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Friday, December 31, 2010

The secret of a successful relationship is finding someone who can turn your world upside down...

Hairy Situation
Obviously Lisa and I are still looking, but Amelie found her perfect partner long ago. Marie has that uncanny ability to make the hairs on the back of Am's neck stand up using nothing more than a simple smile. Although if that fails, gravity works too. So having returned home on Wednesday, we invited Marie down to Brighton yesterday to help us celebrate three months of marriage by reminding her that we didn't invite her to the wedding.

Lisa and I last saw Marie in September when we were still living in sin, so obviously things have changed since then. We have a lot more rows now. But the good news is that Marie spent Christmas Day working in a shelter for the homeless, so she'll know what to do when Lisa throws me out.

Amongst Marie's other special powers is the knack of buying the perfect present for Amelie. I blame my recent massive weight gain on the fact that I've had to spend the past three months reading about pies, cakes and ice cream in The Very Hungry Caterpillar book, but not content with finding one story for Amelie to fall in love with, Marie followed it up by giving her the gift of The Gruffalo this Christmas.

Terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.For anyone not familiar with The Gruffalo, it's essentially a story of life-threatening danger, fearless cunning, bold deception and bare-faced lies. It's a lot like 'A Journey' by Tony Blair. And it features more surprise revelations than an evening with Lisa. It also has the advantage of not being made of wool and bought from a chancer on eBay, which places it firmly above anything Amelie got from her parents at Christmas.

Fortunately for non-readers like myself, the animated version was on TV on Christmas Day, so we spent most of yesterday watching it on the BBC iPlayer. Amelie got slightly confused when the snake turned up, and thought it was either a shark or a dolphin, at which point she did her scared face (which looks a lot like Blakey from 'On the Buses'), but other than that she enjoyed it.

All in all, it was a very nice day. Marie told me what the word clunge means before I start using it in polite conversation, and in return I expressed my concerns that Amelie's Paddington Bear book features a predatory paedophile. We then did a bit of light-hearted reminiscing about the day I met Lisa, sat through the resulting awkward silence, and waved goodbye to each other before anyone mentioned divorce. It was all good fun, and we really must do it again sometime. Preferably with lawyers present.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There comes a point in every family Christmas when the food runs out and you realise you might as well go home...

So after five days eating my parents out of house and home, we're heading back to Brighton today. And signing up for WeightWatchers. Big Sis has already booked herself in for a body wrap, and I'm not far off a stomach stapling. I'd invest in some Alli, but I'm too fat to walk to the chemist.

My waistline isn't the only thing that's grown considerably over Christmas though. Amelie's developed a lot too. She attached herself to my eleven-year-old niece on Boxing Day and hasn't let go since. As a result, she's matured to such a level of sophistication that she now looks less like a two-year-old toddler and more like a twelve-year-old midget...

Albeit a midget that wants you to read her The Gruffalo twenty times a day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I've probably given the impression that Lisa and I have been staying at my parents' house for the past few days. In reality, that's not true. On Christmas Eve we journeyed east to Hastings, the town of my birth, with Lisa travelling on a donkey (well, sitting on a cuddly Eeyore in the car), but sadly there was no room at the inn. Which is what happens when Big Sis gets there first and nabs the spare room. So we've actually been sleeping out the back in a stable and reliable Travelodge.

We had five nights booked, so it was a bit disconcerting when we got up this morning after night four, to the sound of the manager knocking on our door to tell us we should have vacated the room twenty minutes ago. It turned out to be some kind of administrative error. I was expecting three wise men, and I got an idiot with a clipboard. I think we got it all sorted in the end, but as we speak, it's 9pm and I'm writing this on my parents' sofa, so I'm half expecting to go back there in an hour and find all our stuff on the street.

I hope not though, because I've grown quite attached to the place. It has views of Hastings Castle...

Hastings Castle
... which are available to anyone who's willing to stand on a chair and point their camera through the four-inch gap you get when you open the window to its fullest extent.

I can't speak for other guests' facilities, but our room certainly has a unique charm. There's a relaxing ambience created by the fact that the light inside the door doesn't work, and you're really able to get away from it all during your stay because the TV only has four channels and the wi-fi costs £5 an hour, which is enough to keep anyone off the internet.

Stimulants are kept to a minimum because they only allow each guest one teabag per day, and you're encouraged not to spend too long in the bathroom by the dodgy light fitting over the mirror which threatens to electrocute you every time you clean your teeth. In addition, the bed inspires me to spend some quality time with Lisa each night because it slopes so much that I find myself rolling towards her in my sleep.

My favourite feature, however, is the ingenious repair job they've carried out on the TV stand. Left to its own devices, the swivel base of the TV tilts alarming to one side (which is actually quite helpful if you're sitting on the sloping bed), but fortunately the Travelodge staff have fixed the problem with a simple and inspired solution:

Two pots of UHT milk.

Even Poirot looks shocked by that one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The thing about Mish, Moosh and Mogo is that after handing over twenty-one quid to an unscrupulous online knitter, and then queuing for almost an hour in sub-zero temperatures without appropriate clothing just to pick them up, the experience of actually holding them in your arms on Christmas Day is one of unbridled happiness, total contentment and constant joy.

Well, maybe not constant joy. You can still feel a bit down when the chocolates run out.

On the whole though, we all had a good Christmas yesterday. Amelie stormed the stage at church without permission, and did an impromptu dance to 'Away in a Manger', but to be honest, it was the minister's fault for handing her the microphone at the beginning and letting her announce the name of her teddy bear to the whole congregation. After that, she thought she was leading the service. She even announced to the entire church that the sermon was a "funny story". I'm not sure they all agreed.

Worshipping done, we then headed back to my parents' house to explore the real meaning of Christmas - the presents. I received a number of quality gifts, including the perfect present from Lisa: a couple of work shirts in a bigger size. She's noticed the massive amount of weight I've gained since we got married, and thought she'd do something about it. It was either two new shirts or a gastric band.

So having been kitted out ready to go back to work and advise Type II diabetics on healthy eating, I was able to relax, eat chocolate, and watch Amelie open her presents. Mish, Moosh and Mogo were obvious hits, but so was another of Lisa's knitted eBay purchases, a counterfeit Miss Mouse from the programme 'Show Me Show Me'. Amelie was naturally delighted, and went a full two seconds before asking for another of the show's characters. There's no pleasing some toddlers.

She liked the guinea pig that Big Sis bought her on the M4, but one of the biggest successes was the set of musical instruments given to her by her Grandma. Amelie's always liked to blow her own trumpet, and now she can take that habit to a whole new level. Ninety decibels, to be exact.

Anyhoo, I can't reveal how much I ate yesterday for legal reasons, and because it might panic Lisa into thinking that she should have bought my shirts in 'High & Mighty' instead of Next, but suffice it to say that the reason there's not enough food to feed the world is because I've eaten it all. If I was counting calories, I'd need a super-computer. So while I spend a few hours in the bathroom with a packet of Bisodol tablets, here are the three-minute highlights of Amelie's third Christmas...

The worrying thing is that not only is Amelie wearing the same dress she wore to our wedding, but Big Sis is too. I think this whole family needs to invest in a bigger wardrobe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

When you're testing the dodgy Christmas presents you bought at a motorway service station, someone has to be the guinea pig...

Fortunately she had time to introduce us all before the thing stopped working.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's shocking the things you come across on Facebook when you're not busy playing Farmville. Lisa found this last night...

That's us in Worthing at the wedding we attended in November. If we look a bit tense, it's because Lisa had just torn a hole in her dress, and I was worrying about finishing my novel. I think she was also slightly stressed by our proximity to a wine glass, while I was concerned that my hayfever was about to come on. To be honest, we looked a lot more relaxed at our own wedding...

Although I clearly need to invest in a second tie. People are going to think we only have one outfit each. You've got to hand it to our wedding photographer though. That first photo was taken by a professional costing hundreds of pounds, while the second was snapped for free by Big Sis. I know who I'll be hiring for my next wedding.

Anyhoo, it's Christmas Eve, and word has reached us that a bright star has been seen in the east. It can mean only one thing: Big Sis has arrived in St Leonards. We're off for some festive family fun.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Old GoatLisa went to a goat fundraiser on Tuesday night. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write. It was basically an attempt to raise money for Oxfam by eating copious amounts of pizza at Pizza Express. I'm not really sure how the logistics of that work, but apparently it was quite successful, and by the end of the evening they had enough money to buy a couple of African kids on the internet. It's a scheme supported by Madonna. I expect.

Anyway, Lisa was given a lift home by a friend of a friend, and during the course of the journey, Lisa mentioned that she has a two-year-old daughter. So the lady asked who was looking after her. Lisa said she was with her Dad. To which the lady replied "Has he got her for the night?". Apparently it never crossed her mind that we might all live together. When she found out we were actually married, she almost crashed the car. Lisa had to tell her I've got three other children by different women, just so she wouldn't think we were weird.

To be honest though, I'm glad I haven't. I'm carrying enough weight on my shoulders as it is...

Amelie's got the heavy eyelids of a girl with a heavy cold. And the smile of someone who has no idea what's about to happen to her.

Lisa took that photo yesterday afternoon, shortly before I took Amelie into town to pick up a couple of parcels from the Royal Mail sorting office. They'd left cards when we were out, and Lisa had arranged to have them both redelivered. But this is Royal Mail we're talking about, so naturally they never came. I wouldn't mind, but one of the parcels contained Mish, Moosh and Mogo, the three most endangered pandas in Britain, and if I didn't get my hands on them before Christmas Day, I'd be closer to extinction than they are.

So I volunteered to escort Amelie to Royal Mail HQ in the city centre to pick up her own Christmas present. As it turned out, it was an afternoon of shattered illusions, because not only did Amelie learn that a decent postal service is just a distant dream in this country, and that Santa Claus only makes it as far as the sorting office, but we also walked along Bond Street past the stage door of the Theatre Royal, where we discovered that the ponies which pull Cinderella's coach are not materialised out of thin air by the magic wand of the Fairy Godmother, but are, in fact, unloaded from a horse box at the back of the theatre.

That wasn't the afternoon's biggest disappointment though. That came five minutes later when we arrived at the sorting office to see a line of forty people stretching all the way down the road, and realised we were going to have to queue for forty-five minutes in the freezing cold with no gloves. I'm telling you now, after three quarters of an hour in sub-zero temperatures with a coughing toddler, you begin to understand where they get the phrase 'bitterly cold'. By the time we reached the counter, Amelie was in tears, and I had a lifelong grudge against Royal Mail. They really ought to refund the £2.50 I had to spend on a ZingZillas comic just to cheer up my frozen daughter. I'd send them the bill, but they'd probably never get it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I realise there's been a distinct lack of panic about whether or not Lisa, Amelie and I made it home through the treacherous ice and snow on Monday night, but for the benefit of anyone who has been worried, we're safely back in Brighton. Although the rear windscreen wiper on my car is broken. Which is annoying because I only had it serviced the week before last. I think they tampered with it in the hope of getting some repeat business.

Before leaving St Leonards on Monday, Lisa and I took advantage of the resident babysitters by popping into Hastings for some last minute gifts. It was an interesting experience. Shopping in Hastings is a lot like walking around backstage at the Jeremy Kyle show. Everyone you meet looks like the kind of person you'd cross the street to avoid. And that's just the shop assistants. The customers are even worse. Half the people in Poundland looked like they were waiting for the results of a DNA test. Possibly to find out if they're human.

Lisa and I boosted the town's class quotient for a couple of hours, but much like King Harold in 1066, we were fighting a losing battle. So as both the temperature and the sun went down, we walked back along the seafront to St Leonards, passing the White Rock Theatre, where little Jimmy Osmond is currently appearing in panto. I wondered aloud if he might be holed up at the nearby B & B, to which Lisa replied that he'd probably be staying somewhere classier. Like Eastbourne.

So I stopped photographing the boarding house, and started filming the starlings over the pier...

You'd be forgiven for thinking that's a bombed out Taliban fortress in Afghanistan, but I assure you it's Hastings Pier. Afghanistan doesn't have a coast. In all other respects they're the same. Like the reputation of much of the town, the pier's recently gone up in flames, which is bad news for tourism, but good news for makers of charcoal briquettes, who should be able to supply next summer's barbecue market with room to spare.

The music I added to that video is 'Going South' by Nina Gordon (I do like to plug my own websites), which seemed like an appropriate song to accompany such a wintry scene on the south coast. The opening line is "The wind blows through the snow on your roof". Which would be quite fitting if the pier still had one.

Anyhoo, having got back on Monday night, I was busy doing numerous jobs yesterday. Mainly because the flat was so cold that if I sat still for more than five minutes, I developed hypothermia. Whilst in St Leonards, Lisa fell in love with my parents' electric blanket, so having had a frosty reception back in Brighton, and spent one night in the cold comfort of our freezing bed, I was duly despatched to Argos yesterday for one of our own. And it was well worth the money. It worked for a good half hour before it packed up completely and refused to come back on.

But looking on the bright side, I probably wouldn't have had any fresh air at all today if I hadn't had to go all the way back to Argos this morning for a replacement. And nothing makes you appreciate a new electric blanket like going out in the freezing cold. Lisa's testing it as we speak. She's been gone for an hour, so I think it must be working.

Monday, December 20, 2010

You'd have to be nuts to go out in this weather...

Going Nuts
But Amelie's finished feeding the squirrels on my parents' patio table, so we're heading back to Brighton.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's not looking good...

I don't mean me and Am, obviously. We look remarkably good making hip-hop hand gestures with tights on our head. What's not looking good is the weather.

As things stand right now, we're still in St Leonards, where it's been snowing for most of the day. Lisa and I went out on a reconnaisance mission to Tescos last night, which quickly turned into the ice rink scene from 'The Italian Job', so we've been forced to stay in today and make our own entertainment. Which explains how I ended up in my Dad's study with a pair of pink tights on my head.

Amelie and I did venture out for a couple of minutes this afternoon in an efort to create our own best-selling 'Footprints' poster...

... but having taken a few steps down my parents' drive, I soon realised that if I attempted to pick her up and carry her, we'd both slip over and break our necks. Which is a problem when ambulances can't make it down the road due to ice. In the end we had to veer straight back onto the steps for the sake of our health. If I'm going to die for religious art, I really ought to do it at Easter.

So I'm currently back indoors on my parents' reclining sofa, getting into the festive mood by watching 'The Year Without a Santa Claus' on True Movies 2. Which is both a film and a channel I've never heard of. It's actually very good, and makes me look forward to the years ahead when Amelie's a bit older and I'll be able to go and see films like this at the cinema without having to pretend I'm special needs. These days, though, Christmas is all about commercialism, greed and ruthless money-making. So I'll be turning over at nine to watch The Apprentice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yesterday was my Mum's 70th birthday, which means she's now the same age as Cliff Richard, and looking just as good...

That's Lisa on the left. My Mum doesn't look that good.

If you think we all look a bit pale and thin in that photo, it's because (a) you need a sight test, and (b) we'd been waiting more than an hour for Pizza Hut to deliver our gourmet birthday feast. In the end I insisted we all pose for a photo because I was worried that if the food was delayed much longer, we'd have to draw lots and start eating each other. It's hard enough getting my Dad out of his study, never mind the oven.

Lisa, Amelie and I drove over to St Leonards on Thursday evening through the first of this week's blizzards, which shows the lengths we're prepared to go to for a bit of party food. There's every chance we could be snowed in here until Christmas, but the good news is my Mum's got three freezers and they're all full. Or they were when we arrived. I've spent the past forty-eight hours gritting my teeth and clearing a path through the ice cream.

But I'm not the only one helping out in the kitchen. In the kind of self-sacrificial act rarely seen amongst today's younger generation, Amelie kindly offered to decorate her Grandma's birthday cake with crystalised fruit...

I make that seven in her mouth and about ten on the cake, which I'm putting down as a net win.

Anyhoo, with only thirty years to go until my Mum gets a telegram from William and Kate (and tickets to see Cliff Richard in concert), she's showing no signs of slowing down. Which is handy, because neither is Amelie. And let's face it, we only really come here for the free babysitting. She's even agreed to keep Chloe until the new year. I just need to persuade her to have Lisa, and I'll be laughing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Today was my last working day of the year, so Christmas officially starts here! Amelie's already begun her celebrations by attending a Christmas party this morning at the weekly playgroup where she was violently beaten up in October. Fortunately, the only intimidating figure she encountered this time around was Santa Claus, and he softened the blow by arriving with presents. She also spent some time getting to know the central characters of a knitted nativity scene (mainly by trying to steal them all), and referring to Jesus as a "special baby". Which sounds like something The Fonz would say.

So we're all now in the Christmas mood, and ready to spend some quality time with one glorious angel and a wise man. Unfortunately none were available, so we're going to my parents.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's deeply touching, the unexpected gifts one gets from NHS colleagues at Christmas time. I received two today, both from receptionists at the hospital where I was working. The first was a delightful Christmas card featuring a picture of a polar bear...

Grin & Bear It
And the second was a black & white photocopy of a topless fireman with a massive tool...

Fired Up
According to a highly scientific and statistically accurate poll conducted amongst reception and admin staff on the fourth floor of the hospital today, that bloke looks exactly like me. Although I rarely do clinics topless.

In reality, it's actually Mr February from the 2011 Gatwick Airport Fire Service calendar, which features a dozen semi-naked men with big hoses, posing for the pleasure (and date-keeping purposes) of women all over Sussex, in an effort to fan the flames of passion and raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. You can buy one here. I flicked through it myself today, and I can heartily recommend the thing. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'heavy breathing apparatus'.

Anyhoo, as a result of my new found fame as a male pin-up, I've spent most of the day calling patients while reception staff undress me with their eyes. Or maybe that was my imagination. At one point I headed into the waiting room to fetch a chair for an elderly patient who couldn't face the walk back, and the receptionist suggested I give her a fireman's carry instead. I responded by threatening to take my shirt off. And she quickly changed her mind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saturday night's songs about heaven, angels and happy days (the concept, not the TV show) were particularly poignant, as Andrew lost his life-partner, Linda, a couple of weeks ago.

One Cool CatThat's her on the left. They got together on Valentine's Day 1993, so it's a relationship which lasted longer than most marriages. And like many wives, she ended up on tablets. I only knew Linda for two of those seventeen years, but I heard stories of her fashion sense a good three months before I met her. Let's face it, it's not every cat that wears a wedding dress.

To be honest, it's a miracle Linda survived as long as she did, because she's had Amelie hassling her for the past year or so. It's enough to make anyone lose the will to live. This was the scene on Linda's 17th birthday last February, as Amelie tried to give her the bumps...

Or maybe she just mistook her for a leopardskin cushion.

Anyhoo, as befits a cat with Linda's legendary status, she's immortalised for ever on Google Street View, where she's spending eternity peering out at the lost souls of Brighton over her rose coloured glasses. Well, terracotta window box. It's an appropriate resting place for a much viewed and well-loved cat.

As for me though, I wanted to make a more personal tribute to Brighton's best dressed feline. I happen to know that she sourced most of her designer outfits from various branches of Poundland, so whilst working in Crawley today, I made my way into town at lunchtime, visited one of the largest pound shops in Sussex, and bought this for a quid...

It'll be Red Nose Day this Christmas
Chloe will be dressing up in memory of Linda this Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Squeeze were pretty good on Tuesday night, but if I'm honest, they were only really the warm-up guys for Saturday night's headline act at the Brighton Dome: an exclusive performance by our good friend Andrew...

Fans of 'Where's Wally?' should be able to spot him somewhere in the middle.

Anyhoo, that's the Brighton Goes Gospel choir doing a bit of carol-singing at the Dome last night. I presume the cloud of toxic green gas which appears to be seeping in from the left was being released by a group of atheists hell-bent on removing the Christ from Christmas. Either that, or the after-show buffet was on the turn.

This is actually the third time we've seen BGG live, following Andrew's groundbreaking debut last December and his inevitable encore back in May, and as befits a singer who struggles with repeat bookings, this concert was held in yet another different venue. He appears to be on his way up though, because having sold out Hove Town Hall and then Roedean School (kids are so gullible), Andrew can now lay claim to having performed on the stage where Abba won Eurovision. It'll be Wembley next year.

Anyway, if you want to share in the gift of Andrew's voice this Christmas, here he is singing in the first half...

I was annoyed that everyone else joined in and tried to drown him out, but he's in there somewhere. One of the themes of the show was 'faith', and I have enough to know that he was singing in tune, despite the fact that I couldn't hear him. I should also point out that I've no idea what that song was called because I was too cheap to buy a programme. But let's face it, they were too cheap to have a backing band, so we're pretty much equal.

Ok, I'm lying. They did have a backing band. I think there must have been some kind of power-cut for that song. One of the big screens stopped working in the second half too.

Anyhoo, every Brighton Goes Gospel concert has special guest stars, and this one was no exception. Susan Harriott was back from last year, and was joined this time around by the excellent Wayne Ellington, plus the equally good Beverley Trotman, who shot to fame in series 4 of the X Factor, which will be remembered as the season that unearthed the talent of Leon Jackson. How he beat her, I've no idea. All three were brilliant, but my personal favourite was local rapper Skilf, who burst onto the stage from the rear, halfway through the first half, to do a bit of impromptu hip-hopping in the midst of the choir...

Judging by the look of sheer terror on Andrew's face, I'm not sure Skilf's arrival was entirely expected. And as for the chap in the background, I don't know if he's trying to fly away, launch an attack, or about to break down in tears. Either way, it's a case of post-traumatic stress disorder in the making.

As it happens, Skilf has featured on this blog before. Indirectly at least. He's actually the front man of Astro-Physics, a notoriously difficult to spell local band. Gospel music represents a slight change in direction for him, but I've checked his Twitter page today, and he says this: "Performing with the Gospel choir tonight was massive!". Which is no way to describe Karen Gibson.

Anyhoo, if you're thinking that having spent three hours at the Brighton Dome with a camera in my hand, I've managed to come away without a single decent close-up of Andrew, you'd be wrong.

This one was taken in the interval, during the two minutes that Lisa and I spent leaning over the balcony of the circle bar, furiously waving and shouting at our friends below, in a vain attempt to get them to notice us. I tried to persuade Lisa to let me throw her crisps at them, but apparently friendship doesn't mean that much to her.

In the end I decided to photograph Stefan's credit card details and use them to do my Christmas shopping. That'll teach them to ignore us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I had an e-mail the other day from an American girl who said this:

"You are brilliant."

Unfortunately, anyone who begins an e-mail like that undoubtedly wants something, and sure enough, she went on to say this:

"I read your short, micro stories. I would love it if you could help me by reading my work & giving me feedback."

Apparently, having polluted the fount of knowledge in schools across New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, I've now made it into the New Vista High School, in Boulder, Colorado, where my micro fiction forms part of their class on '20th Century American Literature'. Which is interesting because I'm British and I wrote it in the 21st century.

Obviously, such academic adventures haven't always gone well in the past, but I have a lot of confidence in these particular students. Let's face it, their school's clearly named after Windows 7, and I'm sure their Principal's no quitter.

QuitterOh, hang on, he is.

But still, I'm certain the students of Boulder will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of literary excellence. They've already compiled a list of stories they've found, along with a one-line description of each. Three of mine make the shortlist, along with such straplines such as:

"If you like a story that makes you think, read this."


"A woman enters a contest to win a lifetime supply of pork. Funny stuff happens."

Which is pretty much all you need to know.

My favourite, however, is the description of my story 'No Moon'. Having spelt my name wrong, the author then proceeds to define the piece thus:

"This story is about a man and bushes."

Interestingly, that also describes the life of Saddam Hussein.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Having been reminded on Tuesday night of how much we both like The Lightning Seeds, Lisa went online yesterday to buy their greatest hits album. She was about to order 'Like You Do: The Best of The Lightning Seeds' from Amazon, but decided to check the track listing first, to make sure it had her favourite song - the 1989 hit, 'Pure'.

She got down as far as Track 7...

Typos like that make me sick.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Cut price knives and counterfeit pandas are all very well, but at Christmas time, nothing says 'I Love You' like a big Squeeze...

That's Lisa's Christmas present. I've no idea where she's going to keep them.

Within half an hour of emerging triumphant in a knitting auction on Tuesday night, Lisa and I headed straight to the Brighton Dome for Lisa's surprise festive treat: a Squeeze concert. I booked the tickets in March, which is remarkable because it means that (a) I managed to keep it secret for nine months, and (b) I didn't forget to go. The latter is probably more surprising.

We last saw Squeeze in December 2007, and a lot's changed since then. For a start, we now need a babysitter. Luckily I booked that in March too. This time around, the support band were The Lightning Seeds, which was handy as Lisa loved them in the 90s, and I regularly hummed 'Three Lions' whilst watching the football. They turned out to be remarkably good, although it's a shame Amelie wasn't there, as they'd clearly designed their stage backdrop with her in mind...

That's what Amelie would call "Two oranges".

From where we were sitting, Ian Broudie looked a lot like David Baddiel, which I found slightly disturbing, but fortunately he sings a lot better, and I spent most of their set wondering why I'd never bought a Lightning Seeds album. Before realising I had no money in the 90s and couldn't afford one.

As for the main event, Squeeze were, as ever, completely marvellous. This time, they had Steve Nieve on keyboards, who's supposedly best known as Elvis Costello's pianist, but to me will always be remembered as the leader of the house band on 'Tonight With Jonathan Ross'. That was before Wossy got the poofs in.

Other than that, the line-up was the same as last time, and if anything, performed even better. Admittedly they didn't play Lisa's favourite song ('Some Fantastic Place'), but I feel that's her own fault for preferring a song about death, rather than ones about betrayal, like any normal person. They played 'Tempted', so I went away happy.

In addition to that, Squeeze have made a bold attempt to move into the 21st century by introducing an elaborate boyband-style dance routine into their act...

Although at first glance it looks like five drunks dancing at a wedding. You've got to give them credit for trying though. It can't be easy at their age.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Electric carving knives are all very well (especially if you saw one cut price), but if you really want to make Christmas special, you need these...

Mish? Moosh? Mogo?
That's Mish, Moosh and Mogo. No, really.

Actually, I'm lying. That's not Mish, Moosh and Mogo at all. This is Mish, Moosh and Mogo...

Mish! Moosh! Mogo!
Sadly no one's worked out how to knit the one in the background.

Anyhoo, for anyone lucky enough to be able to choose what they watch on TV, and not be forced to have CBeebies on for twelve hours a day, Mish, Moosh and Mogo are three cuddly pandas who feature on a show called Same Smile, in which they travel around the UK in the arms of Nisha, discovering that beneath our different skin colours, accents and oppressive religious headgear, we're all essentially the same. It's basically 'Mind Your Language' for the 21st century. But with pandas.

Naturally, as a non-judgmental animal-lover, Amelie's a big fan, but tragically, the BBC haven't yet cottoned on to the merchandising side of political correctness, and as a result, Mish, Moosh and Mogo are not yet commercially available. Which is a problem when you have a daughter who spends much of her time saying "Ammy want Mish! Ammy want Moosh! Ammy want Mogo!".

It means that a cottage industry of home-made knitted pandas has sprung up on eBay, as people seek to make a fast buck out of parents like me and Lisa, who are desperate to provide their children with lifelike reproductions of multi-cultural mammals. I'm not saying the knitters of Britain are taking advantage, but these three are currently going for eighty quid...

Same Smile. Only more expensive.
Frankly I wish I could knit. I'm tempted to send Lisa straight to evening classes. We could be raking it in.

Anyhoo, if £79.99 is a bit beyond your budget, you can always get this for under a tenner...

The Mogo's bright. The Mogo's orange.
That's if your child is a gullible fool. It looks like Mogo's been on the Sunny Delight. Or it would do, if it looked anything like Mogo.

In the end, Lisa and I compromised, and went for the trio in the first picture above. They're not what you'd call identical lookalikes, but under test conditions, they proved lifelike enough. We basically showed Amelie the picture on eBay, and as soon as she shouted "Mish, Moosh and Mogo!", we put in an offer. Having rushed home from work at 6pm last night, I entered straight into a furious bidding war with another desperate parent, and when the auction closed at 6:11pm, we were the proud and relieved owners of three counterfeit pandas.

Twenty-one quid. Plus postage. 'Same Smile' is now more of a grimace.

Monday, December 06, 2010

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, there are less than three weeks until Christmas. What do you buy the discerning, sophisticated, middle-aged sister-in-law who has everything?". Well, I'll tell you: get her an electric carving knife for £12.99. You can't go wrong.

So with that very much in mind, I started my Christmas shopping at the end of November. It seemed like a good way to procrastinate from writing my novel. To be honest, I didn't venture very far. I basically just surfed down the Amazon for half an hour. It's not as dangerous as it sounds. Within minutes, I'd laid my virtual hands on a cheap electric carving knife, and snapped it up for my sister-in-law.

I realise that by mentioning that on my blog, I'm running the risk of ruining a festive surprise, but fortunately I have two sisters-in-law, and I'm not saying which one I plan to knife this Christmas. If anything I'm adding to their yuletide excitement. They can both now spend the next fortnight thinking "Good grief, I hope it's not me", whilst praying that it's the other one I just described as middle-aged.

Anyhoo, despite placing my order in late November, I still haven't got my hands on that chopper, so I went back down the Amazon today and looked up the parcel tracking information. It said this:

I can't help thinking that a dormant underground volcano might have just erupted in Grand Avenue, and that as we speak, thousands are fleeing the river of lava currently flowing along the seafront, as an ash cloud engulfs the city centre. Although snow's probably more likely. Either way, we're out tomorrow night, so I hope it doesn't last.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

For Amelie's second birthday, our good friend Marie gave her 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' book by Eric Carle. It's one of the classic works on gluttony and eating disorders for young children, and features sausages, ice cream, chocolate cake, and various other things that Amelie eats on a daily basis, so naturally she loves it.

Marie's had a tough couple of weeks, so to cheer her up, Amelie suggested that we combine her advanced reading skills with my fat stomach to create an audio-visual presentation on the joys of over-eating...

I can only apologise for my immediate over-reaction when Amelie fluffed her line about the strawberries. I'm very much a Christian Bale type of person on the movie set. I demand perfection from everyone I work with, and if I don't get it, I'm liable to go crazy. But I've since apologised, and we've sat down (on a wooden sheep stool) and worked through our differences over a Fruit Shoot and a couple of gingernuts. I'm confident that given the right circumstances, we'll collaborate again on future projects.

As a goodwill gesture, I then offered to take my young actress out for a haircut at an exclusive salon in Hove...

Hairspray - the Movie
It's what you might call a fringe benefit of working for me. And it gave me another chance to shout "Cut!".

Saturday, December 04, 2010

From this...

Winter Wonderland
... to this...

Snow Joke
... in forty-eight hours. I think God's found the thermostat for the central heating.

It's particularly amusing because one of our neighbours was out there for hours yesterday, clearing that path with a shovel. You have to laugh.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Britain's snow misery continues...

Snow Misery
Although some of us are putting a brave face on it.

I was supposed to be doing a clinic in Mile Oak today, but I woke up to this view from our bedroom window...

Winter Wonderland
So I actually spent the day in the office, cancelling patients' appointments and eating mince pies. Occasionally at the same time. I hope they didn't notice. Interestingly, most of the patients I'm due to see tomorrow are still quite happy to come, but I did speak to one chap who phoned up to say he has an appointment for next Tuesday and won't be able to make it because of the snow. I'm not sure if he was a meteorologist or a pessimist, but either way, he must be new to this country. By next week we could all be in shirt sleeves.

Anyhoo, the good news is that I managed to make it back up the hill before sundown, so having confirmed that Lisa was too much of a wuss to leave the flat all day, I took Amelie straight out for her first hands-on experience of snow...

She'd only been out for five minutes. I think she takes after her Mum.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Five weeks ago today, the council's building contractors informed us in broken English of their intention to install new dry riser mains in our block of flats. Well, the work took place yesterday, and I'm pleased to report that English isn't the only thing they can mangle. They've also broken our lift. And our internal lighting.

I arrived home from work yesterday to find two workmen in the entrance hall downstairs (or 'the lobby' as Lisa likes to call it in a vain attempt to make the place sound classy), who told me that they'd accidentally shorted the power to both the lift and the lights in the stairwells and communal hallways, but that they hoped to have it back on within half an hour.

That was 5pm yesterday. It's now 8:30pm on Wednesday, and it's still out. They've put an emergency lighting pole on each floor, and stripy hazard tape all over the place. Taking the rubbish down to the communal bin area makes you feel like Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien. It's all dark corridors, flickering lights, trailing wires and warning signs. If it wasn't for Santa's sleigh next door, we wouldn't be able to see a thing.

The amusing thing though is that Lisa hasn't realised. She and Amelie have been snowed in for two days, and haven't stepped foot outside the front door. She has no idea that I've been creeping through a sci-fi movie every time I go out. I'm only writing this blog post because I can't be bothered to tell her.

But that aside, after two days of coming home (up the stairs) and asking Amelie what she's been doing, I decided to change tack today, and ask her instead why half the Christmas tree baubles appear to be lying on the floor. I managed to capture the moment when the full implications of my question suddenly dawned on her...

Although she didn't let it bother her.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The National Novel Writing Month finishes today, and I've written 26,073 words. You can't ask for much more than that. Well, you can ask for twenty-four thousand more than that, but you're not going to get it. Obviously I'm not a winner, but that doesn't make me a loser. I prefer to think of myself as a silver medallist. I tried, I failed, but I've got something to take home and show the kids. Although whether Amelie will ever want to read the seventeen chapters I've written, seems slightly doubtful.

I don't regret trying though. I've spent the past year saying that between a fairly demanding job and a very demanding daughter, I can't write anything more than a blog, so at the very least I've proved that not to be true. On some days, anyway. On others, a three line blog post seems beyond me, never mind a novel. But it's made me realise what I'm capable of. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

I've finished this year's NaNoWriMo snowed in at Uckfield Hospital, where I've written four hundred high quality words whilst looking at this scene from the window of my room...

I don't know if it was the view that inspired me, or just the resulting cabin fever, but those four hundred improvised words feature references to stomach stapling, Satan and herring, plus one of the finest Venetian blind jokes you're ever likely to read. Although you're unlikely to read it unless I finish chapter eighteen. Give me until Christmas.

Anyhoo, having skidded home through the snowdrifts, I asked Amelie what she'd done today. She told me with great enthusiasm that she and Mummy had gone on a bus to playgroup, where she'd played with the yellow balls, eaten some beans and had lots of fun. Which would be fine if I didn't know for a fact that they'd been stuck indoors all day due to the weather. I'm beginning to think I can't believe a word she says.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Amelie's back from a weekend at her Grandparents...

So she doesn't look that happy any more. I'm not sure those horizontal stripes are doing her any favours either. She looks like an untapered traffic cone.

I asked her this evening what she did at Grandma & Grandad's house, and she said "Ice cream". So I asked her what else. She said "Sausages". At the third time of asking, she said "Tomato sauce". There wasn't much talk of running and jumping, but she did ask me for some of the "pebbles" she'd brought home, so I assumed she must have walked to the beach and back. Until Lisa told me that's what she calls Smarties.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lisa and I spent most of yesterday at a lovely traditional wedding in Worthing. But enough about that - look! It's Paige from the X Factor! And I almost killed him!

Paige ViewYou know what it's like. You're driving along the seafront at lunchtime on a Saturday in late November; you've just passed the pier; you see an X Factor contestant crossing the road in front of you; you floor the accelerator...

As it transpired, I changed my mind at the last moment. There are enough stories about the show's black contestants being the victims of racism, without me running one over in my car. And besides, he was in Brighton to perform at Revenge, "The South Coast's Number 1 Gay Club", and I didn't want to be accused of homophobia too. So I let him live. Obviously, if it had been Katie Waissel, it would have been a different story.

Wagner, the X Factor's real talent, sang (and I use that term loosely) a Radiohead song on last night's show, which was slightly spooky (and indeed Creepy) because just moments after clipping Paige with my front bumper, Lisa and I drove past Hove lawns, where Thom Yorke was busy moulding 2,000 people into the shape of King Canute...

The Grand Canute of Yorke
Although from ground level, it looked like the queue for the log flume at Alton Towers. I've never seen so many cold people in ponchos. Obviously, from the sky, you get an entirely different perspective. It looks more like a cow walking up to a lamp post.

Anyhoo, our journey along the south coast might have been entertaining, but it wasn't the reason we left the house. We were actually heading to Worthing to attend the wedding of Taylor Swift and Minty from EastEnders, as conducted by comedienne, Sue Perkins...

Love Story
It was held at the Chatsworth Hotel, which is the kind of traditional, Georgian fronted, Grade II Listed hotel where you'd expect to find Agatha Christie relaxing over a cup of tea in the lobby...

Or failing that, Lisa drinking a latte.

The wedding itself featured a lot of tears, partly from the bride, but mainly from Lisa who tore a hole in the bottom of her dress with the heel of her uncomfortable shoes, and me, who nearly choked on an olive. I realise it will come as something of a shock that someone as cultured as myself could have made it through thirty-seven years of life without ever trying a stuffed olive, but having grown up on a Basildon council estate, I was lucky to get a Viscount biscuit once a week. I thought a canapé was the stripy fabric over a market stall. So finding myself in a Georgian hotel in Worthing with a plate of free olives, I naturally helped myself. Anyway, I'm not saying I didn't like it, but frankly Gillian McKeith's been through less traumatic bushtucker trials. I came close to fainting at one point. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted. And I've eaten Lisa's scrambled eggs.

But that aside, the food was lovely. If you're going to put on half a stone in eight hours, this was the way to do it. The dessert alone must have been a thousand calories. I think I was the only person in the room who finished it. And just when everyone was on the verge of passing out from over-consumption, they brought around the wedding cake, and announced that the chocolate fountain was open. I think the event must have been sponsored by a bariatric surgery company.

On the downside, when you've eaten half your body weight in gourmet food, you do tend to struggle to make it onto the dance floor. I think I only ventured out of my seat three times all evening. And two of those were to dip doughnuts into molten chocolate.

But on that subject, if you're wondering how you eat from a chocolate fountain when you're wearing an expensive white wedding dress, here's your answer...

She's either protecting her clothes or about to throw up.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lisa and I are going to a wedding in Worthing today, so Amelie's been packed off to her grandparents for the weekend. With a bit of luck it might snow and they'll have to keep her for a week. She left at lunchtime yesterday, which was obviously fantastic news because it meant that from the moment I got home until the time I went to bed, I could spend the whole evening novelling.

At least that was the plan. In reality, I had my tea and chatted to Lisa for a bit, at which point she realised that she needed some safety pins to hold her wedding outfit together, so we quickly popped to Asda before I started writing.

At least that was the plan. In reality, we were out until 9pm, spending more than a hundred pounds on tinsel, baubles and a pink Christmas tree...

In the pink.Frankly it was a miracle we remembered the safety pins.

Anyhoo, I'd like to say that we chose that tree because it raises money for breast cancer charities. I'd like to, but I can't. It just happened to be Amelie's favourite colour, and we thought it would match our curtains.

So having spent half an hour putting away the trolley-load of food that we hadn't realised we needed until we were in Asda, we then spent another hour decorating the Christmas tree and putting tinsel around the living room mirror, before finally getting to bed about eleven thirty, with my daily word count still at zero. I'd finish my novel where it is, but I don't think I'd find the time to write 'The End'.

Friday, November 26, 2010

This was the view from our balcony at seven-thirty this morning...

Good Morning
It's almost worth getting up to go to work.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, you've still got five days to go. You can hit that 50,000 word target". And you're right. Obviously. But what you don't know is that I'm going to a wedding on Saturday, so technically it's only four days. Admittedly, I do have the proven ability to produce copious amounts of rubbish in a very short period of time, but I think 6,000 words a day is probably beyond me.

I haven't given up though. Well, I have given up on the idea of writing fifty thousand words before December, but goddammit, I'm going to finish this story if it kills me. I've just been hampered by circumstances. I wrote 20,000 words in the first half of November, and... um... slightly less in the second half, but that's mainly down to health issues. Amelie's been quite ill, while I've been single-handedly proving the theory that there's no rest for the wicked, by struggling to sleep at night.

It means that for the past week I've only had enough energy to last me until 5pm. I barely have the strength to turn on Simon Mayo. Which isn't condusive to serious out-of-hours novelling. I did produce a whopping 200 words in Uckfield Hospital at lunchtime today, during which I started writing the back story of one of my characters. Quite a long-way-back story. It started in 1750. And I don't mean ten to six. But by 1pm the caffeine in my tea had worn off and I had to give up for the day.

So I plan to continue into December. Possibly 2011. By which time I hope to be sleeping properly. I don't care how long (or short) this thing is, as long as it features the words 'The End'.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's my Dad's birthday today...

To paraphrase Amelie's hair, thanks a bunch for all you've done for us this year. xxx

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good news! I'd written almost a thousand words by 5pm today!

Bad news. It was all for my departmental newsletter at work.

I think novel-writing would be easier if there were more than twenty-four hours in each day. And if Amelie would sleep for most of them.

I'm getting an early night and starting again tomorrow...

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's November 22nd, and this is the scene at the block of flats next door...

Light of the World
Those decorations actually cover two different flats, which is interesting because it means there's more than one person in this world who thought that was a good idea. As Lisa's just said to me, "It's like we're living next door to the Griswolds".

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lisa's out all day today, attending the Regional Forum of AA's South East Regional Assembly. Whatever that is. It's in Burgess Hill, so I suspect she just liked the way I made the place sound on my blog this week, and wanted an excuse to visit.

It means that Amelie and I have been left to self-medicate for the day. To be honest, I'm a lot better now, but Am's still at death's door. You can gauge the seriousness of any Ammy illness by the list of foods she refuses. When well, the list is non-existent, but as things stand right now, she's turning away biscuits, toast and - I kid you not - chocolate. It's currently 2pm, and all she's had today are three smokey bacon crisps and a couple of Fruit Shoots. Gillian McKeith would be turning in her jungle grave.

In addition, Amelie's feeling so sorry for herself that she refuses to let me put her down for a nap, and will only drop off to sleep if I'm underneath her. Which makes it difficult to get on with anything. Left unattended, she's generally capable of going for a maximum of five seconds without bursting into tears and asking for a cuddle, so novel-writing's pretty much out of the question. This blog post's taken me three hours.

I did make the decision that if I couldn't get near a keyboard, and was going to have to spend the day on the sofa, wiping snot from the face of a distressed two-year-old, then I should transport myself away mentally, and take the opportunity to completely plan out the rest of my novel in my head. Which is a good idea in theory, until you try doing it in front of CBeebies. I challenge anyone to think of anything remotely productive whilst listening to a couple of llamas singing about health & safety.

Not that my day has been entirely unproductive. I have had a hand in the creation of a masterpiece...

I've speeded it up, so that you can see her nose running at four times normal speed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

She might be ill, off her food, and running a high temperature, but she can still do a mean Incy Wincy Spider...

It's a good job Chloe's not arachnophobic.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo Excuse #327:

I'm ill.

And it's not just me...

Flaked Out
Chloe's looking a bit peaky too.

And as for Amelie, don't even go there. If she's not flaked out on the bed, she's crying in your arms, leaving snot on your shirt and refusing to do anything. It's like having a mini version of Lisa.

But the worst thing is, she's given it to me. We've both spent the day feeling sick and congested with a splitting headache, but while she's stayed at home sipping Calpol, I've been forced to go into work. For a couple of hours. And eat chocolates. To be honest, it could have been worse. If you fancy joining me, click here. Apply now and you can cover for me on Monday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I had an e-mail earlier this week from Chris Baty, founder of the National Novel Writing Month and Executive Director of the Office of Letters and Light. It was a deeply personal message sent exclusively to me, and to the 185,586 other people doing NaNoWriMo this year. In it, he offered these words of advice for the stalling novelist:

Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey.

It made me realise where I've been going wrong with my novel. I don't have a spaceship or a monkey. I do have a marriage, but I've already ended that with an unexpected tortoise-drowning incident. So I've embraced change today. During an unusually productive lunch break, I wrote 800 words in Consulting Room 10 of the Park View Health Centre in Burgess Hill, and metaphorically crashed my spaceship into Monkey World. Although I think that's already been done with 'Planet of the Apes'. Anyway, I think it's a plot twist that works. In fact I'm tempted to claim that I planned it from the beginning.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually make it beyond those 800 words, because I received a distressing e-mail from Lisa this afternoon. It read:

Disaster. Am's left Po on a bus. She's very upset.

I was upset too. Mainly because I read that as 'poo', and thought I was being asked to clean it up.

So instead of rushing home to write Chapter Sixteen, I drove from Burgess Hill to Toys R Us in search of a replacement Teletubby I could palm off as the original. I eventually found one, and having got stuck in a traffic jam in Hove for half an hour in the pouring rain, I finally made it back an hour late, walked in, and told Amelie I'd found Po at a bus stop. She took one look at my purchase, called it "New Po!", and told me to go out and look for the old one. It's not easy fooling a two-year-old.