EVERY Christmas, my granny gives me a copy of Schott's Almanac, which I then keep on a shelf in the bathroom for the following year. It's a good read - the trivia is so engrossing that visitors to my flat have been known to emerge from the loo half an hour later with some little-known-yet-fascinating fact about the most popular car colour in the UK, the FBI's top ten art crimes or memorable Oscar-night quotes.
READING about Conn and Hal Iggulden's The Dangerous Book for Boys - this summer's practical guide to everything from juggling and making paper planes to writing with invisible ink - made me wish, for a fleeting moment, that I had been born male. If I had known how to make a hammock and rig a boat at the age of 11, I think I could have put up with the dirty fingernails, scabby knees and runny nose.
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READING about entrepreneurs who have made their first million before their 21st birthday is just depressing.
I'VE always thought that men are quite careful about what they spend their money on. Unlike women, they tend to refrain from buying clothes, accessories or trashy magazines on impulse, and they only go shopping when absolutely necessary.
OF ALL the places I find myself at 10am on a rainy Saturday morning, a garden centre is not usually one of them. Bed, yes; lying on the sofa watching telly, maybe; but wearing a waterproof and eyeing up a tray of petunias? I think not. But I'd been conscious for a while that I was killing the dusty plants in my living-room; likewise the drooping box of herbs outside my front door, which after weeks of neglect had come to resemble something you might find growing at the side of a motorway.
A HERD of 94 full-size fibreglass cows descended on the streets of Edinburgh last week. I have to say, I'm rather enjoying the novelty of turning a corner and finding myself face to face with a rainbow-coloured or saltire-clad heifer.
WELL, the countdown to Friday is really under way now. Have you booked your seats? Arranged a babysitter? Re-read the book in impatient anticipation? In case you hadn't noticed - and there's really no excuse to have let it pass you by - the film version of Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code is released this week.
SKINNY celebrities have been hitting the headlines again. Anna Kournikova is the latest to join a long line of rapidly shrinking women. "Where have all the curves gone?" shouted one newspaper this week, with pictures of Jemima Khan, Teri Hatcher, Cat Deeley and Nicole Kidman all looking as if they hadn't touched more than a lettuce leaf since February.
RECENTLY I've witnessed a number of friends come out of long-term relationships. Three, four or even five years down the line, they have found themselves back to square one in the dating game, wondering where to start, how to fill their weekends and, if the break-up was really unpleasant, how to go about erasing the memories.
THE television series Balderdash and Piffle, which has been investigating the etymology of words such as 'cocktail', 'cool' and 'snazzy', has been a real hit. Apparently, the Oxford English Dictionary has been revised 21 times as a result of viewers' amendments.
HERE'S a thought for the bank holiday weekend: a survey has revealed the under-30s to be a 'flat-pack generation', incapable of carrying out the simplest of household tasks. While they're a whiz with computers, iPods and mobile phones, nearly half are unable to tackle DIY jobs such as wallpapering.
LIKE a large part of the country's population, my bathroom went on strike this week. The only difference is that it will be out of action for a whole fortnight, not just 24 hours. While the builders are fitting a new suite and filling the place with three inches of dust, I am going to have to get used to nipping down the road with a towel and a bar of soap at 10pm to 'borrow' my friend's tub.
IT'S official: we are a nation of thrill-seekers. A report by the Office of National Statistics examining changes in our spending habits has come to the conclusion that this year surfboards and champagne are in; slippers and chocolate biscuits are out. While I confess to not owning a surfboard, nor drinking nearly as much champagne as I would like, I applaud our changing tastes. Who wants to lounge around at home when there is so much fun to be had elsewhere?
"WOW," said the woman serving me at the supermarket checkout. "I've never seen a receipt that long before." As wads of paper continued to rattle out of her till, I had to admit that I hadn't either. Perhaps £340-worth of sun-dried tomatoes, Parma ham, organic ice-cream and other 'essentials' was a little excessive.
I HAVE a friend, Louise, who is 27 and reluctantly single. Not, I should add, from lack of trying. When we catch up on the phone it's to discuss her latest short-lived conquest, the details of which are usually colourful, sometimes toe-curling and always entertaining. Having been on blind dates, double dates, charity dates, speed dates and a stack of 'normal' dates, there is little that she hasn't done or wouldn't do in the hope of finding romance.
FOR the short while it was on, I enjoyed the Winter Olympics. To begin with, I tuned in for the downhill skiing and the ice dancing. The latter proved especially exciting, given the number of crashes this year. I'm not ashamed to admit that a pile-up on the ice is even more riveting than a triple toe loop, particularly when the couple in question blame each other for the accident.
THERE has been so much fuss made about poker over the past year or so that I have, on more than one occasion, wondered what I've been missing (apart from the obvious: the thousands of pounds of winnings that I could have raked in by now, and the possibility that I could be carving out a new career playing the top tournaments in Vegas).
IT BEING February, I've been attempting to start some of the big reads I got for Christmas.
A FRIEND surprised me recently by admitting that he had been to see the film Brokeback Mountain on his own. "I was going to go last weekend, but I couldn't bring myself to," he said. "I finally went yesterday, and it wasn't that bad. I sneaked in at the last minute, as the lights went down."
JUST in case anyone was planning to send me flowers for Valentine's Day, I feel I should issue a warning. Although it pains me to say it, this year I shall only be accepting bouquets grown in the UK. Colombian roses, Kenyan carnations, Costa Rican foliage and Dutch freesias - any blooms, in fact, from foreign climes - just won't do.