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Friday, June 30, 2006

Alcohol is undoubtedly a wonderful thing. Eight months ago I wrote an interesting and informative article about a lady called Lesley, who I described (lovingly, I might add) as "a neurotic incompetent with a drink problem". Now, taken out of context, that almost sounds like an insult, but this is where the alcohol comes in...

I checked my Telly Critic e-mails yesterday evening for the first time in a week, and found one from Lesley herself, sent at 2:56am last Saturday night. Naturally when I realised who it was from, my first thought was to panic, gather my belongings, and change my address fast, but fortunately I was doing all of that anyway, so I just read on instead. And as it turns out, Lesley isn't after my blood at all.

I won't reproduce her entire e-mail here for legal reasons, but suffice it to say that she refers to herself as "almost a natural blonde", admits to being "half cut at 2:40am", complains that the film crew wouldn't talk to her (can you blame them?), then says "we are pleased that you have shown us to be just normal folks" and talks about nurturing her dreams, before finishing with "Thanks for your honest review which showed the inaccuracy of the media which can twist the nature of reality from the falsehood of fiction". Which is the kind of thing you can only write when you're pissed.

So at 3am, with a few glasses of wine inside her, Lesley could see that my entire article was written in support of her and her husband, and wanted to thank me for it. Like I say, alcohol is a wonderful thing.

But anyhoo, it's 7am, and I have slept my last night in Shotley Gate. That's if you can call 5 hours 'a night'. My brother's arriving at 6:30pm with a van (transit, not Morrison), we're overnighting at my parents' in Chelmsford, then first thing in the morning it's down to Brighton for the rest of my life. Unless I can't get my bed through the front door, in which case I'm coming straight back here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Today is mine and Lisa's 25th anniversary. Twenty-five months that is. It's more silver-plated than silver, so I've celebrated by leaving Brighton and returning to Shotley Gate for two days to pack up my computer. Which means I probably shouldn't be writing a blog post on it.

But anyhoo, yesterday was D-Day for my new sofa (D stands for delivery). And what a total success it was. Having scoured Brighton's secondhand shops last week for a sofa which would fit through my two-foot-wide front door, it was naturally a little disappointing to have to send my Mum down the road for a saw and a pot of wood glue, but you can't have everything.

The delivery men themselves did a very fine 'good cop, bad cop' routine, one of them happy to help, the other preferring to stand there saying "that's never going to fit", "there's no point trying", and "we've got to get to Peacehaven", whilst complaining that customers shouldn't go buying furniture unless they know they can get it through the front door. I was tempted to say "Well YOU tell me where I can buy a sofa which easily fits through a 2ft wide doorway then", but I didn't. Mainly because he was halfway to Peacehaven by the time I'd manoeuvred the sofa out of the door frame and stuck my head around to look at him.

So about three seconds after arriving, the men left, leaving my mother and I to take all the springs out of the back of the sofa in a somewhat optimistic attempt to get it in. When that failed, it was left to me to shove my Mum through the gap between the front legs, and out to the local hardware shop for a saw. Leaving me free to have a cup of tea, whilst simultaneously praying that my neighbour wouldn't want to get out of his flat in the next half hour.

Tools purchased, I set about covering both myself and the entrance hall in sawdust, and successfully chopped off the back legs of my lovely new sofa. After which we spent an enjoyable hour trying to re-attach all the springs, before sticking the legs back on with glue and sellotape. At which point I was beginning to see the appeal of beanbags.

Anyway, the good news is that I now have a sofa you can sit on. The bad news is that every visitor I ever have is going to wonder why half the legs of my beautiful carved wooden sofa have clearly been hacked off by a maniac and stuck back on with glue. That's if the whole thing doesn't collapse the first time my niece bounces on it. We'll find out in two days time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So like I said yesterday, it's always good to get post. Tuesday morning's mail was a bonanza of non-stop good news. First there was a letter from Bulldog Broadband telling me that BT still haven't activated my phone line - information which they themselves now admit is complete rubbish. Then there was a letter from the TV Licensing people, addressed to 'The Present Occupier', and headed 'WE ARE PLANNING TO TAKE FURTHER ACTION', which informed me that having ignored all their previous correspondence, "your address is now on our priority list and an Enforcement Officer is planning to visit you shortly". Which is nice. I always like to meet new people.

And that's just as well, because the bailiffs are due round at any moment. Yes, that's right, my third item of post was addressed to the previous tenant, and had the words "LEGAL ACTION IS BEING ARRANGED" clearly visible through the window in the envelope, just above a demand for £230. Naturally I could see all that with a single glance, and didn't have to hold it up to the light and jiggle the envelope around for ten minutes at all. That would have been wrong.

So clearly the TV Licensing people aren't the only ones after my predecessor's blood. The good news is I haven't brought my TV down to Brighton yet. The bad news is my Dad had a portable in my living room when he was decorating, and it's still there. Cue a hasty phone call to the TV Licensing headquarters, and a quick change of address. Meaning I now have no legal right to watch TV in Shotley Gate. But looking on the bright side, if the Enforcement Officer had turned up at the same time as the bailiff, the latter could have taken the TV and solved both their problems.

Anyhoo, having spent yesterday trying to hide my belongings from the debt collectors, I agreed to forego the football last night and accompany Lisa to Ma Potter's (Harry's Mum) for something to eat. It looked like a good decision, as they were running a 'Give Football the Boot' promotion, which stated "For the duration of the World Cup, have a free glass of wine with every main meal, in a football free zone". Marvellous. It's valid all day, every day, from June 9th to July 9th, so we were clearly in luck.

Unfortunately, in small print underneath it stated:

"* Offer applies to two or more females dining, when not accompanied by a male".

Is it just me, or is that slightly outrageous? We're not entitled to a free drink because I've got a penis. And moreover, if we'd taken Lisa's Mum with us, they'd only get a complimentary glass of wine if I agreed to leave. Admittedly, if I did leave they'd probably want to celebrate with a drink, but that's not the point. The fact remains that it's outrageous sexism of the highest order.

And I resented Lisa's suggestion that I tell them I'm a transsexual. I was worried they might believe me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's always nice to get down to Brighton and find post waiting for you at your new flat. It's slightly less nice when it's a water bill for £229.97. I wouldn't mind, but I've only made about three cups of tea. Although in Southern Water's defence, I did need to down a glass of water and a couple of aspirin when I saw their bill. Anyhoo, apparently I can't be trusted to use their precious water supplies (there's a drought on you know) without paying up front until March 2007. So Lisa had better not dump me, because I'm not leaving Brighton til I've got my money's worth.

Fortunately however, the arrival of my first bill meant I was able to qualify for a resident's parking permit, so I braved the drought conditions (pouring rain) and made my way to the council parking office, where I handed over a completed form, my water bill, a signed tenancy agreement, and the registration documents for my car (they don't ask you for much), whereupon I was told I can only have a permit for three months because I haven't told the DVLA I've moved. Nothing's ever straightforward. But I'm now proudly displaying a Brighton resident's parking permit in the front of my car. Which will confuse my neighbours when I head back to Shotley Gate tomorrow.

From there I went to Barclays to inform them of my address change. The girl there thanked me by losing my debit card, then losing the cheque I was paying in, then admitting that she hadn't done this before and didn't know how it all worked, before smiling and wishing me a nice day. I told her it was too late.

Then it was straight to Argos to buy two new curtains. Naturally they only had one in stock.

The afternoon was rounded off by a trip to the YMCA in Portslade, where I associated with a young Christian man who helped me to my car with a new chest of drawers. It doesn't actually match any of my furniture, but it was only £35, and let's face it, I can't start going around the local charity shops until I have somewhere to put the clothes I buy. Because obviously I'll never wear them.

Anyhoo, today's task is to unpack all the boxes I brought down in my car on Sunday, and get everything put away before Saturday, which is officially moving day. So I'd better tear myself away from Lisa's internet connection, and get on. Just as soon as The Jeremy Kyle Show's finished...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Some people have gone to Germany to watch today's England match. Some will be gathering in front of giant screens in city centres. Others are heading for the pub. But personally I'm driving down to Brighton to watch it on my own in Lisa's bedroom. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Naturally Lisa won't be there, because (a) she can't stand football, and (b) she's heading across town to see another man. Yes, that's right, Elton John is playing Hove Cricket Ground this afternoon. It gives new meaning to the words 'out', 'wide' and 'batting for the other side'. Tickets start at a very reasonable sixty quid, although some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over, and they've only paid £40 for standing room.

Kick off for both events is 4pm, so I presume Elton's not a big football fan. Lisa, on the other hand, is a big Elton fan. In fact she's so keen to see the great man that she's refused point blank to buy a ticket, and has chosen instead to drop in on an old friend whose flat overlooks the ground. After all, why waste good money on a ticket when you've got an open window and a pair of binoculars. She's the Lee Harvey Oswald of pop music.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I hate moving. And I don't just mean physical exercise. It doesn't seem to matter how much I throw out and pack up, there's still a ton of junk left to sort through. I started packing last autumn, and my cat moved out a week ago, so you'd think I'd have it all finished by now. Personally I blame BT and Littlewoods. If they weren't so rubbish, I wouldn't be so distracted by their incompetence, and might be able to get on a bit better.

It started well when I spoke to the man at BT on Monday and he promised to activate my new phone line within 24 hours. I therefore signed up with Bulldog Broadband on Tuesday, after which I got a phone call from BT to say it was all sorted, and my line was oficially active. Marvellous. Unfortunately that was followed by an e-mail from Bulldog saying it wasn't, a letter from BT agreeing with Bulldog, a phonecall telling me to ignore that letter, and an e-mail saying they couldn't find my address.

You'd think that would be enough, but sadly no. On Friday morning the line apparently developed an underground fault and exploded in a shower of static, rendering both incoming and outgoing calls impossible, and making me officially incommunicado in my new flat. Fortunately BT's response was fast and unequivocal - they said they couldn't send out an engineer for six days.

Meanwhile, back here in Shotley Gate, I received the latest Littlewoods catalogue with a letter telling me that as I haven't ordered in a dog's age, they were sending me a £10 voucher to use on my next order. This combined with their current half-price sale tempted me to buy a shelving unit for my new flat, but naturally before I could order online, I had to change my address.

So I tried. It wouldn't let me. I tried again. It told me to phone them. I phoned them. The woman asked me to try changing my address online. I told her I had. She said she'd change it for me herself. She tried. She couldn't. She transferred me to someone who could. They asked me lots of questions for no apparent reason, before finally revealing that due to their computer system being rubbish, she'd got around the change of address problem by cancelling my account and opening a new one. Thereby replacing my credit limit of £1650 with one of £100, wiping out the £12 cashback I'd earned, and rendering my £10 voucher invalid. She finished by saying "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr Gardner?". I told her she'd done enough.

So I'm not a very happy bunny at the moment. Mind you, having spent over £2,000 so far on moving-related expenses, I suppose £10 off a bit of chipboard isn't really worth worrying about.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I was going to start this post with a lovely picture of Lisa dressed in overalls and holding a paint roller, but sadly, and to my complete surprise, she's refused to give me permission to post it. In fact her exact words were "Delete that now". Which is a shame. Personally I think she looks lovely, but she's convinced the men's shirt she's wearing makes her look 14 stone and pregnant. Which is ridiculous. No one would think she's pregnant.

But anyhoo, I might soon be in a position to get Lisa some fetching new clothes, as I had an e-mail yesterday from someone called Claire at the fabulously named Truffle Shuffle, saying that they'd like to bring out a range of licensed Poddington Peas t-shirts, but can't find out who owns the rights to the show. Having pointed her in the direction of Ian Green, former managing director of the now sadly defunct and somewhat mushy Poddington PLC, I've just received a grateful reply from Claire, thanking me for my help, and promising me the first shirt off the production line. So fourteen years after I last processed peas for a living, I can finally say I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Although personally I think they should call them p-shirts.

As for my continuing adventures in the flatlands of Brighton, yesterday was spent trying to get the old carpet up, so that the new carpet can go down without being too lumpy. Unfortunately the rubber base of the old one appeared to have been welded to the floor with a blowtorch, meaning we had to spend a gruelling five hours on our hands and knees, chiselling away with a metal scraper. Of course, when I say "we", I actually mean my parents. I was too busy going to Argos for a fruit bowl.
High Roller
BLIMEY. Lisa's just changed her mind. I knew she'd see sense once she heard about the p-shirts. And I expect my departure from Brighton last night has put her in a permanently good mood. Either that or the paint fumes have gone to her head.

Anyhoo, this might not be Lisa at her best, but on the plus side (that's side, not size), you can't see the blobs of paint in her hair, and I can always put a bookcase in front of the bit of wall she did.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It's Wednesday and I'm still in Brighton. I'm not used to this. I had to physically stop myself driving back to Shotley Gate at 10pm last night.

But anyhoo, the sorting of my new flat is going well, and the good news is I'd been there for at least two hours on Monday morning before the police turned up. The nice young policeman who knocked on my door assured me it was nothing to worry about, but apparently there's a dead body festering in the flat next to me. Probably. All he was willing to tell me was that my nearest neighbour hasn't turned up for work recently, and his colleagues are worried about him, but I could tell by the way he banged on the door that we're looking at a major homicide case here. Not that I let it put me off cleaning the kitchen.

[Warning: outrageous national stereotyping and possible racism coming up] [although some of my best friends are black] [mostly cats, but even so]...

I'm beginning to think the previous owner was Chinese, as I've cleared enough grains of rice out of the kitchen cupboards to fill a small paddy field. I like a tin of Ambrosia as much as the next man, but I've found rice behind the fridge, under the sink, down the side of the cooker, and in every conceivable cupboard (that's if cupboards can be conceivable). I wouldn't mind, but some of them are so high that *I* can barely reach them, so if it was a Chinaman he clearly had access to stilts. Putting the Chinese State Circus high on my list of suspects. Either that or someone's recently held a wedding in my kitchen.

But having spent Monday morning cleaning, my parents arrived with a tub of magnolia paint, and I set my Dad to work on the bedroom walls while my Mum and I attempted to go and get me a resident's parking permit. Naturally they wouldn't give me one, as I couldn't provide any utility bills for my new address. I never thought I'd be so desperate to receive a demand for money. From there we went to B&Q for more paint, after we underestimated the amount required by about 300%, and I successfully bought a lock for the bathroom door. Which turned out not to fit and was a total waste of money.

Tuesday however was far more productive. And expensive. In the morning I signed up for super-fast broadband (so fast it won't be installed for two weeks), after which Mr Carpet Right came round, measured my flat, told me it was 44 square metres, told me the carpet I'd chosen was £5.99 per square metre, told me fitting was £2.30 per square metre, added it all up, and charged me £474. The mathematicians amongst you may notice a slight discrepancy there, but apparently it's all perfectly above board, and takes account of the fact that 'fitting' doesn't include things like delivery, glue, beer money, etc.

From there we went to Comet, where I strolled the aisles for five minutes before splashing out £480 on a washer dryer (or is it drier?) in an attempt to avoid having to get involved with rotary washing lines and clothes horses. The gap in my new kitchen is 23 1/2 inches wide, my new washer dryer, which is being delivered on Friday, is officially 23.6 inches wide, so I also need to buy some sandpaper.

Not content with spending half the national debt before 2pm, I then went on to the Martlets Hospice Furniture Showroom, and bought a secondhand sofa, presumably reclaimed from the home of a terminally ill pensioner, for £85. The front door of my new flat is only 25" wide, on account of the fact that you can legally rent out shoe boxes in Brighton, meaning that my current sofa won't fit in. Hence my purchase of a new slimline sofa... which probably won't fit in either. But hey, it's all for charity. We'll find out this time next week when they deliver it. Well, try to deliver it.

Anyhoo, I'm off back to my second home in Shotley Gate tonight. I have important packing still to do, and I simply must return. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Royal Ascot is on this week and I don't have a telly in my new flat.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

According to Friday night's Brighton Argus, "The Kemp Town community knows how to throw a good party, so this weekend should be a lot of fun". They were referring of course to this year's Kemp Town Carnival, but they could just as easily have been talking about my flat-warming celebrations, because as of 11:45am yesterday morning, I am officially a resident of Kemp Town, one of the hippest, trendiest, and most sought-after areas of Brighton, particularly amongst people who want to live near Lisa. Although naturally I haven't moved in yet. I have, however, turned on the tap in the kitchen, resulting in major flooding of the kitchen floor. I think the place needs a little work.

But anyhoo, Lisa and I successfully rendezvoused with my parents outside my new flat yesterday morning. My brother was a little late, thereby giving my Dad the chance to collar a passing resident and complain about the leaky pipe above my bedroom window. As it transpired, it wasn't actually his fault, but fortunately the man (or Barry as I like to call him, mainly because that's his name) turned out to be very nice. Although we'll see how long that lasts once I start playing my guitar late at night.

Once my brother arrived, we made our way through the street carnival, narrowly avoiding a Morris Dancing display, and past a live performance by Busted Sofa (quite appropriate given the state of my furniture), to the estate agents, who were joining in the fun by dressing as bananas for the day. They gave us the keys to my new flat, and we quickly returned there in triumph, to find we couldn't get them to work. As it turned out, the building features a state-of-the-art security feature whereby you can only get in the outside door by inserting the key, wiggling it a lot, pulling it in and out, swearing a bit, and praying. Placing access well beyond the wit of any thief.

Once in, we set about cluttering up the place with junk, getting the kitchen under an inch of water, and eating sandwiches, after which my brother decided he'd had enough and went home. From there the rest of us drove across town to B & Q, where I bought a stepladder I'm too scared to climb, a new lock for the front door, and half a bin. The top half to be exact. The bottom half I stole. Which is what happens when they sell bins in two halves, and you only let the checkout girl scan one.

Outside B & Q we encountered a 'shoe bank', where you can help the environment by depositing your old footwear once the odour eaters have worn off. The container was only the size of a postbox, but they've clearly had problems with local midgets being attracted by the smell of sweaty insoles, and climbing in. That's Brighton for you.

From there we went over the road to Carpet Right, where I browsed the giant rolls and ordered a Cream Cozy. Which might sound like a cake, but is actually a carpet. It's just as well too, because at £5.99 a square metre, I'd be throwing up quicker than you can say "Here's your £4.01 change". An evening visit to Asda, and I was soon equipped with toilet rolls and a washing up bowl, leaving the way clear for my Dad to start decorating in earnest tomorrow morning, while I get on with the most important job - stocking the fridge.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Back on January 5th this year, a good three or four days after breaking all my new year's resolutions, someone attacked the soft underbelly of my car with a machete. Or possibly a penknife. But machete sounds better. As a result, I very nearly missed my first appointment of the day to view a flat in Brighton, but thanks to the sterling work carried out by a local AA man (who probably wondered what the world is coming to when a 32 year old man doesn't know how to change a tyre), I made that appointment.

Which turned out to be kind of fateful. Because as of today, that flat which I very nearly missed due to feeling slightly deflated, is now officially mine (well, my brother's - I have no worldly goods of my own*). And it only took six and a half months. I can see a gap in the market for EasyJet's Stelios to open some kind of estate agent where you can buy a house within a week. He'd clean up.

And talking of cleaning up, I've already packed the j-cloths. We pick up the keys in 24 hours time, and as of tomorrow I start paying rent. So much like the tyres on my car, my bank balance has been dramatically slashed. The vacuum cleaner's in the boot of the car as we speak, which is a little optimistic as we don't even know if the place has electricity yet, and being English, I'm also taking a kettle. Which, it just so happens, was given to me second-hand by my Big Sis when she moved to Texas three years ago. Naturally I've never used it, but it's the closest thing we've got to a family heirloom, so I've never thrown it away either.

I knew having a spare kettle would come in handy when I get a second home by the seaside, and ladies & gentlemen, that day has arrived. Although when I stop paying rent on this place in a month's time, it's going straight to a car boot sale.

* apart from a kettle.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I've just finished my tea, which today in the Gourmet House of Phil consisted of Co-op Breaded Fish Portions on a bed of tomato ketchup, served between two slices of bread. In the words of Glyn from Big Brother, "I've learnt how to make a sandwich". Being a careful and discerning shopper, my sole (no fish pun intended) reason for purchasing said portions was because of the attractive photo on the box. The list of ingredients didn't come into it. Which is a shame, because it meant they'd been under the grill for a good ten minutes before I found this...

Warning: May Contain Fish
53% pollock? My fish portions are only half fish? What's that all about? And are there five more mouth-watering words in the English language than "Egg Powder (from caged hens)"? But still, I've eaten them now, and I'm happy to report that I couldn't taste the diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono. Of course, when the allergy advice below states that they contain fish, they're technically only half right, but even so, it's good of them to warn people with major fish allergies that they might want to avoid eating Breaded Fish Portions.

The front of the box, meanwhile, proclaims...

Never Mind The Pollocks
So it's officially a load of pollocks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Get your baps out for the lads.Mmm... large baps. Like a lot of men, I have to say I prefer large baps to small ones. Although I wouldn't want more than one in my mouth at a time. I was however very pleased to see these baps proudly displayed at Felixstowe station this morning. In fact, if you look closely at the photo, you can see a reflection of me with a satisfied expression on my face, head nestling gently between a pair of large baps (sausage and bacon if you're interested). Which is certainly not where I expected to end up when I left the house this morning. This must be what it's like to be Peter Stringfellow.

But anyway, before I get down to work on the next Carry On script, I have to say I was pleased to see the arrival of 'The Play's The Thing' on Channel 4 last night. It's almost a year since I entered 20 of the finest pages of playwriting the world has ever seen into that competition, so I'm beginning to think I'm not going to hear anything now, but having watched the show last night, I can see why they didn't bother getting back to me. Apparently amongst the 2,000 entries they received, 81 had the word 'Jesus' in the title, 198 were about terrorism, 210 about death, and 335 featured gyms or fat clubs. So I'm now regretting writing about the son of God being blown up at a Weight Watchers meeting, and calling it 'Low Fat Jesus'. (Well ok, that's a joke, but now I think about it...)

Anyhoo, I may not have heard anything back from them , but according to judge Neil Pearson, "it's very obvious from a lot of the submissions that there is an ignorance of the possibilities of theatre - a lot of the writing, especially the comic writing, has echoes of sit-com". So at least I know they got my entry. I just couldn't compete with the sheer quality of the competition. Asked to read aloud a line from her play, Jenny Lincoln, one of the shortlisted playwrights, went with "Shit, my knees are knocking, but your dick's not hard!". And they say Shakespeare has never been bettered.

I attempted to garner some sympathy for the whole injustice of it all from Lisa last night, but having stayed awake for Big Brother chat, she fell ominously silent the moment I started talking about the inequity of the British playwriting scene. I left it for a couple of minutes before pausing, saying "Are you awake..?", and listening to complete silence for a few seconds. To her credit, she did wake up once she realised I'd stopped droning on about my plays, but ideally I'd have liked a little more emotional support than just a bit of gentle snoring followed by a snort and the word "What?". Next time I'll just tell her I won, and let her go to bed.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Much like my jokes on a regular basis, my comments haven't been working today. So the hundred or so people who no doubt have been queuing up to post some words of wisdom on the state of my cat's hair colour, have been denied their chance. But fortunately, after a couple of grumpy messages posted on the Haloscan forum, musing as to why my comments had vanished, while Lisa and 100,000 other users seemed to remain unaffected, I got Haloscan's top man onto the job. And at 7:30pm he found the answer. It turns out it was all down to a misplaced apostrophe. Lynne Truss would have had a field day.

Apparently there was some kind of update, a side-effect of which was that anyone with an apostrophe in their comment link (that would be me then) had their comments wiped off the face of the earth. I always knew Readers' Wives was a bad idea. Anyhoo, thanks to Jeevan, the godfather of blog commenting, it's all fixed now, and the world is once again free to slag me off at its leisure.

In other news, my tactics to avoid packing today have included an attempt to use the principles of 'day trading' learnt at the sadly now defunct Fantasy Futures and Funbets to make money from the World Cup. Which meant waiting until Japan went a goal up on Australia this afternoon, and promptly laying them to lose. When the Aussies eventually equalised in the 84th minute, I naturally bet that it wouldn't end in a draw (after all, there were a whole six minutes left). Meaning Australia's two further goals in the last two minutes made me my fortune. Well, as much of a fortune as it's possible to make when you're betting serious amounts up to about 75p. If you're wondering, it's just over £8.

Anyhoo, all of that paled into insignificance compared to the groundbreaking experience which was... (drumroll please)... my first ever conference call. I have no idea how these things work (my role mainly involved picking up the phone), but it meant I was able to discuss the finer details of moving house with my brother and my parents. Well I could have done if I'd been able to get a word in edgeways, and follow the discussion over the sound of my Dad coughing. Frankly I've had easier conversations in nightclubs.

But the upshot of it all is we're picking up the keys to my new flat on Saturday. After which we're immediately chucking them in the bin and fitting new locks, presumably to stop anyone stealing the asbestos from the loft, or inhaling the fungus spores in the bedroom. As for the move itself, I've listened to half an hour of detailed discussion on the ins and outs of van rental, and as a result I'm now planning to stuff my computer into a rucksack and walk.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is it me, or is it a bit warm today? I feel like I'm going through the menopause. I'm also slightly distracted because another World Cup match has just kicked off, and Angola seem to have 'The Happy Wanderer' as their national anthem. Seriously. I've just been joining in on the val-der-ees. I suppose it's quite an appropriate football song if you live in Bolton or Wolverhampton, but with the number of landmines they've got over there, surely the last thing an Angolan ought to be doing is wandering.

Where are you all coming from? From Smurfland where we belong.Anyhoo, I've shaved my cat again today. Unlike myself and Homer Simpson, she can't take off her clothes and sit on the sofa in her pants (she prefers to lounge about naked), so with the current weather giving us both hot flushes, I felt it was only fair to give her a haircut and take her into the shower for a shampoo and set. And besides, if I'm going to get fur everywhere, I'd rather do it here than in a freshly carpeted Brighton flat.

The interesting thing though, is that attacking her with the clippers for the second time in six weeks appears to have brought out her natural blueness. When I salvaged her from Colchester Cat Rescue almost five years ago, they told me she was a Persian Blue - an intriguing statement given her all-over grubby cream complexion. I would have investigated further, but frankly I was more interested in Fatty Oscar, and only agreed to take Chloe as a free gift, on the grounds that she loved Oscar more than I did.

Now however, I'm beginning to believe what they said. Much like Lisa, my cat's hair colour seems to be getting mysteriously darker with every trip to the hairdresser. She used to look like a snowball, now she looks more like a Smurf.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sometimes I wish I was still Telly Critiquing. I've just seen a heartwarming edition of the Trisha show, featuring an estranged mother and daughter who had a tearful reunion on the show a month ago. Unfortunately, in the weeks since Trisha brought them back together in an act of extreme loveliness (and not a cynical grab for ratings at all), the mother's discovered that her long-lost daughter is in fact a drug addict slapper, and rejected her all over again.

But I think the highlight for me was the moment the girl turned to her mother with an outraged expression on her face, and in a completely incredulous voice, said:

"Yes, I'm a prostitute, and yes, I take heroin, and what, THAT MAKES ME A BAD PERSON????????"

No, it makes her a pillar of the community.

Although it's also been suggested that she's shagged her brother, so there are question marks...

Oh, and I'm not really watching daytime TV, I'm actually very busy packing. At least until the hot weather forces me to stop for the good of my health. Which will probably happen around 4pm when the World Cup starts.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Oh deer.It's always good to get your hands on an old deer. Just ask Joan Collins' husband. Mind you, the most startling thing about this photo is that Lisa managed to get both me and the deer in the frame without cutting off either of our heads. And without screaming "Deer!" and running off in the other direction, which frankly I thought she was going to do at one point. Let's just say that Lisa and animals don't go together. By her own admission, she doesn't trust the 'wild' part of 'wildlife', and getting her to within three feet of anything furry is a major achievement. She even stamps on gerbils given half a chance. Or maybe that's just her sister.

But anyhoo, in an unexpected whirlwind of property-buying events, my brother finally signed on the dotted line last Friday, contracts were exchanged yesterday, and the completion date for the purchase of my Brighton flat has been set for a scarily imminent June 16th. Meaning I have only eight days until I start paying rent, and I can't sleep due to thinking of all the things I need to get done. Which is ironic because I'm now too tired to do any of them.

But the good news is I should be a Brighton resident by the end of the month. The bad news is that in a tragic twist of fate, I found out the other day that there are only four aardvarks in the whole of Britain - two at Colchester Zoo (which I attempt to poke on a regular basis), and two living happily just off the A12 at Suffolk Wildlife Park. I had no idea just how rich in big-nosed, long-tongued, round hairy creatures this area is. Well not since my sister moved to Texas. I'm keen to get down to Brighton, it's true, but leaving the aardvark capital of the UK could be a bit of a wrench.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

So anyway, we left the ghetto boardinghouse at 12:05pm on Sunday. Checkout time was midday, so in the words of Lisa, "It's only five past - that's what I call on time". Naturally I'd been too tight to book a hotel that gives you breakfast, so we made our way across a busy road with no green men to 'Dock o' the Bay', an upmarket greasy spoon which had removed some of the grease, given the walls a coat of paint, and therefore felt justified in charging £8.50 for a fried breakfast. Much in the same way that I felt justified in ordering a dessert afterwards. It may have been breakfast, but technically it was lunchtime, so I had to have pudding.

Eating over, we headed west into the New Forest and arrived at the Otter & Owl Centre near Ashurst. My brother took his girlfriend there in 1993 and proposed to her, so keen to form some kind of family tradition, I did exactly the same. The only difference was that he proposed marriage, whereas I proposed that we go to the cafeteria for ice cream. Although much like my sister-in-law, Lisa said yes.

As for the place itself, it was very nice. I have numerous photos of Lisa trying to levitate a deer by waving her hands over it in a mystic fashion, but sadly I haven't got the lead which connects my camera to my laptop, so they'll have to wait until tomorrow. Or until hell freezes over, if Lisa has anything to do with it. We also attempted to take some romantic woodland photos of the two of us together, but unfortunately we failed to achieve a single shot in which neither of us looked fat. One or the other is fine, but getting us both looking thin at the same time is clearly an impossible task. It was hard enough getting Lisa to face the camera and stop checking over her shoulder for escaped otters.

Anyhoo, we left the New Forest at 4pm, and drove back east along the south coast, surprising Lisa, who thought that Southampton to Brighton incorporated the M25 at some point. A Sunday evening traffic jam near Bognor, and we eventually got back at 6pm, a surprise weekend away successfully executed. Although what's more surprising is that I managed to fulfill one of Lisa's greatest musical ambitions without once using the phrase "You've been Framed".

Monday, June 05, 2006

Forget Paris in the springtime - if you really want to have a romantic weekend away, you need to head for Southampton. At least that's what I told Lisa. So at 1:30pm on Saturday afternoon we hit the road for the crime capital of the south. My final words to Lisa as we walked out of the door were "I've backed both Championship Point and Hala Bek to win the Derby, but I've only bet on Sir Percy to place. So he's bound to go and win it now". If it had been an episode of Eastenders, the drums would have come in at that point, leaving me staring into space with a pensive look on my face. But fortunately it wasn't. So we popped down the road for shampoo, and headed for the A27.

The drive to Southampton took an hour and a half, which was plenty of time for Lisa to fall asleep and get sunburnt down her left side. She looked like a barber shop sign by the time we got to Hampshire. A few u-turns on A-roads later, and we successfully located the Southampton Travelodge, conveniently situated in some kind of ghetto just outside the city centre. I'm not saying it was a rough area, but we counted an average of four police sirens an hour for most of our stay. Although on the bright side, we've gained a working knowledge of gangsta rap courtesy of all the passing cars.

As it happens though, my reasons for choosing this location consisted of more than just an overwhelming desire to keep it real - I'd actually brought Lisa to Southampton to see Roddy Frame, formerly of Aztec Camera, now of the HMV bargain bin, and still the only man whose babies she'd willingly have. Apart from Marc Almond. And possibly Julian Clary. But I digress. It's almost twenty years since Lisa and Roddy were last seen together, mainly due to the fact that Lisa would do anything for that man... except check his website and find out where he's playing. Which is where I come in.

So having watched the Derby on the second floor of a Travelodge, cursed my luck, and had a shower (just to get my money's worth) I revealed to Lisa where we were going, and drove us into town for something to eat. We ended up at TGI Fridays, where we were seated next to a group of girls on a hen night, who were happily sucking on penis-shaped drinking straws. I don't know who was more shocked - me or the table of young children opposite. Probably me.

Anyhoo, we eventually made it to The Brook, a live music venue which last month boasted performances by Coldplace, Green-ish Day, Roxy Magic, and my particular favourite, Deft Leppard. Let's just say they have a lot of tribute acts. Which is probably why they booked Roddy Frame - he's like a tribute to someone who was big in the 80s.

The support act was a girl called Helen Balding. At least that's what I thought. Having looked her up on Google and found only four websites in the entire world which mention her (five now I've put her name here), I tried some different spellings and found that she's actually Helen Boulding. She was very good though. A bit like Eva Cassidy. Only more alive. She claimed to be on the Radio 2 playlist, and introduced one song by saying "This is my next single" - five words Roddy Frame can only dream of.

Photo FrameAs for the Frame himself though, he came on at 9:30pm, played for an hour and a half, and was - even though I say it myself - bloomin' excellent. I'd decided not to take my camera, as these days they never let you take photos at concerts, so I was slightly peeved when flashes started going off all over the place, and the man standing next to me got out a camcorder. I had to make do with a fuzzy mobile phone effort, which doesn't really do the man justice. In reality his hair looked far more ridiculous.

He can clearly play a guitar though, and having watched him from a distance of about six feet all night (it wasn't the biggest venue in the world) I can now appreciate more fully just how rubbish I am myself. Although I think I'd be better if I had a Takamine guitar.

Anyhoo, we attempted to stalk Mr Frame by hanging around in the bar afterwards, but sadly, having emerged from backstage and caught a glimpse of Lisa charging towards him, he made a swift exit down the stairs, and jumped straight into the back of a fast car. He obviously has no desire to have children.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Phil Predicts The Derby 2006

Continuing a fine tradition of wild stabs in the dark...

Championship Point1st: Championship Point at 16-1

Hala Bek2nd: Hala Bek at 10-1

Sir Percy3rd: Sir Percy at 8-1

Friday, June 02, 2006

Well I made it down to Brighton yesterday, but I'd like to know what the world and his wife were doing out on the roads of south east England on a Thursday afternoon. I've never seen the A12 and M25 so busy. It's been suggested it was the crowds flocking to (or more likely away from) the Suffolk Show, but I fail to see the mass appeal of a couple of cows and a turnip, so I'm putting it down to the date. The population of Britain clearly assumed that the arrival of Flaming June, combined with an official drought, would guarantee hot weather, and promptly headed out for a picnic.

So battling my way through the rain, I eventually arrived in Brighton an hour late and was immediately handed a baby. Who soon threw up all over me. I therefore swapped him for a crying toddler who wiped chocolate on my arm, before being collared by a 7-year old who wanted to play Mastermind. Lisa has far too many nephews.

Escaping down to the marina, Lisa and I got ourselves something to eat, and I generously allowed Lisa to go to the toilet on her own, thereby giving the local menfolk a chance to ask her out. She only got one offer this time, but let's face it - the walk to the toilets was less than 20 yards, and the place was pretty empty, so to attract a firm offer of a drink, accompanied by the comment "Hey, Gorgeous", isn't doing too badly. And it makes a change from being propositioned by policemen and Big Issue sellers. Although Lisa's not the only one who gets attention from the opposite sex - let's not forget that my lovely round head is enough to drive local women wild with desire.

So yesterday was filled with unexpected childcare. Today, however, has been completely different. This time I knew Lisa's nephews were coming round. So I've played a lot of Playstation, bounced a lot of baby, and wiped a lot of chocolate from my hands. I also drove Nephew Number One to Woodingdean and chased him up a hill. Unfortunately he ran back down, and I was forced to drive him home again.

Anyhoo, I've gotta dash. Lisa's been out enjoying herself tonight, so I need to fulfill my boyfriendly duties and pick her up. Possibly at arm's length from the floor of a nearby pub.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I don't believe it. The six magic numbers which came to me in Monday morning's apocalyptic vision of the future, failed to come up on last night's lottery. I did get one number though, which represents a major step forward in my recent level of success. And besides, in my vision I was standing in front of the TV watching the draw, so in order to fulfill the prophecy I clearly need to tune in to Eamonn Holmes, rather than allow Lisa to phone me at 10:15pm and make me miss the show.

So that's a pound down the drain. It makes me wish Lisa had accepted my offer of a £1 bet on last Sunday's 'Test the Nation - Know Your Planet' quiz. Especially when she didn't know where the Isle of Wight is, and answered that giraffes have beaks. I could have made my fortune.

But nil desperandum. I've got a ticket for Saturday's draw too. In the words of Lisa, "You'll have to play those numbers for the rest of your life now". Which is just the kind of pointless financial commitment I need. But still, I'm used to having a money-sapping albatross around my neck - Lisa and I have been together for two years now.

The Ghetto.Anyhoo, it's Thursday, which means I'm back down to Brighton a day early, in order to give me time to prepare for Saturday's magical mystery tour. I've managed to hold out for the past month and avoid telling Lisa where we're going, but working on the principle that she struggles to turn on her computer at the best of times, and is unlikely to read this in the next two days (hence the albatross comment), I can now reveal that we're going here...

Yes, I know it looks like a towerblock on a rundown council estate, but it's actually a very classy hotel. Well ok, it's an inner city travelodge. And they say the art of romance is dead.