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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Specs AppealI'm currently considering getting some new glasses (to see through, not drink out of). I only really wear them for driving and cinema-going, but whether I'm behind the wheel of my Skoda, or sitting in a darkened room with a bucket of popcorn, I feel it's important to look my best, so I'm weighing up the pros and cons of a new set of face furniture. With that in mind, I went to Boots yesterday afternoon and loitered around the optician department trying on frames with absolutely no intention of buying. Mainly because I felt confident of finding them cheaper on the net. And sure enough, having admired myself in the mirror wearing the fetching pair above (which might not be rose-tinted, but still make me look good), I returned home and found them 40% cheaper online.

Unfortunately, having dug out my latest prescription, I discovered it's actually four years since I last read an eye chart, so with the distinct possibility that my ocular health has deteriorated since I met Lisa, I've booked myself in for a sight test tomorrow morning. It's at 8:55am, so I hope they allow for bleariness.

Anyhoo, when I'm not playing chess and trying to look intellectual in designer glasses, Lisa and I like to indulge in mentally stimulating pastimes like playing Richard & Judy's You Say, We Pay on interactive DVD. It was my Mum's Christmas present to Lisa. Which says a lot about both of them. I'm not saying we lead an empty existence, but having started after Coronation Street on Monday night, we were still playing 'You Say, We Pay' at 11pm.

It was mostly rubbish, due mainly to the fact that after each of my rounds, the DVD seemed to 'randomly' select all the same items for Lisa, meaning she basically just had to repeat all my answers to win, but it did raise an interesting point. Having already attempted to convey to me the celebrity John Barrowman with the words "It's the gay one", Lisa then surpassed herself by expecting me to identify an object from the clue "It's a tethered animal".

When I looked blank, she merely added "with horns". Obviously I guessed unicorn (who wouldn't), which led her to repeat (slightly impatiently) "no, it's a tethered animal".

The answer turned out to be goat. Personally I've only ever seen them roaming free on mountainsides, but Lisa insisted that an untethered goat is almost unheard of in this day and age, and that the word 'goat' should spring immediately to the mind of any sane person upon hearing the phrase 'tethered animal'.

Naturally I told Lisa she's a berk, and went to bed.

As it turns out, however, she could just be right. I've discovered this morning that The Tethered Goat is actually a famous mathematical problem, and in addition to that, The Tethered Goat Strategy was proposed by Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian last year as a description of the USA's plan for Iraq.

So all Lisa needs to do is convince me she has an interest in current affairs, then explain this...

Tethered Animal
... and I'll let her have the points.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Protection RacketHaving lost all my money yesterday afternoon, I've not only decided I prefer cats to dogs, but also realised I could do with a new income stream, so I've successfully killed two birds with one stone by applying for the job of Copywriter at the National Cat Centre. Given that the headquarters of dog racing are in Barking, the NCC really ought to be down the road in Purrfleet, but fortunately for me it's actually just a short drive from Brighton. The hours of work are 10am-4pm, which suits me nicely as I've always felt 9-5 is overrated as a concept.

So I spent yesterday evening attempting to fill in the application form with an expensive pen (it's details like that which make the difference between success and failure) while Lisa watched Shipwrecked on the sofa. I managed to focus for a good three hours before the Big Brother final, at which point I got distracted and forgot to put down under 'Additional Information' that I have a Cats Protection tea-towel. But still, I'm sure my love of all things feline shone through.

Having not yet heard back from the Brighton Argus, my hope is to spark a bidding war between them and the cat people, until one of them offers me 50k and twelve weeks holiday a year. Although at a push I'd take minimum wage and a couple of luncheon vouchers.

Not one to rest on my laurels (or my hardys), I've also been scouring the jobcentre website for vacancies. Highlights of this morning's search include an 'Assistant Seafront Officer' for which you need "Local knowledge of the sea", and a vacancy for someone to carry out "general tasks on Brighton pier". What general tasks, I hear you cry? Answer: "changing bulbs". For which, apparently, "Previous experience would be an advantage". After all, you don't want to go employing someone who's never changed a lightbulb.

But my favourite vacancy is probably that of 'Fish Fryer', a job title so impenetrable that they feel the need to state that "Duties include frying fish". I'd apply, but believe it or not, I don't have the qualifications they ask for.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I went to Asda yesterday and found myself sandwiched in the queue at the checkouts behind a woman who was buying eight loaves of bread. It's as if the Atkins Diet never happened. I was going to suggest she try a bit of variety in her diet, but then I noticed she had three different brands, so she's obviously taken that one on board already. Maybe she was doing a taste test for Which magazine. Not that I could criticise - I was busy proving I have the willpower of a suggestible sheep by picking up two lollipops from the checkout display.

Anyhoo, talking of strange women, it's Lisa's Mum's birthday today. Naturally I'm a gentleman and wouldn't have dreamt of asking the lady's age, but fortunately for me, Lisa doesn't suffer from the same level of tact, and greeted her mother this morning with a resounding chorus of "Seventy-Three Today!". So that answers that question.

As a birthday treat, we took her over to Hove greyhound track for a bit of light gambling. It went well. For everyone apart from me, who had no winners whatsoever, and came away broke, broken, and considering a life of crime. I was brightened up slightly however by reading the small print in the programme and discovering that the headquarters of Coral dog racing are in Barking. It's the little things which make me laugh. After that, we made our way home via Burger King where Lisa's mother gave generously to the poor and needy by buying me a burger.

As it happens though, I'm not as poor as I thought. A week ago I took delivery of a consignment of unwanted jumpers which had come from Lisa's cousin, via her aunt & uncle, then her Mum, and finally reached me in a black bin-bag with the words "If you don't want 'em, chuck 'em". Naturally I won't throw anything out (apart from the hideous one which even Noel Edmonds would have rejected in the 80s), so I've been wearing one of them for the past week - one of two brand new jumpers from Gant. It was only yesterday, when I was about to shove it into the washing machine to get rid of the toothpaste, orange juice and milk I've been merrily spilling all over it for seven days, that I looked at the label and discovered it's pure lambswool and hand-wash only.

At which point I decided that maybe I should look up this 'Gant' on the internet. I like to think I have my finger on the nub of fashion (I managed to stay awake through 'The Devil Wears Prada'), but frankly I'd never heard of Gant, so I took it to be a dodgy market-stall misspelling of 'Gent'. I wasn't entirely right. Turns out it's designer menswear sold in Harrods. Which explains why I've never seen it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Vietnam VetI love life's spooky little coincidences. I went out yesterday to the local vet, trudging through snow and ice to pick up some tablets I'd ordered for my little cat Chloe (which I'm sure will go down well with Cats Protection if I decide to apply for a job there). Having got my hands on her medication, I then walked down the road with the tablets rattling around in my pocket, and people looking at me like I was some kind of junkie, before arriving at the Co-op, where I bought yesterday's Argus. I then returned home, opened the paper, and immediately found this advert...

I'm leaving my cat to medical science.
The question is, can I get her to hold a pen?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'm trying to tempt fate here...

Ten days since I hand-delivered my job application, and I'm still waiting for the Argus to get back to me...

That should get the phone ringing.

... but not one to let the grass grow under my feet, I've wasted no time in thoroughly preparing for a possible interview by going out this morning and buying a shirt.

Getting ShirtyAnd not just any shirt. Oh no indeed. This might look like it came from George at Asda, but it is in fact a Kempton Navy Windowpane Twill Classic Shirt (oh yes) from Charles Tyrwhitt (which doesn't sound as much like twit as you'd expect) of Jermyn Street, London, and 7th Avenue, New York. Although I got mine from the Marie Curie charity shop, Brighton.

It sells on the Charles Tyrwhitt website for £41.25, but apparently it "was £55", so I expect they had to lower the price when word got out that I'd bought one. Personally I only paid £5.99, but for a frugal shopper like myself, that's like buying a new car.

Mine didn't come with that hideous tie, but I don't mind as I have no plans to become a Wimbledon umpire. Unless I hear nothing from the Argus in the next week. To be honest they'd better hurry up, because Cats Protection want a copywriter for 20k a year, and with my exemplary record in feline care (ignoring the time I attacked my cat with a pair of scissors), the job's as good as mine.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I do like it when Lisa goes home, but leaves the alarm on my clock-radio set for 6am. It gives me something to remember her by, and ensures that I wake up thinking of her. And cursing her. But mainly just thinking of her. Personally I feel that if the first hour of your day is spent in total darkness, then you know you've got up too early.

Anyhoo, getting up before the sun means that I've only just discovered the amount of snow we've had overnight. It's like Lapland out there. But with less skidoos and more gritters. Which is all the more surprising as this is what it looked like yesterday...

Calm & CollectedCompare and contrast with last Thursday's picture postcard. Obviously it would have been better if I'd taken the two photos from the same spot, but by the time I thought of that, I'd walked 200 yards further on and couldn't be bothered to go back. And anyway, I was distracted by the canoeist, and thinking how much more entertaining it would have been if he'd been out there a week ago.

In financial news, my sister's first Ebay auctions have ended, and my dynamic sales copy resulted in a flurry of bids for her coat (that's the stunning red pea coat, 100% wool, immaculate), and a final sale price of... $21.05. With the pound due to hit two dollars this week, that means she's made about a tenner. Minus my fee. I think they earn more in the sweat shop where it was made.

More shocking though, is that she received no bids whatsoever for her Wrap Trap, which personally was my favourite item. It's the secret of successful scarves. No, really, it says so on the back. Although I'd just like to point out that it wasn't me who put "Would make a perfect gift for someone special". I refuse to lie on Ebay.

But altogether more successful are the visitors I'm attracting to my website. I had a hit yesterday for the phrase "I caught myself writing go to bed". And only last week, someone searched for "inserting the breakfast pastry". Which to the untrained ear might sound like random phrases from the mentally ill, but in fact prove that there are people out there who like the same obscure films that I do. All I need now is a hit for "Father Knows Beaver" and I'll have the complete set.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Free LuxuryThe trouble with giving something away for free is that everyone wants it. When I saw the queue at the Pavilion yesterday afternoon I felt like turning around and going home again. In fact Lisa suggested that we come back another day and pay the £7.50 entry fee, rather than queue for hours with the other freebie-seekers. In the end though, I'm glad we stayed. I'd have been livid if we'd spent fifteen quid on that.

I'm not saying it isn't an historically important monument, but really, the whole place could do with a makeover. It's dingy, gaudy, and full of stuff which shouldn't even be there. Having queued for half an hour to see where George IV slept, we read the small print and discovered it was actually a bed from Windsor Castle, on permanent loan from the Queen. And it had an electric heater (circa 1995) standing next to it.

But the hideous wallpaper, hideous curtains and hideous carpets aside, I did like the chandeliers. One of which was 30ft high. I'd show you a photo, but unfortunately photography is forbidden inside the Pavilion. Which they claim is due to bright lights damaging the relics (and I don't mean the old codgers in green who tell you to stop touching the silverware), and has nothing to do with trying to get you to fork out five quid on a souvenir guide book.

The entire Banquetting Room was impressive, but again, the small print informs visitors that it's merely a "recreation", and whilst the grand dining table might be "based on" something which would have been around in the 19th century, in reality it probably came from Homebase.

Just the TicketAs for the crowds, well they meant that everyone was forced to shuffle around at a snail's pace, sticking to the narrow walkways, and unable to overtake the foreign tourists up ahead who were trying to translate gout into German, thus ensuring that everyone took three times as long to get round. Which makes it all the more surprising that we were out in 35 minutes. And that includes queueing at the entrance for the most pointless tickets ever created. I attempted to walk past, but oh no, everyone needed a properly printed ticket to gain entry. I expect they have some kind of deal with the local paper mill.

To sum up, it was worth the price of admission, but only if you go on Annual Free Day.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Back on December 16th, Lisa, my mother and I visited Newhaven Fort in unsuitable footwear and took part in a recreation of the Dieppe Raid by buying sweets from a French bloke with bees. When I subsequently failed in my attempt to secure ownership of said fort, due to the outrageous selection policy of Lewes District Council, which involved not handing over custody of big guns to people like me, I felt the whole experience had been a waste of time. But oh no...

I've had an e-mail this morning from Dieppe. It's entirely in French (which naturally I speak like a native) (a native of Britain, that is) and it's sent to inform me that due to my close ties with the French port, and willingness to buy their confectionary, they've taken the liberty of adding this blog to "notre annuaire, L'annuaire de Dieppe et des Environs". Or to put it another way, The Directory of Dieppe & its Surroundings. They've listed me under 'English Blogs & Friends' (I'm currently the only friend they've got), where they describe me as "writer Brighton". Which is short, but to the point.

I'm not sure if this entitles me to the freedom of Dieppe, but I will be e-mailing back to ask for more sweets.

Mmm... bekömmlich.Anyhoo, being a discerning individual who shops only in the most exclusive stores, I went to Lidl last night. They do foreign cat food which is half the price of its English equivalent, and unlike Lisa, who wouldn't touch Lidl food with a bargepole, my cat can't tell the difference. So I was standing at the checkout with two bags of Opticat and some shaving foam, when the girl on the till decided to go to the toilet (not in front of me, but in a back room). So to pass the time until she returned, I began to idly look at a nearby display of seeds from Germany. Which is where I found the packet on the left.

I was naturally drawn to them by the fact that they look like little pies, with a hint of muffin and a suggestion of fairy cakes covered with custard. I felt hungry just looking at them. And that was before reading the back, which states "The fruit flesh is tender, delicious and easily digestible". So I bought them for 29p, assuming that I'd find out what they were (courtesy of Mr Google) when I got home.

But therein lies the mystery. I've found a few German websites which mention them, but none which tell me what they are (although one describes the flesh as "tenderly delicate and very bekömmlich"). So are they sweet or savoury, do I put them in a salad or a fruit bowl, and more to the point, can I grow them in my windowbox and make them into pumpkin pie? Fortunately I've got three months to find out, because the seeds can't be sown until April.

But that aside, today is 'Annual Free Day' at The Royal Pavilion where, to celebrate its purchase by the town of Brighton in 1850, admission charges are waived for one day a year. As the website says, "Come along and luxuriate in the extravagant interiors without paying a penny". I don't need any more persuasion than that.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Don't sue me.This blog post comes courtesy of two blokes called Dave, and two blokes called Matt. The first is my father, who kindly sent me the cartoon on the left (by Matt of the Daily Telegraph), which amused me enough to make it worthwhile breaching copyright and risking legal action by posting it here.

Then, in a coincidence of international proportions, my American buddy Dave (not to be confused with the drugged-up, sports-car-driving novelist from Norfolk) (who's no longer called Dave anyway), e-mailed me about an entirely different Matt, and urged me to watch this video. Which I have done. And very impressive it is too. When you get to the bits in Antarctica and Norway, you do start to wonder if the whole thing's faked, but I'm reliably informed that it's not.

Being three years older than Matt, and having visited about fifty fewer countries, it's easy to feel inadequate, but I look at it this way: he may have been to Machu Picchu, walked the Great Wall of China, visited Easter Island and stood at the South Pole, but I can dance better.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Danny & Nicky in MourningOne of the most irritating things about Lisa, in fact probably the thing I dislike about her more than anything else in the whole wide world, is the fact that she listens to 'Danny & Nicky in the Morning' on Southern FM. And thereby also inflicts it on me at a time of day when I really should be peacefully dreaming about penguins. But as if Danny & Nicky weren't annoying enough on their own, for reasons I've yet to fathom, they have a feature at 7:15am every morning entitled 'The Knowledge', in which listeners who clearly have no access to the internet, phone up and ask a question they've always wanted to know the answer to. At which point newsreader Kathryn Langley has ten minutes to 'research' (ie. enter into Google) the question of the day, and come back with the answer.

I wouldn't mind if any of the questions were actually interesting, but Danny & Nicky only seem to allow access to people whose second question is invariably "What's my name again?", and whose thirst for knowledge doesn't extend much beyond what they're having for tea tonight. Today, however, the show plumbed new depths. Instead of sleeping through to a reasonable time, I was awoken at dawn this morning to hear a woman phone up with the question "Why is a house called a house?"

Having stared at my clock-radio open-mouthed for a good ten minutes while Kathryn went off to find the answer, I then heard her return to give the following explanation:

"The word 'house' comes from the verb 'to house', meaning to provide accommodation for or give a home to, which is why we use it to mean a home or somewhere we live."

Words can't even begin to express how I feel about that. I'd have the whole station shut down for wasting the listeners' time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I had a hit yesterday from someone searching for 'my girlfriend Lisa'. I checked Google, and it turns out my Lisa page is ranked number one out of 1,710,000 websites for those three little words. I know Google are always banging on about relevancy, but surely this means I'm the only person in the world who can search for 'my girlfriend Lisa' and get the right result. It might be a great service for me, but what about everyone else?

When the Wind BlowsAnyhoo, Lisa aside, is it just me, or is it a bit breezy out there today? I walked down to the beach this afternoon, only to find (just before I was blown off my feet) that the sea looked like the Thunder River ride at Thorpe Park, and that what I thought was rain hitting me in the face, tasted salty and was in fact seawater. As I staggered along the seafront into an 80mph gale, involuntarily chewing on a bit of seaweed, and wondering whether the woman in the photo was really out jogging, or just caught up in a weather front and unable to stop, I couldn't help thinking that only a complete fool would be out in conditions like these.

And then, as if to prove it, I bumped into David Van Day. Seriously. But judging by the look on his face, I'm sure he was thinking the same about me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's always nice to have a frantic rush for no good reason. Having found the Entertainment Writer job on Thursday night, read that the closing date is Wednesday 16th January, then realised that the 16th is Tuesday, I naturally worked on it all weekend (stopping only for emergencies) (such as the horse racing on Channel 4), and then drove across town yesterday morning to deliver my application by hand, rather than trusting in Royal Mail's ability to transport something three miles in twenty-four hours.

The good news is I successfully delivered it at 11:30am. The bad news is I got home to find that both the Argus website and are advertising the position with a closing date of Friday the 19th. Meaning I had three days longer than I thought I had. But hey, at least the mad dash across town got me out of the house for a bit.

Changing the subject slightly, take a look at this coat...

Little Red Riding Hood
My, what a fine coat that is. Notice how it transforms the wearer instantly, giving her the stylish good looks of a film star (and I don't mean Lassie. Or Babe. Or even Godzilla. Except maybe around the cheekbones). I took this photo on the balcony of Southfork Ranch in Dallas, as the subject recreated the death plunge of Sue-Ellen's little sister. I've always wondered what made the whole shot so visually impressive, so inexorably attractive, relentlessly drawing the viewer in like a reality TV star to the opening of an envelope. And now I realise: it's the coat.

What would you expect to pay for a coat like that? Three, maybe four hundred pounds? Heck, for something that fashionable and elegant, you'd probably go all the way up to five hundred pounds.

What if I said you could get your hands on that coat for just fifty dollars? What if I said thirty? You'd bite my arm off and trample over your own grandmother for a deal like that.

Well prepare to wipe the footprints off Granny, because right here, right now (and for a limited time only) you can get your hands on your very own piece of history for JUST $14.99!!! *

Yes, that's right, Big Sis is selling all her stuff on Ebay. And she's asked me to rewrite her sales page, so give it a couple of days and I'll be calling it a collector's item and doubling the price. It's just a shame it's not green, because the way she keeps using the words "beautiful red pea coat", I can't help thinking of The Owl & the Pussycat.

* Plus P&P. Call it a tenner in English money. UK shipping available. Check out our low, low prices.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Well, three days and a couple of paper cuts later, and I've successfully completed my job application for the Brighton Argus (that's the newspaper, not the catalogue shop in Western Road). It was touch and go for a while though - at the eleventh hour I realised I'd forgotten I used to write for Jim Henson (two years after he died - I refused to let his death come between us), and had to re-jig my whole CV to fit it in. It's funny the things you forget. I'll probably find I wrote a few early episodes of The Simpsons but it's since slipped my mind. Anyhoo, I've also included three examples of my work, and told them I write a lot of fiction. Which I then proved by describing myself as "an experienced and accomplished writer".*

I have to question my own dedication though. I was in Sussex Stationers yesterday afternoon buying paper for my CV, when someone at the till announced that Jimmy Somerville was walking past the window. Obviously the Argus job description mentions the ability to secure interviews with popstars (and kooks), and I felt little Jimmy scored on both counts, but ultimately I couldn't shake the feeling that running out of the shop and down the road after Mr Somerville was altogether too much effort. And besides, if there's one thing which is going to impress a Features Editor, it's the ability to choose the right paper. So I stayed in the warm and spent three quid on A4.

I'm confident of success though. On my way home, I passed a restaurant with the sign "Please use side door for deliverys", and a greengrocer selling "Chessnuts", so there's clearly a lack of decent writers in Brighton.

Cry WolfIn other news, I watched Wolf Creek on DVD last night. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it, but can someone please explain to me (preferably without resorting to pretentious lines about the Australian Outback being the fifth character) why nothing whatsoever happens in the first half of the movie. Seriously, nothing. If there'd been any paint drying nearby, I would have found that more distracting. Personally I couldn't wait for someone to turn up and start hacking the actors to death. But to my eternal relief, after forty-five minutes he did, and I'm pleased to say the second half was genuinely traumatic and mentally disturbing in a clinical sense. So thanks Mum, it was the perfect Christmas gift.

*That's a joke, if anyone from the Argus is reading this. I am experienced and accomplished. No, really. Ask my mother.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I knew this would happen. Having failed in my bid to secure ownership of my very own fort at the end of 2006, I've regrouped since the new year and have spent the week putting forts to the back of my mind, and pressing on with Plan B: getting into Malory Towers. Well, Roedean School. But I'm sure it's just like Malory Towers. And having read my sister's entire collection of Enid Blyton masterpieces at the age of ten (without threatening my masculinity at all), I was quite looking forward to taking on the role of 'Houseman', and getting 15k a year for having midnight feasts and drinking ginger beer.

So having received the 'application pack' (you never get forms these days, only packs) on Tuesday, I dragged my Mum down to Brighton today and spent the entire afternoon grappling with numerous pages of A4 over the coffee table, and attempting to herd scores of random thoughts into something approaching an application, whilst simultaneously trying to suppress the fort, sorry, thought, that Housemen and Fort Custodians aren't really the kind of jobs I was born to do.

But I managed it. Until 8:30pm, when I went down to the Co-op and bought today's Brighton Argus...

It's Me to a T.
Oh my god. I have an entire blog to demonstrate that I can write about entertainment (well, slag off celebrities anyway), a whole page of "clean, accurate and intelligent copy" (don't argue with me on that one) about film, and three plays and an album to prove a passion for the arts. And I like food and drink. It's the job I've been waiting for. And I have less than a week to apply. If only I was good at working to strict deadlines.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The thing about colds is that they're a lot like cancer. You go into remission for a while, think you're better, then wham - Lisa reinfects you and you lose all your hair. I'm sure I was on the mend by Thursday evening, but 24 hours of being coughed at by someone with a sore nose who steals all your tissues, and suddenly I took a turn for the worse. I think I'm improving again now though, which is just as well, as between us we've used up Brighton's entire supply of Day Nurse.

But anyhoo, when I'm not evacuating my sinuses all over my computer screen, I'm busy taking up chess. Well, retaking up chess. I used to play a lot in 1993 and 1994, and whilst working in Cambridge, I would spend my lunch hours sitting on Parker's Piece (which isn't as painful as it sounds) reading chess books bought from the local charity shops. Not that I was a geek, obviously.

All that sadly came to an end, but as of Friday night I've decided to recapture the glory days of my chess career in an attempt to improve my mind. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, how can you improve on perfection?", but you'd be surprised. In the words of Lisa, my mind is like Fuzzy Felt. Of course, she was talking about herself there, and I wouldn't disagree with her, but I think it applies to me too. My mind, which has already been like Swiss cheese since 1995, has been closer to Brie lately, culminating in a bad day on Thursday, when I forgot I hadn't printed out something for my aunt, then forgot I didn't have any printer cartidges, then forgot that if PC World in Hove shuts at 8pm, and I drive all the way over there at 8:15pm, they probably won't be open.

Internet PawnSo when I finally made it over there on Friday instead, supplemented up to the eyeballs with brain remedies, I decided I should invest in the type of game which will sharpen my mind, rather than the one with the most zombies to shoot. So I bought the mighty Chessmaster, in the hope of rekindling my passion for bashing the bishop and mating in three moves.

I played through a few tutorials yesterday, before taking on a computer-controlled player called Lucy in a ten minute game of Blitz chess. Admittedly I chose Lucy for her low player rating, not wanting too much of an initial challenge, but the girl turned out to have a mental age of about three, and played like she'd never heard of the game chess. I'm sure she was playing Snakes & Ladders at one point. So that was a bit of a waste of time. I was going to ask Lisa for a game instead, but having investigated her knowledge of chess, and heard her refer to the rooks as "those building things", I decided Lucy was the tougher opponent.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'm glad there's one person in this world who listens to my advice. I had this conversation with my niece on Friday morning via MSN Messenger. Fortunately my Big Sis was there to type my niece's messages for her, though I hope she doesn't assume her aunt knows what she's doing when it comes to capital letters. We don't want her picking up bad habits.

Anyhoo, as my niece had been the proud owner of a Nintendo DS, complete with resident canines, since Boxing Day, there was only one topic I wanted to discuss...

Phil: Hello [name of niece]. Are you enjoying your Nintendogs?
Niece: yes i had 1 dog it was called goldie
Phil: You should call it Spot. Spot's a good name for a dog. Or Pongo.
Niece: but i bought another one called Rosie and it was a poodle
Phil: Oooh. Are Rosie and Goldie going to get married and have puppies?
Niece: might do. but I'm saving up for another dog. Goldie was a golden retriever
Phil: Noodle is a good name for a poodle.
Niece: i might call my third dog noodle or spot
Phil: I want to play Nintendogs. Can I have a go next time I see you?
Niece: yes
Niece: we're going to town now so will have to say goodbye to you
Phil: I might call my dog Spike.
Niece: who says you're going to have a dog?

Now admittedly the conversation ended on a sour note, and possibly contributed to my general feeling of illness and desperation over the new year, but all that is water under the bridge now, because in my hour of need (the cold's no better, and I've got a headache now) I've received a letter from my niece. She writes:

"Dear Phil,
I've got 4 dogs now because I bought a new one and I called it Spot."

That's what I call a victory for common sense. She continues:

"Did you want to see what they look like because I've drawn them here"

Three out of four dogs.
Now admittedly her spelling of Yorkshire Terrier leaves something to be desired, but the most important thing to note here is that having told me she has four dogs, she's only actually drawn three. Which I'd like to think is because she's bought the fourth one for me, and doesn't consider it one of her own. But I've spoken to my mother, so I know that in reality it's because she hit the wrong button and deleted one.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I knew things could only get better, and sure enough, having just about recovered from my new year condition around lunchtime, I enjoyed a good thirty or forty minutes of rude health yesterday afternoon before starting on a cold. Mind you, the sore throat which came out of nowhere at about 2:30pm was overshadowed slightly by the complete breakdown of my computer at 3pm. After two hours of fruitless hacking, and coming to terms with the fact that everything I own had been fried in a silicon meltdown so bad that even my trusty GoBack couldn't restore it, I turned to my brother, who led a rescue mission via mobile phone and laptop from the London to Southend commuter train.

Another hour and a half of trawling through the darkest recesses of Windows (I'm not looking forward to that phone bill), during which he talked me through things I didn't even know you could do with a computer, we (notice how I'm taking half the credit) finally solved the problem at about 7pm. After which it only took another two hours or so to restore my computer back to its former glory. By which time my throat was a lot worse.

Having been absent for most of this latest trauma, Lisa then returned from a two-day fact-finding mission to her own flat, immediately caught my cold, and kept me awake until 12:30am on the grounds that she didn't want the morning to come too quickly. Which would have been fine had the bloke in the basement flat below mine not started going mad at 3am, banging doors and swearing at a high decibel level, and immediately waking us both up.

That continued until 4am when the police arrived and stood outside my bedroom window with torches, banging on the man's door and shouting louder than he was. To his credit, the man had the nerve to shout back, though screaming "Go away!" at four police officers who are trying to break down your door, was frankly never going to work.

Anyway, once they'd got inside, we spent an enjoyable twenty minutes listening to their conversation, in which my neighbour claimed it wasn't his fault, and he was actually screaming through the walls at another noisy neighbour (I hope it wasn't me), and isn't off his rocker at all. Personally I beg to differ.

The police eventually left at 4:30am, which gave me close to an hour and a half of deep, restful sleep, before the alarm went off at 6am, Lisa switched on the radio, turned on the light, and let my cat into the bedroom to miaow in my ear. The overall noise was so loud she couldn't hear me complaining that my cold was much worse.

So I've barely had any sleep, and I'm ill again. It's the perfect start to any day. But on the bright side, my Mum's arriving in five minutes from Gatwick, where she's been attempting to shove my sister on a plane for the third time in a week. So once I've sent her out for Lemsip, she can pass on the rest of Big Sis's germs.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's just a stage.It's Fatboy Slim! Well ok, it's not - I got there 24 hours too early. But the man's been through a lot of stages in his career, and this is just one of them, being erected five minutes walk from my flat on Sunday morning, in preparation for yesterday's Big Beach Boutique 3. The small green and yellow shack in the background is "the UK's first permanent beach sports venue" which is due to open in March. So that's clearly going well. The stage took 2 days to build; that shack has been on the go for six months. They should get Fatboy on the case.

But anyhoo, the phrase 'Fatboy Slim' could also be used to describe my new year so far, as I've lost five pounds in three days, which I'd like to claim is due to my strict healthy eating regime, but is in fact because I'm ill. Kind of. It's probably psychosomatic, brought on by the news that my sister's still refusing to leave the country, and is now back in Chelmsford being too ill to fly. Whatever it is, I've welcomed in the new year by feeling too rough to eat, and wondering how many calories there are in a bottle of aspirin.

The weekend was a little better though. Eighteen months ago I took Lisa and her Mum to the dogs, then followed it up by going to see The Descent, so being very unoriginal, I decided to do the same a year and a half later. At the dog track on Sunday I bet a total of £21 on eleven races, and came back with £26.90, while Lisa's Mum proved herself to be as jammy as usual, by winning £37 with just one £2 bet.

Back home, and feeling rougher by the hour, I spent new year's eve alone at my flat, watching The Descent in the dark. It's set in the Appalachian Mountains of America, and I spent the first fifteen minutes of the film thinking how lucky they are to have scenery like that in the US, and that if I lived within a thousand miles of such a place, I'd go there for all my holidays, and probably never leave. So having enjoyed the film, and cursed Americans for not appreciating the natural beauty of their own country, I watched the 'Making of' documentary which came with my DVD, and discovered the entire thing was filmed in Scotland. Shows what I know.

Anyhoo, it being the biggest party night of the year, I naturally went to bed at 10:30pm, only to be woken up by fireworks once at midnight, and then again at 12:25am. So somebody's watch was slow.

I was planning to walk down to the beach yesterday and see how near the police would let me get to Mr Slim without a ticket, but in the end I didn't have the energy. And besides, I'd read that the best vantage point for free-concert-seekers would be the pier, and as it happens, my flat is actually closer to the stage than that. So I listened to it in the bath instead.