Monday, 24 January 2011

A hare-brained idea for making some money...

When I was a kid I used to have many pathetic and ridiculously time-consuming ideas for making money; one was to go around the streets collecting refundable lemonade bottles and then cashing them in at the local sweet shop. Just imagine for one minute how long that would take and how mind-numbingly boring it would be. And then, of course, like most things, the whole thing dried up (in this case, refundable bottles have long been a thing of the past). Back then, of course, I had big plans for my scheme – including a huge depot holding loads of empty lemonade and Tizer bottles – but had I got started, no doubt I would have been severely disappointed and – worse still – if there had been money in the idea, somebody else would have done it before me.

Helmets, gloves mugs and flasks – all necessary equipment for our cycles.
So, there's Andy and I sitting at the Tatsfield bus stop, munching our cereal bars, sipping our tea and looking out across a barren landscape of fields and woods, a solitary road dividing the two and disappearing in the direction of Botley Hill.  

"I've got an idea," I said. "What about if I slept rough for a year and rented out my house? I'd make around £20,000 on the rent after a year and I could write a book about my adventures under canvas." I ignored the fact that I had a wife and a child at home – where would they go while I indulged this hare-brained scheme? Well, they would have to go to the mother-in-law's (where, of course, I could go too, so why bother sleeping rough?). 

But that, of course, was not the point. Women often wonder what men think about and this is a prime example: the feasibility of sleeping rough for a year and what it would entail. To be totally honest, I was getting quite excited about the prospect of putting my house up to let, finding a tenant and then heading off to Halfords to buy a one-man tent. I had it all sussed out – or so I thought: first, the big problem of where to pitch the tent, but there's plenty of woodland around.  

"I could set up over there," I said, pointing towards some woodland, which was probably private property. Still, my plan (during the winter months) was to sneak into the woods in question under cover of darkness and then be up with the lark in the morning. I had no plans to give up my job, so I'd still be earning good money, plus banking the rent money. I could cycle everywhere, wash and shower in a local leisure centre (and get a swim in every morning too) and then work in a local library or business centre where there are power points for lap tops and internet connections. I only need a suit for meetings, so I could keep one on a hanger round at mum and dad's or the mother-in-law's and use it as and when. 

The rest of the time would be straightforward: I'd work during the day in the library or business centre (bike triple-padlocked somewhere outside) and then at night, I'd cycle back to the woods and set up my one-man tent. There'd be no television, so I'd be forced to read books or listen to a small radio and then, in the morning, I'd head off for a swim and a shower. I'd shave there too and then make my way to work. After 365 days – my point proved (what is the point?) – I'd simply resume my normal life, but I'd be twenty grand better off and, who knows, there might be a book deal involved. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. 

To be honest, I'm amazed at my immaturity. Here I am, married, kids, responsibilities, and I'm sitting at a wooden bus shelter in the middle of nowhere, early in the morning, fantasising (and getting quite excited and inspired) by the looney idea of sleeping rough in local woods for a whole year. Where's the logic? Well, actually, how else would I get a twenty grand raise? Is there ANY other way? Probably not as that's a lot of extra work whichever way you look at it. 

Sleeping rough would mean no extra work at all, although there's always the possibility that I wouldn't be married at the end of my crazy adventure and, of course, I might be attacked during the night by some local nutters.  

"There's a small risk of nutters," said Andy, as if there was a real chance that I might turn around and say, "Good, well that's sorted then; I'll nip down to Halfords later on and call the estate agent too." 

Sadly, of course, I'm going to do neither. Perhaps if I was single, but even then, what kind of nutter sleeps in the woods when he's got a perfectly decent house in which to kip? I would be the local nutter. People would get to know about somebody odd sleeping in the woods. In short, it's not a good idea. But for me, there was something appealing about the idea and I think it's to do with the notion that I'd still be working, I'd have much more disposable income than I have now, I could still see my wife and child most days – although every day there would be that moment: "Do you have to sleep in the woods tonight, darling? You could always stay here." 

But that would be to admit defeat, to give up the ghost and start on that slippery slope towards calling the letting agent and giving my new tenants notice to quit. No, I'd have to see it through, but the reality is quite simple: it's a stupid idea with no foundation in reality and it will never happen. I think my wife would divorce me if I even mentioned it with a straight face. "Darling, I've got an idea..."  

I can imagine the appalled look on her face as she realised that I was serious and she was married to a complete idiot who, for purely fiscal reasons, had plans to sleep rough in the woods – for a whole year! – just to accumulate twenty grand (or thereabouts). But what's not to like: I'd have a mobile phone (that I could charge daily in the library), I'd have a laptop, similarly charged, and if I had a dongle I'd have internet access even in the darkest of woods. I could eat in cafés – so I wouldn't have to carry food around with me – and as long as I had a radio for company, I'd be on top of things like current affairs. 

There's a good chance that nobody would know I was sleeping rough as I'd always be clean shaven. I'd probably lose weight through regular cycling and swimming – there are so many plus points! In fact, as I write this, I wonder how many people are in the woods now, settling down for the night in their one-man tents while their new tenants make themselves at home?  

It was around 9am when I snapped out of it and Andy and I began the eight-mile cycle home. I was back by 9.30am and, it has to be said, glad to be in my warm house, reading the papers and contemplating the crossword.

Monday, 17 January 2011

To the Tatsfield bus stop...we're back in action!

Andy and Matt at the Tatsfield bus stop, Sunday 16 Jan 2011.
It's amazing how a month off of the bike can be so damaging. I was having real difficulty climbing up Church Way (childhood home of supermodel Kate Moss) and I was feeling very sluggish as I cycled along the Limpsfield Road towards Warlingham Green. It seemed as if it was taking ages and, to be honest, I was even thinking of suggesting to Andy that we simply have our tea on the Green and go home again – but, thankfully, I didn't.

We opted for the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the fast way, with the possibility of extending it to Tatsfield Village, but in the end we settled for the bus stop. Andy brought out the cereal bars, I sorted out the tea and we sat there admiring the (ahem) view.

Andy had a great time in Jamaica where it was 30 degrees and hot, compared to minus God knows what here in Blighty. However, despite the warmth – and the fact that Andy wore nowt but T-shirts and shorts throughout the whole Christmas period – the indigenous population of the Caribbean island were being advised to wear socks in bed as it was deemed to be colder than usual.

There was no internet access so Andy couldn't keep in touch with NoVisibleLycra, but there was nothing worth keeping in touch about as we didn't go cycling due to the snowy weather.

Andy's flight took off from Gatwick and then the airport was closed down, so he just made it, but the flights were good - nine hours out, seven back – and it goes without saying that Andy was glad to get back to work on Friday and enjoy the shit that is England: the coalition, shitty television, moaning minnies and the like.

I think he did miss the cycling, though; I know I did.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Up and Atom!

"Atom Ant – that tiny ant!"

Well, okay, it should read 'up and at 'em' but I'm going way back to the days of that fantastic cartoon character, Atom Ant. Remember him? "He's rough, he's tough and bad guys can't get enough." Or at least I think that's how it goes. "Atom Ant, that tiny ant!" Looks like I'm going to have to check out You Tube on this one; and now, of course, it's got me thinking about other great cartoons you hardly see on TV these days. Remember Secret Squirrel? "He's got tricks/Up his sleeve/Most bad guys won't believe/Bullet-proof coat/Cannon hat/Machine gun cane with a rat-a-tat-a-tat". And then there's something about him being a squirrel of many faces and the line, "What's his name?" "Sssshhhhh, Secret Squirrel." And who can forget Morocco Mole, his assistant who kept saying, "Okay, Secret." Brilliant. But now, of course, we can't overlook other cartoon greats, like Hong Kong Phooey. "Is it the mild-mannered janitor?" Could be! How did the song go, "Hong Kong Phooey/Number One super guy/Hong Kong Phooey/Quicker than the human eye." And that's about as much as I remember.

Top Cat or Boss Cat? For me it was always the former.

Then there's Top Cat. Remember him and Officer Dibble, Benny the Ball and Chooch? I used to work with somebody who looked like Chooch. Chooch was the one who kept saying, "Okay TC." Again, where have all the cartoons gone? It's as if somebody has decided, in their wisdom, that the kids are too sophisticated for cartoons these days and have to make do with CGI. Now don't get me wrong; I love CGI when it's done properly, like all of Pixar's output, but some of the shit you get on children's TV in the morning is so rank. I've just remembered another one: Whacky Races with Dick Dastardly and Muttley and all the spin-offs: Catch the Pigeon, Dastardly & Muttley. Remember Clunk and that character that used to hide inside his own coat? "How does it work, Clunk?" And then Clunk made all these stupid noises as he tried to explain some Heath Robinson contraption designed to catch the pigeon, who, irritatingly, was never caught. But Whacky Races, it was probably the best of them all: Peter Perfect, Penelope Pitstop, the Boulder Brothers, Professor Pat Pending, the Creepy Coupe, the Arkansas Chug-a-bug and, of course, the Ant Hill Mob – and I almost forgot the Army Surplus Special. Fantastic! But they are, alas, no more; or rather some idiot working for the television channels had made the decision that kids can't watch them anymore. Instead they've got to put up with Tracy Beaker, MI High and other rubbish. Someone should start up a petition to bring them back. In fact, I think I'll nip down to HMV and see if I can find some cartoon DVDs – show my daughter just what she's been missing.

If you need your memory jogged, click here.

So, it's, 0626 and I've been up since 0550 drinking tea and getting ready for my first cycle in weeks. Andy's back from Jamaica and we're all set to meet on Warlingham Green shortly so I mustn't make myself too cosy here in the conservatory. It's still dark outside and once again I'm beginning to wish I'd bought myself a rear light, but hey, that's a perennial issue for me as avid readers of this blog will know. I've probably got time for another cup of tea so hold on a second while I go and make one, I'll put three dots down to indicate that I've left the computer for a minute, here they are...hi, I'm back. I've brought the mug with the teabag still in it so I don't lose any time, which means that in a second or two they'll be some more dots as I stop writing to take out the bag and place it on the plate that carried my toast. Now there's just a few crumbs as evidence, but that's it. In fact I considered making myself more toast on the premise that I'd be exercising it all off, but then I figured that it's still dark out there and I can't see if it's been raining or not.

Alright, there is that slight bit of me that wants it to rain so I can stay here in the warm instead of going out, but a larger part of me wants to get out there again as it's been so long. I'm kind of worried about the bike, to be honest as I haven't checked it out and the last thing I want is a puncture, that would ruin everything. Hold on, it's time to take out that're supposed to leave the bag stewing in their for three minutes otherwise all you've got is coloured water. Did you know that? My wife, when she makes a cup of tea, always takes the bag out once the water is tea-coloured. I hate that. Of late we've reverted back to a pot of tea, which is always by far the best option, but this early in the morning, when everybody else is still in bed and it's just me, a teabag is the best option, although I guess that if I'd made a pot I wouldn't have trampsed into the kitchen just a while back to make another cup. Enough already.

So what's been happening? Well, I just checked out the news and the actress Susannah York has died, aged 72. In Tunisia a new interim leader has been sworn in and – for Simon Cotter – Andy Strauss and Kevin Pietersen have both hit half centuries "as England sets their sights on a big score in Melbourne". Former England footy player Paul Gascoigne is suing the News of the World over the phone-tapping allegations and Giffords is still critical but making good progress in the US, she's been taken off the ventilator. So, with the exception of Susannah York's death, all good news.

I can't believe my tea is still scorching hot. How many paragraphs back did I make it? One thing I have noticed about this morning is wind. Not me, although I did have a curry last night. On that score, by the way, the Khyber in Kingswood, it's the best: the portion sizes are just right, the food is top quality and the service is second to none – unobtrusive but there when you need it. No, the wind I'm referring to is outside in the real world. It's still dark out there so I can't see how much the trees are swinging about, but every now and then I hear it, and wind is not good for cycling, it slows you down. Not that Andy and I are a couple of Lycra-clad nob cheeses, we're not. In a second or two I'll be going out to the kitchen to prepare the tea, something else I haven't done for a while and then I'll be going upstairs to put on a pair of trousers – yes, I'm sitting here in my boxers, admittedly with a jumper on as it's not warm in the conservatory.

0645 and it's still dark. The wind's blowing and I'm hoping it's not going to rain. Only time will tell, but the last thing I want after my cold is to get a soaking. I reckon today will be a short one, possibly to Tatsfield Village or even the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop. There's no point in overdoing things.

Anyway, I'd better sign off as I'm talking too much and my tea is getting cold. Naturally you can expect another report later today on the cycle itself, but until then, bye bye.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Trixter X dream – a stationary bike that costs a fortune

There is a tendency here to say ‘just buy a normal push-bike and get some fresh air’, but the Trixter Xdream is billed as more than just a stationary bike. Why? Because it is claimed to be the UK’s first indoor interactive bike that accurately simulates the experience of riding outdoors. An LCD screen is mounted in front of the handlebars and allows the user to steer through 400 cycling trails from arid desert to densely forested highlands.

There are virtual competitors who set the pace and laterally moving handlebars to negotiate corners and avoid hazards.

The problem is, it’s not cheap – how about £5,995?

Personally, I'd rather get out in the fresh air on a real bike. Why spend six grand on a stationary bike when the reality, the real world is more accessible than the unreal world of the Trixter?

Mind you, it does look like good fun.

For further information, log on 

Andy's back!

Just called Andy and he's back from Jamaica. He got in yesterday and is ready for a cycle on Sunday. It looks as if, finally, we're getting back into the old routine. Sunday 0730hrs, Warlingham Green and we'll probably head down to Tatsfield Village, although nothing's ever set in stone and we might feel like a longer run to Westerham or Longford Lake. But I reckon an easy run to Tatsfield village will do.

Andy on Warlingham Green in the summer. He's back from
Jamaica and that means we'll be meeting on the green this Sunday.
I'll probably force myself to go out on Saturday, possibly a run to Botley Hill and back, as I'm feeling a lot better now having shaken off that sore throat and cough.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

More general ramblings...

A perfect day for a cycle, but who am I kidding? While I'm not tucked up in bed feeling ill, I'm still ill in the sense that I'm a functioning invalid – coughing and sniffing – although I feel fine. I say 'fine', but there's a general weariness, which this time is part of the illness, and that's a killer first thing in the morning when, it has to be said, cycling is the last thing on my mind. This morning, when I peered out of the window, it was as if somebody had dusted my car with icing sugar. I figured it might be cold out there – another reason not to go cycling in my condition. I'm not sure if I'm still contagious or not – it's been a week today – but I didn't go cycling yesterday either. For a start, I woke up around 0900hrs due to a broken night of sorts (coughing) and while normally a touch of weariness does not mean an 'abort' text to Andy, when I'm feeling rough, cycling's off the menu. Today, though, the cough has subsided a little, so I'm on the mend.

So, I didn't go yesterday or today and I'm wondering if I'll get my act together for next week when Andy should be back from Jamaica. Mind you, he might be suffering from jet lag and then there will be a strong temptation just to lol about, although I'm seriously aware that I need to get my act together and fast as 2011 is getting underway and I've little in the way of exercise since the middle of December.

A still from one of many Here Come the Girls ads from Boots.
See link further down in this post.
The house-lolling continued well into the afternoon. I sat around pretending I could play the guitar (I can't) and getting on people's nerves. There was a plan to visit the shops to spend some money and if there's one thing I despise, it's shopping. I hate it with a vengeance. Shopping is horrible as it always reminds me of the current Here Come the Girls ads for Boots on the television).

God! I hate stereotypes, but worst of all I hate stereotype reinforcment. You know the sort of thing, like when a 'lad's mag' makes the assumption that all men like football more than sex and feature photographs of muddy football boots on carpets with women rolling their eyes. The trouble with shopping, of course, is that you witness, first hand, the stereotype in action: women with branded carrier bags acting as if there isn't a recession – or rather making me feel as if the economic downturn is only affecting me.

As I walked around HMV looking at CDs and DVDs, I realised that there was nothing I wanted or desired enough to actually buy. It struck me that I could do without a DVD or a video or a boxed set of 24 or a special promotional Dirty Dancing CD. I could live without a digital radio that would accommodate my iphone; I simply don't need anything and, if the truth be known, nor does anybody else. What makes people shop is boredom, it's a chance to get out of the house and discover another environment, namely, a shopping mall. But who are these people who regard shopping as entertainment? Who are these people who get excited about a new shopping mall that, no doubt, will be exactly the same as any other, housing the same global brand names? As a group of individuals, women must swell the ranks more than men, and imagine spending the day at Westfield Shopping Centre in West London where all you're going to do is take tops and bottoms off of clothes racks and say to your accomplice, "Does this suit me?" And then, when you're bored, you'll decamp to some food outlet which you've been convinced is quality when, in reality, it's a load of shit – and pricey shit at that! And at the end of the day, you'll be sitting on the bus or tube, possibly with three of four branded bags around your feet – Primark, Next, TK Maxx, Monsoon – the contents of which will soon be on shelves in your wardrobe with all the other stuff. In the same way that food is just shit waiting to happen, new clothes are merely charity shop stock waiting to happen.

I wandered around the mall and I realised that the phrase 'less is more' is kind of bang on in terms of the argument I am putting forward here; we all sit in front of our huge, flat-screen televisions being told what we need by advertisers when the reality is we don't need anything other than food and water and a roof over our heads. Life, I figured, would be so much better without all the shit contained in countless shopping malls the length and breadth of the country. I began to long for a simpler life where I didn't feel I needed the latest this or that and it dawned on me that, as a nation, we're all so fucking greedy in a kind of footballers' wives sort of way.

Our greed, of course, comes out in force at Christmas time, making a mockery of the celebration. But now I'm back to the stereotype, as epitomised by the Here Comes the Girls Boots ads – greedy women who live to shop with their husband's credit card. Cue fat bloke in a football shirt rolling his eyes and asking 'how much did that lot cost?' as his wife stands on the doorstep surrounded by carrier bags and smelling of Chardonnay. And you just know that as soon as he runs out of money, she's off.

The Here Come the Girls ads for Boots, alluded to above, are all characterised by a few bars of brass which I now link with greedy women. Whenever I come into contact with them I hum the tune, either out loud or to myself and cringe inwardly as I do so.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

General ramblings...

Andy's going to return from his holiday in Jamaica – tanned and ready to face the world – and I guess he's going to be surprised to learn that no cycling has taken place since he flew off on December 20th. He might remember the snow and the cold weather, but I reckon he'll be slightly disappointed to find out that the usual Boxing Day cycle didn't take place.

The period after Christmas and before New Year, and also the early days of January, tend to be cycling-free for various reasons. Back in December 2008, both Andy and I went down with flu – or something similiar – and that scuppered cycling (more so for Andy than me); but this year, with Andy out of the country, it's been me that has suffered (as detailed in a previous post) and if I wasn't suffering, the icy conditions made cycling impossible. Throw in being away in the New Forest for most of the week leading up to New Year's Eve and that just about scuppers it.

Christmas lights in Corsham, Wiltshire, courtesy of fellow blogger
Michael Prior and from his site

In 2009, things were pretty good. I recall a Boxing Day cycle, nobody had flu and things were fine.

Generally speaking, of course, it's a funny time of year. Once Boxing Day is finished, the Christmas decorations take on a kind of irrelevance that intensifies as we move towards the New Year and then, of course, there's those six days in January when the decorations in shopping malls seem to represent the past trying to hang on to life as the new year gets under way. It's odd because there's an air of expectation and a kind of stillness that implies a world getting ready for the fun (or otherwise) to come.

For me, it's always a bit of anti-climax. All the fireworks go off in London and everybody's singing Auld Lang Syne and there's a split second feeling of optimism, which is quickly dashed as I realise that New Year's Day is just like any other, except that the shops close early and the trains are offering a limited service. Then, with 2010's decorations still visible and the new year still in a kind of incubator, thoughts turn to work. I decided not to make any new year resolutions, other than buying myself a rear light to cope with the early morning darkness, but as I write this on January 6th, I still haven't gone down to Evans to buy one.

One thing I must do, though, is shake off this cough and get out there. At the moment I'm vegetating a little, sitting around the house clearing my throat and taking Lemsips and getting later nights than usual. By next week, though, everything should be back on an even keel in terms of the routine of life and, with a bit of luck and weather permitting, we'll be back on the bikes soon.

Our house is now devoid of Christmas decorations. The tree has been banished, naked, to the front garden, the baubles have been packed away and are awaiting a trip to the attic and all the cards have been placed in the bin. Looking around, it's as if nothing has happened; the house is back to its normal state and will remain this way until the end of the year when it all kicks off again.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Sore throat – I think I'm going down with something

Dream maker: a sachet of this stuff
before bed makes for a surreal experience.

For the past 12 months I've been stuffing my face – with oranges. Sometimes, I've eaten as many as five big ones while sitting in front of the television or reading a book. As 2010 progressed, I stepped it up a little: I started eating apples and pears and I'd always been partial to the odd banana or two. Actually, where bananas are concerned, I could eat them all day if I'm honest, I love them.

With so much goodness going into the system, you'd think I'd be pretty bomb-proof when it came to run-of-the-mill diseases and, to be fair, I have been; I haven't had a cold – or anything – since the winter of 2008. But now, as I sit here writing this blog, I have a sore throat. It came on last night and its only saving grace is that I feel fine – no headache, I'm not feeling weak, I'm not feeling ill – if that makes sense, although I don't sound good and I'll probably be clearing my throat a lot over the next few days. You know the deal, you bring up a mouthful of phlegm in company and have to rush to the bathroom to get rid of it. Incidentally, what a lovely word, phlegm. I think there should be a punk rock band called the Phlegmingos, perhaps there is one. Hold on a second while I open another window on the computer and check out, there isn't, although I now wonder whether or not I have a 'phlegmatic personality'. I'd like to think that I'm low-key, easy going and relaxed, but you know what? I don't think I am so I'll stick to the mucus, as indeed would everybody because it's so sticky.

Sitting here with a sore throat, of course, could have been avoided as the best thing to do is keep out of the way of anybody who has flu or a cold or, indeed, a sore throat and that is where I went wrong. While in the New Forest between Christmas and New Year, we stood out like sore thumbs because we didn't have any ailments. The problem, of course, was that everybody else did have something wrong with themselves, be it a sore throat, a cough, a cold or a mixture of all three and while I did say that we'd be lucky to escape without 'going down with something,' I thought we'd escaped it yesterday even if I did say, whenever smugness arose, that we'd have to leave it two days before discovering if we'd escaped. Clearly, two days later, that's not the case!

The worst thing, of course, is the weather. As I sit here in the conservatory looking out on the garden, I notice lovely blue skies with scattered, light grey clouds and a general stillness, which means it's ideal for cycling. To be honest, I feel okay and now, as I write this, I'm thinking, 'perhaps I should go out', but I know that having a sore throat is one good reason not to go out; it is, if you like, my 'get out of jail free' card, not that I view cycling as some kind of penal activity. Indeed, given the choice between having a sore throat and not having one, I'd take the latter option. I guess that going cycling could make things worse, but because there's no medical expert at hand to contradict that view, I'll remain in front of the computer in the warmth.

The problem with this sort of ailment, of course, is that it lingers. It hangs around like a delinquent teenager on a street corner and leads to utterances like, "I can't seem to shake it off." That sort of remark often results in a trip to the doctor and a course of anti-biotics. For me, however, the worst thing about having a cold or a sore throat is losing one's sense of taste. It hasn't happened yet, and I hope it won't, but there's nothing as bad as eating a hearty meal and not being able to taste it. Of course, such a condition does have its advantages: it means you can eat stuff you don't like – tinned sardines and cottage cheese – but what's the point?

Late last night I scored some Lemsip from the local gas station and, on arriving home, I emptied a sachet into a mug and poured hot water on to the yellow powder, transforming it into a warming lemon drink crammed with various drugs guaranteed to allievate the symptoms. I didn't fancy waking up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth, gagging for a glass of water and it worked. I had a good night's sleep, waking at past eight o'clock and coming downstairs to write this blog post. Now, as I gaze again outside, the sky is even bluer than it was a few moments ago, this really is great cycling weather, but again, I'll have to give it a miss.

The Lemsip was excellent, by the way, as it enabled me to have a weird dream that involved, for some reason, throwing cushions at Nick Clegg, who was sitting on one of my sofas, and being present at a showing of the BBC's Question Time on which both Cameron and Clegg were blatantly pretending to hate each other in an effort to prove they were not joined at the hip. There was much more to the dream, but as I write this, I can't recall anymore of it, although I have a strange feeling it involves the sea as most of my dreams tend to.

Right, time to go and spend the last day of the holidays (it's a Bank Holiday today) 'being ill'. This means not going to see my parents – for fear of giving them my sore throat (although I've just discovered my mum already has one – or my mate Alan, whose wife has just given birth to a baby daughter.

Mind you, there are some positive aspects of having a sore throaty sort of ailment: one, I can perfect a gravelly voice; and two, I can develop one of those insincere, television presenter wheezy laughs that will enable me to laugh at jokes that simply aren't funny. There's an upside to everything.