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Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's a song about Kemp Town!

I have to say I find that endlessly amusing. But maybe you have to be there.

Oh, and when they sing "Kemp Town, they've never heard of drugs there", I think they're being ironic.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Big Sis is back in the country!

Crouching Big Sis, Hidden Phil
I insisted we both crouch as a visual tribute to her tour of America. It's also the best way to avoid bears. She looks like she's about to give me a backhanded slap across the face, but I'm sure that's unintentional.

She wasn't actually scheduled to pay me a visit yesterday, but having flown into the country on Wednesday morning and made her way to Chelmsford, it was only a matter of time before she realised that the taxi driver had left one of her bags in the car park at Gatwick, and she'd have to drive straight back down on Thursday to pick it up.

Of course, if you go by what you read on this blog, Big Sis is currently throwing snowballs in Oregon with another three or four states still to visit, but suffice it to say that's not true. Like the plot of Neighbours, we're constantly a few weeks behind in this country.

But anyhoo, siblings aside, the good news is that I spoke to my doctor on the phone yesterday morning, and the cancer test they did last Thursday has come back negative. Which is a relief as I haven't finished teaching my cat to type. I do however have suspected prostatitis, which is the first and last time you'll be hearing that word on this blog. Mainly because I have trouble spelling it.

Buoyed by the news that I'm not dying, things then continued to improve when I bought yesterday's Argus and found this in the centre pages...

Me & Carole
It's me and the Mayor! I'm not the chap dancing with her, I'm the bloke in the background, dead centre, wearing a denim jacket and red shirt. You can tell it's me because I'm the only one looking at the camera rather than the dancers.

The Argus managed to spell the Mayor's name wrong, and called the musical act in the Pavilion Gardens "a string quartet", which is interesting as there were five of them plus a xylophonist, but other than that, it was a top quality report.

And my local fame didn't go unnoticed. I received a text message from Lisa's sister at half past six last night which read:

"Did you go to the Theatre Royal celebrations? There's a distant figure in The Argus that looks like you."

I replied that yes, it was indeed me, and congratulated her on her ability to pick me out in a photo of hundreds. She replied:

"I thought who is that man craning his neck to get in the photo, oh it's Phil."

That woman knows me too well.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

And the crowd go wild!

Ragroof Theatre Company
I knew the jive dancing would prove popular. Just look at the excitement on the faces of that audience. I thought they were going to do a Mexican wave at one point, but I think it was just one of them having a stroke.

Anyhoo, I did attend the Theatre Royal's 200th birthday party yesterday afternoon, and very nice it was too. Although I think I was the youngest person there by a good thirty years. You know you're from a different generation when you're asked to climb a flight of about three stairs on your tour of the theatre, and half your group start complaining about their knees.

But on the bright side, I've been on the regional news. Kind of. I followed the BBC cameraman around like a bad smell, with the result that I featured on BBC South Today for about a tenth of a second last night. And if you're reading this in the next 24 hours, then you have the opportunity to witness my brush with fame for yourself. Visit this link, click on 'Watch Now' in the top right-hand corner, and fast forward to 23m 40secs. You won't see me, but trust me, I am there.

Anyhoo, the proceedings got off to a good start with a speech from the new Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Carole Theobald. She's a former two-time winner of Miss Brighton (I'm guessing it was some years ago) and gave the kind of uninspiring speech that suggested she should have stuck with beauty pageants. Fortunately the organisers recognised a desperate situation when they saw one, and grabbed the microphone from her before the entire audience had walked off. At which point they told us it was the mayor's birthday too, and ordered us all to sing Happy Birthday to her. I don't think anyone joined in.

Which is more than can be said for Carole. Once the jive dancing got underway, she was straight in there like... well, like a mayor at a photo opportunity. I watched her for a while - just long enough to give myself a good chance of getting my picture in the Argus today, then decided to take my one-man show to the stage of the Theatre Royal.

Theatre Royal BrightonAdmittedly I did have to queue for the backstage tour of the theatre (that's the trouble with free events - they attract crowds), but it gave me a chance to browse the birthday cards stuck to a pinboard in the foyer. I seemed to be the only one bothering to look inside each card, which is a shame, as it means everyone else missed the chance to read personal messages (and scrawly signatures) from such theatrical luminaries as Timothy West, Wendy Craig, Prunella Scales and... Fern Britton (?). My personal favourite was from Nicholas Parsons, who'd bought a blank card, opened it backwards, and written his message upside down.

Once backstage, our tour guide, who admitted she usually worked in the ticket office, took us on a fifteen minute jaunt around the theatre, during which time she filled us in on the history of the place from a pre-printed card, before stopping every two minutes to ask "Are there any questions?". There inevitably were, and our knowledgeable tour guide knew the answers to precisely none of them, but it didn't stop her asking, which I kind of admire. You shouldn't be put off by your own ignorance. By the end, I'd seen her shrug so many times, I wasn't convinced she even knew her own name, but as a human being, I liked her.

I did get to stand on the stage of the Theatre Royal though - boards which have been trod by Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and, for this week only, Dean Gaffney. I also sat in the royal box, in the very chair occupied by the Queen during her visit in March. It was still warm.

The Brighton DomeBack outside the theatre, I followed signs to the 'Free Tour of the Dome', heading through the stage door at the back and straight onto the concert hall stage. This was the venue for Abba's victory in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, but gazing out over the auditorium, it looked more like they were holding a Rik Waller concert. The advertised 'tour' turned out to be no more than a chance to stand on the stage for ten minutes listening to a (slightly more knowledgeable) guide, before being asked to leave by the same door through which you'd entered. The guide talked a lot about the Dome's great acoustics, but to be honest I struggled to hear her.

Mr XylophoneOutside again, I walked through the Pavilion Gardens and watched the Brighton & Hove Music and Performing Arts String Ensemble. Ironically the one member who was truly impressive was the only one not pulling any strings. The kid on the xylophone rocked (that's not a sentence you hear every day). If there's such a thing as a world-famous xylophonist, he could be it in a few years time. He was like a young Patrick Moore, but with no squint and fewer stars in his eyes. I think he's destined for greatness. Much like myself.

Must dash, I'm due at the Jobcentre in half an hour.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's the 200th birthday of the Theatre Royal in Brighton today, and being the kind of party animal who prefers not to bring a bottle, I have every intention of joining in the celebrations. They're throwing a street party, so no alcohol's allowed. Which is a shame, because you'll need a few drinks to endure the performance art and jive dancing. I expect.

According to this article, there'll be music, "fascinating talks" (I'll be the judge of that) and backstage tours of the theatre. Fortunately "visual artist Esther Rolinson" (whose website doesn't exactly inspire confidence, featuring a blank grey box on the home page) doesn't take to the stage until 10:30pm, so I plan to leave early.

The article goes on to state that "Staff at the Royal Pavilion will also be showing people what it was it like to visit the impressive palace as a guest of the Prince Regent in its 19th-century heyday". Apparently they feed you til you're morbidly obese, get you drunk, and won't let you leave til you're hooked on laudanum.

But the best thing about this birthday (which frankly the theatre has been milking for weeks), is that it's given rise to various theatrically themed news stories, as journalists at the Argus desperately try to find something to say. My favourite is this one from today's paper:


No? Really? A reviewer actually had an interesting time at a theatre?? Surely it can't be true. No wonder it made the front page - I've never heard news like it. Well not since 26th November last year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So like I say, I had a visit yesterday from Dave (the blogger, not the mental illness). He'd escaped from north Norfolk via the only road out of the county, and was staying for two nights in nearby Steyning, which was apparently the last place in Britain to burn a witch at the stake (I think it was sometime last week). He and I are convinced it's pronounced 'Staining', thus giving rise to numerous amusing jokes, but Lisa insists it's 'Stenning', and refuses to join in the fun. She may have lived here all her life, but I still think she's wrong.

Anyhoo, I refused to let Dave arrive before midday on the grounds that I had to take a photo of myself for The Argus (more about that tomorrow) (possibly), and I knew it would take all morning to get a decent one. Sure enough, I was still sifting through the possibles when he got here. Dave is always on time, which is a problem when you're consistently running late. I couldn't even rely on him to get lost - he's got satellite navigation and a sports car capable of doing Steyning to Brighton in two minutes.

The good thing about meeting a fellow blogger is that you can talk about all the things you'd never reveal on your blog. Unfortunately that makes it very difficult to report back on the meeting. If I mentioned everything we'd discussed on my sofa yesterday afternoon, we'd probably both be in prison by the end of the week. Suffice it to say that Dave told me what he really thinks of his readers, and I responded by telling him what I've got Lisa for her birthday. It seemed like a fair exchange. I also promised not to mention Dave's tax dodges and driving offences, and he agreed not to tell Jobcentre Plus anything. Not that there's anything to tell, obviously.

Due to the weather, I had to cancel the guided tour of Kemp Town I had planned, so I wasn't able to prove to Dave that everything really is five minutes walk from my flat, but I successfully entertained him in my living room for the afternoon (apart from the couple of hours I spent trying to crop photos of myself on the computer). Dave informed me of his plans to swim the channel, and his detailed plot to carry out international terrorism in the north sea, using nothing more than a Saga holiday and an oil tanker. I'm hoping he doesn't go through with that one.

We also discussed the important issue of what to do with our blogs when we die. Dave's planning on leaving his password to his son in his will, I'm training my cat to type "PHIL'S DEAD", but we both agreed that Lisa doesn't need to worry - she could be dead for five years before any of her readers realise she's gone.

I then gave Dave the extra special gift I'd bought especially for him. I'd already informed him that I got it from the local pound shop, but having seen the sheer quality of the item, he naturally couldn't quite believe it, and said "Did you get this from a charity shop?". I assured him that no, I really had refused to spend more than a pound on him.

As five o'clock approached, and with the realisation that I'd failed to give Dave anything to eat since he got here, we headed off to meet Lisa from work and get ourselves a meal. We ended up at the Harvester down at the marina, where they're now offering free all-you-can-eat salads with every meal. It's clearly not my kind of place at all. Dave told us about his morning at the famous Jack & Jill Windmills, and Lisa lied through her teeth and said she'd heard of them. We also got to see photos of his week in the south-west, only one of which featured burnt scones.

Back at the flat we chatted about Dave's working life and I learnt that organised religion clearly isn't as organised as you think. At least not until Dave gets in there and sorts it all out. He's like the Sir John Harvey-Jones of the church system. Lisa and I helped ourselves to tea and Coke for two hours, gave Dave nothing but a firm handshake, and finally waved him goodbye at 8:45pm. He'll know to bring a packed lunch next time.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I've had a visit from Dave today and I'm all in a spin...
I don't think I'll be writing about it til tomorrow.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Now this is the kind of betting result I need more often...

The Milky Bars are on me.
Staking £7.20 on the Tote Placepot at Royal Ascot and scooping £110. Who says you can't win big by betting 10p a line. You just need to do 72 lines. Simple.

But vast fortunes aside, I had an interesting night last night. Friday may have been spent mingling with aging musical geniuses (and David Van Day), but last night was spent in the company of some altogether brighter stars. Yes, that's right, I spent Saturday night counting glow-worms.

As someone who regularly scours looking for events I can attend without actually spending any money, I happened to know that Benfield Wildlife and Conservation Group were holding a Glow-Worm Walk on Benfield Local Nature Reserve last night. It's not every day you get to run about late at night on a hill in Hove, looking for things that glow in the dark, so naturally I went along. I surprised myself by persuading Lisa to come, and she surprised herself by roping in her sister and friend too.

The starting point was the Hangleton Manor pub, where I think Lisa would have been happy to stay for the evening, but I tried to keep up her interest levels by bombarding the treasurer of the BWCG, Dave Bell, with fascinating questions about creepy-crawlies (which is the proper technical term for glow-worms). I hadn't realised just how privileged we were - apparently the life-cycle of a glow-worm is two years, during which time they only glow for... wait for it... about 8 days. After which they die. But hey, at least they get a week in the limelight (literally) before they go.

The answer to the question 'why does a glow-worm glow?' is of course because they eat light meals to attract a mate. It's only the females which light up (the males have got better things to do), so Benfield Hill is a lot like the Tru Nightclub on a Saturday night - packed full of females trying to impress the opposite sex by shining on the dance floor.

Apparently glow-worms (which are not even worms, but beetles) are only really found in chalky grassland, which accounts for less than 3% of the South Downs, so combining that with the news about their life-cycle, and the fact that it still wasn't dark at 10pm, my hopes of seeing any weren't high. Especially when BWCG chairman Martin Robinson turned up and told us that on the last count on June 2nd, they'd only found six.

But we set off anyway, hiking through the rich wildlife habitat of... um... Benfield Valley Golf Course, before crossing the A27 via the footbridge and arriving in an altogether different setting: West Hove Golf Course. I was a bit confused as to which area constituted nature reserve, and which was merely the 9th hole putting green, but we followed our guides in good faith, and sure enough...

Without FlashWith Flash

The interesting thing about glow-worm hunting is that when you first spot one, you feel like you've witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of nature which could well be the highlight (no pun intended) of your life, whereas ninety minutes later you're so blasé you barely bother pointing them out. Which is a shame, because it's a truly spectacular sight. Having spotted the odd one or two within minutes of arrival, we ventured further into the reserve, and soon found them everywhere. Well over a hundred were dotted about in the grass, making it look like someone had decorated the hill with fairy lights. I've never seen anything like it. But then I don't get out much.

As it turned out, glow-worm numbers were so high that the little critters had even ventured out of the rough, into the bunkers and onto the greens. The one above was only four feet from the pin. If I'd had a putter, I could have knocked it in, no problem.

In the end we stayed up there for an hour and a half, just gazing at the beautiful sights (and lights) of nature. It was like a magical Wonderland, with Lisa doing her best to play Alice by falling down numerous rabbit holes. By the time we left, more glow-worms had emerged onto the banks either side of the footpath, making it feel like we were walking down the landing strip at Gatwick. Apparently the beetles are only shining in earnest until late July (the Christmas lights in Churchill Square last longer), but take it from me, it's a sight well worth checking out. That's what I like to call a glowing recommendation.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The new edition of The Kemptown Rag has hit the streets today, and I've doubled my efforts this issue with a grand total of two (count them) articles. I like what they've done with my Naked Bike Ride report, making a short piece stretch to a whole page by adding oversized photos, but it's always a gamble letting someone else write your captions - my Jonathan Aitken article on page 5 now features the word "lack-luster". That's American spellcheckers for you.

Pardon?But anyhoo, Lisa and I made it to The Music Park 2007 last night, or as the official announcer on the tannoy put it, "Welcome to Music Fair! Er... Park. Oops". The evening started well when one of the stewards on the gate confiscated my two bottles of water, on the grounds that you're not allowed to take alcohol into the venue. I explained that it was non-alcoholic water, and he in turn explained that if the bottles were sealed I'd be more than welcome to take them in, but as they weren't (I'd filled them from the tap at home), they could theoretically contain anything, and the management can't risk me entering the park with two Evian bottles full of vodka.

I continued our friendly chat by offering to let him taste it, but sadly he informed me that "We're not allowed to do that". Presumably because if they drink everyone's water, they'll have to keep leaving their post to go to the toilet. In the end I gave up and handed it over. It was worse than trying to get baby milk through Heathrow.

Dog RoastOnce inside, we learnt that if you're going to use old-fashioned lettering on your fast food van, try not to make it look like you're selling dog meat. It might go down well in Korea, but they had a distinct lack of customers last night. But having browsed the comestibles, refused to pay £5 for a burger, and finally forked out £3 for an ice cream, I spotted Chris Difford of Squeeze in the VIP area, and attempted to nonchalantly sidle up to him, whilst ignoring the fact that there was a fence between us. Unfortunately popstars are shy, nervous creatures, and I think I moved too fast, startling him and sending him scurrying back into the hospitality tent before Lisa could take our photo.

But I consoled myself by purchasing a signed copy of 'The Very Best of Howard Jones', which is a surprisingly long album. The girl on the stall gave me a choice of signatures, so I tried to choose the one that looked most like 'Howard Jones', and didn't look like it had been written by his P.A.

Anyhoo, the first act on at 7:30pm was Altered Images, or as the announcer put it, "Clare Grogan's Altered Images". Which turned out to be PR-speak for Clare Grogan on her own. I know her best as Kristine Kochanski in Red Dwarf (I can't believe that character has its own Wikipedia page), something I was reminded of when she waltzed onto the stage looking short in a crimson dress.

She sang four songs, which was three more than I knew, but halfway through her set, I looked to the left and saw a spectacular vision in white appear in front of the stage and make its way towards me. It was none other than David Van Day, dressed in a luminescent white suit that really brought out his fake tan, arriving late and trying to find his seat in the front row, whilst simultaneously looking for a new pop career after his defeat at the polls last month. Needless to say the seat was all he found.

Next up was former Kajagoogoo frontman Limahl, who performed a medley of hits before spotting David Van Day in the crowd (he was hard to miss in that suit), and calling him forward to receive a signed photo. David, who clearly has no shame, happily accepted it on behalf of his wife. At least that's what he claimed.

When 'The Neverending Story' came to an abrupt end after four minutes, Limahl was replaced by Paul Young, who bizarrely only did three songs. Limahl had been on so long he'd had time to do a Duran Duran tribute act, and even Clare Grogan got four songs, but if you're one of the biggest solo stars of the 80s, you only get three apparently. Not that I'm complaining - he still sings like he's got painful constipation, and his songs do nothing for me.

The show reached a new high with the arrival of Go West, whose set was delayed momentarily while the elderly guitarist in the backing band (who was defining the 80s by looking like an octogenarian) put on his coat. I was never a big Go West fan, but Peter Cox can certainly belt out a tune, and they were easily the best act so far. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Howard JonesUnfortunately as we waved goodbye to Go West, the weather went south and it started raining, so I went and hid in the toilets while they were setting up for the highlight of my night: the ivory-tinkling legend that is Howard Jones. If you're wondering what happened to Limahl's hair from the 80s, then wonder no more - Howard Jones is wearing it now. He was also sporting a very fetching pair of sparkly trousers a la Ben Elton circa 1986.

As someone who still owns most of Howard's old albums on vinyl, I naturally enjoyed his set more than any other, although I failed to get backstage to tell him so. Fortunately though, his website says "If you are a promoter and would like to book Howard to play at your venue, anywhere in the world, then please contact us". So I'm saving up for my birthday.

Wilde About KimThe penultimate act was none other than Kim Wilde (pictured right, being attacked by a giant hand) who, not content with being the BBC's gardening expert, is still quite big in Germany apparently. But then so is David Hasselhoff, so it's nothing to boast about. She belted out a string of hits, before proving she has a sense of humour by introducing the song 'Kids in America' with the words "And don't forget to mulch your borders this summer!"

As the final band ABC arrived it started chucking it down with rain. I would have been happy to leave early, but we stayed til the bitter end, and I'm glad we did, because ABC were a pleasant surprise. I may not have known all their songs, but it makes such a difference when the lead singer can actually sing. Which brings me back to Altered Images...
Big Sis in a Small World
Oregon – Seaside & Crater Lake (4-6 June 2007)

South of SeasideSeattle, WA was a place of goodbyes (to Canada Da) and hellos (to a clean car and a new road trip accomplice, J, not to be confused with Montana J, who's not only from a different state, but a different country, and is also a different gender. Frankly the initial's the only thing they have in common. Visiting from England, J stipulated that he needed heat, sunshine and beach time on this road trip and so being a good host, I took him straight to the Oceanview Lodge which was located a few miles south of Seaside.

7th Most Photographed BeachUnfortunately, Oregon in June is not the warmest of places and it wasn’t long before J was begging to borrow my Alaskan fleece (I knew that would turn out to be a good purchase) as he tried to adjust to a 15°F drop in temperature from the UK. But we did have a fantastic view (see right) of what is apparently the 7th most photographed beach in the world. I wonder how many other beaches claim the same? I took this photo in the hope of pushing it up to number six.

Oceanview LodgeIn addition, the Oceanview Lodge featured a great patio for wining and dining, which also allowed quick and easy access to the freezing cold beach.

Taking J’s wishes to heart, the next day we headed south in search of some heat. Despite driving about eight hours souther through Oregon, our heat and sun search didn’t quite work out as planned...

J in the SnowMe & J in the Snow

But not to be discouraged, we headed onwards towards Crater Lake where I tried to look warm...

Cold at Crater Lake
By this time, J had given up on feeling warm, other than in his dreams of sunny Weymouth. But we both enjoyed the lake and as 3 pictures say 3,000 words...

Crater LakeCrater Lake Again

Crater Lake 3 - The Revenge

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Big Toddle 2007Lisa's middle nephew was taking part in The Big Toddle on Brighton seafront this morning. I considered toddling along to show my support, but I was slightly put off by the fact that it was pouring with rain at the time, so after debating the issue for a while, I decided to stay in bed. The weather might not have been good, but every cloud has a silver lining: I know what toddlers are like - one sniff of rain and they're straight into the nearest buggy, which would of course render my pledge of £3 in sponsorship money null and void. I refuse to pay up unless he walks every yard in the pouring rain. It may sound harsh, but they respect you for it in the end.

Unfortunately however, the £3 I've saved by this morning's rain could be little compensation come this evening. Lisa and I are heading off to The Eighties Here And Now, which sounds like a protest march for pensioners, but is in fact an open-air concert at Stanmer Park. I bought Lisa tickets in honour of our third anniversary, thereby forcing her to sell the tickets she already had for OMD at the Dome tonight. I've no idea who booked an 80s act for the same night they were holding a 1980s celebration on the other side of town, but whoever it was, they should be shot. Preferably whilst wearing leg-warmers and shoulderpads.

My biggest worry, apart from the fact that they're charging £10 to park for the evening, is that it's an outdoor event and umbrellas are banned. Not that I have an umbrella (mine broke on a jaunt around Hove in March), but I could have stolen Lisa's. The sun's currently out, but being one of life's pessimists, I'm fully expecting a downpour at about 7:30pm. Possibly localised over north Brighton.

Anyhoo, much as I'd like Lisa to think I'm only going for her benefit, I'm actually quite looking forward to it. I can take or leave Paul Young and Kim Wilde, but I am very keen to see Howard Jones. I'd like to get to know him well. Like to get to know him well. Like to get to know him well, so we can be one, we can be one together. And I'll be telling him that when I meet him backstage afterwards.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm not sure I'm in a fit state to write this - I've been up since 4am, and have spent the morning going back and forth between my doctor's surgery and the local chemist. It's ok, I haven't just been told I've got a terminal illness - the results of the blood test won't be back until next Wednesday, so it'll be another week before I get that news. But having whined to my GP for twenty minutes, and been subjected to a physical examination so intimate that she now knows me better than Lisa does, I can officially report that I'm being ravaged by some kind of potentially lethal infection, and could be dead by Tuesday. Unless the antibiotics she's given me work. Which they almost certainly will.

I've not seen a doctor at this surgery before (here's an artist's impression if you're having trouble picturing the scene), so to compensate, I actually visited twice this morning, once to disrobe behind a curtain and let them take the piss (well, a urine sample), and once to let them suck my blood and give me another appointment. I'll find out how long I've got to live next Thursday.

I was very impressed by Ardingly Court Surgery though. In contrast to Lisa's doctor, who keeps you waiting for two hours, and then acts like a befuddled old woman on a bus, my doctor barely gave me enough time to open a copy of Heat magazine, and called me in after two minutes. She was also highly knowledgable, experienced, professional, and almost certainly younger than me. I feel like I've wasted my life. So it'll be even more annoying if this infection's terminal.

On arrival, they also let you book yourself in via a touch-screen computer system. It's like the British Airways fast check-in service at Gatwick, except you don't have to leave the country within an hour of hitting enter. I for one approve. It's so much easier than having to talk to a receptionist whilst trying to look ill so that she won't think you're wasting their time. I usually cough so much I can't say my own name.

Anyhoo, my current health situation has precluded me from making any meaningful progress with my writing, but less than a week after saying I felt like packing up my stall in the job market and going home to write a book, the news seems to have reached the local press. This advert has just appeared in today's Argus:

Gardners Books
They want someone "to support Gardners' internal computer hardware and software systems". Which I have to say would be very handy. And when you've switched on my laptop and opened up Microsoft Word, maybe you could make me a cup of tea too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I think the guys upstairs must have a flat-viewing today. They were up at the crack of dawn this morning hoovering the floor above my bedroom (which according to the estate agent's website is high quality wood laminate, and well worth the £178k asking price). When I say the crack of dawn, I actually mean about three hours after the crack of dawn, but it was still early enough to wake me up. I'll be glad when they get a decent offer on that place.

And on the subject of my guitar-phobic neighbours, I had no idea just how prophetic (or should that be pathetic?) I am. I've only just discovered that exactly one year ago today (give or take 24 hours), whilst describing my first encounter with one half of the ceiling-banging couple, I wrote this:

"Fortunately the man (or Barry as I like to call him, mainly because that's his name) turned out to be very nice. Although we'll see how long that lasts once I start playing my guitar late at night."

It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I should learn to keep my mouth shut.

But the good news is that I can happily kick to the kerb the occupants of flat 8, because I've got some new people to play with now. A young married couple have just moved in to flat 9 (which is upstairs, but sufficiently to the side to mean I'd be hard-pressed to annoy them without turning up the volume on my amp), and being a neighbourly kind of guy, I got chatting last night and ended up lending them my vacuum cleaner. It's the modern equivalent of a cup of sugar.

In return they answered my probing questions and promised to "have me upstairs for a cup of coffee", but only "when they're a bit more sorted". I was tempted to say "well you've just hoovered the place, I'll come up now", but I didn't want to appear pushy. I think I've done quite well though - only one year after moving to Brighton and I've made my first friend. I'm just disappointed they're not Polish.

Sports Bra

Unfortunately, by the time I get to sip Kenco in their company, I could be hugely fat (well, hugely fatter). It's not easy maintaining a rigorous health and fitness regime when Lisa keeps hanging bras on my stepping machine.

Monday, June 18, 2007

My Ideal WomanThis is the face of my ideal woman. Not so much for the toothy grin and wide neck, more for her ability to make me rich. According to today's news, if you were to combine the genes of all previous lottery winners and inject them into a sheep (or something), this is the woman who'd pop out at the end with the winning ticket.

Interestingly I can see a similarity between Lisa and the happy-go-lucky face of Mrs Lotto. Maybe not enough to guarantee the jackpot, but enough to match three numbers and win me a tenner. I think I'll stick with her for the time being. And if all else fails, there's always her table tennis career.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

London to Brighton Bike RideThe organisers of the Kemp Town Carnival may not have wanted anyone to turn up, but the British Heart Foundation seem to have had other ideas. This was the scene at the finish of their London to Brighton Bike Ride this afternoon. I've never seen Madeira Drive so crowded. Well not since New Year's Day.

To be honest, I slightly regretted turning up, as having spent five minutes trying to pick my way through dozens of cyclists just to get across the road, then another fifteen struggling to find a route through the crowds and down to the finish line, I eventually arrived, discovered there was nothing worth seeing, and realised it was going to take me twenty minutes to get back.

Not that I don't appreciate the charity work involved, but when you've seen a load of people cycling around Brighton naked the week before, it's hard to get excited by a few sweaty people in Lycra. They're just not making the same kind of effort.

Water Cooler MomentI did like the people on the water stall though (or the Hydration Station if you prefer). They seemed to be getting more of it on the floor than down the participants' necks, and the bloke in front of the tables had managed to spill an entire tray of water-filled cups down his front. It was like an episode of 'It's a Knockout'. Stuart Hall would have been hysterical. It's what they call a water cooler moment.

In other news, I'm under strict instructions to mention here that Lisa's discovered an innate ability to play online table tennis. After a weekend in which she fell over while trying to pick up some chocolate chip cookies, spent ten minutes stirring the contents of a saucepan before realising she hadn't turned on the hob, and almost killed herself trying to put up the ironing board, I think she's keen to point out that she's good at something. Although personally I feel that a talent for table tennis just makes her even more like Forrest Gump.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

John RipleyLisa and I have just returned from the Kemp Town Carnival, which is currently taking place a hundred yards from my flat. Actually, I probably shouldn't tell you that, because according to this article by the lovely Xenia Gregoriadis (who's featured on this blog before), the organisers have "cut right back on advertising to keep the numbers down". So if you're thinking of going, please don't.

I spent last year's carnival picking up the keys to my new flat and then flooding the kitchen, so this was my first real opportunity to experience the celebrations first hand. And may I say I wasn't disappointed. Mainly because I had low expectations.

The gentleman on the left reminded me somehow of my Dad. Not so much facially, more in the way he dresses on a Saturday afternoon. His name's John Ripley (the man on the left, not my Dad), and he was there representing the Max Miller Appreciation Society with a very convincing (apparently) tribute act. I can't say it was really my cup of tea, but Mr Ripley's clearly a versatile performer, because according to the society's website, "John, who has made stage and TV appearances as Max, does other impersonations including Howard Keel, Elvis Presley & Al Jolson". It's a case of Ripley's believe it or not. And I barely can.

Mark 'Uke' WalshOf far more interest to an accomplished banjo ukulele player like myself (I've owned one for a good ten days now) was Mark 'Uke' Walsh, who according to his own website "is regarded as the finest Ukulele performer in the World today". If we'd known that at the time, we might not have walked off halfway through his first song.

But having had our fill of old-fashioned music hall acts, we headed off for a pre-arranged rendezvous with Sarah, the editor of the Kemptown Rag. I congratulated her on her journalistic efforts, she thanked me for my contributions, and I chatted to fellow Rag regular, Letitcia, who told me she ghost-writes for Julie Burchill (officially the 85th worst person in Britain), and then flogged me a copy of her book for a fiver. Lisa's currently reading it in the bedroom.

All of which is hungry work, so we finished up by following the sign next to Uke Boy, and arriving at the French Market, where I spotted a stall selling that most traditional of French dishes... um... paella.

French Paella
That frying pan is enough to dwarf anyone standing nearby. Which probably explains the woman on the right.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I've made an important decision today. It was actually made at 6am this morning, having been awake for two hours eating the contents of the fridge (minus the vegetables), so you know it's going to be good. Of course, if I'd known I had such an ability to get up at 4am and make decisions, I'd have mentioned it on my application to become a postman, but needless to say I didn't. Which might explain why I've heard nothing from them.

Winner (not Michael)Anyhoo, I've decided that I really must finish my novel. I casually mentioned back here, whilst up to my neck in tobogganing geese, clairvoyant bears and the curse of the YMCA (Young Mountaineers Cheese Association) that I'd have it finished within a week. Of course, that was two and a half years ago, and I haven't written another word since. Personally I blame Lisa. Though I haven't yet worked out why.

The other culprit is undoubtedly Paul Burrell, who came into my life during the first week of December 2004, distracted me from my writing, and ultimately led to the creation of my Telly Critic site, which took up most of my time in 2005, until I was forced to give that up too by certain persons (obviously I couldn't name them) who felt that if I'm going to drive 130 miles down to Sussex to spend the weekend with them, then maybe I shouldn't sit with my laptop all day, writing about Wife Swap.

The first half of 2006 was spent trying to save the large sums of money it cost me to move here, and the months since have been spent looking for a job. It's one year ago this weekend since I took possession (in the demonic sense of the word) of this flat, lined it with an impractically-coloured carpet, and spent five hundred quid on a washer-dryer for Lisa to stuff with underwired bras. And with the exception of an unpaid job on The Kemptown Rag, I don't have a lot to show for it.

All of this culminated in a discussion on Wednesday of this week with the Scope Job Broker, my official disability employment adviser, who after seven months of helping me apply for jobs, has finally admitted that no one's going to give me an interview unless I lie about the last thirteen years of my life. If you're a criminal, your conviction's spent after ten years, but if you're depressed it's apparently there for life.

So after eight months of job applications I've now been officially told it's a waste of time, and I need to create an elaborate cover story spanning more than a decade if I ever want to get a job in this town.

So frankly I feel a novel would be less work.

I clearly can't expect anyone else to consider me for employment (that would, I'm told, be asking too much), so if I want that yacht in the Mediterranean, it looks like it's down to me. My novel was much admired by the three people who read it, so as my first year in Brighton comes to an end, I'm going to put the job-hunting on hold, and get on with my writing. Unless anyone from the DSS is reading this, in which case I'm fully committed to my jobsearch, and on the phone to an agency as we speak.

That's the plan anyway. Unfortunately, before I can get on with finishing my novel, I've got to plough through the 50,000 words I've already written. Which for someone who doesn't read, could be a problem.

Incidentally, if anyone's here wondering when the next post from Big Sis is going to appear, I spoke to her this morning and she gave me four excuses for her lack of blogging:
  • She's up to her ears in paperwork related to the shipping of her car to Australia.

  • Her tenants at the Old Dairy in Salisbury are trying to sue her for giving them asthma.

  • Her belongings have been infected by a plant she doesn't own, and have to be destroyed.

  • She's on the run from a dog-eating bear in Los Angeles.
If it were anyone else, I wouldn't believe a word of it, but this is my Big Sis we're talking about, so I know it's all true. Frankly it sounds like a quiet week for her.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Brasserie Pizza & PastaIt's been a busy couple of days here in the heart of the Polish community. Lisa and I went for a meal the other night at a new restaurant which has just opened around the corner in St James's Street. Until a few months ago it was called 'The Gourmet Palace', which strangely enough never appealed to us, but after a couple of bailiffs with scant regard for fine dining plastered it with repossession notices, it promptly closed down, and has now reopened as 'The Brasserie Pizza & Pasta'. Which sounded a lot more up our street. Especially when I mis-read Brasserie as Brassiere.

We were keen to go sooner rather than later, as every time I've walked past they've had no customers whatsoever, and will no doubt be going out of business before the end of the month. They've now resorted to placing a large blackboard outside with the words "WE ARE OPEN!" to try and get the message across, and sure enough it seems to have worked - when we arrived there were two people in there. Both of whom left within five minutes.

It's a shame though, because the food was actually pretty good. They do quail eggs as a pizza topping, which has got to be some kind of first. My only complaint is that when I order a pizza with pepperoni, chicken & sweetcorn, I expect it to feature tomato sauce as well. I thought that was pretty much a given with pizzas, but apparently not. It was nice anyway, although they do charge £1.90 for a thimble-full of Diet Coke, which is enough to make you go thirsty.

Following that we did our bit for the younger generation by dropping in on Lisa's nephews. Nephew Number One showed me how to risk my life by climbing to the top of a door frame, Nephew Number Three is now the shape and weight of a bowling ball, while Nephew Number Two merely ran up to me shouting "You be Evil Phil and get me!".

I told him I wanted a role that would stretch me, and I wasn't sure the part of Evil Phil was really it, but he just started throwing Lego at me, so I didn't have much choice.

Being beaten up by a 3½-year-old is nothing however, compared to the financial pain inflicted on me by my car this week. On Monday I had to pay £115 road tax, on Tuesday I renewed my AA membership for £102, and today I've had to fork out £184 for a new exhaust. I wouldn't mind, but that comes to four hundred pounds, which is more than my car's worth.

It should have been less too. According to my itemised bill from ATS Euromaster, I've been charged 89p plus VAT for the "environmental disposal" of my old exhaust. If I'd known, I'd have asked for my pound back and chucked it in the sea myself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Big Sis in a Small World
Alaska – Denali National Park (2-3 June 2007)

Denali National Park
Me & Da at Denali
The next day was Denali Park day, a National Park which is as big as New Hampshire or Vermont - something I might have been able to envisage had I not driven through those states in torrential rain and darkness.

Unfortunately to see anything past mile 17 of the park, you have to take the tour bus along with a coachload of animal-crazy Americans. I felt I had no option but to join in this tourist venture, although I started to regret it by about mile 2 - this is what they looked like when there were a couple of rabbits outside the bus...

Look! Rabbits!
Grizzly BearBut on the plus side, we did see some grizzly bears (albeit at a distance), some curly horned sheep or goats (not sure which) and some ground squirrels.

By the last day in Alaska, adventurousness had kicked in (or possibly just a desperate urge to get away from tour guides and animal-crazed Americans) and we decided to drive to mile 17 of Denali National Park and go hiking in search of black bears. Having only seen a grizzly at a distance, I was getting withdrawal symptoms.

Denali Again
The bears were evasive, but we did get to see some stags, and then a glacier...

Me With a Glacier
... before having a close encounter with a moose...

But not to disappoint, on the way to the airport, a couple of hundred miles south of Denali, I tested the brakes on the rental car to make way for this cute little gem...

Bear Crossing
Hmmm... I think I've seen that photo somewhere before.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I think the residents of Kemp Town have heard about the gang of partying Poles in flat 1 and spotted a gap in the market. A new sign has just gone up around the corner in St James's Street...

Polskie Smaki!!!

So if you want a pint and a sausage sandwich to remind you of Warsaw, you know where to go. If my Polish neighbours are anything to go by, they'd be better off selling party poppers and disco equipment, but I suppose they know what they're doing. Even Eastern Europeans have to eat.

Unfortunately for the Polskie Smaki store however, they have fierce competition in the form of local entrepreneur Jennifer, and her shop, imaginatively entitled Jennifer's Shop, which is situated just fifty yards down the road, and currently has this hastily erected front window display...

The interesting thing about that display, aside from the fact that Jennifer's put an 'e' on the end of sandwich and at first glance appears to be selling ice for a hundred pounds, is that she's followed the example set by Polskie Smaki, and used a trio of exclamation marks, not once but twice. I can only assume this is some form of punctuation only understood in Poland, and no self-respecting Pole would enter your store without it.

Sadly for Jennifer and the sausage seller however, neither of them can compete with the sheer marketing power of the Wild Fruit Shop, a greengrocer just a few doors down who are currently offering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...

Half Price Polish Products!!!
Unfortunately when you go in, you just find a load of cheap Pledge and Mr Sheen, but hey, that's advertising for you.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Big Sis in a Small World
Alaska – Seward (2 June 2007)

Me & Canada Da in AlaskaAfter a quick review of the map, I decided to fly to Alaska rather than drive. The trip started well when my coat (which had previously had no use for five weeks, other than to take up valuable car space) remained on the plane without me. Unfortunately, I didn't realise until five minutes after the aircraft had taken off again in the direction of Boise... with my coat still on board. But undeterred, and slightly unclothed, I headed to Anchorage to meet Canada Da.

The next morning, we made a quick diversion to the local market which resulted in me becoming the proud owner of an Alaskan fleece and a wooden frog. Two items it's impossible to live without.

SurroundedSeward was the next stop where we ventured onto a boat to hunt down some wildlife (in the British sense, which doesn't involve guns). It soon became apparent that I attract dangerous wildlife on the water in the same way I attract the things on land. Within five minutes of setting sail, a pod of killer whales decided to surround the boat - I felt as if I was in a hostage situation. At least the bears have never ganged up on me.

The lively boat commentator (also known as the captain) couldn’t believe 'our luck', especially when this scenario was repeated three more times. Apparently he has never seen so many killer whales on one trip. Obviously he’s never had me onboard.


We saw lots of other wildlife, including porpoises which surfed alongside the boat, seals and some particularly cute puffins to name but a few.


We also spied a bit of a glacier falling into the water which was cool, literally.

I couldn’t sleep after all that excitement so felt the need to stay up until 1am to have this picture taken. I like this 21 hours of light per day thing.

Alaska at 1am