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Saturday, April 30, 2011

I think the Royal Wedding is best summed up by this text message from my Mum, sent at 12:39pm yesterday:

"I think it was better the way you did it".

I presume she means the way we let the groom's mother live. And the way I found a genuine commoner. But that aside, it wasn't bad. Although with an estimated three million pigeons in London, I wouldn't have put trees inside Westminster Abbey.

Anyhoo, Bill & Cathy aren't the only ones hob-nobbing with upwardly mobile young débutantes from the London social scene. We had a visit from Plaistow's foremost it-girl on Thursday...

That's our friend 'C', who despite appearing on this blog more often than I do, still doesn't want her real name revealed. She's under the mistaken belief that people might read it.

Anyhoo, patchworking isn't everyone's bag, but if you can tear your gaze away from our winning smiles in the photo above, you'll see one which is. Despite looking like something Pythagorus's granny would have made, the sack on the sofa was actually hand-stitched by 'C' whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing. Although Britain's Got Talent would have been more appropriate. In the past year, she's become a stitching and sewing machine, capable of producing highly saleable items from discarded pieces of fabric. It's what you might call a rags to riches story. And it explains how we ended up here...

Quilty Pleasures
If I'd known Brighton had such a brilliantly named shop, I might have taken up patchwork myself.

Quilty Pleasures is conveniently situated less than two miles from our flat. So it took us five minutes to get there. And an hour to drive back. I'm not saying the traffic jam was bad, but I've got plantar fasciitis, and I could have hopped home quicker. Frankly the Royal Wedding was more moving.

But at least it gave us plenty of time to chat about the old days. 'C' mentioned the gradient of the seats at the O2 arena, so I said it sounded like the time we went to see Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre in 2007. Following an awkward silence, 'C' replied that she didn't think she'd ever been to see Joseph, and certainly not with me. I made an unsuccessful attempt to jog her memory, before looking to Lisa for support. She looked back at me blankly, and said she didn't remember it either.

I know I went in disguise, but I thought they'd have known it was me.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The good thing about being back home is that everything seems normal, comfortable and familiar. The police were here for about six hours on Wednesday. They turned up in the middle of the afternoon with two vans and a car, and spent the rest of the day in our block, searching the flat of one of our neighbours. As the sun went down, numerous officers were trudging back and forth to their vehicles with sealed bags of evidence, including computer equipment and what looked like a large kitchen bin. We couldn't have asked for a more fitting welcome home.

But apart from helping the police with their enquiries, the main reason we returned to Brighton was because I had a hospital appointment to attend. I might be on annual leave all week, but naturally I can't stay away from the place, so having already got my money's worth out of the urology department, the rheumatology department, and Facebook's favourite gynaecologist, I broadened my medical horizons this week by seeing a podiatrist.

It's four weeks since my doctor diagnosed plantar fasciitis, and despite stretching both my tendons and the bounds of credibility with the list of exercises she gave me, there hasn't been any significant improvement. I might be single-handedly saving the British ibuprofen industry from the effects of the credit crunch, but that aside, the treatments I've tried have done very little good.

So I spent the eve of the Royal Wedding explaining all of this to my footman, and having looked into my sole and pressed the flesh a bit, he declared that I need a steroid injection. I'm not well-heeled enough to have it done privately, and the NHS needs an injection of cash before they can spike me with cortisone, so there's a bit of a waiting list and I don't have a date yet, but he said it shouldn't be long. In the meantime, it gave him the opportunity to explain the possible side-effects.

Apparently initial pain, subsequent numbness and the inability to drive for a few hours are a certainty, so I'll know how my own patients feel for a change. But if I end up in hospital with a bone infection I can consider myself unlucky, and a complete tendon rupture would make me one in 23,000. I should, however, prepare myself for facial flushing which could last for a couple of days. So I might end up red-faced and hopping mad, but if it cures me, I don't care.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the world of masked Mexican wrestling horses, this one's based on Michael Jackson's children...

Mane Man
He's getting ready for next year's Grand National by wearing a tarpaulin.

But horse boxers aside, the good thing about spending four days going up and down Big Sis's endless flights of stairs is that it prepares you for getting home and finding that the lift is out of order. We arrived back in Brighton on Tuesday afternoon to discover that there'd been another technical breakdown. I expect there's a dead body stuck in the lift shaft.

Our last night in Wiltshire was actually the best of all. And not just because we were going home the next day. Having been singularly unimpressed by The Hourglass, Lisa and I left Sis in charge of babysitting duties on Monday night, and headed further afield in search of something decent to eat. And I'm pleased to say we found it.

I've had more hot dinners than most people have had... um... hot dinners, but The Well at Bulkington exceeded pretty much every meal I've ever tasted. Everything about the place was perfect. And I'm not even being paid to say that. Before we'd even looked at the menu, we knew we were going to like it. The surroundings, the welcome, the ambience, the fact that the other customers weren't drunk, rowdy and talking rubbish in loud voices - it beat The Hourglass in every department. They even managed to print a menu without spelling mistakes.

But the main star was the food. I don't think I've ever tasted anything nicer. Frankly if I lived in Bulkington, I'd be morbidly obese, bankrupt and happy. Despite going for the cheapest items on the menu, we were served with the kind of dishes I'd happily rob my own sister to pay for. I never knew a chicken kiev could taste so good, and Lisa was tempted to break down the kitchen door and demand their lasagne recipe. Everything was cooked to perfection, with a sauce I'd have been prepared to lick off the floor if I'd spilt any. Fortunately I didn't. As for the desserts, if you think £5.25 is a bit steep for a pudding, you need to try their white chocolate cheesecake. Frankly it was underpriced and overwhelming.

Like the woman in 'The Ring', we eventually staggered out of The Well two hours later, cursing the fact that we'd only discovered it on our last night. With competition like that, time is running out for The Hourglass. I'm even considering staying with Big Sis more often, just so I can go there. If you need a reason to visit Wiltshire (and let's face it, you do), The Well at Bulkington could be it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To be honest, the main reason we went to Wiltshire was to get our hands on some carved ham...

That's Amelie upstaging another wooden performance from Miss Piggy. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see that she has a pocketful of stones, which I'd like to think is a subtle tribute to David Gilmour, but in reality is just an indication of her overwhelming obsession with grit. You only need to turn your back for five seconds and she's doing a pebble dash across a pub car park to the nearest patch of gravel.

The haul above was collected on Monday morning at the Woodborough Garden Centre, a rural plant shop which is conveniently situated at the arse-end of nowhere, about ten miles from the nearest plug socket. Sis took us there to look for some garden furniture to transform her back yard from a rough-looking chalkpit to an upmarket quarry with a couple of chairs. Obviously when I say she took us there, I mean she sat in the back of my car, sending us in the wrong direction. When we eventually found the place, I assumed it must be a mirage.

Having trekked halfway across Wessex to get there, it was mildly disppointing to find that they don't do any tables under two hundred quid, and Sis would have to sell her house before she could furnish her garden, but on the bright side, they did have a pig called Chops...

For the Chops
That's Chops in the background. The one in front doesn't have a name because he's about to be turned into sausages. We got the lowdown on local meat production from the young daughter of the garden centre's owner, who wandered past, introduced herself and let Amelie stroke next week's bacon before it was taken off for slaughter. It was a lovely moment.

Leaving Woodborough Garden Centre empty-handed (apart from the stones), we then made our way back across Wiltshire to the oddly named village of Seend, and stopped for lunch at The Bell Inn...

Seend it Back
I call that picture Seend 'n' the Clowns, although the best bit of humour was supplied by the staff of the Bell Inn, who managed to turn Big Sis's food order into some kind of slapstick comedy performance.

Sis ordered a Brie & Cranberry Panini, which duly arrived on a lovely china plate, with a fresh green salad, and stuffed full of bacon. Big Sis is a vegetarian, so she politely pointed that out, and sent it back. Five minutes later, it returned, cut in two, with all the bacon in one half, which is possibly the most bizarre bit of vegetarian cooking I've ever seen. Sis was forced to point out to a bewildered young waitress that for someone who doesn't eat meat, simply moving all the bacon into one side of the roll doesn't make it edible. I'm still not sure she fully grasped that.

But at the third attempt, Sis finally got a meat-free panini... served in two halves on two plates for no reason I could fathom... and settled back in the sunshine to find that she didn't really like it. The rest of us enjoyed the meal though, and had time to stare in open-mouthed wonder at the view...

Feeling a Little Horse
That's not a mystic haze over the horse's back, it's Amelie's thumb print on the camera lens.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stealing chocolate from graves is all very well, but for me, the undoubted highlight of Easter Sunday was the moment when Lisa committed a terrible faux pas by waving to Big Sis's ex-boyfriend as he drove past with his new squeeze. As everybody should know, the only acceptable way to view him is through the scope of a sniper rifle. Waving is definitely out. Unless he's heading over Niagara Falls without a life jacket.

Personally I'm in the clear. Sis thinks I tactfully ignored him, but in reality I have the memory of a goldfish, and didn't recognise the man. I assumed Lisa was just flirting with strangers.

But on the subject of men you'd like to see nailed to a cross, Easter is, of course, a Christian festival, so having eaten some heavenly chocolate, what better way to celebrate Jesus' life than by heading to the centre of the Pagan world and recreating the parable of The Good Shepherd...

That's Amelie chasing the lamb of God in the mystical village of Avebury. It's popular with new age types because you can get stoned without spending any money. I was hoping to pick up some kind of psychic energy, but as it turned out, I couldn't even get a mobile phone signal. Wikipedia gave me this piece of information though:

"Due to the fact that various Pagan, and in particular Druid groups perform their ceremonies at the site, a rota has been established, whereby the Loyal Arthurian Warband (LAW), the Secular Order of Druids (SOD) and the Glastonbury Order of Druids (GOD) use it on Saturdays".

So it's SOD's LAW that GOD will be there on a Saturday. Meaning we missed him by twenty-four hours. I did, however, see an old witch.

That's not her. That's Lisa hanging out at the henge. If she looks happy, it's because Amelie had just disappeared over the horizon with Big Sis.

It was two minutes later that we rounded a corner (in the stone circle) and met the Wicca basket-case. She was dressed in black and carrying a guitar, so for a moment I thought it was Johnny Cash, but she turned out to be some kind of witch woman. I was slightly unsettled, especially when she climbed a tree in front of us and started strumming 'I Put a Spell On You' (or something similar), but ultimately she seemed pretty harmless. We were probably at more risk from the Japanese tourists we passed a few minutes earlier. They could have been radioactive.

Anyhoo, here's Big Sis and me rocking out in Avebury at the end of our walk...

Amelie's not in the picture. She was searching the giant gravestones for chocolate eggs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sometimes in life, it takes a two-year-old to point out the blindingly obvious. Namely, that the Lindt Gold Bunny looks like a crocodile...

And the thing is, she's right...

Lindt Gold CrocodileThose jaws could have your arm off. I haven't seen anything that fearsome since the 1979 Punch & Judy show on Hastings Pier. Don't let the pretty bow fool you, I wouldn't go near that thing without Steve Irwin and a loaded shotgun.

But reptiles aside, the video above depicts the final moments of Amelie's 2011 Easter Egg Hunt, which took place yesterday lunchtime on a small patch of waste ground outside Big Sis's house. Sis had hidden thirty-six chocolate eggs amongst the weeds and parked cars, setting a trail which led all the way to a final showdown in the back garden, where Amelie would eventually meet her hero, the Easter Bunny. Or the yellow crocodile, as she called it.

As it happens though, that wasn't Amelie's first Easter Egg Hunt of the day. She'd already done a bit of grave-robbing that morning...

What with it being Easter and everything, I agreed to resurrect my Christian beliefs and rise to the challenge by attending church in the morning to watch Big Sis play the piano. 'Watch' being the operative word. Someone forgot to turn on the amplifier, so we couldn't hear her for the first couple of songs. The service was good (immediately putting it ahead of The Hourglass on points), and Amelie made it up on stage for a bit of dancing, but by the time they cracked open the wine and biscuits, she was rolling around on the floor and refusing to shut up. So Lisa and I took her outside for a breather.

Which is where she discovered the Easter Egg Hunt they'd laid on for the children after the service. Quicker than you could say 'death by chocolate', Amelie was running through the cemetery like a combination of Burke, Hare and Cadbury, gathering chocolate eggs left, right and centre, with me and Lisa in hot pursuit. We just needed a loudspeaker playing the Benny Hill music, and we'd have had a primetime show for ITV.

By the time we caught her, she'd eaten four of them. Which might have been ok, were it not for the fact that when the children came out of church, we heard them being told not to pick up more than three each, otherwise there wouldn't be enough. And they didn't know they were already four down.

People say you can't run away from God. But you can certainly walk out of a churchyard with your chocolate-covered mouth shut. So we made a swift exit, whilst praying we'd get away with it. I think confession is overrated.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

One thing I forgot to mention about Devizes is that it smells faintly of manure. I spent most of Friday evening thinking that one of us had trodden in dog poo, before eventually realising that the aroma was wafting in through the windows. Every time we get a gentle spring breeze, the house smells like a public toilet. I think Sis has become acclimatised and doesn't notice, and obviously I'm far too polite to mention it, but it's beginning to put me off my doughnuts.

That aside though, we're having a whale of a time in Wiltshire. Yesterday we headed into Devizes town centre and sampled everything it has to offer. That didn't take long. The indoor market is known as The Shambles, and having visited, I can see why. It makes Poundland look aspirational. Beyond that, the town's really just a collection of charity shops and small independent retailers. I did find a flower shop called Ammi, but sadly I couldn't get her to stand in front of it for a photo.

So instead, I recreated Forrest Gump on a bench...

I was trying to get them to look like the pictures in the background, but whilst Amelie's doing a good job of impersonating a lipstick, and Big Sis could well be Indian, I feel Lisa's letting the side down with her innocent baby face. She's more of a cheeky toddler.

Shopping done, and plantar fasciitis considerably worsened, we returned to Big Sis's house for a family sing-song around the old Joanna...

We're like Elton John and Kiki Dee. Or possibly Hinge & Bracket.

Anyhoo, once Amelie and her moo-moo were packed off to bed, Big Sis agreed to babysit while Lisa and I headed out for something to eat. We ended up at the Hourglass, a pub around the corner which serves middle-of-the-road food at Michelin-starred prices. It's on the banks of a canal, so Sis claims you pay for the location, but sadly by the time we got there, it was too dark to see the abandoned shopping trolleys and floating condoms. Frankly we could have been anywhere. Or anywhere else. And in many ways, we wished we were.

To be fair, the food was fine, and the surroundings reasonable, but if I'm paying fifteen quid for a main course, I like to feel I'm eating something I couldn't have picked up in Asda. And when the desserts all cost a fiver, I want more than just a square of syrup sponge and one scoop of ice cream. Mind you, I'd have wanted that whatever the price.

Ultimately though, I think it's important to leave them with a tip. So I helpfully pointed out the spelling mistakes on the menu, and walked out with my money in my pocket.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Well, we're back at last in sunny Wiltshire. I remember when all of this was just fields. It was yesterday, when we drove through it. To be honest, I'm not sure what possessed Big Sis to move here. I'm not saying it's remote, but her house is like the one at the end of the Blair Witch Project. Or it will be once Amelie gets going with the hand-prints.

Our holiday started well when I stepped outside into the sunshine yesterday morning, topped up my car with screenwash, and broke the catch which holds the bonnet closed. It would almost stay shut, but I had some slight concerns that it might spring open at 70mph on the M25. As it transpired, there was an accident near junction 10, so we rarely got above walking pace, but I didn't know that at the time, so I called the AA. They advised me not to turn to drink, and told us that the problem was living by the sea. Apparently the salty air had rusted the mechanism and caused it to seize up.

Fortunately, having greased the man's palm, he did the same for my bonnet catch, and five minutes later, he'd got the whole thing working again. It was an open and shut case.

So an hour later than planned, we finally hit the road. Our journey across rural England was very pleasant, particularly when we drove through the attractively named village of Ludgershall, and saw this establishment...

I wish I'd stopped to take a photo, instead of relying on Google Street View. That sign looks as broken as the pun.

Obviously I love a stupidly named shop as much as the next man, and in Ludgershall the next man's got a stupid name too. This is the shop next door...

No Relation
It just goes to show, when you see an excruciating pun, you know you're never far from a Gardner.

Anyhoo, we arrived at Big Sis's house in the middle of the afternoon. The last time we were here, her front door was more like death's door, and since getting here yesterday, I have developed a bit of a sore throat, but that might just be from asking for more doughnuts every five minutes. Her house is on three floors, so you need to fill up on carbohydrates just to get to bed.

My parents visited here a couple of weeks ago, and warned us not to expect Sis to have any food in the house, but to our surprise, she greeted us with the news that she'd stocked up on tea bags ready for our arrival, and offered to make us a cup. Having tasted it, I thought she was trying to poison us, but as it turned out, she'd bought Twinings Earl Grey from the local garage. They obviously sell it to people driving Bentleys.

Having explained to Sis that Earl Grey isn't the same as Ty-phoo, I happily saved the day by revealing that I'd brought a few teabags from home, so we all relaxed and put the kettle on again. At which point we discovered that she'd run out of milk. It's no wonder I turned to doughnuts.

Anyhoo, as I write this, it's coming up to 10am and all three of the ladies in my life are still in bed. Clearly it's not just the villages around here which are sleepy...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Remember the dehumidifier we bought for eighty quid back in January? Well I don't think it's quite done the trick...

I knew it was a bad idea to paint our walls yellow. They've gone from Cheddar to Stilton in eight months.

But hey, if you're happy to put your life on hold for a day or two, move some large items of furniture, and get up close and personal with a few hazardous chemicals which are likely to leave you with a permanent lung condition, then there's every chance you can get it looking like this again...

This all started yesterday when Lisa casually mentioned that she thought she could see a few signs of mould behind Amelie's bedside cabinet. Naturally I laughed all the way to the dehumidifier receipt, and pointed out eighty reasons why that was unlikely to be the case. But having done so, I thought I'd take a look.

Suffice it to say that my cabinet reshuffle revealed some surprisingly liberal amounts of mould. Which led me to tentatively pull the adjacent wardrobe away from the wall. I'm not saying that what I found was horrific, but for a moment I thought they'd built a toxic waste dump in Narnia.

Despite treating Amelie's bedroom wall for damp when we moved in last summer, and using a dehumidifier since January, she's been unwittingly growing the kind of flora that would put her sunflower to shame. I could have got straight onto the council, but rather than spend a fortnight breathing in fungus while we wait for them to take action, I decided my time would be better spent taking a few photos and then cleaning it up.

So I took the afternoon off work, and spent it working far harder with a packet of j-cloths and some industrial strength mould cleaner. Amelie's bedroom has been completely remodelled, with all furniture now scrubbed down and located away from exterior walls. I'm like a cross between Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Fungus the Bogeyman.

It wasn't quite the start to Easter that I was expecting. Although I did eat a lot of chocolate to get me through it. Fortunately we're off on holiday tomorrow. We're heading down to Wiltshire, where Big Sis has been left to her own Devizes for a few days, and invited us to join her. It should be the perfect, relaxing pick-me-up. Let's face it, the last time we visited, we had a marvellous time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

They don't call us Gardners for nothing...

From tiny acorns...
Those green shoots of recovery have been personally grown by me and Amelie over the past few days, after I boosted the local economy by spending a pound on a sunflower kit at Asda. According to the instructions, "Your child will learn elements of the National Curriculum including seed germination and plant growth", so I don't know whether to be pleased that Amelie will have passed her SATs by the age of three, or concerned that the act of shoving a seed into some dirt constitutes an education these days.

Either way, we've done a bit of father-daughter bonding at the windowsill, combined our Gardner family talents, and as of this morning, produced the seedling above. It's been very much a joint effort. Amelie planted the seed, we both watered it, then I spent five days wrestling the pot out of her hands, as she ran across the living room checking for germination on the move. She's always had green fingers, mostly due to felt tip use, but this morning she came running up to me with peat on her hands, and an excited cry of "It's growing!"

She followed that up with "I'll pick it..."

I only just stopped her in time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

With less than a fortnight to go until the royal wedding, Kate Middleton could turn up at any moment...

On the Throne
And she won't be happy to find footprints on her throne. Mind you, we're lucky Amelie's wearing shoes at all. We bought her those last week, and according to the reviews, they fall apart in about five minutes, so she's done well to ascend both Whitehawk Hill and the throne without ending up like Sandie Shaw at Eurovision.

Anyhoo, contrary to initial impressions, Amelie wasn't attending another Princess Party yesterday afternoon. She was talking to strangers at the marina. It's a well known fact that I do a lot of charity work, but in addition to supporting sick animals in numerous horse races, I also like to do my bit in the community, helping those less fortunate than myself. I'm like Angelina Jolie and Madonna, but while they rescue children from war-torn Africa, I invite people down from Burgess Hill. I feel their need is far greater.

So at 4pm yesterday we met up for the first time with Chappers, the man behind Burgess Hill Uncovered. He's like Julian Assange, but with better hair and a shorter criminal record. I expect. To be fair, I didn't ask. But he had an honest face. Having visited his home town a week ago, it seemed only fair to invite Peter down to Brighton to show him what life would be like if he lived somewhere with decent facilities. It was like a cultural exchange, but without the culture.

Being classy individuals, we arranged to combine at The Harvester, which seemed like a good idea right up until the point when we walked through the door and saw the clientele. The only spare table was next to a man who looked like one of the Transylvanians from the Rocky Horror Show, and was openly taking the piss by smelling strongly of urine. Mind you, he had a heart of gold (to go with his yellow-stained trousers). He told us they do free Coke refills, and offered us his dirty glass.

Following a quick change of plan and an even swifter exit, we ended up across the marina at the West Quay. Which is like Key West, but with less chance of being shot. They had a two-for-one offer on yesterday, so as well as Peter, we got his girlfriend Claire for free. She's a senior nurse at A & E, so she's met a lot of the murder victims from our block. It's a small world.

Here we all are, relaxing on the quayside after stuffing our faces with pancakes...

Attention Seeker
Obviously if you know Amelie well, you position yourself at the end of the line, so that you're still in shot when she runs up to the camera three seconds before the timer goes off.

Here's another attempt...

Three of a Kind
Sadly I had to crop the rest of my family out of that photo. Due to some kind of freak photographic anomaly which will surely never be repeated, Lisa looked fat and refused to let me publish it, while Amelie was busy running at high speed towards the deep water signs. To be honest, it's a better shot without them.

Lisa prefers this one...

... but I feel I'm giving new meaning to the term 'wide-boy' by measuring three feet across. I'd have cropped myself out if I wasn't standing in the middle.

Anyhoo, having headed into the West Quay, Amelie pressed a few buttons on the fruit machine and then asked for a beer (no, seriously), while the rest of us settled down to get acquainted. We tackled a number of weighty issues over the next couple of hours, including local politics, the NHS, and which of us knows the most about The Flumps, but primarily our role was to put everyone off having children. And I think we succeeded. Frankly, by the time Amelie had run through the restaurant for a tenth time, refused to sit with us, and attempted to climb onto the bar, I think we'd all learnt the value of contraception.

She did attempt to redeem herself by declaring "I like you, Daddy" not once, but twice, which is almost enough to make me forgive her transgressions, but unfortunately she did it by rudely interrupting our conversation, so whilst the style was good, she lost points on execution.

In the meantime, Peter suffered the kind of blatant discrimination I presume is familiar to anyone who lives in Burgess Hill, when he was served a 'medium to well-done' steak which was practically still mooing, and a plate of pancakes made from industrial strength rubber. It's no wonder he didn't look fat in the photos.

Behold!And here's the other reason. It takes a very special person to buy a chocolate egg and not eat it yourself (or maybe it's just me who struggles with that concept), but Peter and Claire managed to spend almost three hours in our company without letting on that they had an Easter egg in their bag. It was only when we bid them farewell that they produced the goods and presented Amelie with the trophy on the left. The egg-timing was perfect. She was just throwing a tantrum and running into traffic. I think the distraction saved her life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My parents currently have my twelve-year-old niece and her friend staying with them for a week as part of some kind of Easter penance type thing where they pay for their sins with eternal suffering. I'm not sure how it's been going, but I received this text message from my Mum this morning...

"Thinking of dragging the girls to Beachy Head this afternoon".

So I don't think it's a hundred per cent rosy. I was going to text back to suggest that they stop off at the Wish Tower Restaurant on the way, but I didn't want to add to their suffering.

Mind you, they're not the only ones scaling the heights of Sussex and throwing themselves off cliffs today. This was Amelie less than two hours ago...

Peachy Head
That's the Whitehawk Estate behind her. So if the drop doesn't kill you, the residents will.

Lisa went off to church this morning, so I was landed with Amelie for a couple of hours. It's no wonder they call it Palm Sunday. Personally I'd already witnessed a man riding a donkey when I watched my selection in the Scottish Grand National yesterday, so I felt no need to attend, and instead chose to take Amelie up Whitehawk Hill in the midday sun with nothing but a flamingo and a badly positioned hair slide.

To be honest, I think it was a bit of a disappointment for her. As we walked up the hill, she said "I want to go to a shop with food and toys", so I'm not sure a field with dandelions really did it for her. I had to tell her it was an open air branch of Poundland.

I did, however, show her the TV mast responsible for beaming her favourite shows across the whole of Brighton...

Amelie on TV
One strategically placed bomb and I could be rid of Cbeebies forever.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If there's one thing I've always said, it's that you shouldn't bury your head in the sand and ignore the bargains at Lidl...

Ostrich Steaks
Personally I have a policy of not eating anything you're likely to see on safari, but I'm sure there are plenty of people happy to spend £5.49 on some frozen ostrich steaks. Admittedly, they're out of the price range of most Lidl shoppers, but that's not a problem because they can always nick them.

I'm generally a class above Lidl, of course, and consider myself much more of an Asda Smart Price man, but I was forced to cross to the other side of the tracks last night because Asda had sold out of aubergines. And Lisa said she needed them for a new recipe. Which to be honest, scares me more than the thought of going to Lidl after 9pm. I'm concerned I might be only hours away from moussaka muffins.

Having successfully picked up the aubergines (and then put them back down and found some a little less manky), I spotted a sign saying 'Deluxe Easter' and a load of frozen ostrich. I've never liked chicks that are taller than me, but I was tempted to buy some for Amelie and tell her it's Big Bird from Sesame Street. In the end though, I decided that at more than five quid a box, I should probably leave it until today, when I'll know how much money I've made from the Scottish Grand National, and be able to make a more informed financial decision.

The race finished half an hour ago. And it'll be Smart Price sausages from here on in.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two bits of good news to take into the weekend...

Diagnosis MurderThis time it's not in our block. Which is a step forward for local murderers if you ask me. They're clearly broadening their horizons and looking further afield for their victims. Possibly because there's no one still alive in our street. Give them a few months and we won't even be safe in Eastbourne.

The video's not as exciting as you might think though. And I'm sure the police response was quicker than the sign suggests.

But having been dead lucky to avoid a case of Diagnosis Murder this morning, my good fortune continued when I arrived at the staff restaurant in the hospital at ten-fifteen (it's never too early for a break) to find this card on the table...

VERY happy hour.
If this is part of Andrew Lansley's vision for the NHS, he gets my vote of confidence. Those nurses need to wake up and smell the coffee. Preferably between 3 and 4pm daily.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Breaking news from the kitchen:

Amelie thinks I've bought her a beanbag...

What a load of rubbish.
And Lisa's trying a new muffin recipe...

Muffin compares to you
One of them's likely to be rubbish, but at the moment it's hard to say which.

In other news, I've been doing clinics this week in the delightful village of Hassocks. If you've not visited the place, it has an Age UK shop next to an Equestrian Supplies store, which tells you everything you need to know about the residents. The last time I was there, I bought a valuable oil painting which, almost two years later, still occupies pride of place inside an old bin-liner in the cupboard downstairs. Lisa doesn't like it, but I'm hanging on to the thing until the Antiques Roadshow rolls back into town. She'll like it a lot more when I sell it for a fortune.

Today, however, I bought something slightly more modern from the same charity shop. It's a toy shopping trolley for Amelie, filled with fake food, counterfeit cans, and grossly overpriced groceries. It may only be made of plastic, but it's frighteningly realistic - the moment I tried pushing it, it swerved and went in the wrong direction. It cost me four quid, which is three more than the ones at Asda, but Amelie seems pleased with it. She's like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, only more intelligent.

On the downside, the trolley was so full of plastic knick-knacks that having bought it, I couldn't easily carry the thing, and was forced to push it back to the health centre at lunchtime like some kind of deranged bag lady with a mental age of three. I almost made it without being seen, until I rounded the last corner, and had to apologise to an elderly lady shuffling along the pavement, as I overtook her on the grass at high speed, with plastic french fries shooting out of my trolley like some kind of James Bond anti-pensioner gadget.

Trolley dash completed, and with my embarrassment fading, I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I'd never see the lady again.

Until twenty minutes later, when I called my first patient of the afternoon...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ah, the joys of parking under a street tree in Brighton...

Something smells fishy...
Anyone got a cloth..?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I arrived home from work yesterday to the sight of Amelie running down the hallway to greet me with a face which looked like the chocolate version of Rudolph. I've heard of brown-nosing, but she was taking it to a whole new level. It transpired that Lisa had spent the afternoon making chocolate chip muffins. With chips the size of potatoes. To be honest, they looked more like chocolate oranges with cake chips.

Lisa suffers from some kind of undiagnosed eating disorder which causes her to be uncontrollably obsessed with her sister's AirFryer and the idea of fat-free cooking, whilst simultaneously keeping three blocks of butter in the fridge to make biscuits. If she's not looking up the latest slimming revolution online, she's up to her elbows in cookie cutters and cake cases. And letting me taste the results. It's no wonder I don't look like Kate Middleton.

If there's one thing I really admire about Lisa, it's the fact that she never lets her lack of ability dampen her enthusiasm. She knows roughly as much about cooking as my Dad, but while he steers well clear of the oven, she's in there (not literally), cooking up a storm. Or some other natural disaster. For the past few months, our kitchen has looked like a branch of Greggs on youth training day. The place is permanently littered with mis-shapen muffins and slightly burnt biscuits.

Yesterday's offering was an impromptu decision, resulting from the fact that a couple of council workmen turned up unexpectedly to fix a leak above our bathroom ceiling, meaning that Lisa was housebound all day with nothing but the contents of our larder and a lot of misplaced confidence. It was like an episode of Ready Steady Cook, but with less planning.

By the time I got home, Amelie had the nose of a chocolate truffle pig, and Lisa was acting like a muffin mule, loading cakes into boxes in the kitchen. Obviously things never quite go according to plan, and this time she'd failed to locate the muffin tin, so she'd cooked them on a baking tray, with the result that they ended up more like scones than muffins. Which to me, made them even more appealing.

Lisa promptly announced that she didn't like them, but Amelie and I begged to differ, so while the wife did the washing up, I danced around the kitchen, stuffing my face and singing "I am the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man!", in an effort to entertain my daughter. Amelie watched all of this with a serious expression on her face, waited for me to stop, then looked up at me with her chocolate-covered features, paused for a moment, and said:

"You're not the muffin man".

I think I've just been put in my place by a two-year-old.

Monday, April 11, 2011

She might be trouble, but at the end of the day, something this cute deserves an ice cream...

Ice Cream Sunday
That was taken yesterday morning. So it was basically an ice cream Sunday. The second Brighton Marathon kicked off in Preston Park at 9am, so at eleven-thirty I took Amelie down to the seafront to watch the runners stumble past the 14 mile mark, and gurn through the railings at the finish line.

Marathon Girl
I was hoping to spot my two colleagues who were taking part, but one of them had already passed by the time I got there, and the other pulled out of the marathon shortly after I sponsored him to do it. I think he cracked under the pressure of my generous donation. Or maybe it wasn't worth running for ten quid.

This was Amelie's second marathon, and she was quite enthusiastic in her support of the participants, even insisting on running along the road with them and helping herself at the water station. But her enthusiasm dwindled somewhat when she looked into the distance and spotted the children's playground in Madeira Drive. So while Steve Cram was welcoming the competitors at the finish line, I was standing half a mile away at the bottom of a slide, telling my daughter it was time to go. I'd still be there now without a bit of bribery. I had to buy her that ice cream just to get her to come home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'm not saying that yesterday afternoon with Amelie and her cousin was a complete nightmare, but at one point, Lisa turned to me and suggested we start using contraception again. As she put it on Facebook this morning, "The show wasn't bad, the children were". Obviously not all the children though. Just ours.

It all started well enough. Here's Lisa's nephew leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street, in case a certain little lady comes by...

Leaning on a lamp-post.
Unfortunately, she not only came by; she ran after him, copied everything he did, and hugged him to within an inch of his life. Which was essentially the problem. Amelie loves Cbeebies, she loves Show Me Show Me, and she loves the idea of letting her parents spend almost fifty quid for a chance to see Chris & Pui perform live. But she loves her cousin far more. So given a choice between watching her TV heroes jumping about on stage for ninety minutes, or watching Lisa's nephew doing the same in the aisle, she'll opt for the latter every time.

As a result, we had to contend with this for an hour and a half...

She was more attached to her cousin than Chris & Pui. Which is annoying when she can see him for free every week.

Chris and PuiIt was particularly frustrating because the show was actually very good. Pui was noticeably pregnant, so if you've got tickets for Basingstoke at the end of June, I'd ask for a refund now. The only place she's likely to be performing is a labour ward. But if you can catch it before Pui increases the show's audience by one, it's well worth the effort. I wouldn't take the children though.

It was basically ninety minutes of songs, rhymes and dancing, sprinkled with enough jokes to keep the adults amused, including one mention of Ann Widdecombe and a line about Humpty Dumpty wearing a shell suit. Pui even took us back ten years by demonstrating the voice she used in her last job as Po from the Teletubbies, which was particularly spooky as she was dressed in red, and had a stomach the size of a football.

All in all, it was a top quality show. Obviously Amelie didn't see much of it, as she was busy trying to climb through the folding seats like her cousin, and lie on her back on the floor. I've heard of the audience rolling in the aisles, but she took it to a more literal level.

The moment the house lights came up and the music began to fade, Lisa jumped up like a woman possessed, and said "Right, let's get out of here". We were through that door and back in the car park quicker than you could say 'never again'. We did stop for one photo though...

Putting a brave face on it.
That was taken in front of Iceland. Which is why Lisa's teeth are gritted.

Obviously everyone was a bit tired by then (it's exhausting running up three flights of stairs at the theatre when you've been expressly told to stay on the ground floor), but after two hours of hell, Lisa and I needed a treat, so we stopped off at McDonalds...

The chips are down.
They had a Happy Meal. We just cried into our burgers.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

We're off in ten minutes to see a show in the west end. That's the west end of Burgess Hill. But today's Grand National day, and it's a well known fact that I've been successfully tipping the winners of the big race here since 2004. Who can forget 2006, when I accurately tipped Silver Birch to win the National at 25-1. Exactly twelve months before he did so.

So in an effort to continue my astonishing run of uncanny predictions, I shut myself in the bedroom this morning and studied the Grand National form while Amelie hammered on the door with a broken bubble machine, and I'm pleased to announce that these are the horses you should be on this year...

Arbor Supreme1st. Arbor Supreme at 22-1.

Quinz2nd. Quinz at 16-1

West End Rocker3rd. West End Rocker at 40-1

Skippers Brig4th. Skippers Brig at 33-1

Chief Dan George5th. Chief Dan George at 50-1

Calgary Bay will lead for the first three miles, then fade out of sight, and I've put two quid on In Compliance at 120-1. But other than that, you can cross the rest out. Unless it rains. In which case, put the mortgage on Silver By Nature.

Right, I'm off to sing songs with a hall full of toddlers...

Friday, April 08, 2011

Since attending Psychic Sally's professional guessing game at the Brighton Theatre Royal in January, I've been getting regular e-mails from the theatre inviting me to buy tickets for productions of a similar high quality. I never asked for them, so it's fitting that they're advertising shows like Spamalot.

In the past week, however, I've received two e-mails which make my membership of the mailing list truly worthwhile. The first featured this remarkable publicity shot of Colin Fry, the psychic Widow Twankey to Sally Morgan's chocolate Buttons...

Colin Fry
I've always said he must have contempt for his audience, and I think that expression proves it.

The second e-mail arrived yesterday, and was even better than the first. I haven't tinkered with it at all - this is exactly what it said...

Gardners Question Time
It's nice of them to call me a British institution, but with tickets costing twenty-five quid, I'd better come up with some answers.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

There are many milestones in the life of a small child - the first tooth, the first steps, the first dislocated arm in Lidl - but there are none more momentous than the life-changing experience Amelie went through yesterday: her first visit from the Potty Fairy.

Anyone who knows me and Lisa will be aware that as dedicated and loving parents, we're no strangers to lying. Especially to our daughter. I tell Amelie on a daily basis that I'll play with her later, that we've run out of chocolate, and that Cbeebies shows horse racing on a Saturday afternoon. Not that she ever believes me. In return, she regularly insists that Chloe wants to be carried and isn't struggling, so to be honest (which neither of us are), we're basically quits.

Obviously I don't want to give the impression that the only thing I write about here is our new toilet seat, but the fact remains that having installed the plastic fantastic in the bathroom last week, Amelie no longer needs her potty. And Chloe can probably do without it. Unfortunately the girl's become quite attached to the thing, because it means she can watch Monsters Inc from start to finish without leaving the room for a comfort break. So in an effort to ease the transition from pampered toddler to deprived child, Lisa spent Tuesday evening telling her about the Potty Fairy.

For anyone not familiar with Lisa's blatant lies, the Potty Fairy watches over you when you're little, and when she sees that you're ready to use the big toilet, she visits your house in the middle of the night and takes your potty away for another child to use, leaving you a present in its place.

In reality, of course, your Mum just buys a new toilet seat on eBay, then your Dad goes down to Asda on a Tuesday night, buys you a couple of cheap toys, and wraps your potty in a bin liner before locking it in the storage cupboard downstairs. I'll delete that sentence before Amelie learns to read.

It's a simple concept, but surprisingly effective. Here's Amelie getting up yesterday morning...

Obviously the third present's invisible, but that just goes to show how magical the Potty Fairy is. It's just a shame she couldn't have hoovered while she was there.

Anyhoo, despite the fact that Amelie spent all day yesterday referring to her mystery benefactor as the Fairy Potty, the charade appears to have worked. I'll spare you the photos of her on the toilet, but here she is having "lots and lots of fun" (her words, not mine) out on the balcony with her new bubble machine...

It's rude to point.
And here she is five minutes later, knocking it off the windowsill...

Burst Your Bubble
It was fun while it lasted. Roll on the Tooth Fairy.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

On the assumption that this blog attracts more elephants than goldfish, anyone who read last week's attempt at toilet humour will remember that amongst the usual comments dragging this work of literary art into the pulp fiction gutter, there was one from Milton Keynes suggesting that our new toilet seat looks like a South Park character. I foolishly replied that I'd get Amelie to peep through it later for a photo. Something I subsequently decided against for reasons of hygiene. And because I couldn't be bothered.

But the good news is that a comment like that is like a red rag to a bull. Or an orange anorak to a concrete cow. And as it happens, I don't just know people who could open a sweet shop. I know people who can open Photoshop. Within days of publishing my WC field report, this image was winging its way to me from Burgess Hill...

Oh my god, they killed Kenny!
That comes courtesy of Chappers, a man who clearly has an uncanny insight into the Gardner family traits. I'm Cartman, the big-boned glutton with the chocolate and popcorn, and Amelie's Kenny. Most of what she says is unintelligible, and she's always on the verge of an accident.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A mere twelve hours after publishing my version of Winner's Dinners here last night, the first reviews came flooding in. I arrived at Crawley Hospital this morning to be met by a receptionist who greeted me with the words "I loved the photo of your family on Mother's Day. You look like you're all lined up to be shot".

I told her that if we looked like we were about to die, it was purely an attempt to blend in with the Wish Tower diners. She then asked me if I enjoyed my honeymoon in God's Waiting Room, before calling me a skinflint. I think I need to de-friend her on Facebook.

Mind you, the woman's generous with her gifts. I came back from lunch to this post-it note...

It was attached to a card they give to the elderly and housebound...

She'd helpfully marked the phone number in case I didn't have my specs.

Monday, April 04, 2011

You know what they say about life giving you lemons...

When life gives you lemons...
Unfortunately Amelie's already drunk enough lemonade to keep her spritely until she's 7 up. I think she's holding out for hot chocolate.

Anyhoo, as previously mentioned, yesterday was Mother's Day, and it's a well documented (but often forgotten) fact that Lisa's not the only mother in my life. There's another, even older one. Naturally, I didn't get around to organising anything for her yesterday, but as luck would have it, my brother did. So while I was busy wrapping up a giant biscuit for Lisa, my Big Bruv was inviting our mother out for a meal at the restaurant of her choice.

We got wind of this on Wednesday. And by Friday we were inviting ourselves along. On the assumption that my brother would pay. And let us take half the credit.

So at 1pm yesterday, we found ourselves here, at the Wish Tower in Eastbourne...

Wish You Were Here
It's a unique combination of restaurant and sun lounge, making it the only café in Britain where Germans put their towels on the seats.

Much like traitors in the Tower of London, the Wish Tower is where hopes and dreams go to die. It's a bit like travelling through a time tunnel to the 1970s, but without the feeling of joy and discovery. The clientele still wear kipper ties though, and beige corduroy is definitely on the menu. In fact, the mere presence of Amelie and her cousin brought the average age of the customers down by a good ten years. To about eighty-four. The place is overwhelmingly populated by people who look like they're on day release from a care home, and attracts diners for whom Michelin stars are just a tyre rating.

Needless to say, my parents are regulars. And each to their own, that's what I say. It might not be my cup of tea (in a clear plastic cup), but there's definitely a market for prawn cocktail starters and banana longboats. Although it must be dying at an alarming rate. If life expectancy wasn't on the increase, they'd have gone out of business years ago.

But I digress. I actually had a lovely time yesterday. For a start, there was the company...

The Usual Suspects
That's me with my Big Bruv, my little niece, my old sister-in-law, some woman I married, my daughter, my Mum and my Dad. Big Sis couldn't make it because... well, because we didn't tell her about it. But let's face it, she thinks Pizza Express is beneath her, so if she had one wish, it wouldn't be to visit the tower.

Pasta My PrimeThe food was surprisingly good though. They had a choice of only three starters: orange juice, soup or prawn cocktail, and two of those are technically drinks (while the third just sounds like one), so I skipped that course and went straight for the main. I chose the lasagne, which came with grated cheese, mushy peas and a slice of cucumber. The tomato's purely decorative. Personally I won't eat anything that hasn't been near a deep fat fryer or a microwave. So I pretty much cleared my plate.

Mouth AlmightyAnd very nice it was too. To be honest, I think I made the right choice. My Mum had both the time and the plaice, and having taken a bite, I felt like throwing it back. I know they say oily fish is good for you, but I don't think that's what the doctors had in mind.

As for desserts, I'm not saying the choice was limited, but six of us went for the pancakes. It would have been seven if we'd asked Amelie what she wanted. They were six of the best though, and came with enough syrup to warrant a diabetes test with your post-meal coffee.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I was particularly pleased that the flaking paint and dusty cobwebs on the ceiling above our table didn't fall into our food. Although the lightbulb had blown, so we might not have noticed.

After two hours of fine dining, we eventually made our way outside to the Western Lawns, where Amelie waved goodbye to her relatives by attempting to be a sundial on an overcast day...

Ray of Sunshine
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Hang on a moment. Is there a frond missing from that rare, exotic and possibly highly endangered bush in the background..?"

Guerilla Gardner
I couldn't possibly comment.