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Friday, February 29, 2008

It's mine and Lisa's 45 month anniversary today, but the first time we've ever celebrated one in February. So technically it's only our 42nd anniversary. Either way I think it's time we started counting it in years.

But while I'm waiting for the marriage proposals to start rolling in, I've been beavering away on the Brighton Festival website this morning, booking my social diary for May. Tickets went on sale this morning, and I wanted to avoid a repeat of last year, when I tragically missed out on tickets for afternoon tea with Joan Bakewell (the famous tart), thanks to my belief that I'd still be able to book the week before.

Anyhoo, the bad news is that my bank balance now looks like the Northern Rock share price, but on the bright side, my calendar looks like this:


5th - The Brighton Moment. An evening with the city's literati. I don't know why I'm not on the bill.

7th - Mike Leigh. Oscar-nominated kitchen sinker.

9th - Celebrating Linda Smith. Believe it or not, this is the most expensive event I've booked, and Linda's not even coming.

17th - Neil Tennant. He won't be singing. Thank God.

18th - Susan Greenfield. Baroness, scientist, writer, broadcaster, Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and Director of the Royal Institution. But what has she ever done for us?

21st - Alex James. Rock 'n' roll dairy farmer.

22nd - Gore Vidal. Script doctor on Ben Hur.

23rd - Jarvis Cocker. Michael Jackson's nemesis.

25th - Augusten Burroughs. An American author and recovering alcoholic whose writing "pokes fun at psychiatrists and religious families". I've no idea why I want to go and see him.

Add to all that the fact that I have tickets for Matchbox Twenty at Wembley Arena on the 1st, and the Here & Now concert at the Brighton Centre on the 15th, and I think I'm going to be knackered come June.

I'm not sure I've totally convinced Lisa to come and see Susan, and she doesn't even know about Augusten, but the one person I'm definitely seeing alone is Gore Vidal. He might be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, but she'd rather see the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys. It's why I love her. Happy Anniversary. xxx

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I popped out this afternoon to buy a Mother's Day present, and naturally ended up in the guitar department of Cash Converters. My Mum doesn't play, but I felt that the greatest gift I could give her this Sunday was the news that I'd bought a seventh guitar. My musical happiness means more to her than any box of chocolates.

Sadly, Cash Converters didn't have anything I was interested in (hence the box of Milk Tray she'll be getting tomorrow), but they did have this sign on the wall next to the second-hand guitars...

Forbidden Planet
As Lisa will testify, I have been known to play Smells Like Teen Spirit. On the acoustic guitar. In a folksy kind of way. I think it's what drove her to drink.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MFI - Made For IdiotsI think the most important thing when choosing a bedroom suite is to make sure that every piece matches. You don't want to look like you've just piled stuff up to the ceiling without a moment's thought. Oh, and try not to chip any paint off the front of your plywood cupboard. It could ruin the whole ambience of the room, and sticking cardboard boxes on top to distract the eye probably won't work.

Anyhoo, I had a visit from not one, but two parents yesterday. My Dad's been itching to get down here and have a look at my hot water system, on the grounds that two plumbers with City & Guilds qualifications and decades of experience are all very well, but he can probably do better with a couple of DIY books and a trip to B&Q. I admit I was a little worried when he produced a magic wand and started waving it over the pipes with the word 'Abracadabra', but at least he didn't bring his rabbit.

Well ok, that's not entirely true. He didn't say 'Abracadabra'.

Anyway, having reserved a parking space outside by leaving a stepladder in the road, my parents spent an enjoyable afternoon on their hands and knees, surrounded by towels and bowls, while I tried not to get too stressed by the fifth cry of "Aaaarrrgh! There's water everywhere!" coming from the bathroom.

The result of it all is that my hot water system still doesn't work, but my hall carpet's a nice shade of brown, and I'm keeping a plant pot permanently under the pipe in the cupboard. It was all worth it though, because not only did my Dad get a bit of sea air when I threw him out of my flat, but he also helped me build my furniture tower in the bedroom.

Admittedly we both almost ended up in casualty, and I now have a blood blister the size of a blackcurrant on the palm of my hand, but we did learn the valuable lesson that brains go a lot further than brawn. Having discovered that the cupboard wouldn't balance on the top due to a wooden ridge around its base, we stood there like Laurel & Hardy, with my Dad scratching his head and me nursing the hand I'd just slammed in a drawer, until my Mum walked in, took one look at the situation, and suggested we turn the cupboard upside down. You haven't really seen genius until you've looked into the eyes of the woman who's just solved all your furniture problems. I should probably buy her a Mother's Day gift now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You know you've had a good evening when you meet a woman who brainwashed a dog, someone who's had a relationship with a mobility scooter, and a lady from the Czech Republic who talks to her pet robot. And that was just the audience.

Claire RocksTo be honest, 'Can Robots Love?' wasn't entirely what I expected. I didn't get to hug Metal Mickey for a start. But having posted what I thought was just a stock photo of mechanical love in yesterday's blog post, Lisa and I arrived at the Friends' Meeting House in Ship Street (Quakers love a bit of science) to be welcomed by the robot-hugger herself, Claire Rocks (which is more of a description than a name). She has a PhD in Space Robotics and was involved with the Beagle 2 Mars probe. Which is all the more galling when you consider that she looks young enough to be my daughter. But still, Beagle 2 crashed, so I shouldn't feel inferior.

Claire and her friends had come all the way from the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, which for anyone without a degree in Geography, is in Bristol. I was expecting them to tell us about robot love, but as it turned out, the audience were the stars of the show. We were seated in groups as we went in, each group were given two envelopes, and our mission was to watch a film clip, open an envelope, and then read the contents aloud. It was a lot like Oscar night, but without the fake tears.

Our first clip was the scene from Artificial Intelligence where the woman from Madame Bovary programs the kid from The Sixth Sense, and the contents of our envelope read:

Can a robot love? Can a robot be loved? What does love mean in this context?

That prompted one member of our group to announce that she'd managed to imprint her ex-boyfriend's dog, but refused to tell us how she did it. I thought that was a bit odd until she went on to talk of her love for mobility scooters, and the fact that she has a closer relationship with her current one (which is apparently female and a bit of a bitch) than she has with a lot of humans.

I looked to the Czech lady to my right for something more sensible, and she responded by turning to me, smiling, and saying that she keeps a pet robot in the living room where all the family can talk to it. After five minutes, Lisa was making the most sense and I was feeling a bit of a freak for not having a pet name for my car.

But we covered the three questions in about ten minutes, I mentioned that I love Lisa more than my cat, she said "Thanks" in a sarcastic voice, and I had an argument with a scientist about when the internet was invented. At which point we moved on to film clip number two: a scene from Blade Runner. This time our question was...

Would robots have sexual rights and who would determine what these rights are?

I'm not sure if this was an over-18s event or not, but having sat in a circle with six strangers for ten minutes discussing bestiality, rape, murder and porn, I'm hoping there weren't any children present. Especially when Lisa said that if she wants to abuse her robot, she should be allowed to. I've cancelled my plans to buy her a Furby. As for me, I was obviously far too vocal on the subject of robot sex, and was duly nominated as our official spokesperson, meaning that I had to report our findings back to the rest of the room. I felt like the Alfred Kinsey of the 21st century.

Lisa and I clearly made quite an impression (it's not easy to discuss robot ethics confidently from a position of complete ignorance), and were specially selected afterwards to be interviewed by a member of the team about our experience. We told her we'd both enjoyed it, and then proved it by heading to the nearest branch of Subway and continuing to argue about the rights of robots for twenty minutes. I'm not sure machines will ever replace humans, but I think a robot would have given me more cheese in my sandwich.

Monday, February 25, 2008

You Ain't Nothing But a Hound DogIt's Afghan racing! Possibly the most fun you can have with a dog without being charged by the RSPCA. I remember with great fondness the two minutes I spent last March watching what appeared to be the offspring of an ungodly union between a yeti and a dish mop, as they ambled around Hove greyhound track at low speed for the Mother's Day Afghan Trophy. It's still the funniest thing I've ever seen outside an episode of You've Been Framed. So I was naturally excited to discover last week that they were planning to do it all again for Mother's Day this year.

Unfortunately yesterday wasn't Mother's Day. The Afghan racing's not on until next week. But Lisa's mother can't make next week. I had no idea her social diary was so full. As it turns out, she has an appointment next Sunday to view the brand new million-pound house which has just been purchased by one of her nieces. I'm still not entirely sure why half of Lisa's family are living in mansions, while the other half are booking their wedding receptions at Moulsecoomb Leisure Centre, but I do know that she's introducing me to the wrong half.

So we spent an enjoyable three hours at Hove Greyhound Stadium yesterday, celebrating Mother's Day a week early. Obviously it would have been more enjoyable if I'd actually won something, instead of embarking on an eleven race losing streak, but you can't have everything. It's just lucky I didn't need to buy petrol on the way home. On the plus side, my future mother-in-law seemed pleased with the card from me and Lisa, and thanked me warmly for it. Which made me wish I'd actually seen the thing before we gave it to her. I still have no idea what Lisa bought.

Robots need love too.Anyhoo, dogs are all very well, but personally I'd rather hug a robot. Saturday saw the start of the week-long Brighton Science Festival (at the time of writing, their website's not working, which is kind of ironic for a bunch of computer geeks), and tonight they're holding an event called Can Robots Love? I don't think it's about vibrators, but I could be wrong.

I'm naturally keen to get down there and talk dirty to a Sat Nav, while Lisa's no stranger to hot smoking love from my toaster, so after a bit of persuasion, she's reluctantly agreed to come with me. What I haven't told her is that the event clashes with An Evening With Iain Banks at The Old Market, and she's an avid reader of his books (just as long as he doesn't put an 'M' in his name). As it happens, I know someone else who's a big fan too, but he'll need to get on a National Express coach pretty sharpish to make it in time.

Unfortunately the £6 ticket price (Darren Hayes, are you reading this?) includes a free glass of wine, and Iain Banks has written a book on Scottish whisky distilleries, so I'm not sure it would be good for Lisa's recovery. And besides, why would you want to get up close and personal with a writer, when you can spend a night of passion with Metal Mickey?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I received a bill from Southern Water yesterday which featured this interesting little announcement...

SorryThe way they've put it, it's hard to tell if they're sorry for the misreporting, or just for the fact that they've had to give me 1.5% off my bill. I'm inclined to believe the latter.

But still, a 1.5% reduction! Woo-hoo! With the money I've saved from Ofwat's swingeing fines, I can treat myself to... oh, I don't know, a packet of crisps or something.

Anyhoo, I've got to dash. We're celebrating Mother's Day by taking Lisa's Mum for a slap-up lunch (portion of chips and a Coke) at Hove dog track. I know what you're thinking, but let's face it, she's old and easily confused by dates, so frankly she'll never know.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lisa and I have just been invited to her cousin's wedding reception...

Howdy Partner!
Three and a half years and they still can't remember my name. Or maybe they just think Lisa will have found someone else by July.

But the good news is it's at Moulsecoomb Leisure Centre, which is a lot like The Ritz, only you don't so much need a dinner jacket as a stab-proof vest.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Not everyone seems happy with my current de-cluttering...

Crate o' Cat
I think it's a sit-down protest. I keep telling her that if I want to build a ten-foot furniture tower in the bedroom, then I'm going to need to fill that crate with books, but she's not budging. I think she's still upset that I threw out my copy of 'Catwatching' by Desmond Morris.

Anyhoo, in addition to spending several hours in the bedroom marvelling at the amount of junk Lisa's managed to stuff into the bottom of my wardrobe, I also visited the library yesterday. Mainly to see if they had a copy of 'Catwatching' by Desmond Morris. But also to see a new art installation called Bridgetown to Brighton, which involves building a traditional Caribbean slave hut (or 'Chattel House') in the middle of the hardback fiction department.

The last time I wrote a review of an art installation at the library, I received a piece of hate mail accusing me of being both ill-informed (that old chestnut) and a fool. So I'm not commenting on this one. Except to say that it looks like a prefab shed from B&Q.

What makes this building far better than the Rice Pavilion of last summer, however, is the fact that its creator, artist Christina Peake, appears to be living inside it for the entire seven week run. And she's very nice. And very bored. She even offered to wrestle me on the floor in front of a Frank Bowling painting just to relieve the tedium. I actually felt quite guilty about leaving her. In fact there was something about the way she turned to me as I left and said "I'm here until the end of March" which made me feel like putting her out of her misery by beating her unconscious with a copy of 'Catwatching' by Desmond Morris.

Anyhoo, I liked Christina. And she's clearly suffering for her art. So I felt I owed it to her to find out more. As you'll see if you click on the link above, the official 'Bridgetown to Brighton' website instructs visitors to e-mail for further details on the exhibition. Personally I wouldn't recommend it. Urban Flo (who sounds like a city girl) apparently "started in the heart of Pastor Amos Olivares in Greeley, Colorado" and is, as their website puts it, "Urban at it's best! Live Music, Drama, Dancing all with a JESUS Twist!". I think the Jesus Twist is a dance.

They also talk about "entering into an atmosphere of unexpected surprises", which is understandable when you consider that for the past two weeks they've been getting e-mails about slave huts in Brighton. It's probably not what they expected.

The people you should be e-mailing are Not so much a twist of Jesus as an arts administration company. Never has a hyphen been so important.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I had an e-mail yesterday from the editor of The Kemptown Rag to say that someone had written to her (probably to complain, I don't know), and had finished his letter with this afterthought:

"PS love Phil Gardner's stuff."

It's the best review I've had since someone wrote in to call me bitchy, negative and ill-informed.

Interestingly, now that I've taken a minimum wage non-writing job (which at this rate I'll be starting just before Christmas), people seem to be falling over themselves to big me up (that's a young person's expression) (so I have no right to use it). I discovered last night that The Phoenix Gallery are referring visitors to my blog post about their new exhibition. I wish I hadn't used the word 'tosh' now.

Anyhoo, I'm still on tenterhooks, waiting for an official start date at the hospital. It's like being on the kidney transplant list, but with fewer state benefits. It does mean, however, that I have the chance to get out and about, which is handy because I've discovered a highly intriguing event starting... um... about five minutes ago. It's called Survive in the Wild, and is described as "Hands-on activites to test survival skills for children aged 8-13".

How fantastic is that? You teach small children how to eat rats, dump them out in the woods, and see how many survive. I'm not sure it's strictly legal, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I've always thought parenting would be a lot easier if you could just leave your kids outside and let them eat bugs.

I'm tempted to go and collect Lisa's 8-year-old nephew, dress him up like Rambo and drop him in Uckfield with a big knife, but unfortunately I'm due at the Jobcentre at 10:30am. It's a 15-minute walk, so I really ought to be hitting 'Publish'.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Anyone who's ever visited my home in Brighton will know that I don't have nearly enough furniture. My flat is like a barren wasteland resembling an empty (though admittedly very small) aircraft hangar, with nothing to fill the space but the sound of cavernous echoes. Although that's mainly because Lisa has to repeat everything she says before I start paying attention. But the fact remains that I barely have two bookcases to rub together.

Pine for you.Well ok, that's not strictly true. To be honest, you can hardly see the floor. But I do have a lot of unused space up there near the ceiling, so I've bought a new chest of drawers. It's pine. Which is a bit of a disappointment because I wanted pine effect, to match all my other furniture. I hope to build a tower in the bedroom out of this one, another chest of drawers and a cupboard, in the hope of one day reaching the moon. Oh, and I apologise for the mouse to the right of the photo. It wasn't me who left it there.

Anyhoo, when there's heavy lifting to be done, I like to get my mother involved, so she made her way down to Brighton yesterday and we spent the afternoon touring the city's furniture showrooms. Needless to say, I don't just get my clothes from charity shops, I get my furniture there too (frankly I'd buy my food from them if I could), so having started at the Martlets Hospice Furniture Warehouse, we moved on to the YMCA Furniture Shop, before ending up at the Emmaus Secondhand Superstore in Portslade, where I threw caution (and someone else's reserved sign) to the wind, and slapped down thirty-five quid for the chest of drawers above.

Interestingly the member of staff who carried it a full ten yards to the car park and lifted it into the boot of my car seemed to expect something for his efforts. He clearly didn't know me at all. The only tip I gave him was to look up the word 'volunteer' in the dictionary.

Just the ticket.So having filled my flat with the fresh scent of pine, I waved goodbye to my mother and headed off to the cinema. On my own. To see Cloverfield. I was supposed to be going with Lisa and a friend, but the friend cancelled at the last minute, and Lisa had already made it clear that she'd rather be eaten by a monster than have to sit through a 90-minute film about one, so I left her with two other friends (Richard & Judy) and went on my own.

As you can see, I arrived for the 17:05 performance at precisely 17:06, which is probably why they printed "Ga-ga" on my ticket, but fortunately they were too busy showing public information films about condoms to actually start the feature on time. I'm not saying Cloverfield's aimed at a teenage audience, but by the time it started I knew more about gonorrhoea and unplanned pregnancy than Claire Rayner.

Anyway, Cloverfield was completely fantastic, and you have to go and see it. Now. Mainly because it won't be on after tomorrow. It's like Godzilla crossed with 9/11. It's also everything The Blair Witch Project should have been. By which I mean that things actually happen in this film, and you don't just spend an hour and a half looking at trees. Anyway, I loved it, and I'm seriously tempted to go back and see it again today. I just can't get enough of New York being destroyed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

You know it's Chinese New Year when you bump into the Mayor of Brighton wearing a cheongsam.

Carol, me old china.That is indeed Mayor Carol Theobald shopping for evening wear at the Corn Exchange. I didn't get a photo of her husband, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE, but the way he was dressed he looked like he was about to serve a bowl of egg fried rice to table four.

Anyhoo, I like to mix with the great and the good, so I spent part of yesterday afternoon at the Dome, celebrating Chinese New Year with a load of white British people. To be honest it was disappointing. Mainly because they wouldn't let me in.

The adverts promised six hours of entertainment and activities, including "a fantastic showcase of traditional and contemporary staged performances in the Concert Hall, including music, dance, theatre and community choirs... and it's all for FREE!"

Guess which word attracted me. Darren Hayes could learn a lot from the Chinese. Mind you, he can only dream of playing the Dome these days. He's more of a pub singer now.

Anyway, tickets for events at the Dome usually start at about twenty quid, so given the chance to sit in the posh seats for free, this one naturally proved popular. It started at midday, so I pulled my finger out and got there at... um... 2pm. By which time the auditorium was at full capacity and anyone optimistic enough to think they were going to get in, had to join a queue and wait for someone to leave.

Needless to say I'm not that optimistic, so I decided to pop next door to the Corn Exchange and stalk the Mayor for half an hour. She obviously couldn't get into the Concert Hall either. If you're wondering whether that red chiffon scarf is part of the traditional Chinese dress, the answer's no: it was there to cover up her Mayoral chain, which someone had obviously insisted she wear over the cheongsam.

Anyhoo, Carol did a better job of feigning interest than I did, although I was fascinated by the raffle...

Mystery Prizes
I'm not sure if it's some kind of New Year tradition, but personally I feel that wrapping up the prizes so that people can't see what they're winning might just impact on ticket sales.

So I watched a bit of Chinese Brush Painting, met the Feng Shui woman and looked at the slimming tea from the Chinese Medicine Centre, before deciding I preferred the look of the takeaway food on the next stall. After which I went home. I intended to go back at 6:30pm for the Chinese Lantern Parade through the city streets, but by then I had a headache (it was probably the monosodium glutamate in the chicken chow mein), so I decided to stay at home and see in the New Year by watching Wife Swap. I'm no Confucius, but it seemed like a wise move to me.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lisa made toast yesterday morning...

Burnt Offering
The good news is that I managed to turn off the building fire alarm system after only thirty seconds, and having opened the window as wide as it would go, the cloud of smoke in my living room dispersed within two hours.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Purple HayesIt's Darren Hayes, possessed by the devil, and trying to lay hands on a bald man's head. Possibly to cure his unfortunate hair loss. Popstars, they're so out of control. No wonder photography was banned at the Barfly last night.

Anyhoo, I'm pleased to say that I successfully delivered Lisa's Valentine's gift to her yesterday by packing her onto a bus and taking her to a pub to see a washed-up Australian has-been sing a few songs for thirty quid a time. Well I say thirty quid. The tickets were only £27.50, but by the time they've added on booking fees, service charges, postage and anything else they think they can get away with, you're looking at £63.25 the pair. Lisa may be worth it, but I'm not sure Darren is.

I'll say one thing for Darren Hayes though: he has a fantastic voice. If only his time-keeping and grasp of finances were as good. I seriously wonder if he thinks Australian Dollars are the same as British Pounds. Having already paid more to get into a Brighton pub than it's cost me to buy two tickets for Matchbox Twenty at Wembley Arena in May, we eventually made it through the doors of The Gloucester and past the signs banning cameras, only to be confronted by the official merchandise stand which was merrily flogging t-shirts for £20, mugs for £10, and a set of three button badges for £4. Mind you, someone had clearly forgotten to turn on the heating, and it was so cold in there I was tempted to spend forty quid on a couple of t-shirts just to keep warm. In the end though I decided I'd get more heat by simply burning the contents of my wallet.

Anyhoo, take a look at this ticket...

Just the Ticket
Now, does that or does that not say 7:30pm? I realise that the main star doesn't usually come on at the exact time stated on the ticket, but that's because they usually have a support act. Sadly Darren didn't flog enough t-shirts to be able to afford a support act. For thirty quid you just get him and a microphone. So you'd expect him to come on stage at about... 7:45?... 8pm? Nope, ten past nine. Me, Lisa and the dozens of others who had been queuing outside in the freezing cold at 7:30pm felt pretty foolish an hour and a half later when we were still standing around waiting for something to happen. But still, having given up drinking four months ago, what better way for Lisa to spend an evening than by missing two episodes of Coronation Street to sit in a pub looking at an empty stage for ninety minutes.

Anyway, Darren did eventually turn up, though the combination of a small stage and the fact that he's only about five foot tall, meant that we could barely see him. To me he looked more like Simon Pegg crossed with Rufus Hound (both of whom I'd rather have gone to see). Then there were the people standing next to us who wouldn't stop yakking all the way through. I heard a lot more of them than Darren's singing. But what I did hear wasn't bad. He didn't do the only Savage Garden song I actually know, but hey, why bother singing your only worldwide chart-topping smash hit, when you can perform a load of your recent solo stuff which hasn't sold.

Well, I say it hasn't sold. Lisa bought a CD on the way out, so it's obviously just me who wasn't impressed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I'm sure my cat can read. Having spent Tuesday jumping up on the side of a box which said 'THIS SIDE UP', she's been busy all morning ignoring a dozen different boxes from booksellers and office supply companies, in favour of focusing her attention on the only one which claims to contain rodents.

The cat sat on the fat rat.
And plump rodents at that. With reading skills like this, she'll be ready for her Key Stage 1 in September.

But anyway, my Mum's been here all day helping with the evacuation of my living room by loading up her car with books for the third world. Or Essex, as other people call it. They're all destined for the Oxfam bookshop in Chelmsford, who need something to read far more than my local Marie Curie shop, which is not only refusing to take more books, but is desperately trying to flog the ones it's got for 10p each. It's all I can do to resist buying more.

Anyhoo, you'd think that if you spend a few hours filling a car so full of stuff that the back bumper's in danger of scraping the tarmac off the road, your living room would end up looking pretty empty. Odd how that doesn't happen. At the moment you can't even sit on the sofa. Which is why Chloe's asleep on a box.

But in better news, Lisa and I were watching 'Richard & Judy' over a Valentine's Day pizza last night, and top psychiatrist Raj Persaud was on there talking about a new test which reveals the quality of your relationship, and the likelihood of it lasting more than a fortnight. I have a 30-day money back guarantee on that engagement ring, so this seemed like just the kind of test I should be taking. Especially as Raj said that only 15% of those tested had a 'consummate relationship', and the other 85% might as well call it a day. Or something.

So having beaten Lisa to the computer, I answered all the questions, and ended up with this...

"You have a 'total relationship' with your partner that comprises all aspects of love. Your relationship is very passionate and romantic, you have a great deal of intimacy and are able to share every feeling and idea with your partner, and, what's more, you are genuinely committed to this relationship in the long run. This is the kind of relationship that most people would only dream of having. You must be very happy... Congratulations!"

Which is lovely. I wonder what I'd have got if I'd answered them honestly?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Give me a ring. Again.I'm getting a slight sense of deja vu here...

But anyhoo, today is the first major present-buying day since Christmas, so I've asked Lisa to marry me. Again. Following the modern trend of down-sizing, I've gone from a half-carat diamond to a quarter-carat diamond, so if she loses this one, she'll be getting a splinter of glass for Easter. Oh, and before anyone asks, yes, I have bought a smaller size this time around. Frankly that ring's not coming off without a pair of pliers and a trip to casualty. I think it's already cutting off the blood supply to her finger.

Derren doAs previously stated, Lisa bought me the gift on the right, which I'll be taking delivery of on March 26th. Her gift to me today was to lay a bottle of milk on its side in my fridge and let it leak all over my paté. That was a good start to the morning. But she hasn't changed her mind about marrying me in the last two months, so I can forgive her anything.

She's also learnt a lot from last year when I received a card so hot-off-the-press that I could taste the envelope gum when she kissed me. This year was very different. She still wrote the card at 7am, but she waited half an hour before giving it to me. Presumably to see how I'd react to the milk situation, and check that we still had a relationship.

It was a card worth waiting for though...

Rabbiting on.
I couldn't have put it better myself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm moving house again...

She took 'This Side Up' as a direct instruction.
Fortunately I'm not going far. I'm actually moving into the bedroom for a couple of days. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of entertaining a plumber in my living room for four hours. I was slightly traumatised by the experience, which is why I only referred to it briefly in a blog post about death, cheese & catfood.

The man was here because he'd assured my brother that what he really needed to sort out the poor performance of the central heating system was a power-flush of all the pipes. To be fair, having turned my bathroom into a recreation of the chocolate waterfall in Willy Wonka's factory, he did appear to be right. Apparently water's not meant to be that colour.

Unfortunately the chap's flush didn't have quite as much power as he thought, and having plumbed the depths of my central heating system for half a day, he only managed to restore a small amount of heat. Which lasted about five days before vanishing completely.

Admittedly, having radiators like ice packs and no hot water in the middle of February isn't ideal, but frankly it still seemed preferable to the alternative: clearing my entire living room, lifting the floorboards and replacing the blocked pipe under the floor. Anyone who's seen my flat will know that I don't exactly live a minimalist existence, and the carpets I spent £600 on 18 months ago can now barely be seen under all my stuff. The plumber suggested getting one of those storage containers and parking it outside. I think he meant a skip.

Personally I said I'd rather die of hypothermia, but my brother felt that wouldn't look good on his record as a landlord, so the upshot is that we're having it done. We don't have a date yet, but I thought I'd make a start, so having stolen a couple of boxes from outside the Co-op yesterday morning, I spent the rest of the day sorting out a load of books to give to charity. I felt I had more than I needed. Especially as I don't read.

Unfortunately, having filled the box above with literature for the third world (I'm sure they love a good horror novel), I now can't lift it. Even if I take out my cat. But still, my Mum's coming down on Friday and she's as strong as an ox. I'll let her lug it to the car.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I've been to the Sussex Eye Hospital this morning. I wanted to show a bit of support for anyone who's recently been through an ocular op. Not that he can see well enough to read this.

But as visionaries with plenty of foresight, the all-seeing eyes at the hospital have seen fit to site the HR Department on the top floor of the Eye Hospital. Presumably because it has the best view. And as luck would have it they wanted to see me this morning to verify that I'm not an illegal immigrant. Or a criminal.

So keen to set a new record for the shortest journey ever to require a passport, I made my way about fifty yards along the road with three forms of ID and a form from the Criminal Records Bureau. I was a bit surprised that the sign saying 'Sussex Eye Hospital' wasn't in slightly bigger print, but I found the place without any trouble. It's quite an old building, which must be why all the signs inside say 'Personnel'.

I had to show my passport, driving licence and TV licence (presumably so I can watch Trisha in my coffee break), which unfortunately caused a slight problem.

Here's the photo on my driving licence...

I bought that shirt in a charity shop.
No problems so far. Unfortunately the photo on my passport looks like this...

I'm just retaining water.
It was my own fault for letting someone inflate me with a bicycle pump two minutes before entering the Photo-Me booth.

So the nice lady examined my driving licence, said "Fine", looked at my TV licence, said "OK", then opened up my passport, did a double-take, and asked why I'd brought a photo of a gorilla to Human Resources.

Well ok, she didn't. But I could tell she wanted to. She did seem to stare at it for a long time, before eyeing me up and down suspiciously, but I took that as a compliment. She clearly couldn't believe that the dashingly handsome figure in front of her had ever resembled King Kong. Either that or she was wondering how I'd ever been let out of the country looking like that.

Anyway, I pointed out that my hair hasn't changed a bit, and she seemed to accept that it was probably me, before scanning my passport to send to the CRB. Or possibly to e-mail to all her friends. Either way, it's full steam ahead for the new job.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I don't know what's happened to me since I moved to Brighton. Eighteen months ago I thought the only decent art produced in the last hundred years was the picture of a tennis girl scratching her bum. But I now find myself in the position of actually liking modern art. Some of it anyway. I still think pickled sheep are essentially rubbish. But I spent yesterday afternoon at the Phoenix Gallery for the opening of their new exhibition 'Everyday Anomalies', and I have to say I loved it. It was like Tate Modern crossed with Candid Camera.

What I can't stand is the pretentiousness of the people who organise these things. The gallery website describes the exhibition thus:

"Using performative strategies and interventionist tactics the city becomes a site of exploration for the four artists. Whilst their works are often nothing more than subtle interventions and shifts in perspective, they quietly question the habitual codes of behaviour in urban society."

Which is complete tosh. It's just four people having a laugh. And I know that, because I've met them all and they couldn't stop smiling.

All four artists are from Hong Kong, and had flown in especially to meet me yesterday afternoon. We got on famously. And I'm not just saying that because the gallery laid on free Chinese food. Although it helped. To be honest I have no idea why more people didn't turn up. There were only about a dozen of us there, meaning that while everyone else quaffed the free wine, I had to single-handedly eat all the desserts. But hey, we all have our crosses to bear.

As for the art, I liked Kwan Sheung-Chi's apple core made out of a used apple juice carton...

... and his attempt to make a splatted mosquito out of his own hair and blood was very amusing too. Then there was his video installation 'Meteor Shower, which had to be viewed by getting down on your knees and looking through a tiny hole in the floor. He said afterwards that he likes to stand in front of the hole so that people look like they're bowing down to him. Like I say, they're just having a laugh.

The only female member of the fantastic four, Kam Lai Wan, presented three works about stars, the most ingenious of which was 'Sound of Stars'. She said she'd wanted to know what stars might sound like, so she'd taken numerous musical boxes and pressed the pattern of a constellation onto each cylinder, so that when you turn the handle, it plays a tune based purely on the position of the stars. I loved that idea.

But not as much as I loved the work of Luke Ching, who appeared to be trying to fill the shoes of Jeremy Beadle in a very literal sense. Luke's attempts at art included walking through a crowded shopping centre with fifteen-foot-long shoelaces, while a friend filmed people's attempts to avoid tripping over them. His accompanying piece, 'Moon', involved buying helium balloons in Toys R Us and then pretending to accidentally let them go in the middle of the mall, watching them float two hundred feet up into the roof, and then asking security guards if they had a long pole. It's work Beadle would have been proud of.

I also enjoyed Luke's video 'Dreams', which he made by spending a few weeks hanging out at a museum, looking for people who'd fallen asleep and then filming them, before putting it all together into a kind of montage of the bored. It doesn't say much for the stimulating qualities of Chinese museums, but having experienced Brighton's very own Denim Touching Event, I'm in no position to judge.

And then there was the giant pillow with his photo on it...

... which he said he'd taken to Brighton Museum the day before and left lying around as a joke piece of art.

Pak ManFor me though, the star of the show was Pak Sheung-Chuen. If all modern art was as brilliantly and amusingly inspired as his, I'd be tempted to become the new Charles Saatchi. Not content with spending ten days filling his apartment with inflated plastic bags, until the entire flat contained nothing but his own breath (which is either art or mental illness), Pak also told us the story behind his work 'Familiar Numbers, Unknown Telephone'. Apparently he'd walked past a bus stop which featured the four route numbers 91, 91M, 92 and 96R. So naturally he decided to go home and dial those eight digits into his telephone. The result is a 3-minute recording of some bloke saying "How did you get my number?" and "What do you mean it was on a bus stop?" in a slightly panicked voice.

Pak was working for a newspaper at the time, so he decided to publish a photo of the bus stop. The result was that the anonymous bloke was immediately flooded with calls, and somebody stole the route sign. Which says a lot about human nature.

Say it with receipts.My personal highlight of the exhibition though was Pak Sheung-Chuen's ingenious work with till receipts. No, really. In 'Love Letter for LC', he'd bought four books, the first word of each title being (in Chinese) 'I', 'am', 'thinking of' and 'you'. He'd then framed the till receipt and given it to his girlfriend. If that's not sweet, I don't know what is. Well, two tickets for Darren Hayes at the Barfly is, but that's not until Friday.

Pak's 'Miracle of $136.70' took the concept one stage further. He'd managed to find eight grocery items in the local supermarket (I won't tell you how much they cost), such that when put through the checkout in the correct order, the second word of each item formed the Bible verse John 3:16, "Whoever believes in him shall have eternal life". I tried to do the same at Asda last night, but I didn't want to buy 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' just for the sake of religious art.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I was handed this leaflet at Hector's House on Thursday night...

Peice, man.
Yes, that's right, Samsara are a 6 peice band, and Mean Poppa Lean are a 5 peice. Samsara play reggea and have become a favorite, while Mean Poppa Lean are hi octace. But as for the third band (who are an 8 peice), you have to wonder how someone who can misspell 'Astro' is able to get the word 'Physics' right.

I shouldn't mock though. According to a recent medical study, I'm now the only person under 35 in the whole of the UK who isn't claiming to be dyslexic. There are a lot of afflicted people out there.

Actually, I've just looked up Atsro's MySpace page, and it says (or should that be shouts) "ASTRO-PHYSICS ARE CURRENTLY RECORDING THEIR EP WITH DOM McNULTY SO WATCH THIS SPACE!!!". Dom McNulty is the guitarist from Floors and Walls. It's a small world.

Anyhoo, despite the wealth of available work for freelance proof-readers in Brighton, I'm pressing ahead with my hospital job, and the good news is that I now have an unofficial start date. According to the paperwork I've just received, they're "working towards" March 17th. So I'll just have time to turn up and try on my uniform before heading off for the Easter weekend. Marvellous.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It's The Deal Was For The Diamond!

Diamond Geezers
When I say they'd like the chance to perform on a bigger stage, I mean it quite literally. They could have someone's eye out with those guitars.

Anyhoo, despite having already had more than enough fun for one day, I managed to force myself down the road last night to Hector's House for their regular Thursday 'It's Alive!' night. There were supposed to be three bands playing: TDWFTD, electro indie popsters The Blueskies, and the interestingly named :Kinema:. As they say on their website, "the :punctuation: is important". Especially if you want to make yourself look :stupid:.

'It's Alive!' nights don't normally come to life until 8:30pm, but I checked all three bands' MySpace sites yesterday afternoon, and :Kinema: claimed they were on at 8pm, TDWFTD said 8:30pm, and The Blueskies 9pm. So naturally I got there at 8. Sadly no one else did. I practically had the place to myself. Which was odd, because TDWFTD were already tuning up.

So I ordered a non-alcoholic drink, the barman looked at me like I was some kind of freak, and I sat down to watch the guys plug in their reverb pedals. At 8:25pm they launched into one of their songs, I took the photo above, and my feet started tapping away to the melodic sounds of doom math. Three minutes later they stopped, put their jackets on and walked off, at which point I realised I'd been getting down and funky to the soundcheck.

I'm not saying the next forty-five minutes were dull, but when you're sitting on your own in a pub where the next oldest person looks about 21, and most of the girls would need ID to get into a youth club, the time does start to drag a little. I would have killed for a glimpse of :Kinema:'s colons, but sadly no one took to the stage. Not even The Blueskies appeared on the horizon.

It's a DealFortunately, at 9:15pm, just as I was beginning to think EastEnders would have been more entertaining, The Deal Was For The Diamond reappeared, and played an excellent 30-minute set. I know Lisa wasn't overly impressed when we saw them back in November (she used the words "dreadful racket"), but I really do think these guys are stunning. Maybe you have to be a serious muso (like myself) to appreciate them, but I could honestly listen to their music all day. Possibly with a short break for lunch. The tragedy is that they'll probably never be successful. You don't tend to get a lot of prog-rock instrumentalists topping the charts.

Anyway, I happen to think they're brilliant, and well worth the price of admission (if it hadn't been free). The best news though is that they're not playing in Brighton again until February 21st. So I've got a good thirteen days till my next crisis.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Exactly one week ago today, I wrote a blog post in which I said that every time The Deal Was For The Diamond play a gig in Brighton, I end up having a personal crisis. I knew it was a good idea to tempt fate. TDWFTD are playing a free gig tonight at Hector's House (which is a pub, not a mate of mine), and boy, have I had a day and a half. I'd write it all down, but there isn't enough ink in the world.

So instead I'll focus on the good news. Which is that in between spending half the day on the phone, fighting for my working life with an HR department who understand that I haven't been employed for a number of years but would still like a reference from a current employer, and an Occupational Health department who understand that I no longer suffer from depression but are concerned that I might throw myself off a tall building if I'm forced to work bank holidays, I had the joy of visiting the Jobcentre to sign on for what, in an ideal (and possibly fantasy) world, would be the last time.

I was naturally looking forward to breaking the news of my job offer, and being congratulated on my success. Unfortunately it didn't go quite according to plan. I think the lady's exact words were "Why haven't you done anything since the 24th?". Apparently being offered a job doesn't mean you can stop looking for work. I don't know what I was thinking.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love the sign writer at my local pub.

Mmm... pancakes.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mmm... hibi.Whilst standing in Sainsbury's on Friday night, wondering how Lisa was going to fit all those Chelsea Buns in the freezer, I happened to notice a bottle of Simply Hibi. Yes, Simply Hibi. It's an infusion of Hibiscus flowers and grape juice which, according to the website, is "for busy, health conscious people". Which is obviously me to a T. Naturally I bought a bottle, and have spent the past few days enjoying its "natural goodness and deliciously unique flavour", which I'd describe as a cross between cough medicine and anti-freeze.

I'd have given up by now, but I refuse to throw away anything remotely edible, and I presumed there was no other use for the stuff. How wrong I was. I saw an advert last night for new 'Herbal Essences Deep Nourishment & Shine Shampoo', the main selling point of which appears to be that it's infused with... Hibiscus. Apparently it "gently moisturises your hair from root to tip [which in my case is not very far] to restore its shine, leaving you and your hair feeling replenished, revived and reinvigorated. Yes, not just my hair, but me too. Frankly Clairol are making bolder health claims than the Simply Hibi people. I'm taking my bottle out of the fridge and putting it straight in the shower.

Anyhoo, flower power aside, the good news is that fans of romantic fiction finally have something to get their teeth into, because I've finished updating my Lisa page. It's a triumph of style over substance, and before you ask, yes, I did have permission to say all of that. Well, most of it. To be honest she hasn't read it yet, but I'm sure she won't mind.

Monday, February 04, 2008

It's exactly one year ago today that Lisa and I spent an evening skulking in the shadows of Brighton's first sex shop with a History teacher and a handful of pensioners. It was one of the highlights of my year. Which says a lot about the kind of 2007 I had. Anyhoo, I was naturally keen to do it all again, and as luck would have it, Geoff Mead was leading another rag-tag band of history-seekers around the city centre last night. Lisa still hasn't recovered from last year's frostbite, so she was reluctant to repeat the experience, but I'm not above standing around in sub-zero temperatures with a stupid hat on, and it's always wise to burn off a few calories before Pancake Day, so I was straight down there.

A lot's changed since last year. For a start, my photography of the Royal Pavilion has improved...

Back in the Pavilion
... which is more than I can say for the event's title. Last year it was 'Landscape by Lamplight', which scores about an 8 on the dullness scale. This year they went with 'Brighton's Hidden Farmlands'. Frankly it's a miracle anyone turned up.

Which is a shame, because the actual experience is hugely entertaining. Where else can you hear about the local shepherd who was locked up in 1882 for being drunk in charge of a flock of sheep? Nowhere, that's where.

With the exception of the story about the blind beadle who mistook a goat for a dog and shot it (which is always worth repeating), Geoff had all-new material this year, and took us on an entirely different route. I learnt that 200 years ago, pigs had to be tethered on the Old Steine (which is another blow to Lisa's goat theory) after they developed a taste for fishermen's nets, and started eating away the entire Brighton fishing industry. I also learnt that Prince Albert Street is the youngest road in the Lanes, and having been built a mere 160 years ago is officially "not old". I've love to see Geoff explain that to an American.

Prince Albert Street is home to The Cricketers pub, which is where the alcoholic shepherd was impounded, sheep and all, in the nineteenth century. Sadly he couldn't get a drink as it was just the town pound in those days. Drugs of a different kind might have been on offer though, as that area was known as the 'Hemp Shares', after it was divided up into plots to grow hemp for making sails. Nothing changes around those parts. Apart from the making sails bit.

Ducking down an alleyway, Geoff pointed out a fig tree in somebody's garden which has been there for so long that it was known as 'The Old Fig Tree' a hundred years ago. It's now the even older fig tree. The house next door is currently on the market for £350,000 so I'd be tempted to buy it and then complain that the tree's overhanging my property, and I don't give a fig how old it is. Incidentally, this is nothing to do with anything, but have a look at the floor plan for that house. You actually have to go through someone's bedroom to get to the toilet.

Heading up towards the shopping centre, we were told that 200 years ago the area was known as Bunker's Hill, and was described in the 1770s as being "a refuge for gypsies and vagabonds". Anyone who's walked down West Street on a Friday night will know that it still is.

The area near the clock tower was once home to one of Brighton's worst slums, known as 'Petite France', presumably because everyone smelled. We didn't stay there long, and having stood outside the clothes shop 'Cult', looking like some kind of religious gathering, we moved on past Boots to Sports World, which is built on the site of the old town cow-house. Geoff milked that story for all it was worth, before leading us towards North Laine and the Brighthelm Centre, the basement of which was apparently one of the great punk rock venues of the 1970s until it burned down (if it's possible to burn down a basement) in what Geoff called "a mysterious fire". It's now a church, so God clearly does move in mysterious ways.

My HouseWalking past my house in Gardner Street, Geoffrey mentioned that until 1932 it was a branch of Marks & Spencer's, which is nice to know. I'd rather have shopped there than the prize-winning Nectarine Orchard in Gloucester Street, which in 1826 was situated directly opposite the belching smoke of Brighton's biggest foundry. It's what gave the fruit its prize-winning flavour.

Heading back via Jubilee Street, so called because of the huge bun fight (Geoff's words, not mine) held there by Thomas Read Kemp (who built my flat) to celebrate George III's Golden Jubilee in 1809, we arrived back at the Pavilion for a short history of the Pavilion Gardens Café, which used to be on the seafront, until the Nazis threatened to fight us on the beaches, and it had to be moved inland. Geoff finished by imparting the most important information of the night: that the café's rock cakes are "to die for". He said that last year. I think the man's on commission.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I was on TV last night. No, really. Sadly it wasn't quite the network coverage I deserve, in fact it was limited to just one TV in Hove, but everyone's got to start somewhere. As it happens, Lisa and I were over at her sister's house, en route to the Portslade branch of Sainsburys, after Lisa realised in horror that Asda don't sell Chelsea Buns. Apparently when faced with an emergency of that magnitude, it's worth driving halfway across Sussex.

But as if one mercy dash wasn't enough, we also dropped in on Lisa's sister in the hope of catching the hideous stomach bug she's currently incubating, and losing a bit of weight. So while Lisa was upstairs painting a large red cross on the bedroom door, I stayed in the living room with the nephews. I feel more at home with video games. I'm not really a disease person.

Anyhoo, as Lisa's brother-in-law demonstrated to me over a cup of tea, you can surf the internet on a Wii. He only had to sit on the sofa, waving his hands about, and my face appeared on the TV screen. I'm what widescreen was invented for. And what's more, it was so crystal clear that when he zoomed in on my website and asked his 4-year-old son "Who's that?", the boy immediately replied "Phil!". Which was a bit of a relief, as I expected him to say Igglepiggle.

CuddlecatOn the subject of websites, I spent yesterday afternoon updating my Lisa page. There's no point clicking on the link though, because I haven't published it yet. I actually spent so long deciding which cartoons to use that I didn't have time to write anything. As things stand right now, it's so full of animations, it's going to take about half an hour to load. But as I mentioned almost two years ago, Chelsea BunnyI have a free subscription to the work of the lovely Camilla Eriksson, on account of me being the most romantic person in Britain. Or something. And as she keeps renewing it for free, it would be rude of me not to plaster the page with flying pigs.