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  • It's Gary Barlow day!

    Gary Gary Gary Gary Barlow

    With less than a week to go until lift off, there's only one question on the nation's mind. Forget the autumn statement and ignore those storm warnings - all anybody wants to know right now is how on earth are you planning to celebrate Gary Barlow Day?

    Granted, December is a pretty packed month - 'wear brown shoes day', 'miners day', 'techno day' and 'cat herders day' are just a few of the occasions we should be marking. But GB day is the very first of it's kind and as such, it deserves special attention. Here are some suggestions for ways that you can get involved and celebrate the chieftain of middle of the road music and his dazzling, mostly nicked off Mumford and Sons new sound (without actually resorting to buying his album):

    - Throw a Barlow BBQ: OK, it's not exactly the weather for one, but wrap up warm and toss a few Barlow burgers on the grill, press them between some Barlow buns, string up some Barlow bunting and knock back a couple of Barlow Bacardi and cokes to keep out the chill.

    - Visit Gary: no, not the actual Gary, but close enough! The city of Gary is located in Indiana and is known for it's large steel mills.

    - Learn: to play one of Gary's songs on the lute, which his 15th favourite instrument (after the kazoo but before the cymbals)

    - Move to Barlow: a small village in rural Derbyshire which holds an annual well dressing every August.

    - Listen to 25 of Gary's songs and try to identify the good one: 'I get a good song for every 25 songs I write. So I've got to go through the process of writing 25 songs to get what I think is a good one.'

    - Play this on a loop until everybody around you begs you to stop.

    Got any better ideas? I doubt it, but feel free to leave a comment below if you reckon you can beat this lot.

  • Blood, sweat and tears

    URGH

    It's been something of a while, but I finally feel compelled to blog again. The reason? Today I attended a 'blood borne virus study day'. This wasn't just for fun - we're going to start offering blood spot testing at the place I work, and it's important to have a basic understanding of the diseases you are offering to test a person for, rather then simply handling them a pamphlet and asking them to roll their sleeves up.

    The programme of events promised to teach us how to tell the difference between Heps A B and C, and the secrets behind truly effective infection control, with particular reference to the art of washing one's hands. Two breaks were scheduled, one for 'coffee and exhibition', the other for 'buffet and exhibition'. A rare perk in a sector where an innoculation is considered a generous freebie, and you normally have to bring your own sandwiches to the Xmas do.

    My colleague and I arrived at 9.21, eager to avoid the mingling, stuff down our complimentary quota of coffee and rich tea fingers, and find a seat at the back. Alas, we walked into a room which was laid out in the style of a wedding reception - required to perch awkwardly around circular tables with our fellow delegates. Having a snooze would have to be done in full view, and would almost certainly get people wondering if you had a drink problem. A disco ball dangled ominously above our heads, no doubt left over from an actual wedding reception. Conversation was stilted without a bride and groom to discuss, or a champagne glass to fiddle with.

    Our host, a Doctor Something of Something, stood up to welcome us all, much in the manner of a father of the bride, but with one key difference. Interspersed with bursts of whining feedback from his headset, he proudly informed us that the day was costing over one thousand pounds to host and that meant that we were morally obliged to speak to each and every sponsor during the allocated breaks:

    'If you don't feel like talking to them, then don't have any lunch, because they're paying for that too.'

    A proud parent may well imply, hint or invite you to speculate on how much the big day has cost them, but only the brashest would actually tell you. I hope Doctor Something of Something dosn't have daughters, or if he does, that they insist on paying for their own nuptials.

    In a style faintly reminiscent of favours, the tables had been adorned with paper, pens, bottles of water and bowls of boiled sweets. This was also pretty glam for the third sector - my last freebie was a plastic key chain with 'DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT' stamped across it. The section on the the 6 different genetypes of hepatitis saw me wading through the sugary offerings in record time - I was intrigued to discover that every single one was in fact, a throat lozenge.

    By the time the first break arrived, I was gagging to get into that exhibition. I imagined frothing vials of blood, a spot the needle competition, maybe even having my photo taken with a man dressed as 'Paul the Pathogen'. I'm not sure you can imagine my disappointment when this turned out to be the aformentioned sponsors behind their respective 'stands'. There were 4 in total, one purveyor of soap and 3 plugging various gruelling treatment programmes. There were 6 free pens, all of which disappeared quicker than the single plate of biscuits on offer. These were merely a ruse to draw people to the table, where they would then find themselves talked into purchasing 6 gallons of antibacterial hand sanitizer.

    Lunch was laid on in the same room. We stood around clutching our paper plates and desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the sales men and women who by this point were looking like they were desperate to push off back to their respective Travelinns. If this had been a wedding, people would have started trotting out their excuses - got to get back for the dog, just going home to change my shoes etc. etc. We had no such excuses, and so trooped dutifully back in for the afternoon session. This finished ahead of schedule and after an awkward silence and another brief scuffle with the headset, Doctor Something of Something let us out early. I was mildly disappointed that we didn't finish wih the disco - it would have been difficult to get warmed up without a bar but we could have necked a few bottles of hand sanitizer to get us going.

  • Will somebody think of the pectorals?

    Last year, I did something unprecedented. I joined a gym.

    I was convinced that gyms were lined with mirrors and stuffed full of Malibu Barbie types. That I would break a leg the second I stepped foot on a treadmill. But my brother, a man so relentless in his quest to eradicate any sort of sloppiness amongst his nearest and dearest that he once poured a full bottle of red wine down the sink (just before our dad was about to pour it down his neck) had other ideas. He bombarded me with texts, calls and menacing looks until breaking my leg on a treadmill seemed like the easy option.

    And so, my friend Eva and I joined LA Fitness. My brother hadn't been threatening her btw, she joined of her own free will. Once Iíd vetoed the free weights area for fear that all the testosterone in the air might make me grow a moustache, and we figured out that it was entirely possible to gossip and exercise at the same time, a routine of sorts was established and my fear began to disperse.

    However, 8 months later and Iím wondering exactly how much longer I can continue to work out in the presence of the entire cast of Hollyoaks without my self-esteem being irreparably damaged. Since my membership began, I have witnessed the following:

    ē a woman wearing a neon pink bra and a string vest

    ē a man wearing cut off jeans

    ē a woman applying lip gloss whilst on an exercise bike

    ē a woman holding a conversation on her mobile throughout her workout

    ē a woman sporting the kind of jewellery one normally wears to the Oscars

    ē many, many Gavin Henson lookalikes

    Ridiculous as most of the clientele undoubtedly are, they are also worryingly attractive and self-assured. And vain! So ruddy bloody vain. The female changing rooms closely resemble an aviary, as women peck and preen and fight for space in front of the mirror. The pressure is unbearable and thatís before youíve even set foot on the treadmill. Which I havenít yet, as Iím worried about breaking a leg in front of Malibu Barbie. There is a definite gap in the market here, somebody needs to set up a gym for people who donít take it, or themselves too seriously. The pale, anaemic types who canít get away with lycra or making sex noises as they lift weights. Please.

  • The four cheeses - a cautionary tale

    Whilst shuffling through the Christmas crowds at Tesco last week, trying to find things like cornflour and cinnamon, things we never normally buy and have no idea what people actually use them for, we happened across something very interesting.

    Cheese of every shape and variety had been wrapped in clingfilm, hastily labelled and slung onto a display counter. There was no rhyme or reason or sense of order. You simply reached over and pulled out a mystery chunk of the stuff. We ended up with four: applewood, white stilton with apricots, cheddar with pickled onion and chives, and *shudders* brie.

    Our spirits suddenly rose as we pictured consuming these four atop a selection of crackers, alongside a nice bottle of port, in front of a roaring storage heater. Basically we created a scene from Withnail and I without the pepetual damp, pervy uncle or drug induced paranoia.

    So why is it that as I sit here, feeling like a puff pastry mince pie, craving nothing more stimulating than a bottle of mineral water and Cocoon, why is is that the four cheeses sit untouched in our fridge?

    We thought we might crack them open on Christmas Eve, on our return from the pub. But of course, in that grand tradition of backward planners everywhere, we didn't manage to eat anything beforehand. So after a few ales, waiting until we got home to eat seemed like an unbearable prospect, and we ended up in the same Chinese we used to frequent aged 25, when a night of cheap beer and even cheaper dance moves needed dousing with greasy, dishwater noodles and beating into submission with a pancake roll. How very festive.

    Never mind, we consoled ourselves as we ambled home through the drizzle. Back then, aged 25, we couldn't even afford four cheeses. We'll start them tomorrow, after Eastenders.

    Tomorrow came, and inbetween various phone calls to our respective parents about how long to cook sprouts for and wondering why we were finding Disney's The Sword in the Stone quite so hilarious (gas leak?), we took it in turns to bounce my five month old nephew round the room. Up and down and round and round, the kid seems convinced that the world will come to a sudden, and rather vicious end, if he isn't constantly in motion. Worrying.

    After dinner, there was Christmas crumble, which I undercooked, shoved under the grill in an attempt to liven up and subsequently burnt. This was accompanied, or rather, replaced by, chips and dip and chocolate and everything but the four cheeses. I blame my brother, who distracted us by watching Big with the same sort of wanton amusement we had displayed with the Sword in the Stone earlier on (gas leak)?.

    And after that, exhausted by Coronation Street and unable to face Eastenders, we decided to coincide unwrapping the four cheeses with the beginning of Downton Abbey, which nobody really wanted to watch but felt obliged to. But the respective plight of Lady Mary and Bates the butler quickly lulled us all into deep, impenetrable slumber, and only the most hardened of bulimics would seriously consider breaking out the brie at the hour we all woke up again.

    We were spending Boxing Day with my dad, the twins and little Miss New Boobs (what we still call my stepmother and her sons despite the fact she's been in the family for 8 years now). Obviously there was no point in taking the four cheeses along, even with 12 people in the house there was still going to be far too much food. We decided to wait and crack them open when we got back to Brighton that evening, neither of us were planning on eating that much that we couldn't squeeze in a sliver of applewood or a few crumbs of Stilton.

    Or, of course, so we thought. After pre-lunch, lunch and second lunch, a quick snack, a slightly longer snack, afternoon tea and the best part of a tin of Quality Street, all we wanted to do when we got home last night, even water seemed like grotesque indulgence. The four cheeses were a prospect too horrible to consider.

    And so now, what is to become of them?

    Yes, I know. It's cheese, it's already mouldy, it will last forever, we could eat it when we're 90. But that's hardly the point. They were the four cheeses of Christmas, they were on our list of essentials for the festive period and we have failed them. Failed ourselves. Failed. I suspect we'll either end up handing them out to the homeless or feeding them to the cat. Either way, cheese - it's ripe with disappointment and false promises. Maybe that's what makes it taste so damn good?

  • Cassetteboy VS Don't Panic

    Cassetteboy vs The Apprentice is surely what the internet was created for in the first place.

    So I was very, very pleased to interview the creators of such a thing of beauty for Don't Panic.

    Disappointed to hear that they actually think Jeremy Clarkson is an OK guy, but overwhelmed by the idea that they had Paul Daniels round for dinner.

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