasted Network site, but what the heck is going on those other times???

And what's more, the 10th July 2004 was a Saturday too... which is fishy if you ask me... do people get let out of 'certain places' at the weekend or something?

Talking of the criminally insane, just how desperate are some people to get on TV?? Last night Channel 4 screened 'Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook', described in my TV guide thus:

"Jon Snow follows seven volunteers as they undergo some of the notorious camp's interrogation techniques."

Yep, people are now volunteering to be tortured, just to get on TV.

Sounds like another job for Lisa I'Anson...