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Monday, April 30, 2007

Well Lisa and I are back from a weekend in Chelmsford, we haven't been burgled, and I've eaten enough home-made gingerbread to build a house for Hansel & Gretel. Hurrah! Our reason for visiting Essex (you wouldn't want to go there without one) was to spend some quality time with my Big Sis before she heads back to America to complete her quest to visit every US state before the end of June. She's starting in Texas, which is odd because I'm sure she's already been there.

Anyhoo, Saturday was spent in my parents' garden, catching up on the latest developments in my sister's love life. I'm not saying a lot's happened, but by the time she'd finished telling us, Lisa was sunburnt.

As if that wasn't enough, we were then forced to forego the chance to see the cast of 'Allo 'Allo reunited on BBC2, in favour of watching a video on Alaska. Big Sis flies into Anchorage in a month's time and, judging by the video, will be flying straight back out again shortly afterwards. Suffice it to say, she wasn't impressed. Much like the cast of 'Allo 'Allo, Alaska features a lot of decrepit animals being killed off one by one, most of which was depicted on the video. Which might explain why Big Sis walked out after half an hour. It was a shame though, because she missed the bear wrestling the caribou, which for me was the highlight. It was like Celebrity Deathmatch but with more blood. And less celebrities.

Palin & ParnellAnyhoo, Big Sis's trip may be ill-considered (I call it half-baked Alaska) (well ok, I don't), but it's not all bad. The politicians look quite cheery. Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin is apparently "married to the three-time champion of the world's longest snowmachine race". So I take it she's not Michael's wife then. She is, however, a lifetime member of the NRA, so I expect she helps to keep up the local death toll (animals only, obviously).

Personally I prefer Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell. He's a fly-fishing volleyball player and, according to the government website, "One of Sean's greatest hopes is to empower Alaskans by unleashing their potential to build healthy families". I love meaningless political soundbites. If only Warren Morgan would come out with something like that.

But anyway, having learnt everything there is to know about the 49th state, we spent Sunday in the slightly less exotic Southend-on-Sea, where we enjoyed a meal at 'Strawberry Field', a restaurant on a dual carriageway next to a Travel Inn. Well, I say 'enjoyed'. My Dad's chicken was cold, they got my Mum's order wrong, and my niece was disappointed that you couldn't pick your own strawberries, but apart from that it was lovely.

We eventually made our way home yesterday evening, stopping only to buy Pains au Chocolat from a service station on the A23. Having slept on an inflatable mattress for two nights, those weren't the only pains I was experiencing last night either. The ones in my back just seem to have lasted longer.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I'd just like to apologise for the moment of madness in yesterday's blog post when I somehow managed to refer to the Trisha Goddard show as "rubbish". It was cheap, petty, below the belt (I'm talking about my comment, not the show) and above all, completely untrue. Let's face it, I have a whole website dedicated to my love of thought-provoking television, so the last thing I want to do is give the impression that I'm not a fan. Trisha could knock Jeremy Kyle into a cocked hat (and I wish she would), and if it wasn't for the fact that I find myself strangely attracted to Fern Britton, I'd be watching her show on a daily basis. So I withdraw my remark unreservedly...

... mainly because Trisha sent the boys round within ninety minutes of me hitting 'Publish'.

My website stats show a visit at 12:30pm yesterday afternoon from Town House TV, Trisha's very own production company...

Town House TV
I drew that ring myself. You'd never believe I've had no formal training. The Italian artist Giotto could apparently paint a perfect circle freehand, but of course he didn't have to use a mouse clogged up with cat hairs.

Anyhoo, Trisha, who has herself battled clinical depression for many a year (and was no doubt suicidal by the time she read my blog post) went from here to my Bio, before heading straight for my Depression Page...

The Great Depression
... though I'm not sure the zero seconds she spent there were really enough to fully appreciate my struggle.

But anyhoo, when I'm not being visited by daytime TV hosts, I'm driving up to Chelmsford to spend the weekend with my parents. It's probably not a good idea to announce that you're away from home two days after giving out directions to your flat, but I'm assuming that all the people traipsing up and down the stairs for the Open Day will be keeping a lookout for burglars.

And if all else fails, I happen to know there's a band of superheroes in the neighbourhood today. One of Lisa's friends is taking part in the Superheroes 10k Challenge, which involves running six miles along the seafront dressed as a superhero, all the name of charity. With a century of comic book fiction from which to choose a suitable hero, Lisa's friend (after careful consideration) plumped for Spotty, the hapless sidekick of SuperTed. Those burglars don't stand a chance.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hilary ReevesAs I write this, I'm watching the Trisha Goddard Show on Five. Obviously I'd never normally watch such rubbish (I'm usually glued to This Morning on ITV) but today is different, because I happen to know that Britain's ugliest man and part-time Gollum lookalike, Hilary Reeves (who even has an ugly name) is about to propose to his girlfriend live on air. When I say live, I mean of course that it was recorded a few weeks ago in the studio next to 'Saturday Kitchen', but don't let that stop you phoning in.

The reason I know all this (and lots more besides, not all of it relevant) is that Lisa works with him. It's part of our pre-nuptial agreement - I insist that she works exclusively with the hideously ugly, to reduce the chances of her straying. It seems to be working. Although I don't like the way she looks at John Merrick.

But far more ugly than the ugliest man in Britain, is the hideous plagiarism going on at the Brighton Argus. I've mentioned here before their practice of copying and pasting stuff from other papers, changing the byline, and merrily going to press. Well that time it was just extracts. Now they're stealing entire articles.

Here's their report on Hilary's marriage proposal, published on the Argus website at 12:36pm on Monday 9th April, and in the following day's paper. It's written by Lee Gibbs. You can tell that by the way it says "By Lee Gibbs". Not much room for doubt there.

So compare and contrast Lee's beautifully written piece with this article published the day before in the Sunday People. It's by Jon Kirk. Who seems to have been miraculously inspired (possibly by God) to write an identical report a full twenty-four hours before Lee sat down to copy & paste write his.

The new edition of The Kemptown Rag is out today, featuring my latest article on page 14. Well, I say it's my article. Give it a few days and it'll be in The Argus under a different name.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's interesting the things you find in the local paper. Lisa and I went up the hill yesterday evening to visit her mother (who lives on higher ground to give her a better vantage point for spying on her neighbours), which meant having to sit through Coronation Street and listen to a debate on the pros and cons of raising your own grandchild. So naturally I turned to the Brighton Argus and began flicking through the property section. I like to be prepared in case I win the lottery.

So there I am, leafing through the paper while two grown women discuss a soap as though it's real life, when I turn the page and see this...

It's my car!! Oh, and my flat.
It's my car!!! And you can see the bird poo down the side, which I think proves my point about the Lib Dems. It turns out that the couple who live directly above me are selling their flat, which is obviously fantastic news because they bang on my ceiling every time I play the guitar. So good riddance I say. Although obviously I wish them well.

The building behind my lovely blue Skoda is indeed the place I call home, although both me and my intolerant neighbours live around the back where there are significantly fewer windows. A fact which hasn't stopped them putting their flat on the market for £179,950. Admittedly it looks quite attractive on the internet with my car parked outside, but isn't it getting slightly ridiculous when a one-bedroom flat with two windows and a bloke downstairs who plays Matchbox 20 on the guitar, gets priced at a hundred and eighty grand? How are people like me, living hand to mouth on the breadline (well, eating a lot of sandwiches) supposed to get on the property ladder? It's an outrage.

According to the paper, they're having an 'Open Day' on Saturday when people with a quarter of a million to spend on a hovel can come round and trample about on my ceiling for eight hours. Unfortunately I won't be here, as Lisa and I will be in Essex for the weekend. Which is a shame, as I was just in the mood for a bit of rock music.

The biggest problem though is what's going to happen when my brother finds out that the flat he bought last summer purely to foster true love between me and Lisa, has increased in value by £50,000 in under a year, and he's now officially sitting on a goldmine. Never mind the property ladder, this time next month I could be homeless.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back on March 30th I raised the terrifying possibility of David Van Day coming after me personally and turning up at my flat in the dead of night, hell-bent on revenge. Or possibly just my vote. Well, it pains me to say it, but the day has finally come when... um... the Day has finally come.

Having unexpectedly run out of pineapple chunks and Curly-Wurlys, Lisa and I decided to go to Asda yesterday evening. So at 7:45pm we strolled out of the front door, and who should we see walking towards us down the road looking sweaty in a big rosette..? (I think I may have given away the answer already). It was David Van Day, knocking on doors in Eastern Road (and not getting many responses). He was only three doors away from mine, so two minutes later and we'd have been confronted by the man himself and asked "Will you be voting Conservative, or are you still Making Your Mind Up?". Well that's what I imagine he'd have said. I could be wrong.

I was tempted to seize the Day and tell him what I think of his policies, but in the end we just walked past as though we didn't know who he was. I expect he's used to that.

It was a missed opportunity for David though, because unbeknownst to him, the Lib Dems had successfully managed to lose my vote earlier that day with the election leaflet they pushed through my letterbox. In it they make six firm pledges, the first of which is to "Make our area greener, cleaner, brighter places to live with more street trees". Which, I'm afraid to say, is the final nail in their election coffin for me.

There are three trees in the stretch of Eastern Road where I park my car, and if I'm forced to park within a few yards of any one of them, my beautiful Skoda gets covered in bird poo within a matter of hours. It's reached the stage where I'd rather park in a different street than leave my car under a tree. So if the Lib Dems are promising to plant more of them in my road, then I'm voting Labour, simple as that.

Poor AvailabilityBut anyhoo, having seen the Day when the Tories came to call, Lisa and I continued on to Asda, headed straight for the milk section, and discovered the sign on the right.

I presume their "ordering system" consists of a bloke with a telephone, and the "technical error" was him not making a call to the dairy. But the question is, what does "poor availability" mean..?

Well, it means no milk whatsoever.

Wot No Milk

They did have some chocolate milkshakes left, but if I wanted that on my Rice Krispies I'd be buying Coco Pops. As it turned out though, the wildcat strike by the union of cows was the least of our worries. Arriving at the checkouts at 8:50pm, we found that Asda, with their ongoing pledge to open more checkouts at the drop of a hat, had closed all but three of them. Each of which featured a lengthy queue.

So we joined the least gargantuan, and waited. After ten minutes the supervisor walked past, was asked to open some more checkouts, and informed us that they didn't have any staff free until 10pm. Cheered by the news that things would improve within the hour, we continued waiting. At which point a lady in the adjacent queue, who was in possession of the fullest trolley the world has ever seen, decided to switch queues and join her friend who happened to be in front of us. When we politely pointed out that she was in the other queue and can't just push in front of us with half the contents of the store in her trolley, she replied:

"Yeah, but this queue's moving quicker."

You've got to admire her honesty. She then added:

"Have you got a problem with that?"

As unreasonable as it may sound, we did have a problem with that, but having argued calmly for a couple of minutes with two women who looked like extras from Prisoner Cell Block H, we didn't seem to have a choice. We'd have asked the Asda staff for assistance, but needless to say there weren't any. They were probably all down the Co-op buying milk.

We were finally served at 9:25pm by a till operator who was supposed to finish work at nine. But the good news is, if you've ever wondered what happens to your Haagen Dazs when you stand in a supermarket queue for 35 minutes behind two cows with no milk, we can tell you.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Carry On CabbyLast week it was coaches; this week the pointless vehicle-related bore-a-thon taking place down at Madeira Drive on a Sunday morning was the Brighton & Hove Taxi Driver of the Year 2007. I'm not saying it was dull, but when I walked past at midday the crowd-control barriers were keeping back an audience of precisely zero, and the compere was broadcasting a live interview over the tannoy with a cabbie who'd been driving for 18 years and had nothing to say about it. I think I preferred the coaches.

But far more exciting than a beach full of Travis Bickles is the news that I've bought a new guitar! And I didn't even need one! Hurrah! I was suffering from a serious illness (of the mental variety) over the weekend, so on Saturday I decided to self-medicate by visiting Ebay and bidding on some rubbish. I was looking at the guitars of a German company called Bell & Head (which I'm sure means something quite profound in German) who specialise in unusual designs by their deer friend Cassandra Elk.

They've only recently started selling to the UK, and I'm not sure if they had some kind of problem converting Euros to Pounds, but I noticed that whilst all their guitars have a starting bid of at least £99, one had slipped through the net with no reserve whatsoever.

Bloody Nightmare The guitar in question is a 'Bloody Nightmare', so called because of the difficulties Cassandra had with its design (no, really), and is sold on the Bell & Head website for €259. Having intimidated the opposition on Ebay with my confident bidding, I got it for £46. Complete with a carry-case which they sell for £16.95. Meaning I got a brand new guitar for about thirty quid.

I was slightly worried that Herr Bell might need his Head examined for selling one of their guitars at a loss, and would therefore try to pull out of the sale, but the good news is I've had an e-mail this morning which reads:

thanks for payment.
We send out kgitar this week.
regards Jörg

You'd never know he's not English. So that's all marvellous. I feel better already. The only drawback is that they describe the guitar's colour as "pale black", which I'm sure doesn't exist. Maybe they put it through the washing machine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Back at the end of March I bought a pack of strawberry plants which I described at the time as being half-dead. Well three weeks on, it turns out I was wrong. They're actually completely dead. Having watched them do precisely nothing since the start of the month, I dug them up yesterday looking for signs of life, only to find them slowly turning to compost in my windowbox. So I took an executive decision, and decided to break new ground by getting some plants which might actually stand a chance of making it through the night.

Fortunately I had most of the afternoon free, having worked tirelessly all morning on my latest article for The Kemptown Rag. I'd told the editor I'd have it done on Tuesday, but as it turned out, the cex worker I met on Sunday was right, and Battle Realms is surprisingly good, meaning I had to postpone any less important tasks until Wednesday.

Unfortunately, having kept my article down to a mere (ahem) 1200 words, I've now been told there may not be room in the next issue, and it might have to go into the May 11th edition. Honestly, I told them to hold the front page, but would they listen? (No, they wouldn't).

But in other literary (and I use the term loosely) news, I e-mailed the Ledgers script to Pennsbury High School on Tuesday and they're refusing to be put off, despite the fact they've now read it. They're surprisingly keen to make a drama out of a crisis, so it's full steam ahead for a spring performance. I might ask them to fly me over. I wouldn't mind a VIP trip to New York.

But anyhoo, with my article done, and the fruit shortage beginning to bite, I headed up the hill yesterday afternoon to Brighton Race Course. Next to which is a garden centre. Where I got confused by the choice of five different breeds (I'm sure that's the right word) of strawberry, and came away with two of them: one because it grows well in tubs, and the other because it promises "perpetual crops". It's the neverending strawberry.

Even more exciting than that, however, is that I bought Lisa a pet. She's never been allowed to take charge of a living thing before, despite pestering her Mum for a puppy throughout most of her childhood. She was promised a gerbil when she went into hospital at the age of twelve, but it never materialised. I don't think her Mum expected her to live. So it's about time she had something to care for, and with that in mind, I found the perfect gift...

Has BeanIt's a personalised magic bean! I always knew that somewhere out there was a bean with Lisa's name on it, and here it is. If they'd had five, I'd have swapped them for a cow, but they didn't, so I paid cash. Quite a lot of cash too. To be honest, I think I was ripped off. But it's the ideal gift - Lisa's always complaining that she hasn't got a bean, and now, thanks to me, she has.

So with much excitement, I presented it to her last night, whilst bouncing up and down on the sofa and exclaiming "You can grow your own bean!!!"

She examined the packaging, looked slightly underwhelmed, and replied "Will you grow it for me?"

No wonder she never got a gerbil.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Which of these would you rather have outside your house?

Sir Terrence RattiganDon't Step in Piss
Well don't worry, because if you live at number 79 Marine Parade, you can have both.

I went for a walk around Kemp Town yesterday afternoon following a 'Plaque Trail' created by The Regency Society (who obviously have bad teeth). It's designed for people who think Patsy Palmer is the most famous person who ever lived here, and guides you past twenty or so commemorative plaques dedicated to the likes of Dame Flora Robson, Lord Olivier and Ronald McDonald.

Well ok, Ron isn't an official part of the tour, but he has just finished renovating a large house fifty yards along the road from me, and I noticed on my way home yesterday that an engraved plaque has now gone up on the side of the building, dedicated to Ronald and all his burger-flipping charity work. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye. I have to say though, they've done out the exterior of the house very nicely. I'd pay good money to live there. It's almost worth having a sick child.

Anyhoo, I'd tell you more about the Plaque Trail (and the urine warning signs), but I'm supposed to be writing an article about it for The Kemptown Rag, and I don't want to burn myself out. And besides, I can't think of anything to say.

But in other news, I've had an e-mail from someone at Pennsbury High School in Pennsylvania (which is famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page), asking if they can perform Ledgers at their annual One-Act Play Festival. They sound quite enthusiastic. Possibly because they haven't read the script yet.

Naturally I've said yes. Paramount have bought the film rights to a year in the life of the school, so if I play my cards right I could be at the Oscars come February.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The trouble with day-trippers is that they do tend to clog up the seafront with coaches...

Your Coach Awaits
Well ok, it wasn't an influx of day-trippers, or even a Saga Holidays convention. No, yesterday's big event down at Madeira Drive was a coach display. Seriously...

Coach Displays Ltd
Personally I don't see the point of arranging the kind of display you can see for free at any motorway service station throughout the summer, but possibly that's because I didn't buy a programme. I also missed out on their Gala Dinner & Dance, which is a bit of a blow, although if it was organised by coach drivers it was probably overpriced, went too fast and made you sick.

But for those of us who don't worship at the altar of National Express, there's always the Gemini Beach Bar. Being neither a drinker nor a sunbather, it's not a place I'd usually frequent, but I needed a pick-me-up after a trip to CeX in Western Road. Cex sells (obviously), so I'd bought a copy of Battle Realms for £1, whereupon I was forced to listen to a major sob-story from the bloke behind the counter who told me he'd played the demo when it first came out, loved it like his own son, and had "always wanted" to buy the game, but could never afford the £30 it used to cost (that's a day's wages at CeX). So if he'd known it was sitting on the shelf three feet away for a quid, he'd have bought it himself, fulfilled a lifelong dream, and thereafter lived in eternal happiness.

To be honest I'd never heard of the thing and was only buying it because it was cheap, so faced with such a heart-rending tale, I could easily have let him have it. I'll probably never find the time to play it anyway. But naturally I didn't. If he wanted it that much, it must be good. And it'll teach him to keep a closer eye on stock.

Anyhoo, the pangs of guilt were tugging at my heart strings as I walked back along the seafront, hence I stopped at the Gemini Beach Bar. Not for the drinks, but for The Beach Band who were playing outside. Being a resident house band at a beach bar, they're probably all alcoholics with skin cancer, but I have to say they were remarkably good. A bit like Maroon 5 but with long hair and sun cream. And the perfect pick-me-up when you've just ruined someone's day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Silver BirchI know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey Phil, what was all that about a fine record of predicting Grand National winners? I didn't see Silver Birch on your list of guaranteed (although I realise that wasn't legally binding and I won't be pursuing you through the courts) selections. You've not only let us down, you've let yourself down."

Well hold your horses (literally). Aside from my astonishingly accurate prediction about Joe's Edge, and the fact that if, like me, you'd put £2 on Liberthine each way with Blue Square who paid five places, then you'd still have made a healthy profit despite the other three running like Afghan Hounds on Mother's Day and trying to have a nice sit down at The Chair, yes, aside from all that...

I actually did predict the winner. All I got wrong was the year.

I always knew I was ahead of my time.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

You do have to wonder who's reading The Kemptown Rag. Obviously there's Jimmy Somerville, Patsy Palmer and Annabel Giles, all of whom live within spitting distance (which explains the damp patch on my front door), and who I'm sure leaf through the Rag on a regular basis. Before using it to line the budgie's cage. That's if any of them own budgies. They're celebrities, so they probably have chihuahuas.

But it's possible they're not alone (in the Rag-reading I mean, not the dog-breeding). My love note to David Van Day was published in the issue which came out on Friday 30th March. Three days later, on April 2nd, a similar report appeared here, written by Labour Party Activist, Hackney Councillor, and double election loser, Luke Akehurst. Luke claims to love both Europe and Israel, so he must have been in hog heaven (excuse the bacon reference) when Dana International won Eurovision.

But that aside, he's also a self-confessed Guardian reader, which could be significant, as four days after his post, and a week after The Kemptown Rag hit the streets, Mr Van Day's spelling was also featured in The Guardian Diary. If I'd known they might be interested, I'd have sent my article straight to Alan Rusbridger.

But still, favouring a local rag over the national press does have its advantages. The current issue which came out yesterday features two (count them) letters responding to my DVD stand, one of which is from Peter Snape (the former Labour MP for West Brom???) who mentions The Guardian (what is this, some kind of conspiracy??) and says he assumed my piece was an April Fool's joke until he retrieved the original mailing from his environment box. Which is so Brighton - you don't bin the election leaflets, you recycle them.

Anyhoo, more important than the state of British politics is of course today's Grand National. I obviously have a fine record of predicting the winners here (don't bother checking the archives), so here are my guaranteed selections for this afternoon's race.

Bothar Na1st. Bothar Na at 25-1

Idle Talk2nd. Idle Talk at 20-1

Billyvoddan3rd. Billyvoddan at 18-1

Liberthine4th. Liberthine at 33-1

I should add that the favourite, Joe's Edge, doesn't stand a chance and won't finish within a country mile of the winner. And you can quote me on that come 4:30pm.

Friday, April 13, 2007

1,000 Not Out
It's always good to write your 1,000th blog post on Friday the 13th. I'll probably hit the wrong button and delete the whole lot.

But the good news is my niece made it down to Brighton yesterday morning, despite being held up by an "incident" (not to be confused with an accident) on the M25. Six months ago she used to claim that the distance between us was insurmountable (I'm not sure she used that exact word), and felt there was no way she could endure the torture of a two-hour car journey just to visit her Uncle Phil. Interestingly that opinion changed the moment she got a Nintendo DS for Christmas, and could sit in her booster seat playing Charlie & the Chocolate Factory for a hundred miles. I think I'll buy one for my brother.

RoaaarrrrSo my niece arrived at midday with her chauffeur in tow, and immediately introduced us to Scabby. If that's what she calls a tiger, I dread to think what she'll name her children. Lisa had taken the day off work, so we both settled down to watch my niece play her Nintendo, eat Curly-Wurlys, and extol the virtues of Lem-sip. Which she calls 'Lime-sip'. Possibly because it's addled her brain.

After a couple of hours, during which I successfully worked out how to use Oompa-Loompas to get Wriggle Sweets, we went to visit Lisa's nephews and renew the friendship between my niece and her future husband. Unfortunately he's been ill for the past week and looks like an extra from Tenko, but the good news for matchmakers like myself is that my niece wasn't put off. Even if his trousers did keep falling down.

An hour or so later, and having been asked three times by my niece if we could go out somewhere, I walked back to my flat with Lisa to collect my car and transport everyone to the beach. The plan was for Lisa to walk down and meet us there, as the only room in my car was in the boot and she refused to lie down with an oil-can, so I drove back alone to pick up two nephews, a niece and a mother. Whereupon Nephew Number One decided he didn't feel well enough to go, Niece decided she wouldn't go without Nephew, and the whole trip got cancelled. Leaving Lisa heading for the pier alone.

Fortunately it all worked out in the end, and with the help of a pensioner and a three-year-old (who was more interested in leaving footprints in wet cement) I hunted down Lisa and returned her to the 32G bosom of her family. That left us free to spend the evening at the McDonalds Drive Thru, where I ordered a Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with a toy for a girl, and got a Cheeseburger with a Ninja Turtle. Which would have been ok if we'd opened the bag and discovered it before leaving the window and driving all the way home.

But while my Mum was making the lengthy journey back to McDonalds for a girl who won't eat cheeseburgers, I had time to explain the plot of Ledgers to my niece (who was confused by the photos on my wall), before welcoming back my Mum and discussing whether a fax machine is heavier than a duck. It seemed quite important at the time.

Anyhoo, having sent all my visitors back to Essex with a song in their hearts and half a Curly-Wurly in their bag, I settled down with last night's Argus, where I found this breaking news story...

The words 'only in Brighton' spring to mind.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Taking the Shirt Off My BackIt's never a good idea to leave your clothes out on the bed when you go to have a shower.

Fortunately I don't iron, so the shirt was crumpled before it got slept on by a cat. She just added the clean fresh smell of tuna. As it turned out though, the lingering odour of fish was less of a problem than anticipated, because my scheduled property inspection never took place.

I spoke at length to my landlord and his lovely wife (otherwise known as my brother and sister-in-law) on Monday, who informed me that they were taking a short holiday "near the M25" this week. Which sounds like the kind of Easter getaway people dream of. Benidorm must have been full. So I gave them the phone number of my flat (which strangely they didn't seem to have, despite owning the place), and received assurances that they would be travelling down from their motorway hideaway to visit me on Wednesday. Meaning I had Tuesday to clean the place.

So after 23 hours with a bottle of Cif (the 24th was spent in Happy Valley), I put on my seafood shirt and awaited their arrival. Or possibly a phone call. Neither of which came. If it had been anyone else, I'd have phoned 999 and reported them missing, but this is my brother and sister-in-law we're talking about. They're never less than three hours late for anything, and don't know how to use a phone. They could still turn up now and not think anything's wrong. But the good news is their eight-year-old daughter is coming down to visit me today, and she will be on time. Mainly because they're not coming with her.

Anyhoo, talking of 999 (this link is seamless), this is actually my 999th blog post. No, really, I wouldn't make up something that dull. But it could also be my last - I'm expecting some kind of millennium bug to kick in tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Happy ValleyI was feeling a bit down yesterday afternoon, so I went here. It cheered me right up. If only David had known about this place. Psalm 23 might never have been written.

I actually found myself in Happy Valley as a direct result of my generous and helpful nature. It's all give, give, give with me. Lisa had to make a work-related trip to Woodingdean at 2pm, to demand answers from one of her subordinates as to why she hasn't returned to work within 24 hours of a major operation, so naturally I agreed to give her a lift. Mainly because I knew she was on expenses, and I thought there might be some money in it for me. That was my first mistake.

WoodingdeanHaving arrived at the house (and not been invited in) I found myself with half an hour to kill, so I wandered over the crest of a nearby hill, down a long straight road and, like Ranulph Fiennes with fingers, promptly found the Lost Valley of Happiness. If the photo on the right wasn't a low-quality mobile phone shot, you'd be able to make all that out.

So I spent an enjoyable thirty minutes walking through the sunshine of Happy Valley like a cheerful David. Then went back to meet Goliath and the woman with a sling.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hands Off My Cocoa BeansWell another Easter is over, and as usual I've eaten enough chocolate to keep a dozen small children in work on a West African cocoa farm. Hurrah! I had a double excuse this year though, as Easter Sunday fell on that other great chocolate-eating event of the Christian calendar: my niece's birthday. So I not only had to help her eat eggs, but also do my bit to rid the world of Dougal cake. She's a big fan of Father Ted The Magic Roundabout.

My Easter started well, when I prepared breakfast in bed for Lisa, and discovered (thanks to my mother's liking for own-brand products) that the Asda version of 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' is called 'You'd Butter Believe It'. That was enough to make me smile for a good couple of days.

But from there it was all downhill to diet hell, as I started eating at around 1pm and didn't stop until ten. I was already full when my niece arrived at 4pm, but I didn't like to appear rude, so I forced down some pavlova, and asked for second helpings of Dougal. And that was before the Easter Eggs arrived.

My niece is currently into the Nintendo DS (I say 'currently', as she'll probably have taken up hockey or hang-gliding by the end of the week, and have chucked the Nintendo in the bin), so Lisa and I decided to give her 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. Which is a game. And not a book. Obviously. After which we had a slight panic, changed our minds at the last moment, and gave her The Sims 2 instead, on the grounds that people are better than talking beavers, and neither of us like Turkish Delight. That left my mother to give her the Narnia one, and my niece to immediately declare it to be the best game she's ever played. The Sims will be on Ebay by the end of the month.

As for Easter Monday, well my brother left at 6:30am to go and play golf, thus proving that I'm not the most insane member of the family, leaving me and Lisa to spend the morning playing Animal Crossing with my niece. Given the title, I was expecting it to feature zebras and pelicans quite heavily, but apparently not. Personally I hadn't read the instruction manual or played the game before, but still I was expected to know how to post a letter to Pippy and plant an orange tree. It's endearing how much misplaced faith my niece has in me.

All good things must come to an end however, so Lisa and I left Chelmsford at 2:30pm with my niece promising to bring her Nintendo down to Brighton so that I can help her some more. We sped around the M25, made it to Sussex in record time, then hit a traffic jam eight miles from home, followed a diversion, took a wrong turn, and ended up in Shoreham. But it's always good to see the South Downs on a Bank Holiday Monday. In a heatwave. With a cat in the car.

Easter in BrightonIt could have been worse though. Apparently Brighton attracted 150,000 visitors per day over the weekend, and the seafront looked like this. I'd never have been able to get around the charity shops with those crowds. And it'll be even worse tomorrow - I've invited my brother and sister-in-law down for a property inspection. I plan to gloss over the state of my flat, then whisk them off to the pitch 'n' putt course before they ask for the rent.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The last time I saw my Big Sis was on 29th December 2006, when she looked like this...

Duvet Girl
Obviously she wasn't well back then, and it was slightly unfair of me to publish her photo, but the good news is she's since made a full recovery, the colour's now back in her cheeks, and she's brimming with health and vitality. So here she is this morning, about two hours after arrival, looking a lot better...

In The Pink
Personally I feel that if you're fully clothed and lying under a blanket, it's probably too cold for sunbathing.

Friday, April 06, 2007

It's Friday, which is good, so Lisa and I have journeyed up north to Chelmsford in the hope of acquiring some high quality Easter eggs from the heart of gourmet country: Essex. Tuesday's Crimewatch featured a consignment of stolen Cadbury's Mini Eggs, so no doubt there's a few of those floating around the place. I'll check out the local pound shop tomorrow.

Anyhoo, I wanted to avoid the worst of the traffic by leaving Brighton at midday, so with my Machiavellian score of 56, I told Lisa that we absolutely, positively, must leave the flat at 11am on the dot. Thus ensuring that she was ready at 12:25pm. If only I'd said half ten.

As it transpired though, we needn't have worried, as the world and his wife were busy heading in the opposite direction. The queue of traffic trying to get into Brighton started eight miles from the city centre, making me slightly regretful that I hadn't rented out my flat to a Londoner for the weekend. Where's Marie when I need her? But having gone against the flow for 90 minutes, and wondered what we must be missing in Brighton, we eventually arrived in Chelmsford, where we set to work eating my Mum's hot cross buns and Taste the Difference carrots (not at the same time, although the carrots claimed to be sweet and juicy, which is more than can be said for the buns).

I'm hoping for a quiet, relaxing weekend, but unfortunately my parents (with the wisdom of old people) have just bought four (count them) new phones, meaning their home is now wired for sound with a total of seven handsets. All of which ring when somebody calls. I wouldn't mind, but they don't even have the same ringtones. It's like a dawn chorus for the tone deaf. My sister's due to arrive from Dallas at 9am tomorrow morning. Let's hope she doesn't phone ahead.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

There's an advert in today's Brighton Argus for a job with a company called Anchor, who seem to have moved away from butter production, and into the brave new world of pensioner housing.

The advert invites me to "Build on your technical and people skills" (I'd have to start on the ground floor), drawing on my qualifications and experience in the fields of surveying, architecture and construction to help "frail, sometimes vulnerable, people".

Obviously I fall slightly short of what they're looking for, and have more in common with the frail, vulnerable people they're helping, but the advert caught my eye for a different reason...

Lisa Gardner
I find that slightly scary.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Adult DirectionsBack in 1988, when I was sweet... um... fifteen, I was forced by an overenthusiastic careers advisor to have my life analysed by CASCAiD, an advanced computer program which took all the available data about me, analysed it extensively for a week, then produced a detailed report saying that I really ought to be a fashion designer. Interestingly I didn't do GCSE Art, thought Versace was a type of pasta, and got most of my clothes from SavaCentre, but that aside it was astonishingly accurate.

Nineteen years on, I've obviously failed to get into fashion, and the only cat walk I do is to the litter tray, but as luck would have it, I've been given a second bite of the careers cherry. I went into town yesterday to gather presents for half my family, all of whom have the audacity to have birthdays in April, and having collected some tat in the name of love, I went into the Shelter charity shop, where lo and behold I found a brand new, shrink-wrapped copy of CASCAiD.

It's now known as Adult Directions, and is developed by Loughborough University, who charge a mere £235 a year, plus VAT, for the software. Which is obviously a small price to pay. But not quite as small as £2.99, which is what I got it for.

Unfortunately my copy was produced two years ago, and having tried to install it on my PC, I was told the software had expired, and I should contact customer services for the unique opportunity to pay another £235 so that I can continue using it for the next twelve months. Which was a bit of a blow. So I changed the clock on my computer to 2005, and it works fine now. It's just a shame that didn't happen a day earlier when I was trying to come up with an example of my problem-solving skills for a job application form.

Anyhoo, the good news is that computers have come on a lot in the last nineteen years, and this version of the software is far more sophisticated than the one which took a week to generate my results in 1988. I answered the 116 questions last night, entered all my skills (that didn't take long), and I'm pleased to say it's no longer suggesting a career in fashion. The top three jobs most suited to me in 2007 are:

1. Website Designer. Fair enough.

2. Dog Groomer. I've never owned a dog.

3. Wigmaker.

Blimey, I knew the software was sophisticated, but I didn't know it could tell I was bald. Apparently 'Scriptwriter' is only a 'Questionable Match' for me. I investigated why, and was told that when asked if I'd like a job which involved evening and weekend work, I'd said no. So it's back to the wigs for me then.

But while I look for a job at Toupees R Us, I have at least achieved one position to be proud of. Nine months after moving here, I'm now officially a Brighton Blogger. Hurrah! I wonder why there wasn't a similar website for Shotley Gate?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It's a miracle...

Surname Removed For Legal Reasons
I think HSE stands for hope springs eternal. Apparently if one of the exercises had been real, Lisa would now be dead, as she attempted to save an injured person by picking up a live electrical cable with her bare hands. I think they only agreed to give her a certificate if she promised never to put her knowledge into practice.

But despite the glory of scraping a pass in her first aid course, Lisa herself is far more pleased with a comment made during one of the exercises. She was stretching her acting skills at the time by lying unconscious (presumably having taken all the duvet, if home life is anything to go by), whilst another trainee pretended to call 999. I'm not sure if he was a trained actor, but whilst on the phone he apparently described Lisa to the emergency services as "a woman in her mid-twenties". Which was almost enough to revive her on the spot. I asked if he was wearing glasses. She said no. So he'd clearly left them at home.

In other news, my article in The Kemptown Rag in which I pedantically point out the spelling mistakes of would-be world leaders, has clearly had a lasting effect on staff, with everyone checking and double-checking their spelling, lest they incur the wrath of my pen. I've just had this e-mail from the editor...

Hi Phil
Just to let you know the next deaedline is Friday, in case you feel inspired to write something.
All the best

Right, that's it, she's deaed.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tanya StevensonIt being April Fool's Day yesterday, we agreed to take Lisa's mother to the dogs again. I knew she'd never realise we were joking. There were no Afghan Hounds this time (I'm still holding out for dachshund racing) (over hurdles), but we did rub shoulders with some top-notch celebrities, as Race 10 featured a dog called Pennys Jackal, which is owned by none other than Tanya Stevenson, star of Channel 4 Racing, who's forced to spend her Saturdays standing next to John McCririck. That woman earns her money.

According to the bloke on the tannoy, Tanya was there in person to cheer on her hound, but somehow we failed to spot her from the cheap seats we were in. As a fan of The Morning Line, however, I showed my support by placing large sums of money on her dog, which had previously run twelve races, won none, and finished second six times. As the form guide said, "Six silver medals but yet to strike gold, is this the day of the jackal?"

Nope, he came second again. Tanya should stick to horses.

Once home, I had an enjoyable evening choking on a foreign object, collapsing with a heart attack, and lacerating my hands, all to enable Lisa to use me as a subject for First Aid practice. She's being forced to attend an 8-hour course today in an attempt to turn her into some kind of Mother Theresa in the workplace. There's a certificate at stake (which I will be framing), so she felt it might be a good idea to get in some practice.

I'm pleased to report that her Heimlich Manoeuvre is flawless and her bandaging skills would put the Egyptians to shame, but don't let her put you in the recovery position or she's liable to dislocate your shoulder. I'm still in pain this morning.