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Thursday, September 30, 2010

You know those dull Thursday afternoons in Brighton where nothing much happens..?

Well this wasn't one of them.

That's Mrs Gardner on the left.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You know you're getting old when the Hell's Angels start to look young...

Before you ask, that's not Amelie. If it was, she'd be flooring the accelerator and trying to ram-raid the biscuit tin. The girl above is actually a child model from the Toys R Us autumn collection. But come the weekend, she'll be replaced by my daughter.

It's Amelie's second birthday on Saturday. Which is worrying, because it means the terrible twos haven't started yet, and her behaviour's going to get even worse. I might have to leave home for a year. When the girl turned one, Lisa remarked that we'll have at least one more birthday free of pester-power, where we can buy her whatever we like. How wrong she was. In the past few weeks, Amelie's asked us for everything from a watch ("Ammy wear it") to a kite ("Ammy fly it") and a cake ("Ammy eat it").

But the main recurring theme of her demands has been a bike. She only has to walk past a motorcycle in the street and she immediately shouts "Ammy want a bike! Ammy ride it!". The only way to stop her committing grand theft auto on a Yamaha is to promise to buy her one for her birthday.

Unfortunately, having realised that she's definitely going to get a bike, she's moved swiftly on to the next item on her wish-list. She's now informed us that she'd like a Baby Born with a "messy mouth". And before you ask, yes, such a thing does exist...

She's only seen the TV commercial twice, but it's enough for her to realise that her life won't truly be complete until she's sitting on the sofa, wiping ice cream from the lips of a plastic doll. I don't know if she's an advertiser's dream or just Charles Saatchi's nightmare, but she's spent the past week saying "Baby Born, messy mouth, Ammy want it, Daddy get it". I tend to respond with an expectant "And what do you say..?". To which she replies "More Ribena".

But as luck would have it, my Aunt gave us a £5 voucher for Toys R Us on Sunday. She cut it out of Saga Magazine. Not that she's stereotypically old or anything. So straight after work yesterday, we dumped Amelie with Lisa's Mum and headed to Hove for a bit of retail therapy. We returned two hours later with an electric trike, a thirty quid doll, a Winnie the Pooh watch and two rolls of Igglepiggle wrapping paper.

I followed that up today by popping into Horsham during my lunch break and buying a Cadbury's Buttons birthday cake, a box of pink candles (about 18 more than I need), and a Maisy Mouse DVD. Added to that is the big bag of gifts my Mum slipped me on Sunday. The wardrobe's currently so full of presents it's like Christmas Day in Narnia.

So I need to go and wrap them up. I'd do it tomorrow, but I've got something else planned...

Monday, September 27, 2010

If you've ever wondered what The Corrs will look like in thirty years time, here's your answer...

Corrs Celebre
Obviously Andrea's had a lot of work done, and she's not getting any taller, but the others are growing old gracefully.

Unfortunately, the trouble with these family groups is that they don't like outsiders. The moment two new members try to join, the lead singer bursts into tears...

I think it's because I'm stealing the limelight. Quite literally. If I was any brighter I could join MENSA.

Anyhoo, the senior sibling on the right isn't, in fact, a sister on the fiddle, she's actually my Aunt. Although it amounts to the same thing. She lives in St Ives, which is a lot further from Cornwall than you might imagine, but is currently on tour across the south coast, taking in cousins, grandchildren and, of course, my parents. Who are the Wembley Arena of relatives.

We last saw my Aunt back in March 2009, during her Roy Orbison period, when we all looked a lot younger, thinner and less tired. That was before Amelie learnt to walk, talk or run amok on a bus. Life was easier back then.

So eighteen months on, Lisa, Amelie and I decided to head over to St Leonards yesterday for a little reunion. Admittedly, after Thursday and Friday, the last thing I wanted was another two hours in a car, but we'd been promised a roast dinner, so it seemed like a trip worth making.

And so it proved. We spent a very enjoyable few hours eating, chatting, playing, running and singing 'Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes'. And when Amelie woke up from her nap, we let her join in too.

Having left crumbs on the carpet and no food in the kitchen, we eventually said our goodbyes at 7:30pm and left my parents' house in the pouring rain, with Amelie singing all the way home. She did well to keep going. It's not easy doing the actions in a seatbelt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

People in Glass HousesHaving turned a blind eye to the Wheel of Manchester, I walked around the corner to see the sight-seeing site of the glasses on the right. That's the Urbis centre. Sponsored by Windowlene. I expect. It's currently closed because they're re-opening it in 2011 as The National Football Museum. According to their website, visitors will be able to "get hands-on with footballing fun", which is surely where Maradona went wrong.

Anyhoo, whilst considering the wisdom of handing out footballs in a building made of glass, I wandered down New Cathedral Street, which is basically Wags Central in Manchester. It's where all the designer boutiques are. I started looking out for soapstars and footballers' wives, before realising I wouldn't recognise them if I saw them. At which point I spotted this...

Kinky Boots
That's the paparazzi lying in wait outside the Ugg shop. There's even a TV crew on the right. Personally I'm more likely to shop in Boots than Ugg, but I can spot a photo opportunity when I see one, so I hung around for a bit...

And nothing happened. In fact the TV crew got so bored, they started filming me. No, seriously. I'm currently on film somewhere in a Manchester editing suite, surrounded by people trying to work out who I am.

So with very little happening, I wandered off towards The Printworks...

It's a sign!
I think they've been the victim of a smooth-talking sign salesman.

I then headed towards the Arndale Centre, before looking at my watch, realising how late I was, and heading back along New Cathedral Street. Where I was instantly blinded by camera flashes...

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Blimey Phil, those Wags are getting younger by the day". Well as it happens, that's not a Wag. It's a small girl attached to an oxygen tank. No, really. And the paps were going crazy for her. No wonder she was breathless.

Now, I admit I'm not really up on celebrity culture, so the identity of the girl remains a mystery to me. But let's face it, there can't be many ten-year-olds on oxygen who get papped by TV crews as they go after-hours shopping at Ugg. So if someone can enlighten me, I'd be grateful. I need a good celebrity-encounter story for my next dinner party.

Anyhoo, excitement over, I headed back to the hotel for the gala dinner and dance. Sadly, I was still feeling the after-effects of my stomach bug, so it was more a case of trying to hold on to my dinner whilst doing the quickstep to the toilet. In fact I headed straight back to the Travelodge five minutes after dessert. I was a party pooper in more ways than one.

Day two of the conference featured some entertaining lectures, hungover faces and gravelly voices. Let's just say the bloodshot eyes weren't all on the big screen at the front. I spent the morning sucking Bisodol tablets and regretting the sausages I'd eaten for breakfast, but despite that, it was an interesting day. Well, half-day. We all walked out at lunchtime.

Our journey home was a seven-hour jam-athon of traffic chaos, made slightly more bearable by the excitement of almost running out of petrol. Fortunately the only breakdowns we encountered were of the nervous variety, but despite that, it was 8 o'clock by the time we rolled back into Sussex. I felt a bit bad that my colleague had done almost twelve hours of driving in just a day and a half, so I've insisted that no matter what, I'm driving us all to next year's conference.

Admittedly it's in Brighton, but that's not the point.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Small Phil in a Big World

Who needs Salzburg when you've got got Salford...

They're basically the same, but the Sound of Music tour is just a walk past Liam Gallagher's house.

Anyhoo, I'm back from Manchester, and what's more, I've got the certificate to prove it...

It's a lot like last year's, but they've given up on the fancy fonts and started calling me Phil. They've also made a better job of underlining 'Retinal Screeners' with a vein.

Our journey up to the North West on Thursday was surprisingly easy. Mainly because I wasn't doing the driving. I felt it was more important to prepare for the conference by getting into the mindset of a type 2 diabetic, so I spent the journey napping and eating chocolate biscuits.

We arrived at the Travelodge shortly after midday, and having paid extra for an early check-in, went straight inside to collect our keys. I was given room 305, or the Peugeot Suite as I like to think of it, so while my colleagues waited for their rooms to be assigned, I headed upstairs to make myself at home.

To be honest, room 305 wasn't quite what I expected. I felt the ambience was spoilt somewhat by the unmade bed, full bins, dirty laundry all over the floor and wet towels in the bathroom. In fact I wondered if the room was ready at all. I was just considering whether to travel back downstairs and lodge a complaint about my reception at the desk, when I heard a key in the door. I assumed it was a member of staff come to apologise. It wasn't. It was one of my colleagues. She'd been given room 305 too. I presume it was some kind of matchmaking attempt.

Fortunately the girl on reception gave us a full explanation for the mistake. Apparently it had "been one of those mornings". So with new (and separate) rooms on the seventh floor, we headed back upstairs. This time I had room 711, which was a far more convenient store for my belongings. It was clean, tidy, spacious, and had an iron burn on the floor to remind me of home.

We didn't want to hang about at the Travelodge, which was handy as the fire alarm went off after fifteen minutes, and by 12:30 we were heading along the road to the Renaissance Hotel for an all-inclusive buffet lunch. I liked the Renaissance. It has fifteen floors, the conference suites are upstairs, and the three lifts will only hold about five people each before the weight alarms go off. Let's just say we used the stairs a lot.

The facilities were very nice though, and they make a mean banoffee pie. And syrup pancake. Not to mention the chocolate brownies. I liked the strawberry dessert too, but it didn't leave much room for the apple turnovers.

Anyhoo, I wasn't just there to eat. I drank a lot too. We also had a conference to attend. They squeezed it in between coffee breaks. So we spent the afternoon discussing all manner of screening issues, medical facts and important topics, many of which I'd share with you if I could remember what they were.

What I do recall is the 90-minute break between the afternoon conference and the evening meal. Having phoned Lisa and Amelie to check they were still alive, I headed out for a stroll around Manchester city centre. They've got a big wheel, but the details looked hazy...

It's like the London Eye with cataracts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To answer the question on the lips of a worried nation, Amelie is completely fine now. Having told us she was ill, and left some hard evidence on my soft furnishings, she bounced back (quite literally) to her normal self in no time. As for Lisa, she's physically exhausted, highly stressed, slightly tearful, not sleeping, and generally feeling like giving up on life. So we're all completely back to normal.

I think my Mum's feeling better too, but to be honest, when I found out she wasn't in a fit state to help us, I stopped talking to her.

Anyhoo, if there's one thing you really need after an intense 48-hour stomach bug, it's a few days of complete rest a 600-mile round trip to Manchester. It's where they get the phrase 'mad for it'. So having returned to work today and managed not to throw up over any patients, I'll be setting off at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning for this place...

The Renaissance
That's the Renaissance Hotel in Manchester city centre, a luxurious four-star centre of opulence, boasting a concierge service, valet dry-cleaning and wi-fi throughout.

Unfortunately I work for the NHS, so I'll be staying here...

That's the Travelodge down the road. It boasts beds, showers, and the look of a block of council flats.

I'll be spending tomorrow night at the latter in order to attend a conference of fellow eye spies at the former. It's next door to a pizzeria, so I think it'll be worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Here's Amelie explaining which parts of my body are currently aching...

But the good news is that since that footage was shot, I've actually perked up a bit. I even ate something at lunchtime. And it didn't make me sick. Admittedly, I'm a bit disappointed that 36 hours of total fasting seems to have resulted in no more than a 2lb weightloss, but that aside, I'm feeling much better. In fact I'm planning to return to work tomorrow. Two days indoors with Amelie is enough for any man.
Big Sis in a Small World
The Sound of Music Tour

The hills are alive...

... with the sound of tourists.

Yes, after peppering Salzburg with photos, I embarked the next morning on The Sound of Music tour. Now, after some research (and guidance from a friend who has done the tour twice) I decided to go with 'Panorama Tours'. I called to book my place and headed down there early the next morn. Unfortunately, I didn't allow for the Salzburg rush hour, so arrived at exactly 9:30am for the 9:30 tour. With relief, I saw a Sound of Music bus, rushed onto it, paid someone some money and sat down... before realising I was on the wrong tour.

It was still a Sound of Music tour, but it wasn't the premium tour I had been looking forward to (which I saw across the road as it departed). But it was five Euros cheaper, the coach was only about one third full and it was mostly Americans, so I made the most of it and made some new friends.

Our first stop was the Gazebo...

... which was sixteen, going on seventeen minutes into the tour.

Everyone sat around and sang some of the songs, and I had my photo taken. We then returned to the coach and proceeded to have several stops, including Schloss Leopoldskron, where they filmed the scenes by the lake...

We had a very rambling going-off-track tour guide who made fun of The Sound of Music, and we were vaguely encouraged to sing along to the music as it was played over the loud speaker. Unfortunately, with only fifteen of us on the coach, the atmosphere wasn't quite what I'd seen on the promo video (of the premium tour I wasn't on), so everyone just sat there quietly, looking subdued. Quite disappointing really. But we did have a detour to the Red Bull Headquarters...

I don't remember seeing that in the film.

Anyway, I got to escape for an hour at one of our stops, and having returned to our coach park on time, and resisted the temptation to sneak onto the premium coach parked next to ours, we returned to where we started - the Mirabell Gardens - where much of Doe a Deer was filmed...

We were also told that 'The Hills Are Alive' was sung at a place near Bergestaden, which gave me great excitement. Coincidentally, this was the next stop on my road trip, so without any further ado (or doe), I headed off to my mountain resort to sing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Never mind 'Come Dine With Me', I need to apply for 'Casualty'. Lisa went down with a nasty stomach bug yesterday afternoon, which was all fine, dandy and not a problem... until I went down with it too. As of 5am this morning, the contents of my body have been trying to escape by any means possible. Usually with complete success. Lisa's got the only bucket, so I've become surgically attached to a washing up bowl. I can't drink a cup of tea without feeling like a bulimic with amoebic dysentery.

But if you think that two people sick in a three-person household is as bad as it gets, then think again. As of 11 o'clock this morning, Amelie's gone down with it too. I'm telling you, you haven't lived until you've seen diarrhoea seeping out of a nappy and onto your cream-coloured sofa cushions. Especially when you feel too ill to clear it up.

But it gets worse. I e-mailed my Mum in the hope that she might be able to wave a magic wand to help us. My Dad replied to say that she's been up all night with the same illness, and the only thing she can currently wave is goodbye to her breakfast. We saw her briefly on Saturday, so either we gave it to her or she gave it to us. Either way, we need to stop mixing with that side of the family.

I've been off work today, and having felt progressively worse (I now have a headache too), I've already admitted defeat on tomorrow. Frankly, unless the Pope pops back to perform a miracle, I could still be ashen on Wednesday. It's like Christmas all over again.
Big Sis in a Small World
Salzburg, Austria

If Slovenia wins the prize for fave country, Salzburg wins for fave city. It has three things I love - sunshine, Mozart and The Sound of Music - and I experienced all three (in that order).

I arrived early afternoon to a lovely ( hotel which had a balcony perfect for sunbathing in the warmest weather I'd experienced since I left P1 in Lyon. It was also the emptiest hotel I'd visited. And had the emptiest view...

In fact I think I was the only person staying there. Obviously I had to make the most of it, so I postponed my Salzburg self-guided city tour until the evening. But it was worth the wait...

Despite accidentally driving along a pedestrianised street in search of a viewing spot for the Hohensalzburg Castle (I do need to start learning foreign languages before my next trip), I loved the cobbled streets, nice buildings and beautiful views.

I also got to see Mozart's birth place (at least, I think that's what it means)...

There's really only one way you can top such an evening of culture. So the following morning I set off on The Sound of Music tour...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just look at the admiration in those eyes. The lovey-dovey smile. The worshipful gaze that says "You're my hero"...

I think Andrew really likes me. As for Amelie, she's just checking out his earwax.

Anyhoo, with the carpets scorched, the fridge full of sausages, and the neighbours still accusing us of drilling in the middle of the night, what better time to invite a couple of friends round for the evening. So with great excitement, we welcomed our good pals Stefan and Andrew into the new flat yesterday for a gourmet three course meal (that's if you count Doritos as a course).

Here they are relaxing on our new sofas, unaware that beneath the cosy cream-coloured covers, they're held together with wood glue and sellotape...

If you think they look happy there, it's because I hadn't yet given them the Singing Bird. Stefan definitely stopped smiling at that point.

I wasn't the only one generous enough to come bearing gifts though. Stefan and Andrew gave us flowers, cake, a gingerbread bear for Amelie, and the book on the right. It's by the woman who brought us Snuggle Puppy. Although it was paid for by Andrew's sister. You can visit this link to download 'Your Personal Penguin', as sung by Davy Jones of The Monkees (I thought he was dead), but sadly Amelie listened to the first few bars and told us she "Don't like it". Let's face it though, she wasn't keen on Snuggle Puppy at first listen. I expect it'll be another grower. Especially once Lisa starts singing it.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening. Stefan and Andrew told us how to test a cat's hearing using nothing but a guitar tuner and a fire alarm, and in return, we showed them the hate-mail from our neighbours, and revealed our plans for the rest of the month. Which include surprisingly little drilling. Amelie gave them both a nosey-posey before retiring to bed, and they even congratulated me on my cooking. The skillful way I stuck a fork into the film lid of that ready meal obviously paid off. I might apply for 'Come Dine With Me'.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Big Sis in a Small World
Vienna, Austria

Vienna - the land of opera and culture. So what better place to be reunited with an old friend I knew from Texas...

P2 was his name. (I filtered my road trip partners by only choosing those whose names begin with P). Having rendezvoused successfully, we headed straight 'downtown', where P2 did his best as a tour guide.

Unfortunately he's only lived in Vienna for six weeks and doesn't yet know any Austrian (a variation on German), so I had to forgive him for not knowing all the answers to my questions. But he did know where to get the best ice cream and he'd also made friends with a Viennese opera singer (he doesn't waste any time) so could give me all the inside info on the Opera House. I discovered that there's 'free opera' on a screen outside for those who are too poor, too uncultured or too interested in ice cream to spend a whole evening at the opera...

I fall into at least two of those categories.

So after waltzing around a few Viennese landmarks...

... we had a lovely dinner in town, before catching the bus back and going our separate ways. The next morning, I ran (literally) around Schonbrunn Palace...

... before hitting the road towards Salzburg.

Friday, September 17, 2010

After a particularly arduous and gruelling day at work today (no really, ask anyone) I returned home this afternoon to find Lisa heading straight out of the front door for a night on the town. I tried to go with her, but apparently someone has to look after Amelie.

So instead of following Lisa into the lift, I followed the smell of burning to the bedroom, where I found her hair straighteners scorching a hole in the new carpet. To be honest, it didn't really bother me. I was more annoyed when it happened three weeks ago.

On the downside, the fact that I was putting out a fire in the bedroom meant that I missed the wrestling match taking place in the kitchen...

I think it was a points victory for Chloe. Although Amelie's demanding a rematch.

Anyhoo, after soothing my daughter's wounds with sausage casserole, the two of us settled down for an evening of intellectual stimulation. Which, in this house, can mean only one thing:


There's no way those birds are flightless.
Big Sis in a Small World
Lake Bled, Slovenia

Now this is what I call a nice lake...

That's Lake Bled in Slovenia, and it even has a chateau...

... and a castle...

Slovenia is what I call a nice country, in fact it is my fave country of the trip so far. Admittedly, I still don't think I am travelling in it legally, but the roads are fantastic and clear, the people are ever so friendly (and their English is better than mine) and the scenery is beautiful. Oh, and it's cheap. Slovenia wins the prize for the cheapest petrol of the whole road trip.

On the first morning, I awoke early (in my terms) to go for a quick run around the lake of blood and take a few photos. Unlike Lake Garda, there was not a tourist attraction in sight, it was just calm and beautiful and the cheap hotel where I stayed was also beautiful.

That's it in the background. Following my run, I headed up to the castle to get a few more picturesque shots, and sat in the sun, wishing I didn't have to leave.

I could have happily stayed another day or even a week, but I had a dinner date in Vienna that night, a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg the next day and another date arriving in Bergestaden the day after that. Life is tough on the road...