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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wouldn't you just know it. The first day of my diet and I wake up with a streaming cold. Everyone knows you're supposed to feed a cold. And not with cottage cheese and carrot sticks. Why can't I have a fever instead?

Actually, now I come to think of it, I might just be allergic to Wednesdays. I thought I had a cold this time last week, but it only seemed to last for a day. Possibly because I fed it with mince pies and yule log.

Anyhoo, despite being at death's door, I somehow managed to drag myself out of my sick bed, and took Amelie into town this afternoon for some Day Nurse. The sea at 2pm looked like this...

Wave Goodbye
... so I had to cancel my plans to go surfing.

But let's face it, I've already had more than enough excitement for one day. Whilst high on Lem-sip this morning, I learnt that I'm being secretly monitored by Asda. No, really. It's particularly ironic because I'm currently blowing my nose on their Smart Price tissues.

Apparently there's a company called UkNetMonitor, a consultancy service which "actively monitors what is being written by consumers, employees, shareholders and activists", before reporting what they find to a long list of corporate clients. One of which is Woolworths. So that explains where all the money went.

Anyhoo, it turns out that UkNetMonitor have recently published their list of the Most Often Clipped Bloggers - the hundred most influential, opinion-forming blogs in the known universe. Or possibly just the people who write the most about shopping. Anyway, I'm number 44. So if you're listening, I'd just like to say that Asda bagels are very nice, but their singing animals should come with a song sheet.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I told you we were doing the caterpillar today...

Caterpillar of the CommunityShe's putting out feelers to see who'll take her for a walk.

Anyhoo, as of this afternoon, the three of us are back in Brighton. Which means my diet starts tomorrow. I've got until midnight to steal Lisa's chocolate from the fridge.

But the good news is that I now have a working car stereo, thanks to Chelmer Car Sound, who were willing to fit it for me at short notice this morning in return for large amounts of money. It turned out that the cowboy person who'd installed my last stereo had removed a vital connector, which is why I wasn't able to fit the new one myself. That, and the fact that I'm essentially clueless when it comes to cars, stereos, and anything with instructions.

My parents move to St Leonards in January, so barring some kind of miracle (like me offering to help them pack), it means I've visited Chelmsford for the last time. So to celebrate, Lisa and I abandoned Amelie in her Moses basket, and went out last night to the White Hart. We chose it partly because it's two minutes' drive from my parents' house, partly because we've been there before, but mostly because their main courses are buy-one-get-one-free. So I thought I could eat twice as much.

White Hart wins fair lady.
Unfortunately, the board at the bar which lists everything they've run out of, was longer than the actual menu. I think we had a choice of about three dishes in the end. So I confidently ordered a chicken burger, only to be told that although they had lots of chicken, they'd run out of the crispy coating it's cooked in. I asked if I could have some free onion rings as compensation, and was told no, because the chicken's exactly the same as usual... apart from the crispy coating. I tried to point out that the words 'apart from' might indicate that it's not exactly the same, but the barman just looked at me blankly. And then added that it no longer comes with salad & chips because they've run out of salad.

I wouldn't mind, but the White Hart's directly opposite a Sainsbury's superstore. They could have popped out and bought me a three course meal before I'd finished arguing about the onion rings. And they'd have got Nectar points. They must be kicking themselves.

Monday, December 29, 2008

They say you can learn a lot from your children. So Amelie's spent the day teaching me how to do butterfly shadow puppets...

The Butterfly Effect
Tomorrow we're moving on to the caterpillar dance.

Anyhoo, when I'm not staring at my daughter on the sofa, I've been outside in sub-zero temperatures trying to fit a new car stereo. Lisa gave it to me for Christmas, and very nice it is too. Obviously you can't connect it yourself without a master's degree in electrical engineering, but the good thing about having a mass of wires sticking out of a hole in your dashboard is that no one's likely to break into your car. On the downside, I run the risk of electrocution every time I reach for a Murray Mint.

So while I'm waiting for an appointment at Halfords, I took Lisa into Chelmsford this afternoon. And then back out again shortly afterwards. I'm not saying it was impossible to park, but the queue for the multi-storey stretched back to the Suffolk border, and the first thing we saw at the pay & display was a car with a fish sticker left on double yellow lines. Let's face it, when Christians start parking illegally, there can't be much hope for the rest of us.

So we gave up, and used the park & ride instead. I parked at my parents' house and forced my Dad to give us a lift.

And I'm glad I did, because betwen the two of us, we managed to bag a few bargains. Lisa spent most of her Next vouchers on half-price clothes for Amelie, and I scoured the charity shops for unwanted Christmas presents. The three of us are now suited and booted for 2009. Only one question remains unanswered:

Just what is a Chelmsford style nail?

Made in Essex
I'm guessing it's something which matches your stilettos.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

You know it's Christmas when the first thing you eat in the morning is a mince pie. For three consecutive days. I wouldn't mind, but I've generally followed it with two slices of yule log and a cheese straw by 10am. I don't think I've eaten anything with vitamins since Wednesday. Which is surprising when I've barely stopped eating. Frankly the only thing I haven't swallowed in the last four days is my pride.

Anyhoo, as things stand right now, we're still at my parents' house in Chelmsford. Which is a bit of a problem because most of their stuff is in St Leonards. That's what happens when you spend Christmas with people who are moving house in January. I'm currently working my way through the contents of their freezer in an effort to cut the removal costs, but it's not easy drinking all their Shloer when there aren't any glasses. Fortunately it's not all bad. Apparently breastfeeding on a garden chair isn't as difficult as you might think.

As for my cat, well my parents seem to be keeping her in an old Ikea bag down the side of the fridge...

The Cat in the Sack
It's the modern equivalent of drowning kittens in a sack.

I'm planning to have Chloe home in the next few days, but I'm currently storing nappies in her old litter tray, so I need a bit of time to reorganise. We don't have the luxury of any space down the side of our fridge.

I'm not sure at the moment when we're heading back to Brighton. Lisa's refusing to go anywhere until she's spent the Next vouchers she got for Christmas, and I've pledged to go on a diet the moment we get home, so I'm not in any hurry to leave. I've taken the week off work, which is just as well, because the only place with more cakes than my Mum is the pharmacy stores at Brighton General.

In the meantime I'm single-handedly supporting the cocoa bean plantations of Venezuela, and stopping the makers of Pringles going the way of Woolworths. I've also bought some half-price hair clippers in the Sainsbury's sale, which is a bit like a blind man buying glasses. To be honest I only went out to stop Amelie crying. Lisa's tried singing to her, but it doesn't always work. Possibly because she keeps singing 'Shaddap You Face', and Amelie's more of an Ultravox fan. But the fresh air seems to calm her right down. Let's face it, it's not easy to make a noise when your tongue's frozen to the roof of your mouth.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas is such a joyful time...

Joy to the World
That's my brother and niece having the time of their lives on Boxing Day. Frankly they're as high as kites. Which, having watched them for about twenty minutes, appears to be roughly six feet off the ground.

But still, at least one person's still smiling...

Hot Dog
That's because she's the only member of the family who got wheeled to the park in a thermal sleeping bag. The rest of us are still struggling to feel our fingers. Frankly if Ranulph Fiennes thinks he's had it tough, he should try half an hour in Chelmsford without a hat. My face was so frozen I could barely ask my Mum to give me her gloves.

As for Christmas Day, well that was a roaring success. I'd managed to find my Dad the perfect gift, so I was naturally delighted to discover that my brother had found it too and managed to give it to him first. Then there was the gift I bought my brother, which broke as soon as he opened it. But it wasn't all bad. I was cheered up by my niece, who informed me that she knew exactly how brilliant two of my three presents were, because she'd already got them. Next year I'm giving everyone cash.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas everyone!

Is that a small tree or a large baby?
She won't be smiling when she finds out we haven't got her any presents.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well all I can say is God bless America. Just when you think you're losing the war, along come the Yanks to save the day. It's like Christmas 1941 all over again, albeit with more singing animals. So following yesterday's canine revelations, I'd just like to thank Kathy for Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee. It's obviously something they do quite a lot over there. Although why my cat's singing it, I have no idea. The label says he came from Leeds.

Anyhoo, solving the penultimate musical mystery of Amelie's Singing Animals has obviously made this Christmas Eve quite special, but to be honest I'm struggling to enjoy it. Having spent part of the day transporting fifty boxes of sodium chloride to the second floor of the Sussex Kidney Unit (I think they're planning some kind of salted offal dish for Christmas), I eventually finished work this afternoon, and returned home to start packing for my festive break in Essex. At which point I immediately came down with a cold. Three hours into my Christmas holiday and I'm ill for the first time in months.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I knew my dogged pursuit of the truth would pay off in the end. Just two days after appealing to the public for help with some unsolved crimes against popular music, I've received this witness statement from a lady called Denise:

"Hi Phil,
The songs that the dog is singing are B-I-N-G-O and It's a Small World. I guess the toy was designed for the American market. I remember learning B-I-N-G-O in kindergarten and the other song is from the Disneyland ride of the same name. I have no idea what the cat is singing. Happy Holidays to you and your lovely family! I enjoy your blog!"

I don't know where Denise is from, but I'm guessing it's not Wales.

Anyhoo, I did get a shout of Bingo last Sunday, but it's nice to have the song confirmed by someone who doesn't keep trying to sing it to the tune of D-I-S-C-O (I'm looking at you there, Lisa). As for the dog's final number, I've examined the documentary evidence, and bingo, she's got it. We were clearly barking up the wrong tree with Mary's Boy Child.

It's particularly embarrassing because Lisa tells me she's actually been on that ride. Obviously that was before she met me. Never mind Disneyland, she's lucky if I take her to Asda.

So there you have it: It's a Small World. Which is quite appropriate when a stranger e-mails all the way from the USA just to solve your singing dog problems. So thanks Denise. And Happy Holidays to you too.

As for last night's pharmacy Christmas do at the Hanover pub, that passed without incident. Which is a shame because it means I have nothing to write about. I suppose when you spend all day working with drugs, you don't want to spend your free time under the influence. Frankly I've seen more drunken behaviour at an AA meeting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I took Amelie to see the polar bears in Churchill Square yesterday...

I'm not sure what kind of gesture the seated one's supposed to be making, but I don't think it's suitable for children.

And talking of events not suitable for children, it was the annual Burning of the Clocks on Brighton seafront last night. Sadly it took place after Amelie's bedtime, so I had to go without her. Which was a shame, because she likes to watch Lisa in the kitchen, so she'd have felt at home with the smoke and flames.

Personally I chose to watch the spectacle from ground level at the edge of the beach in Madeira Drive (see the photo at the top of my blog), while the rest of Brighton lined up along the upper tiers. I have to say, it's a slightly chilling feeling to turn around and see a few thousand people staring at you from the shadows...

Ever feel like you're being watched?
It was like Dawn of the Dead, but with less sunshine.

Anyhoo, I'm due back at work in fifteen minutes, so there's no time to describe the event in detail, but to sum it up briefly:

A few people dressed as moths flapped around a two-berth tent with a lightbulb inside, while a load of people with illuminated cogs walked back and forth across the beach to the sound of some new age music, before setting fire to a piece of scaffolding shaped like Marble Arch, and letting off a few bangers.

Clocking Off
I'm hoping there won't be quite as many fireworks tonight - it's the pharmacy Christmas do at the local pub.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's the shortest day of the year today, so I barely have time to write anything, but the good news is I've received the latest developments in the strange case of Lisa's brother-in-law. This time last week I was taking part in the arms race by driving him to hospital with a fractured humerus, but a lot can change in seven days. Having been back for further x-rays on Friday, it turns out that his arm isn't just mildly broken, it's completely shattered. Much like me at the end of the week.

So having already suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (particularly the slings), he's now been told he needs to have an operation to insert a plate in the top of his arm. I don't know if it's a dinner plate or a side plate, but either way it should make it easier to serve up those chips on his shoulder.

(It's jokes like that which have made me such a hit in Wales).

But in other news, I mentioned last Saturday that we'd been given the finest singing cat that money can buy. Well the trouble with cats is that they breed like rabbits...

Amelie's First Pets
So I've now got a dog and duck as well. And I only went out for a chicken. I had to push them around Asda in the seat of the trolley. I felt like some kind of mental patient.

But if you think I need help, you'd be right. Having conducted the animal chorus for a good few hours, until the only person still enjoying it was Amelie, I've worked out that the duck sings 'Old McDonald Had a Farm', 'London Bridge is Falling Down' and 'Frère Jacques'.

But the cat and dog remain a mystery. The dog sings 'How Much is that Doggy in the Window', and the cat definitely breaks off into 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' at one point, but the rest is indecipherable. After a week of music therapy, during which we've forced that cat to sing to anyone who's ventured within three feet of the front door, we've finally admitted defeat. There's a prize for anyone who can put us out of our misery and name these tunes...

There's no prize for guessing the noise in the background. That's Lisa with the electric breast pump.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's award-winning journalist and broadcaster, Carolyn Hitt!

It's a Hitt!No, I've never heard of her either. But apparently she's heard of me. No, really.

According to her agent's website, Miss Hitt is an avid rugby fan who has "written and presented television and radio series on the arts, popular culture, consumer issues, history and sport for Radio 4, BBC Radio Wales and ITV Wales". She's also a former Welsh Feature Writer of the Year and Features Editor of the Western Mail. Which I believe is how Dylan Thomas started.

Her agent sums it up nicely with these words: "Carolyn is one of Wales's most popular newspaper and magazine columnists". Which is a bit like saying I'm one of the best writers in Eastern Road.

Anyhoo, it's amazing the things you discover when you're idly searching for yourself on Google. It turns out that Carolyn and I crossed paths more than two years ago. Only I wasn't aware of it until last night. On 30th October 2006, the Western Mail in Cardiff published an article about blogging, in which their esteemed Features Editor said this:

"But more usually blogs take self-indulgence to hitherto unimagined realms. Ponder the quite staggering inanity of Mulled Whines, the ramblings of an Ipswich-based blogger called Phil Gardner..."

STAGGERING INANITY??? Blimey, she really has read my blog. I suppose that's what you call a direct Hitt.

Of course, by the end of October 2006 I'd been living in Brighton for almost four months, so the article's not what you'd call a hundred percent accurate, but I expect she'd been researching it since the spring, when I still lived in Shotley Gate. Which isn't in Ipswich either.

Unfortunately I don't know what other pearls of wisdom Carolyn had to share about me with the people of Wales, because the only website where I can find a copy of the article is this one (you might have to scroll down a bit), and they want my credit card details before they'll let me read more than three sentences.

But still, it's nice to get a mention. Even from the Welsh. Although I don't know how she can call me self-indulgent - I've just written an entire blog post about her.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Santa on a stick!

Mmm... melamine.And trust me, you don't want to know where it enters his body.

Anyhoo, this little collection of festive E-numbers was given to me yesterday by the creative team behind the YMCA Christmas card, so thanks very much to them. I'm particularly grateful because I haven't had time to get to the Pound Shop this Christmas, so it's nice to see what I'm missing.

Just kidding. I happen to know that they didn't get it in the Pound Shop. They got it for free from a sexual health conference. Or something. I expect they give them out with every chlamydia test.

Anyhoo, to be perfectly honest, I don't really know which corner of the NHS it came from, but it's very nice. You rarely see quality like that outside of the Lidl clearance aisle.

I do, however, know where the thing originated. According to the packaging, it was made in China, which is where I like to get all my essential foodstuffs (Amelie thrives on their baby milk), and as it turns out, it isn't just a Santa on a stick. Oh no. It's actually...

Surely nothing with that many primary colours can be considered tasteful, can it?

But the subtleties of its design aside, my marshmallow Santa also features this warning:

That's because it takes them ages to get the wrapper off.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pass the hairdryer.Right, Amelie's out of the bath and slowly drying in a warm towel (if only I could say the same for my shirt sleeves), so without further ado...


I can't reveal how old she is for legal reasons, but when she was Amelie's age, the closest thing they had to infant formula was powdered egg, and the sound of doodlebugs still reminds her of the womb.

To celebrate her Grandma's birthday, Amelie went to the local Mother & Baby group this morning to be weighed. She's now 11lb 9oz, which means she's only put on seven ounces in the past two weeks. She could learn a thing or two from her Dad. I might start feeding her mince pies. I'd give her a slice of yule log, but frankly that was finished by this time yesterday. And I'm not even sure Lisa had any.

I need to keep my strength up though. The wards at the hospital have started ordering twice as much stuff to keep the patients drugged up over Christmas, meaning we have twice as much work to do. Add to that the fact that Wednesday is always our busiest day, the stores supervisor is on holiday, one of my colleagues was at the dentist, and our manager was in Haywards Heath for the afternoon, and what do you get..?

You get the one day of the year when you really don't want the walk-in fridge to break down. But still, there's a certain frisson of excitement to be had when the engineer who's been tinkering with your compressor for the past four hours, turns to you and says "It's clapped out. There's nothing I can do", and promptly leaves. When I say frisson of excitement, I suppose I mean moment of panic.

But hey, when the work's piling up and you've got a million things to do, what better way to spend an afternoon than evacuating a fridge the size of my living room, and driving half a million pounds worth of cancer drugs to the nearest hospital with a cold store, before the whole lot starts to curdle. One traffic jam and the NHS would have been on its knees. Much like me, begging for my job back.

Mind you, it could have been worse. A fortnight ago that fridge contained all the food for our Christmas party. I'm willing to write off a few crates of Herceptin, but if we'd lost the mini cheesecakes there'd have been trouble.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lisa and I received a Christmas card today from the mother of one of her friends. Lisa thinks the poor lady must have forgotten Amelie's name, and was forced to put 'baby' instead, but personally I disagree...

Why are there two dots above Lisa?
She's clearly calling me 'Phil Baby'. I expect she's an Austin Powers fan. And let's face it, the woman's met me on a number of occasions and we get on like a house on fire, so it's no surprise that she's getting familiar. I might write back and call her Sweet Cheeks.

But as everyone knows, it's not the words in the card that count, it's the picture on the front. So personally I prefer the one I received yesterday...

It's fun to be in the...
Who better to start the YMCA dance, than the founder of Christianity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'd just like to apologise for the slight ambiguity in yesterday's post. When I said that Lisa's sister had asked me to give her husband a lift to A & E before he collapsed and died from his injuries, I meant that he needed to get to hospital before he dropped down dead. I didn't mean that I'd done it before he died.

So I'd just like to reassure the local community that Lisa's brother-in-law is not dead, and apologise for the mass panic and hysteria which apparently swept through a certain part of Brighton last night upon reading the news of his early demise. The pen's obviously mightier than the sword (unless you read rubbish like this), and I did a far better job of killing him off than the axe-wielding maniac* who attacked him at the weekend.

Mind you, I haven't spoken to the man since yesterday, so for all I know he picked up MRSA at the hospital, and is on his way out as we speak. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here's a picture of a pudding.

When I said I wanted a man-sized dessert at Christmas, that's what I had in mind.

* To be fair, we won't know if he had an axe until we get the CCTV pictures back from the chemist. And even if he did, the guy might have just been out felling Christmas trees.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I got a phone call just after 9am this morning from Lisa's sister. It's always nice to chat, but this time she mainly wanted to ask if I'd mind giving her husband a lift to A & E before he collapsed and died from his injuries. Apparently he'd gone out to his work's Christmas do, and come home with cuts, bruises and a suspected broken arm. Which is the sign of a good night out, if you ask me. The police are currently scouring CCTV footage and looking to charge someone with assault, but personally I think he was run over by a reindeer. I'm sure those are hoof-prints on the side of his face.

Anyhoo, it's not every day I'm asked to drive to the Royal Sussex County Hospital (I don't normally work weekends), but blood's thicker than water, and I could see a lot of it leaking out of his head, so I said yes. Obviously I had to leave in a hurry, but if you want to maintain a healthy figure, it's important to eat breakfast, so I helped myself to a slice of chocolate yule log before I left. And may I say, that's one damn fine festive fudge cake. I need to invite those friends over again next Christmas.

Anyway, I successfully transported the injured from Portslade to casualty, trying to avoid bumps in the road and any sudden braking. I'd hoped to find a route which didn't involve going around corners, but sadly it wasn't possible.

So having driven Lisa's brother-in-law around the bend, I left him at A & E and returned home to await news. It's not easy to get on with anything worthwhile and constructive when you could be summoned back to the hospital at any moment, so instead I decided to write my Christmas cards. They're all done now, so if you haven't received one by the end of the week, you're definitely not on the list, and have probably upset me at some point in the past year.

The NHS have recently pledged that no one should have to wait more than 18 weeks to see a consultant, so my inlaws were naturally delighted to be seen in less than three hours. I got the call at three-fifteen to say the x-ray results were in, and the man was free to leave. Apparently he has a fracture in the joint at the top of his arm, so he can no longer shrug his shoulders, play cricket, or do the YMCA dance. But they cleaned him up a bit, so I let him sit in the front on the way home, safe in the knowledge that he wouldn't get blood on my dashboard.

Anyhoo, the good news is that despite the violence, bloodshed and carnage, there's one person who's still smiling...

If you're wondering what the musical accompaniment is, it's Abba's 'I Have a Dream', as performed by the mentally ill people on X Factor. And right at the end, Amelie says 'Hello'. No, really. The girl's a prodigy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mmm... muffins.

Muffin compares to you.
It's amazing what you can do with a bucket of sugar, half a pound of butter and a jug of fresh cream. I'd like to thank Marie for giving me the recipe last Sunday, but unfortunately I'm too fat to reach the phone. Suffice it to say that the cholesterol cupcakes came out of the oven at two-fifteen this afternoon, and by five-thirty there was only one left. And that's gone now too. You can't write a blog post on an empty stomach.

Fortunately, however, Lisa and I did have some help eating them. And I don't mean from Amelie. We actually spent the afternoon at home with our chums S & A (thank God his name's not Michael), which was a bit of a shame because it meant I couldn't get down to Woolworths for some half-price pick 'n' mix.

Anyhoo, what do you get if you cross Johnny Cash with Chris de Burgh?

Lady in reddddddd... is sitting on meeeeeee...You get a man in black with a lady in red. And judging by his jeans, he's just been run over by a tractor.

I'm glad they made it here in one piece though, because they brought us a top-of-the-range yule log, and the finest singing cat that money can buy. Sadly we can't work out what the heck it's singing, but that's beside the point. The important thing is that Amelie likes it. Although she's only seen it briefly. I've been playing with it for most of the evening. I feel a bit guilty actually - they showered us with fabulous gifts, and in return I wrapped up a bauble for their cat.

We had a nice afternoon though. It's not every day I get to discuss art, depression, bus fares, well-dressed penguins and the lovelife of my sister, with a Slovakian workmate and a bloke from Canada. We should have friends around more often, before Amelie learns to talk and starts telling people what she thinks of them.

Anyhoo, must dash - the X Factor Final Results are starting, and I've recently learnt that Lisa's brother-in-law's cousin is the step-father of the short one in JLS. So they're practically family. This time next year I could be backstage at one of their gigs. It's the one place I want to be when they start singing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Am's got a new hat!

What big ears you've got.
From the expression on her face, I'd say she's a bit concerned that it makes her look stupid. Obviously she's got nothing to worry about. And besides, rule number one in this house is that hats with ears are always a good thing. It's a rule I live by. Or I would do if I could find one in my size.

But headgear aside, the good news of the day is that the property management company who care (and I use the term loosely) for this block of flats, have finally sent someone round to clean the guttering with high pressure hoses. On the downside, they chose to do it at lunchtime, just as Lisa and I were walking out of the door with Amelie in her car seat. But still, if you're going to take your daughter up to her Grandmother's flat for the afternoon, what better way to start your journey than to walk out of the front door and into a light downpour of mud, moss and seagull droppings. If nothing else, it stops you dawdling.

Unfortunately Amelie didn't get her hat until this afternoon, so she was carried through the shower of cleaning chemicals lying on her back and looking up at the sky with her mouth open. Mind you, poisoning is the least of her worries - we had to walk under their ladder too, so we're now the unluckiest family in Brighton.

Anyhoo, I'm pleased to say that by the time I'd finished work at 5:30pm, picked up Lisa and Amelie, and returned home, the workmen had finished. On the downside, there's now a ten-foot exclusion zone of mud, excrement and filthy water surrounding the entrance to my flat, and the only one not to get her feet wet was Amelie. It's like the Somme out there, but with more bird poo.

But on the bright side, the workmen did put a note through the letterbox. To be honest, it's surprising how much mud is still on the ground, because most of it appears to be on the letter...

Tommorow, tommorow, I love ya, tommorow.
The trouble is, tommorow never comes. Well, not spelt like that. Let's hope the council doesn't impose a hosepipe ban before the morning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Question: If Amelie opened her own Disney-style theme park, what would it be called?


AmWorld: Discover the Magic
If only they hadn't beaten us to the website address.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's me 'n' Am on the pier!

Pier Pressure
Amelie's looking for starlings in the roof of her buggy.

That photo was actually taken on Sunday, back in those lazy, carefree days before I found out that everyone's still off work, and I'd have to do all the pharmacy driving this week. I'm now so knackered that if I crouched down for a photo, I'd never get up again.

But if there's one thing guaranteed to keep me going through the working day, it's the staff noticeboard on the NHS intranet. It never fails to entertain. Someone was trying to hire out a horse last week. And no, it wasn't a typo. But yesterday the quality of advert reached an all-time high with this golden opportunity:

Flashing Santa For Sale - 5 Pounds
Wiggles about, sings then flashes underpants which say Happy Xmas or similar; I haven't really looked. You will love it or hate it, I will chuck it in a skip next week.

Which I thought was the best I'd ever seen. Until I read this one:

Incredible Dancing Duck For Sale - 4 Pounds
This is torture, ideal gift for someone you really despise. It flaps and waddles about, plays the Birdie Song and when you pick it up makes strangulation noises. Plus side: it has an off switch.

And to think I normally struggle to find a gift for Lisa's Mum.

Monday, December 08, 2008

It's my old chum Marie!

Say CheeseShe's the one looking in the wrong direction while someone with far more photographic experience steals the show.

Anyhoo, it's worrying when the residents of Croydon start escaping and heading south, but despite that, it was nice to see Marie yesterday. I still remember the days when she used to bring me jam, but obviously we've drifted apart since then. Now she brings me recipes for muffins and tells me to make them myself.

Marie last visited Brighton in November last year, when she told me to rewrite my CV by reducing the size of my address and moving the name of my school slightly to the left. Three weeks later I applied for a job, and a month after that was employed, so it obviously worked. That must be how she got into Oxford.

Anyhoo, back in the heady autumn of 2007, we all looked like this...

Anorexics Anonymous
Unfortunately that was then, and this is now...

Fat Club
I'm using Amelie to hide the weight I've gained. And before you ask, no, Lisa and Marie didn't consult with each other before wearing that outfit. They both just happen to shop at Goths R Us. Personally I'm more of a George at Asda man. Which is why Amelie's outfit cost more than mine.

But plus-size clothes aside, we had a very nice afternoon. On the downside, I spent most of it trying to get Marie from the station to my flat, after Brighton council decided to close my route home, thereby forcing everyone to drive through the city's main shopping streets three weeks before Christmas. But the good thing about sitting helplessly in your car, watching pedestrians hurry past, is that you have plenty of time to chat. By the time we'd travelled half a mile, I'd got all the goss on Marie's life. I'd fill you in, but Christmas is meant to be a time of good cheer.

Is this going on Facebook?Back at my flat, I prepared our guest a gourmet meal of home-made moussaka on a bed of new potatoes. Lisa didn't join us for the feast, partly because she still felt a bit peeky, but mainly because she knew I'd made it back in September, and it had been sitting in the freezer for three months under a bag of frozen breast milk. She's fussy like that. Anyway, I thought it was perfectly edible. If you like rubbery aubergine. Fortunately Marie did.

From there, Lisa headed back to her sick bed, and I took the two remaining girls to the pier to see the starlings. Frankly there's nothing else to do in Brighton. I was quite taken with the sideshow stall on the pier which offers to put a 3D image of you inside a glass paperweight, but in the end I decided it might be better to lose some weight first. Glass ornaments are fine, but I don't want to end up with a doorstop.

Anyhoo, our young guest departed at 6pm, leaving behind a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift for Amelie. Naturally we decided not to open it until the 25th. That's the 25th minute after she left. So thanks Melee, it's lovely.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mmm... Brighton Pie.

Pie R Squared
The only thing better is a stick of rock cake.

Anyhoo, the trouble with singing your heart out is that you end up sick to your stomach. I recorded Lisa's tribute to the big-nosed crooner at 10pm on Friday night. By 9am yesterday morning she was throwing up into a bucket. Which is surprising, because if anyone's going to feel ill, you'd expect it to be the audience.

Having examined the evidence (not literally), I decided to assume it was probably a stomach bug rather than pregnancy (although the midwife did tell us that you're at your most fertile in the three months after giving birth), and I started to weigh up my options. Faced with a sick fiancee, incapable of caring for herself, and looking like death warmed up, I decided there was only really one course of action to take. So I strapped Amelie to my chest and went out to meet birds.

Why do birds suddenly appear..?
It's a murmuration. No, really.

Obviously I could have stayed in and looked after Lisa, but I felt I'd be of more help by allowing her to sleep for a couple of hours. And besides, I didn't want to catch anything. So having wandered around the charity shops for a while, I took Amelie to the pier to watch starlings.

Barely a murmuration.Obviously she slept through the whole thing, but let's face it, even if she'd woken up, she wouldn't have seen much further than my manly chest and the giant furry hood of a snowsuit, so frankly she wasn't missing much. I did consider dangling her over the railings of the pier in a tribute to Michael Jackson, but apparently things like that are frowned upon in the wake of the Baby P enquiry.

Anyhoo, the good news is that Daddy's got an eye for the birds and a half-decent camera, so he didn't need his daughter's help to have a good time. I spent a very enjoyable half hour watching fifty thousand starlings flocking over the West Pier as the sun went down. It was like a plague of locusts with feathers.

So here's what Amelie missed...

I should probably have set that to music. Possibly something by Wagner (the composer, not the bloke in 'Hart to Hart'). But fortunately it's not too late. The RSPB are appealing for contributions to form a new display about Brighton's starlings. Apparently they want "anything that describes the phenomenon, from images and comments, to sketches, poems and songs."

Songs..? I think I might know just the person. And let's face it, I've written a few sketches in my time. With Lisa's singing and my jokes, we've got that prize in the bag.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

It's a big day for music fans. Yes, you've already heard her play London's Burning on the recorder, but today we stride forth into uncharted territory with a performance so groundbreaking, so bold, so ahead of its time, that it can barely be described as music. No, seriously.

Never before has such musical magic been captured so successfully. But then I've only just discovered that I can use my camera as a dictaphone. That's what happens when you don't bother reading the instructions.

So sit back, relax, take the phone off the hook and have the earplugs on standby, as...

Lisa Sings Barry Manilow!

And the amazing thing is she doesn't drink.

(Note: if the music player doesn't work, try clicking here instead).

Friday, December 05, 2008

I never thought I'd say this, but Amelie sucks.

And judging by those facial expressions, I don't think her thumb tastes that good.

Mind you, it could have been worse. Thank God she wasn't sucking her feet at eight-thirty this morning. Personally I was showered and dressed, with breakfast very much on the agenda, when I noticed that Amelie was wide awake in her Moses basket (no change there then). With Lisa sleeping like a baby log, I decided to get in quick for Amelie's first smile of the day, and headed straight over to wish her good morning.

I've had a bit of nasal congestion recently, but frankly I didn't need to be Barry Manilow to sense that Amelie needed her nappy changing. So I looked at the clock, weighed up the pros and cons, and decided I just about had time to do it before I left for work.

Well I won't go into details, but suffice it to say I felt like I'd unearthed a new sewage outflow pipe. I kept expecting Greenpeace to turn up and protest about the environmental damage. Anyway, I've checked the record books, and it appears that no nappy in the history of childcare has ever been that soiled.

So I cleaned it all up. Which took about ten minutes and a hundred baby wipes. After which I popped to the kitchen with the bulging nappy sack, leaving a spotlessly clean baby merrily kicking her legs on the floor. I returned thirty seconds later to find her paddling in a pile of her own poo.

But if you think kneeling on the floor surrounded by paper towels, trying to wipe poo from between your daughter's toes, sounds like no fun at all, just wait until she starts weeing all over you at the same time. Frankly by the time she'd finished, we both needed a change of clothes and a bath. Only one of us got it. The other had to leave for work.

Fortunately I was out for most of the day, driving between the Royal Sussex County Hospital, the Sussex Eye Hospital, Hove Polyclinic and the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, so I didn't stop long enough for anyone to notice the smell.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The good thing about blogging is that three years after you write something, people can still come along and call you a twat. Back in October 2005, before I'd even moved down to Brighton, I wrote a charming and delightful account of a visit that Lisa and I paid to Faigans, a little cafe in Hove. It was a memorable experience. Which is handy, as we must remember not to go back there.

Obviously that post was a bit of a slow burner, because six months later, Garry Castle (I think I've been there) turned up to heap praise upon Faigans, talk about their heating system, and state his view that it was unfair of me to criticise the waitress for not being able to speak the language the menu was written in. I'm sure he's a genuine customer, and not someone who works there. After all, he can write English. After a fashion.

Well a mere two-and-a-half-years after Garry's fine contribution, someone called Gordon (I wonder if he's gay?) entered 'Faigans Hove' into Google, arrived at my blog, and joined the debate in spectacular style. I don't know why he's so worked up about things I said over three years ago. Let's face it, if Darwin's theories are correct, most of the people who served us that day will have died out by now.

Fortunately I'm used to being abused. I was shouted at today by a porter at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, who accused me (wrongly, I might add) of moving his laundry trolleys so that I could park the pharmacy van. Frankly he needs to stop airing his dirty linen in public.

To be honest, the sick of Sussex were lucky to get any drugs at all today. Our two regular drivers were ill, meaning I had to step into the breach and do the pharmacy van runs. It was particularly tough, because it meant agreeing to leave our staff Christmas lunch ten minutes early. You've no idea how much willpower it takes to transport life-saving medicines across Brighton, instead of staying with the free sausage rolls. I'm still not convinced I made the right decision.

But on a different note, Amelie saw the health visitor today, and the good news is she's now 11lb 2oz. Which is roughly what I'd like to lose before Christmas. Lisa told her the one about the doctor and the cotton reel, and she responded by saying we should move to a different surgery. Apparently Amelie smiled the whole time she was being weighed, and has been generally cheerful today. So something's clearly gone wrong with the vaccination.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amelie's two months old today, and to mark the occasion, Lisa's taken a photo of her for the first time...

© Lisa
Lisa claims she's sucking her thumb. Personally I think she's recreating the face-hugger scene from 'Alien'.

Anyhoo, there's only one way to celebrate your two-month birthday, and that's to head down to the doctor's surgery for your first vaccinations. As of 3pm this afternoon, Amelie is officially safe from the five-pronged attack of diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib. We stock the injections at work, so to be honest I could have done it myself. If nothing else, it would have saved her the indignity of an examination by Lisa's doctor, which is a bit like being attacked by a baboon at the safari park. Amelie went in with a small flap of skin on her belly button, and came out with a blood soaked bandage on her tummy. Apparently other doctors use a scalpel. Ours prefers a piece of old cotton.

Having hacked her navel to pieces with a sewing kit, she then tried to claim that one of Amelie's eyes doesn't open as wide as the other. Bearing in mind that I take about thirty photos of her a day, I think I might have noticed if she had a permanent wink problem. Frankly the woman doesn't know what she's talking about.

As for the injections, Lisa said that Amelie "cried and cried and cried". Apparently she was distressed, distraught, and writhing about in pain. So I asked if it was worse than when I elbowed her in the head. Lisa said no.

But the good news is that I've consulted the NHS 'Birth to Five' book ("everything you need to know about becoming a parent") (including the adoption line number), and the helpful chapter on immunisation says this:

"It is quite normal for your baby to be miserable for up to 48 hours after having the injection."

The question is, will we notice the difference?

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's Christmas!

Zorro, eat your heart out.
There's no way of telling who, or where, the masked Santas might be, but I think the one on the right is having trouble seeing through his eye holes. And he's clearly wearing a belt made of mince pies. There's no other explanation for that bulge under his shirt.

But moving on to photos of people who are far easier to identify...

The Big CLisa and I had a visit yesterday from our friend 'C'. That's her on the left. I'd recognise that face anywhere. We last saw C in March, a week before I started my job, and two weeks before we announced we were pregnant, so a lot's changed since then. We both look more tired for a start. But let's face it, she met me when I had a moustache, so a couple of bloodshot eyes aren't going to bother her.

Anyway, it was good to catch up, and C had the privilege of being allowed to hold Amelie while she did her impression of a plughole. I also offered C the last of the Hungarian apple cake. To my disappointment, she accepted. She was also very impressed, so frankly it's a good job I'd already eaten the rest of it.

As for today, I was supposed to be giving Lisa's Mum a lift home from my flat straight after work, but unfortunately I arrived twenty minutes late. I told her I'd been held up at the hospital, but in reality I was standing on top of the Race Hill in the dark, taking photos like this one...

Venus de Ufo
Some people claim it's Venus, but I know aliens when I see them...