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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Honestly, you turn your back for one minute (well, a couple of months - I've been working y'know) and everything changes. Last time I went to McDonalds in Western Road, it was a bright, colourful place full of fun, laughter and fat people. Now look at it...

Going Green
I think they've replaced Ronald McDonald with the Grim Reaper.

But if they're trying to turn the place into a trendy coffee shop, they need to think again. This was the scene half an hour ago outside the recently opened Starbucks in St James's Street...

Imagine how much more worked up they'd be if they drank coffee.
One of those banners reads "Starbucks: Suppliers of coffee to the torturers of Guantanamo Bay". I don't remember reading that on their website. Still, if you're going to supervise a session of sleep deprivation, you need something to keep you awake.

Another placard reads "Keep Kemptown Independent", which might carry more weight if they weren't standing opposite a big branch of Somerfield, but for sheer punchy impact, I prefer the simple "Buck Off". It's so much better than the one saying "Starf*cks", which frankly doesn't work at all.

Amusingly, I've just discovered that they've rewritten the Starbucks Wikipedia entry to include details of their protest. They claim there are 1,400 of them, which appears doubtful from the photo above. Unless the others were all inside getting a latte.

Anyway, it was all very exciting, especially when the council street cleaner had to be given a police escort to pick up a cigarette butt. Personally I kept my distance over on the sunny side of the street. You don't want to mess with Facebook users. They'll poke you as soon as look at you.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brace yourself...

Girl or boy. You decide.
... it's...

... a...

... baby!

Wouldn't you just know it. Lisa's spent the past month counting down the days until we find out the sex of our baby, and... they couldn't tell. Which is not very flattering if it's a boy. According to the sonographer, our first child is keeping its legs firmly together (which is the advice Lisa used to get from her Mum), with the umbilical cord between its knees, making gender recognition impossible. Lisa did her best to pressure the woman into an educated guess, but she refused to be drawn.

But on the bright side, it's nice to see that our baby already has its head in its hands, sobbing uncontrollably at the prospect of spending its life with us. The sonographer said "Aw look, it's rubbing its eyes!", but I know despair when I see it.

I'm also slightly concerned that its arm doesn't seem to be attached to the rest of its body, but the nurse didn't seem to be worried. Possibly because she was distracted by the fact that...

... we'd both been on the same stultifyingly dull three-day NHS Trust induction course in March!!!

It's a small world. I asked her how she's getting on, she asked me how I'm getting on, and we reminisced about just how boring those three days had been. It was like a support group for survivors of abuse. And talking of support groups...

Join Our Club(foot)
There's a leaflet I didn't expect to be picking up today. Surely they should use the word 'club' instead of 'group'..?

Anyhoo, I'm pleased to report that despite having to do without the joy of sex recognition (and frankly Lisa's livid), all fifteen diagnostic tests carried out on Gardner Jnr produced normal results. I can also reveal that its thigh bone is 37mm long, it has an abdomen circumference of 168mm and a head circumference of 204mm. Apparently that puts its femur and abdomen at marginally below average, and its skull at slightly above. So it's looking like the big-headed child I've always dreamt of.

Following the scan, we had to face Lisa's family, who'd all gathered at her Mum's to await gender news. We made that a short visit. Then it was down to Prezzo at the marina for our anniversary meal, where we discussed the fact that what's really important is the health of our baby, and that knowing the sex is ultimately immaterial. After which I agreed to pay £150 (plus VAT - I've read the small print) for a 4D scan with sex determination at this place. We're booked in for July 5th. A healthy baby's one thing, but a happy Lisa is just as important.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Linking to this post in Monday's mutterings reminded me that I'd somehow omitted the most important piece of information from my account of our trip to London. I forgot to say that whilst travelling south on the Jubilee line, we stopped at St John's Wood tube station. Not an exciting revelation in itself, it's true, but whilst there, the person sitting next to me leaned across to the person sitting next to him, and said:

"Did you know that St John's Wood is the only station on the London Underground which contains none of the letters of the word 'mackerel'?"

His companion didn't. Neither did I. I asked Lisa why we never have such interesting conversations on public transport. She didn't reply.

Anyway, four weeks later, I've finally got around to verifying this piece of information on the internet. It led me to the St John's Wood Tube Station page on Wikipedia (because obviously there is one) which, in the tradition of all great encyclopaedias, includes the following scholarly facts:

"In recent years, the station has achieved a small amount of notoriety due to it being the only London Underground station that has no letters in common with the word 'mackerel', a fact that has frequently appeared in quizzes since the fact was publicised, for example, in "This Book", a trivia compendium. The word 'mackerel' is by no means unique in this feat, however, as several hundred words ('algebra', 'blackberry', 'paperclip'...) satisfy the same property of having letters in common with all stations except St John's Wood.

Furthermore, St John's Wood is not unique in being able to satisfy such a restriction, and there are at least 84 stations for which words exist that have no letters in common with exactly one station (for example 'wavelength' and Oxford Circus; 'photocopying' and Russell Square).

There are a number of stations which do not share letters with other stations. In fact, there are 61 stations which have just one station with which they do not share any letters, such as Barbican (only Temple does not share letters) and Liverpool Street (only Bank does not share letters).

The station does contain the second rarest letter on the London Underground - 'J'. Only St John's Wood, St James's Park and Willesden Junction contain the letter 'J'. The rarest letter is 'Z' which is only found in Belsize Park."

Someone, somewhere, has far too much time on their hands. And personally I'm not convinced that 'paperclip' is all one word. But I will be mentioning photocopying next time I'm at Russell Square.

Chip off the old block.Anyhoo, after a ten week tour of duty on the front line of the war on drugs (although to be honest it's more of a peace-keeping role), I've got my first day off work tomorrow. Not only is it mine and Lisa's four-year anniversary, but we're also heading off to hospital (so it's a busman's holiday for me) to check on the progress of the mite on the right. We're now nearer birth than conception, so it's time to measure the baby's waistline and find out if it takes after its Dad. By this time tomorrow you'll know whether to start knitting in pink or blue.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I forgot to say in yesterday's post that the bald bloke standing in the back of shot (who gives Lisa a suspicious sideways glance, possibly worried that she might be about to attack Augusten Burroughs with a copy of his own book) is none other than Peter Guttridge, the Observer's crime fiction critic, and author of a series of novels about a yoga-obsessed journalist who solves crimes in his spare time. This time last year Peter was sharing a stage with Patsy Palmer. Now he's standing behind Lisa. The man's clearly going up in the world.

Mr Guttridge also has the dubious honour of being the last writer to take to the stage before Lisa and I walked out of The Brighton Moment three weeks ago. He was officially the last straw.

As for the chap he's talking to (white shirt, arms folded), that's Liam Brown, the Brighton Festival Books & Debates Programmer. I know that, because he came out at the beginning of every single bloomin' event we went to, introduced himself, and told us to turn off our mobile phones. Frankly by Sunday I was sick of the sight of him.

Moments earlier, Simon Fanshawe had walked past, but sadly I failed to get him on camera. That's life.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's another Oscar contender...

I particularly like the way she can't wait to get out of there. She's got America's foremost memoirist, Augusten Burroughs, trying to strike up a conversation, and she's already got her hand out ready to grab the book and leg it. He'd barely finished a sentence and she was halfway out the door.

I also have to apologise for the terrible faux pas from the wardrobe department, which resulted in Lisa wearing the same top she had on the last time she appeared on this blog. But don't worry - the way that baby's growing, it won't fit her much longer.

Anyhoo, Augusten Burroughs' appearance at the Brighton Festival turned out to be very good. What we saw of it anyway. It being a sunny Sunday afternoon, I decided to walk to the Pavilion Theatre. Lisa, on the other hand, caught the bus. So whilst I was on time, she was so late that they wouldn't let us occupy the seats we'd purchased near the front, and instead had to sneak us up the fire escape, through the back door, and into some chairs in the back row.

I must admit, my initial impressions of Augusten weren't good. In fact I took an instant dislike to him. He's one of those Americans who is so confident, so comfortable in front of an audience, and so full of himself that you can't help but hate him. As time went on though, he completely won me over. He may have insisted on reading an excerpt from his own book like it was some great work of Shakespeare, but the tales he told and the things he said were actually very interesting and highly amusing. I ended up genuinely liking the man. In fact, having listened to him say that a dull life should be no bar to writing a memoir, I wish I'd given him the address of this blog.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Never mind Gore Vidal, it's Jarvis Cocker!

Me Old CockerIt makes you wonder if I ever go to see anyone with a normal name. I've got tickets for Augusten Burroughs this afternoon.

Anyhoo, I apologise for the photo, but I forgot to take my camera with me, and I had a slight technical issue with my mobile phone. Namely that I have no idea how to use it. As a result I managed to select the option for people who want to take a photo the size of a postage stamp. Don't bother clicking to enlarge it - that's as big as it gets.

For me and Lisa, Friday night was the penultimate event of this year's Brighton Festival. And what better way to celebrate the end of a gruelling month of culture than with 'Jarvis Cocker On Song', a two hour lecture by the lead singer of Pulp. It was specially commisioned by the Festival, so you won't see it anywhere else. Which is a shame, because it was actually very good.

The old Cocker spent the evening analysing song lyrics, from the good (Leonard Cohen) to the bad (Des'ree's infamous toast line), via the incomprehensible - namely The Kingsmen's version of 'Louie Louie'. Personally I preferred ABC's 'That Was Then But This Is Now', which goes "Can't complain, musn't grumble, Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble". It beats Des'ree's toast into a cocked (or should that be Cockered?) hat.

Big Sis will be pleased to know that Jarvis also attacked James Blunt (sadly not physically) for the lyrics to 'You're Beautiful', which is like shooting fish in a barrel if you ask me. Interestingly, at the Paramount Comedy Festival last year, Ed Byrne did an entire routine on that subject, which is particularly spooky, because I'd spent the first half hour of Friday's show thinking how similar they look...

Jarvis CockerEd Byrne

Well, kind of. They're both very thin anyway.

People with access to a magnifying glass will notice that in addition to waxing lyrical for two hours, Jarvis did bring a guitar with him. He actually played three songs, most notably the Pulp song 'Babies', which was particularly ironic as there turned out to be one in the audience. The parents obviously couldn't get a babysitter, and thought no one would mind if their newborn cried all night in the back row of the stalls.

Anyhoo, it was all very entertaining (apart from the baby), though for me the highlight was walking through the foyer afterwards and meeting the dog-brainwasher with a scooter fetish from the Science Festival in February. It's a small world. Unfortunately.

The other highlight was this video which Jarvis played to close the show. It has nothing to do with the art of the lyricist, but in the words of Mr Cocker, "Just watch the drummer"...

It makes you wonder what he'd be like with an up-tempo number.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's Gore Vidal!

Kind of. I decided not to risk getting my camera out, on the grounds that taking photos of an 82-year-old in a wheelchair might look a bit odd. And the flash could have brought on a heart attack. Ideally, I'd like to avoid being responsible for the death of America's greatest living writer.

But the Gore-fest on Thursday night was actually very good. Big-eared Martin Clunes lookalike, Andrew Marr was infinitely better than Miranda Sawyer the previous night (which is a bit like saying Michael Parkinson's better than Davina McCall), and the whole thing was probably the best night of the festival for me. I seemed to be in the minority though. As I walked out afterwards, most of the people around me were muttering about the brevity of Gore's answers, and the fact that he didn't say much. Frankly they should have been at Alex James the night before. When you've heard someone rambling on about cheese for half an hour, you appreciate a pithy comment. And at the age of 82, he needs to get to the point pretty quickly.

Personally I am in love with Gore Vidal (in a heterosexual way). Obviously I haven't read any of his books, been to his plays or seen more than five minutes of 'Ben Hur', but the man displayed more wit, insight and originality than the rest of his countrymen put together. Frankly brevity is the soul of wit, and he said more of interest in a few words than most people manage in a lifetime. I could have listened to him all night.

As Andrew Marr pointed out, Gore Vidal has personally witnessed more than a third of American history. Lisa's like that with Coronation Street. I'd like to say that old age has allowed him to say what he really thinks, but to be honest he probably always has. So he happily described George W Bush as "a known cretin" and questioned whether any of John McCain's war heroics ever really happened, before adding that "nobody who can lose a plane should ever be president", which is logic it's hard to argue with. Mind you, he wasn't keen on Barack Obama either, so he's not going to be happy come polling day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I had an e-mail yesterday from someone who'd just come across this piece from two and a half years ago, and wanted to share the following views:

"i would just like to inform you that your website is shit, you are a prick and i hope you rot in hell. you are a disgraceful person, as someone who decides to have a go at children on their petty little web page (probably becdause you don't have a real job or a life at all outside of your bedroom and your right hand) is someone who should just do everyone a favour and die."

True, but at least I can use capital letters. And besides, I don't have time to have a go at children - there are too many adults out there. Talking of which...

... it's Alex James of Blur!

Bit of a Blur
If you're wondering why I'm not in the picture, it's because Lisa took it. She claims she didn't realise I wanted to be in the photo too, and her decision to cut me out of the shot had nothing to do with her fancying Alex James for the past ten years and wanting to forget I exist.

Anyhoo, last night's cheese-making lecture was mostly fairly dull, but then I'm not in love with the speaker. Maybe I'm just the jealous type, but I found Alex's frequent casual references to the aeroplanes he's bought, the parties he's been to, and the fact that he used to have "an embarrassing wreck of a car" (which turned out to be a BMW) slightly grating. Especially when he went on to claim that if he wasn't selling cheese to Harvey Nichols, he might not be able to pay the bills on his 200 acre estate.

As for his friendship with Damien Hirst, my ears are still ringing from the constant clang of that name hitting the floor.

But most irritating of all was our hostess for the evening, Miranda Sawyer. She began by announcing that she and Alex "go way back", which was the problem really. Instead of asking him questions and letting him speak, she seemed to think they were mates having a natter down the pub, and constantly interrupted him with her (unsuccessful) attempts to be funny. I could have slapped her. If we'd had better seats.

Cheers! From one recovering alcoholic to another.But the good news is we eventually made it out of there, and I succeeded in getting Alex to sign a book for Lisa. She'd have done it herself, but sadly the official autograph queue proved too confusing a concept for her, and she found herself on the wrong side of the crash barrier, unable to get past the burly security guard. I offered to distract him while she ducked underneath the cordon to join me at the head of the queue, but she claimed she was too pregnant.

So having intended to take a photo of Lisa and Alex together, I hastily changed my plans and we agreed on a quick swap - me receiving £16.99 for a book, and Lisa getting my camera (which is worth slightly less). I then handed the book to Alex, leaned right in, turned to the camera and smiled. I must admit, I did think she appeared to be aiming in completely the wrong direction, but I was too polite to say anything. If only she'd been a child - I'd have had a go immediately.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The good thing about the internet is that I can slag someone off write an honest review, and within a matter of days, YouTube provides the evidence to back up my claims. So if you've been struggling since last Thursday to picture the true horror of Bananarama at the Brighton Centre, then struggle no more...

Actually it's not as bad as I remember. The dancers' shirts were only half open.

Anyhoo, tonight's the European Champions League Final, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see two English teams battle it out for football's biggest prize. So Lisa and I are going out. It might be the highlight of the British sporting year, but we'd rather spend the night with a farmer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brain development is all very well, but sometimes it's just easier to stay in and watch Coronation Street. Lisa had a hard day at work yesterday, which, combined with the effects of mid-term pregnancy, resulted in her losing the use of both legs, and being forced to lie on the sofa all evening. Much as she would have liked to pay £3 to go and see a play about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race Great-Niece of the first Earl of Mansfield, sadly it just wasn't possible. And it had nothing to do with her looking like a dalmatian with sunstroke.

I considered going on my own, but in the end I felt my time would be better spent tending to Lisa's needs, mopping her fevered brow, and trying to make a Burkha out of an old bedsheet.

But the good news is that in the absence of an in-depth theatre review, we have the opportunity to catch up with the ongoing adventures of Big Sis. As I'm sure you'll remember (I'm mainly addressing my mother there), we left Sis a week ago, celebrating her birthday with forty Australians, while Elton John had dinner with James Blunt's pianist. Well a lot's happened since then. I received this text message on Thursday:

"The people in my block have all written to my estate agent to get me evicted coz of my party. But my 80-year-old neighbour has been defending me, saying it was very civilised and she didn't see any alcohol at all! It's like Big Brother, but they'll all be sorry when I am an astronaut."

Did I mention she's applying to go to the moon? Clearly Australia isn't far enough for her.

Anyhoo, I don't know about you, but when I need a reliable witness to testify on my behalf in a court of law, I choose a blind octogenarian every time. I knew it was a good idea to invite her to the party.

But despite being backed by an Australian pensioner who's probably old enough to have been shipped there for some heinous crime, Big Sis isn't one to rest on her laurels. So at the end of the week, she paid a personal visit to the bloke in charge of her block (or the man who puts the resident in president) in an attempt to smooth things over. Unfortunately Sis's reputation preceded her and his wife wouldn't open the door. But still, who said intimidating witnesses would be easy.

The good news is that Sis eventually forced her way in and told the woman that it wasn't her forty friends who were making the noise, it was some people vandalising the property next door. Possibly Aborigines. Or kangaroos. She then added that she's going to be an astronaut.

We don't know the outcome of the case yet, but I'd imagine they've already got her down as some kind of fantasist. Personally, having seen her audition tape for Big Brother 2, I'd evict her immediately.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gok Wan has a lot to answer for. On the last edition of 'How To Look Good Naked' (which obviously I don't need to watch), he personally instructed Lisa to go out and buy a bottle of Ambre Solaire No Streaks Bronzer, for the perfect cancer-free tan. She applied it before we went to bed last night. I'm not saying the results were unexpected, but her first words to me this morning were "Oh no". And I could hear them through my earplugs.

I spent the first part of the morning negotiating for the photographic rights, sadly to no avail. But picture a Friesian cow with a panicked expression, and you're halfway there. It's true that where Lisa's applied the stuff, she has an even golden tan with no streaks. The problem is that because the spray is colourless and takes a few hours to develop, she couldn't see all the bits she'd missed. She looks like an Appaloosa. Or possibly an Oompa Loompa. With a skin condition. If you're in Brighton today and want to recognise her, she's the one wearing a long-sleeved top and gloves. If we'd had a balaclava, she'd be wearing that too. You have to laugh. I know I did.

Anyhoo, I helped her apply some more to her white patches this morning, then e-mailed her at 11am to ask what colour she is now. She replied with one word: Bisto.

As for yesterday afternoon, well I know I shouldn't say this after Dave's comment, but Professor Susan Greenfield really was wearing quite an extraordinary outfit. I couldn't work out if it was shorts or a miniskirt. But either way, she is one foxy neuroscientist. I may have to replace the poster of Joan Bakewell on my bedroom wall.

Anyway, I was expecting a lecture, but it turned out to be the Baroness in conversation with Radio 4's answer to Frazier, Laurie Taylor. He reminded me of Boris Johnson crossed with Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'. Only slightly less sane. It was all very interesting though, and the essential message seemed to be that it's not the number of brain cells you have, it's the connections between them. And in order to grow more connections, it's apparantly vital to get out there and interact with the world, instead of sitting in front of a computer screen.

So in the spirit of advanced neuroscience, Lisa and I have agreed to go out again tonight. One of Lisa's work colleagues has recently formed a theatre group, written a play, and is appearing in a small way on the Brighton Festival fringe. Which makes her sound like a nit. But as culture vultures who are easily persuaded by half a dozen pestering e-mails, we've said we'll tag along for opening night. Although with Lisa's skin, there won't be many people looking at the stage.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys!

Sitting Tennant
And he's wearing Rick Astley's suit. Black suits with black ties are obviously more fashionable than I realised. Unless they both have the same dead friend.

Anyhoo, that's the sitting Tennant on the right. The ginger one picking his nose on the left is Michael Bracewell the famous novelist. No, I've never heard of him either.

Back in the 80s, the Pet Shop Boys famously said that they'd only perform live if Bananarama did, so after Thursday night I suppose it was inevitable that Neil Tennant would be on the bill at the Brighton Festival. Fortunately he wasn't singing. We actually paid £7.50 to hear him "in conversation". You could probably achieve the same effect by standing outside his house with an ear trumpet, but I don't know where he lives, so this seemed like the easier option. And I have to say, it was very interesting.

We heard a number of intriguing tales, including the fact that Chris Lowe's grandfather used to play the trombone in a comedy jazz band called The Nitwits. And to prove that you can find anything on YouTube, here they are. Apparently when the Pet Shop Boys met Liza Minnelli, she mentioned that as a small child in Las Vegas, sitting around all day while her mother trod the boards, she'd become a huge fan of The Nitwits. Which is not surprising - she went on to marry a few. She also asked Neil and Chris if they'd record a song called 'Pink Christmas' with her. They politely declined.

Michael Bracewell did mention the Pet Shop Boys' reluctance to play live in the 80s, and Neil said that in fact they did play a small early gig at a club called The Fridge in Brixton. I only mention that, because I went there in 1992 to see Petra (not the Blue Peter dog) with my brother. I'd never been anywhere so dodgy until a few weeks ago when I visited the Bank Holiday Market at the race course.

Anyhoo, if you're wondering what's next on the agenda for Neil Tennant, I can exclusively reveal that he's writing a ballet. Book early to avoid disappointment. Next on the agenda for me and Lisa, however, is an afternoon of advanced neuroscience at the Corn Exchange. I'm planning to take up brain surgery in my spare time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm devastated. I've just walked down to Taj the Grocer for some Icelandic dairy products, and... they've stopped selling Skyr. They've replaced it with goat yoghurts. Seriously. I'm sure they're very nice (he says, lying) but frankly I did not do five hours of overtime this week to pay for caprine desserts. It's made me quite gruff.

But while I consider a shopping trip to Reykjavik, I should just mention my night of passion with Rick Astley. Lisa and I went to the 'Here & Now' concert at the Brighton Centre on Thursday. It's the third time we've attended such an event (after Christmas 2004 and last year's summer of love), so clearly we never learn from our mistakes.

It was very good though. Here we are in Row H of the south balcony, enjoying the show...

There & Then
As surprising as it may sound, I don't actually have Lisa's permission to publish that photo. I think her exact words were "Delete that NOW", with the emphasis very much on the last word. But I could tell she didn't mean it.

Anyhoo, the first act on were Cutting Crew, who reached number 1 in 1986 with 'I Just Died in Your Arms', an appropriate title, because while they were belting it out on the stage of the Brighton Centre, Lisa and I were experiencing a slow lingering death at the bus stop outside my flat. Buses are meant to arrive every few minutes. We were there for twenty-five before one eventually turned up with a handwritten scrap of paper on the windscreen telling us where it was going. And they say public transport is the future.

Fortunately we got there in time to see a song and a half from Johnny Hates Jazz. I remember stealing their album from Big Sis's bedroom in 1987, but having heard them again twenty-one years later, I think I might give it back. They weren't quite the band I remembered. Possibly because they had a different singer.

Next was Curiosity Killed The Cat, who did have the same singer. And no one else. It turned out to be Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot on his own. His music was ok, but by the time I'd watched him dedicate every song to "the ladies" (I think he was desperate for the toilet), and talk like he was a black teenager from Brixton, I was hoping he'd become a curious cat pretty sharpish.

ABC were up next, and were very good, but I've seen them before. The same goes for Paul Young, who was marginally less entertaining than when cooking fish on Hell's Kitchen.

Having woken Lisa up, we then saw two of the three members of Bananarama perform four of their five biggest hits. They were often criticised in the 1980s for not being able to sing, and frankly you could see why. They attempted to distract us from their voices by employing a couple of male dancers who spent their time fondling the girls with their shirts open, and gyrating their hips like some kind of lap dancing act. At one point, Sara and Keren rode them like horses. It was dangerously close to porn. But at least it took my mind off the singing. As they left the stage, the compere said "Those girls are bad!". I couldn't agree more.

The show finished on a high though, with the Rickroller himself, Rick Astley. I have to say I thought he was great, and the man should definitely make a comeback. He was pretty much the only person there who hasn't turned fat and ugly over the past twenty years (and I include myself in that). He could teach Bananarama a thing or two about singing (but then who couldn't), and he looks pretty sharp in a suit. Although I'd suggest a lighter colour next time. I couldn't shake the feeling that he'd just got back from a funeral.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I don't know about you, but when I see 80s pop legend Rick Astley live in concert, I like to do it from behind a balding middle-aged man in a pair of pink fluffy illuminated bunny ears.

I told him to hop it.
We had to pay extra for those seats, but I think it was worth it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Well I'm pleased to report that I've now branched out from the world of strawberry skyr and sampled the delights of plain skyr with a dash of maple syrup (as recommended on the Skyr recipe page). I've also spent a good ten minutes staring at my spoon like a lunatic, in anticipation of some major curling action. I felt like Uri Geller. Unfortunately, despite concentrating on cutlery until I had a slight headache, I failed to spot any kind of flaking, and the only concentrated calcium I noticed were the deposits on my fingernails.

But on the subject of flakiness, The Daily Mirror's reporting today that Kelly Brook and Billy Zane could be back together, which is obviously fantastic news, because it means my plans for Lisa and I to tour the world as professional lookalikes are back on...

Asda List
The likeness is uncanny. We just need to stop smiling.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I've had a search engine hit from someone who posed this question via Google: "Has anyone had ice cream from ice cream van whilst pregnant?". Needless to say, the answer's yes. And what's more, she's still alive.

Talking of death-defying dairy products, I bought some of this at the weekend...

Skyr's the limit.
It's Skyr. Yes, Skyr. And it comes with a spoon. I was going to make a lot of jokes about me reaching for the Skyr, and the Skyr being the limit, but according to their website it's pronounced 'skeer'.

But anyhoo, it came to me out of a clear blue skyr. I was in Taj the Grocer, my local ethnic wholefoods shop, on Sunday, buying some organic quinoa for a Quorn pilaf (just another little insight into my life there), when I spotted it in the yoghurt aisle. Apparently it's unique to Iceland, so I bet Kerry Katona can't get enough of it.

Anyway, I've read the label, looked at the website and eaten a pot, and I still have no idea what it is. All I know is that it's made from skimmed milk and is apparently "considered a national treasure" in Reykjavik. It's also very nice. Which is just as well, because I paid £1.35 for a pot the size of a Muller Light. I think having a job has gone to my head.

Intriguingly though, having eaten it, fallen in love, and spent five minutes working out how much overtime I'll have to do to afford three pots a day, I read this piece of information on the company website:

"After licking a spoonful of skyr you can watch as the little bit left slowly curls into flakes of concentrated calcium. You would never know it's there given the gorgeous smooth taste. For an everyday treat that fits somewhere between ice-cream and yoghurt, skyr is a guilt-free pleasure loaded with riboflavin and protein!"

Never mind the riboflavin and protein, you can watch it curl up on your spoon???. Fortunately Taj is open in the evening. I'll get back to you...

Monday, May 12, 2008

To Be BluntOk, I've got the goss. And it's right up there with the time she spilt orange juice over a member of Whitesnake.

It's Big Sis's birthday today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIG SIS!), and she was planning a surprise party for herself on Saturday night (I wasn't invited, but I'm not bitter), so having already exhausted herself with some kind of social shenanigans on Thursday, she decided to stay in on Friday and conserve her energy.

At lunchtime, however, she received a call from a friend offering her free tickets to see James Blunt that night at Perth's Challenge Stadium. Being as deaf as a post, Big Sis thought she said James Blood, and promptly said no, on the grounds that she'd never heard of him. Fortunately, when she mentioned it to her little school chums later that afternoon, they informed her that it must be James Blunt. Sadly Sis hadn't heard of him either.

Anyhoo, to cut a long story short, a room full of trainee pilots eventually started singing 'You're Beautiful' to my sister (there's a first time for everything), and by the time the bell rang for playtime, she'd decided that her knowledge of one song was probably a good enough reason to attend a free concert.

As it turned out though, it wasn't just the concert. The friend also had tickets to the aftershow party (no cameras, no autographs, no fun) because, as Big Sis put it, "she was family friends with the keyboardist, Paul Beardsley". Probably not close friends though, because his name's actually Paul Beard.

According to the James Blunt online encyclopaedia, Paul is "known for his loud shirts and dance routines during live performances" and "James refers to Paul as his 'Bitch'". So here's James and the giant bitch...

Woah, pass the sunglasses, that shirt's loud.

Anyhoo, Sis spent the concert taking pin-sharp photos like the one above, whilst texting a friend to find out more about James Blunt, to help her avoid looking a complete berk when she met him. Apparently, at the sharp end of Blunt's aftershow party in L.A., Paris Hilton was seen fighting Lindsay Lohan for the last beer, so Big Sis was bracing herself for a good two hundred A-list celebs.

It turned out to be twenty. And, in Sis's words, "that included the band, support people and caterers". Mind you, the support act was Gabriella Cilmi, which might mean nothing to Big Sis, but to a GMTV viewer like myself, is pretty big news. They advertise that girl's album in every commercial break between the hours of 7 and 8am, and frankly I'm sick of the sight of her.

Anyhoo, Sis spent two hours chatting to Beardy the ivory tinkler, and described him as "a lovely, very down-to-earth guy". She then met James Blunt. I won't tell you what she thought of him, but suffice it to say he was deeply offended by her comments about the army, and she's unlikely to get an invite to his next bash. She did, however, get to swap stories with Paul about their experiences in private jets. Paul's been in Bono's, while Sis has flown with Elvis.

Naturally they were getting on famously, so Sis took the opportunity to invite Paul to her birthday party the following day. Thinking on his feet, Paul replied that he'd love to... but was having dinner with Elton John. Which is the kind of far-fetched excuse only my sister would believe. He then said he was leaving because James wanted to go to a nightclub in Perth. Which is even more far-fetched if you ask me.

Anyhoo, Sis's birthday party may have been a popstar-free zone, but apparently forty people turned up at her apartment on Saturday night. She's only been in the country for nine months, so either she makes friends easily, or it's true what she says about Aborigines and free drink.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I had this text message from Big Sis last night:

"I have just been chatting to James Blunt at the after show party... I had a guest free ticket to see him! Didn't think much of him but I spoke to his pianist for over an hour and he was planning to come to my birthday party tomorrow until he realised it clashed with a dinner appointment with Elton John. Perth is just the place to be at the moment!"

Clearly the first S in SMS means nothing to her. And you can almost hear the resounding clang of those names being dropped. But that aside, it's just another day in the life of my sister. Personally I'm not phased. I deal with Elton John on a weekly basis. That's the Elton John Ward at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, but even so. It's not everyone who can say they make a living supplying drugs to Elton John.

Celebrating Linda SmithAs it happens, Big Sis's message arrived at 6:03pm UK time, which was a bit of a problem as Lisa and I were busy Celebrating Linda Smith at the Sallis Benney Theatre. It's not easy fumbling for your mobile while everyone else is applauding a dead comedienne's widower.

I always loved Linda Smith. There aren't many people who would go on 'Have I Got News For You' wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Zippy from Rainbow. And even fewer who can claim to have beaten Stephen Fry to the title of Wittiest Living Person. So I was naturally keen to celebrate her life. Even if it did mean leaving work early.

The show turned out to be very good. Instead of a warm-up act, the producers chose to provide us with leaflets featuring tips on spotting the early signs of ovarian cancer, which seemed an odd decision. It can't be easy getting laughs from an audience who've just been reading about bowel habits and vaginal bleeding. But it's a testament to the skill of the performers that they succeeded.

The whole thing was presented and narrated by Warren Lakin, Linda's partner of 23 years, and featured Kate Rutter and Mike McCarthy performing some of Linda's stand-up routines, and recreating her radio performances.

Lovely JubblyThere was also an appearance by Gwyneth Strong, who played Cassandra in 'Only Fools and Horses'. She came out twice to read a couple of Linda's monologues, before disappearing off the stage at a startling speed. I think she must have had a train to catch. But the surprising highlight was "living legend" Carol Grimes (no, I've never heard of her either), a singer who came on to perform some of Linda's favourite songs. She looked a bit like wee Jimmy Krankie crossed with The Joker, although she'd hurt her ankle, so she walked more like The Penguin. But the six songs she performed were remarkably good, thanks in no small part to the contribution of Dorian Ford on the jazz piano. Oh yes, Big Sis isn't the only one who can spend an hour with a famous pianist. According to his website, Dorian used to be in 'Grange Hill', and has composed music for 'Tonight With Trevor McDonald', which is quite a claim to fame. If there's one show renowned for its memorable tunes, it's Tonight With Trevor McDonald. I can't stop humming the theme tune.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

It's Mike Leigh!

Life is Sweet
I apologise for the blurry photo, but the event was being filmed, and it's not easy taking a decent shot from the front row without appearing on TV being thrown out of a theatre for breaking the no-photography rule. Oh, and if you're thinking that Mike looks more feminine than you expected, I should add that he's the one on the left.

Anyhoo, Lisa and I successfully attended BAFTA: A Life in Pictures (featuring Mike Leigh) (and Amy Raphael) at The Dome last night, and I'm proud to say that we stayed til the end. Which is all the more surprising when you consider that the programme described it as a "definitive career-length interview", implying that it might last for thirty-five years.

It was a lot better than The Brighton Moment anyway, mainly because we had allocated seats in the front row, with plenty of leg room, which shows the value of getting up early on the day the tickets went on sale.

I found Mike Leigh a curious character. Lisa described him as looking like one of the Seven Dwarves, and if so, then he's definitely Grumpy. I found what he said interesting, but he came across as a slightly cantankerous old man who doesn't suffer fools gladly. Which immediately put him at odds with about half the audience.

My main complaint was that most of the people who stood up to ask questions seemed intent on proving just how intellectual they were by asking something dull, pretentious and irrelevant. One person just wanted to know Mike's views on the British education system. Frankly I couldn't care less what he thinks of the National Curriculum; I just want to hear some Secrets & Lies from the set of Vera Drake. But as Lisa said afterwards, I'm more Heat Magazine than the Times Literary Supplement. Which must be why I love Naked.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I do love the Brighton Festival fringe...

Arts Council Flat
... though I think the outside of the building could do with a lick of paint before they start on the ninth floor.

Anyhoo, I don't really have time to appreciate art in a council flat, because as anyone who's read my ridiculous schedule for May will know, last night was the start of my nine-shows-in-three-weeks cultural marathon. Lisa and I went to see The Brighton Moment at the Komedia, and may I say it was very good. Well, parts of it were very good. The bit I liked best was when we walked out after half an hour and went home.

If you read the Brighton Festival programme, or click on the link above, you'll see that the event is described thus:

"The brightest and glitteriest of the city's literati take over the Komedia Upstairs for a one night cabaret of bite-sized Brighton moments... Catch live contributions from Peter James, Jeff Noon, Julie Burchill... and others."

Now, I don't know about you, but to me that indicates something slightly more entertaining than a succession of people just reading aloud. It started well, when three people without microphones came out and read us a chapter of 'Brighton Rock' by Graham Greene. I've no idea why. I think they'd been going for about two minutes when Lisa whispered in my ear "How long shall we give it?". Frankly she was being generous. I'd been tempted to leave before they started. Mind you, we got off pretty lightly - just think how much worse it would have been if we could actually hear them.

To be fair, one of the writers we heard before we ran screaming from the place was quite amusing. David Bramwell, author of The Cheeky Guide to Brighton, read an entertaining tale about a seance, but the problem was that any moments of light relief were counterbalanced by the fact that we were in physical pain the whole way through. For some reason, the organisers had decided that everyone should sit around impossibly cramped tables like we were at some kind of awards ceremony for midgets, and seemed to think that as long as there was room to push twelve chairs under each table, then people would be able to sit down.

Having managed to find two spare seats by essentially climbing over people's shoulders, we (and by 'we' I mean a pregnant woman and a fat bloke) were expected to somehow squeeze ourselves into a six inch gap between the table and the backs of the chairs, before clashing knees with the other ten people wedged either side of us. And let's not forget that the seats at the Komedia aren't exactly comfortable to begin with. I felt like leaving the moment we sat down. And I would have done if I wasn't stuck fast.

Anyhoo, we managed to sit through six of the scheduled eighteen writers before making a bid for freedom. Each simply read aloud from something they'd written (which to me, isn't exactly cabaret). The exception to the rule was Julie Burchill. When it came to her turn, host Annabel Giles announced that Julie prefers to have an actress read her words, so instead of Ms Burchill taking to the stage, up stepped Jolie Pierce, a radical feminist who once ran a magazine called 'Flow - For Women Who Bleed'. I'm sorry, but when I pay £7.50 to hear a "live contribution from Julie Burchill" (and let's face it, she was the only famous person on the bill) I expect a bit more than just someone else reading aloud from her book.

We're going to see Mike Leigh tomorrow night. Or possibly just an actor who's seen one of his films.

Monday, May 05, 2008

I knew it was worth spending a week's wages on stretchy clothes for Lisa. She was so grateful, she insisted on taking me out for a romantic candlelit meal last night. With her sister. And a friend.

We're very discerning when it comes to restaurants, which is why we spend a lot of time at the McDonalds drive-thru, so we decided to go to The Green Man in Ringmer, purely because it featured on an episode of The Apprentice the week before last. It's where Team Alpha discussed adding chili to their avocado ice cream. Unfortunately, having phoned them up, we discovered that the Green Man's more of a Red Man after 7:30pm. They close the kitchen early on a Sunday, and if you're not finishing your potatoes by seven, you're unlikely to see a dessert.

So we changed our plans, drove over to Portslade, picked up our dining companions, and headed for Hangleton Manor. Where they said they were full and refused to let us in.

Keen to find somewhere before hunger caused me to faint at the wheel, we made straight for the A27 and drove west with very little idea where we were going. Actually, that's not true. We had no idea where we were going. But like an oasis in the desert (or should be dessert?), this place soon hoved into view...

Nice Pad
It's the Sussex Pad Hotel. Although we thought it was a pub when we pulled into the car park. We eventually realised it wasn't when we looked at the prices on the menu. But fortunately Lisa was paying so it wasn't a problem.

Anyhoo, it's a nice little place opposite Shoreham Airport, commanding spectacular views of the traffic lights on the A27, and according to the sign on the door, it's recommended by the Michelin Guide. Frankly it wasn't hard to see why. They might have charged fifteen quid for a main course and £5.50 for a pudding, but it was worth every penny. Not that it cost me anything. My fillet of sea bass with butternut squash and sweet potato puree, served with a pepper and orange sauce, was fantastic. But not as fantastic as my flambéd pineapple with Grand Marnier, butterscotch sauce and coconut ice cream. My taste buds thought they'd died and gone to heaven. It was probably the nicest meal I've ever had. Although let's face it - a McFlurry's only £1.09, so there is some room for improvement.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I walked past this sign in Kemp Town yesterday afternoon...

I love a gitf sohp.
I find it slightly worrying that Brighton's schools are turning out people who can't spell 'gift'. And even more worrying that it doesn't appear to stop them getting jobs. It makes you wonder how they spell CV.

Anyhoo, the purpose of the sign (other than to demonstrate the damaging effect of spellcheckers on the next generation) is to attract Americans. Who probably wouldn't notice the spelling mistake anyway. The 2008 Brighton Festival started yesterday, and the city's crawling with people saying 'neat' and 'awesome', who have no idea where they're going. I bumped into two of them yesterday who said they'd only arrived that morning, were already lost, but were hoping to put on a show at the end of the week. It's like something out of a Cliff Richard film.

The opening act of the festival each year is of course the Children's Parade, which is traditionally the day when Lisa and I stand on a kerb in the centre of town, failing to spot her nephews for an hour and a half. This year, however, was very different. None of them went. Nephew Number One wanted to go to a friend's for the weekend, Nephew Number Three won't be old enough until next year, while Nephew Number Two refused to take part on the grounds that he didn't want to dress as a Scrabble letter. Roll on 2012. Our child won't get a choice.

So instead of watching dawdling kids dressed as board games, Lisa and I headed over to Hove for a spot of retail therapy. I've done a total of four hours overtime this week, so I said I'd treat Lisa to a maternity thong. She's not one to look a gitf horse in the mouth, and I was willing to miss the racing on TV, so we spent an enjoyable hour at Yummy Mummy, "the largest maternity shop on the South Coast". Which makes you wonder how small the others are.

Yummy LisaIt turned out to be very good, not least because they give you a strap-on bump so you can see how the clothes will look in a few months time. This is Lisa by the end of the summer. I've been forced to crop her head out of the photo because she didn't like the expression on her face. Interestingly, the fact that she looks like she's swallowed a space hopper didn't bother her.

Anyhoo, I can't reveal how much we ended up spending, but I've already had a phone call from Barclays thinking my card's been stolen. I knew it wasn't going to be cheap when I noticed our complimentary £10-off voucher had no minimum spend. Something told me we weren't going to find a lot for £9.99. I'm not saying it was an upmarket place, but while Lisa was in the changing room, a woman came in to buy an outfit for her upcoming performance at Glyndebourne.

It made a nice change, because three hours earlier I'd been in a charity shop in St James's Street with a bloke who told me he was off to a Pimps & Whores party. I wouldn't mind, but he was planning to go as a whore.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's Matchbox Twenty!

Matchbox Twenty at Wembley Arena
Did I mention that Lisa and I were going to London on Thursday night? No? Oh well...

Two quid that cost me.Here's Lisa outside Wembley Arena with the world's biggest ice cream. She's four months pregnant now, and as you can see, she's blooming. Blooming knackered, that is. I had to buy her an ice cream just to persuade her to walk from the tube station to the venue. I was practically dragging her along the ground by her wrists until she saw the Mr Whippy van.

But it was all worth it. Matchbox Twenty were excellent. As were the support band, Headway. I expect. To be honest, we missed them, so I've no idea. As it happens, we were somewhat delayed at Brighton station when the driver of our train suddenly went AWOL at the last moment. According to the tannoy announcement, he'd been forced to return home "due to a domestic emergency". It's an explanation which poses more questions than it answers.

But we made it to London (twenty minutes late), where we discovered that the recent rises in food, energy and petrol prices are nothing. The charge for the toilets at Victoria station has gone up 50% since March. Spending a penny now costs you thirty times that. I've heard of people pissing away their money, but this is ridiculous.

Anyhoo, despite Lisa's dodgy feet, indigestion and womb cramps (I'm not sure if that's a recognised medical term), we made it down Wembley Way at low speed, being overtaken by the elderly and people on crutches, whilst admiring the new stadium, which does look quite impressive close up. Although Lisa didn't actually notice it until I pointed it out.

By the time we'd arrived at Wembley Arena, queued for the toilets and found our seats, we'd somehow missed Headway, which is a bit of a shame. When I saw Matchbox Twenty at Wembley in 2003, the support act were an unknown band called Maroon 5. Six months later they were a worldwide phenomenon. So when Headway are topping the charts and charging fifty quid a ticket, I'm going to want a word with that train driver.

Anyway, Matchbox Twenty really were very good. The opening was particularly effective - they started the gig in almost total darkness, lit by a single light behind the drummer, before exploding into colour with the first chorus. And if you can't picture that, here it is, courtesy of an illegal bootlegger in the crowd...

Obviously it was only me who saw that. Lisa had gone out to get a Coke on the grounds that "they won't start yet, will they".

Anyhoo, look at the first photo above. See the bloke on the far left, playing guitar whilst surrounded by keyboards? He's not an official member of Matchbox Twenty, but they always take an extra guy on tour to play all the twiddly bits. Usually it's Matt Beck, but his wife's having a baby (I know the feeling), so they had to get a new guy in. It wasn't until the encore when they told us who it was. The announcement left 12,000 people shrugging their shoulders, and one person more excited than a child at Christmas. That one person was me.

It turned out that the bloke I'd been watching for ninety minutes was...

Jeff Russo of Tonic. Yes, Jeff Russo of Tonic.

Jeff Russo (of Tonic) is... NINA GORDON'S FIANCÉ!!!!! And the father of her baby. How astounding is that. Not the fact that he's got a woman pregnant, but the fact that just four months after creating the world's leading Nina Gordon shrine, I've unwittingly spent two hours in the same room as her fella. He even co-wrote her song about chapped lips.

As people in Austria often say, it's a small world.