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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Amelie returned home yesterday, so our flat is no longer the peaceful oasis of calm it has been for the past couple of days. My Mum delivered her last night, and we've been asking God to do the same for us ever since. But before shoving her through the front door and running off screaming into the night, my Mum informed me that whilst at my parents' house, Amelie had found an old photo of me on a shelf. Apparently she studied it for a few moments, then said "It's Daddy!", before asking "What's that on Daddy's head?"

The answer was hair. I've been tearing it out for the past two-and-a-half years.

But the good thing about having two days to ourselves is that we've finally filled in our census form. We didn't fill it in early because Lisa thought she might walk out before Sunday, and I wasn't sure I'd live that long. But as it transpired, we were both still present on the 27th. Lisa ticked all the right boxes, but personally I struggled with the question "How is your health in general?".

Inexplicably, there wasn't a box on the form for 'Knackered', and I'm in the medically curious position of having taken only four sick days in the past three years, whilst suffering from enough conditions to fill a double-page spread in The Lancet. According to the BBC, the average NHS employee would have taken thirty-three sick days in that time, making me officially eight times healthier than my peers. I just don't feel it.

Under the circumstances, I wasn't sure whether to tick 'Shot to Hell' or 'Outstanding'. I wanted to attach an extra sheet listing all my complaints, but Lisa wouldn't let me. So in the end I chose 'Fair' and drew a smiley face. Us Jedis need to stay positive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This is blog post number 2,222, and with that many number twos, what you really need is a decent toilet seat...

Toilet HumourThat arrived in the post today. I installed it twenty minutes ago, and I've just sat on it for the first time. It's surprising how strong they can make plastic these days.

Personally I thought there was nothing wrong with our old toilet seat, but Lisa assures me that Amelie can't keep using a bucket in front of the TV for the rest of her life (I didn't press her for the reasons why), so I've been forced to fork out for something all three of us can use. This one has a big seat for Lisa, a little seat for Amelie, and a solid seat for me to relax on when I lock myself in the bathroom to avoid them both.

On the subject of Amelie, the news from out east is that she's still a bit peaky, but on the rocky road to recovery. Frankly she needs to take inspiration from a patient I saw in Burgess Hill today who, despite being in her eighties, travelled fourteen miles across Sussex just to see me, after the clinic in her home town was cancelled. It was like Jesus and the blind man. Except I didn't spit in her face.

Tragically, however, today hasn't all been about health, vitality and the triumph of the human spirit. We received word this morning that Pie, Lisa's sister's cat, and Amelie's second favourite feline, has been knocked down by a car and killed. Even Lisa's Mum has been in tears, and she can sit stony-faced through Bambi. So we're all a bit down about that. The life of Pie was a novel adventure, but at the end, there's only a Tiger left. It's a sad, sad story. RIP Pie.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We received word from my parents this morning that Amelie had been throwing up all night. It's the kind of news which gives rise to a whole range of emotions: concern, anxiety, sympathy, but above all, major relief that it didn't happen here. I still felt quite worried though. That duvet cost me forty quid, and I'd hate to see it ruined by vomit. I'm still anxiously awaiting word on that.

Anyhoo, having spent the morning considering the possible causes of Amelie's sickness (over-excitement, over-consumption, furballs from kissing Chloe), we received a subtle clue this afternoon...

I think it's travel sickness. When my Mum turned up last night, she told us she had the car outside, but I'm sensing she'd brought the wheelbarrow.

Obviously I've had to crop that photo for legal reasons. I don't want the perpetrator identified and arrested for child cruelty. Or crimes against fashion. But Amelie looks ok. Admittedly she's as white as a ghost with anaemia, but let's paleface facts - her mother's Lisa, so pallor's in her genes.

Anyhoo, our sick daughter aside, Lisa and I are making the most of our freedom. We spent yesterday evening watching 'Anvil! The Story of Anvil', which was good, without being outstanding, and made Spinal Tap look like Panorama; and as we speak, Lisa's cooking me dinner. I did offer to take her out for a slap-up meal at a restaurant, but when all's said and done, and push came to shove, she couldn't be bothered to get dressed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Since Amelie was born, we've been nurturing her via a succession of Grobags and raised beds, and needless to say, she's thrived. And shown very little sign of greenfly. But with less than a week to go until she turns 2½, we decided to let her take a step into adulthood this weekend by getting her a duvet.

So on Saturday morning, she and I embarked on a trip to the bedding section of Toys R Us. Well, I went to the bedding section - she remained in the bike aisle, pulling out all the tricycles and riding them towards the checkout. Before we left home, I'd joked to Lisa that having paid a hundred pounds for a cotbed mattress last summer, I dread to think how much they charge for duvets, and we both laughed, safe in the knowledge that they can't be much more than a tenner. After all, Asda do king size doubles for twelve quid, and we wanted one a quarter of the size. I was confident of spending about £2.99.

Anyhoo, I'm not saying I was wrong, but frankly it would have been cheaper to let Amelie ride through the checkout on a moped. A Winnie-the-Pooh bed set costs a hundred pounds. Which is handy, because I needed a lie down after I saw it. The Toys R Us own-brand is eighty, and a duvet alone will set you back forty. Frankly we need to get into the baby business. You can charge what you like, and people will pay it.

As I proved, by whipping out my credit card, and coming home with this...

It's curtains for Amelie.
It cushions your feet while you spy on the neighbours. I'm thinking of marketing that look as 'Burka Chic'.

Anyhoo, the good news is that the bed set above was reduced from £79.99 to £39.99, so having experienced nothing but joy and triumph with the cut-price fairy puppet, we went for that one. And what's more, Amelie successfully survived her first night under a duvet without smothering herself in her sleep. Which is a definite bonus.

As for tonight, it'll be even more peaceful. For us, anyway. Amelie's gone to stay with her grandparents for a couple of days. My Mum picked her up this evening. And we've been celebrating ever since. We bought her a box of chocolates to say thank you for having her, but to be honest it doesn't go far enough. The woman doesn't know what she's letting herself in for. Frankly she deserves the George Cross.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lisa went out with some friends last night, so I had the pleasure of spending an evening alone with my daughter. And take it from me, you know you're in for a good night when you're standing at the front door, waving goodbye to your wife, and Amelie comes running down the hallway behind you, crying, with no knickers on, shouting "I've got a dirty bum!". It was all downhill from there really. Particularly for Lisa. She was straight into the lift, and running for the bus stop.

To be honest, it was a bit of a challenging evening. I was half asleep at the end of a busy week, and the only way I could keep going was to distract Amelie with a carrot while I sucked the chocolate off her fingers of Fudge. At one point, I was lying on the sofa in a sugar-induced coma, while Amelie spelled out the letters on my 2004 NaNoWriMo t-shirt (which, surprisingly, still fits me), and I started rubbing my tired eyes with my hands.

Amelie immediately put her arm around me and said "Don't be upset, Daddy."

I replied "I'm not upset, darling, I'm just tired."

To which she responded "No you're not. Get up and play a game". At which point she tried to pull my arm out of its socket.

Fortunately, however, I had a secret weapon up the sleeve of my dislocated limb...

Fuzzy Felt
It's a felt fairy finger puppet kit. No, really.

Lisa and I bought that on our honeymoon in Eastbourne. It was reduced from £3.50 to 25p in Marks & Spencer, which is an indication of just how worthless they think it is. And having made it, I'm inclined to agree. But at the time, we felt it would be the perfect antidote to a troublesome toddler. It's for ages three and up, so there was every chance she'd choke on it.

I'd saved the kit for a rainy day, but frankly in my heart it was pissing down, so with Amelie's pyjama top stained red with the sweet peppers I'd been feeding her since I ate all the chocolate, we settled down for a bit of handicraft...

I discovered why the kit cost 25p about three seconds after I opened it. It turns out they don't give you any instructions. But let's face it, Amelie would have ignored them anyway. So we ploughed on regardless, and produced something quite stunning. Which fell apart the moment she put it on her finger.

But having restored it to its former glory with a bit of extra glue (which I told Amelie was Fairy Liquid), we ended up with this...

I believe in fairies.
What a beauty.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'm not saying the ibuprofen's cured me, but I did make it to a few charity shops yesterday. So it's a step in the right direction. It's no wonder they sell it in Boots.

There's a good chance, of course, that my lifelong love of the cocoa bean has contributed in some small way to my crippling foot pain, but personally I think it's just bad luck, and God's way of telling me to drive more. So undeterred, I took the car into Uckfield town centre yesterday lunchtime, hopped into the St Wilfred's Hospice shop, and bought this for £2.50...

King Edward Chocolates by Cadbury
It's a box of King Edward Chocolates. Which surprised me, because I thought he only made potatoes.

Tragically, the box was empty, but it dates back to 1936, so the contents might have passed their sell-by date. It was one of a number of old biscuit tins, toffee tins, Oxo tins and food boxes they had in the shop, most of them marking royal events, so I think they've cleared out someone's locker at the hospice. Personally I never keep food long enough for it to become collectable, so I had no idea if there was anything of value there, but this seemed to be the oldest item, so I slapped down my £2.50, and snapped up the Cadbury's chocolates.

Mentally, I was booking my place on the Antiques Roadshow, and dreaming of untold riches, but having researched it a bit on the internet, I think it's only worth about a tenner. Less, once I'd peeled off the St Wilfred's price sticker and left a mark in the top right hand corner. It's a bit disappointing. Who'd have thought that something older than my parents could be so worthless. I might take it to the Royal Wedding and try to flog it outside the church.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I know I said Amelie was doggedly determined, but this is getting ridiculous...

Photo courtesy of Lisa.
The dog's called Harry. Which is what Amelie does to Chloe.

While I was hot-footing it to the doctor yesterday, Lisa and Amelie were visiting the Canadian immigrant down the road, in the hope of picking up some maple syrup. Our newfound(land) friend Nora has now been joined in this country by her two dogs (you let one foreigner in, and they bring the whole family), so Amelie wanted to drop by for an hour to harrass Harry the hound.

Nora's second dog, Finnegan (presumably named after Judy), is twice the size of Harry and, according to Amelie, "a bit scary". So having been greeted at the door by two bounding dogs, and found herself floundering in Finnegan's wake (we've all been there), she decided to pick on someone her own size, and spent the afternoon with the black dog above.

I'd tell you more, but let's face it, I wasn't there. I did ask Amelie how Nora was, and what she fed Harry, and she replied "Crackers". I don't know which question she was answering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's a generally accepted fact that apart from my osteoarthritis, chronic prostatitis, premature hair-loss and borderline obesity, I'm the perfect picture of health. But as it happens, that's not entirely true. For a while now, there's been something fishy going on with my feet. And I don't mean this.

For about six months, I've been getting regular pain in my right heel. I think it started last August when Lisa made me move halfway up a mountain with no cable car ride, but it was only ever present first thing in the morning when I sleep-walked to the bathroom in a semi-woken state. Over the past couple of months however, it's got steadily and progressively worse, with the result that most mornings I can barely make it out of bed without a walking frame. Any period of activity followed by a short rest results in my foot seizing up and becoming so painful I can barely walk. It's reached the point where I'm struggling to get to charity shops in my lunch break. Which is what finally drove me to seek help.

I did mention the problem on October 12th last year, but sadly, having dipped my toe into the world of orthotics, it proved to be a false dawn. So having suffered in relative silence (I've only moaned to Lisa), I finally put my best foot forward and went to see my GP this morning. I said Doctor, Doctor, I can't put any weight on my right foot. She told me to hop it. Well ok, she didn't. She actually told me I have plantar fasciitis. Which I think is the Latin name for a Triffid.

She's referred me to a foot specialist (my fourth consultant in eighteen months - it must be a staff perk), but in the meantime I've been given a list of exercises and told to take anti-inflammatories. I bought some ibuprofen at lunchtime, on the advice of one of my colleagues. I'm not sure if she's a concerned onlooker or a concerted drug-pusher, but she's been through the same thing herself, and they soon got her back on her feet.

My doctor also told me to rest my foot as much as possible, and then asked me what I do for a living. I told her I'm on my feet all day, seeing the patients she refers for screening. I think she took that as a limp excuse.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Since Amelie was born, I've had a range of hopes and dreams for her: blissful happiness, good health, the ability to stop arguing with everything I say and actually do as she's told for a change, but above all, freakish intelligence so that I can make money off her and give up work early. With the exception of chicken pox, the time I beat her up in Lidl, and our occasional refusal to give her a tenth biscuit, the first two have been successfully achieved. The third is a work in progress, and may well be worth abandoning as a lost cause, but the fourth is looking very promising.

There's definitely something about her which suggests dogged determination...

I think it's the hat. The girl's a bone fido genius.

Back on February 9th, I set the wheels of learning in motion by announcing my intention to have Amelie reading before the age of two-and-a-half, using nothing more than a laptop, a couple of crosswords and a green goose. I invested $4.99 in her success, so I've got a lot riding on this, but six weeks later, it looks like paying off big time. She's still closer to two years than three, but she's already onto four-syllable words...

Although technically 'Bininnoculars' has five syllables. Either way, she can read a sight chart better than most of my patients. And she knows that a lighthouse stands by the 'c'. I think I'll aim for Shakespeare by the time she turns three.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The trouble with 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey', is that it always leaves you wanting more...

Kiss My Ass
It's just a shame we left the tea towel at home. We could have been slamming her head against that fence all day.

Anyhoo, that's Amelie in a stable situation on another all-expenses-paid outing with her parents. It goes without saying that previous Gardner Family Fun Days have met with somewhat limited success, so we kept this one strictly to a short afternoon, and headed straight up the A23 to Washbrooks Family Farm in Hurstpierpoint. We've not been there before, but from the moment we arrived, the signs looked good...

Free Range ChildrenI like anywhere that seems to be expecting emergency vehicles. I presume the orange silhouettes are crime scene outlines from previous accidents.

Entry to Washbrooks is free for the under-threes and £5 per adult, so I was tempted to send Amelie in on her own. To be honest, I was also tempted not to go in at all, as she had a whale of a time chasing a chicken around the car park for free, but in the end we decided that having spent a month's wages on petrol just to get there (it's about ten miles away), we might as well go the whole hog and pay to see the pigs.

And I'm glad we did. Here we are having the time of our lives in front of the Shetland Ponies...

Farm Family
It's surprising I look so chipper, because two minutes earlier I was feeling a little horse.

Anyhoo, having spent a couple of hours sampling all that the place has to offer, I can honestly say that I dig Washbrooks Farm...

Life's a Beach
I've always promised Lisa that I'll take her to a faraway place where she can feel the soft sand beneath her feet before she kicks the bucket. She never dreamt it would be Hurstpierpoint.

As it transpired, the farm has a lot more than just animals. Which is just as well, because Amelie got bored with those pretty quickly. She's the only girl I know who can walk up to anything from a llama to a sheep, take one look, and say "Try something else now". If it wasn't for the café, we'd have been out of there in five minutes.

She momentarily liked the baby goats though...

Get My Goat
... and here she is checking that no one's looking before she does a runner with that lamb...

Rack of Lamb
But ultimately, she was more taken with the extra-fauna activities. The Toddler Play Area was particularly good, with slides, trampolines, climbing frames and sandpits. As I said to Lisa, "We've just paid five quid each to go to the park". But hey, it's not every park that has tractor trailer rides. For an extra 50p. So we paid for those too.

Lisa's favourite ride was the one where you sit in a wooden seat while music plays in the background and someone serves you food. So we spent an enjoyable half hour in the farm café, drinking tea and eating bacon paninis. I'm sure there was one less pig in the enclosure by the time we left.

All in all, it was a surprisingly successful Gardner Family Fun Day. Admittedly, Amelie spent a disproportionate amount of time asking where the kangaroos were, but while she was busy wasting her breath, I was able to work out how much money I'd spent, using this handy cowculator...

Holy Cow!
It's great for doing maths on the hoof.

I think I need to stop milking these puns. There's too much at steak and I can't afford to mince my words. So I'll beef up my repertoire with an udder joke...

I say, I say, I say, why did the chicken cross the road?

To get away from Amelie.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The best thing about standing in the kitchen at Leia's Princess Party yesterday afternoon was that it gave me a great view of Lorraine's ass...

Although it looked more like a mule to me. Either way, she managed to turn a game of 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' into an al-Qaeda hostage video. The footage is a bit shaky, and the perpetrators hard to identify, but you can clearly see the victim being aggressively smothered with a tea towel, subjected to disorientation techniques, and then brutally shoved against a wall, before being forced to complete some kind of initiation ritual and abandoned in a dazed and confused state. It's like a how-to video for post traumatic stress disorder.

With party games like that, it's no wonder Amelie turned to comfort-eating...

Mmm... cake.
That's her trying to prove that she can have her cake and eat it, by tackling two slices at once.

Anyhoo, I'll be honest, Princess Parties are not really my kind of thing. I find the outfits restrictive, and I don't look good in heels. But as Lisa kept telling me every time I looked longingly at the front door, we were there for Amelie, and the important thing is that she enjoyed it.

And she did. She might not have won the best outfit competition, but she looked more like a princess than the boy who came dressed as Spiderman. There were sixteen children in total, and some very nice gowns on display, from Snow White to the Fairy Queen, but I was a bit disappointed that Princess Leia's brother didn't come dressed as Darth Vader. I did see the Lone Ranger though, and a very convincing Bob the Builder. To be honest, when they did a photo line-up, it looked like a scene from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. It was all puffball dresses and cowboys.

After two hours of fun, and a certain amount of cat-chasing, we eventually called Amelie in from the big garden, led her past the £1,500 curtains in her home-made dress, and picked up her party bag from the marble kitchen worktop, before waving goodbye to our hosts and leaving their five-bedroom detached house via the four-car driveway, to begin the short journey back across the railway tracks to our council flat on death row.

At least, that was the plan. In reality we went straight on a guilt trip to Toys R Us, where we bought Amelie the scooter she's been wanting for months. We might not be able to give her the million pound lifestyle she deserves, but we can put a bit of plastic on the plastic.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's two forty-five on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and we're off to Leia's Princess Party. Which has less to do with Star Wars than you might think. It's an afternoon out of the house, complete with food, drink and dancing, and Amelie's been looking forward to it for weeks.

Party On!
But not as much as Chloe.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The advantage of writing a public blog is that people often send me stuff in the post. Usually cease & desist orders and death threats. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get something worth receiving. And today, after spending the morning chatting to type 2 diabetics about how to improve their sugar levels, I returned home at lunchtime to discover that mine had gone through the roof...

Concrete Cow Confectionary
We've got major world disasters like the Japanese earthquake, the Libyan crisis and Comic Relief, but to be honest, I can't think of anyone who deserves a food parcel more than me. I've been on a strict diet for the past week and I'm at breaking point. Frankly those chocolates are life-savers.

The box which arrived this morning contained twelve different varieties of hand-made calorie bombs which have been sent to me free of charge (or maybe the bill's to follow) by Concrete Cow Confectionery, a sweet little company based in Milton Keynes. Obviously, with the number of people out there who want me dead, there's every chance they're poisoned, but after considering the situation for three seconds, I decided it was worth the risk. And having tasted one, I know I'll die happy.

I've never met Steph, the Concrete Cow (proprietor), but her husband and I go way back. Way back to 2008, when I used to ignore the e-mails he sent to my Senators site. I like to think of him as the sixth member of Kajagoogoo. And if he'd contacted me five years earlier, I'd have married him instead of Lisa. But by the time he got in touch, the website had served its purpose, Lisa was pregnant, and I saw no point in replying. He didn't tell me his wife made chocolate, or I'd have got back to him quicker than Rik Waller on a log flume. Which is a phrase he uses himself.

Anyhoo, it's a well known fact that impartiality is my middle name (which would make my initials PIG) and no amount of free chocolate is going to buy you a decent review on this blog. Other food critics, however, are less objective...

That's Amelie doing her Michael Winner with a white chocolate lolly. No doubt her review will be featuring in Concrete Cow's advertising literature within the hour. That's if it hadn't already been trademarked by Kellogg's Frosties.

As it happens, Lisa has mental health problems and doesn't like white chocolate, which is why the eight Vanilla Moons in the parcel have found a new home in my stomach. I was going to stop at one, but I soon realised that it was possibly the nicest thing I've ever tasted, and I should probably down the other magnificent seven ASAP in case we go to war with Libya and rationing is introduced. Tragically I was forced to return to work this afternoon before I'd completed the job, and by the time I got home, Gaddafi had declared a ceasefire. But I didn't let that put me off. You can't be too careful, and if we all get radiation sickness from Japan, I could go right off my food.

This evening I've worked my way through chocolate truffles, peanut butter fudge, coconut ice, raisin clusters, peppermint creams and marzipan hearts. It's been a rocky road. And I've had a bag of that too. I even discovered something marginally nicer than Vanilla Moons. I don't want to overstate matters, but frankly I'd sell Lisa for a box of Concrete Cow's Amaretto Truffles. Although that could be the alcohol talking. They're 22% booze.

It's been a voyage of discovery, and I feel slightly seasick, but tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I've literally tasted success. And it's sweet. On the downside, I now weigh the same as a concrete cow, and my blood's more than 90% glucose. After a week without carbs, I'm so giddy I can barely see the needle rebounding off the twenty stone mark on our bathroom scales. But it was all worth it. Every velvety, chocolatey, buttery, sugary mouthful. Anyone who thinks that nothing good ever came out of Milton Keynes needs to try their hand-made chocolates. They do free delivery within ten miles of Bletchley, and frankly I think it's worth moving.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

After our appointment on Monday, I was left thinking that we need some kind of miracle, and sure enough, within forty-eight hours, we've got one. Other people find the Virgin Mary on a pancake, or Jesus on toast. I've found a chicken breast shaped like a pig...

It's even got a snout. Lisa, who doesn't know the first thing about miraculous simulacra, and couldn't spot Mother Theresa in a cinnamon bun if her life depended on it, instantly complained that its tail isn't curly. Which shows a lack of faith if you ask me. The pig's clearly running so fast to the right, that its tail has straightened out in the wind. It's basically a case of swine flew.

Anyhoo, I discovered that miracle in a pack of Waitrose Tandoori Mini Chicken Fillets. Which explains why I can't afford IVF. I need to start shopping at Lidl.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anyone who's ploughed through the 750,000 words on this blog, might be surprised to learn that I don't mention everything that goes on in my life. I still, for example, haven't published the recording I made a few weeks ago of Lisa snoring. Which proves that blackmail can work. But in addition to Lisa's night-time respiratory problems (which, to my mind, explain the complaints we've had about drilling at unsocial hours), I've also chosen not to describe our attempts to have a second baby. Partly because this isn't a porn site, but mainly because it's hard to describe a sperm test without photos. And I couldn't hold my camera with one hand.

As it happens, on Thursday, 23rd December, Lisa and I went to see a consultant at the hospital about our failure to provide Amelie with a sibling. The doctor's name was Mr Kelada, so I was hoping his first name would be Pina, but sadly the road to fertility is strewn with disappointments, and this was just one of them. He's actually called Ehab. You can see him on the NHS though, so he's basically Rehab for people without capital. And here he is online. It's hard to believe that anyone has fewer Facebook friends than I do, but there you go. He probably doesn't ignore them as much as I do.

Mr Kelada turned out to be very friendly, and informed us that due to Lisa's great age, and the fact that we already have an Amster, the NHS won't fund any treatment, but it will fund the tests to determine if treatment is needed. It would then be up to us to decide if we're willing to pay for a baby. I didn't mention the consultation at the time, but I did write about buying kids on the internet. This blog contains so much subtext, it's scary.

Anyhoo, in the twelve weeks since that appointment, Lisa and I have undergone a battery of tests, some of them bloody, others just bloody intrusive. On Tuesday, 4th January, when I received a phone call from work on my day off, asking if I could go to Crawley the next day, I decided not to mention that I was at the hospital, holding a pot of my own sperm. I can be quite discreet when I want to be.

After a total of six tests, five for Lisa and one for me (I think I had it tougher though), we returned to see Mr Kelada at 4:30pm yesterday afternoon for the results. And the upshot is...

We're pretty normal. For our age. Which is to say that we're basically decrepit and falling apart, but it's to be expected. They managed to count 109 million sperms in the plastic pot I gave them, and whilst most of those need a motility scooter to get anywhere meaningful, there are apparently enough with a decent sense of direction to get the job done. Like their owner, they could do with being a bit more active, so he recommended that I take some Selenium, but other than that I'm ok. For a knackered bloke in his late 30s.

As for Lisa, her tubes received the all-clear, her ovarian reserves are raring to come off the bench, and she's ovulating like a battery chicken. On the downside, her FSH levels are on the upside. For those new to gynaecology, FSH stands for Follicle-Stimulating Hormone, which makes it sound like a cure for baldness, and according to Mr Kelada, for Lisa to have a good chance of conceiving, it should be below 8. Lisa's is 9.7. Which is apparently borderline, but "reasonable for someone her age". Or to put it another way, she's got about as much chance of conceiving as a woman in her 40s. Which I suppose is good news if you're Tony Blair.

I asked Ehab what he'd do in our position, and he said that if money's no object, he'd go for IVF. So he obviously hasn't seen my bank statements. He added that if he were us, he'd want to feel that he'd done everything he could, and given himself the best chance of success. Unfortunately, that chance of success is about 15% and costs £4,500 a time.

Having weighed it all up last night, I headed to Boots at lunchtime today for some Selenium. And I'm telling you now, that doesn't come cheap either. This child doesn't even exist yet, and it's already bleeding us dry.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

If you want Chloe to sit still on your lap for an extended period of time, the key is to stroke her gently, read to her quietly, and above all, tightly restrict her airways so that she falls into an oxygen-deprived coma...

Obviously that's not the whole Gruffalo story. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but it basically involves terrible tusks, terrible claws and terrible teeth in terrible jaws, which, when combined with a toddler who won't let go when you tell her to, results in a certain amount of blood, sweat and tears. Not necessarily in that order.

Naturally I don't want to get caught in a pincer movement between the RSPCA and the NSPCC, so I cut the film short before anyone got hurt. The full version has an 18 certificate. And is more of a video nasty.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I'm not saying that the thought of Lisa's cooking makes me feel like ending it all, but within half an hour of her announcing her intention to make cottage pie this morning, Amelie and I were heading straight for the nearest cliff...

Peachy Head
That's just east of here. In fact it's east of half the world. We actually went for a clifftop walk at Peacehaven, home of the Prime Meridian - so called because it's only divisible by itself and Sky One.

Cliff & The Young Ones
Obviously if you're going to visit a cliff with some shadows, you really ought to do it on a summer holiday, but fortunately Amelie's one of the young ones, so we got away with it. The object in the background that looks like the top of a mosque is positioned at 0° longitude, and marks the point where the Greenwich Meridian leaves Britain, heading south towards... well, the south pole I suppose.

Here's Amelie effortlessly crossing from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere using nothing but a pair of Clarks shoes and a good sense of direction...

She was last seen heading for the equator at high speed. But before she left, I took a photo of her at 12:00 GMT (Gardner Me Time), standing 5,586 miles from Rangoon...

It's a long way to Tipperary
According to the sign, she's also 2,893 miles from Halifax. But only if you go by minicab and avoid the M1.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Due to a lack of foresight in my eye-screening career, I'd left myself with only four days of annual leave this holiday season, so having been off all week, I was forced back into work today. It was quite nice though. I think one-day working weeks are the way forward. I might suggest it at the next team meeting.

The reason we didn't spend a fourth night in Eastbourne (apart from the fact that I'm not made of money, and there's only so much ice cream one man can eat) is that Amelie wanted me to go to playgroup with her yesterday. Lisa takes her to a parent & toddler group every Thursday at the Methodist church down the road, but for months she's been saying she wants Daddy to go too. Probably because she knows I've got the mind of a three-year-old and would fit right in.

So that's where I was yesterday morning: drinking tea with Lisa while Amelie ran amok with a ride-on plane. The session's held in a church hall, but it's not really a religious group, so there's no Methodism in the madness. Although there was one boy who behaved like the Antichrist. Most of them were little angels though.

It was all very entertaining, but I'm not quite sure why Amelie needed me there. Frankly I could have been back in Eastbourne and she wouldn't have noticed. No sooner had we walked through the door than she was off bouncing on trampolines, gluing glitter, see-sawing single-handed and riding anything with wheels. She also has a 'best friend' that she's been playing with for the past few weeks, and they were pretty much inseparable all morning.

Here they are calming everyone's nerves with some gentle and melodious singing. Before you watch this clip, I should point out that Amelie's birthday was five months ago...

It's lovely the way she sidles up to her friend once she realises the girl might have presents. And there's a look of appalled disdain when her companion fluffs the words to Incy Wincy Spider. But other than that, it's a charming scene of childhood friendship.

To be honest, I was wary of getting out my camera at a playgroup, in case I was accused of being the next Vanessa George, but having sat there for an hour assuming photos were prohibited, the mother of Amelie's friend whipped out the kind of camera you'd expect the paparazzi to carry, and started snapping numerous shots of the two together. She told us Amelie's the first friend her daughter's made on her own. So under the circumstances I felt fully justified in filming them both. I'm more comfortable with a co-defendant.

We made our way home via Lisa's Mum's, where we picked up a copy of The Argus and discovered the latest on our neighbourhood deathwish. Apparently when the paramedics arrived on Sunday night, they got stuck in the lift for twenty minutes. It was basically the same as my experience in January, but the emergency call I wanted to answer was one of nature. It sums up our block nicely though. If you're not on the stairway to heaven, you still end up sealed in a box.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You know what it's like. You spend three days in Eastbourne, relaxing, eating ice cream and being massaged in your pants, only to get home and find that your neighbour's murdered his brother. We've all been there. Although as things stand right now, there's every chance he could be innocent. Either way, I think I preferred it along the coast where the only thing being killed was time.

You've got to hand it to our neighbours though. There are only twenty-four flats in this block, but they've already managed to reduce the population of two of them. And that's just since Christmas. Give it another year, and the place will be empty. Still, at least we've got a good alibi this time. And the crimes are going in the right direction – the last one was on the 4th floor, this time it's the 5th. I pity the people on the 6th floor. It must be like death row up there.

Anyhoo, murder and mayhem aside, the last 24 hours of our honeymoon were as lovely as the first couple of days. On Tuesday afternoon we headed out along Seaside Road...

Seaside Road - the road that never sleeps. Just eats, enjoys, shops, lives, works and plays.... where, I'm reliably informed, you can eat, enjoy, shop, live, work and play. Lisa and I only did one of those things. And, surprisingly, it wasn't eat. We actually enjoyed a full-body massage at the Mystique Beauty Salon. We were hoping to be pummelled at the same time, but as it transpired, they only have one beautician, so I was forced to spend another ninety minutes in the charity shops while I waited my turn.

It was worth the wait though. I feel I should big up the Mystique Beauty Salon a bit here. Partly because they're a new establishment, and their resident beautician is a lovely young girl who only qualified last summer, is one of the few people on her course to have found work, and is struggling to make ends meet. But mainly because they undercharged us and I feel a bit guilty.

To be honest, I'm not sure I'm cut out for full-body massages. There's something about lying on a bed in my underwear with a girl who isn't Lisa, which makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I don't think I ever relaxed quite as much as I was meant to. Especially after she took one look at my semi-naked body and offered me a back, sack & crack wax for eighteen quid. I politely declined through the hole in the table.

The girl was very good though, and the prices reasonable. I was expecting to pay £35 for a ninety minute massage, but having been kneaded from head to toe (literally), she told me everything’s 20% off at the moment, and charged me £56 for us both. It wasn't until I got back to the hotel that I realised she'd forgotten the fiver for Lisa's eyebrow waxing. It's no wonder the business is struggling.

Having been oiled up and rubbed down, we then headed out for a meal at La Locanda Del Duca, an authentic Italian restaurant which was recommended to us by the beautician. Not that she can afford to go there. It was very nice though. Frankly I've never had better gnocchi, and they can poach a pear in red wine like no one I know.

To be honest, our entire honeymoon was like a trip to Milan (and I keep telling Lisa that). Not only did we eat Italian every night, but we made regular trips to Fusciardi's ice cream parlour. Our mere presence reduced the average age of the clientele by about thirty years, but they serve ice cream sundaes to die for. Probably through morbid obesity.

After one last trip to dairy heaven, we picked up Amelie yesterday afternoon and arrived home last night. I weighed myself this morning. And the diet starts here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

When you've eaten as much as I have, it's good to have someone to hold in your muffin-top...

Lisa only has to remove her hand, and I look like I've had a major hernia. I knew I'd regret that third scoop of ice cream.

But that was us yesterday morning on Eastbourne pier. And as it happens, we weren't the only ones taking photos. Two minutes earlier we'd passed a woman posing with her walking frame as her husband looked for somewhere to stand his stick so that he could snap a picture of her. As Lisa said "That'll be us one day". Probably next year, the way my arthritis is going.

But while I still have movement in my fingers, we decided to take up a sporting activity, so we headed straight into the pier arcade for a game of air hockey. The £1 I inserted into the machine entitled us to five minutes of play, three of which were spent searching for a member of staff to tell us why the puck hadn't appeared, after which he spent a further minute and a half banging the table with his fist, before undoing the side with a screwdriver and retrieving it manually. But those thirty seconds of play were thoroughly enjoyable. I won 3-0.

Feeling slightly pucked off with the situation, we then moved on to golf, which seemed a more fairway of spending our money. And sure enough, it proved far more successful. Once we'd worked out what we were meant to do. Which we did after we'd spent two quid doing it wrong. Here's Lisa aiming for the top doughnut with her last shot of the match...

I'd say she was the oldest swinger in town, but this is Eastbourne we're talking about. I don't know if the golf club is tethered to stop the chavs stealing it, or the pensioners using it as a walking stick.

Anyhoo, I'd write more, but sadly our three-night hotel stay with free wi-fi is drawing to a close, and we're about to be chucked out of our room. So the full account of the ninety minutes I spent yesterday afternoon being stroked by a young lady in my pants will have to wait for another day...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Lisa and I may be enjoying our mini honeymoon, but it's important not to forget those left behind. Amelie's having to cope for three long, painful days without her Mummy and Daddy, never knowing when - or even if - she'll see her parents again, and perhaps wondering how they can abandon her so heartlessly, and whether they even love her.

She's putting a brave face on it though...

That was our daughter yesterday. While Lisa and I were having a Strong cup of coffee with Gwyneth, she was roaring with laughter at the park. I'd say that was just a fluke photo, but to be honest she looks no less happy in the other fifteen my Dad's sent me. I don't think she's stopped smiling since we left.

Mind you, we're barely even out of sight. I took this photo from our hotel window yesterday...

That's my parents' house in St Leonards. If I had a better zoom, you could see Amelie eating white Magnums on her potty.

Anyhoo, I don't know if it's a measure of just what a dull, uneventful life I've led, but yesterday was one of the nicest days I've ever had. It was rounded off perfectly with a meal at Prezzo, a beautiful restaurant which was empty enough to feel like we were dining alone, without being so quiet as to make us self-conscious. The food was gorgeous, as was the company, and putting aside the fact that I've probably put on half a stone already, it was the perfect day.

Tuesday has continued in a similar vein. A coachload of pensioners arrived at the hotel yesterday, so the staff have abandoned the traditional waiter service at breakfast, in favour of a self-service, eat-as-much-as-you-like, free-for-all buffet bonanza. I've probably helped myself to a heart condition, but it was the perfect start to the day. The words 'Full English' have never seemed so appropriate. Frankly I can hardly move.

Anyhoo, Jeremy Kyle's almost finished, so we'll be off out into the sunshine again. We're heading down to the pier for a romantic stroll, or possibly a food-induced waddle, after which we're both booked in for a full-body massage at the Mystique Beauty Salon in Seaside Road. Our appointment's at 1:30pm, so we're going to have a light lunch. I'll be saying no to extra ice cream with my pancakes.

Monday, March 07, 2011

If, like me, you prefer to eschew the traditional notion of bins, in favour of chucking your rubbish straight out of the window, this is definitely the hotel for you...

We've got the first floor room on the corner with the Juliet balcony. Romeo's standing in the skip.

The view below our window might be rubbish, but so far, everything else is very nice. Admittedly the sea breeze is a little more biting than bracing, which is slightly putting me off my ice cream, but that aside, it's going well. We ended up at Zizzi's for dinner last night, where we were served by a man who looked so like David Walliams that he really should give up the restaurant trade and go straight into showbusiness. If I looked any more like Matt Lucas, we'd have had it made.

Our hotel room is very pleasant too, and features a bed so wide that it's verging on the criminal not to invite a third person into it. I'll see how things go later in the honeymoon, and maybe suggest it to Lisa. But at the moment it's just nice to be able to move three feet away from her snoring without hitting the floor.

We both slept well, and awoke refreshed and fighting fit to face the perils of the bathroom...

I decided to drip-dry on the bath mat in an effort to avoid death, but having survived our showers, we made our way downstairs for breakfast. I've yet to encounter a single member of staff here who would consider English their first language, and as a result, we've had first-class service from the moment we arrived. Breakfast was particularly good, and we left the restaurant feeling like we'd never be able to eat again.

That lasted about two hours. Frankly it's a miracle it wasn't less, as we're staying a hundred yards from this place...

Which is around the corner from here...

The Nuthouse
We were thinking of going in, but I was worried they wouldn't let Lisa leave.

Anyhoo, we've spent today exploring Eastbourne town centre. Obviously I'm not a judgemental person, and I hate sweeping generalisations, but I think it's safe to say that the entire population of Eastbourne is made up of the old and the unemployable. If you're not over eighty, you're under twenty and smoking a fag while you push your two children along in a buggy.

But the town has one redeeming feature: its thirty charity shops. I've visited most of them today, and bought up half their stock. Frankly I deserve an MBE for all my charity work. At one point I thought I'd bought so much stuff I could no longer move, at which point the woman in the PDSA shop told me there are 29 others, and gave me directions to find them.

Having shopped til we dropped, we then recharged our batteries at Costa Coffee, where we found ourselves sitting at a table next to Gwyneth Strong, who played Cassandra in 'Only Fools & Horses'. She's the exception that proves the rule about Eastbourne. Although she's probably not as young as she looks. And she might not have worked in a while.

Next door to Costa is a Thorntons ice cream shop, so we spent some time on a sunny Monday munching a couple of sundaes, and admiring the Eastbourne obelisk. It seemed appropriate with Italian ice cream. We then headed off for some afternoon entertainment. The Royal Hippodrome Theatre was advertising a show called 'Strictly Comedy & Dancing', featuring "Brilliant TV Comedian", Tank Sherman...

So we went to the cinema instead. We actually ended up at the Curzon, an old-fashioned flea-pit where they still tear your paper ticket in half at the door, and for whom 'surround-sound' means having a speaker on both walls. We saw 'The King's Speech', so the traditional surroundings were in keeping with the film. And the way the picture wobbled on the screen fitted nicely with Colin Firth's stutter.

All in all, it's been a lovely day. We're off to Prezzo now for a slap up dinner. And having sampled that sea air, we're definitely driving.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

If you're paying extra for a sea view, ideally you'd like to get there before dark...

But that aside, it's like the Gardner Honeymoon Special in Hello magazine. I've never seen Lisa look so sophisticated. I'll have to get her a seat like that for our council flat. She can pose by the window and watch the junkies go by.

We're off now for the first gourmet meal of our honeymoon. I think there's a fish & chip shop around the corner...

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Amelie's been invited to a Princess Party on the 19th of March, which is the kind of blatant anti-male sexism that's bringing this country to its knees. I blame Loose Women. And L'Oréal. But shameful discrimination aside, we're obviously far too cheap to buy her an appropriate outfit, and besides, she only has to put on a £3 skirt from Asda and she starts saying "Me like a princess!", so rather than waste money on something Kate Middleton would be proud of, we asked Lisa's sister to sew a bit of netting on Amelie's Christmas dress.

She had her first fitting yesterday afternoon, and at 9pm last night, we received this exclusive footage direct from the royal seamstress...

That's Gok Wan in the background. They're proving that fashion's all about showy hugs, air kisses, and describing red as strawberry.

Interestingly, in addition to getting updates from the catwalk, we also received the news that Lisa's nephew had seen a family photo at home, and thought it was a picture of Amelie. Here's the portrait in question...

Lady in RedFrankly that could be Rose West and we'd be none the wiser. I think Lisa's sister needs to invest in a scanner. But I can see what he means. The flyaway hair, the red dress, the way she's picking her nose in public - that could easily be Amelie. But it's actually Lisa at her own christening.

If I'd seen her looking so cute in that outfit, I might have fallen in love with her there and then. But sadly I wasn't born at the time.

Thirty-seven years later, however, I'm more than happy to take her away on honeymoon. We'll be gone until Wednesday. But no doubt I'll be blogging from the bedroom.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Aww look, it's Amelie with her favourite cuddly toy...

Flattened by Fatty
Or 'Chloe' as Lisa and I like to call her. It's not every cat that's happy to be pinned to a bed for half an hour by the toddler equivalent of Hulk Hogan. And Chloe's no exception. Unfortunately she gets no say in the matter.

Before Amelie learnt to walk, the only people chasing Chloe were the paparazzi, but a lot's changed since then. Over the past year, she's been knocked about, then swept off her feet, and got a bit carried away when she least expected it. In the last few weeks however, Amelie's taken the hero-worship to a whole new level. Frankly the girl's obsessed. She spends half her life throwing her arms around Chloe and telling her she's "wonderful", "super" and "a lovely pussycat". If she can't hug her within two minutes of getting up in the morning, we have to declare a state of emergency.

She's also appointed herself official guardian of all things cat-related, as a result of which I've come close to having stand-up rows with my two-year-old daughter, who insists that Chloe's not being fed enough, needs more stroking, and really should be carried everywhere. I've had to resort to putting more biscuits in the cat bowl, just to get Amelie off my back.

We even had a five minute debate yesterday about whether Chloe wanted to be put on the table. Amelie said she did. I said she didn't. And despite me offering a wealth of evidence to the contrary, including pointing out the way she was running in the opposite direction and hiding under the bed, Amelie won the day. Two minutes later, she was getting a fireman's lift onto the furniture.

So after a month of incessant stalking, Chloe needs a holiday. And as luck would have it, she's going to stay with my parents for a few days tomorrow. Unfortunately Amelie's going with her. And probably carrying her all the way. We're shipping them both out so that we can escape down the coast for a few days. My prostate's been inflamed again since Monday, and I've spent the week feeling as rough as a bag of course sandpaper, so it's either Eastbourne or the doctor. Frankly there was only one choice. My doctor doesn't do a full English breakfast.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I received this mobile phone photo at 1:30pm today...

Dating Site
That's Amelie having lunch in town with the son of the bloke I met on the tube last Friday. He's wearing genuine Disney merchandise, and she's holding a counterfeit panda.

It's a charming photo though. Harrison's grown a lot since Amelie decked his sister. And with Leia out of the way, there's some obvious chemistry going on there. A couple more dates and they might start to look at each other.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

It's one thing to get home from work and find that your wife has changed the locks. It's another to find the whole front door gone.

This was the scene when I left for work this morning...

And this was what I came back to...

Not only did my key no longer fit, but the doorbell was gone too. I knock-knocked for a bit, but frankly it was no joke, so in the end I was forced to phone Lisa on my mobile and beg her to take me back. She opened the door thirty seconds later. It took twenty of those to work out how the lock worked.

We've actually been blessed with that new front door by the council, who presumably felt that if I'm going to take to the witness stand this summer, we could do with something capable of withstanding a few reprisal attacks. This one's so secure that we can barely open it, never mind the burglars.

It was fitted this afternoon by a bloke called Ian. I was at work at the time, but Amelie apparently woke up from her lunchtime nap while the job was in full swing, took one look down the hallway, and said:

"They're making me a new house!"

She'll be expecting a garden next.