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Sunday, October 31, 2010

CattyI don't think Halloween costumes are quite as scary as they used to be. The most disturbing thing about Amelie's Witch's Cat outfit is that the ears make her look like Björn Borg in 1980. I had to give her some scissors and tell her to run, just to add an element of danger.

But despite that, we had a nice time at Lorraine's Halloween party yesterday. Our hostess had gone to quite a lot of trouble. The ground floor of her house was covered in cobwebs, blood and scary pictures, and there were even a couple of rats in the kitchen. But on top of that, she'd decorated it for Halloween. And very nice it looked too. It's not every day that you're greeted at the front door by Count Dracula, and told to duck under the spiders if you want to use the toilet.

Admittedly, the party got off to a slightly sticky start when Lorraine's Dad walked in wearing a scary mask, held up his bloody scythe, and reduced half the room to tears, but having reassured everyone under six that they weren't going to die, we were able to get down to the main event of the evening: the eating.

Let's face it, there was only one reason Amelie and I went to this party...

Vampire the Buffet Slayer
One whiff of food and she turns into Vampire the Buffet Slayer. I've never seen anyone eat so many chocolate pumpkins. Even the rat on the table isn't putting her off.

Anyhoo, much like her father, Amelie enjoys a good buffet, so while Lisa chatted to Lorraine's cousin about her dog-sitting business, my daughter and I loitered in the kitchen with a couple of witches and a pirate, filling our goody bags with sweets. Frankly we ate so many carbs, the party was in danger of being haunted by the ghost of Dr Atkins. I did attempt to persuade Amelie to eat healthily...

Get Stuffed
... but having seen me stuffing myself with chocolate, she quickly gave up on her ham rolls and joined me in a stroll down Quality Street.

Personally I was too stuffed to move, but it takes more than a few thousand calories to stop Amelie hitting the dance floor...

Now that's a Halloween costume.

That wasn't the scariest moment of the night though. That came an hour later when we popped into Sainsbury's on our way home. Amelie was going wild in the aisles, so in an effort to keep her out of mischief, I picked her up and put her on my shoulders. Only to discover that she had a very dirty nappy. The word 'horror' doesn't even come close to describing it. I still think my neck smells this morning.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

And they said it wouldn't last.It's mine and Lisa's one-month wedding anniversary today. I bought her the card on the left, so that when I forget the one-year one, I'll have something to fall back on. As the front of the card says, "Love isn't about being perfect". For me, it's a bonus.

Obviously a card is no good without a gift, so I also presented Lisa with an expensive candle from The White Company. Sadly, my conscience quickly got the better of me, so after she'd ooohed at it for thirty seconds and wondered how I'd managed to afford such a fine gift, I admitted that my boss had given it to me yesterday as a late wedding present. She said that made more sense. She'd always suspected he had better taste than I do.

Anyhoo, I'm pleased to report that I'm now fully recovered from my slight duffing up yesterday. I didn't think I was particularly upset by it at the time (let's face it, I held myself together enough to write a blog post within twenty minutes of being punched), but I must admit that it did affect me slightly afterwards.

I went to Asda at 7pm, and had a slightly funny turn in the tinned fish aisle. I suddenly experienced a wave of sickness, developed a headache and felt like crying, all within thirty seconds of each other. And it wasn't just the price of tuna that did it. I had to come home early (without popping into Lidl for chocolate), and sit on the sofa for an hour, feeling sorry for myself. It's a good job I wasn't genuinely injured, otherwise I'd be in some kind of care home for the permanently loopy by now.

But the good news is that I'm fine today, and looking forward to some trick-or-treating later. We're going over to Lorraine's for a Halloween party this afternoon. Obviously Lisa's responsible for all the bad times in her life, but Lorraine's got nothing against me and Amelie, so we've all been invited. Amelie's going as a witch's cat, while Lisa and I are dressing up as the most fearsome kind of serial killer there is: the kind that successfully blends in with society by wearing normal, everyday clothes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I was working at the hospital this afternoon, so Lisa and Amelie met me at the end of my clinic about an hour ago, and we walked back up the hill together. We were just heading past the Sussex Cancer Centre, towards A & E, and I'd stopped momentarily to discourage Amelie from rooting around in a flower bed, when a bearded man with wild eyes came marching down the hill, took one look at me, and punched me hard in the arm. He then called me a f*****g c**t and raised his fists in that meaningful way that people do when they're about to murder you in front of your wife and child.

Obviously if he had killed me, it would have given Lisa even more reason to go and see Sally Morgan in January, but as luck would have it, he changed his unhinged mind at the last moment, looked at me with an expression of slight insanity, and stomped off down the hill. I think he realised from the way that I cowered in front of him like a frightened girl, that a fight to the death wouldn't be quite as sporting as he thought.

I was so shell-shocked that I didn't realise quite how much my arm was hurting until we got home and Lisa was making me a medicinal cup of tea. I'm having to drink it with my left hand. I can only assume the chap had just been refused some drugs by a doctor, and thought he'd take it out on the first person he saw with an NHS ID badge. Unless he was one of my patients, and it was a formal complaint.

Anyhoo, that was an end to my working week that I wasn't expecting. He didn't even say 'Trick or Treat'. So let's unwind into the weekend with a picture of Amelie and her cousin studying hard at the Jubilee Library yesterday afternoon...

I'm not sure if that baby's praying, or considering suicide. And what's the connection between a snail and a cordless drill?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's been almost three months now since Lisa and I left behind the dodgy Freeview reception at our old flat, and moved into both a new home and the 21st century, with cable TV from Virgin Media. And what's the result? Well, we've just bought tickets to go and see Sally Morgan.

Psychic Sally!Obviously she's psychic, so she already knew that, but no one else would have seen it coming. Let's face it, I'm someone who spends at least one day a week grading retinal photos whilst listening to podcasts from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Karl Mamer - The Conspiracy Skeptic, and the ever amusing Righteous Indignation, which is presented by a primary school teacher, and frequently features guests more deluded than his pupils.

But it was August 2005 when Lisa and I went to see Colin Fry in Haywards Heath, and I do believe that for sheer entertainment value, everyone should go and see a bad psychic at least once every five years. The message Colin received from the spirit world about Jaffa Cakes will live with me for a very long time. I can still picture him now, bursting into tears as he thanked Boots the Chemist for all their support. It was uplifting stuff. And even Lisa, who, let's face it, will believe anything, came out of there thinking he was a fraud.

Mr Fry's half-baked grilling of the audience is a technique which has now been poached by Sally Morgan, who's steamed in with her own particular brand of psychic reading, which basically involves patronising people from council estates in an irritating voice, before making off with their money. Living TV call it 'Psychic Sally on the Road', and I have to say it's very entertaining. Let's face it, you can't spend all evening watching re-runs of 'America's Next Top Model'. Trust me, we've tried.

During last night's edition of the roadshow (during which Psychic Sally successfully informed Lee Ryan of boy-band Blue that he has a sister), Lisa suddenly expressed a desire to go and see the woman live, "to find out how much of her shows they have to edit out to make her look good". Bearing in mind that we see about five minutes of a two hour performance, I'd suggest it's an hour and fifty-five minutes. But I could be wrong.

So I went online to look at tour dates, and as luck would have it, Sally's playing Brighton in January. Frankly the woman's permanently on tour. It's as if she's on the run from something. As befits a nationally renowned psychic, her shows tend to sell out months in advance, but as luck (if not fate) would have it, there are still some seats left for the Brighton Theatre Royal. Although they're so far from the stage, I'm worried that she won't see me waving when my dead cat, Oscar, comes through.

Anyhoo, the good news is that by the time we'd paid booking fees and service charges, the tickets only cost us fifty quid. Which is a small price to pay for a bit of cold-reading. Interestingly, I looked up Sally on Wikipedia today, and found that some astute individual has rewritten the page's introduction to read "Sally Morgan (born 20 September 1951) is a British scam artist". It also says she's married to Jim Bowen. According to the page's history, it's been like that for more than forty-eight hours. You'd think a psychic would have noticed by now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A few weeks ago, Brighton & Hove City Council notified us of their intention to install new dry riser mains in all the blocks of flats on our little estate. They said we'd be contacted nearer the time to let us know when it might happen. Which is handy, because I'll need an alibi when everyone starts accusing me of doing the drilling.

Sure enough, I returned home from work today to find a notice from the building contractors, which has been delivered to every flat in the block, outlining the planned work and the likely disruption it will cause.

Now, there are some people out there who lament the current standards of reading and writing in this great nation of ours, and claim that the generally low levels of literacy displayed by the average member of the British workforce is dragging this country down.

Personally I disagree...

Are Apologise
It's that reluctance to employ copywriters, proof-readers or indeed anyone who can actually write English, which is keeping our council taxes down.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's been a long day. Which is ironic because we don't put the clocks back until Sunday. I'd like to say I've been up since the crack of dawn, but to be honest, dawn hadn't even started to show signs of damage until I was out of the shower and halfway through breakfast.

Obviously I need a damn good reason to get up that early on a Monday morning, and fortunately I have one. I wanted to make provisions for my retirement. Let's face it, 2040 is nearer than you think. Unless you think it's thirty years away, in which case you're spot on.

My employers, in their infinite wisdom, are proposing changes to the NHS pension. As a result of which, every employee has to attend for an 'interview' (and I use the term loosely) to pick up an information pack explaining what those changes are and how they might be affected. Fortunately they know I'm not much of a reader, so they've made the information available in DVD format for the hard of thinking.

Anyway, I had a slot booked for last Wednesday afternoon to pick up my DVD, but due to an unavoidable mental instability, I completely forgot. I phoned them on Thursday morning, and the only alternative time they could offer me which didn't clash with a clinic, was first thing this morning. By which I mean 7:30 at the hospital.

Fortunately they didn't keep me long. In fact the interview consisted of only one question: "Can you sign here?". I replied "Yes", which was obviously the correct answer because they instantly handed me the DVD and let me leave.

My retirement sorted, I then headed off into the depths of Sussex for an all-day clinic on a building site. At least it felt like it. The health centre I was working at today is currently having their reception refurbished. As a result I've spent the day calling my patients over the deafening sound of hammering, and leading them down a corridor past burly builders with sheets of MDF.

Fortunately, in an attempt to minimise the disruption, the carpenters had set up their workbench outside of the clinic in the car-port. Unfortunately that meant they were right outside my window. But the good thing about talking to patients while a man uses a power-saw three feet from where you're sitting, is that it teaches you to lip-read. By lunchtime I could recognise the word 'cataracts' by sight alone.

But that wasn't the highlight of my day. Oh no. That came just before 11am when the builders decided to turn off the electricity to my room, just as I was photographing an 88-year-old patient with twenty grand's worth of electronic equipment. How we laughed. Well, I laughed. Once the lights went out, and the sawing started, I couldn't tell what my patient was doing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Something about that face says "I'm at Grandma & Grandad's"...

Is that a snooker ball?She never looks that happy at home. And frankly, neither do we.

But the good news is that nothing boosts the happiness levels of the Gardner family like a weekend spent apart, and as luck would have it, my parents were willing to take Amelie off our hands on Friday for a couple of days. We've spent the past 48 hours moving from distress to de-stress. Mostly by catching up on sleep.

Admittedly, the feeling of contentment was threatened briefly this afternoon by my decision to try an experimental recipe for Cheesy Nut Roast, which ended up taking three hours (about two and a half longer than expected), and resulted in the kitchen looking like a scene from Saving Private Ryan. The resulting stodge is currently in the oven, so I'm writing this now, as I have a strong suspicion that once I've tasted the thing, I won't be able to type through my tears of disappointment.

But that aside, it's just nice not to have to watch CBeebies for eleven hours straight.

Of course, I'm not the only one who's spent time in the kitchen...

She's washed her hands of us.
... but I never quite achieved that level of cheerfulness. Possibly because our kitchen doesn't feature tubs of Flake ice cream.

Anyhoo, the good news is that we've used our free time productively. Obviously we could have taken the opportunity to celebrate our recent marriage by going away on a mini honeymoon to a romantic location, but in the end we decided that our weekend would be much better spent working out how we can get Amelie into the decent Catholic school around the corner without anyone finding out we're heathens.

Personally I felt that with our daughter only three weeks past her second birthday, it was a little early to be worrying about such things, but as Lisa pointed out, if we're going to have to spend two years attending church and bribing a priest, we need to start sooner rather than later.

So I've looked up the school admissions policy online. Basically they have ten categories of children, ranked according to the priority they're given by the school, where 1 is "Baptised Catholic children in the care of the local authority" and 10 is essentially devil-worshippers. If we're honest, Lisa and I fall into category 9. With a bit of luck, and a word to a good friend, we could probably move up one place to number 8. But our chances of hitting the top five look slim. It makes me wish we'd turned out to see the Pope last month.

Interestingly, however, the school website provides the admission figures for the 2009/10 school year, and whilst almost 50% of the new reception intake fell into category 2, the school didn't have a single applicant in category 1. So the way forward looks clear. We need to get Amelie baptised, and then put into care. If you're reading this, Mum, we don't want her back. Get her to Rome and start feeding her wafers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I've seen 108 patients this week, photographed 216 eyes, used 5 boxes of tropicamide and handed out 300 tissues. I've made a lot of people cry. All of which hasn't left much time for blogging. Generally, by the time I get home from work, my eyes are more bloodshot than my patients'. But as ridiculous as it may sound, I'm considering taking on even more. For a few weeks at least.

NaNoWriMo 2010November is National Novel Writing Month, an annual insanity invitational where you have to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I took part in 2004 and produced the considered work of genius that is Mirkin Topp and the Hair of the Dog. I really ought to get around to finishing that sometime.

But despite such unparalleled success, I've never revisited the shores of NaNoWriMo. In November 2004 I was in the blissful position of being unemployed. I only saw Lisa at the weekends. And Amelie hadn't even been invented. Life was a lot simpler back then. So writing 2,000 words a day wasn't difficult. Although it seemed it at the time.

These days I've got a lot more on my plate. Which explains why I've put on so much weight. But I've always had that yearning to take part again, and despite being busier than I've ever been in my life, I'm tempted to take the plunge this year. Although ask me again in a week's time, and I might have changed my mind.

Got the T-shirtIn 2004 I went there, did that and got the t-shirt. And I still have my winner's certificate on the wall. But to be honest I didn't really play by the rules. The official NaNoWriMo blurb says this:

"Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality."

It continues...

"Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap."

Unfortunately I struggled with that bit. The point of NaNoWriMo is that "by forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forego the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down". But because I had more time than most people, I aimed a bit higher and missed that point. You're supposed to ignore your inner editor and just churn. I sat there trying to be witty. I did make the whole thing up as I went along, but I also tried to make it good.

So this time I'm throwing caution to the wind and embracing the crapulous. If I'm going to have any chance of completing NaNoWriMo whilst working full time and raising a toddler, then crap is the only way to go. It'll do me good not to rewrite a sentence six times before hitting 'publish'.

By a happy coincidence, the annual Tacheback event, in which I triumphed in 2007, has moved from September and now takes place in November too. I suggested to Lisa that I could write 50,000 words whilst growing a moustache for charity, but sadly she threatened me with divorce. She can cope with bloodshot eyes, but she draws the line at Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The good thing about life in Brighton is that it's full of surprises. One moment you're standing quietly at a bus stop; the next you're being head-butted by a total stranger. Just ask Lisa's Mum. She certainly didn't see that coming. Although she does have glaucoma.

We had a phone call on Monday night from the aforementioned mother-in-law to say that her journey home from here hadn't gone quite according to plan. She'd spent the morning with Amelie, so you'd think she'd be used to physical violence, but after lunch she headed off to collect her grandsons from school. Having waited at the bus stop for a few minutes, two buses arrived together (obviously), and she made for the second.

Unfortunately, a younger woman decided to run for the first, and in her enthusiasm for public transport (this is Brighton after all), she somehow collided with Lisa's Mum. The exact details are sketchy because, let's face it, it's not easy to remember stuff when you're unconscious, but apparently the woman nutted my mother-in-law in the face, and she went down like a sack of potatoes.

There's no suggestion that the act was deliberate (although personally I'll do anything to beat a pensioner to the disabled seats), but the result was that she hit the deck, hurt her arm, and passed out for a moment. As luck would have it, this all happened directly opposite the hospital. Unfortunately my mother-in-law's the kind of woman who won't venture inside unless she's (a) strapped to a stretcher, or (b) buying chocolate from the hospital shop. So instead of seeking medical attention, she took a deep breath of exhaust fumes and crawled straight onto the bus.

By yesterday however, she'd realised the gravity of the situation. That's the same gravity that pulled her down to the pavement. She still wouldn't see a doctor, but she let Lisa nurse her at home for a day. So having seen twenty-nine patients of my own in Horsham, I made Lisa's Mum my thirtieth, and headed straight over there after work to gawp at her injuries.

To be honest, I was quite shocked by what I saw. The woman looks like a cross between Mike Tyson and a panda. She's got a nasty black eye and a bruised arm, the like of which I haven't seen since I physically assaulted Amelie in Lidl. I think she's got post-traumatic stress disorder too. Although she still insisted on making me a cup of tea.

So Lisa and I spent the evening at Asda, doing her shopping, and wondering if we could teach her to use a mobile phone. We decided we could. Just as soon as hell freezes over. In the meantime, we delivered her shopping, made sure she was ok, and returned home to discuss how we might be able to persuade her to slow down and take things a bit easier.

We were interrupted by a phone call. It was Lisa's Mum, calling to say she'd decided to go shopping at Marks & Spencers first thing this morning. There's just no telling the woman.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back on 11th April 2009, our good friend 'C' came down to visit us from London, and we took her to Strada at Brighton Marina...

Beside the C Side
Well, a lot's changed in eighteen months...

But not the decor in Strada, obviously. That was the scene yesterday afternoon, when 'C' made a return visit to Brighton for a bit of eating, drinking and toddler wrangling. Lisa does like to be beside the 'C' side, especially when the meal's on someone else, and as luck would have it, she insisted on paying for our food as a wedding present. That's the kind of friend I need to see more often.

It's interesting to note how much happier they both look when Amelie's not in the picture. But if you're wondering where the little foodie had got to, she was busy at the other end of the table...

Mmm... pizza.
The irony is that she looks fatter in the first photo.

We ordered Amelie a pizza from the children's menu, but I think there was some kind of mix-up in the kitchen, and they gave her the bariatric version. It was the size of a wagon wheel. And she ate it just as quickly.

Anyhoo, the last time we saw 'C', she was brushing past Louis Theroux outside Euston Station. This time she was brushing up on her childcare skills. Having had the guided tour of Amelie's bedroom, she presented the girl with a book called 'My Pets', before asking her to name all the items on her picture abacus. To be honest, we only leave that out to impress guests.

The meal at Strada was particularly nice. It gave Lisa the chance to demonstrate her favourite football chants...

A few pointers.
... while Amelie moved on to her sixth slice of pizza...

Pizza the action.
And to think I only sat next to her because I thought she'd never finish it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's not easy removing earwax when someone's taking your photo...

That's Dr Phil Hammond, GP, writer, comedian and host of Radio 4's 'The Music Group'. But for a simple twist of fate, he could now be my wife. No, seriously.

I had an e-mail yesterday from Jim Kitson of Senators fame. Unfortunately, as 'Senators fame' essentially equates to about six people in the UK knowing who you are, I should probably elaborate. The Senators were a band who were around in the late 80s and early 90s, were signed to Virgin Records, and had no hits whatsoever. I created this website about them in 2001. The website succeeded in attracting a number of fellow fans, and nine years later I married one of them. That's pretty much all you need to know. Although you could read this account too.

Jim Kitson, who was one half of the band, e-mails me from time to time from theatres across the UK, where he's scratching out a living as some kind of musical hobo. And yesterday he sent me this:

Here's a link to 'Good Morning World' being discussed recently on Radio 4 in case you're remotely interested. I'm in Colchester being a Grape of Wrath and playing the banjo in dungarees. Hope all is cool with you and yours.

Best wishes,


'Good Morning World' is an old Senators song which sounds a bit like the Gazebo Dance from 'In the Night Garden'. And if you've forgotten how that goes, you can click here.

It turns out that last Thursday, 14th October, 'Good Morning World' was the song choice of philosopher Julian Baggini, whilst a guest on Radio 4's 'The Music Group', presented by Phil Hammond. Sadly the BBC won't let you download and keep their broadcasts. So I've made this illegal copy...

Now, it may not be immediately obvious at first listen, but virtually every word of that broadcast is about me. No, really. Julian Baggini e-mailed me in 2003 (I think) to say he had this idea for an article on bands who never quite made it, and he asked if I could put him in touch with Mick and Jim Kitson. I duly did so, he subsequently wrote the article, and seven years later, he's talking about it on Radio 4.

But more bizarre than that, is the sudden revelation that Dr Phil Hammond is a closet Senators fan. At least he claims to be. To be honest, about half the things he says are lifted word for word from my biography page, so it's hard to tell which are genuine memories, and which he just read on my site before going on air. But either way, if he'd come out of the closet and sent me a few e-mails, he could be sitting here now instead of Lisa. Although whether the relationship would have worked long-term, I'm not sure.

I still get the occasional e-mail to my Senators site, but I must admit I don't check them very often. Once I'd found myself a wife, I didn't see the point. But with the Kitsons foremost in my mind last night, I logged in to check my website e-mails for the first time since August. And found this one sent ten days ago on October 7th...

Dear Phil,

Not sure you can help. I produce a BBC Radio 4 programme called The Music Group (guests choose records and talk about them). One of my guests (Julian Baggini) has chosen a Senators track for the programme. All fine – I have the record and can use it. However, it turns out my presenter Phil Hammond is also a fan of the band and has just asked if we can finish by playing a little of 'Man No More'. I’ve tried this morning to get a copy (not live version) but have been unable to and wondered if you had an MP3 of the original that we could use?

The music would be reported in the usual way on our paperwork so band get paid etc. it’s just I can’t get the version in time.

We record on Sunday but I’ll need to prepare the clips etc tomorrow. Can you help?

Don’t worry if you can’t but thought it worth asking.

Fingers crossed,



Tamsin Hughes, Radio Producer
The Music Group, BBC Radio 4

I think I need to start checking my e-mails more often.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Amelie and I met comedian, actor and well-known quantum physicist, Ben Miller today. Obviously when I say 'met', I mean 'brushed past in North Street', but it amounts to the same thing. I was pushing an empty buggy while Amelie wandered aimlessly across the pavement eating an apple, and he almost fell over her. I kinda wish he had. I'd like to be sued by a celebrity.

At the time, Ben was heading away from the Theatre Royal, where he's performing with Alexander Armstrong tonight, and towards the classy boutiques of The Lanes. I, on the other hand, was on my way to WHSmiths to buy some gold star stickers for Amelie's potty training reward chart. It's hard to say which of us is leading the more glamorous lifestyle.

That wasn't the only place Amelie and I went though. We also popped in to the Apple shop, which proved to be the most expensive greengrocers I've ever visited, where I bought some earphones for my iPad. Frankly, for a free gift, this thing is costing me a fortune. The good news, however, is that the earphones have a built in microphone, meaning that I can now take advantage of free apps such as 'Dragon Dictation' which will automatically transcribe anything I say, and send it in an e-mail. Thereby allowing me to verbally write blog posts in my car.

When I got home, I tested it on Lisa by asking her what she was doing. She told she was eating a Refresher. My iPad told me she'd had a major fracture. That'll teach her to speak with her mouth full.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Well ok, maybe the charity shop woman was right...

Common Sense
It's no wonder the shop's called Sense.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I forgot to say that I didn't win the lottery on Saturday. So as it turns out, my winning streak was more of a blip. In fact, having bought a total of five losing lottery tickets, you could argue that by winning the iPad, I'm actually five quid worse off. Or fifteen if you count the tenner I spent on a case.

On the plus side, the news of my achievement has now been officially announced...

The picture's there to refute the claim that by choosing me as the winner, they'd somehow lost their marbles.

As the text says, they hope I enjoy my new iPad. And I do. I find it's particularly good when you’ve just come out of the bath, and you want to watch a few videos on the sofa...

Although I haven't had a chance to try that yet because Amelie's always watching Pocoyo.

In other news, I was in the Sense charity shop in Uckfield at lunchtime today, where I found a Next long-sleeved shirt for £3 and a Next sleeveless jumper for £2.90. Being made of money, I decided to buy them both, so I took them up to the counter and handed them to the lady on the till. She examined my purchases, before saying "That's nice, and that's nice, but I hope you're not planning to wear them together!". She then laughed at the very idea that I might consider such an obvious fashion faux pas.

Naturally I joined in the jollity, chuckled along with her, and then lied through my teeth and said "No!"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There comes a point in every episode of Candid Camera when the subject realises they're being filmed, and bursts out laughing...

If I was Beadle, she'd have punched me on the nose.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I was working at Crawley Down Health Centre last week, in a room situated about ten metres from the waiting room. Bearing in mind that I have to do a 20m round trip for each patient twice (once to poke them in the eye, and once to take their photo), that's 40m per patient. With a book of 29 patients each day, that means I walked more than a kilometre up and down that corridor on a daily basis. It's no wonder my feet hurt.

I've actually been having problems with my right heel for the past few weeks. I'd like to blame it on the wedding shoes that Lisa insisted I buy, but if I'm honest, I'd already been having problems before then. So I blame it on the hill she makes me live on.

I should break off at this point and mention that the morning after our wedding, when most couples would be jetting off to the sun, I was heading down that hill to the rheumatology department for an appointment with a specialist. He took one look at the x-rays I had taken in May and told me I have osteoarthritis in my little fingers. It's a bit of a shame, because it means the six guitars I have in the bedroom are now little more than ornaments, but on the plus side, he said I won't end up crippled. As far as he can tell.

Unfortunately there's nothing they can do (apart from smile and offer sympathy), although he did say that much like the home of a horse, it appears stable. There's a chance it could spread to my knees and toes, meaning that Amelie could sing a song about it, and if it affects my other fingers, I may have trouble picking my nose, but other than that, I can live with it.

Anyway, the point is that he did ask me if I have any problems with my feet. So I lied and said no. I'm not entirely sure why. I think podiatry is my Achilles heel and I didn't want to put my foot in it. And besides, my heel had healed slightly by October 1st. Probably because I'd been walking on air since the wedding.

Over the past two weeks though, I haven't had a leg to stand on. I walked Amelie down to the marina on Sunday to invest in some art materials...

... and having stood on the balcony of our flat for half an hour, wondering if I could flog that as modern art, I was hopping mad. Well, I had an aching heel.

But as luck would have it, I saw an advert on TV at the weekend for new Scholl Orthaheels. They're little foam inserts you put in your shoes, and according to the entirely unbiased Scholl website, "Their unique patented design naturally repositions the foot, enabling the feet, ankles and legs to function as they should. By re-aligning the feet, ankles and therefore correcting body posture, Scholl Orthaheel orthotics can also provide natural relief from many foot problems as well as knee pain, tired aching legs and for some, positive effects on lower back pain".

Obviously you'd expect something which can perform such miracles to look mightily impressive. And needless to say, you'd be wrong...

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Two thin bits of foam that go in your shoes? Why, I'd be willing to pay upwards of twenty quid for those." And you're not alone. Despite being made in China by short people on low incomes, Scholl Orthaheels currently retail in the UK at around £23 a pair.

Unfortunately, when I walked (ironically) all the way into Lewes town centre at lunchtime yesterday, I didn't know that. And having got to Boots and found them on special offer at 'only' £18 for a limited time, I felt I had to buy them.

And as it happens, I'm glad I did. I've worn them all around Uckfield today, and the only time my feet started hurting was when I got home and took off my shoes. Lisa says I should sellotape them to my feet.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I was working in Lewes today, where I found this sign displayed outside the hospital...

Juvenile Bonfire Celebrations
Frankly Nevill needs to stop being so juvenile and grow up. Some of us need to use those roads.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm a bit concerned that after a week in which Lisa and I got married, and Amelie turned two, I could end up writing more about my new iPad than our wedding. So rather than discussing the latest apps I've downloaded, and the illustrated Winnie the Pooh book I picked up free from iBooks, I'll pretend I haven't just spent half the weekend stroking a touchscreen, and describe a bit of shelving instead...

Left, on the shelf.
It's a little known fact that under British law, every married man is legally obliged to start doing DIY within two weeks of their wedding. So I put up a shelf this morning. I've actually had three shelves ready to go up for the past few weeks, but when your neighbours are falsely accusing you of drilling in the middle of the night, it does rather put you off DIY. I didn't want to reopen the case against against us by proving that I do, in fact, own a drill. So I decided to wait until the hate-mail had died down.

But fortunately it's a good three or four weeks now since someone last lied about us at a bus stop, so I decided the time was right to get to work. I put up the shelf above in Amelie's room, to give Lisa (and me, on rare occasions) easy access to the girl's nappies. Although with potty training now in full swing, we'll soon be using it to store knickers. And bottles of carpet cleaner.

Having finished, I called Amelie in to admire my handiwork. She stood back, examined it carefully, and said "Ammy don't like it".

But undeterred, I moved into our bedroom and put up the other two shelves. I'd planned to install them above head height, to ensure that we don't blind ourselves by walking into the corner, but Lisa was keen to have them lower so she can put her make-up on them. Although I told her they were never designed to hold such a huge volume of stuff. Anyway, after discussing the issue with her, Lisa reassured me that neither of us would be so stupid as to walk into a shelf, and promised that she'd take full responsibility for any injuries, and walk herself to A & E if necessary. So I installed them at neck height. I'm fearing for my Adam's apple already.

Anyhoo, it may have taken me most of the morning, but here are the finished shelves...

And here they are ten minutes later, once I'd filled them with a few of Lisa's bags...

Bag Lady
The bedroom floor's never been so tidy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The excitement of a new iPad cannot be overestimated...

App-y Days
She's always liked apples, and this one is no exception.

My plan is to let Amelie figure out how to use the thing, and then get her to explain it to me. She's already worked out how to browse videos of herself on YouTube. Personally I'm still at the turning-it-on stage.

Anyhoo, I suppose I should explain how I came to be the proud owner of a new iPad. I've just spent all my money on a wedding, so you can bet your life I didn't pay for it. The answer lies in the conference notes I made whilst in Manchester two weeks ago...

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, with handwriting like that, you could be a doctor". And you're not wrong. But most people think I am already. Interestingly, you might notice that if a patient has no perception of light in both eyes, confirmed by an ophthalmologist, they can be permanently excluded from a screening programme. That's because they'll never find the clinic. And besides, we're too busy lasering the housebound horizontally.

But all that aside, the key bit of information I scribbled on my conference notepad appears on the right hand side, just above the squiggle. It's the figures '29 29'. That's what earned me an iPad.

Among the exhibitors at the conference was a company which has invented software capable of automatically detecting diabetic retinopathy in digital photos. But only if they're photos of eyes. They were running a competition where you had to guess how long it would take their software to grade 10,000 images. And the closest guess won an iPad.

Except that guessing is for wimps. What you really need to do is trawl the trade stands for info, and then work it out properly. So while everyone else was drinking Thursday night away at the hotel, I was back at the Travelodge, tapping numbers into my free conference calculator. By 11pm I'd arrived at a figure of 29 hours and 29 minutes. And at 9am the next morning, I was handing in my entry.

Admittedly, my confidence took a knock about two hours later when my colleague told me she'd also worked it out, and made the answer about 400 hours. But I needn't have worried. At 10am yesterday morning, the chap from the software company turned up at my workplace unannounced, and handed me an iPad. Apparently I'd been one minute closer than the next best guess. So I clearly wasn't the only one with a calculator.

As if that wasn't enough to make my day (and let's face it, it was), my colleagues then surprised me in the afternoon by presenting me with a card, flowers and wedding present. Some people will do anything to get their hands on your iPad.

Friday, October 08, 2010

I think Ebay must have sold out of the Gardner voodoo dolls and started selling lucky charms instead. Let's face it, it's not every day a man shakes you by the hand and gives you an Apple iPad...

I'm off to buy a lottery ticket before my luck runs out.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Well, we've made it through our first week of marriage, and we're still together. Frankly Lisa spent so much money on that dress, it's not worth me divorcing her any more.

This might be our one-week anniversary, but by a spooky coincidence it's also my parents' 49-year anniversary. So I've got twelve months to save up for some gold. Or possibly a box of Terry's chocolates. Fortunately with Lisa the age she is, I'm unlikely to have to buy any for her, so I should make a saving there.

Anyhoo, I'd just like to congratulate my Mum and Dad for staying together so long. And trust me, I've met them both, so I know what a challenge that must have been. I only have to spend a weekend in St Leonards, and I feel like packing my things and leaving. So many congratulations to you both. Enjoy the rest of your special day. And then let me know when you're free for babysitting.

On that subject, Lisa took Amelie to the playgroup down the road this morning for a bit of mother and toddler fun. I've been working in Crawley Down all day with no e-mail access or mobile signal (it's like working in the 1980s), but when I got home, Lisa informed me that Amelie had had a run-in with a little boy. Apparently she'd been waiting to use the slide, when the boy had pushed her over and she'd bumped her head. Which in my book is common assault.

Obviously I heard Lisa's side of the story, but with the possibility of a no-win-no-fee compensation claim on the cards, I thought I'd better hear Amelie's version of events...

I think she loses a bit of focus towards the end. And we're going to have to clarify the role of those carrots before she takes the stand. But the lack of peas is definitely mental cruelty. I think we can sue.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I don't know if Ebay have started selling voodoo dolls of the Gardner family, but yesterday was not a good day. So much for this being the honeymoon period.

It started badly when I woke up to find that my prostatitis had come back from a month long holiday and unpacked itself in my pelvis. Like any good junkie, I keep a secret stash of pills, but my antibiotics take at least 24 hours to kick in, so as a result I felt like death warmed up all day.

But I struggled into work anyway. And then struggled to log on to our computer system. After half an hour on the phone to the I.T. helpdesk, during which the chap told me that this was officially "a weird one", he eventually solved the problem. Although he couldn't tell me what had caused it. I told him I suspect voodoo.

Having spent the morning in the office, I headed out into the field after lunch, before realising that we don't hold clinics in fields, and entering the hospital instead. I successfully logged in, sat down, called my first patient... and then discovered that the camera wouldn't work. The next twenty minutes progressed in a similar vein to the morning, but with the role of the I.T. helpdesk played by my team leader.

Having decided that it was, in fact, another "weird one", we discovered that the camera would work if I was logged in as my colleague. So I did the rest of the clinic as her. Only fatter and less pretty.

By the time I got home (late, and in the rain), I felt rougher than I'd felt all day, and was looking forward to a cheerful smile from the missus. I didn't get one. It turned out she'd had an even worse day than I'd had.

After a morning of stressful potty training, Lisa had left Amelie with her Mum, and headed into town to change her name to Gardner at the bank. She duly queued up, showed them our marriage certificate, offered them her banking details, and was promptly told that they won't change her name without an appointment. She was so annoyed, she left without making one.

But if that conversation was frustrating, it was nothing compared to the hour she then spent on the phone to British Telecom. When Lisa's Mum moved into sheltered housing back in June, we got BT to connect the phone line for her. She'd previously been with the Post Office, and after a couple of weeks in her new flat, she decided she'd like to go back to them for her phone service.

Lisa applied to have it changed, at which point BT told her there'd be a £60 cancellation charge if she left them so soon. My mother-in-law didn't want to pay that, so we cancelled the transfer, and she stuck with BT.

There was a slight complication when the Post Office attempted to bill her for three months line rental in advance, but having realised we hadn't gone through with the switch, they cancelled the bill, and all was well.

Until yesterday, that is, when Lisa's Mum received a bill for £60 from BT in respect of her cancellation. Lisa called them on her Mum's phone, thus proving that it hadn't been cancelled, but apparently that wasn't good enough. They said she must be phoning on a Post Office line.

To cut a long and frustrating story short, Lisa spent half the afternoon on a BT line to BT, trying to convince them that she hadn't been cut off. Some of the finest call centre operatives in both India and the UK insisted she had, and continued to demand money.

Eventually, after much arguing, they agreed to waive the £60 cancellation fee.

And then told her she'd have to pay £129 to be reconnected. She asked to speak to someone in charge. The woman refused.

To cut an even longer and more frustrating story slightly shorter, Lisa insisted that she wouldn't pay to be reconnected to a service she'd never been disconnected from, and they eventually offered to knock a hundred quid off the price. After an hour on the phone, and with her blood pressure through the roof, Lisa ended up agreeing before she went clinically insane. They're sending an engineer around next week to reconnect the phone line. That's going to be one of his quicker jobs of the day.

Obviously, with hindsight, the sensible thing would have been to politely decline the reconnection and carry on using the phone. After all, the Post Office are happy that it's not theirs, and having argued with Lisa for most of the afternoon that her Mum doesn't have a BT line, British Telecom can hardly start charging her for the calls. But with her mother threatening to throw herself off Beachy Head, Lisa felt she had to give in.

Fortunately the Gardners have a coping mechanism to deal with days like that. After putting Amelie to bed, Lisa and I sat down, took stock of the situation, and ate a whole banoffee pie between us.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I arrived home from work today to the news that Amelie has used her potty for the very first time. And not, I hasten to add, as a hat. Naturally I asked Lisa if she has video footage of the event, but tragically she said no. I did, however, open the fridge to find a small Coke bottle containing two inches of yellow liquid. I genuinely thought she'd saved it for posterity.

Fortunately, as I recoiled from the fridge door, she told me it was leftover apple juice. I'm inclined to believe her, but not enough to drink it.

Anyhoo, Amelie's nappy days are clearly numbered, so as responsible parents, we've had a conversation this evening about what words we plan to use for our daughter's bodily functions. We've settled on 'wee' and 'poo'. I won't tell you what the other options were.

But while we celebrate the fact that Amelie is now our number one daughter in more ways than one, I've shot some further footage of her other new skill...

She'll be doing wheelies by the end of the week.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Something about that face says "It's my birthday"...

She hasn't eaten that much cake since... well, since Thursday actually. To be honest, she's barely stopped for three days. But we've had a lot to celebrate.

This time, however, she was fully justified in stuffing chocolate into her mouth for nine hours straight, because yesterday was her birthday. It's exactly two years since Lisa and I gave up sleeping, going out, watching DVDs, and basically doing anything and everything we used to enjoy. And it's been the best two years of our lives.

Needless to say, Amelie received more gifts than is probably healthy. Frankly the living room looks like a branch of Toys R Us. Here she is wearing her Winnie the Pooh watch, whilst feeding Baby Born with one hand on her Hungry Caterpillar book...

She's also wearing her Night Garden wellie boots, but they're out of the picture.

In addition to that, we're having to get used to the constant whirring of a cheap electric motor, as she travels around the flat on her motorbike. After a cautious start, she's got used to the controls remarkably quickly, and as of this afternoon, she's fully capable of climbing onto it in the living room, pressing the accelerator, and steering herself around the sofa and all the way into the kitchen to ask for a biscuit. She should be morbidly obese by Christmas.

Lisa and I may be encouraging her to live the life of a couch potato, but fortunately Big Sis is doing her best to educate the girl. She bought Amelie a talking dog which can connect to the internet to download information specific to your child. As a result, the dog now knows her name, favourite food, favourite colour, and general likes and dislikes. Amelie can't believe how much they've got in common. She sits there shouting "Dog talking to me!", before discussing how much they both like apples.

Anyhoo, Lisa and I both grew up in abject poverty, and regularly bemoan the fact that no childhood videos exist of either of us. So we're making up for it with Amelie. I don't really expect anyone to sit through all fifteen minutes of what follows (unless you gave her a present and want to see her opening it), but she'll thank us for films like this when she's older. Assuming she's still speaking to us by then...

Admittedly her conversations with the dog are a bit limited, and the two of them are still fighting over apples, but you should see Amelie on the bike now. She's like Barry Sheen. But with more crashes.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Obviously the key to a successful wedding is in the planning. You don't want to rush things and end up doing it all at the last minute. So we gave ourselves three weeks. God can do three planets in that time. Although he doesn't have to find an outfit and shoes.

It all started on Monday 6th September. We'd always said we'd get married once both us and Lisa's teeth were straight in our new flat. So having done a bit of DIY on the Sunday, we looked up the council website to find out how to get married. It said we had to phone up for an appointment, where we could give notice of our intention to marry within the next twelve months. So we agreed that Lisa would make a speculative phone call on the Monday morning.

I left for work at 8:45am. And at 10:51am I received this message. Apparently they'd asked Lisa when we were hoping to get married, she'd said "As soon as possible", and they'd told her they had a cancellation on the 30th. I immediately checked my work rota, found that I had no clinics on that day, and promptly booked the day off.

By law, there have to be at least fifteen clear days between the appointment where you announce your intention to marry, and the wedding day itself. Fortunately they had an appointment at 3pm on the 14th. Two hours before the deadline. So I booked that afternoon off too. Forty-five minutes later, at 11:35am, it was all arranged...

The plan was to offend as many people as possible by inviting virtually no one. I even questioned whether Amelie should be there. But in the end we settled on close family only: parents, brothers and sisters. Plus the children they can't get babysitters for. It amounted to a guest list of thirteen, but fortunately I'm not superstitious, so - touch wood - it won't bring bad luck to our marriage.

Our trip into town on Sunday the 12th wasn't just to buy purple boots for Amelie. It was to buy wedding shoes for us all. We followed that up with our appointment at the Town Hall on the 14th, where we were questioned separately like something out of 'Green Card', before being shown a folder of poems and asked to choose any we'd like read out at our wedding. I flicked through them all, threw up in a bucket, and said we'd do without.

Having confirmed that I wasn't just marrying Lisa so that she could stay in the country, we then headed to the nearest jewellers to buy the wedding rings. The lady there asked when we were getting married. We said the 30th. She said "Which month?". I'll never forget the look on her face when we told her.

As it transpired, there was a bit of a problem. Apparently I have the dainty, arthritic fingers of an old woman, and to get a man's wedding ring in my size, you generally have to wait three weeks. Presumably for it to be shipped from the warehouse in Lilliput. Fortunately the manager of the shop came up with an ingenious solution. Ordering the right size may take twenty-one days, but resizing a bigger ring takes only ten. And she agreed to do it for free.

So on Saturday the 25th, five days before I-Do-Day, we picked up our rings. Lisa's is 18ct white gold, while I went with palladium. Mainly because it was such a performance to get it. In the meantime, Lisa had managed to source a dress from Coast and pick up a pretty little number for Amelie.

So having practised walking in our shoes for a few days, the only thing left to do was to choose our music. For our entrance, we went with 'The Blower's Daughter' by Damien Rice; for the signing of the register we had 'The Girl I Adore' by The Senators; and for our exit it was '12 Reasons Why I Love Her' by My Life Story. Apparently a couple once chose to exit to the Benny Hill music, so it could have been worse.

By Thursday, Lisa looked more like she was heading for the electric chair than the altar, but despite some last minute nerves, she managed to hold it together, and by the time I'd zipped her into her dress, there was no turning back. Mainly because she still couldn't walk in her shoes. We considered hiring a stretch limo to the Town Hall, but in the end we went with a mini-cab with a broken rear seatbelt. It added an extra frisson of excitement to the journey.

Once there, we met the registrar, confirmed our details, handed over our music, and were told that when we hear it start to play, we can make our entrance at any time. Her exact words were "Take your time - there's no rush - wait until you're ready", so we took our time, didn't rush and were almost ready... when the registrar came running out with a panicked expression on her face to find out where we were. So much for taking our time. It's no wonder we got flustered and sat in the wrong seats.

Anyhoo, the ceremony was actually very nice. By which I mean it was short and we didn't fluff our lines. Lisa struggled to sign her name on the register with a fountain pen (she's more used to crayons), but that aside, it couldn't have gone any better. And we were so wrapped up in our love that we didn't notice Amelie heckling us from the back row.

Having tied the knot and shaken hands with our guests (that didn't take long), we headed outside for the photos. Fortunately we managed to snap a couple of my Dad before he realised he'd left his mobile phone in the car, and left. But the rest of us took our time, and successfully proved that if you take enough pictures, you'll end up with a few you can use.

From there we led the wedding party through the Lanes to the Ha Ha Bar for our Wedding Breakfast. So called because you're too nervous to eat one beforehand. Almost five years ago to the day, we went to the Ha Ha Bar with our good friend Marie. Which made me feel better about not inviting her this time. She can have too much of a good thing.

So we settled down for an enjoyable meal...

... punctuated by occasional screaming from the younger members of our party. I've never seen Amelie so excited. Or so covered in chocolate.

We eventually departed at about 6:30pm, and returned home for the most significant ritual of the day: the changing of Lisa's name on Facebook. I wanted to change my relationship status to 'It's Complicated', but my wife wouldn't let me. So it simply says 'Phil is married to Lisa Gardner'. And it only took six and a half years.

Friday, October 01, 2010

It's a well known fact that the perfect place to spend your honeymoon is Brighton. So I went back to work this morning. And I'm glad I did, because I screened a minor celebrity this afternoon. So minor that I didn't realise who he was until he'd left. But it was exciting in hindsight.

Unfortunately I can see why people generally leave the country the day after their wedding: I'm so tired I can barely lift the sellotape to wrap Amelie's birthday presents. I've also just discovered that the bike we've bought her requires detailed assembly with a screwdriver, spanner and hammer. And the instructions appear to have been translated into English by the illiterate brother of Chaucer. So I could be up half the night.

So in lieu of a detailed account of our wedding day, here's a video of the first dance...

We hadn't even gone in at that point. But when we did, that's the song we walked in to. We thought Rice was appropriate for a wedding.

And talking of appropriate behaviour...

That look from Lisa says it all.