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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Optical IllusionThis is the best optical illusion I've ever seen. If you stare at the picture for long enough, you should see a giraffe.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Well I'm back home, and strangely the number of job offers I've received off the back of my play's three night run in Suffolk can be counted on the fingers of the Venus de Milo. I blame the East Anglian Daily Times. They'd rather preview Snow White at the Ipswich Regent than attend a genuine theatrical event. Mind you, in addition to showbiz legends Sooty & Sweep, the Regent's line-up this year features "arguably the nation's favourite panto dame, Malcolm Lord". Interesting use of the word 'arguably' there. But I'm sure the critics will be praising the Lord come Christmas. It's just a shame I've never heard of him.

Anyhoo, Lisa and I have had a fun-filled couple of days. Sunday was spent playing Monopoly with my 7 year old niece, who managed to wipe the floor with both of us, before challenging us to a game of Junior Trivial Pursuit. The questions are apparently aimed at 8-12 year olds, and are multiple choice, so Lisa rolled the dice feeling supremely confident, and immediately got the question "What's the name of Barbie's little sister?". It was all downhill from there really.

On Monday we ventured into Chelmsford for the opening of a new Tesco Home Style store, which is like a supermarket but without the food. They were offering £100 to the first person through the door at 9am, but having slept in all morning and then made it as far as the Next changing rooms, I couldn't actually get Lisa to Tescos until five, by which time the champagne had gone flat and there was a queue to get out of the car park.

We were supposed to return to the south coast on Monday evening, but as it transpired it seemed far more sensible to eat all my Mum's food and then veg out in front of I'm a Celebrity with a lemon meringue pie, rather than make the journey home. So we stayed until Tuesday instead. At which point Lisa's sister successfully lured us back to Brighton with the offer of cake.

Tuesday was the first birthday of Lisa's third nephew. We'd gone through a complicated and exhaustive selection procedure when choosing his gift, which basically involved standing in the queue at Clinton Cards, spotting a cuddly lion, saying "That'll do", and handing over the cash. Which didn't seem that generous until we arrived at his party to discover that his only present had cost £1.99 from Oxfam, and had been purchased by his parents under the principle of "He's one; he won't know the difference".

On the plus side, the cake was very nice, and just goes to show that when a gateau says you should defrost it at room temperature for two hours, there's no reason why you can't stick it in the microwave for five minutes instead. There's nothing wrong with hot cream on frozen strawberries, and I didn't break too many teeth on the sponge.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Karen Mills & Roy BramwellAh, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, the 20p programmes which ran to a single sheet of A4, and the biscuits which ran out before I got there. All in all my play was a triumph. And I was asked to sign three (count them) autographs, none of which were disclaimers or court summonses. You can't ask for much more than that.

I was joined for this evening of culture by Lisa and my Mum - my Dad and sister were busy meeting each other in St Louis, while my brother and sister-in-law had been invited to a party. Having already been invited to my play. So obviously they couldn't come. I'm not taking it personally. I'm just never speaking to them again.

But anyhoo, the Constable Hall in East Bergholt is not so much off-Broadway as off the beaten track, so after Thursday's driving experience I insisted we leave halfway through X-Factor, just to be on the safe side. Meaning we were so early we had to sit in a BP garage looking at petrol pumps for ten minutes just to kill a bit of time. Having arrived at the Constable Hall, I strode confidently across the car park, into a deep puddle, fell through the door, and found myself in the toilets. It was the entrance I'd dreamed of.

From there however, things started to pick up. I announced my arrival to the lady on the door, who immediately told me how much she likes Ledgers, possibly in the hope of getting me to buy some raffle tickets, before being accosted by Val Eldridge, chairwoman of the East Bergholt Dramatic Society, and one-woman theatrical dynamo, who told me that the cast were all nervous knowing I was there. I tend to have that effect on people. Val in turn introduced me to Kieran Farrell, the director of my play, who made me feel old by being noticeably younger than me and having more hair. He asked about the background to the play, I confirmed that I saw no future in suicide, then I moved along to David Mitchell, very much the Boris Karloff of the EBDS, though I'm told he can do comedy too.

Introductions over, we took our seats, at which point Val Eldridge made her way to the front and announced that they were honoured to have a playwright in the audience that night. I looked around, realised she was talking about me, waited for my spotlight, before realising that nobody cared, and deciding not to wave. Then it was on with the show.

Keith Raby & Karen MillsLedgers might not have been the only play on that night, but it was the first, which is just as well, because it meant that having gripped Lisa's hand in nervous terror through all 35 minutes of my own play, she had the rest of the evening to recover and seek first aid. I might have been close to a panic attack for most of the performance, but I have to say it was outstanding. Well, I don't have to, but I am. Karen Mills and Keith Raby may have looked like Ellen DeGeneres and Fred Flintstone, but they did more justice to my play than a week at the Old Bailey. And I liked Roy Bramwell so much I wished I'd given him more lines. Even the stuffed pigeon excelled itself.

As for the audience, they might have been pushing 60 (in number and age), but they got my 'Malcolm in the Middle' reference and laughed at my penguin jokes, though judging by the sharp intake of collective breath, I might have to cut the 9/11 line.

Anyhoo, at the interval I instructed Lisa to head for the bar and mention in a loud voice just how much she'd enjoyed the first play, while I hunted down my actors and congratulated them on a job well done. At that point I hadn't discovered the lack of biscuits at the tea & coffee table, so I was in quite a good mood, and chatted at length to Keith about the problems of learning his lines. Personally I wouldn't be able to recite more than about three words from the first page, and I wrote the thing, so I had a lot of sympathy. I then shook hands with Karen over a cup of tea, realised I was late for act two, and headed for my seat.

An Evening of One Act PlaysThe second half featured my director Kieran moonlighting as an expectant father, and Roy sitting in a comfy chair reading a catalogue, before ending on a high with David Mitchell looking menacing in a boiler suit. Performances over, Keith asked me to sign his programme, Val followed suit, and I congratulated Kieran on his directing. Before forcing my autograph on him too. I felt bad afterwards that I hadn't written any personal dedications, but I'm not used to the pressures of public life, and it was all I could do to remember my own name. To be honest, I'm not even sure I spelt it right on one of them.

But I had my confidence boosted by a woman called Alma who rushed over to tell me she'd love to act in one of my plays. Which would have been quite a compliment, had she not spent act one playing opposite a woman in leopardskin tights dancing to 'I Will Survive' with a rose in her mouth. After that, anything would seem like a step up. But I took it in the spirit it was intended, especially as Pauline, the woman in leopardskin tights, was standing next to me at the time.

Having chatted until my mouth went dry, I was very kindly given a set of photos by Val Eldridge, who personally pulled them off the display board for me, whereupon I said my goodbyes, turned around, and realised Lisa and my Mum had already left the building. Presumably so they could get to the car and pretend to fall asleep before I turned up and started droning on about my play again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Slim PickingsHere's the picture I completely failed to get last Sunday, courtesy of the Brighton Argus, which clearly employs photographers who aren't easily put off by a lack of breakfast. To be honest though, even if I had postponed my Oatibix for ten minutes, I'm not sure I'd have recognised Fatboy Slim with a beard. And judging by most of the feet in the background, I wasn't the only one looking in the wrong direction.

But anyhoo, as I write this, Lisa and I are in Chelmsford at my parents' house, celebrating the birthday of my Dad, who's 68 today. Unfortunately he's celebrated it by leaving the country for two weeks and going to stay with my sister, so he's not actually here to join in. Which is why I haven't bought him a present. But I am doing my best to eat all his food. It's the least I can do.

Of course, the other reason we're here in East Anglia is this...

FOUR exclamation marks..?
My play opened in the west end... of East Bergholt last night. The first reviews are already in, courtesy of my mother, who travelled up the A12 to represent me on opening night, and reports that it played to a packed house. Well, enough people to pack a house. Which is nowhere near enough to fill a hall. The place was half empty apparently. Which is good news, as it means that very few people got to see Keith Raby forgetting his lines.

As for me and Lisa, we decided to forego the chance to attend my play's opening night, in favour of contracting deep vein thrombosis by sitting in a traffic jam on the M25 for two and a half hours. It may not have had the laughs of Ledgers, but it did feature a lot of the same suicidal tendencies. The 90 minute journey from Brighton to Chelmsford ended up taking us four hours, and having got here ten minutes before my Mum was due to leave for Suffolk, the urge to go and see my name up in lights was outweighed slightly by my determination never to see the inside of a car again for as long as I live.

But hopefully that will have passed by tomorrow. We have complimentary tickets for the Saturday night. That's if it hasn't closed by then.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Brooks Brighton 10KYesterday's event down at Madeira Drive (as I discovered when I wandered down there on the offchance that something would be happening - it usually is) was the Brooks Brighton 10K Race. Or, as I thought when I arrived at the seafront and looked over the railings, two thousand people in primary colours being run out of town by the Lycra police.

As it happened, I was more interested in the people watching, especially as I walked towards the pier and came face to face with singing binman and X-Factor runner-up Andy Abraham. I think. To be honest, even standing three feet away, I wasn't quite sure enough to take a photo, on the grounds that if it wasn't him, I risked a conversation along the lines of "Why are you taking my photo? - You're Andy Abraham. - Are you saying all black people look the same?", and frankly I didn't want to go there. So I just loitered nearby and stared long enough for him to feel uncomfortable and move on.

Go MummyFrom there I made my way to the finish line and stood opposite three small children holding "Go Mummy" signs. Obviously you can be arrested for taking photos of other people's kids without permission, which explains the grainy image - it's not easy getting a quality shot whilst looking the other way and pretending to clean the lens.

Anyhoo, I was a bit confused about how long the race took, meaning the winner ran straight past me and finished in a time of 30 minutes whilst I was facing the other way trying to spot Andy Abraham again. But having watched the first hundred or so cross the line and realised it wasn't going to get any more exciting, I made my way back along the seafront towards home. At which point the bloke on the loudspeaker announced that Fatboy Slim was approaching the finish line. Honestly, they could have told me celebrities were involved. I'd have stayed longer. According to the race website, snooker ace Ronnie O'Sullivan (nicknamed 'The Rocket' due to his love of salads) was running too. And all I saw was an X-Factor lookalike. It's tragic. Obviously I could have walked the quarter mile back to the finish, but I hadn't had breakfast at that point, and a celebrity-spotter marches on his stomach.

In other news, my career as a soothsayer has taken a turn in the right direction. On Saturday I played the lottery numbers which came to me in a dream at the end of May. It's the first time I've used them since inexplicably losing faith in my vision sometime in late July. But lo and behold, they came up trumps and won me a tenner. Obviously it's not enough to cover the eight straight weeks of play in which they won me nothing, but if I put that tenner on a horse, I could be quids in.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In the PinkIt's been another celebrity-packed week in Brighton. I only have to venture outside my front door and I come face to face with a popstar on a trapeze. Well, venture outside my front door and pay £25 to get into the Brighton Centre. But it was money well spent, as proved by this photo of Pink doing the mid-air splits in her underwear. She put on a visually impressive show, which is just as well because I had a group of teenage girls standing behind me who insisted on shouting the words to every song straight into my ear, meaning I couldn't actually hear most of what Pink was singing. But she looked like she was doing a good job. Although I did spend most of the evening wondering about the health and safety implications of dangling twenty feet above the stage on a pair of old curtains.

Not that Pink was alone in her efforts. She was supported (morally speaking - he wasn't holding the curtains) by a man called Mudbone, who, according to his website, gave us "a hold-on-to-your-seats, mind-blowing electrifying journey of controlled craziness through the world of funk and Fresh Mud". Personally I haven't been on a journey through mud since I last went paddling in Southend, and to be honest, I enjoyed that more. He might be a close personal friend of Dave Stewart and Jools Holland, but I can't warm to anyone who raps in a top hat.

I think he dyes his eyebrows.So that was Tuesday. Wednesday, however, brought with it an altogether different class of celebrity. Lisa and I were walking through Brighton town centre when who should we see (well, who should *I* see - Lisa, as usual, was looking in the other direction and saw nothing) but Bruce Montague. Yes, Bruce Montague. Bruce Montague played Leonard the love interest in my Mum's favourite sit-com 'Butterflies'. He's barely worked since, but that doesn't matter - the man's a legend. And a Brighton resident. Much like myself. On both counts.

From there, we made our way back to the Brighton Centre for a second night running to see Scottish sensations Deacon Blue. Here's Ricky Ross announcing the official attendance for the evening...

FiveSuffice it to say, it wasn't a sell-out. Which could explain why, four months after Lisa's Mum bought me full-price tickets as a flat-warming present, the Brighton Argus were offering two for the price of one on all Deacon Blue seats. Frankly they couldn't give them away. Which was a shame, because the show was actually very good. It's the fourth time I've seen them, but the first since the tragic death of guitarist Graeme Kelling from pancreatic cancer two years ago. They replaced him with a couple of bald blokes. It wasn't the same.

But despite that, it was an excellent gig, made even better by a support act - Roddy Hart - who was so good I bought his CD in the interval. The only downside was that having foregone my usual stroll down to the pier that afternoon in favour of going out that night, Deacon Blue came on and mentioned they'd been down there with their kids all afternoon trying out the rides. My musical heroes playing the Dolphin Derby ten minutes walk from my flat, and I missed it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Well the good news from the weekend is that I can now confirm that my new smoke alarms work. And I have Lisa to thank for that discovery. If she hadn't ignored my advice not to turn the grill up to its maximum setting, and then followed that up by ignoring my suggestion that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to leave it unattended and sit on the sofa watching X-Factor, we'd never have been able to test my new fire alarm system with the billowing cloud of black smoke produced by her flaming cheese on toast.

Unfortunately, as I stood on a stool maniacally flapping a copy of TV Choice at the smoke detector, I forgot to actually thank Lisa for her efforts, but I think she knew I was grateful. She did try to blame me for the bruise which appeared on her nose the next morning, but frankly in the cut and thrust of a fire extinguishing exercise, people are going to get hurt. Yes, I may have hit her over the head with the TV guide, but it wasn't my fault. It was hard to see her through the smoke.

Anyhoo, when I'm not washing the smell of burnt toast out of my clothes, I'm busy scouring the local paper for job opportunities. And here's one hot off the press of the Brighton Argus. It's clearly a prestige position, where only the right candidate will do, so come with me now and play What's My Line...

"We need to recruit additional [job title] to join our well established team. These are temporary positions. This is a very demanding and important role and one where only the best will do. Just some of the qualities you will need are:

  • The ability to sit comfortably and talk enthusiastically for a minimum of three hours.

  • Be jovial, sensitive, caring and have some experience of talking to children.

  • Flexibility with working days and times is required.

  • Full training at our school will be given.

  • All successful applicants will have to undergo full reference checks.

  • You must be a non smoker."

Demanding... important... a training school... Obviously it's some kind of senior social work position requiring extensive counselling skills. But the best bit is this:

"If you have the personality and stamina to be one of our team, please write or e-mail in the first instance, giving your career details."

CAREER DETAILS??? What do they expect? "I've worked for twenty years as the Easter Bunny, and feel it's time for a step up"???

Oh, I think I might have given away the answer there.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dave (God rest his soul) has tagged me with a request for 'Five Things About Me'. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of facts I've yet to reveal about myself on the internet, which is handy, because that's exactly what he wants.

I've been warned by means of capital letters that the following paragraph MUST be included in my post. I'm not sure why. Probably something to do with health & safety.

"Remember that it isn't always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you, if you know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it."

I like the way the author of that piece seems to rank film extra work a lot higher than raising twins. But anyhoo. Here go the facts...

1. I'm currently shopping in the town of Suran in the province of Morrowind, where I'm known as Minton the Orc. I chose the name Minton because I wanted to be bad. Even in a virtual universe I can't resist a pun.

2. I buy sugar-free barley sugar (which shouldn't be possible) from Caramella in Kensington Gardens. Which I always thought was in London.

The Missing Link
3. I almost replied to this advert in yesterday's Brighton Argus.

4. I wrote this a couple of years ago, and grew to hate every humourless, snail-paced, painfully painstaking word of it. Though I quite enjoy the e-mails from people who think it's real.

5. I think I'm coming down with a cold.

So there you go. My life is an open book. Albeit with a few pages missing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm so unobservant, I hadn't noticed that my last post was this blog's 900th. If I'd realised, I wouldn't have wasted it making a lame joke about Lionel Blair. But still, having glided effortlessly past the 900 mark, if I continue at my current rate, I should hit the thousand by, oooh, about 2008. It almost makes it seem worth carrying on.

Anyhoo, the good news from around here is that the men who've been loitering in my hallway for the past month have finally finished installing the building's new fire alarm system, and having been here when they tested it yesterday afternoon, I'm happy to report that it's loud enough to wake not only me, but also the dead, whilst simultaneously removing any loose fillings and giving you tinnitus. Frankly it would be less painful to burn to death.

But that aside, I learnt the value of old-fashioned chivalry this week, when I selflessly poisoned Lisa with a Cumberland Pie. Visiting her mother last Friday, we had two of the things palmed off onto us, one with a use-by date of the 7th, the other the 8th. Naturally they were still in my fridge come 5pm on Tuesday, so I stuck one in the oven for my tea. Having cooked it for 25 minutes (200 degrees celsius, top shelf - write in for the factsheet), Lisa arrived home from work with a look of desperate hunger in her eyes, and having watched her eyeing up my pie, which by this point was only seven hours from expiry, I gave in to my chivalrous nature, and let her have it.

At the time of course, it was quite a hardship having to wait another 25 minutes for the second pie to cook, but my suffering was eased somewhat by watching Lisa having to lock herself in the bathroom for the rest of the evening as the effects of a clearly dodgy Cumberland Pie took hold. A Cumberland Pie which I'd have eaten myself had she stayed at work just five minutes longer. There's a lesson there. Though I'm not sure what it is.

Fortunately the Pie of Death had worked its way out of Lisa by Wednesday morning, so I kindly agreed to meet her for lunch for the third day running. I was beginning to lose patience with the local coffee shop's insistence on charging me £1.30 for a cup of tea, so I decided this time to opt for a simple can of Diet Coke instead. Being a high class establishment, they'd obviously been to Lidl for their beverages, and handed me a cheap German can of Coke, containing wasser, koffeinhaltiges and sussungsmitteln, complete with a phone number to ring in Berlin if I had any questions. Making it all the more galling when they proceeded to charge me £1.30 for that as well.
I'm staying at home today.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Well I made it down to the finish line of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run yesterday afternoon and mingled with the participants for half an hour, whereupon I made a startling discovery: I found, to my great surprise, that it's actually a stultifyingly dull event. An endless procession of old bangers (which all looked the same to me) rolling slowly along the seafront, loaded up with posh (and usually fat) people in furs, headscarves and shooting jackets, waving regally at the commoners lining the streets, most of whom were actually clapping, tugging their forelocks, and saying "We're not worthy". Well, they were clapping anyway. I might have imagined the rest.

Old CrocksAs each car crossed the finish line, the occupants were interviewed by a bloke with a microphone who would ask them where they'd come from (I thought the answer was obvious - London) and tell them how lovely their car was, before giving them the chance to tell him how lovely the weather was. This went on for about six hours. And just when I was thinking how stupid I was to have travelled almost half a mile just to witness this event, we heard from a banger-full of Yanks, who'd flown their car over from Seattle just to take part. Which I thought was unbelievable. Until the Australians crossed the line. I've also discovered this morning from the LBVCR website that the 'race' was 'won' by a bloke from Mexico City. So it's obviously just me who thinks it's a waste of time. Mind you, I've been to Mexico, and a 1903 Berliet is like a modern sports car to them.

Blair Money BoxBut anyhoo, the trip wasn't a complete waste of an afternoon, because making my way across the road near the seafront I discovered this home-made (yet highly artistic) warning sign, which someone has stuck on a traffic light. It's a bit of a coincidence, because it's erected at a pedestrian crossing, and Lisa's main claim to fame is that she once saw Lionel dance across a zebra crossing in Brighton town centre. I had no idea he was earning good money from it though. £60 a time. He must be raking it in.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

It's been a busy week, but if there's one thing I've learnt, it's that my cat's too small to give blood. If there are two things I've learnt, it's that my cat's too small to give blood and I paid my vet far too much for that information. I only popped in for some more tablets for her lifelong bowel condition (which is not as unpleasant as it sounds), whereupon my new vet told me they'd lost the medical notes from my old vet, ran his fingers through her hair (which has grown back with a vengeance since June), put her on the scales, told me the tablets cost £3.16, then charged me over twenty-seven quid. Which is nice work if you can get it. Obviously the vets in Suffolk, who charge less than eight pounds for the same service, are underselling themselves.

And talking of eight pounds, my cat apparently weighs 3.6kg. Which is a shame, because they had a notice in the waiting room appealing for feline blood donors to help save the lives of their fellow cats, but they insist you're over 4kg. And not made entirely of fur.

In other news, I'm still waiting for word from the pumpkin people on my glorious victory, so I'm beginning to think 58kg wasn't the right answer. But to cheer myself up, I took Lisa down the marina on Friday and beat her at ten-pin bowling. I also won 9-0 at air hockey, but to be honest she scored more of those goals than I did.

Crap ToursAnyhoo, I'm off down to Madeira Drive now. I discovered a door under the pier the other day which featured this sign. Unfortunately the door's now permanently closed until the spring, so I've missed my chance of a crap day out, but today it's the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. The finish line is five minutes walk from my flat, and I've spent the past three days watching them build the hospitality tent, so it's important I get down there and let off a few fireworks. If I can't get onto Flickr today, I never will.