Subscribe: Subscribe to me on YouTube

Monday, December 31, 2007

Knees UpNo one walks away from a head-on collision with a kangaroo completely unscathed. Oh no. This is the state of Big Sis's knee since she mowed down a marsupial in her Chrysler convertible. The festive tablecloth really brings out the scarring. Fortunately Sis was wearing a seatbelt during the crash. Unfortunately she then took it off to get out of the car and check the damage to her headlights, tripped over a rock (possibly Ayers Rock) and slammed her knee into the ground. Of course that was nothing compared to the injuries she inflicted on the kangaroo, but Skippy doesn't have access to a camera, so we can't get his side of the story.

Anyhoo, the good news is we've all arrived in Chelmsford. Big Sis flew first class from Shanghai, while Lisa and I drove up the M23 in a Skoda. My biggest problem was the extortionate price of petrol, while Sis complained about the width of the flat beds and the vegetarian menu. Apparently Virgin Upper Class "isn't what it used to be".

On Saturday we had the pleasure of my brother's company. His 8-year-old daughter had got wind of my new status as a Nintendo DS owner, and was keen to connect with me wirelessly. I hadn't read the instructions, so had no idea what she was talking about. To be honest I struggle to remember how to turn it on. But with a bit of coaching I was soon receiving the demo level of 'Cooking Mama' via the miracle of wi-fi, and attempting to make a hamburger by waving a stick at the screen. I don't think it quite had the intellectual challenge of 'Brain Training'.

We're not celebrating Christmas until tomorrow (I think it's some kind of pagan thing), but my brother and I agreed to exchange small gifts on Saturday night. So he gave me a box of handmade chocolate piglets, and I gave him a copy of The Kemptown Rag. I can't reveal who was more pleased.

Big Sis was due to arrive on Sunday evening, so naturally my brother and his family were gone by Sunday morning, leaving Lisa and I to welcome Sis back to the UK... and wave her off as she disappeared into the bedroom complaining of jet-lag. But the good news is that she was up bright and early this morning, and by the time I went downstairs was already surfing the internet in her coat. If she can learn to type in gloves, she might agree to stay til the end of the week.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hit & RunThe kangaroo killer flies in from Australia tomorrow afternoon. She'll probably suck a few geese into the jet engines as she lands, and squash a hedgehog on her way out of the car park. She spent Christmas in the Far East, so I expect she's already demolished a few sacred cows. But her trail of death and destruction ends at my parents' house in Chelmsford, so Lisa and I are off to Essex today for Christmas Part II: The Revenge.

The day's got off to a good start. For the past two hours a team of builders have been doing their best to start a new channel tunnel in one of the basement flats. Well that's what it sounds like. To be honest I'm surprised my floor hasn't collapsed, because the way they've been banging away with hammers all morning, there can't be much of the basement left. But the good thing about being forced out of bed at the crack of dawn by an incessant, deafening, booming noise three feet from your pillow, is that it gives you plenty of time to do your packing. Unfortunately I did mine yesterday, and Lisa's refusing to get up. I think she's worn out from spending all her bingo winnings in White Stuff yesterday afternoon.

Friday, December 28, 2007

3 + 1 = 14

Well it does if you're Lisa playing 'Brain Training' on my Nintendo DS. It's no wonder she has the mental age of a pensioner. Two minutes later she was shouting the answers so loudly into the microphone that she seemed to be trying to intimidate Dr Kawashima into giving her the points.

As it happens, I only have that game because Lisa's mother heard I was getting a Nintendo DS for Christmas, and went straight out and bought me 'Brain Training'. I'm slightly offended by that.

But anyhoo, if you're thinking that numbers aren't Lisa's strong point, you'd be very, very wrong. Take a look at this...

That's a hundred pound note, that is.

If, like me, you've spent the past three days unable to move from the sofa due to grand scale chocolate consumption, then you're probably aware that yesterday was 'Free Day' at Gala Bingo. Or maybe they only broadcast that advert to council estates. But either way, Lisa and I saw it, and as my flat is conveniently situated less than 200 yards from a bingo hall, we naturally plodded along the road for an evening of free mathematics.

I don't know what it is about bingo, but from the look of the clientele, it does seem to attract a lot of Lidl shoppers who've been on Jeremy Kyle. Lisa and I were the classiest people there, and I wasn't even wearing my David Bitton jeans. It's almost three years since I last played bingo (it's taken me that long to get over the stress), and despite having moved house since then, I'd naturally kept hold of my magic bingo pen and my Gala membership card, so we arrived fully-prepared and found our seats next to a drunk with greasy hair.

Most of the first half was spent pointing out the more colourful occupants of the hall, and seeing who could spot the most drug-addled, tattooed, toothless and downright dangerous player in the vicinity. Lisa won that round, but sadly there wasn't any money in it.

By the interval we'd managed to work out how Gala can afford to let everyone play for free. It turns out that if you pay an optional £5 at the beginning (charmingly referred to as being "on the wizz"), any prizes you win will be doubled. Interestingly, I seemed to be the only person there who realised that 0 x 2 = 0, and as the evening went on, it soon became apparent that everyone bar us had paid five quid to get in. Some people just refuse to accept freebies.

Anyhoo, the highlight of the evening for me was the short break in the second half when Lisa decided she had plenty of time to go to the toilet. Obviously she didn't, but there's something hugely entertaining about a hall full of five hundred people descending into a deathly hush as the game begins, only for the door of the Ladies to creak open and Lisa to come strolling out. It wouldn't have been so bad if she'd known where we were sitting, but needless to say she got lost and started roaming the aisles in the middle of a big money game. Fortunately she found me in the end. It's not hard to spot someone who's laughing so much.

We'll never know whether Lisa would have won that game, but fortunately it didn't matter, because five minutes later she was drawing attention to herself in an entirely different way by shouting "Bingo!" at the top of her voice and waving her arms about. She didn't go for the £10 single line or the £20 double. Oh no. She waited for the £100 full house. It was the second biggest prize of the night. I knew we should have been on the wizz.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's a short book.I didn't just give Lisa a diamond ring yesterday. That would be ridiculous. Her main present was 'The Best of Jackie Annual'. I bought it to remind her of her youth, a quarter of a century ago. Lisa once wrote a letter to the Jackie problem page to complain that her mother wouldn't let her go to an all-night party. I wouldn't mind, but she was 31 at the time.

Sorry, I mean 13. Although I think she still had that problem in her thirties. I was hoping Lisa's letter might be in the annual, but sadly they seem to have replaced it with a picture of David Essex.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one to give Lisa a ring yesterday. Big Sis called from Australia to congratulate us, and pass on the news that she's just killed a kangaroo. She's only been there for six months and she's already threatening to wipe out the indigenous wildlife. It'll be the Aborigines next. But the nice thing is that having mown down a marsupial, she was far more concerned about the damage to her car.

Anyhoo, having discussed the pros and cons of the 'ShuRoo' with Big Sis, Lisa and I cooked our Christmas dinner, managed to get it ready for 4pm, ate everything in sight, and then made our way up to her Mum's for the evening. We arrived to find Lisa's sister playing Zelda on her Nintendo DS. Yes, it's true, we both got the same game for Christmas. I'm only 34, so there's no shame in playing children's video games, but she's 37 and really should know better.

With Lisa's sister occupied, I was able to join her sons on their new Wii. I proved to be a natural at golf and tennis, but I'm still not entirely sure what I was doing in Mario World. Unfortunately, playing with a Nintendo Wii is a little too much like doing an aerobic workout for my liking, so we soon abandoned that for the joys of a greyhound racing DVD. Lisa's mother is keen to instill the gambling spirit into her grandchildren, so she encouraged them to place bets using money they couldn't afford to lose, and attempted to fix it so that they won. She failed, but on the upside, Lisa's never been so rich.

After that, there was just time for me to carry an eight-year-old around on my shoulders for an hour, do a Shrek puzzle, eat mini quiches, and listen to Lisa's sister read an 'In the Night Garden' book with her two-year-old son. I'm not entirely sure what it was about, but I did hear her correct him with the words "No, that's not the Ninky Nonk, that's the Pinky Ponk", so it was obviously quite educational.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Give me a ring.Look at that. Who says you can't get quality in a pound shop. You won't find a better cubic zirconia set in stainless steel for under a fiver.

Anyhoo, Happy Christmas everyone! I trust Santa has fulfilled the promises he made whilst bouncing you on his knee in the Arndale Centre. I know he has mine.

I'm pleased to say that having eaten cocktail sausages and shortbread for breakfast, Lisa and I have just exchanged gifts. She took Nicole Kidman's advice and bought me a Nintendo DS with the latest Zelda game, and in return I surprised her with the ring on the left. Yes, like the toilets at the Hammersmith Apollo, we're now permanently engaged.

But enough about our impending marriage. Let's move on to my career as a soothsayer. Last Wednesday I mentioned that I'd received a mysterious package in the post, which I hoped might be the 2008 edition of Dave's book on Sarah Mallet. It was what's known as 'a joke'. Well...

Sally R MeI swear I hadn't opened it when I wrote that. The fact is I clearly have levels of intuition that would make Mystic Meg faint. It turns out that Dave has prepared a special edition of his book for people like myself who don't read. It's abridged to within an inch of its life, and comes complete with pictures to spur you on through all three of its pages. And yes, I did manage to get to the end. I was a little disappointed to find that Sarah Mallet isn't the great-great-grandmother of Timmy (unless Dave's saving that for the next edition), but that aside, it was a cracking read. Although I'm sure there's no such place as North Lopham.

As for my proposal to Lisa, well I decided to pop the question in that age-old traditional manner which has been used for so many generations by all of history's great lovers. Yes, that's right, I spelt it out on a breakfast tray in home-made gingerbread.

Indecent Proposal
Oh, and she said yes.

After which she said "Which hand does it go on?". So at least I know she's never been married before.

Monday, December 24, 2007

December 25thIt's Christmas Day! And I've got the text message to prove it. I realise that the most obvious way to end a Happy Christmas text message is probably not with the word 'thailand', but this one's from Big Sis, so frankly anything goes. I've blanked out her real name for security reasons, but she's spent the past few weeks posing for official photos at her Australian school of the skies, so if she ever fakes her own death in a canoe, there'll be an internet trail a mile long. I think having her real name revealed on my blog would be the least of her worries. But still.

I haven't actually responded to Sis's thai-dings of joy, because at the time I was busy driving around Hove, looking for the Vallance Community Centre. It proved a bit of a challenge. To be honest, Ritchie Valens would have been easier to find, and he's dead.

I wouldn't normally have gone driving around town on the busiest shopping day of the year, but when Lisa told me she'd volunteered for some kind of community service (when I say 'volunteered for', I mean 'been sentenced to'), I was naturally keen to give her a lift. With a bit of luck she could have been gone all day. And when she added that it was simply a matter of finding "a big red building" in Sackville Road, I was understandably confident of being home for the end of The Railway Children.

Well it's a good job I've seen it before, otherwise I'd have no idea how it finishes. Sackville Road, it turns out, has nothing but red brick buildings, is about a mile long, and is currently gridlocked by Christmas shoppers. At one end is Vallance Road. We found that with no trouble at all. Unfortunately, Vallance Community Centre is about as far from Vallance Road as it's possible to get without leaving Sussex, and is situated in the only non-red building in the street. I was home in just under an hour.

On MessageBut in other news, I've recently been outed on the official Nina Gordon Message Board. Well I say outed. The author of this post has kindly plugged my Nina Gordon site, and offered his congratulations to...

"whoever set it up".

Clearly my master plan to remain anonymous by placing my name on all twenty-seven pages has worked a treat.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lisa asked me to cut her fringe for her last night. I'm no Salvadore Gutierrez, but I've trimmed a few cats in my time, and I like to do my bit to help others more hairy than myself, especially at Christmas, so naturally I agreed.

It didn't go quite according to plan, but the good news is that within an hour or so she'd calmed down and apologised for hitting me. Ironically she claimed that my good deed with a pair of scissors was the more serious assault, but I'm not sure that would stand up in a court of law.

Anyhoo, it's all resolved now. We've agreed to say no more about it, and as a gesture of goodwill I've waived my fee and offered to buy her a hat for Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wa-hey!The bumper Christmas edition of The Kemptown Rag has hit the streets (and landed in the gutter), and I have to say I'm loving the work of the new layout guy. Well I say new. I think he's been doing it since August, but it takes me a while to adjust to change. The man's done a fine job with my latest article though. I particularly like the way he's hijacked a couple of planes and flown them into the twin towers of my writing to create an explosion of colour. It makes the whole page look attractive. If he carries on like this, even I'm going to want to read my stuff.

On the downside, I'd just like to state for the record that I did not, I repeat not, use the word "Wa-hey!" at the end of the article. I think that's a bit of festive exuberance from the editor.

Anyhoo, talking of people getting over-excited at Christmas, I went festive food shopping with Lisa and her Mum yesterday. I now realise why there's a food shortage in the third world - Lisa's family are hoarding it all in a cupboard in Brighton. As things stand right now, they could open their own branch of Marks & Spencer's, and if they actually manage to eat it all, I'll have to book them in for gastric bypass surgery in the new year.

As for our journey into town, that was like a recreation of the Christmas story, but with only one wise man. The three of us had arranged to meet outside M&S at 4:30pm, so having enjoyed afternoon tea on my sofa, Lisa's Mum decided to catch the bus outside my flat, while I chose to walk, and Lisa planned to make her own way from work. So waving goodbye to Lisa's mother at one bus stop, I headed off down the road on foot, covered a mile without seeing a single bus, passed Lisa standing at another Paul Zenonbus stop, said hello, told her that her Mum would be on the next bus, carried on walking, and eventually arrived at Marks & Spencer's before either of them.

It was all the more remarkable because en route to the M&S food hall I spotted master magician Paul Zenon doing his Christmas shopping in North Street, which delayed me for a good five minutes while I followed him up the road wondering whether I had the nerve to ask him to show me a trick. In the end I didn't. But half an hour later I asked Lisa to pick a card, she chose my Barclays debit, and we successfully made a large amount of money disappear. Now that's magic.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Kerrang!You know what it's like. You get up on a Thursday morning, make a cup of tea, check your e-mails, and find one inviting you to be a guest on a national radio show at 10pm that evening. We've all been there.

I received an e-mail yesterday sent at 1:45am on Wednesday night from the senior producer of 'The Night Before' with Nick Margerrison, a late-night phone-in show on Kerrang! Radio in Birmingham. He said this:

"Possibly the greatest thing I HAVE EVER SEEN!!! (the above message system I mean)".

He's talking about the Phil-Mail-o-Matic. And frankly he needs to get out more. But that's not why he got in touch. Having introduced himself, the man went on to say this:

"I want to invite you to be a guest on the show TONIGHT (Thursday night). For various reasons which I'd love to talk to you about properly over the phone. Please could you urgently send me your telephone number and we shall chat about your involvement with the show."

Yes indeed. On Tuesday night they had David Icke, Wednesday they had Peter Tatchell, and on Thursday they wanted... um... me. And people say broadcasting standards are declining.

The subject of my guest spot wasn't revealed, but fortunately I have software which tracks my visitors more closely than David Icke tracks aliens, so I happen to know that he arrived via my Telly Critic blog, having searched Google for a "television critic". He obviously took one look at the site, realised I was cheap, available and will say yes to anything, and promptly got in touch.

So with the opportunity to upset people on a much grander scale, I naturally jumped at the chance, e-mailed them straight back with my phone number, and waited. And waited. And then waited some more. And...

They never called. Or e-mailed. Thirteen hours spent sitting by the phone in a state of high alert, mentally preparing my theory on X Factor as a form of care in the community, and it was all for nothing.

What a Carrie on.I listened to the show, and the subject of the first hour was a debate on the social evils of reality TV, featuring not me, but Carrie Grant, the vocal coach from Fame Academy, plus some bloke who was voted off last year's X Factor. Although he wasn't so much a guest as a caller.

So there you have it. I've missed out on a shot at national fame thanks to the winner of Safari School and the woman who taught Take That to sing. I can't believe she was cheaper than me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I finally received a Christmas card from Dave (the blogger, not the TV channel) yesterday. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, I think Royal Mail must have sent it by donkey. It certainly took long enough to get here. In addition to a card designed by one of Dave's readers, the envelope contained a mysterious pamphletty item wrapped in festive paper. I'm hoping it's the 2008 edition of his book on Sarah Mallett, but I don't want to get my hopes up.

Winter WishesAs nice as it was, however, Dave's card wasn't my favourite of the day. That honour belongs to this one, which Lisa brought home from work yesterday afternoon. It's from one of her colleagues, and bears the cheery greeting "Winter Wishes", which is one of those phrases which sounds nice until you realise it means absolutely nothing.

Personally I took it to be a title, and assumed that the sender's winter wishes for us both would be detailed inside the card, so I opened it up with much excitement to find this...

Um... Winter Wishes.I think it's the most festive card I've ever had. Who needs to mention Christmas when you can say everything you need to say in just two words. I presume if you go to Australia, you can get cards which say "Summer Wishes", and feature a couple walking down a beach in the sunshine.

It makes me wish I'd sent my Mum a birthday card which just said "Hello". All that 'Happy Birthday' nonsense is clearly a waste of time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I took Lisa to see a doctor this morning. It's about time someone had a good look at her. As it happens, her visit was only routine (although personally I think medical science should be studying how anyone can eat that many crisps and live), but since she last went, her surgery has moved a couple of hundred yards down the road, and she wasn't convinced she could find it. This is a woman who recently tried to catch a bus from Shoreham to Brighton, and ended up in Steyning, so she's got a point.

Hard to spot.Her surgery is now in this building, The Glass Pavilion, so called because Lisa would need glasses to see it from the Pavilion. It's a brand new development which has only been built since I moved here, and features two-bedroom flats which are currently available to rent for £1,500 a month. Having driven past a couple of times a week throughout the many months of building, and frequently been held up by construction traffic in the road, I'm glad it's now finished, not least because it's lit up quite prettily at night and you can see the reflection of the Royal Pavilion in its glass. It's an impressive sight which is impossible to miss.

Well, I say that. Lisa phoned her surgery yesterday afternoon to find out its new address, and having put the phone down she had only one question: "Where's the Glass Pavilion?". I told her. It turned out she'd never noticed it. So I decided it might be wise to walk her there. It's a full one hundred yards from where she's worked for the past twelve years, so frankly there was every chance she'd get lost.

Anyhoo, I'm pleased to report that her new surgery is a definite improvement on the old one (which was a bit like visiting a slum in the ghetto). Sadly they haven't replaced any of the staff, but you can't have everything. When we arrived, Lisa's doctor was standing in reception handing out chocolate liqueurs. So that's obesity and alcoholism covered; she just needs to open the Christmas cigars and she'll have wiped everyone out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I checked my Telly Critic e-mails yesterday for the first time in... oooh, about three months, and I found one sent in November from an A-level Media Studies student who's doing a project on reality TV and thought I might like to write his thesis for him.

Obviously he didn't expect me to produce two thousand words of considered debate entirely on my own - he was kind enough to provide me with bullet points of the four main issues he'd like me to consider in my answer to the question "Are reality TV programmes designed to produce conflicts for audience gratification?".

I've probably missed the essay deadline by now, but I think my answer would have been "Yes", followed by a six-page debate on whether modern A-levels are worth the paper they're written on.

Anyhoo, today is the birthday of my second most prolific blog commenter, Mrs G of Essex. So Happy Birthday to her. I posted a card on Thursday, first class, so naturally she hasn't received that yet, but in the meantime here's a photo of her hunting for presents...

Nice hat.
I don't have permission to publish that, so expect it to be taken down within the hour.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Digitally Born KidsIn the end I didn't go to the Winter Celebration to see Christmas Carol Theobald, the Silent Night mayor. I thought my time would be much better spent watching twenty films in three hours. So at great personal sacrifice (there was horse racing on the TV), I headed down to the Sallis Benney Theatre yesterday afternoon for the Digitally Born Kids Film Festival, a free one-day screening of films made by under-18s.

I don't like to complain (I'm more of a whiner than a moaner), but it does annoy me that I live in a city which frequently offers top quality events in return for no money whatsoever, and yet still people can't be bothered to go. Speaking as someone who spent eight years living in a village where the most exciting event was the annual Litter-Picking Day in Ganges Wood, I can't help feeling that the residents of Brighton have no idea how lucky they are.

Sallis Benney TheatreSo at 2pm I arrived at a modern state-of-the-art theatre which can seat 300, for an entirely free film festival organised by a committee of eleven local teenagers, who had personally sat through more than eighty films submitted from all over the UK, chosen the best twenty, produced trophies and certificates, and even arranged for a documentary film crew to cover the event... only to find that about sixteen people had turned up. The kids had even put out extra chairs in case the venue was full, which was what really broke my heart. They deserved so much more.

But anyhoo, it turned out to be a fab afternoon. The teenagers did everything from handing out the programmes and introducing the films, to warning us that anyone who chewed gum would be forced to come back at the end and scrape it off the seats. The films were shown in three groupings, with two short breaks to allow the audience to make their way into the theatre cafe and be interviewed by the documentary crew. I gave that part a miss. Anyone who's seen my moustache movie will know that I'm better in print than on film.

As for the films themselves, they were what you'd call an eclectic mix, from animations about recycling and joy-riding, to live action films about time-travel, M.E. and murder, plus one featuring kids dressed as dogs eating Coco Pops (I didn't really understand that one), but almost without exception, they were phenomenally good.

I particularly liked Best Friends, a Welsh film about dyslexia, although it slightly ruined its own argument by telling us that both Robbie Williams and Britney Spears are dyslexic, and suggesting we hold them up as role models. I think it was made before they both went off the rails. Then there was 'By The Way, I'm Gay', a brilliantly funny film about coming out of the closet, and 'You Hussy', a comedy made at City College, Brighton. But even up against those two, the prize for most outrageous title has to go to 'Getting Stuck In' by Hadlow Youth Club in Kent. It's about a boy who stabs his father with a bread knife. To be honest, it would have been more gruesome if it wasn't for the fact that you could see the chopped herbs in the tomato sauce they were using as blood.

I came close to seeing blood of my own when it came to 'Albana's Asylum', a Scottish drama so bleak that it would have made Ken Loach slash his own wrists. But by far the most impressive film of the afternoon was another Glasgow-based effort called 'Happy', a brilliantly made film about happy-slapping. I can't seem to track it down on the internet, which is a shame because it was so well acted and directed that the teenagers behind it will no doubt be winning Baftas in years to come, and I want to be able to say I spotted them first.

Other highlights of the festival included 'The Monster of Hove Lagoon' (that was a documentary) and 'Brief-Case', a 7-minute whodunnit made by the DBK committee themselves, which featured a man being bludgeoned to death with a pumpkin, and a lawyer who looked like Elvis. I haven't laughed so much in years.

My favourite film, however, would have to be 'Don't Open The Cupboard', a five minute movie written, directed by and starring Ben and Rory, Brighton's answer to Vic & Bob, who appeared to be aged about 12. They'd shot the whole thing at the Phoenix Gallery (where I once posed with a totem pole), and in addition to displaying a talent for surreal comedy, provided the highlight of the entire afternoon by dancing to a mobile phone ringtone over the closing credits. I'd give them their own TV show immediately.

Fortunately, by the time the trophies were handed out at 5pm, the audience had grown to a few dozen, and that was despite the fact that most of the award-winners had failed to turn up. The makers of 'Happy' (Best Drama) were apparently absent because "they're from Scotland and couldn't be bothered to come" - a line also put to good use by the people behind 'Beach' (Best Film With a Moral Message) who live in Swansea - but the most original excuse of the day came from the winners of the Best Chiller award, which went to 'The Curse of the Circus'. According to the official announcement, "they're actually in a circus, and are touring at the moment". You never hear that one on Oscar night.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Manic FridayIt's the Manic Street Preachers!

At least I think it is. That's the clearest photo I've got, and frankly it could be anyone. Unfortunately my efforts to take a good picture were hampered by the people sitting next to us, who spent the entire concert screaming "We love you, James!" and bouncing up and down to such an extent that our entire row of seats were shaking like a teacher at a bear-naming ceremony. It was like watching a concert from the back seat of a bus.

But the good news is that the Manics were far better than I expected. To be honest I'd been more excited about my trip to the dentist yesterday, and was only going because Lisa had agreed to come and see (the vastly superior) Maroon 5 with me. But they turned out to be pretty good. Although they made the mistake of opening with their best song ('Motorcycle Loneliness'), meaning it was all downhill from there. Yesterday's Brighton Centre concert was the last night of their tour, and oddly they didn't do an encore, so they were obviously keen to get home. But to be honest, so was I.

As for tonight, there's a bit of a clash on the concert front. Floors and Walls are playing at the Engine Room in Preston Street, while Nina Gordon is coming out of retirement to play a few songs at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. Mind you, with the eight-hour time difference, I could probably make it to both.

As it happens, the Hotel Cafe isn't the only place Nina's putting in an appearance at the moment - she's also made it onto my CV. I spent yesterday afternoon applying for a job at the International Dance Teachers Association, which is just a ten minute walk (or a five minute quickstep) from my flat. The job involves "updating the company website", so I'm using my Nina Gordon site to prove my credentials as a web-builder in the performing arts field. I might even see if she'll give me a reference.

Anyhoo, I have no time to hang around here, because I'm currently missing a 'Winter Celebration' (you can't mention Christmas in case you offend people) down the road at the Seven Dials. Apparently the mince pies are free, and following the Yiddish Choir at 11:50am and the Accordionist at 12:15pm (both of which should pull in the crowds), the programme says this:

12.40pm Message from Carol Theobald, Mayor of Brighton & Hove
12.50pm Carol Singing

I wonder what she'll be singing..?

Friday, December 14, 2007

I had to go to the dentist this morning for a check-up followed by an informal chat about mouthwash. Whilst sitting in the waiting room for half an hour (I think my dentist must be dating Lisa's doctor), I noticed a copy of The Kemptown Rag on the table, so I pulled it out from underneath a copy of 'Latest Homes' magazine, and gave it pride of place in the centre of the table. At which point I saw it was the October 12th edition, realised I hadn't written anything for that issue, and put it back at the bottom of the pile. I'm loyal, but I'm not that loyal.

I was glad I went out though (despite being told that one of my teeth needs a refill), because walking home I came across the latest installment of 'Kemp Town Tries to Spell Cockateil'. Following on from October's homeless cocktail in Eaton Place, we now have this in St James's Street...

The bird has flown.
It's like we're slowly moving towards the correct spelling, one letter at a time. The next one should be fine. Then we can all try to spell parrot.

The highlight of this sign, however, was the following piece of information:

Attached to my bird.
Yes, but not that attached, obviously.

In other news, I've just received word that Big Sis has won the three-legged race at her school sports day in Australia. She's 35, so it's been a long time coming. From the sound of it, she won the race on her own, which might explain why she can't find a pair of jeans that fit.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flash GordonIt's Nina Gordon!

Don't worry, a month ago I'd never heard of her either. Have a guess how old she is...

Yes, that's right, she's 39. Or she was when that photo was taken. Lisa's only 38 at the moment, so she won't look like that until next year.

Anyhoo, Nina Gordon is, as you'll find out if you click on that link, an American singer-songwriter. Unless you visit her MySpace page, in which case she's listed under death metal. It's just one of those light-hearted, gently ironic jokes which are completely wasted on death metal fans.

I actually discovered her by accident during one of my regular monthly pilgrimages to Amazon (the website, not the basin), a deeply religious experience which involves me typing the words "Michelle Branch" into the little search box, hitting 'Enter', and spending the next five minutes cursing the gods of rock for the fact that she still hasn't released a new album. I've been doing that since about 2003.

When I visited last month, however, Amazon informed me that a lot of people who, like myself, think Michelle should get her priorities right and make a record instead of sitting at home with her new baby, had consoled themselves by listening to music by Nina Gordon. Well, what it actually said was "Customers who bought this item also bought..." but it amounts to the same thing. So after listening to a few snippets, I followed their example and handed over my debit card details in return for Nina's two albums. And...

They're very good. She's like Aimee Mann, only foxier. Obviously her physical appearance has nothing to do with my love for her music. Not at all. Well maybe slightly. But even if she looked like Bella Emberg or, God forbid, Letitia Dean, I'd still think she was one of the finest songwriters I've ever heard.

In an outrage of epic proportions, Nina's just had a baby too, so she won't be releasing any more records for a while, but the two albums by her former band Veruca Salt are on my Christmas list, and while I wait for those, I thought I'd look up the music to some of her songs, and rock out in my living room with an acoustic guitar. Unfortunately a hundred million websites on the internet yielded the chords to approximately three Nina Gordon songs, so...

Quicker than you can say 'gap in the market', I'm unleashing another website on the world. Brace yourself, it's...

It's just your average 28-page website knocked up in about twelve days. Unfortunately, having spent the past fortnight working out the music to twenty-seven songs, whilst covering major world events on this blog, working as a film critic for The Kemptown Rag and an art critic for The Argus (I think I'll put that on my CV), not to mention writing my Christmas cards and queueing for the toilets at the Hammersmith Apollo, I haven't actually had time to apply for any jobs.

I'm due at the Jobcentre this morning, so I think I'll take my guitar and try to pass it off as voluntary work.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Number One FanshaweFirst there was Jimmy Somerville's trousers.

Then there was Dora Bryan's tapestry.

Followed by Preston's painting.

Now I give you Simon Fanshawe and the case of the missing tenner. I'm beginning to think if I spend enough time in Brighton charity shops, I'll meet the Queen.

But for now I'll have to make do with Simon. Well ok, I haven't actually met him, but I have heard him slagged off in a public place. It's the same thing, but without any autographs. I won't identify the shop for legal reasons, but suffice it to say it was the one around the corner which sounds like Mariah Carey. And I don't mean Leona Lewis.

I was in there yesterday afternoon, pondering whether to buy a jacket I have absolutely no need for, when the manageress announced in a loud voice that Simon Fanshawe had been in, and she'd accidentally overcharged him by £10.

Personally I want to know just how much money Simon was spending on secondhand tat, that he didn't realise they'd overcharged him by ten quid. I think I'd notice if they charged me thirteen quid for a £2.99 t-shirt. But that aside, the manageress then proceeded to inform anyone within a ten metre radius that she was glad she'd overcharged him, because she can't stand the man. She also exclusively revealed that she'd once chased him down the road on a bicycle just to have a go at him about something he'd said on the radio. I'm surprised he didn't remember her.

Fortunately she was amongst friends, so rather than condemning her for slagging off a customer who'd just donated a large amount of money (at least ten pounds more than he intended) to a worthwhile cause, the woman's colleague agreed that Mr Fanshawe is indeed annoying, and probably deserved to be overcharged, while a nearby customer added that he doesn't like him either. At which point the manageress said she wished she'd overcharged him by more than £10.

Obviously the season of goodwill doesn't quite extend to all men.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I knew I could do it...

Number One Fan
And to answer their question, no, I did not mean Salvador Gutierrez. What do they take me for, an idiot?

Anyhoo, I realise that certain nameless individuals with spelling problems are concerned about my quest for a free haircut, using the flimsy excuse that I have no hair. Well, for a start I have a proven ability to grow a moustache, which I think is what Salvadore has in mind when he talks about highlighting a quarter of your head for forty quid, but that aside, let's not forget that I have a certain loved one in my life who likes to look her best at all times, is never more than three feet from a comb, uses shampoo like it's going out of fashion, has regular cut & blow-drys, and spends most of her life on my sofa, checking her hair.

I'm talking about my cat, obviously. But Lisa wouldn't mind a freebie either.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The new issue of The Kemptown Rag came out over the weekend, and I like to think I've made page 12 my own with an article about the Brighton Film Festival. Unfortunately I'm competing for column inches with a piece about the Brighton Women's Centre and their campaign for sexual equality, which makes my headline 'Carry On Brighton' seem a little insensitive.

As it happens though, my article isn't the highlight of the current issue. This is:

Salvadore Gutierrez
It's a half-page advert from international hairdresser to the stars, Salvadore Gutierrez, who's just moved to Kemp Town from Los Angeles, New York and London. He's done the hair of Pauline Quirke and John McEnroe (though he can't spell either of their names), and now he's camping it up in Egremont Place and offering to touch you up for thirty quid.

Interestingly, my brother almost put in an offer on a flat in Egremont Place two years ago, before deciding that the parking situation looked dodgy, and the U-shaped living room meant I wouldn't be able to see the TV without a complicated system of mirrors. He must be kicking himself now though. I bet property prices have shot up since Salvadore moved in.

I've looked up Mr Gutierrez on Google, and oddly for a man who's heard Carly Simon sing 'You're So Vain', he doesn't seem to be there. So give it a day or two for this post to get listed, and my blog will officially be the web's leading resource for Salvadore Gutierrez information. I wonder if that's worth a free cut and blow dry?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's surprising the things you discover whilst walking along the seafront on a Sunday afternoon. It seems that Dr Alex Comfort, author of 'The Joy of Sex', is back from the dead, and driving a starcruiser from the planet Bonk.

The Comfort of Sex
Mind you, I took that photo at Duke's Mound, which is the dogging capital of Brighton (don't ask how I know that), so perhaps it's not surprising.

What is shocking is the cigarette-clutching hand emerging from the sun roof. A doctor really should know better.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

IgglepiggleIt's Igglepiggle!

He's just got off the Ninky Nonk and he's off to see the Tombliboos. I expect.

Personally I'd never heard of Igglepiggle and his vocally challenged friends until last week when Lisa was informed over the phone by her two-year-old nephew that he'd just received one for his birthday. Naturally we assumed he was making it up, but it turns out he's not the habitual liar we thought he was, and the Haahoos and Pontipines really do exist. Although the jury's still out on the Wottingers.

Anyhoo, we know they're real, because last night Lisa and I presented the birthday boy (a week late) with the gift we'd lovingly chosen for him: his very own Ninky Nonk (not to be confused with a Pinky Ponk, which is something else entirely). When I say 'lovingly chosen', I mean of course that we handed over some money to his mother and she told us what she'd bought him, but the thought was there. He seemed to like it anyway.

As any self-respecting devotee of In the Night Garden will know (and the show even has its own fan sites) the Ninky Nonk is a train. Pronunciation is all important however, as proved by Lisa's mother, who's been wandering around toy shops asking for a Nig Nog and getting some very strange looks.

As it transpired, I got to spend a lot more time with Lisa's nephews yesterday evening than she did. Despite my experience of two weeks ago I decided to selflessly meet Lisa from work yesterday and give her a lift to her Mum's. Through no fault of my own (obviously) I arrived five minutes late, and sat outside her workplace for the next twelve minutes, looking for traffic wardens and wondering if I'd missed her, before deciding I had, and driving off. I did try to phone her on her mobile, but apparently she hasn't turned it on since Wednesday.

Needless to say I hadn't missed her, and if I'd waited another three minutes, we'd have met up successfully. But the good news is that instead of wasting my life outside Lisa's workplace, I was able to spend my time far more productively by learning how to do 'The Trapeze' with a diabolo, courtesy of her eldest nephew. Sadly Lisa wasn't there to see it - she was busy walking up the hill in the rain with three carrier bags - but I'm sure she'd have been impressed.

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's a proud day in the Gardner household...

Lip Service
I've just received that in the post, which was a bit of a surprise as I don't remember giving them my address. They probably followed the trail of laughing and pointing people until they arrived at my front door.

But it's something to be proud of (and it gives me another excuse to link to my moustache documentary, which is currently only sixty-seven million hits short of being YouTube's most watched video).

A quick visit to the pound shop and I'll have that framed and on the wall next to Lisa's Fire Extinguisher Training certificate. We've both achieved so much.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's Maroon 5!

The Famous Five
Yes, I know we only went to a concert on Tuesday night, but we've been to another one, ok? Like I said, it's only money. And besides, when we booked them both months ago, we didn't realise they were on consecutive days. Frankly I barely knew they were in the same month.

Fortunately this one was at The Brighton Centre, so the fact that we didn't have to travel all the way up to London meant we were only five minutes late for the support band. They turned out to be Dashboard Confessional. Yes, Dashboard Confessional. I admit I'd never heard of them, but I expect my parents have, because two and a half years ago they gave me an album by Hot Rod Circuit which states in the sleeve notes: "Chris Carrabba does the screamy part on 'Unfaithful'".

Chris Carrabba, it turns out, is the lead singer of Dashboard Confessional. It's a small world.

Anyhoo, they may be unknown in this country, but they've released seven albums in the States, reached number two in the charts (twice), gone platinum, and had songs featured in Shrek 2 and Spiderman 2. But personally I preferred the one which Chris said he wrote when he got out of prison.

Sadly I don't have any photos of the 'Fessionals. The Brighton Centre was plastered with new signs saying 'Photography Strictly Prohibited', so I decided not to start snapping away until Maroon 5 came on stage.

MaroonedNeedless to say, Maroon 5 were excellent. I saw them over four years ago in London, supporting Matchbox Twenty, and I like to think it was my word-of-mouth reviews that got them where they are today. I told at least three people how good they were.

Anyway, despite the fact that we were sat next to a couple of teenage girls who squealed like guinea-pigs throughout most of the concert, it was a superb show. Even Lisa said how good it was, and she'd only gone with me as part of a deal brokered by ACAS, under the terms of which I have to sit through The Manic Street Preachers with her on the 14th. I plan to be ill that day.

In other news, I wrote all my Christmas cards yesterday, so if you don't receive one from me in the next few days it means that either you've temporarily slipped my mind, or you've annoyed me so much over the past year that I've struck you off the list. You can decide which.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Once Bitton, Twice ShyIt's me and Lisa in London!

And you're right, I am wearing my David Bitton jeans. If I was a foot taller, that attempt to make me look like I have blue rabbit ears would have worked too.

Anyhoo, two months ago Chris Difford of Squeeze played a free gig in Brighton, and as lifelong fans, Lisa and I were of course there... in time to catch the last three minutes of it. So having discovered that he knows at least one song, we were naturally keen to see how far his repertoire stretches, and therefore felt it worth forking out forty quid a ticket to see the Squeeze reunion tour in London. The photo on the left was taken outside St Paul's Church in Hammersmith, where I was praying for money.

The trip got off to a good start when we arrived on platform 4 of Brighton station at 2:51pm to see the 14:52 train pulling out, but the good thing about having to wait half an hour for the next train is that it gave me plenty of time to look at my debit card receipt and work out just how much this day was costing me. After which I decided to pay 20p to use the toilets, on the grounds that it wouldn't make much difference.

Hanging AroundEn route to London, I came remarkably close to defeating Lisa in a game of Hangman by using the word 'Squeeze', which I felt would have been quite an achievement, but that aside, the journey passed without incident and we made it to Victoria. From there we chugged along the District line, narrowly avoided ending up in Wimbledon, and arrived safely in Hammersmith.

We had three hours to kill before the concert, most of which Lisa spent in The Body Shop assuring me that she'd almost finished. But we did also find time to stand in a branch of 'Books etc' reading a lot of self-help manuals we had no intention of buying. I felt they were over-selling themselves with the word 'etc', but other than that it was a good shop.

From there we went to Subway, where I saved myself a fortune by illegally refilling my Diet Coke cup three times, before heading to McDonalds for a McFlurry, where we sat next to a pensioner who actually fell asleep at the table. If McDonalds sold Red Bull, things like that wouldn't happen.

My SqueezeFortunately time flies, and before we knew it, we were on the verge of being late for the concert, so we made our way around the corner to the Hammersmith Apollo, and past the most optimistic man in the world who was standing outside with a sign which read "Can anyone spare a free ticket?".

Once inside, we heard the support band striking up, so I quickly popped to the toilets. Well, I say quickly. Here's a blog post by the Daily Mirror's Science and Environment Editor, Mike Swain, who went to the Apollo in June. He mentions that "the queue for the men's toilets stretched halfway across the bar because nobody had installed urinals". Well it's interesting he should say that, because funnily enough... um... the queue for the men's toilets stretched halfway across the bar because nobody had installed urinals. I thought someone had put the wrong sign on the door and we were all queuing for the Ladies. Frankly I've had shorter waits at Alton Towers.

But having stood there for half the evening contemplating why one of the largest venues in London only has about five toilets, we made it into the auditorium in time for the support band's last two songs (though sadly not in time to find out who they were), and were shown to our seats in Row L by a nice young usherette, who let us sit there for a good fifteen minutes before we realised we were in Row K.

I'm glad we didn't stay in those seats, however, because if we had, we'd have missed out on the two blokes directly behind us in Row M, who spilt beer down Lisa's back, and spent the entire concert yakking to each other in loud voices. It was worth paying forty quid a ticket just for the quality of the conversation.

But all that aside, Squeeze were very good, and played for almost two hours (giving the blokes behind us time to cover a wide variety of topics). I was particularly impressed with their new keyboard player, Stephen Large. He's apparently played a lot with The Ordinary Boys, so it's surprising Preston didn't mention him in The British Heart Foundation last Thursday. As for Glenn Tilbrook, I'd give my right arm to be able to play the guitar like him. Although that would make it hard to hold a plectrum.

Anyhoo, it was a good day out, and having parted with another 20p to use the toilets at Victoria station, we made it back to Brighton at 12:45am to find that (a) it was pouring with rain, and (b) the buses stopped running at midnight. So with the laid back attitude of two people who are past caring, we chucked our return bus tickets in the bin and paid £5.50 for a taxi. After all, it's only money.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lisa was eating a packet of crisps last night, when she noticed there was a tear in the bottom of the bag. She immediately cried out "There's a hole in my packet!", so I naturally responded with "Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa!". She didn't join in. I think she was more concerned about the Frazzles all over the floor.

But anyhoo, in slightly less important news, we had a phone call from cat-woman Lorraine yesterday. It was my day for phone calls - I also had one from a man who wanted to talk about property development in Derbyshire, but that's another story. As for Lorraine, she's got engaged over the weekend, so congratulations to her. I've only met her fiancé once - on February 7th this year - and he had the bad luck to catch me on a day when I'd just been turned down for a job (what are the odds), so I doubt I'll be getting an invite to the wedding. You don't want your big day ruined by people who look miserable. Although you are meant to cry at weddings.

Anyway, he apparently proposed by taking her to the Savoy in London and producing a £10,000 ring from Tiffany's. So much like Timmy, when he jumps down after throwing up on the dining room table, Lorraine's landed on her feet.

No date has been set for the nuptials, because Lorraine's pregnant and doesn't want to look fat in the wedding photos. So they're waiting until she's had the baby. When she'll look pale and exhausted.

Anyhoo, I can take a hint, so Lisa's got the day off work today and I'm taking her up to London. I'm not sure about the Savoy and a £10,000 ring, but I might stretch to a Happy Eater and a packet of Hula Hoops.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Yesterday was the last day of this year's Brighton Film Festival, and following the success of 'Billy the Kid' on Thursday (which was neither a Western, nor fictional - thanks for the comments), I decided to go and see another documentary...

Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines
Big Sis is at flight school in Australia, and I need something to chat to her about at Christmas, so her imminent death seemed like a good place to start.

Former airline pilot Tristan Loraine has somehow managed to scrape together a budget of $400,000 to make Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, a 90-minute exposé of what he claims is the biggest cover-up in aviation history. I love a good conspiracy theory, especially one which involves the poisoning of my sister, so I couldn't wait to get down there. And it's a good job I did, because to put it politely, turnout was a little on the disappointing side. I think I was the only person there who wasn't in the film. But hey, that's what happens when you screen a movie at 11am on a Sunday morning. Everyone's in church. Obviously.

Toxic AirlinesAnyhoo, having walked through the door of the Sallis Benney Theatre and handed over my three quid entrance fee, I was accosted by a woman with an Australian accent who handed me the book on the right, and a CD single of the film's theme song by Kate Garbutt. I began a long speech about how I'd love to buy them, and almost certainly would, but that I'd like to see the film first, whilst promising to personally seek her out afterwards and hand over large amounts of cash for all manner of merchandise. At which point she told me they were free. So I stuffed them straight into my bag and ducked into the toilets before she changed her mind.

When I emerged, I was similarly accosted by a bloke who tried to give me another copy of the book and CD. Being as honest as the day is long, I politely turned him down - a decision I regretted the moment I got home and discovered that the book is £9.99 on Amazon, and the CD £3.99. But still, at least that's Sis's Christmas present sorted. I wouldn't normally spend as much as £14 on her, so she should be quite pleased.

Tristan LoraineOnce inside the auditorium, the bloke I'd just met outside the toilets walked in and introduced himself as Tristan Loraine, the director. He thanked us all for braving the rain on a Sunday morning, before adding that most of the audience have some connection to the film. Given that there were only about twelve of us there, I did feel like I'd gate-crashed some kind of private screening for cast & crew. I heard a couple behind me say they'd driven all the way from Buckinghamshire that morning, and had left at the crack of dawn to get there in time. I was tempted to tell them they should have flown, but I wasn't sure they'd appreciate the joke.

The film premiered in Paris on November 23rd, and is heading for the American film festival circuit in 2008, but I'm assuming this was its UK debut, so even ignoring the free merchandise, it was a privilege to be there. And, I have to say, the film was excellent. It focuses on the fact that the air we breathe whilst travelling on planes comes straight from the jet engines, and is unfiltered, meaning that it can potentially be contaminated with neurotoxins and carcinogens from the jet oil.

Tristan himself is now unable to fly after being exposed to these fumes in the cockpit of a Boeing 757, and apparently he's not alone. In fact, by the end of the film, we'd been introduced to so many pilots and cabin crew whose health has been ruined by toxic fumes, that I felt like putting on a gas mask and heading straight for the nearest exits. Which are located here, here and here.

Susan MichaelisOne such person was Susan Michaelis, a highly experienced airline pilot who was forced to retire due to ill health after breathing contaminated air, and subsequently helped set up the Australian Senate Investigation into cabin air quality issues on the BAe 146. I know her well. She was the woman who gave me the book and CD in the foyer.

I must admit, I walked into the cinema expecting this to be a crackpot film by a group of wacky conspiracy theorists (which is my favourite kind of show on Channel Five), but it actually surprised me. It's a convincing and well-made documentary which doesn't ruin its argument by playing to the camera (Michael Moore, take note) and is intelligent, yet easily comprehensible to the likes of me. And I struggle to follow Dr Who. I can highly recommend it. Though perhaps not as an in-flight movie.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Utterly BrilliantYesterday was World Aids Day, so to mark the occasion I headed straight for the Sussex Beacon charity shop (where I was overcharged for a t-shirt) before going into a nearby church to sit in quiet contemplation for half an hour. Whilst wearing a pair of headphones. As it happens, the Holy Trinity Church in Ship Street was deconsecrated in 1996 and is now an art gallery called Fabrica. Rather that than a bingo hall.

They opened a new exhibition on Friday which I wanted to see (I'm quite the culture vulture), so I headed down there at lunchtime yesterday. I'd have arrived earlier but they don't get going until 11:30am. It's the me of art galleries.

It turned out to be brilliant. Well, Brilliant Noise. The artists Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt, who call themselves Semiconductor (presumably because 'Jarman & Gerhardt' sounds like a law firm) spent five months at NASA's Space Sciences Laboratory in California, sifting through the archives and collecting photos of "some of the sun's finest unseen moments", which they then put together into a film. Whether that constitutes art, or merely an episode of 'The Sky at Night', I'm not sure, but it was very good.

The film was projected onto three huge screens which ran down one side of the church gallery, and were accompanied by an almost deafening mixture of white noise, radio frequencies and general weirdness. It was all very hypnotic, and as I stood there consumed by the swirling, pulsating flashes of solar winds, I did start to wonder if it was all just some kind of subliminal attempt to get me to buy their DVD. In fact, standing in the middle of a church, watching what looks like a mind-control film, you do start to feel like you've joined some kind of religious cult. And with the number of flashing images, it's not really art for epileptics. But despite all that, I was very impressed.

There were two other Semiconductor films on display, complete with headphones to block out the sun. The first was Do You Think Science..., a twelve-minute film of American space physicists being asked abstract questions about science. It was all very interesting, though I couldn't help feeling that the only thing which made it art was the sign above the screen.

Magnetic MovieMagnetic Movie on the other hand, was far more arty, and my personal favourite of the three. Jarman and Gerhardt appeared to have wandered around NASA's corridors and laboratories with a video camera, before animating a colourful visual representation of magnetic fields and moving particles onto the footage. It's kinda trippy (I'm sure Brian Sewell uses that phrase), but amazingly beautiful.

Fortunately, if you find the idea of a green magnetic field coming out of a laboratory and bouncing towards you down a corridor hard to imagine, then don't worry: it's on Channel 4 at midnight tonight.