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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lisa's first words to me this morning were "Beadle's no longer about!". She loves a bit of celebrity death. After her coverage of Heath Ledger's demise last week, I think she's angling for her own obituary column.

Personally I feel more like death warmed up, after very little sleep and a slightly trying day combining the twin joys of Brighton Council and a plumber. As a result, I don't really feel like going out tonight, which is a major tragedy because it means I'll miss this...

Cheese & Whine
Obviously I'll go to any rock concert which offers "FREE CHEDDAR ON ENTRY!", but this one is particularly appealing because it features The Deal Was For The Diamond, who I saw three months ago, and liked so much I plugged them (briefly) in a Kemptown Rag article. They've played a number of gigs since, but their performances have a habit of coinciding with personal crises of mine (what are the odds?) and I never seem able to make it. Which is why I knew the plumbing would go so well today.

Anyhoo, I don't know which advertising agency is responsible for writing the copy above, but I'm sensing it's not Saatchi & Saatchi. Admittedly I struggle to describe TDWFTD's music, but I'm not sure I'd call it "melodic / doom / math". And as for the third band (which I won't be shortening to an acronym), just what is "grindcore catfood"? And more to the point, can I feed it to Chloe? Because frankly she's gone right off Lidl Opticat.

Anyway, I don't think I'll make it to the gig tonight (it starts in five minutes and I haven't got my shoes on) but I can recommend Charlie Uniform's MySpace site. Fans of any kind of melody might be disappointed, but you won't hear better screaming this side of Halloween.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

They've made a right mess of the beach just trying to pick up a few bits of wood. This was the scene a couple of hours ago...

Walking the planks
It's like the Somme down there, but with slightly more shells.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cat Stuck in TreeWell I did go to Lidl yesterday, and I did spend my winnings, but I didn't buy cat food. Feeding your feline pales into insignificance when you can buy a fully-featured cat entertainment system for £7.99.

This was the scene ten minutes after I put it together. If you think the bed at the top looks particularly fluffy, look again. My cat's often mistaken for a cushion.

I have to say, considering the amount of money I've wasted over the years on food she won't eat, this was the best eight quid I've ever spent. She had the time of her life yesterday. When she wasn't curled up asleep in the branches of her furry cat tree (which to be honest was most of the time), she was playing with the dangling ball, sharpening her claws on the archway, and lying in the tunnel like a homeless heroin addict.

Needless to say I've now moved well ahead of Lisa in the 'Who does Chloe love most?' stakes.

In other news, I was browsing the website of Brighton City College this morning, looking for a cookery course for Lisa before I agree to marry her, and in a shock of earth-shattering proportions I discovered that Carol Harrison, aka Tiffany's Mum from Eastenders (and dizzy blonde Gloria in Brushstrokes), is teaching their screenwriting course. For just £40 I can spend five evenings with the star of 'Soapstar Superchef' and 'The Weakest Link Christmas Panto Special'. On the downside, she tells The Guardian that her methods involve sitting in a circle doing role-play, so it sounds a bit too much like group therapy for my liking.

But as the course description on the college website says, "Who knows, soon you could be watching your very own TV series!". Which would be quite an achievement considering that according to her IMDB page, not even Carol has managed to get a script on screen, and she's teaching the course.

You can't argue with the woman's acting credentials though (she played a receptionist in one episode of Minder), which at least makes her more appropriately qualified than Helen Skilton, the Blogging tutor. Oh yes indeed, City College offer an evening class in Blogging. Unfortunately, having scoured the internet for the words 'Helen Skilton blog', it appears that she doesn't have one. I think I might have to offer them my services.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Say it with flowers.Look at that. The whole picture just screams 'Congratulations on Your New Job!'. Either that or 'Deepest Sympathy on Your Loss'. But I'd like to thank Dave for being kind enough to say it with flowers by sending me the greeting on the left. As he says inside, "This was the least relevant card I could find".

Personally I like it. Although if I put it on the mantelpiece, people might think I've had a death in the family.

As for my parents, they were far less subtle...

... and celebrations.
Admittedly it looks like a wall-frieze in a children's nursery, but at least it gets the point across.

Anyhoo, today is the birthday of Lisa's mother, so Happy Birthday to her. Unfortunately technology isn't her strong point (she still calls DVDs "those round, flat things"), so the chances of her getting a computer and reading that are slim. Naturally I can't tell you how old she is, but in horse years she'd be dog food. So with that very much in mind, we took her to Hove Greyhound Stadium yesterday afternoon for a few hours of serious gambling.

Sadly the birthday girl failed to win anything all day, and Lisa turned out to be one of life's losers too, but on the bright side I came away with an impressive record of Won: £16, Lost: £11.80, Spent on Chips: £2.40, leaving me with a grand profit of £1.80. So I can treat myself to something from the pound shop, and still have enough left over for a can of Lidl cat food.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'd just like to say a big hello to the nice lady who chased me down the yoghurt aisle in Asda last night, shouting the words "Are you Mulled Whines?". I thought she was looking for a member of staff from the alcohol department, which is why I ignored her and headed for the toilet rolls. I can only apologise.

I finally realised something was up when she looked across at the woman loading Frazzles into my trolley, and added "You must be Lisa!". You can't argue with deductive powers like that. She had me bang to rights.

Anyhoo, I admire anyone who can recognise me from a daily webcam shot the size of a postage stamp, so kudos to you, madam. And thanks for the compliments. As for Lisa, I knew it was a good idea to write about her shortcomings on a daily basis - I've turned that girl into a local celebrity. She only has to be seen with a bald bloke buying bagels, and people instantly know who she is.

As for my new super-fan, I can't reveal the lady's identity for legal reasons, but here she is with the Prime Minister. Although funnily enough we spent more time talking about David Van Day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Get your tats out.Ah, the annual Brighton Tattoo Convention. I haven't missed one yet. Mainly because this is the first one they've held. Ask me again in a couple of days time.

Anyhoo, tattoos aren't really my thing (although I can see the advantage of a tattooed engagement ring), but fortunately I know a couple of people for whom the idea of an angry carrot on the forearm next to an irate brussels sprout with a knife, is actually quite appealing. No, really. Apparently the runner beans dressed as the 118-118 guys are still in the developmental stage.

Lisa and I haven't seen Crash & Donna since April 2006, after which I moved house to avoid them. It was only a matter of time before they tracked me down though, and with the lure of a Tattoo Convention to get them down to Brighton for the weekend, yesterday was the day.

We met at Bella Italia, an Italian restaurant named after a women's magazine. To be honest I'd never heard of the place (I have no interest in food), but they accept Tesco Clubcard vouchers instead of cash, and Donna's the last of the Clubcard millionaires, so they suggested it, we heard the word 'pizza', and a deal was struck.

Donna's lost a lot of weight since we last saw her, although that includes the tooth she had removed on Tuesday, which must have weighed a good couple of pounds. She was reduced to sucking the cheese off her pizza and numbing the pain with beer. I'd like to say we struggled to recognise her, but with the bright pink hair, tattoos, and the man standing next to her in the Mr Sh*thead t-shirt and the shoes of a pimp, I don't think there was ever any chance of us missing them.

This week in Bella...I have to say, the food at Bella Italia turned out to be very nice. And I'm not just saying that because Lisa paid for mine as a congratulations-on-the-job gift. It made me feel like shopping at Tescos just so we can afford to go back there.

So amidst the pizza, pasta and oddly-flavoured ice cream, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours shooting the breeze, discussing mental illness, suicide, alcoholism, egg-poisoning, car crashes and dentists. It was a lot more fun than it sounds. Especially when we got to examine Crash's shaven chest, which is being entered into a competition this morning to win a toilet seat. I can only wish him luck.

Friday, January 25, 2008

There's really only one place you can go to celebrate a new job. Yes, that's right: a basket-weaving exhibition at Hove Museum. With the imminent threat to my free time, and the very real possibility that I may have to retire from the world of Argus blogging, in favour of actually working for a living, I thought I'd try to get in another article while I still can. So with that in mind, I've spent the morning in Hove, examining the work of more than fifty British and Japanese basket cases makers, at an exhibition called 'East Weaves West'. It's a title which so nearly works.

Mmm... pretzels.If you thought basket-weaving was only for pensioners and the mentally ill, you'd be wrong. I think. To be honest, with some of the exhibits it was hard to tell. I don't care what anyone says, this is just a giant pretzel. Although according to the card it's entitled 'Mu'. So it's probably something to do with cows.

Most of the items on display are for sale, so it's not so much an exhibition as a car boot sale, which is probably why I enjoyed it. The museum blurb talks of "cultural comparisons and fascinating contrasts", which is true. A lot of the Japanese art is clever, intricate and awe-inspiring, while a lot of the British art... um... isn't.

Something smells fishy.I did like the coral made out of cane by Polly Pollock (who sounds like a character from Finding Nemo), and the sculptures by Joanna Gilmour, but I felt the handbag made of logs was a step too far. Lisa's bag is heavy enough as it is.

Then there was the work of Laura Street (I think I've lived there), who rejects raffia in favour of old newspapers. A lot of her art resembled the contents of my recycling bin, but I have to say it was quite inspiring and did make me feel like rushing home to plait something out of last week's Sun.

Twisting my words.
It makes a change from journalists twisting other people's words.

I have to say though, ever since Lisa kicked the balls of a Japanese artist back in October, I've preferred the work of our sushi-eating cousins, and today was no different. After all, when did you last hear of an Englishman weaving an eel trap out of bamboo?

Eel Meat Again
It's like a condom for congas. And it's by Kazuo Hiroshima. I bet he's bombed at a few exhibitions.

'Revolving' by Noriko TakamiyaAnyhoo, if, like me, you're a fan of blankets made out of moss, paper sculptures modelled on the Michelin Man, and wire figures which look like The Clangers, then it's well worth a visit. If you're not, then it isn't. Which is probably why the place was empty this morning.

It was all good preparation though, because as it happens I'm meeting a couple of basket-cases for dinner in an hour.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Brace yourself.

No really, I mean it. I refuse to go on until everyone is fully braced, adopting the crash position with your head between your legs, and a packet of peanuts between your teeth. Ok...

Like Holby City, only better.I've got the job.

Yes indeed, Porky Pig must have got his pilot's licence, because it's official: I'm going into hospital. Although I don't know exactly when. I think it's something to do with waiting lists.

Anyone who knows me well, will know that I refuse to work for any organisation which doesn't have (a) an entry in Wikipedia, and (b) comfortable beds, so I'm pleased to announce that as of 2:15pm this afternoon I've been offered a job at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a venerable medical institution whose biggest claim to fame appears to be that they've patched up Norman Tebbit. That's Wikipedia for you.

Sadly the position of Brain Surgeon was already filled, but I was willing to take a small step down and instead go for the prestigious role of Rotational Pharmacy Assistant. I like to think of it as dizzy drug-dealing. And having battered the opposition into the ground by being the only candidate who could boast a history of working with vegetables, I successfully secured the position at interview yesterday afternoon. Of course, it helped that one of the interview panel could sing The Poddington Peas theme song, but I'm sure that wasn't the only reason they chose me.

The picture above is the new Children's Hospital, which I've wanted to visit ever since I discovered they were modelling it on Noah's Ark. I can see it from my front door, so I'm always on the look out for giraffes. And the best thing is the hospital's only a hundred yards away, so I'll be able to go to work in my slippers, carrying a mug of tea. I couldn't be more pleased (about the job, not the mug of tea).

I now have to wait for a confirmation letter from the HR department, and in the meantime I presume they'll be checking my references. Which means there are now only two people who stand between me and gainful employment: a kidney-stoned Norfolk clergyman and the mad cat-woman of Portslade.

I'm only slightly worried.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Well the day of reckoning has arrived and I reckon I can fit into my suit, so I'm off to my job interview.

It's hard to say which has helped me more in my preparation - this Good Luck card given to me by Lisa last night...

You'll need it.
... or the note she left by the bed this morning...

Just say no.
I think I'll go for the latter.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You can't see the pier for the wood at the moment...

If anyone wants a set of shelves, let me know.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I knew it was worth blowing my life's savings on tickets to see Darren Hayes at the Barfly. Spurred into action by the guilt of seeing me spend twice the national debt on her Valentine's Day present, Lisa has returned the favour by buying me two tickets for Derren Brown's 'Mindreader' tour. She didn't tell me she'd got them - I just sensed it.

Derren's become something of a fixture in our relationship. I took Lisa to see his first tour two weeks before I asked her out (it's where I learnt the mind control techniques to make her say yes), and followed it up a year later by celebrating our first anniversary with his second tour. The man's no fool, so he's trying to avoid us this time by not bringing his third tour to Brighton, but fortunately Lisa's noticed I can drive, and bought me two tickets for the Worthing show. Which is very kind of her. It's not until the end of March, so I've got plenty of time to decide who I'm going to take.

On the subject of Valentine's Day, I'm pleased to announce that the pound shop in North Street has unveiled its range of romantic gifts. They seem to be trying to corner the more seedy end of the market this year, but at a pound a go, you can't complain. I was tempted by the animal-shaped posing pouches which bark like a dog, and the 'orgasm on a keyring' (I didn't dare press the button), but the items which really made me wish I hadn't already got Lisa's present, were the romantic outfits for adults. I was torn between the French Maid's ensemble (one size fits all, apparently) and the Policeman's uniform, which didn't seem to consist of much more than a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. But most useful would have been the Nurse's outfit. I've got an interview for a job at the hospital on Wednesday, and it seemed like a good way to prepare.

VERY perfect, that's how perfect.In the end though, I decided I'd already romanced Lisa enough this year, and as pleased as she'd be with a plastic hat from the pound shop, I should probably hold back. It's just as well too, because we discovered last night that we're deeply unsuited to each other. According to the highly scientific work 'How Perfect Is Your Partner? (50 Ways To Get To Know Your Lover)', you can test your physical compatibility by measuring your middle finger.

Lisa measured 8.1cm, placing her within one millimetre of the average for a woman, which is apparently 8cm. The male average is 9.3cm, so any reading between about 9 and 9.5 would make us both digitally compatible and finger-lickin' good. Unfortunately I measured 7.6cm.

I said "I'm amazed I can play the guitar". Lisa replied "I'm amazed you can hold a pen". Then she told me I had the fingers of a dwarf, and went to bed.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big in LincolnIf there's one thing I've always said, it's that I'm very popular amongst Lincolnshire caravanners. No, really. I think it's because they can identify with the size of my flat.

Well ok, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't aware of this booming popularity until about half an hour ago, when I discovered that I'm being flooded (on a very small scale) by people from Skegness, desperate to know about the joys of Shotley Gate. It turns out that the Lincolnshire Caravan Clubbers are planning a pilgrimage to Suffolk in the summer (I'm sure Margaret Beckett's got her ticket already) and in an effort to drum up a bit of business, they've published a page about the place on their website.

You can view that page here. I can also recommend the 'Chairman's Chat' section, featuring news of the "huge amount" (their words, not mine) raised for charity at the Spalding get-together. But as for the Shotley shindig, you can't expect people to book up for a holiday in a place they know nothing about, so the organisers have helpfully provided more information halfway down the page via the words 'Click Here For Related Link'.

I'd love to know how many bookings they get after people read that.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Barfly by night.Q. What do you get if you cross a declining Australian singer with a Brighton pub?

A. Bankruptcy.

I've just bought two tickets to see former Savage Gardener Darren Hayes perform at the Brighton Barfly, a local venue which used to be called The Gloucester pub until they realised they could charge more if they changed its name. The gig's on February 15th, so seeing as I love Lisa truly, madly, deeply and she in turn loves Darren, despite him divorcing his wife and deciding he's gay, I thought a couple of tickets might make the perfect Valentine's Day gift. Especially as the average ticket price at the Barfly is only about five or six quid.

Anyhoo, I'm not indiscreet enough to mention exactly how much they ended up charging me to see an Aussie has-been propping up the bar in a pub for an hour, but if you look up the word 'extortionate' in the dictionary, it actually mentions this gig.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Q. What's the capital of Iceland?

A. Norway.

Yes, the calibre of quiz contestants on the Southern FM breakfast show isn't getting any better. Although personally I still prefer the one a few months ago who thought that spiders have six legs.

TimmyTubbyAnyhoo, Lisa and I spent yesterday evening over at Lorraine's, and I'm pleased to report that Timmy is now the size of a space hopper. If you enter the word 'Timmy' into the little search box at the top left of this screen, and scroll down through the many faces of evil, you'll see that Timmy used to be a tubby, yet active, cat, capable of jumping onto shelves, mantelpieces and kitchen worktops, and into washing machines, saucepans and bins. Well it's almost two years since we last cat-sat, and his steady diet of books, bagels and toilet rolls seems to have had an effect. He's like a beach ball with fur.

So five minutes after arrival, I turned to Lorraine (who, being seven months pregnant, bears a startling similarity to her cat) and said "I see Timmy hasn't lost any weight!", whilst laughing and playfully prodding his tummy.

As it turns out, I put my foot in it (and I don't mean Timmy's tummy). Lorraine assures me that Timmy has lost weight, and is on such a starvation diet that he barely gets fed at all. Which must be why he started eating the chicken curry out of the saucepan while we were at the dinner table.

Anyhoo, we had an enjoyable evening. Lorraine gave me plenty of tips for my upcoming job interview (the main one being not to dance into the room and start singing), and we inspected all her baby supplies. Sadly the batteries were flat on her musical poodles, but we did get to examine all the baby clothes she bought in the Next sale. I hope her unborn child appreciates her getting up at 4am on Boxing Day to queue for a set of designer dresses, but unfortunately Lorraine doesn't know the sex of her baby, so if it's a boy he might not be that grateful.

The biggest eye-opener however, was the price of pushchairs. I won't tell you how much Lorraine and her fiancé have spent on a buggy, but suffice it to say it's worth more than my car. I always thought I had enough loose change squirrelled away for Lisa and I to have a baby, but having heard about the cost of cots, car seats and carriers, I don't think we could afford much more than a guinea pig.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

CrazyWith severe gales and heavy rain sweeping across the country, I naturally chose yesterday afternoon to go for a walk along the seafront. I had a lot of important tasks which just weren't getting done at home, so I thought if I went out, I might find it easier to forget about them. As it turned out, I had Madeira Drive to myself, which I'd like to think was down to the weather, but was probably more to do with the fact that when I'm wearing a hat and beard, I look like the kind of person you'd cross the street to avoid.

Anyway, it might have taken me an hour to wring the water out of my gloves, but it was worth going out because I was able to replace my broken cereal bowls which leapt out of the kitchen cupboard on Monday morning in an act of extreme desperation, and smashed all over the floor. Lisa was the last person to take a bowl out of that cupboard, but we've discussed the situation and come to the conclusion that it was some kind of cereal-killing poltergeist, and nothing to do with the way she stacks my crockery.

Bowled OverThe good news though is that I've managed to lay my hands on some quality homewares courtesy of the pound shop. They're made by a company called 'Hand Paint Giftware' - a phrase which, according to Mr Google, has never been used by anyone ever before in the history of the universe. I thought they might be antiques, but they say 'Dishwasher Proof', so the odds are against it. They do, however, claim to be "Beautifully Hand Painted", but at two for a pound, I think maybe they just used a hand to turn on the machine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Some people have all the luck.

Still, it's nice to know that the value of sentiment is £1,700.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Buffalo To LetIt's official: my purchase of a pair of David Bitton jeans back in November has sounded the death knell for the entire company. Until recently, Dave had a total of three stores in the UK, each one situated in a prime retail location synonymous with chic fashion: Kensington, Brighton and... um... Croydon. But no more. The Brighton boutique in North Street has closed its doors for good. Word must have got out that I wore mine to bingo, and it's devalued the whole brand.

But when I'm not sending a fashion house into receivership, I'm busy transforming my Nina Gordon site from a dull 28-page shrine to an exciting 39-page musical extravaganza. Kind of. Well I've added eleven new songs anyway.

Talking of which, I had a hit from Google the other day for the phrase "Eb-Bb-Gb-Ab-Eb". It turns out I'm one of only two sites in the entire known universe to include such gibberish. I call that an achievement. I've cornered the market in odd chord progressions.

But anyhoo, if you think I've spent the past few days with my head in my hands, trying to transcribe songs which go E-G-C-A without getting blood on my guitar from a cut on my thumb, all for purely selfish reasons, you'd be wrong. I did it for the kids. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I believe that children are our future. Treat them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. And above all, don't let them listen to Whitney Houston.

So never mind people like me, I did it for Nina Gordon fans like this one...

I particularly like the way she reduces the audience to tears before the end.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Big Sis in a Small World
Tokyo, Japan (July 2007)

It was my first time to Asia, but having spent an hour reading my Japanese phrasebook, I felt confident that I’d be able to communicate with the locals. How wrong could I be. But as I arrived at the hotel and was greeted by an entourage of Japanese women opening the door and lining up, bowing to greet me, I soon realised that a friendly bow works wonders. Keen to make the most of my 48 hours there, I took my map in hand and headed off to see some temples and local sights. I thought Tokyo was a fairly touristy place and expected to come across lots of English speaking people, but as it was, I only saw five westerners during my entire stay. Not that I minded, I was excited that I’d be able to practice my new found Japanese-speaking skills.

My first attempt to speak Japanese was with a group of women who were taking it in turns to take eachother’s photos. So I greeted them and asked if they wanted me to take their photo all together. They were delighted and gave me about five cameras... before insisting that I also took part in the photo shoot. One hour and about fifty pictures later, I felt a little like a celebrity as they seemed more interested in taking photos of me than anything else.

I'm second from the right.
Feeling a little peckish, I found a nice looking café where I sat down to a nice hearty lunch. Unfortunately it was more like a tiny aperitif, as I looked at the sandwich on my plate and found it was not much bigger than the size of my little finger. I now understand why the Japanese are all so small.Room With a View

A quick bit of shopping and I headed onto what looked like a mock version of the Eiffel tower. But it had some fantastic views (see right) and despite being entertained by a Teletubby as I stood in the queue, the experience was totally worth it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

In The BlackFollowing the success of Brighton Museum's denim handling event, which is still remembered with great fondness in this house, the council have moved on from jeans to party frocks with an exhibition dedicated to the little black dress. Forget the Battle of Hastings and World War II, what museums really need to be documenting is the history of Victoria Beckham's clothes.

I'm deeply suspicious though. The museum claims to have "Julien MacDonald’s flowing creation worn by Victoria Beckham in That Extra Half Inch". In case you're wondering, 'That Extra Half an Inch' is one of Posh's fine literary efforts. Yes, that's right, she wore it in a book. The museum missed out the word 'an', presumably as a tribute to her bad grammar.

Anyhoo, the exhibition does include a few dresses worn by international style icons such as Joan Collins, Joanna Lumley and... um... local drag queen Dave Lynn, but whereas they are all clearly marked as having touched the flesh of celebrity, the Julien Macdonald creation merely states that it's Posh's favourite. It's a bit like putting a lasagne in a glass case and labelling it 'Phil's Favourite Dish'. It doesn't mean it's touched my lips.

But that aside, it wasn't a bad exhibition. Although when you arrive at a room full of little black dreses, you do feel like you're walking into a funeral for mannequins. Admittedly I wouldn't spend half an hour wandering through the dress department of Next (no matter how much Lisa begs me), but this is historical art, so it's ok.

I particularly liked the dress donated by Zoe Ball, which she'd worn at her birthday party last year. Well it wasn't so much the dress I liked, it was the information that went with it. Apparently she bought it at a vintage shop in New York, had it shortened by the costume lady from 'Strictly Come Dancing', and got her P.A. named Em to sew a new fringe on the bottom. It must be so nice to be a celebrity. You don't have to lift a finger for yourself.

But the final word goes to a middle-aged lady who was walking around the room, looking at the displays with a concerned expression on her face. I happened to be standing behind her examining a Bruce Oldfield dress, when the woman turned to her friend, shook her head, and said "Do you know what's missing from this exhibition?". Her friend didn't. The lady expounded:

"There isn't one over a size 10."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I went to the Jobcentre this morning for a bit of show-and-tell with my life coach. I was supposed to show her what I've been up to, and she was meant to tell me where I'm going wrong. I was quite looking forward to it because [small, understated fanfare please] I received word on Tuesday afternoon (the post's getting later and later) that I've landed a job interview for a job I'm actually very keen to get. I'd say more, but I don't want to jinx it. After all, it's superstitions like that which have made my life the roaring success it is.

So I rolled up at the office, brimming with news, only to be told by my enthusiastic lifestyle adviser that she didn't have time to check what I've done this time around because "we're very short-staffed at the moment".

Is it just me, or is that slightly baffling? Call me stupid (go on, I dare you), but I would kinda think that the one organisation who would never be short of staff would be the one who specialise in filling vacancies. After all, if they're searching for an unemployed person, they don't need to look much further than the other side of the desk. I offered to do the job myself, but she just laughed. They've never taken me seriously at that place.

Bird FlewIn other news, I had no idea that when Lisa and I were swanning around Abbotsbury in May, we were dicing with the dangers of bird flu. Thank god we changed our minds at the last moment and decided not to smuggle out an egg in Lisa's handbag. We could both be dead by now. And as for the cuddly cygnet she bought me in the gift shop, that's going straight on the fire.
Big Sis in a Small World
The End of an Era (Both Road Trip & Texan Living) – June 2007

I'm the one on the left.Well, 13,500 miles and seven weeks later and I can happily say I have now visited all the states in the US of A, plus three Canadian ones too. I ended up back in Rockwall, Texas for a quick visit to my old house, a goodbye to the yacht club which serves bacon to vegetarians, and a sad farewell to lots of friends before heading down to Houston, Texas where I said a temporary au revoir to my car.

Me and my car.During the 13,500 miles, I grew very attached to me little convertible and was particularly impressed at how it withstood driving up mountains, across boulders, thru' blizzards and protected me from bears, and so I decided it deserved to accompany me to Australia for some more fun road trips down under.

I can certainly say that US Road Trip 2007 was definitely the best holiday of my life and so here are a few highlights:

1. Five Favourite US StatesOn my way to Oz
  • California

  • Arizona

  • Montana

  • Oregon

  • Utah

2. Best Day Driving

Through the Canadian Rocky Mountains : 90 F and lots of snow and mountains = fantastic!

3. Favourite City

San Diego, CA

4. Best Road Trip Partner

I daren’t answer that one.

5. Scariest Moment

Driving 1,000 feet up the side of a Montana mountain at midnight before realising I had just created my own road.

6. Funniest Moments
  • Celebrating my 35th b’day in West Virginia with M.

  • Breaking down with a flat tyre in Rhode Island with R.

  • Driving thru’ Vermont in the middle of the night with R.

  • Arriving at J’s after getting stuck up the side of a Montana mountain.

  • Being stuck in a coach full of animal-crazed Americans driving around Denali National Park with D.

  • Wading through snow at Crater Lake, Oregon with J.

  • Various San Diego amusing times with J.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Big Sis in a Small World
Roswell, New Mexico (23 June 2007)

Government cover upAfter leaving the mountains and beavers of Colorado, I set off on the long drive to Roswell, New Mexico in search of aliens. As I drove through miles and miles of nothingness at midnight I felt sure I’d stumble across something that vaguely resembled E.T.. Unfortunately however, the nothingness remained just that, and it gradually became apparent that it's only dangerous animals, and not aliens, who are attracted to me.
The aliens have landed.
The next morning I set off bright and early (well, about midday) to go visit the UFO Museum of Roswell. As I walked along the street, it soon became obvious that the Roswell council have done their best to ensure that all visitors receive alien sightings. From the lamp-posts to the trash cans and the sidewalks, aliens were everywhere.

Museum of TackinessAs for the museum itself, well, I can safely say I have never seen anything so tacky in my entire life. Bearing in mind that I've been to the Wizard of Oz Museum in Kansas, and seen The Nolans in concert three times, the UFO Museum is doing pretty well on the tackiness stakes. Plus it was filled with... umm... how can I put it, well, rather a lot of odd looking people who looked like they had not seen much daylight in their life and for whom visiting the museum was probably both a weekly event and a highlight.

There were masses of exhibits showing photos of fencing and 'Keep Out' signs which the museum used as evidence to claim that the US government must be hiding aliens in Area 51. Obviously alien inhabitation is a natural assumption if there's that amount of security around a military area.

But I did find an alien area named after me, which was vaguely exciting...

Welcome to RachelRachel in Nevada
Anyway, I got out of there as quickly as possible after a speedy visit to the museum shop which made the Wizard of Oz equivalent look like Harrods in comparison. But I did manage to purchase an alien plectrum for my brother. Seeing his delight in receiving this gift made what would have been a wasted trip worthwhile. After all, if he lived nearby he probably would have been one of those odd looking people who spent every Saturday hanging out in the UFO Museum of Roswell.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dances With WolvesChristmas is over, and the thank-you letters are already starting to pour in. My first one comes from the International Dance Teachers Association, who thank me kindly for applying for the position of Office Dogsbody General Office Assistant, but state that due to the large number of applications received, my advanced photocopying skills and ability to make a cup of tea are surplus to requirements. They do, however, state that they'll keep my CV on file in case something else suitable comes up, so with a bit of luck I could be teaching pensioners to jive by the end of the year.

At first I was pleased to receive such a friendly piece of correspondence. After all, the last twelve jobs I've applied for have produced just one genuine rejection letter printed on actual proper made-from-trees paper. Seven of the remaining eleven didn't reply at all. So to get a polite letter addressing me by name, and thanking me for applying, is a bit of a triumph. Naturally I was walking on air. That is until I read the IDTA information at the foot of the page, and discovered just what an opportunity I'd missed out on...

Movers & Shaikhas
Never mind Her Royal Highness Shaikha Mai Al Khalifa of Bahrain; never mind Lord & Lady Scouse; they know Lionel Blair!!!. I bet he's forever popping his head around the door and tapping his way into reception. I'm gutted. We could have played 'Give Us A Clue' in my lunch hour.

But unbelievable tragedy aside, I've recently tracked down a load of Nina Gordon b-sides and demos, transcriptions of which I'll be adding to my Nina Gordon shrine just as soon as I've managed to work them out. But while I spend the next couple of days in front of my stereo, trying to hold a pen and a plectrum in the same hand, fans of bear-baiting, kangaroo-killing and camera-crouching are in for a treat, because I'm pleased to announce... the return of Big Sis!

Yes, just when you thought it was safe to venture out onto the highways of America, Big Sis is back from the dead, and has finally found time to complete her travel diary. She's spent more than three months writing the last two posts, so you just know they're going to be good. Although I haven't read them yet, so I can't make any promises. As I'm sure you'll remember, we left Sis stroking beavers in Colorado, whilst looking for bears and stamping on snakes. Her next stop was outer space and a spot of alien abduction...

Monday, January 07, 2008

My name's Phil and I'm...

... willing to go to conventions I have no right to attend. I'd also like to have a word with the DJ on Friday night who played 'Red Red Wine' at a disco for recovering alcoholics, but that's another story.

I'm not actually a member of AA (although I do keep breaking down), but fortunately I know someone who is. Although obviously I can't tell you who, because it's anonymous. But this mystery teetotaller invited me to attend the fifth annual Brighton AA Convention at the weekend, and as someone who felt like turning to drink after Wednesday night, I naturally said yes. It seemed like my only chance of spending time at the Hilton Metropole without getting a job as a porter. Which, interestingly, I've failed to do (you need experience apparently).

Anyhoo, the first thing they do at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention is ask you to write your full name on a registration form. That seemed a bit odd to me. But not as odd as getting everyone to wear name badges around their necks. This must be a definition of 'anonymous' I'm not familiar with.

Hug CouponMy £7 entry fee entitled me to a complimentary notepad, pen and hug coupon (though I never did find out where to redeem that), as well as entry to various meetings, workshops and two alcohol-free discos. To be honest, they were the highlight of the weekend. There's a large measure of pleasure in being able to bop about on a dance floor until 1am without anyone spilling beer over you, starting a fight, or chatting you up in a drunken stupor (which happens to me all the time, obviously). In fact, in a shock of gargantuan proportions, there were a good couple of hundred people there who actually managed to enjoy a night out without drinking alcohol. Who'd have thought it.

I danced so long on Friday night that I missed the last bus home, but I was back at the Metropole at 10:30 the next morning buying a cup of strong tea and a peanut Kit-Kat for protein. I'd attended an AA meeting on Friday evening, so I decided to try Al-Anon on Saturday. I can't reveal what went on, but I did learn that if you're going to open up the meeting for sharing, be careful who you hand the microphone to. One woman seemed to think she was on X Factor. I thought they'd never get her off the stage.

After lunch at Pizza Express (one of Lisa's friends gave us a voucher as an engagement present - she knows us far too well), it was back to an AA meeting chaired by an old work colleague of Lisa's who'd hugged me in a doorway the night before. And she hadn't even asked to see my coupon. I learnt a lot about positivity, including the advice that if the traffic lights change to red just as you get there, rejoice in the fact that you're first in the queue. I felt like that on Wednesday night when I stood on the hard shoulder of the M23 in a space blanket, being told I was a priority for rescue.

As it turned out, I needed all the positivity I could muster when I spent £5 on raffle tickets in the afternoon, only to be left empty-handed at the prize draw in the evening. But I drowned my sorrows by boogieing to Take That with a glass of water, and popping in to a late-night meeting to hear a man talk about his sore throat. I felt like telling him to rest his voice, but I couldn't get a word in edgeways.

The convention didn't end until Sunday lunchtime, but after two nights of dancing, hugging and queuing for coffee, I couldn't stand the pace, and had no intention of getting up the next morning. So I said my goodbyes at the Saturday night disco and exited the dancefloor while I could still walk. I've got eight months to recover before the Eastbourne convention in August.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

So anyway, I think we'd been home for about half an hour on Wednesday night when Lisa realised she'd lost her engagement ring. It's a measure of the level of trust we have in our relationship that I spent the first thirty seconds assuming she was winding me up. I changed my mind when she burst into tears and barely stopped crying for the next four hours.

Having spent the evening standing on the hard shoulder of a motorway in the dark, wrestling with space blankets, trying to climb out of the cab of an AA lorry without breaking a leg, and fumbling around with gloves in a service station car park, there were naturally a few places she could have lost it. We spent an hour looking in all the obvious locations - bags, pockets, floor, car - and by midnight had moved on to the slightly less obvious places like the inside of a packet of cheese in the fridge. I'm not kidding.

I stopped the washing machine mid-cycle and emptied everything onto the kitchen floor, did the same with the rubbish bins, and Lisa even looked inside a Happy Engagement card from her mother which she'd opened ten minutes before realising she had no proof of engagement. Basically we checked everything that Lisa had touched. And that includes my cat. You could lose anything in her fur.

Shortly after midnight I phoned Pease Pottage services, which I have to say was probably the highlight of the entire search. The phone was answered by a woman who barely spoke English, so I carefully explained the situation to her and asked if anyone had found a diamond ring. She listened intently, then said something incomprehensible in another language. I said "I beg your pardon?", but by that time she'd already gone. Fortunately she passed the phone to someone whose level of English enabled her to string together a rudimentary sentence, so I explained the problem to this second lady, who listened in silence before responding with...


For my third attempt I kept the story to words of one syllable, and having listened to my heartfelt plea for help, and sensed the desperation in my voice, the woman shouted "Phone back in morning!" and slammed the phone down. It wasn't quite the response I wanted, but let's face it, if your customer service skills were any good, you wouldn't be doing the night shift at a service station. This time last week she was probably clinging to the back of the Eurostar.

So at 1:15am, after further fruitless searching and a shot of caffeine to wake me up, I got in the car and drove all the way back up the A23 to Pease Pottage services to search the car park in the middle of the night. There was no diamond ring, but I did find a 5p piece, so it wasn't a wasted journey.

The search continued until 4am, then was postponed until first light, when I took everything out of my car in the middle of a snow storm. Thursday was spent co-ordinating the English-speaking employees of Pease Pottage, the AA, and the police forces of Horley, Crawley and Brighton, but all to no avail. We took Lisa's mother to Hove dog track on Thursday night where, in the middle of race 4, I received a phone call on my mobile from Tony, the AA man who'd rescued us from the M23. He'd turned his cab upside down but found nothing.

Friday was spent checking with our insurance companies, and discovering that neither of us were covered. You have to pay extra for a home contents policy which includes the loss of valuables, and until last week neither of us owned anything worth more than a fiver, so naturally we didn't have that level of cover. I wish I really had bought a cubic zirconia in stainless steel now. But still, if you've got a metal detector and you fancy a half-carat diamond in white gold, try the ditches down the M23.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Caught in the headlights.Headlights. If they're not being smashed up by hopping mad marsupials, they're busy turning themselves off in the fast lane of the M23. The photo on the right shows a genuine piece of kangaroo fur welded to the front bumper of Big Sis's car by the white heat of high speed impact combined with the adhesive qualities of blood. As for my headlights, you can't see them because it's dark.

So anyway, there we were, driving down the M23 at 8pm on Wednesday night, commenting on how quiet the roads were, how well the journey was going, and how we'd definitely be home for 'Half Ton Mum' on Channel 4 at 9pm, when my headlights suddenly went out. As it transpires, driving down the fast lane of an unlit motorway at 70mph in complete darkness isn't quite as exciting as you might think, so having tried it for about ten seconds, I decided to pull over onto the hard shoulder, which I presumed would be somewhere to the left, though it was hard to tell because obviously I couldn't see anything.

Fortunately the sight of a car veering across three lanes of a motorway with no lights on, was enough to catch the attention of a nearby Highways Agency patrol, who stopped long enough to give our exact location to the AA, advise us on roadside survival, and ask the question "Would you like a space blanket?". I assumed it was a euphemism for drugs, said yes, and was presented with two of these...

Doesn't everything burn if ignited..?Apparently they burn well, which is presumably how they keep you warm. So having wrapped Lisa up in tin foil, we stood on a muddy bank looking like a couple of Christmas turkeys for fifteen minutes until the AA arrived. The man refused to look at my lights on the hard shoulder, so we climbed into the cab and he gave us a lift to Pease Pottage services. It wasn't until my car had been loaded up onto the back of the lorry that I remembered my cat was in the back, but you can't worry about livestock at times like these, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and just assume she'd live.

Once at the service station, the AA man dumped us in the car park and Lisa headed off to Burger King while I sat in the car with the heater on, trying to defrost Chloe. She's never been such a Blue Persian. We were told an AA mechanic would be along within twenty minutes, so a mere forty minutes later our saviour arrived and started dismantling my dashboard. I commented that it was just my luck to have broken down on the coldest night of the year, and he was polite enough not to point out that it was only January 2nd.

Unlike the AA man I met in August who could find no reson wy my car had malfunctioned, this one correctly identified that a switch had burnt out, and having had a bright idea about how to fix it, a light came on above his head (he was under the dashboard at the time), and armed with nothing but a pair of wire strippers and a woolly hat, he was able to sellotape my car back together again and send us on our way. We eventually got back to my flat at 11pm, where we planned to unpack our stuff, have something to eat, and retire to bed for a relaxing, restful and well-deserved night's sleep.

Unfortunately things never go according to plan...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sometimes I worry about my family.

Two Thumbs Up
You wouldn't believe none of them drink. But the good news is that in addition to being able to maintain my dignity whilst giving the double thumbs-up, I'm also the only member of the family who can wear a party hat without looking stupid.

Where did you get that hat?
Anyhoo, Lisa and I are now back in Brighton, and you can tell Christmas is over because it's snowing. My aim was to start the new year with a mouth ulcer and spots, so I spent most (well, all) of Monday evening eating chocolate and Pringles, pausing only to sample the odd mince pie. And may I say it worked a treat. The first photo above was taken shortly before midnight, full of excitement about the year ahead. Which is all the more remarkable when you realise that just one hour earlier, everyone was falling asleep and complaining that they didn't want to stay up.

New Year's Day was spent celebrating Christmas (obviously) with my brother's family. My sister-in-law spent an hour building a five-foot tower out of used Christmas crackers in an attempt to avoid doing the washing up, and I did my bit by trying to finish the Banoffee Pie on my own, and eating half a family-sized gateau. I think that was what my Mum meant when she asked me to clear the plates.

I'd walked to Sainsbury's in the morning for some fresh air (they sell everything now), and in a moment of festive madness, bought a miniature potted Christmas tree reduced from £5 to 20p. I took the price off, wrapped it up and gave it to my niece, whereupon she declared it to be her favourite present and far better than the three expensive gifts I'd spent half of November choosing for her.

Big Sis & IOther than that, the week has been spent sharing Big Sis's knowledge of Aborigines (apparently if you wait until they're drunk, you can buy their art for less), and her views on Shanghai (she won't be going back there in a hurry), whilst trying to look at her instant Thai puddings without throwing up. As a newly impoverished student, Sis's Christmas gifts gave a whole new meaning to the word 'cheap' (half of them had been picked up off the ground, and the other half were worth less than the wrapping paper), but it's not everyone who can say they own a lucky beckoning cat found in a Chinese alleyway. My Dad can.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end (which is why my Mung Bean Pudding is in the bin), so Lisa and I left Chelmsford at 7pm last night for a quiet, relaxing and uneventful drive back to Brighton.

Unfortunately things never go according to plan...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Monkey BusinessThis is my Mum's 'To Do' list for today. I keep telling her to get a cat.