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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Well it was an evening of unrelenting triumph at the Devil's Dyke quiz night. Having found ourselves in third place (and yes, there were more than three teams) after two rounds, we blazed our way into second place with a perfect 20 out of 20 on the 'Name the Mr Men' picture round, and with just one round to go, we lay in second place, just a single solitary point behind the leaders. So after a pep talk from gay primary school teacher, part-time morris dancer and keen snow-globe collector, 'L', who insisted on having a panic attack every time one of us mouthed an answer at more than 0.01 of a decibel, we concentrated hard, focused our minds, and gave one last push for the finish line. Whereupon we had our worst round of the entire night, got four out of ten, and finished third. Dammit.

But hey, if we'd gone with my suggestion of Sauron on the Lord of the Rings question, instead of plumping for Saruman, we'd have come second. I knew it was a mistake to admit that I've only ever read the books, and haven't seen the films. People seemed less inclined to believe me after that.

Still, Lisa fared no better, having been overruled on the Paul McCartney question by two blokes who frankly had no idea what they were talking about. I'm still apologising for that one.

To be honest, if we'd got a point for all the questions for which we came up with the right answer, only to put down the wrong answer, we'd have won. A particular highlight was the question, "What's the name for a telephone circuit which connects a group of subscribers to the same exchange?". Lisa's Mum suggested 'party line', whereupon we all laughed, assumed she'd been calling too many 0898 numbers late at night, then agreed that as we clearly had no sensible suggestions to choose from, we should go with 'switchboard'. That wasn't our finest hour.

But hey, I suppose third place wasn't too bad. Especially as we didn't cheat. Obviously we tried, but when you text two different people asking for the name of the Secret Seven's dog, and get the replies "Fido?" and "No idea", you realise that crime never pays. Next time we'll take Tecwen Whittock.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm not happy. After an entire week of eating next to nothing, due to having been fingering the knob of death's door since last weekend, I finally weighed myself this morning, only to find that my 7-day enforced crash diet has resulted in a staggering weight loss of...

... no pounds whatsoever. There's something wrong somewhere. It even took me the entire evening to eat a slice of treacle tart given to me by Lisa's Mum on Saturday night, so I'm clearly not well, and deserve to be wasting away. Especially as Lisa hasn't bothered getting me any grapes.

But anyhoo, despite my crumbling state of health, I did manage to drive down to Brighton on Friday afternoon under the influence of a couple of high-strength pain killers, meaning I was able to fulfill an engagement over at Lorraine's, who had offered to cook us dinner in return for feeding her cats the week before last. Lisa, who's not only eaten Lorraine's food before, but has also learnt from her mistakes, took her own ready meal, and refused to touch anything Lorraine had cooked. A decision which seemed wise when Lorraine informed us that she loves the smell of cat food, and only has to open a tin to get her mouth watering... before serving up a suspiciously meaty concoction with rice. I checked the bin for empty Whiskas cans, then claimed ill health and refused the offer of seconds.

On Saturday Lisa and I returned to the Devil's Dyke, which apparently features spectacular views of the rolling Sussex countryside. I wouldn't actually know, as when we visited a fortnight ago, it was dark, hence our decision to return during daylight hours on Saturday. Unfortunately, having spent two hours there on Saturday afternoon, I'm still none the wiser, as the fog was so thick we couldn't see more than ten yards in front of our faces. Frankly Canary Wharf could have been next door and I wouldn't have known.

As for yesterday, well it began well when I trusted Lisa to tell me what the time was, only to find she hadn't put her clocks forward, and we were in fact late for our Mother's Day outing to Hove dog track. But a bit of rushing around later, and we managed to get Lisa's Mum there in time for the third race, and in time for me to win £24 on the fourth race. Unfortunately I then proceeded to lose £20 of it on the remaining ten races, meaning I have £4 left to buy my Mum a present. Which is ok, as all Mother's Day gifts will be half price today.

And besides, I'll be rich by the end of the day - we're heading back to the Devil's Dyke tonight for a quiz night. Our rag-tag team consists of Lisa (specialising in 80s music and the picture round), Lisa's Mum (specialising in Vera Lynn and anything pre 1950), Lisa's gay friend (specialising in snow-globes and Madonna), and me (specialising in answering all the questions). First prize is £100, and we've agreed to split it equally, regardless of who gets the most questions right, because in the words of Lisa, "I wouldn't want you going away with less than everyone else". The nerve of that woman.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Things I'll Miss About Shotley Gate When I Move to Brighton, #2:
(It hasn't turned out to be a very long list so far).

Dragging myself out of my sick bed in the morning, and going for a kill-or-cure stagger down the nearest footpath, only to encounter a field full of Mad March Hares for the first time in my life. Mind you, I am ill, so I could have been hallucinating.

But assuming I wasn't, there were a good 12 or 14 hares who were all so mad for it (possibly even as mad as hatters), chasing each other around at full speed, jumping on top of each other, and rolling one other down the hill, that at one point they nearly collided with me.

By which I mean they came within 20 yards of where I was standing. But it seemed like a close encounter at the time.

The Holbrook HoresAnyhoo, naturally I didn't bother taking any photos of this wonder of nature, but I did manage to snap this shot of a road sign. It was erected a couple of years ago after some idiot (possibly a woman, I don't know) drove their car into a tractor, but interestingly it's now been amended by some helpful local, who's added the words...

Holbrook Hores 7 Miles ↑

... which is an outrageous thing to say. I'm sure it's only six miles to Holbrook.

Of course, when they say 'Hores', they could mean 'Horse', or even 'Hares' (which would clearly make more sense) but having already encountered the work of the Shotley Hoes some months ago, I think perhaps not.

Obviously I'm not in a position to comment of the whoring qualities of local women. And besides, they all have a right to live their lives in any way they see fit. I'm just disappointed none of them seem able to spell.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I'll say one thing for posting 13 consecutive losing horse racing tips in one week - it gets you noticed. Yes, the sheer skill that it took to eventually pick a winner by backing the shortest priced favourite of the entire Cheltenham Festival has finally been recognised, and as of yesterday afternoon, I've been asked to write for a horse racing website (which I'm not naming, due to the fact that I haven't decided whether or not to accept, and I'm far too ravaged by disease and out of my head on over-the-counter drugs to make a sensible decision right now). The remuneration package on offer is interesting though. They've suggested a figure with quite a few noughts. And not a lot else. So they've obviously realised my true market value.

To be honest though, I think the offer's based more on the evidence of my horses page, and less on my ability as a tipster, so I should probably delete all of last week's posts and claim I was on holiday, before they discover the kind of person they're offering work to.

Anyhoo, two years ago today I was standing outside WHSmiths on Victoria Station, regretting my decision to wear a moleskin jacket, and wondering if an overpriced smoothie would warm me up, whilst a woman I'd never laid eyes on before was hiding in the toilets trying to come up with a plausible excuse to return to Brighton within the hour.

So I'd just like to say Happy Two-Years-Since-We-First-Met Anniversary to Lisa. I always knew it was worth you turning up.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Seeing as I'm still hideously diseased, I've just been looking up health-related information on the web in the hope of finding out how long I've got to live, and as usual, I got distracted and ended up clicking on an advert instead. Which led me to the RealAge Test ("as seen on Oprah", apparently).

My actual age is 32.7, but having answered all the questions (fairly) truthfully, the website (who don't even know how ill I am right now), told me that the real age of my body is 34.9. Which is good, because it means I'm still younger than Lisa.

But far better than that, was one of the questions I was asked along the way. This is what's known as a sign of the times, and frankly I'd frame it if I could...

"Is your biological father alive? (Enter your best guess if you're not sure)."

How marvellous is that.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I have to admit, there are advantages to moving home. If nothing else, you find out how many batteries you've got. And in my case it's enough to power the national grid for a good half hour. I spent yesterday afternoon emptying a large kitchen drawer, the contents of which haven't seen the light of day since I moved here eight years ago. It's where I keep all sorts of useful things like batteries, Blu-tac, screwdrivers, candles...
... and of course a Key West toothpick holder, and a solitary Calvin Klein button. No, I don't know why either. But anyhoo...

On the rare occasions that I need batteries (usually for my remote controls, which says a lot about my life), I tend to go to that drawer, rummage through the first six inches of junk, decide I'm all out of them, and immediately go and buy some more. Which is obviously why, eight years later, I find I've got thirty-seven AA batteries in numerous half-opened packs. I also seem to have twelve 'D' batteries, which is interesting, as I don't actually own anything which takes them. I probably just thought bigger is better, and bought them anyway.

But that aside, the more important news of the day is that I'm at death's door. My condition is, as yet, undiagnosed (though I'm convinced it's a rare form of meningitis which doesn't produce a rash, and responds well to paracetamol), but since late Saturday night I've been suffering from extreme aches and pains which started in my head, spread to my neck and shoulders, and continued down my body as far as my knees. Which is interesting, because that's exactly how I wash myself in the shower. I don't know if that's somehow connected.

So my health is not currently great. I feel like I've taken part in a Parexel drugs trial. It's probably my come-uppance for not showing Dave the slightest bit of sympathy when he was ill last week. But hey, I can't worry about people dying when there's horse racing on the TV. I had my reputation as a tipster to think about.

But on the subject of health, today's Independent reports that women with asymmetrical breasts are more likely to get cancer. So I'm off to examine Page 3 in the name of medical research.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Yes, I know you'd expect me to have given up by now and reported for duty at the poorhouse, but having watched my fourth unlucky second of the week yesterday, I'm determined to go one better, so it's do or die (and five horses did yesterday) for the last day of the festival. And in an effort to change my luck, I'm putting up the jockeys' colours this time around to help everyone spot my runners. Although if you keep an eye on the rear of the field, that should work as well...

Afsoun2:00 Afsoun at 5-1

Black Jack Ketchum2:35 Black Jack Ketchum at 5-4

L'Ami3:15 L'Ami at 11-1

Foly Pleasant4:00 Foly Pleasant at 12-1

I really think I'll get four winners today. No really, I do. And if not, then I'm putting the farm on my namesake, Studmaster, in the Getting Out Stakes at 5:20. His colours look like this...

Studmaster... and according to the official description, that dodgy looking yellow thing on the front is called a 'Cross of Lorraine'. As it happens I was quite cross with Lorraine when I arrived at her house last week and had to clear up cat sick all evening, so if that's not an omen, I don't know what is.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My third second in two days, and a £20 profit on Phar Bleu, but dammit I WILL get a winner before the end of the week...

2:00 Copsale Lad at 10-1

2:35 Armaturk at 16-1

3:15 Attorney General at 33-1

4:00 Bannow Strand at 14-1

... though possibly not with any of those.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bear Behind
Can I just say how annoying it is when your inspired 11-1 pick is leading the field of 20 by a country mile over the last two hurdles and all the way up the run in, only to be caught right on the line by the second favourite and beaten by a neck. Well it's very annoying, that's how annoying it is. But still, two second places means that if you'd put £10 each way on all four of my selections, you'd have ended up with... um... well let's just say you wouldn't be feeding the kids this week.

But I'm not easily put off...

2:00 Zaiyad at 11-2

2:35 The Listener at 8-1 (though I backed him for this to the tune of £2 - yes, a whole £2 - at odds of 13-1 a month ago)

3:15 Fota Island at 9-2

4:00 Phar Bleu at 12-1

Phar Bleu has had a wind operation and therefore can't lose. No really, I mean it this time.

Anyhoo, when I'm not backing losers, I'm busy returning home, and as of midnight last night, I'm back in Shotley Gate. Lisa celebrated our departure from Lorraine's by attacking the kitchen worktops with toilet cleaner, which might sound like an odd decision, but after finding a pool of cat wee there last Wednesday night, it actually makes perfect sense.

I'm also suspicious that someone's given my photo to the Brighton branch of McDonalds and told them not to serve me, as having stopped there en route to Lisa's last night and asked for a McFlurry, I was told in no uncertain terms that the McFlurry machine was out of order, and sent on my way. At which point I pulled up to the next window and watched staff merrily serving ice cream to anyone who wanted it. I feel like an alcoholic who's been banned from the pub.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

As it turned out, day one of Lisa's course wasn't the complete disaster she was anticipating. She only fell asleep twice, she was sat next to an international Maypole Dancing champion, and despite the course being residential, she made it home at the end of the day, due to the fact that she'd rather crawl on her face up the A23 for an hour than have to stay there for a week. Well, that and the fact that she was offered a lift.

She's also greatly looking forward to Thursday, when she'll be learning leadership skills by hiking through Ashdown Forest for ten hours with an overweight office manager on her back. She's quite confident with a compass because, as she told me last night, she never had a problem drawing circles at school.

Anyway, I'm sure she'll blog about it at the end of the week. Actually I'm not sure at all, but I like to be optimistic.

For my part, I spent yesterday completing the workbooks for Lisa's next course. We have a system whereby I do all the study and come up with the answers, and she signs the bit declaring that it's all her own work. It's foolproof. Anyway, after seven hours of research on 'Diversity & Professional Practice', I now know that if you ask a single mother to make the tea, you could end up in serious trouble. Though I'm not entirely sure why.

All that work did however earn me Sunday lunch at the Ha Ha Bar, and an evening out at the Devil's Dyke last night, a restaurant cum geographic feature, where the waitress forgot our drinks order, took our dessert order, came back and told us everything was off, then attempted to split the bill between our two credit cards, worked it out wrong in her head, charged us too much, and then ended up putting both halves on Lisa's card anyway, despite the fact that I'd signed for one of them. So that went well. I think she was more devil than dyke.

Anyhoo, today's the start of the biggest event in the horse racing calendar, The Cheltenham Festival (or the Chelmsford Festival, as Lisa likes to call it. She's not a big horse racing fan). It is however very exciting, so following the (almost) complete success of my Oscar predictions, I thought I'd give my tips for this afternoon's four televised races. These are all guaranteed to win, and you really should put your last penny on them.

No more than a penny though, obviously, because frankly I'll be lucky to get one in the first three. Right, here we go...

2:00 Straw Bear at 10-1

2:35 Missed That at 6-1

3:15 Macs Joy at 6-1

4:00 No Half Session at 8-1

Monday, March 13, 2006

All You Can EatI think the reason Timmy can eat so much is because his mouth is the same size as his bowl. I may have to wire his jaw shut.

But despite having to feed cats about seven times a day, I'm still in Brighton. I was planning to be home by now, but as it turned out, Lisa needed someone to drag her out of bed by the ankles this morning, make her a cup of tea, and then physically shove her out the door and towards a work-related course she's being forced to attend this week. She was mildly reluctant to go, and no one else had the sheer brute strength required to persuade her it was a good idea, so I felt I should stay on a little longer.

As for the weekend, well I met up with my brother, and he gave me the results of the survey on my future flat. Basically as long as I can live with the damp problem in the bedroom, the asbestos in the bathroom, and the dry rot next door, then everything will be fine, and I'll be able to live there happily for many years to come. Providing I'm not electrocuted by the power point in the kitchen which contravenes building regulations.

But fortunately my brother's not one to let a bit of asbestos dust dampen his spirits, so in the tradition of all good slumlords, he's pushing ahead with the sale. Hurrah! I should be in within the month. In hospital, that is. The flat will be mine in three weeks.

Anyhoo, the other exciting news of the weekend belonged to Lisa's aunt and uncle, who yesterday celebrated 57 years of marriage (which I believe is the Heinz anniversary). It was enough to put anyone in a romantic mood, and Lisa's mother duly rang us up last night full of optimistic good cheer, and told us we won't make it to 57 years. Which is true of course, because when Lisa's eighty-nine I plan to carry on a family tradition and shove her under a wardrobe. It's what her grandfather would have wanted.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Trophy NieceBefore going any further, I'd just like to publicly congratulate my niece on winning this fine trophy for her achievements at the Southend-on-Sea Swimming Club Gala, where she battled her way to 6th place in not one, but two different events. And all this a month before her seventh birthday. The girl's a prodigy.

Obviously I can't tell you how many people were in each race, for legal reasons, but suffice it to say it was more than five.

And less than seven.

But hey, she didn't just come last once, she came last twice. AND she got a trophy for it. Which in my book is a major achievement. So congratulations M, I'm proud of you.

But anyway, whilst my niece has been sinking in a swimming pool, I've been trying to keep my head above water amidst a sea of cardboard boxes and bin bags. There are now more empty shelves in my flat than in the flour section of Asda last time Lisa and I tried to buy batter mix on pancake day. But as we speak, I've left all that behind me, and am currently back in Brighton. In fact, I've been here since Wednesday. Anyone would think I was keeping secrets from this blog.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to pay a visit to my flat-to-be, to measure the height of the ceilings and find out just how high I can stack junk when I move in, but right now I'm in the lovely seaside town of Portslade, where [fanfare please] I've unexpectedly been reunited with the foul feline fiends that are... Timmy & Oscar. Last time Lisa and I did some cat-sitting, I said it would be the last time. In fact I stood there in my wee-covered shoes, clearing up cat-sick with a dead bird in one hand, and swore it would be the last time.

But here we are again. To be honest, it's an act of mercy. Lorraine has been going through a financial crisis lately, and two weeks ago reached the point where her business had no money coming in, and no obvious way to pay the bills. So she reacted as only a self-employed businesswoman can: she immediately booked a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean. Her reasoning being that with her business going down the tubes, this could be the last time she gets to sail the world. Which sums the woman up nicely. When faced with a sink or swim situation, Lorraine packs her bikini.

So once again Lisa and I have stepped into the breach at short notice. The place has changed quite a bit since we were last here - there's now a burn mark on the living room carpet where Lorraine left the iron on the floor, and half the food in the fridge is Japanese. Which is what happens when she lets out a room to a foreign student. Normally there's no food in the fridge.

One thing however remains constant. We arrived at 9pm on Wednesday night to find a pool of cat wee on the kitchen work surface, muddy paw-prints all over the dining table, and a load of sick on three of the conservatory chairs. Fortunately Lisa volunteered to clean up the latter. Until she actually saw it. At which point she decided she'd rather help by watching The Apprentice on BBC2.

Anyhoo, we've settled in nicely, and I've got used to the smell now. I do however need to go shopping, as I've just finished a toilet roll, only to find there are no more in the house. Lorraine's cash crisis is clearly worse than I thought.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lock up your daughters, it's that time again...

And the award goes to... PHIL PREDICTS THE OSCARS 2006 And the award goes to...

This is now the third year I've done this, and goddammit I WILL get 8 out of 8 this time around. No, really, I mean it...

PICTURE: Brokeback Mountain (or 'Homo on the Range', as I prefer to think of it)


ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman

ACTRESS: Reese Witherspoon



SCREENPLAY: The Squid and the Whale

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Brokeback Mountain

Can I just say how hard it is to make accurate Oscar predictions when the BBC are showing baby polar bears getting lost in the snow. I haven't seen anything so sweet since I paid good money to go on a luxury cruise to Cozumel, only to shut myself in my cabin and watch a documentary on meerkats for an hour and a half.

But that aside, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "The Squid and the Whale?????". Well, unless you're watching this documentary on BBC1, in which case you're probably more concerned with the fate of that antelope.

But yes, I'm going for 16-1 outsider 'The Squid and the Whale' for one reason, and one reason only: it's written by Noah Baumbach. His chances of winning may be about as genuine as Tessa Jowell's marriage break-up, but I have spent THE PAST TEN YEARS (dammit) putting forward Mr Baumbach's first film 'Kicking & Screaming', (which he wrote when he was 25, damn him) as my idea of the perfect script, despite the fact that no one's ever heard of him, or it, and everyone thinks I'm slightly unhinged. (Although to be honest, that may have nothing to do with my taste in films).

Anyway, I still maintain that the finest line ever written in cinema history is:

"Oh I've BEEN to Prague. Well... I haven't 'been to Prague' been to Prague, but I know that thing."

... and despite the fact that that line doesn't work in the slightest, taken out of context like that, and I'm only confirming everyone's opinion of me here, I feel that Noah's arcing victory in tonight's Oscars will go some way towards compensating me for all these years of ridicule, and prove that I can spot scriptwriting talent a full decade before anyone else.

Although obviously he's going to lose out to 'Crash'.


Friday, March 03, 2006

It's National Doodle Day! Hurrah! I appreciate fine art, so I've just visited the National Doodle Day website and clicked on 'Doodle Meanings', which told me that "Doodles can't always tell us anything definite about their creators, but analysing them can be lots of fun!". And a complete waste of time, clearly. But having informed us that doodle analysis is pointless, they launch straight into it with the news that "Aeroplanes should be viewed as a phallic symbol". So presumably teenage boys who draw cartoon willies all want to be pilots.

Anyway, they've been auctioning off celebrity doodles on Ebay since 10am, and as things currently stand, there are no bids on John Hurt, David Hare, Kenneth Branagh or Frederick Forsyth, but Dom, from 'Dick & Dom in Da Bungalow', is already up to £9. Which says something about the average Ebay user. Personally I'm more interested in Brian Cant.

But that aside, I'm currently trapped in my living room by a wall of cardboard boxes. I knew it was a mistake to pack up stuff and leave it in the hall. I can't get to the front door to see if my Kleeneze catalogue has arrived. But on that subject, I have had a run-in with Brian Shepherd, Kleeneze salesman extraordinaire, who, having said he'd come for his catalogue on Wednesday evening, sneakily turned up yesterday afternoon instead, catching me unawares and causing me to inadvertantly answer the door. I told him I'd never received a catalogue, and he said "Oh... I wonder what happened to that one then..." in a tone of voice which said "Yeah right, we both know you chucked it in the bin". My name will be mud at Kleeneze headquarters. I just pray Betterware don't get wind of this.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Well I'm back home, and the diet's going well. Frankly it's a wonder I was still able to drive after the number of pancakes I ate last night. I blame my mother - that's the second year running she's agreed to text me the pancake recipe without so much as a second thought. She should have more concern for my welfare. Still, it could have been worse - Lisa was keen to mix cocoa powder into the flour in the hope of inventing chocolate pancakes. I wouldn't have minded, but as it was, we were cooking in total darkness in Lisa's kitchen, using flour which was best before September 2005, and trying to toss pancakes by torchlight, so it didn't seem the time to start experimenting.

Anyhoo, I've returned home to find an e-mail from someone called Seagull (probably female, because after all, Seagull's a bird), complaining that the font on this blog is too small. So I'd just like to publicly apologise in the heartfelt manner of someone who has no intention of doing anything about it. Sorry Seagull. But do keep reading.

Seagull was joined by someone named Simon, who called my website "deranged", then told me he lives next to Shotley Church, and I can drop in any time. He finished by describing me as "the Jack White of Shotley Gate". And he thinks I'm deranged.

But the good news is that it's March, and according to my brother, it's "not impossible" that they could exchange contracts on my Brighton flat by the end of March. Much in the same way that it's "not impossible" that I could lose weight in the near future. I'm optimistic anyway. And frankly it would be a relief to get out of here, as I'm now being hassled by the local Kleeneze salesman.

I arrived home at 1am last night to find a note from Brian & Anthea Shepherd, saying they'd called to collect the Kleeneze catalogue they'd left with me on Monday, and that they'd be back in the morning to try again. Naturally I did nothing about it, but I got up this morning to find a second threatening note...

Brian's my Shepherd, I shall not want.
So they're coming back for the third time AFTER 5.30PM TODAY. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, just give the people back their Kleeneze catalogue, and be done with it". Well I would do. If they'd actually left me a Kleeneze catalogue. Unfortunately I've been away from home since Friday, and in that time, no catalogues whatsoever have been pushed through my letterbox. They're demanding the return of a catalogue they never gave me. Which is the kind of story they're never going to buy (which is also, incidentally, how I feel about the products in their catalogue). Needless to say, I'll be out this evening.