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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There's nothing like getting your hands on a freebie...

That's Amelie harrassing the cuddly rabbit she got free from the people at Lindt. And naturally she looks pretty pleased with herself. Let's face it, no one bugs a bunny like my daughter. And she's always been a bit of a looney tune.

But hold on to your hat, young lady. Keep your hare on and don't look now, because...

... your Daddy's just gone one better. Yes, Amelie may be able to extract a thumper of a gift from Europe's master chocolatiers, but I'm getting my complimentary handouts from America. Which is appropriate as it's the land of the free.

Within twelve hours of publishing yesterday's blog post, I received this e-mail from Manu Lakkur, the man behind Iris Labs of California...

"Hi Phil,

I'm one of the makers of Eye Chart Pro, and came across your story about your daughter and an in-app purchase gone wrong on your blog. I'm glad you got your refund from Apple. But seeing as you work with the eyes for a living, I just wanted to extend to you a free copy of our upgraded version on the house. Hope you find it useful!"

Never underestimate the generosity of a total stranger. First Medalytix gave me an iPad, now Iris Labs have sent me an eye chart. I just need Topcon to buy me a camera, and I can leave the NHS and set up my own private practice. Harley Street, here I come.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The good thing about being stood up by five middle-aged men is firstly that it gives you an insight into the past two years of Big Sis's life, and secondly that it gives you time to do other things. We might not be sitting in the Brighton Centre waiting for Duran Duran to take the stage, but we're currently settled on the cleanest sofa this side of the DFS sale.

Having delivered Amelie to my parents yesterday (who insisted on taking her, regardless of the status of Simon Le Bon's throat) I've spent the day attempting to prove that the phrase 'Dry Clean Only' is one of the biggest lies of the 21st century, by putting all our sofa cushion covers through the spin cycle, and then tumble drying them for two hours on a high heat. The fact that I'm not now watching Britain's Got Talent from the discomfort of a folding patio chair proves that I'm right. I think I'll try it with Lisa's clothes next.

To be honest, the main reason I took Amelie to St Leonards yesterday wasn't because we were expecting to go out tonight. It was because I couldn't afford to keep her. I received an e-mail from iTunes on Saturday containing a receipt for an iPad app costing £29.99 which I'd successfully purchased on Thursday. Which seemed odd as I hadn't even used my iPad on Thursday.

Unfortunately Amelie had. For the past two weeks she's been inseparable from the thing, and I've given her free reign to do as she pleases, safe in the knowledge that she can't do any financial harm without my iTunes password. Unless, of course, I enter it so that she can download a free picture-matching game for toddlers, and then forget to log-out before handing it back to her. Which is what happened when I staggered in from work on Thursday.

I remember her beaming at me as she pressed buttons on the iPad and said "I'm trying Daddy's games!". In reality she was clicking on one of the free apps I downloaded months ago, and upgrading it to the paid version. And she chose the most expensive one I had. I knew nothing about it until I got the receipt from iTunes two days later.

According to the App Store terms and conditions, "all sales are final" and "you cannot cancel a purchase or receive a refund for a purhase", but having already waved goodbye to thirty quid, I felt I had nothing else to lose, so I e-mailed them on Saturday, explaining the situation. And late last night, I received this response:

"Dear Phil,

Christa here from the iTunes Store. I understand that you downloaded some free apps for your 20-year-old daughter and you briefly left the room and when you came back, you found that she has been pressing buttons and ended up purchasing some items and you would like to be refunded for the purchase."

To be honest, with a start like that, my hopes weren't high. Let's face it, Christa's probably younger than my 20-year-old daughter, and would have been well within her rights to point out that Amelie really should know better at that age, and it's my own fault for leaving my iPad in the hands of a morally irresponsible adult who's been raised with a distinct lack of discipline.

But to my surprise, she went on to say this:

"I know how frustrating this can be and I will be happy to assist you with this issue.

The items that were purchased are called in-app purchases. An in-app purchase is an additional purchase you make within an app. In this case, the items that were purchased were "Professional Version with ALL Features" from the app "Eye Chart Pro".

Phil, with that being said, I have reversed the charge for your in app purchase, which I understand was unintentional. In three to five business days a credit of £35.98 should be posted to the credit card that appears on the receipt for that purchase."

Yes, not £29.99, but £35.98. It turns out Amelie bought two upgrades for the same app. I just haven't had the receipt for the second one yet. So all's well that ends well. Instead of watching my faith in Apple crumble, they've proved themselves generous to the core. I've also had a glimpse of the future. Except that in ten years time she'll be stealing my credit card on purpose.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's another one for my album marked 'Photos to Display at Amelie's Wedding'...

Other children play 'Super Mario Land 2' on the GameBoy. Amelie plays it on the toilet.

But plumbers and waterworks aside, it's exactly seven years ago today that I grabbed an opportunity with both hands (in the big fat gypsy sense) and successfully persuaded Lisa to become my girlfriend. It was on this day in 2004 that she finally agreed to go steady. Steadily downhill, that is, towards a major panic attack and nervous breakdown. But the good news is that having come to terms with the foolishness of her decision, she hasn't looked back since. Mainly due to neck problems and a bad sense of direction.

Messages of support have been pouring in today from all four corners of St Leonards. We've had a card from my parents, congratulating us on our ability to extract two anniversary cards out of them in one year. We also received well-wishes from Big Sis, who learnt of our impending anniversary at Easter, and said "I know so many people who have split up after seven years". It made her wishes of 'Good Luck' seem even more meaningful.

I've always said that the secret of a long and happy relationship is originality and spontaneity. So having planned it all a few months ago, I decided to give Lisa the same gift she had for our first anniversary - tickets for Duran Duran. In 2005, that meant driving all the way to Birmingham, but this year the band announced their intention to play the Brighton Centre tomorrow night, with tickets costing a mere fifty pounds each. I know, how do they afford to eat?

Well, the answer is they don't. If they did, they might have consumed enough vitamins to stop them getting ill and cancelling the show 48 hours beforehand. Having parted with my hundred quid back in February, I received a call from Ticketmaster yesterday afternoon to say that Simon Le Bon's got laryngitis, and the gig's been called off. Brighton was due to be the eighth concert of an eleven date tour. Unfortunately they haven't turned up for any of them yet.

Back on Tuesday, Simon LemSip managed to find his voice long enough to say this: "I am so happy to have been given the all-clear by the doctor, so that we can get the shows back up and running", but by Friday they were merrily cancelling yesterday's show at the O2, citing "Simon Le Bon's vocal problems". Which was a surprise as they've never stopped him before.

Lisa's favourite Duran Duran song is 'Come Undone'. Which is pretty much what's happened to all my anniversary plans. It seems like The Wild Boys have turned into old men, and The Reflex is just a gagging order. I think we'll have a quiet night in front of the telly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Having looked down my nose at a woman with syphilis, and considered carving my name into the Evelyn Tables, I left the Hunterian Museum at 3pm on Wednesday and hobbled back to Temple, where I prayed for some healing for my heel and hopped on the tube to Westminster. It was there that I discovered they'd shut half the Jubilee line due to signal failure, and cut off the oxygen to the O2.

So instead of having a mean time in Greenwich, I spent ten minutes outside Tesco Express, texting my brother to say I'd be late. I then took this photo to prove where I was...

... before going underground to face my Waterloo via the Northern line. I eventually rolled up in North Greenwich forty minutes later...

Spikey Hair
Fortunately my brother's more driven than I am, so whilst I'd hurt my heel with a low carbon footprint, he'd got to the O2 by car. He might have paid seventeen quid to park, but I'd paid with my ability to walk. Frankly I was so close to disability, I could have got into the wheelchair section of the arena.

But the good news is that the O2 has plenty of places to sit. And most of them involve eating. So I was soon popping some ibuprofen with a peanut butter & chocolate milkshake in the Armadillo Cafe & Grill. It was like liquidised Snickers with ice cream. Which was appropriate as I felt like I'd just run a marathon. Fortunately the medicinal milkshake did the trick, and within half an hour I was back on my feet and bouncing around with my brother like a middle-aged Jedward...

As for the concert, well I think a 21st century Rush gig is best summed up by this photo...

It's basically twenty thousand bald spots. So with my arthritis, hair-loss, dodgy foot and paunch, I fitted right in.

Having grown up with a Rush fan in the family, I heard most of their songs through my brother's bedroom wall, so I was hoping we'd be sat behind a pillar for that authentic muffled sound. But sadly we had a clear view of the stage, and unobstructed acoustics. So especially for JC of Milton Keynes, here's their opening number, courtesy of someone half a mile closer to the stage...

The version I filmed was closer to the Spirit of Radio. It was crackly and with no kind of visuals.

Anyhoo, for three blokes the wrong side of fifty, Rush were very good indeed. And surprisingly for men of their age, they didn't have any support. Having taken to the stage at 7:45pm, they played until ten to eleven, stopping briefly at 9pm for a mug of Horlicks and a Werther's Original. So the Rush hour was more like three. And it was time well spent. Here's Geddy Lee slapping that bass in front of a stage set modelled on the Albert Square launderette...

As the slogan says, "Real time, half time, bass time, sausage time". I couldn't have put it better myself. Although a more appropriate phrase would have been 'bed time'. As in 'past my'.

By the time I'd staggered outside and taken this photo...

... it was well on the way to the witching hour. I eventually arrived home at 1:45am, knackered, with sore feet and a partial hearing loss. Frankly the only rocking I can do these days is in a chair.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For the past two years I've been mistaken for a doctor on an approximately twice-weekly basis. Even yesterday, whilst sitting in on the clinic of a senior ophthalmic sister with decades of experience, I had a patient call her "nurse" and me "doctor". Which explains why I wanted to go to the Royal College of Surgeons on Wednesday. I thought I'd fit in.

I ended up on a free guided tour of the Hunterian Museum...

Frankly I haven't seen so many bottles since Lisa gave up drinking. The place is full of specimens collected in the 18th cenury by John Hunter, who did as his name suggested, and tracked down enough body parts to fill a trophy room the size of an aircraft hangar.

It's not a museum for the squeamish, but if you've ever yearned to see a 10lb tumour the size of a football, which was removed with no anaesthetic from the face of a Burley bloke in 1785, then there's no better day out in London. I also saw the skeleton of a 7'7" giant, the tooth of an extinct giant sloth, Winston Churchill's dentures and half of Charles Babbage's brain.

Babbage's BrainApparently there was a scheme launched in the 19th century to persuade geniuses to donate their brains to medical science, but having approached a few, requesting to carve them up after death, Babbage was the only one to agree. That's the trouble with geniuses: they're not as stupid as they look.

The bad news is that having split his head open, they couldn't find any discernible difference between the brain of a computer boffin like Babbage, and one of an average person like Lisa. I expect one just worked harder at school.

But despite looking through the biggest collection of internal organs since the Wurlitzer factory closed down, my favourite exhibit was this:

How does she smell..?
It's a false nose attached to a pair of glasses. Which shows that joke shops were alive and well, even in 1888. According to the museum blurb, "This false nose was worn by a woman who had lost her own as a result of syphilis. She later presented it to her physician, stating that she had remarried and that her new husband preferred her without it". Presumably because she reminded him of Groucho Marx. I expect he wanted to go down the pub and say "My wife's got no nose...", in the hope that someone would ask how she smells.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I might have had reservations about a dodgy dinner date on Tuesday, but I was more than happy to spend last night with three middle-aged men...

Four, if you count my brother.

That little ditty was first released thirty-four years ago when I was not much older than Amelie, so it gives you an indication of how The Piglet Song might sound in 2045.

Anyhoo, what with it being only seven months till Christmas, I decided to celebrate yesterday by taking the day off work and heading up to London to see Rush (don't say "Who?") at the O2 Arena. Obviously I'm far too young to be familiar with much of their work (the first twenty years are a blur), but my brother's a big fan, and what's more, he can still fit into the t-shirt he bought at Wembley in 1988...

Rush Hour
Like Michael Jackson, that t-shirt was a bit more black in the 80s, but other than that, it's worn pretty well. As has my brother. You wouldn't believe he's pushing fifty with a short stick.

But enough about music, let's talk pickled babies. Having spent eighteen quid on a train ticket, I didn't want to Rush straight to the O2 yesterday, so I decided to get closer to the heart by visiting the Royal College of Surgeons at lunchtime for a few jars...

Pickled BabyThat's a girl I picked up at the Hunterian Museum in Holborn, and is just one of thousands of pickling jars on display. It's like a branch of the W.I. run by Rose West. I'm not saying it's unsettling, but at one point I sat down and watched a ten-minute brain surgery video, just for some light relief. Let's face it, it's not every day you see a testicle the size of a coconut, and a severed foot with smallpox. At least, not where I come from.

Unfortunately, I've only got a half-day off work today, and I'm due at the Sussex Eye Hospital in less than an hour for my own brand of surgery. So like most NHS patients, this will have to wait...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Considering we're still a month from the summer solstice, today's been a surprisingly long day. Frankly I'm as drained as my mother-in-law's sinuses after her blocked tear duct operation. But the good news is that halfway through the afternoon, I received the following offer from one of my patients, who shook my hand as he left, thanked me for my time, and said the following with complete seriousness:

"You know where I live. Please come round any time you like for a drink or something to eat. We can cook you a meal. You've got our address, just drop by when it suits you."

It's a tempting offer, but let's face it, the man's diabetic, so the desserts are bound to be disappointing. In the end I just went home to Lisa. She might not always have my tea on the table, but there's generally a chocolate chip muffin in the cupboard.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Coming up at the hospital this week...

Why Am I So Wobbly?
I presume the sandwich lunch is followed by jelly for dessert. And the speaker's a consultant seismologist. Or possibly a Weeble.

But in more earth-shattering news, I'm now quaking in my boots because I've finally got an appointment to be pumped full of steroids. When I saw the podiatrist last month, he told me that I won't be able to drive home from the needling appointment (possibly because it involves a puncture wound), and that I'll need to rest my foot as much as possible for a day or two afterwards. He then said (in a suspiciously loaded kind of a way) "You work at the hospital, don't you..?"

I think the moment I said "Yes!" in a proud and cheery way, I must have been instantly flagged up on some kind of NHS red-alert list, because having warned my boss that I'll probably need two days sick leave (one for the shooting up, and one for recovery), they've sent me an appointment for Friday the 3rd of June at 6pm. It's like they're deliberately working late, just so that I don't have to take any time off. I'm gutted. I can still spend two days with my feet up, but not at the tax payer's expense.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yes... there's someone coming through... I can see a friendly face... light brown hair... maybe a sweet tooth... don't tell me, don't tell me... is it... Dougal from the Magic Roundabout?

Psychic Ammy
No, it's our good friend Marie! Although now you mention it...

Magic Roundabout
If I was a bit more embarrassed, we'd have one hell of a tribute act on our hands. The Tragic Roundabout. I think it could work.

Anyhoo, believe it or not, that photo on the right was taken by Amelie, who was standing on the sofa with my camera, directing us into position, and insisting that we all said 'cheese', with the kind of firm insistence not seen since Thatcher was in power. To be honest, it came quite naturally to her. And it's a good job it did, because when I was in charge of the camera, this was the best we could do...

No Choke
Three of us are doing a pretty good job of looking natural, but ultimately the eye tends to be drawn towards the one choking to death in the middle. It's like I'd issued some kind of gagging order.

But choking apart, as is probably obvious by now, we had a visit yesterday from Croydon's greatest export (which isn't saying much), the lovely Marie. Over the years, we've built up quite a collection of group photos, to which you can add the one from last time, and now the photos above, but to be honest, we still haven't achieved one that we're all happy with. I think it's some kind of collective body dysmorphic disorder. We all think we look fat. Which is patently ridiculous to anyone who knows us.

I realise the camera adds twenty pounds, but Amelie assured me I looked thin through the viewfinder...

Daddy's Girl. I mean Girl's Daddy.
I think maybe she was talking to Pingu.

Anyhoo, if you look at either of the group photos above, you'll see that Marie was standing next to a wise man. No, really. But if you ignore the one with the comedy gold, you'll see another with Frankincense on the shelf behind. That was knitted for Amelie last Christmas by a lady named Margaret, who lives next door to Lisa's Mum. Amelie calls her Margaret the Cabbage, for reasons less offensive than you might think.

About a month ago, the wise man suffered a hideous dismemberment which resulted in his hand falling off, and despite praying to the Baby Jesus for healing, he's been mostly armless ever since. But the good news is that I managed to perform a miracle of my own on Friday by remembering to buy some glue at Asda, so yesterday afternoon Marie and I settled down to play doctors and nurses, and perform a bit of surgery.

At which point we discovered that I'd spent two quid on an empty tube of glue. In sealed packaging. Frankly the only thing it could stick was in my throat. So I'm looking forward to returning that to Asda next week and cheerfully trying to convince them that my fully squeezed tube had been full of hot air all along. I imagine they'll respond to me in a similar way.

So finding ourselves stuck for some glue, Marie and I decided to take Amelie out to the park, while Lisa cleared away our lunch plates and prayed to Dr Atkins for forgiveness. We took with us a cuddly duck which Marie had kindly brought for Amelie, and which she claimed had hatched from the Easter Egg that she couldn't give her, on account of the fact that she'd eaten it herself.

In my day, playgrounds were full of slides and swings. Now it's all elaborate torture chamber equipment...

No pain, no gain.
... and S.A.S. assault courses...

Be the best.
But after a quick sit-down on a spike...

... and some soothing ice cream, we returned home, where I promptly proved my status as a child entertainment genius by inventing a brand new game. It's called 'Moo!', and if I'm honest, I wasn't so much trying to invent a game as throwing a stuffed cow at Marie, but let's face it, a lot of the world's greatest innovations have come about by accident. Just look at The Piglet Song.

'Moo!' essentially involves tossing a cuddly cow to Amelie whilst shouting "Moo!", then waiting while she does the same back to you. Lisa claims there's "not much to it", but to be honest, she said that about The Piglet Song, so she's clearly failed to spot the nuances in both. Amelie, on the other hand, loves it. I'm already working on a follow-up, provisionally entitled 'Quack!', so the way things are going, I could have a successful music, games & movie franchise on my hands. Years from now, kids will be going to Gardner World.

Friday, May 20, 2011

This appeared in the Daily Mirror today...

I ripped it out of my mother-in-law's copy after work, so technically that's seven years bad luck. But if it gets us a baby, we can probably live with it.

Two months ago we were offered IVF for £4,000 with a 15% chance of success. Now Boots are guaranteeing us pregnancy within a year for five hundred smackers. Give it a few weeks and Poundland will be selling us twins for a quid.

Personally, I'd never heard of DuoFertility, but it turns out they were featured on 'Britain's Next Big Thing' on BBC2 last month...

It's basically a device which takes Lisa's temperature 20,000 times a day, and tells us when she's on heat. If it's not already obvious. And from what we've read on the internet, it sounds pretty successful. Lisa's been researching it this evening while I dash down to Asda for pregnancy tests and babygros. Obviously I don't have a spare five hundred quid just knocking about the place, but I do have a credit card, and what's more, I'm prepared to use it.

On the downside, the article above says that they'll refund the purchase price "if the buyer does not become pregnant". So if I order it myself, we could be on to a loser.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lisa and I are going to see the 'Britain's Got Talent' live tour at the Brighton Centre next month. We took Amelie to the show three years ago as part of a scientific investigation into the effects of top quality entertainment on the unborn child, and sure enough, three months later she emerged into this world, gifted and with a love of dancing dogs.

No one enjoyed the show quite as much as I did though, and to this day, Lisa still speaks of my little face lighting up with pleasure as I watched the Cheeky Monkeys and wished I could get my hands on a Gin. I'd booked our tickets for this year's tour before the series had even started on TV, and having seen Gay & Alan with the handbells, I'm looking forward to it more than ever.

So imagine my delight when I opened up my e-mails this morning and found this hand-drawn picture of Ant & Dec, sent from a fellow fan...

Ant & Dec
It's the first decent sketch those two have appeared in since the days of SM:TV Live, and it came direct to me from Milton Keynes' top drawer, king of the bargain bass men and owner of the happiest cat in wonderland, Jon Cheshire. He's trying to prove that Bletchley's got talent.

Unfortunately, having read his e-mail, I was forced to clear the Decs from my mind, when I discovered that the bloke on the right who looks like Fred Flintstone is actually Paul Gascoigne. So I presume the one on the left is Raoul Moat. Either way, Gazza hasn't been so pale and drawn since he came off drugs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

As of this morning, I've downgraded Lisa's stomach bug from acute cholera to mild dysentery, so I think she's on the mend. I've spent the past 36 hours refusing to kiss her in the hope of avoiding infection, but she's put a remarkably brave (and surprisingly cheerful) face on that situation, and battled on regardless.

In the meantime, I've been embracing communism by getting pally with the Chinese. I e-mailed the bloke behind Newness World on Monday about Amelie's love for his software, and sent him a link to her latest video. Yesterday I received this e-mail which was made in China and written in English. Or an approximation of it...

Your daughter is so so cute!
Thanks very much for your video! We'll continually add new scenes and work hard for your enjoy :)

With best regards,

No mention of freebies then. That's the trouble with China – it doesn't matter which way you turn, sooner or later you'll hit a brick wall. I should have laid it on thick about how tough life is in coalition-ruled Britain.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lisa went down with a violent stomach bug in the middle of last night. I'm not saying how violent, but the bed was like a crime scene this morning and the toilet's been well and truly assaulted. The good news, however, is that despite going to the same places, seeing the same people, and eating the same foods since Saturday, I appear to be fine. So I think she's got cholera from Peter Pan's waterspout.

Mind you, at 4pm this afternoon I was forced to sign a three month extension to my current temporary work contract, instead of the super-duper permanent one I'd been promised, so right now I feel pretty sick myself.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The trouble with the paparazzi is that they hound you...

Watching Me, Watching You
... and hound you...

Watch, Daddy!
... and hound you...

Watcha Talking 'Bout, Willis?
... until you feel like you're being dogged wherever you go.

But still, it can't be easy living with a haemorrhoid like that...

Pile on the Pressure
... so at the end of the day, we've all got piles of our own problems.

Anyhoo, Steve Jobs might believe that an Apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in my experience, too much time on the iPad leads to obesity. So with that in mind, we dragged Amelie away from her apps yesterday afternoon, and took her down to Peter Pan's Playground on the seafront. We thought the exercise would do her good. Although obviously we drove there, because Daddy can't walk more than ten yards without crying. The sooner I'm heeled with a few steroids, the better.

Luckily, we timed our trip to perfection, and managed to get the entire playground to ourselves. Which is what happens when you arrive at 5:30pm on a cloudy day, just as it's about to rain, with an arctic blast blowing straight off the English Channel. I haven't been so cold since I walked down the cheese aisle at Asda in a t-shirt.

When I say we had the playground to ourselves, that's not strictly true. Naturally we had to throw a couple of sulky emo kids off the toddler slide, where they were contemplating suicide or sex or something, but they soon shuffled off in a kind of morose I-hate-the-world-but-I'll-probably-write-a-song-about-this-later type way. Especially when Amelie threatened to climb all over them.

So with the decks cleared, it simply remained for me to climb to the top of the big slide, turn on my camera, and wait for Lisa to stumble across the pressure pad which controls the hidden water spouts...

It gets 'em every time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

If you think the most impressive performance at last night's Eurovision Song Contest came from Azerbaijan (or possibly the breakaway state of Jedward) then you'd be wrong. The standout achievement of the evening actually came in the form of this text message, sent from me to Big Sis at 9:33pm, two minutes after Azerbaijan took to the stage...

On MessageI might not be able to find their country on a map, but I can spot a winner a mile away. Ell and Nikki had barely floated offstage in their wedding outfits, and I was already telling Lisa they had it sewn up.

Naturally she refused to believe me, and continued championing her favourites, Romania. That's the same Romania who finished 17th. As I told her at the time, there's only so much talent in one country, and they've already produced The Cheeky Girls.

So with Lisa refusing to recognise my incredible musical insight, I texted Big Sis instead. I'm not sure she noticed though. She sent me eighteen messages last night, but most of them were questioning whether Moldova exists, and asking where Terry Wogan's gone.

But on the subject of televisual insight, we were watching The Apprentice last Wednesday, where the teams had to create a new mobile phone app, and like a flash of psychic sixth sense, two things suddenly occurred to me. Firstly, that these people are the kind of mindless fools who are barely suited to YTS, never mind The Apprentice, and really should be painting fences on a Community Payback scheme; and secondly, that I ought to be doing more with my iPad. Not that I could really be doing less. It's been on the shelf for so long the battery had gone flat, and was so dusty I could write my name on the screen without turning it on.

But having watched the teams create a couple of apps which would insult the intelligence of a two-year-old, I realised there was probably a whole world of games out there for Amelie to play. She has a lot more free time than I do, and is more technologically minded. So yesterday I went onto the App Store, entered the words 'preschool' and (more importantly) 'FREE' into the search box, and downloaded a few games.

Now, I'm not saying she's some kind of child genius (well ok, I am), but she's only had this game for twenty-four hours, and she hasn't even read the instructions...

That's Shape Puzzle HD, a free jigsaw game from Chinese developer Newness World, which is the kind of name you come up with when your first language isn't English. Am was addicted within half an hour. I tried to take her shopping yesterday, and she told me she couldn't come until she'd finished the elephant. I actually had to stand by the front door and wait while she slid a trunk and two ears into place.

She's now plugging the game on YouTube, so I think I'll e-mail China for a free copy of the paid version.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's a well known fact that I basically just write this blog to get freebies. And hate mail. But mostly freebies. Over the past year, I've successfully claimed ownership of hand-made chocolates, chewy sweets, retro mugs and a ball & chain, all thanks to the charismatic pulling power (and shameless desperation) evident in these words. I'm essentially a one-man charity case.

And now, like all good charities, I've got people out there on the streets, mugging strangers for me, and persuading them to hand over stuff for a good cause. I found out this morning that after writing about Amelie's Easter Egg Hunt on this blog last month, my Dad e-mailed Lindt's master chocolatiers with a link to that video, in the hope that they might be amused by the news that Amelie thinks their luxury gold bunny looks like a vicious reptile.

Personally I'd have anticipated another cease and desist order, but it seems not. This morning a parcel arrived from Lindt with a thank you letter, some chocolate bunnies and - most impressive of all - this...

See you later, alligator.

I might see if I can get a sledge out of Shelley Rudman.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What with it being Friday the 13th and all that, Blogger has naturally gone tits-up today and suffered a major malfunction, resulting in the temporary loss of all posts published since Wednesday. Personally I think it was instigated by the manager of The Brasserie at Brighton Marina, but I've so far failed to prove that.

In the meantime, the good news is that YouTube's still working, so here's the latest sports footage from the west country...

Shelley Rudman, eh? I bet she's got a few skeletons in the closet. Fortunately she's used to going downhill fast, which must be how she coped with visiting Devizes, but if you're wondering about the identity of the mysterious figure in black who pedals like a maniac and then says "Oooh, ain't it heavy!" in a gormless voice whilst meddling with a lead doughnut, well that would be none other than Big Sis. She's officially a Woman of Wiltshire (WOW). Although she thinks of herself as a Girl of Devizes (GOD). Either way, she's fit.

Being 120 miles from Wiltshire (which is about as close as you'd want to get), I naturally couldn't record 'Points West' off the telly. And neither could Big Sis. She struggled to get her DVD recorder to work last night. So I hacked into the iPlayer this morning and uploaded that clip to Youtube. I then e-mailed Big Sis with the news. She responded with this:

"The bit where I featured most was in the trailer!! Is that not available?!"

There's just no pleasing some people...

It's not so much fifteen minutes of fame, as five seconds in the background. She's like Ricky Gervais in Extras.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I arrived home from work today to be greeted by Amelie running down the hallway to meet me with the words "Daddy! I've got carrots in my socks!". Which wasn't the news I expected when I opened the front door. Needless to say, it's the kind of announcement you feel compelled to check before fully believing, but sure enough, having picked her up and examined her feet, I can confirm that she did indeed have carrot sticks in her socks.

Naturally I asked her why. She replied "Because I've been on a picnic".

I wasn't sure that really answered my question, but I decided to leave it there before she produced a scotch egg from her knickers. To be honest, I'd had enough of unexpected messages by that point. An hour earlier I'd received the news that due to a technicality beyond my control, after two years in my current job I'm not going to be allowed to officially graduate to fully-qualified status in a fortnight's time as expected, and will now have to forego my promised pay rise and carry on for at least a couple more months on a lower wage. So this year's holiday could be out the window. Quite literally. I'm suggesting we spend it on the balcony.

But fortunately that e-mail of doom was swiftly followed by this cheering text message from Big Sis:

"I should be on TV tonight, spinning and talking with Shelley Rudman, Olympic medallist! Points West local news!"

It's Big Sis's birthday today. I don't know what Rudman's excuse is. But apparently she's providing the wow factor. I don't imagine that's hard in Devizes. I'm off to watch it on the iPlayer...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I think The Brasserie at Brighton Marina is God's way of putting you off gluttony. I'm not saying it was poor last night, but the meal cost us more than The Well at Bulkington, and tasted more like the bulk of a wellington.

On the plus side, their marketing's brilliant. We were driving home from St Leonards on Sunday, and saw a banner at Brighton Racecourse advertising The Brasserie with the words "Now Open!". I said I thought it had been there for years, but having visited Asda on Monday and seen a similar sign with the same slogan, we decided we must be thinking of a different place, and resolved to visit this brand new Italian restaurant the very next day.

When we got there at 6pm last night, we realised we'd been had. The Brasserie's been in Brighton longer than I have. And having felt no urge to visit the place at any point in the past five years, all it took to finally get us through the doors was two simple words: "Now Open!". We're an advertising man's dream.

As we were working on the assumption that the restaurant was new, we didn't bother looking up reviews online before we went. If we had done, we'd have found that the users of give it an average score of 1.3 out of 10. Making it a miracle that it's "Now Open!", and not bankrupt and closed.

Fortunately we didn't know that at the time, so we were able to approach The Brasserie with a completely open mind, and without any preconceived prejudices. And sure enough, we thought it was better than the reviews suggested. I'd have given it at least 2.

To be fair, the surroundings were very nice. Those we could see, anyway. Unfortunately, when I opened the door marked 'Toilets', I found nothing but pitch-black darkness and no light switch. Having reported it to the nearest English-speaking person (which turned out to be Lisa) I then had to stand there for two minutes while a member of staff wandered about on the other side of the building, trying to find the power supply.

They soon managed to shed some light on the subject though, and I was able to view the toilets in all their glory. At which point I was tempted to go back outside and ask them to turn the light off again.

As for the food, I had a bit of well-done baguette masquerading as garlic bread, followed by a plate of spaghetti and bacon, while Lisa spent £16.95 (yes, £16.95) on some sea bass and a few lumps of potato. I have to say, just one taste of that fish instantly evoked memories of idyllic childhood holidays on the beautiful Isle of Wight. It was just like The Needles. And I told Lisa so, as I picked five pin-sized bones out of my mouth, and spat the rest out.

The desserts, however, were something else. Something else I can moan about, that is. The Brasserie menu doesn't give any prices for puddings, so it's not until you get the bill that you find out you've just spent a fiver on the most tasteless slice of chocolate cake ever made. Lisa's Amaretto cake was ok, but it cost us another fiver to find that out.

Having served us (slowly) with disappointing food at extortionate prices, they clearly don't expect a tip. So they automatically add a 10% service charge to your bill. We ended up spending five quid more than we did at Bulkington for a meal that was quite unWell. From this point on, "Now Open!" refers to our eyes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When your toddler's out of town for a couple of days, it's important to make the most of every precious and fleeting child-free moment. So Lisa and I went to Asda last night. And got some ibuprofen for my foot. And tamsulosin for my prostate. Before picking up some Werther's Originals. We then went to bed early.

Obviously it's not easy to let your hair down when you've lost most of it due to old age, but the good news is that we have one more evening of freedom, so we're going out tonight to live life in the fast lane. That's the fast lane to morbid obesity. We're heading for the nearest Italian restaurant to dance on the grave of Dr Atkins, before getting our five-a-day by vegging out on the sofa in front of The Apprentice.

Needless to say, when most parents are separated from their children, they remind themselves of their absent loved ones by looking at photos of them. Personally I can go one better. I don't just look at photos of Amelie. I look at photos taken by Amelie. She might be two-and-a-half, but like the rest of the world, she only has to get her hands on a cheap digital camera and she thinks she's Mario Testino. Here are just a few of the holiday snaps she took in Wiltshire a fortnight ago...

You might think she was photographing me in that last one. She wasn't. She was trying to get a shot of the 'Taste of Bengal' in Devizes.

Monday, May 09, 2011

On the battlefields of 1066, the victor's terrifying war face is truly a sight to behold...

Life's Rich Tapestry
That's Amelie making a mountain out of a molehill (or possibly an ant-hill) in a field close to Battle Abbey. The bag she's holding contains the spoils of war. Which, in this case, is a collection of twigs, leaves, pine cones and flowers, plus a battery-operated cat's tail she stole from my Dad. Don't ask.

It was appropriate that we were only a stone's throw from Battle Abbey, partly because Amelie's liable to launch a pebble-attack at any moment, but mainly because we were supposed to be in church at the time. As guests of my parents, Lisa, Amelie and I decided to attend yesterday's morning service at Battle Baptist Church, the only chapel in Britain where the all-conquering God is called William, and they believe strongly in an eye for an eye.

The service started well. For Amelie at least. She was served with three cups of squash and a biscuit. Unfortunately, by the time she'd finished them, her enthusiasm for sitting still quickly faded, and I was forced to take her outside. We left at around 1066. Or about five past eleven.

So while the rest of the family were fighting the good fight, Amelie and I were invading the Battle fields nearby. Here she is recreating a Norman sword fight armed with nothing but a dandelion...

Dandelion's Roar
There are pictures of me as well, but Amelie was too busy running through the meadow with a Battle cry of The Piglet Song to actually stop and take my photo, so I had to leave the camera on an ant-hill...

I look like I'm being stalked from behind a bush. Amelie was originally in that photo too, but unfortunately the timer was set for ten seconds, which is more than enough time for her to sprint off over the horizon like an all-conquering Frenchman.

Having advanced as far as the 1066 battlefield, we retreated back to the church via a field of cows, which Amelie said she wanted to stroke, before pointing at them from a distance and telling me "They're full of milk". I told her to pull the udder one. On both counts.

Having got my daughter to the church on time, we all returned to my parents' house, where I spent the afternoon cleaning my car for the first time this decade. Lisa and I then returned home yesterday evening, leaving Amelie to Battle on with her grandparents until Wednesday. Needless to say there were tears when we left. She really didn't want us to take Chloe.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

You know what it's like. You post an original song on YouTube, it's instantly viewed worldwide, and within hours you're being whisked thirty-five miles across country to a secret location and being asked to perform it live in front of a specially invited audience of music industry insiders...

That was Amelie singing for her supper at 9pm last night. Having published yesterday's blog post, we packed a couple of bags and drove to St Leonards to spend the weekend with my parents. By eight-thirty, when we pulled into their driveway (well, parked on their lawn), they'd watched her video enough times to know The Piglet Song like the back of their hams, and were lying in wait with a microphone and a pair of Elton John glasses.

Needless to say, the showcase went down a storm. Now I just need to cut a record deal that doesn't involve my Dad on the swanee whistle.

Friday, May 06, 2011

I don't know if I'm just unfit to govern, but exercising my democratic right last night left me feeling like I'd run ten miles down the road to power. By the time I got back from the polling station, I was so tired I had to go to bed early. I think it's the weight of responsibility I was forced to carry up those steps to the community centre.

But the good news is that shortly after collapsing into a safe seat, I had the pleasure of being played like a violin by my own daughter, who climbed onto my lap, lifted up my shirt, and started beating my belly to the tune of The Piglet Song.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "The Piglet Song? Is that the new one from Lady Gaga?". Well funnily enough, no. But I'm not ruling it out for the future. The Piglet Song is actually a self-penned number that I composed a few months ago in the musical hit factory that is my car. I was driving Amelie to Asda, and she was driving me around the bend. She'd already requested that I sing her the theme song from Winnie the Pooh and a rhyme based on Tigger, before suddenly demanding a song about Piglet.

Obviously I have a vast musical repertoire that encompasses songs about twinkling stars, ethnic sheep and round bus wheels, but I didn't actually know one about Piglet. And I told her so. A fact she immediately chose to ignore. So after three minutes of high-pitched moaning and crying, not all of it coming from me, I decided to make one up.

It's a well known fact that several years ago, before being struck down by crippling arthritis and an even more crippling lack of talent, I was a prolific songwriter and composer, producing upwards of two or three songs every couple of years. So I'm no stranger to making up rubbish. You can check out my back catalogue here. There's a link at the side to a site selling earplugs.

Generally, the only hits that come to me in my car are collaborations with bollards, but on this occasion, there was undoubtedly some musical stardust in the air, and quicker than you could say 'pay and display', I was driving into the Asda car park with a fully formed song bursting forth from my lips. They say Paul McCartney wrote 'Yesterday' in his sleep. I wrote The Piglet Song in thirty seconds whilst driving a Skoda. And it's already been more of a hit.

For the past few months, Amelie's been demanding The Piglet Song on every car journey we ever make. To be honest, it's become a bit of an albatross. And I don't mean the one by Fleetwood Mac. I'm like Dexy's Midnight Runners. I've written any number of songs, but all people want to hear is 'Come On Eileen'. The only good thing is that I no longer have to sing it alone. Like any super-fan, Amelie's learnt all the words, and will burst into song at a moment's notice. I've heard her belting out The Piglet Song in the car, on the street, and in the middle of the night. Frankly there's nowhere she won't sing it. I just wish she'd pay royalties.

All of this means that the song is beginning to reach a wider audience. Having attended her own personal stones concert in Avebury, Big Sis denounced The Piglet Song as "tuneless" and "boring", while our friend 'C', who heard it in the back of our car last week, questioned its lyrical merits, and pointed out that it doesn't rhyme. Which shows what they both know about music.

The good news is that the world can now make up its own mind. As Amelie started rhythmically punching me in the stomach last night, I grabbed my camera and recorded this, the worldwide premiere of my one-hit wonder. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Piglet Song...

She's performing it whilst admiring herself in the mirror. She gets that from her father.

The lyrics, should you wish to sing along, are:

Piglet, Piglet, we all love little Piglet,
He's soft and pink and he's got a curly tail,
And he's got a little nose,
Piglet, Piglet, we all love little pigs.

There are certain musical Philistines who feel that those lyrics hit something of a low point around the third line. Frankly they should try composing a song whilst tackling the marina roundabout and see what they come up with. It might not rhyme, but at least it's anatomically correct. Personally I think it's a triumph. Although I wrote it in a Skoda.

What the future holds for The Piglet Song is unclear. Potentially I've tapped into a huge market by creating something which instantly appeals to the under-threes, but traditionally toddlers don't have a big disposable income, and parents seem to hate it, so it might not make me much money. It's up on YouTube though, so with two-year-olds now using iPads, I think I'll just wait for it to go viral.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I was screening desperate Hurst wives in mid-Sussex yesterday, so at lunchtime I hobbled two hundred yards down the road (which is about my limit these days) to visit Hurstpierpoint's one and only charity shop. According to its fan page on Facebook (because obviously it has one), it is in fact "the WORLD'S GREATEST charity shop", and having popped in yesterday, I'm inclined to agree.

I only go there once a year when we do two weeks of clinics at their health centre, but in the past I've picked up clothes, DVDs and enough wooden toys to fill a tree house. Yesterday, however, I took the bargain-hunting to a whole new level by coming away with this...

MBT Tariki Shoes
And they threw in a second one for free. It's a pair of MBT Tariki shoes. In perfect condition. And in my exact size. Which, should you wish to buy me socks at Christmas, is 9½.

African tribesmen swear by them, so naturally they don't come cheap. The recommended retail price for such a fine pair of footwear is... (take a deep breath now)... £159.95. Although you can get them for a hundred and ten if you shop around.

If, however, you shop around in the Hurst Community Charity Shop, you can pick them up for three quid. And you get a free carrier bag. But that's not all. I also bought Amelie a pair of pink Next trainers for a pound...

The Hot Shoe Show
I must admit, there's probably something slightly immoral about picking up two hundred quid's worth of shoes, and then standing there waiting while they hand you some change from a fiver. But I didn't let that stop me. I wore my new shoes for the rest of yesterday's clinic, and I've been wearing them all day today. These things could work wonders for my plantar fasciitis. And my fashion sense. It was the bargain of a lifetime. I spend one day saving the sight of the Hurst wives, and I end up robbing them blind.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

You know I said the police were round here again on Wednesday? Well, I wasn't making it up...

Pot Luck
That article was helpfully marked for us by Lisa's Mum, who scours the local press on a daily basis for the latest crime scene reports from our block. Obviously it's a full-time job. When she read that Bin Laden had been killed, she was just shocked it didn't happen in the flat next door.

She phoned me on Sunday with the news above, before adding (in a slightly suspicious tone), "It's all been happening since you moved in, Phil...". It's like I'm some kind of criminal mastermind. The neighbours call me Mr Big, but I think that has more to do with obesity.

Anyhoo, before everyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, I should point out that Lisa's no longer in her 30s, and the only pot plants we have are Amelie's sunflowers, so we're definitely in the clear. It all makes sense though. When we watched the police on Wednesday, we saw them carry out some makeshift light-reflectors made from large sheets of silver-backed paper. At the time, we wondered if our neighbour was running some kind of illegal photographic studio. Now we know she was just watching the grass grow under her feet.

But the real question is this: was the mould behind our wardrobe the result of a lawn sprinkler upstairs?

Monday, May 02, 2011

So, Amelie, how would you rate the Tea Rooms at the Salvation Army's Hadleigh Training Centre..?

Perfect Ten
Personally I'd knock a point off for not giving her a plate with that pig sandwich, but each to their own. At least the table looks clean.

Anyhoo, I think I've recovered from a mild case of foot & mouth disease, so to get back to the shaggy goat story, my brother suggested that we all head off to Hadleigh on Saturday afternoon for some lunch at the Salvation Army. Naturally I was expecting soup served from the back of a van, but it turned out to be a café staffed by people with special needs. Thereby making it virtually indistinguishable from most branches of KFC. Interestingly, they did serve soup, but it was Cream of Lettuce, so you'd need to be homeless and starving to want it.

In the end, we opted for sandwiches (because they'd sold out of everything else), which gave me the chance to try some piri-piri chicken so hot I thought I'd have to attend a burns unit for dessert.

From there, we headed outside to the Rare Breeds Farm, where they charge you £2.50 to get in, stamp your hand to prove you've paid, and then put up signs everywhere telling you to wash your hands after touching each animal. By the time we'd gone halfway round, we looked like we'd snuck in without paying. But that aside, it was very good. Personally I like my meat well-done, but the rare breeds on display were still pretty appetising, and Amelie seemed to like them...

Having stuffed a few animals, we headed uphill to the willow maze, where we split into two teams for a race to the centre. With logical thinking and a keen sense of direction vital to success, I naturally did everything I could to avoid having Lisa on my team, but after a short argument I was informed that this is what the wedding vows meant by "for worse", so I was forced to accept my fate and take her with me.

Obviously we lost. Mainly because Amelie was on the other side, and could squeeze through the holes in the hedge. Here she is leading her team to victory...

Am Mazing
I call that photo 'Am Mazing'. And it was thirty seconds after taking it that she slipped through another hole and completely disappeared from view. It's hard to describe the panic you feel as a parent when you're separated from your two-year-old in a maze. 'Minimal' is the word I'd use, but Lisa would beg to differ. Fortunately, having spent a manic minute running up and down dead-ends and shouting for our daughter, I heard a small voice saying "I think I'm a little bit lost".

To my surprise, it turned out not to be Lisa, and within seconds we were reunited with Amelie. She looked like she'd been pulled through a hedge backwards, but that was mainly because she had.

From there we stroked a shaggy sheep, choked a chicken, and saw some poo and piglets, before finishing up at the play-castle, which was a bit of an after-fort. We eventually left at five-fifteen, a quarter of an hour after they closed, and headed to the beach at Westcliff...

That's my brother in the bottom right hand corner, offering some words of comfort to a local down-and-out. Or my sister-in-law, as she's also known.

Our main reason for heading seaward was to go to Rossi's ice cream parlour, a place I last visited in 2007. And I'm glad I've got that link to prove it. We all know that the US government's microwave mind-control tests are causing TV presenters' brains to melt down, but I'm beginning to think the same thing is happening with this blog. A few days ago, our friend 'C' refused to believe she'd ever been to the theatre with me, and now my brother's going just as mental.

As we walked down the cliff steps to Rossi's, I reminisced about the last time we'd done it, and how we'd strolled along to Adventure Island, been on a rollercoaster, and then walked down the pier. To which my brother responded that he hadn't been to Adventure Island for about ten years, and that if I had, I definitely hadn't done it with him. I'm beginning to think everyone's blocking me out of their memory like I'm some kind of mental trauma.

Give it three years and he won't remember this either...

Which is probably just as well.