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Monday, February 27, 2006

One thing I've learnt in my life is that things are never as bad as they seem. They're usually much worse. So twenty minutes after stating on Saturday that we have no light in the kitchen or bathroom, we found that the bedroom light's buggered too.

But on the bright side, the local paper reports this morning that Will Young was spotted shopping in Brighton over the weekend "wearing an orange scarf and a wide Trilby hat". Which is how you blend into the crowd in Brighton. Sadly we didn't bump into him, but only because we were busy meeting celebrities of an altogether higher calibre. Yes, that's right, we spent Saturday evening with this man...

Rock GodClearly he needs no introduction, but just in case there's anyone who doesn't recognise him, this fine figure of a man is Jim Kitson, formerly of The Senators, now of the Northern Stage Theatre Company (that's the Northern Stage Theatre Company, not the Northern Stage Theater Company, just so you know). Honestly, could I fit any more links into this paragraph? Well, yes I could. That's where we met him.

It was quite a momentous evening, because as anyone who's read my Lisa page will know, Jim's at least 47% responsible for bringing us together. He has a lot to answer for. But having tragically failed to meet him almost two and a half years ago in Ipswich, Jim e-mailed me a few weeks ago to let me know that he'd be camping it up in a big hat (him and Will Young) on the Brighton stage in late February. Which is all the encouragement Lisa needs to leave threatening messages at the box office demanding that he meet us in the bar afterwards.

So having enjoyed Jim's performance as Mr Wopsle in Great Expectations, wearing a suit that looked like it was made out of fuzzy felt, we retired to the bar of the Gardner Arts Centre (named after my good self, in honour of my achievements in the field of playwriting) (probably), where, to my astonishment, and no doubt his regret, Jim actually turned up. He may have got a free drink out of it, but on the downside, he was forced to endure twenty minutes of dull Senators-related questions from Lisa and myself, before trying to make a quick getaway in a people-carrier, only to find us following him through the streets of Brighton, winding down the windows of my car, and shouting to him whilst stopped at traffic lights. Not that we're stalkers or anything.

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Jim is indeed a very nice man. And even more pleased to hear that apparently A&R men know nothing. Which is why one inexplicably offered Jim and his brother £50,000 to sign to Virgin Records in 1988, without ever having heard any of their songs. They say a fool and his money are soon parted. Well without that fool, Lisa and I would never have met. Money well spent in my opinion.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hold the front page.I arrived in Brighton yesterday afternoon to find that news of my brother's decision to buy me a flat has been leaked to the media. I was hoping to be harrassed by the paparrazzi as soon as I stepped out of my car, so that I can claim press intrusion and launch a privacy lawsuit, but sadly, despite hanging around the hot cross bun section in Somerfield for half an hour, trying to look victimised, no one turned up to take my picture. I should have tried stealing something.

But fortunately, having collected Lisa from work (40 minutes late, but who's counting), we returned to her flat, where I received two hours of quality attention from her nephews, one of whom attacked me a packet of Polos, the other with a pen, before deciding to fetch me a Kit-Kat, and then laughing at my face. Which I felt was slightly rude. I can't help looking like this.

From there we went to Asda, where I took advantage of their half-price Valentine's Day clearance section by buying Lisa a quality gift for next year. I planned to make her wait eleven and a half months for it, but in the end only held out for two hours. But if she thinks she's getting another present in 2007, she's sadly mistaken.

Romance over, we retired to bed, where I found that nephew number 2 had kindly crumbled a Kit-Kat under the duvet, giving me the relaxing sensation of sleeping on loose gravel for most of the night.

But hey, we had no time for sleep anyway - we had a plumber coming this morning to fit a shiny new shower in Lisa's bathroom. He'd been booked for last Saturday, but naturally, being a quality local tradesman, and not a cowboy at all, he hadn't bothered turning up. This time was different however. He arrived two hours late, immediately drilled through an electrical cable, took out the lights in the kitchen and bathroom, plastered the wall with electrical hazard warning tape, and left, telling us to get an electrician in and send him the bill, before adding that we can't use the shower or we'll die (I'm paraphrasing him there).

Needless to say neither Lisa nor myself took a shower this morning, preferring to wait for the new one to be fitted. So we're currently unwashed and beginning to smell. But hey, we can still have a bath. Well, we could do if there was any light in the bathroom. Thank god the fridge lights up when you open it. At least I can still find food.

Monday, February 20, 2006

You know you're over your jetlag when you stop writing blog posts in the middle of the night. Needless to say I'm not over my jetlag yet. But while I'm up, here's a photo of the Drugs & Deli on Cozumel, for anyone who thought I was making it up. I wish I was there now actually - there's a sign on the right hand wall which says 'Diet Pills'.

In other holiday-related news, I was watching the Winter Olympics on TV this afternoon, and happened to see a bit of the men's ice hockey match between Sweden and the USA. And who should go and score for the USA while I was watching? Why, none other than Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars, who also scored in the game we went to last week. I just can't get away from the man. But I paid my own personal tribute to his goal by singing The Star Spangled Banner, and shouting "Stars!" at the TV.

I also caught some of the two-man bobsleigh coverage, and noticed from the caption at the bottom of the screen that the pilot of the Latvian bobsleigh is called Gatis Guts. Which is possibly the finest name I've ever heard. I expect someone said you need guts to go down the Cresta Run at 80mph, so he thought he'd apply.

And talking of dodgy names, I've had an e-mail from someone called Casen. I presume his surname's Point. Anyway, Casen e-mailed me via the Phil-Mail-o-Matic whilst I was in America to say this:

"The real reason i chose to write you is that there is this amazingly talented 15 year old that has a band with the name of DearWhoever...this boy has an amazing voice and is awesome at the guittar..his band has many songs and he is really great.Thanks"

Casen's use of the word 'awesome', and inability to spell guitar, leads me to believe that he may be American. I'm still not entirely sure why he wrote to tell me that though. But I looked up Dear Whoever on the internet, and found that not only do they exist, but they have a website, and an album out. I can't say any of them look 15, but on his bio page, guitarist Jason Garner (who's 20) lists the Bible amongst his favourite books, names God as the person he'd most like to meet, and Jesus as his hero. I just wish he'd been on the flight back from Dallas - he might have swapped seats with me.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Well I'm home, I'm jet-lagged, but most important of all, I've weighed myself. I'm not saying the news was bad, but I felt like demanding a recount. I haven't seen such large numbers since I looked at Lisa's bar bill on the cruise. But the good news is we stopped off at Wal-Mart on the way to the airport on Thursday afternoon, and I picked up a few quality slimming products, with undoubted miracle properties. So I'm confident of success. After all, what better place to buy diet pills than America - home of some of the thinnest people on earth.

Anyhoo, our flight home was, naturally, a nightmare. Although I'll say one thing for technical faults on your aircraft - it gives you plenty of time to walk around Dallas airport and buy Krispy Kreme doughnuts. By the time I'd shovelled a couple of those into my mouth, I didn't even care that the plane was clearly falling apart and liable to disintegrate on take-off. Not that I should have worried, because as it turned out, I was seated next to Jesus for the entire flight.

Seriously, he looked like this. Only less awake. And unlike Jesus, he specialised less in walking on water, and more on holding it in. The man didn't go to the toilet once in the whole eight-hour flight. He did, however, sleep a lot, and refused to be woken up by me shaking him by the shoulder to say that unlike his good self, Lisa and I were finding that five hours stuck next to the window was probably enough thank you very much, and son of God or no son of God, we'd quite like to get past.

He responded as only a religious leader can - by trying to ignore the facts, misunderstanding what we were saying, and refusing to stand up for himself. So in the end we had to push past his knees.

But a quick bout of deep vein thrombosis and a tearful farewell by the Gatwick baggage carousel, and Lisa and I went our separate ways - her back to Brighton, me to the nearest WeightWatchers meeting. I knew that cruise was a mistake. Frozen yoghurt just isn't as healthy as it sounds.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sunday was the day everyone started throwing up. It was also the day they closed both the pools and cancelled half the onboard events due to inclement weather. And don't even get me started on the outbreak of food poisoning.

But for me personally, the day started well when I was stuck in a lift with half of Table 39. It doesn't get much better than that. It gave them a chance to fill me in on the hideous seasickness which had confined them to their beds for most of the morning, and the dodgy shrimp which was threatening to wipe out most of the King & I regulars.

As for our travelling companion S, she was forced to stay in bed for 36 hours due to extreme nausea, giving Big Sis a chance to take me to the Casino Royale and demonstrate her mathematical formula for winning big on the Wheel of Fortune. It basically involved feeding large denomination bills into the slot for five minutes, pressing a few buttons, saying "oh well" and walking off. I learnt a lot.

From there, Lisa and I went to see 'The Artistry of Fluoresence', followed by a woman with a whip who said "Ole" a lot. Personally I preferred Elaine Lesley the previous night. She's apparently an "internationally acclaimed singer and entertainer", though not quite internationally acclaimed enough to have her own website. She was followed by the 'Splendour Quest', a scavenger hunt which gave drunk Americans a chance to take their clothes off in public and wave their false teeth around.

We finished Sunday night back at the Viking Cown Lounge, where word reached me that a search party from Table 39 were out there scouring every bar on the ship in the hope of finding me, taking my photo, and getting my e-mail address. It's the kind of news that makes you wish plastic surgery was available in nightclubs. Sure enough I was hunted down within half an hour, tried to hide on the dancefloor, and ended up pretending I couldn't hear them over the loud music. They eventually left empty handed.

Monday morning was our last on the ship, and with great kindness, Royal Caribbean insist you're out of your cabin by 7am. Which, if you're Big Sis, means you're still packing at 7:30. But a freezing cold breakfast later, and we were ready to leave. Having arranged to meet Sis and S at the main exit a few minutes later, they went to buy photos of themselves, and Lisa and I headed down in the lift.

Forty-five minutes later (or maybe it was more like an hour), we began to wonder if they'd left without us. Suspicions which were confirmed when a member of staff came up to us with a walkie-talkie, asked if I'm Philip Gardner, and told me my sister's gone through customs, immigration, and baggage reclaim, and was halfway to Galveston town centre when she realised we weren't with her. Apparently I was two minutes from having my name broadcast over the ship's tannoy, and seeing my picture at the lost child desk.

Half an hour later, and with Sis close to calling the police, we were eventually reunited, and headed back to Dallas, taking a short cut through toll-booth country and stopping only to eat white gravy at a branch of Dairy Queen.

After a holiday like that, Lisa and I clearly needed a bit of peace and quiet to recover, so we were naturally delighted when Big Sis's landlord turned up unannounced yesterday afternoon, let himself in, told us he thought the place would be empty, decided to wander around upstairs, and then started watching TV. Anyone would think he owned the place. Oh hang on, he does. But by the time he left, we were firm friends. You can't help but feel close to someone who's walked in on your girlfriend in her pyjamas.

As for today, well I've just answered the door to the pest control man, who insisted on coming in to check for termites. He'd been booked by the landlord, who clearly felt we enjoyed the company of uninvited guests yesterday, and could do with a few more today. But the good news is Big Sis's house is officially termite-free. The only problem is the underground flooding which could cause the place to collapse at any moment. Though hopefully not before we leave tomorrow afternoon.
Yes, I know we look quite cheerful, but I think we were just pleased to have found the place where Kirsty McColl was mowed down by a speedboat. Inwardly we were still traumatised by the land of the giant lizards. But I digress...

Saturday was our one and only day off the ship. Naturally I couldn't wait, so I was up at 7:30am and queuing for a place on the little boat (called a tender) (and yes, I did love my tender) to the Mexican island of Cozumel. Cozumel turned out to be an interesting place. Some might call it a dump, but me, well I'd call it a complete dump. Though I did enjoy seeing the locals riding around on their motorbikes without helmets, and with small babies in their arms. We even encountered a family of five who were managing to travel together on one scooter.

Passing a shop called 'Drugs & Deli', which sold Prozac and sandwiches, we made our way to the local car rental place, where Sis argued with a Mexican until he eventually agreed to let us have a car with no air conditioning, windows that didn't work, and an illuminated warning light on the dashboard which read "Service Engine Soon". Fortunately the company had stuck a sticker over that light in an attempt to stop us seeing it and worrying unnecessarily.

Belted up in the ramshackle vehicle of death, we made our way to the centre of the island to visit some Mayan ruins. Personally I felt we'd already seen enough ruins driving through downtown Cozumel, but these ruins cost $5 to visit, so we knew they'd be good. And we weren't wrong.

Unfortunately it's hard to concentrate on historic piles of rubble when you walk through the gates and see this heading straight towards you.

I should point out here that lizards of any description are pretty much Lisa's worst nightmare. Giant lizards doubly so. And dozens of giant lizards in every direction approaching you with their mouths open, are off the other end of the nightmare scale. But hey, the iguanas weren't everywhere. They were just all over the ruins we'd paid to see.

Undeterred however, we made our way deeper into Lizard Land, Lisa hyperventilating, on the verge of a panic attack, and with her eyes permanently shut, while Big Sis attempted to stroke the biggest iguana she could find. After getting lost, going round in circles, and recreating the plot of Jurassic Park for half an hour, we clambered across a ruin, encountered a reptile with a four foot tail ("It's like a dog!" - Lisa), and eventually made it back to the gift shop, where Lisa enquired about counselling and vowed never to visit Mexico again.

From there it was on to the Coconuts Bar where I paid $3 for a portion of fries and received a plate with about six chips on it, allowing Lisa to sign their guestbook with the message "I've never felt so full". After which we went to the restrooms, which featured doors with no locks which swing open of their own accord, and toilets which don't flush. But hey, who needs flushing toilets when you can have an open bucket in the corner with a sign asking you to place your used toilet paper inside.

The view from our table was quite spectacular though. It's just a good job Lisa didn't spot the giant lizard on a day out at the seaside until we'd finished our fries. There was nowhere to run but the toilets, and frankly you wouldn't want to go in there twice.

By mid afternoon we'd made it to Paradise Beach, where we found time to pick up a bit of agonising sunburn to take back to the ship, before heading back into town and haggling with a Mexican over a cheap snow globe for a gay friend.

So that was our day in Cozumel. Not great, but it could have been worse - it could have been two days in Cozumel.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

So there I was, cast adrift with a few hundred Americans, and sleeping on two rock-hard camp-beds pushed together, in a permanently vibrating room with no natural light and only warm water to drink. But it wasn't all bad. We still had breakfast to look forward to. Personally I was keen to avoid the main dining room at all costs, and eat in the self service restaurant at the other end of the ship, but Big Sis assured us there was no need. Apparently breakfast was entirely different to dinner, and guests could sit wherever they wanted, alone, and free from unwanted table companions who say 'awesome' a lot.

Naturally we believed her. Which was our first mistake. Turning up for breakfast on the first morning, Lisa and I specifically requested a table for two. And were promptly led to a table for ten, where an entirely different set of Americans were keen to discuss their sea sickness with us. Not ones to offend people unnecessarily, we immediately asked to be moved to a table on our own - an outrageous request (clearly) which sent the waitress into a fit of panic. Having led us up and down the dining room for two minutes, she eventually had to go to her superior for special permission to seat us at a table built for four. Where we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast being constantly hassled by three different waiters every 30 seconds.

But hey, there was still the free frozen yoghurt. I headed straight for deck nine, found the frozen yoghurt machine didn't open til 11am, and instead crossed the deck to the tea & coffee machine, where I tried to relax while the ship photographer attempted to sell me photos of myself drinking tea.

Naturally I soon developed a headache, but managed to attend the afternoon's bingo session with Big Sis and S, who'd paid $50 for six bingo cards, only to find it was all over within half an hour, and they hadn't come within 3 numbers of a win.

A quick game of Video Blackjack later, and Lisa and I attempted to block out the reality of the situation by falling asleep in the Solarium. Some free pizza lifted our spirits, after which we headed to the Windjammer Cafe for dinner, in preference to the horrors of the King & I Dining Room. It was actually very good. So by 10pm our spirits were high. Having informed Sis that we planned to avoid our dining companions for the rest of the cruise, and wouldn't be seen within half a mile of Table 39 as long as we had breath in our bodies, we headed to the Top Hat Lounge at 10pm where we'd arranged to meet Big Sis and S for some karaoke.

Naturally they were late. But hey, you can't move so fast when you bring all your dining companions with you. Frankly I was surprised they didn't bring the table too. Then again they didn't need to - they were all quite happy to join Lisa and I on ours.

Actually I'm exaggerating - Sis didn't bring the whole of Table 39 with her. One member of the team had won the Ms Biceps competition at the poolside that afternoon, and was still out celebrating with her daughter. Which was a shame, because it meant they didn't get to see The Table 39 Singers (minus Phil & Lisa) performing 'Love Shack' at full volume and with rather too much enthusiasm. You've never seen an entire room clear so fast.

Lisa and I soon escaped to the Viking Crown Lounge for a live performance by the Village People, which turned out to be five members of the crew in cheap fancy dress miming to a record, before drowning our sorrows in overpriced Diet Coke, and dancing to the BeeGees.

It was a relaxing end to the day, and things were clearly looking up. But of course at this point we hadn't yet been cornered in the Mexican jungle by this chap and three hundred of his friends...
I bought this book last Tuesday for $2.99 from the bargain section of some bookshop in Mesquite. It's called 'How to Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything - Yes, Anything', by Dr Albert Ellis PhD, and promises to "annihilate your feelings of anxiety, despair & hostility" in less than 200 pages. It's a kind of 'Just Say No' book for the fed up.

Which is all very well of course, but Dr Ellis has clearly never been on a four-day cruise to Cozumel. Even Bert at his most cheery would have been slitting his wrists by the end of the first day.

Not that it started badly. We had a pleasant five hour drive to Galveston last Thusday morning, stopping in Dallas to pick up S, younger sister of J (they're a family of initials), who we met last Sunday. S had kindly agreed to share Big Sis's ocean-view cabin in return for doing most of the driving. Having arrived at the south Texas coast, we were greeted by the Royal Caribbean check-in desk staff, who had never seen a British passport before, and spent an enjoyable few minutes flicking through it and saying "Oooh, it's like a rainbow!", before asking if England comes under Ireland or the UK. Naturally we were holding up the line by this point, so taking a quick look at the long queue of impatient holidaymakers behind us, they immediately got out the wedding photos. Apparently I'm the spitting image of one of the women's sons, and she just had to prove it to me.

A leisurely flick through a stranger's family album, and we were eventually allowed to board the Splendour of the Seas, where we were handed small cups of blue liquid by a man in a Hawaiian shirt. I wasn't sure whether to drink it or swill it around my mouth and spit it overboard, but in the end I downed it in one and hoped for the best. I still have no idea what it was.

From there it was on to our cabin. Or the windowless broom cupboard it was clearly designed to be. Having discovered that the beds were basically two bits of hardboard with blankets, and that the cold tap only ever produced warm water, I looked for the kind of tea & coffee making facilities you find in all cheap B&Bs. This was a luxury all-you-can-eat cruise, so naturally there were none whatsoever, but in their place were two bottles of water and some cans of Coke on the dressing table. So I helped myself to one of those...

... only to be told that when they say you can eat and drink as much as you like, they're thinking more of the warm tap water and complimentary pretzels. Anything out of a bottle is extra. So I'd racked up a bill of $2 within minutes of boarding.

Things improved however, when I discovered the free frozen yoghurt machine on deck nine, so by 7pm I was feeling better (and fuller), and headed for the 'Welcome Aboard Show' featuring comedian David Orion, who in addition to being Jerry Seinfeld's warm-up man, is also apparently "one of the most sought after acts on the corporate and faith-based entertainment circuits". So he's big with businessmen and Christians. I may not be that religious, but I'm reasonably good with money, so I quite enjoyed it.

The highlight of the evening though, was undoubtedly the main meal in the King & I Dining Room. We'd been assigned to Table 39 for the week, and having been led through the dining room past tables for two, and numerous tables for four, we eventually arrived at our designated table - a table for ten. Where six Americans were already waiting for us.

Now, I love Americans as much as the next man, and I'm not unsociable by nature, but being stuck around a table with six strangers for two hours every night, being asked where I come from, what I do, and what I think of pastry swans, is pretty much my idea of a living hell.

Still, the waiters did their best to improve things by bringing us the wrong wine, then trying to charge us $38 for the privilege, then expecting a tip when they eventually got it right. The food meanwhile was quite posh. Well it came in small portions anyway. I basically received a slice of quiche, a small bit of cod, and some pieces of apple, while Lisa ordered the chocolate dessert, only to be presented with a pot of white chocolate... which she can't stand. The menu obviously felt it wasn't worth mentioning.

By the end I was considering launching one of the lifeboats and heading back to Texas, but hey, this was only the first day. Things could get a lot worse...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Janne Niinimaa.Ignore the smoke, and the badly dressed figure emerging from a giant star - it's not an episode of 'Stars in Their Eyes', this is actually a shot taken from last night's ice hockey game between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators. Not a shot taken by me, obviously, because we were in the cheap seats about half a mile from the ice, with grandstand views of the tops of twelve men's heads, but I have it on good authority that this is none other than Janne Niinimaa, ice hockey player extraordinaire, and a man with more vowels than he knows what to do with.

Of course, cheap seats didn't actually matter, because this game was played at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, which apparently has "more digital signs than any other sports and entertainment center". So we had a pretty good view of all the adverts.

Anyhoo, this was my first experience of American ice hockey, and naturally I couldn't be expected to know which team was likely to win. So before leaving, I went online and put five quid on the draw. I stood to win £17.50, which spookily enough was the price of my ticket, so I knew it was written in the (Dallas) stars that I'd come away victorious. Particularly when it was still 1-1 at the end of the second period. And I would have won too, were it not for some scandalous refereeing decisions. Frankly it should be illegal to award a goal to the home team with nine tenths of a second left on the clock. I nearly choked on my pizza.

But anyway, highlights of the evening included:

  • Having to tell my sister that the song being sung at the start of the game was the American national anthem. She's only lived in the country for three years. And to be honest, I still don't think she believed me when I told her it's called 'The Star Spangled Banner'.
  • Nearly jumping out of my skin when 30,000 people shouted "Stars!" every time the word 'star' cropped up in the national anthem.
  • Trying to alert Big Sis and Lisa to the fact that we were on the big screen in front of said 30,000 people, only to find them engrossed in my last blog post on Sis's handheld PC.
  • Being the only person in the arena who celebrated when Dallas had a goal disallowed.
  • Finding out that punch-ups between players are accompanied by jaunty music over the PA.
  • Sis using her handheld PC to look up the rules of ice hockey, and informing us halfway through the game that when the puck goes in the net, it's a goal.
  • Recouping £1 of my £5 loss by betting Lisa that there are only three periods in an ice hockey game. She was "one hundred per cent certain" there are four.
  • Getting a voucher for a free taco, only to be told by Sis that she wouldn't allow me to eat it in her car, her house, her pool, or basically within a hundred miles of her.

So all in all it was a good night out. A bit of music, some fisticuffs, two pizzas, some gambling, and three hours of ice skating, all accompanied by one constant question from my companions:

"What's going on?"

You can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Howdy! (That's Texan for hello). Well we made it, and I'm out of the hot tub long enough to cobble together a blog post. We may have been here less than 48 hours, but I've already had my money's worth out of the £3 swimming shorts I bought at Asda on Friday night. They may be a hideous shade of green, but I'm hoping the chlorine in Big Sis's swimming pool will ruin the colour.

Anyhoo, despite talking to Lisa on the phone ten hours before we were due to meet at Gatwick and finding she hadn't packed yet, we successfully made our flight to Dallas on Saturday morning. I was sat next to a middle-aged woman who was fortunately less chatty than last year's example, though she did steal Lisa's headphones, put them on, and then call the stewardess to complain that there was no sound coming through. The stewardess, to her credit, failed to notice that the woman was wearing a set of headphones that weren't actually plugged in to anything, and immediately went and rebooted the plane's entire inflight entertainment system. Which is the kind of quality service you only get with British Airways.

Having watched 'North Country' (anti-man bilge), 'Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit' (cute but slightly disappointing) and 'The Island' (like a live-action Roadrunner cartoon with Sean Bean as Wile E Coyote and Ewan McGregor going 'Beep Beep'), I awoke Lisa, who'd dropped off half way through 'North Country' and never really recovered, and we made our way through passport control and baggage reclaim, and into the welcoming arms of a waiting Big Sis.

Well, we would've done if she'd been there. Fortunately she was only half an hour late, and claimed it was because she'd been cleaning our room - a cunning ploy to stop us complaining. A forty minute drive and we were back at Sis's house - her third in three years, and the first to have a swimming pool. She still claims poverty, and insists her lifestyle doesn't stem from being rich, but is merely a result of the low cost of living in Texas, but when you've swum in a heated pool and then sipped white wine by moonlight in a 100 degree hot tub overlooking a lake, you do start to wonder if your sister has money. And if she's planning to remember you in her will.

So in an effort to get in with the one member of my family who's clearly going places (no offence to all the others), Lisa and I agreed to attend Big Sis's church on Sunday morning, where she was performing a flute solo to accompany the collection of money. Unfortunately we had reckoned without...

... this man, who stood up at the beginning and announced that there were two visitors from overseas, before adding "See if you can find them!". You've never seen such a look of terror on two people's faces. We considered making a run for it, but when a 'two-minute meet & greet' turns into a fifteen-minute stampede to shake your hand and tell you how great your accent is, it's hard to slip out the back door. But anyway, it all turned out fine, and we were glad we went. Although Lisa did say that if there was an evening service as well, she might have to shoot herself.

Anyway, turning down an invitation to attend 'Pizza with the Pastor' next Sunday morning, we escaped to the Chandler's Landing Yacht Club for lunch with Big Sis and J, the piano-playing hymn-singing band-leading member of the church, whose job is still being advertised on their website. They obviously don't expect him to hang around.

The last time I visited the CLYC, they served Sis a vegetarian salad with bacon, but hey, that was two years ago, and things have clearly changed since then. This time they served J a turkey wrap with no turkey.

From there it was on to the Firewheel Town Center, which is America's idea of a quaint British high street. They only built it last year, and strangely all the doors open outwards, meaning that every time you leave a shop, you smack someone in the face as they're walking past. Bit of a design fault, that. But undeterred, Lisa and I began the holiday as we mean to go on, by heading straight for the Cold Stone Creamery and eating ice cream for half an hour.

We made our way back via Circuit City, pushed our way past the employees shouting at the Superbowl on TV, and watched Big Sis purchase her fourth iPod. Having repeatedly dropped her first one on the ground until it broke, and left her second one in a hotel room, she recently put her third one through the washing machine, meaning she's now onto number four. As she said herself, she's single-handedly funding Apple's research into MP3 players. They really ought to name the next model 'The Big Sis'. And preferably make it waterproof.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Right, I'm off to America. In the words of Lisa the other day, "We have tickets for Texas!". Of course, she was referring to a concert at the Brighton Centre in May, but the sentiment remains the same. We're leaving 15 hours apart because, well frankly I live further from the airport. My trip includes a one-night stopover in Chelmsford for refuelling (mostly trifle and J2O's), before the final leg of the journey via Gatwick tomorrow morning. So I need to get a move on.

It's the wrong time to be leaving though, because as I speak there's a giant Dutch removal van parked outside, and a young couple (possibly clog makers, Edam sellers, porn stars, or any other predictable stereotype I can think of) are moving in to one of the neighbouring flats. They obviously heard I was moving out, and knew property prices were bound to shoot up.

I can't say I like their hideous aubergine curtains (though I'm sure they go well with the scarlet sofa), but I do like the way my nosey neighbour in number 3 has been out there for a good half hour pretending to check the oil in his car, just so he can get a good look at them. He should be more like me, and simply pull a chair up to the window.

But on the bright side, the husband has an even bigger guitar amplifier than I do. On the downside, he has a goatee. Which he insists on stroking all the time. Frankly he looks like a Bond villain.

I should stop now, in case thay have internet access.

Right, I'd better be off. But before I go, breaking news of the unexpected kind: Blogger's 'Blogs of Note' is finally featuring a blog worth visiting. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Well it made me laugh anyway.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I'm supposed to be packing my flip-flops, not writing pointless blog posts, but I was just listening to the radio, and heard an interview with one Susan Scott, of the Susan Scott Lookalike Agency, who was plugging her website, and repeatedly mentioning the fact that she has Celebrity Big Brother winner and Kandyfloss frontwoman, Chantelle, on her books as a Paris Hilton lookalike. Which is the kind of news it's impossible to ignore when you have an internet connection less than three feet away.

Anyway, Chantelle is indeed there, but far more entertaining are the other uncanny likenesses on display. I've just spent an enjoyable half hour browsing through mugshots of some of the most deluded people you're ever likely to meet.

So without further ado, I give you...

It's Pete Waterman!And David Baddiel!

... Pete Waterman and David Baddiel!


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It's Wednesday, which of course means my weekly e-mail from the Advertising Standards Authority, outlining the pointless cases they've been wasting their time on important work they've been carrying out this week, so here we go with another in my occasional series entitled "Where Do People Find the Time?"...

"A TV ad for Gamestation promoted a game called "Ultimate Spider Man" as their "Steal of the Week". It showed a woman unable to recall the name of the game she had intended to buy. She said "Hiya, I'm looking for the man with the pointy ears." The assistant said "Oh right, do you mean Kevin?" and pointed towards the cashier. She said "No, no, he's a superhero. He's err climbing, I'm always climbing buildings me. Pshoo! Pshoo!" and stuck out her arms in a theatrical way. The assistant said "Oh, Ultimate Spider Man!" and took it down from the shelf. She said "Yeah! Thanks." The voiceover said "Get the right game this Christmas, send your mum to Gamestation."

A viewer complained that the ad was trying to persuade children to pressurise their parents into visiting Gamestation to buy their games."

And on the subject of adverts, I'm becoming increasingly irritated by the ad for Colgate Total Plus Whitening toothpaste, where "Paul Khanna, Screenwriter" insists on telling me about his yellowing teeth every twenty minutes throughout the day when I'm trying to enjoy Des & Mel (a futile task, I admit). I'm particularly irritated by the fact that I've never heard of this giant of British cinema, despite being someone who always takes note of the writer's name on every film I ever see.

So I've just looked up Mr Khanna on the IMDB. Naturally I was hoping he wouldn't be there, so that I could say "I Khanna find him" in a Scottish accent, but as it happens, Paul Khanna is a bona fide screenwriter.

He's written one film.

Which lasted four minutes.

Featured one actor.

And cost $10.

So it's no wonder he's looking for work in adverts.