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Thursday, June 30, 2011

One of the bonuses of multicultural Britain in the 21st century is that every traditional English pub seems to have a weekly curry night. Well, having spent Wednesday working in the cultural melting pot of Crawley, I'm pleased to report that the Asian curry houses are finally repaying the compliment. I passed this sign yesterday evening outside the Shimla Indian Restaurant near the hospital...

Jam Night
They're going to be inundated with ladies from the W.I.. The place will be jam-packed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That smile can mean only one thing...

The Moaner of Lisa
She's still at her Grandma's.

Her Daddy's got the letter he's been waiting for...

Love Letter
At the last count, there were less than five hundred people in the country with one of those. I think I'm number 501. Which means I can start wearing jeans to work.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

She looks so much happier when she's not at home...

Killer Patio
I haven't seen anyone make such good use of a patio since Fred West was in his prime.

That's Amelie enjoying the weather in my parents' garden. Obviously it was taken yesterday. In today's photo, you can barely see her head above the floodwater as the lightning sets fire to the chair.

But as it happens, Amelie wasn't the only one being entertained in St Leonards yesterday. When we visited on Sunday, we took my Dad a high quality Father's Day gift as a token of our appreciation for all he's done for us over the past year. Namely, dress as Neil Sedaka, accompany Amelie on the swanee whistle, and treat us to a meal in God's waiting room. So we bought him a 'Particle Puzzle'. It seemed like the least we could do. Quite literally.

The blurb on the back on the box says this:

Particle Puzzle
For those without access to a magnifying glass, it's basically a wooden brainteaser which you have to take apart and then put back together again. As the blurb above states, "Once you have separated all the pieces, we challenge you not to stop until you have completed this mind-boggling conundrum". It then goes on to claim that "Once the puzzle's completed, the feeling of disbelief will be even more overwhelming than your feeling of pride". So it's like an Ikea flat pack, only more useful.

We gave it to my Dad at 4pm on Sunday, and at 7pm he sent me this photo:

Apart-icle Puzzle
That was quite impressive, but not as impressive as his slavish dedication to the challenge on the side of the box. He clearly didn't stop until he'd completed it, because this photo arrived eight hours later at 3:27am...

Particle Puzzled
They're not wrong about that overwhelming feeling of disbelief. I'm still convinced he must have cheated.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's a well known fact that the brain is capable of blocking out painful memories to protect the individual from permanent mental damage caused by traumatic events. Which explains why I forgot to mention the car park charges at the Brighton Centre on Wednesday night.

Ordinarily, Lisa and I travel in style to our concerts by catching the bus there and back, but unfortunately that means walking to and from the bus stop, which, in my current condition, is a step too far. So throwing caution to the wind, we decided to drive to the Brighton Centre and park in the multi-storey car park next door. We knew they were bound to charge a lot - maybe, we thought, as much as three or four pounds an hour (no, really) - but with my foot still painful, I didn't have a leg to stand on, so it seemed like my sole option.

Anyhoo, if I thought the show came to a limp conclusion with Jai McDowall, it was nothing compared to the feeling I got when I hobbled back to the pay machine at the multi-storey and found that we were being charged £16 for two and a half hours parking. If we'd been under two hours, we could have escaped for the bargain price of only eight quid, but the penalty for the show running to 130 minutes was a price of sixteen smackeroonies. Frankly I was hopping mad. Quite literally. Next time I'll crawl there on my face.

But despite being taken to the cleaners by NCP last week, the good news is that we managed to scrape together enough cash for a thimble-full of petrol yesterday, and with a following wind, we succeeded in coasting along the coast to St Leonards. My parents spare no expense in their entertainment of Amelie, so having parted with £1.50 (I think that's inflation at the pound shop), they introduced her to the joys of Tiddlywinks yesterday afternoon. Here she is, ten minutes after first trying the game...

I don't know what's more scary: the fact that she can instantly play Tiddlywinks at the age of two-and-a-half, or the fact that she can spell it.

With her grandparents providing the kind of fun she can only dream of at home, we decided to wink goodbye to our tiddler, and leave her with my parents for a night or two. It meant that Lisa and I were able to stop off on our way home yesterday evening for a slap up meal at the Barley Mow pub in Alciston. To be honest, it was our fourth choice for a meal, but the first pub was shut, the second too posh, and the third charged a tenner for a sausage, egg & chips. Frankly if I had that kind of money, I'd be parking for an hour at the Brighton Centre.

By the time we arrived at the Barley Mow, we were so hungry, we'd have eaten anything. Well, almost anything. To be honest, Lisa wouldn't touch her handcrafted cucumber cup...

Cucumber Cup
She was worried the white stuff was E. coli.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

If there's one thing I can be proud of with this blog, it's my uncanny ability to take the piss out of people years before the rest of the world joins in. In 2008, when Sarah Palin first put down her rifle, slapped on her lipstick, and emerged from the obscurity of the Alaskan wilderness to become John McCain's running (out of ideas) mate, it transpired that I'd been bigging her up on this blog a full sixteen months earlier.

Now, in 2011, with Greece about to go bust, and the Arab Spring likely to result in world war by Christmas, Europe is uniting in its vilification of the most heinous villain of the 21st century: an Ipswich seed company. Apparently the French are accusing Thompson & Morgan of killing more people in Europe than Mladić in his heyday. I'm paraphrasing them there, but the sentiment's accurate, I'm sure.

All over France, people are queuing up, not only for the toilet and the sick bucket, but also for a chance to ridicule Thompson and Morgan for their alleged spreading of E. coli. Parisians may not be very fond of their children, but they know how to slag off a Suffolk seed company.

Well frankly they've missed the boat by seven years. As a former resident of Ipswich, I was taking the piss out of Thompson & Morgan back in 2004. Well, I say "I was". To be honest, it was mainly Lisa. The woman's a visionary and ahead of her time. Which is ironic as she's usually late for everything.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I must admit, if you'd told me a few months ago that I'd end up paying almost forty quid a ticket to see a middle-aged man in a shirt and tie doing a dance routine with a couple of blondes in swimsuits...

... I'd have said yeah, that's just the kind of thing I'd spend my money on. There might be starving people in Africa, and a hungry toddler in my kitchen, but if I've got a spare eighty quid in my pocket, the novelty acts beat the famine victims every time.

That's comedy dancer, Steven Hall. He's like the Albert Hall, only older and with more of a dome on top. And frankly he's worth every penny. It's not every day you get to see a grey-haired telecoms engineer shaking his booty to Britney. It was like someone had slipped absinthe into my Dad's Horlicks.

I must admit, the biggest surprise of Wednesday night was how much I liked the bloke on the left. That's Michael Collings, the orange-hooded caravan dweller with a baby on the way. I wasn't blown away by his performance on the TV show, but hearing him live, I could finally see what all the fuss was about. The kid actually has a great voice, and what's more, he can play the guitar pretty well. He's like a young me, before the arthritis took hold. Only not as fat, and with a better dress sense. I really liked him.

Blowing a RazyBut if digital degeneration has spelled the end of my musical career, spare a thought for the chap on the right. He's going to need a hip replacement by the time he's forty. That's Razy Gogonea, the only dancer who bends over backwards to please the audience.

He was very good, but if I have to watch someone in a tight-fitting outfit with a large organ, I'll go for Jean Martyn every time. In addition to going solo in the first half, she was back in the second to accompany the dance Hall antics of Steven. And remarkably good she was too. It was like Big Sis had aged ten years and got a better wardrobe.

The best audience reaction of the night, however, was reserved for pint-sized singing sensation, Ronan Parke...

I should point out that this was an all-seater affair, and that every one of those mobile-phone-wielding teenagers had rushed straight from their seats to the front of the Brighton Centre, the moment Ronan parked himself on the stage. I haven't heard so many deafening screams and witnessed such overwhelming adoration since... well, since we saw George Sampson on the BGT tour three years ago. And just look at him now. If you can find him, that is.

Ronan's undoubtedly got a good voice, but having seen him in real life, my main concern is that he's so tiny, he could get lost down the back of the sofa. Frankly Amelie could have him in a fight. The boy's so small, he makes Kylie look like Rik Waller.

All of which brings me to the final performer, the headline act, the climax of the show, and the winner of Britain's Got Talent 2011, Scottish singing sensation, Jai McDowall...

An Eye for a Jai
Frankly I could take him or leave him. But preferably leave him. He sings the kind of earnest, slow-paced choral numbers, the only purpose of which is to provide a convenient time to pop out to the bar. I don't know what the British public were thinking. He might have had more votes than the Lib Dems, but personally I'd rather hear Nick Clegg sing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I looked up the 'Britain's Got Talent' page on Wikipedia this morning to check my spelling of Gbegbaje (oddly, it is spelt like that), and I found that they have a list of this year's semi-finalists, complete with all their ages. Glancing down the list, I noticed that it gives the ages of 'Mexican Mayhem' as "59, 4, 3". Which sounds like South American child exploitation at its worst. Until you realise it's a dog act.

In other BGT news, yesterday's blog post prompted an interesting and intellectually stimulating debate between Lisa and myself on the relative difficulty of various celebrity impressions. Whilst in bed last night, Lisa stated her view that Les Gibson's rendition of Ross Kemp was remarkably good. A fact I conceded, before adding the caveat that frankly anyone can do Ross Kemp. Two minutes later she was arguing that mine sounded more like Loyd Grossman, I was giving her my Windsor Davies, and she was doing an impression of my sister. It's a miracle we ever got any sleep.

Anyhoo, I know I promised (or should that be threatened?) to finish my account of the Britain's Got Talent live tour today, but after a morning spent rushing a pregnant woman to hospital (sadly not Lisa), and an afternoon working late in Lewes, I'm not sure I've got the energy left to explain this...

Knees Up
Suffice it to say that by that stage of the show, the entertainment was on its knees.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Somebody call the firing squad...

Brighton's Got Britain's Got Talent
They can start with the one on the left. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and his was Alan Sugar, so frankly he gets the red buzzer from me.

But all things considered, the Britain's Got Talent show was pretty good last night. Admittedly, the well of talent in this country has probably been dredged a few times too many, and I'm not sure we've got bucketloads of ability left untapped, but there's still enough underground talent to quench my thirst for entertainment.

BouncyFirst up last night were New Bounce, the first boy band ever to be named after an improved tumble-dryer sheet. I quite enjoyed them on the TV series, with all their talk about being "brothers from another mother" (which sounds like a Jeremy Kyle episode). In reality they turned out to be child stars in the West End, rather than school friends from the ghetto, but I still thought they were quite good, in a non-offensive, bouncy kind of way.

Lasting ImpressionThey were followed by comedy impressionist (is there any other kind?), Les Gibson. His middle name's either Paul or Fender. To be honest, he was pretty good, but whereas every other act benefitted from glitzy staging, video backdrops, professional dancers and a musical backing, he was expected to wow us with just a suit and a microphone. The only backing he got was curtains. Which is what it spells for his act. I felt sorry for the man, because every time he came on, the show went a little flat. Much like his Alan Sugar impression. But the former wasn't his fault.

Things picked up a little with Billy Elliot tribute act, James Hobley, but whilst he's probably the most talented performer in the line-up, his gymnastic ballet dancing still leaves me a bit cold. It's like something you'd see at a school parents' evening. Albeit a school for the amazingly gifted.

Where talent and entertainment do combine for me, however, is with ebony ivory-tinkler, Paul Gbegbaje...

It's like Big Sis has blacked up and shaved all her hair off. I haven't seen a more entertaining pianist since she bought the sheet music for Fraggle Rock in 1987. Which reminds me, I really need to give her a call. I'll have to finish this tomorrow...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

As if my ability to walk (or lack thereof) wasn't enough to contend with, my prostatitis has been playing up for the last couple of days. I woke up at three-thirty this morning with the kind of pelvic agony known only to arthritic Elvis impersonators. But the good thing about getting out of bed in the middle of the night for some anti-inflammatories, is that the moment my foot hit the floor, the pain took my mind off my prostate.

Obviously I could have phoned in sick this morning, but I had to see a man about a doggedly unreliable computer this afternoon, and with impeccable timing, we're out tonight at the Britain's Got Talent live tour. So when I'm back here tomorrow, posting pictures of myself with the grinning organist woman...

... no one's going to believe I was ill.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The trouble with Hide & Seek is that the rules are just far too complicated. I mean, sure, on the surface it all sounds quite straightforward: one person covers their eyes and counts to ten, while the other one hides behind the sofa. But in reality it's hard to get it right...

Amelie's good at Blind Man's Buff too. Lisa can't see her coming on account of the blindfold.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This photo unexpectedly appeared on Facebook this evening...

Gully Gosh
Marie thought I was imitating a seagull. In reality, it was Sunday, so I was doing my Jesus impression. Either way, I'm not sure if it's just a trick of the light, or some kind of slimming app on Marie's iPhone, but I look about three stone lighter. Lisa's just told me she quite fancies me in that photo. I think I need to pop out for ice cream more often.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's the biggest day of the year...

Amazingly, she did that without any priming whatsoever. Well, not from me. Lisa might have run through the script with her a few times, but I'm sure it was mostly spontaneous.

Obviously, as both a Daddy and a Son, Father's Day puts me in a difficult position. Do I ignore my own father all day in order to spend some quality time eating chocolate with my daughter, or... oh, what the heck, the answer's yes. I haven't even texted my Dad today. But I have eaten a whole box of Thornton's finest with Am. She also gave me Adele's first album on CD. I'd have preferred her second, but Am can only count to twenty, so she couldn't ask for it in the shop.

Anyhoo, not only was today Father's Day, but it was also the 2011 London to Brighton Bike Ride, which means our good friend Marie was in town...

She didn't cycle, obviously. She got the train down, and then bought us ice creams.

To be fair, Marie was entered into the race at one point, but tragically she was struck down by a crippling knee injury just moments after looking at the route on Google and realising it featured a lot of hills, so she was forced to pull out at the last minute, and instead take up cheerleading duties for her ten hardier colleagues.

She texted me at lunchtime with the offer of an ice cream, and five minutes later we were out the door and heading for the pier. Here we are enjoying the mid-summer sunshine on the sweltering south coast...

It's not everyone who can carry off the front-of-the-head ponytail, but I think Marie's one who can. Not only does it look good, but it's practical too. It kept the ice-cold sea-spray out of her eyes every time the bitterly cold wind reached gale force. As Amelie said, as she looked out to sea at what could have been icebergs, "I don't want to go for a swim".

In the end we opted to stay on dry (well, rain-sodden) land, eat our cornets, and dodge the world's biggest seagulls, which were threatening to carry off Amelie, ice cream and all, in one fell swoop. We then decided to make the day truly memorable by going on a boat ride...

Or we would have done if it hadn't cost a pound a go. I told Amelie I couldn't afford it, so she made me pay by throwing a massive tantrum. Frankly losing a quid would have been less painful. I need to remember that in future.

Having talked turkey with a man dressed as a cock, and been given a 'Chicken Cheque' for some free food at Nando's, the three of us then parted company - Marie heading off to meet her colleagues, me going home, and Amelie trying to run back to Igglepiggle with the money I'd given her for the charity bucket. She and I eventually got the bus, on the grounds that walking is for wimps and there's only so far I can hop, which led to one of those delightful moments you treasure as a parent. It was the moment Amelie stood up on her seat, pointed at the people three rows in front, and announced to the whole bus in a very loud voice:

"Someone's dressed as a puppy!"

It was a woman in a Dalmatian-style fur coat. Father's Day or no Father's Day, I had to promptly disown my own daughter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I've spent the past twenty-four hours helping Big Sis to rewrite a document that makes Tony Blair's 'A Journey' look like a short stroll. I'm now about as grey as he was when he left office. Or I would be if I had hair. But despite tackling some tough intellectual puzzles for Sis (namely, should 'Chartered Mathematician' be capitalised?), I've also found time to answer some pretty taxing questions at home...

Not that I'm the only one educating others for free. Before we'd even had breakfast this morning, Amelie was teaching me the finer points of cat care...

I should point out that 'The Lady Game' isn't strip poker, internet porn or swinging, it's actually Amelie's name for Syberia. I let her play it a few times a week in an attempt to teach her about the olden days before iPads were invented, when we had to make our own entertainment using nothing but Windows 98.

The first few times she called it 'The Lady Game', I repeated the words back to her in a suggestive 'Carry On'-type voice for my own amusement, with the unfortunate result that if she now asks to play it, and I don't do the voice, she gets all uppity and says "DO THE VOICE!" in an aggressive manner.

Anyhoo, the game's far more wholesome than she makes it sound, so there's no need to call the NSPCC. You can stick to the RSPCA.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, you haven't moaned about your foot for more than a week now. Are you cured?"

Yeah, cured of my optimism. It's almost a fortnight now since I was stabbed in the back (of my foot) by a man I once trusted, and the only discernable difference is that I'm a little more depressed than I used to be. The plantar fasciitis has planted itself firmly in my heel, and fascistically refused to budge. I've had moments in the past week when I've convinced myself it was improving, such as Saturday, when I spent all afternoon on my feet, only to find that instead of the unbearable agony I was expecting, I experienced nothing more than extreme pain. But other than that, it's no better.

I'm due to go back to the podiatrist on July 13th. Possibly in a wheelchair. In the meantime, I'm working towards a place in next year's Paralympic team.

But one area where I'm feeling slightly more positive is the golden age of parenthood. After a great deal of consideration, and a small amount of begging, borrowing and stealing (mostly from Amelie's trust fund), Lisa and I have splashed out five hundred quid on a DuoFertility monitor. We did it mainly for the Boots Advantage Card points, but if it gets us a baby, that's a bonus.

Lisa's been wearing it since Monday, meaning that it's already taken her temperature about 80,000 times, so with great excitement, we downloaded all the data from the sensor to the monitor last night, and plugged it into the laptop for a bit of fertile analysis. Our great excitement was duly matched by overwhelming disappointment when it basically just gave us a dull graph that looked like a Dignitas patient's heart monitor.

Having consulted the instructions, it appears that Lisa has to be monitored for a whole cycle (or in her case a tricycle with stabilisers) before it starts making any exciting predictions. Clearly July 13th is going to be a big day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The good thing about Lisa is that just when I think I have nothing to put on my blog today, she decides to head into the kitchen and make rock cakes...

On the Rocks
I think it was a bad idea to grease the baking tray. It's not so much rocks as a paving stone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I must admit, if there's one thing I kept thinking on Saturday afternoon as I knelt in the mud with my camera, and tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade Amelie to feed the giant duck again so that I could get a photo of it savaging her hand, it was that this whole experience might just give her a lifelong fear of the dentist.

Admittedly, to the casual observer, that might not seem like the most obvious connection to make, but the problem is that for the past year, the only dentist Amelie has ever known is this one:

Dr Biteright
That's Dr Biteright, the avian answer to Orin Scrivello, from the book 'Maisy, Charley and the Wobbly Tooth'.

And here's the quack who bit her on Saturday:

Bite Right
He's like a legless Dr Biteright. Which makes him even more like Orin Scrivello.

Amelie had her first ever dentist appointment this afternoon, a momentous occasion which we've spent weeks preparing her for, by teaching her to open her mouth wide for Dr Biteright, so that he can check for wobbly teeth. Not that she needs much practice in opening her mouth. To be honest, it's rarely shut.

At least until this afternoon. We anticipated an exciting new experience for Amelie to get her teeth into. As it transpired, the occasion wasn't quite jaw-dropping enough. After weeks of planning and practice, the girl wouldn't even open her mouth.

I was at work during the actual appointment, but I could tell from the look on Lisa's face when I picked them both up from the surgery, that things hadn't quite gone according to plan. So I ignored the clenched teeth of my wife, and got the story straight from the horse's mouth:

Me: Did you open wide for Dr Biteright?

Amelie: No, I didn't.

Me: Why not?

Amelie: Because I was crying.

That duck has a lot to answer for. I couldn't really complain though. I have the same conversation with Lisa every time she goes to the dentist.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speaking as a Syrian lesbian in Damascus who goes to great lengths to make this fake blog of a British straight guy in Brighton seem convincing, I'd just like to say how annoying it is that I don't get the attention I deserve.

But that aside, I was in Crowborough today (at least I say I was), where they appear to have started a new religion just for Amelie...

Messy Church
Fortunately they've clarified the situation by stating that the Messy Church with 'messy activities' is actually "Very informal". Presumably in case people confuse it with an Officers' Mess, and turn up in a bow tie and waistcoat.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The stormy skies, the streaming tears, the desperate imploration to a merciful god in the heavens above - yes, it can mean only one thing...

Happy Days
It's another Gardner Family Fun Day!!!

It's more than a year now since we had the time of our lives in Worthing, and having made various attempts at fun in the intervening months (with mostly limited success) we decided it was about time we got back out there into the fun fray yesterday afternoon by spending a happy hour or two at Drusillas.

Yes, Drusillas Zoo Park in Alfriston, winner of the Tourism South East 'Visitor Attraction of the Year' Award for 2010/11, and one of the best family days out in the country. Here we are outside the dog enclosure...

Banana Split
I'm still not sure about that yellow shirt. I bought it in a charity shop last week, and I'm inclined to think I look a bit like a fat banana. When I put it on yesterday morning, I asked Amelie if I looked nice in yellow, and she said "No. You need blue". It's like living with Gok Wan.

Anyhoo, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, I've been to Drusillas, and I don't remember the dog enclosure. Is it new?". Well it's funny you should ask. And a relief that Amelie didn't. Because as it happens, that's not Drusillas. We looked up their website before we left, and found that tickets for the zoo cost £15.70 per adult. And an adult is anyone aged two or above. It's as if the prices were set by Amelie. She's been convinced she's an adult for the past six months.

Obviously I'm more than happy to pay forty-five quid for an afternoon out. But I'm happier still to pay nothing. So after a quick search on the web, we ended up here...

That's the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare. It's a pet rescue place in Ringmer, and - here's the key part - entry is free. As long as your toddler doesn't twig that everything on display is available to take home, it's the perfect family day out.

In fact it was even more perfect than we expected. I was anticipating an old fashioned dogs' home. What we found was an idyllic country park, complete with lakes, trees and fields, filled with state of the art animal enclosures, and every creature you could think of. Apart from elephants. And crocodiles. But those two disappointments aside, it was everything Amelie wanted.

Here she is with a homeless old goat...

And here I am still worrying about my shirt...

I might put that on Twitter and pretend to be Wayne Rooney.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't be a Gardner Family Fun Day without a bit of torrential rain, and sure enough, within twenty minutes of arrival, the monsoon started. So with the recent drought news still ringing in our ears, we sought some shelter at the Shelter, and headed indoors to the small animal department. Which is where I made the timely discovery that they have chinchillas available for adoption. I'll be mentioning that to my boss on Monday morning.

Having felt ratty, and seen a few gerbils, we then experienced the centre's other main indoor attraction: the café. They sell toffee cake to die for (from heart disease and obesity), as well as serving tea in fantastic all-in-one teapots...

Mr Tea would pity the fool who didn't realise that the cup was underneath the teapot, and as luck would have it, Lisa managed to stop me just as I was getting up to complain about the lack of a cup with my cuppa. I'm not really used to high quality homewares. The only china I have is 'made in', and I'm more at home with polystyrene.

It was in the café that Amelie disovered her driving ambition to have a go on the white van ride, a thrill-seeking machine which moves approximately six inches forwards and backwards whilst making an unrealistic vrooming noise for all of thirty seconds. It cost 50p a time. And she loved it more than any of the centre's other attractions. In fact, if you gave her the choice of a family day at Drusillas, or ninety goes in the van, she'd choose the café ride every time.

We eventually left the machine two pounds lighter, and spent another 50p on a bag of corn for the birds, before heading back outside, where the monsoon had eased to a light downpour. Amelie soon located a creature which looked like a cross between an ostrich and a duck, and the feeding commenced...

Big Bird
Sadly I failed to capture the moment when she grew bored with scattering corn, and decided to feed the thing by hand, but fortunately she's spent most of today talking about the moment she got bitten by a big chicken, so I don't think it's something we'll forget.

One of Raystede's best features is its beautiful walks around picturesque lakes, populated by vast flocks of wildfowl and geese. If you like that sort of thing. Personally I did. And so did Amelie. But Lisa felt it was a bit like our stroll around Cozumel, only with hissing birds instead of lizards. I managed to lead her past the odd aggressive goose, but by the time she'd had a gander at the path ahead...

... she insisted on turning back. So with the rain getting steadily worse, and the wind more biting than the birds, we sprinted back towards the cattery...

And ended up in the rabbitry...

Bunny Girls
As the bunny girl in the front kept saying, "I think we're a little bit lost now".

Having wondered aloud why the rabbits didn't have their umbrellas up, we then took a group vote on who needed to stay dry the most, and headed off to the kennels...

Gone to the Dogs
We might have been dogged by bad luck when it came to the weather, but our afternoon at Raystede was actually a roaring success. If it wasn't for the cake, the tea, the corn and the van rides, I'd have got away without spending a penny. Apart from my frequent trips to the toilet. The centre's patron is Penelope Keith, who apparently adopted a cat there, and she's an appropriate supporter to have. Our visit was like an episode of The Good Life: everything was free, we made our own entertainment, and we ended up covered in mud.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's White Van Man for the 21st century...

White Van Girl
She'll cut you up in traffic, shout abuse out of the window, and play music at a deafening volume. But only if you give her 50p for another ride.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I had an e-mail yesterday from the American President. Well, an American President. It actually came from the President of the Arizona Foundation for Eye Health, a non-profit sight-saving institution in Phoenix which is home to the 'Eye Carumba! Vision Boutique'.

Eye Carumba!No, seriously. Their motto is "Para la salud del ojo!", which I think is Latin for "Here's mud in your eye!".

To be honest, this time yesterday I'd never heard of the AFEH, but I'm already convinced they're the kind of organisation I should be working for. Not only do they name their projects with the kind of puns I live for, but they do the same type of retinal screening I do, organise an Annual Golf Challenge, and have a Bassett Hound as a mascot.

Willie ValdezNo, seriously. That's Willie Valdez, the AFEH dog, and according to their website, he "was chosen to represent AFEH in spreading the word about eye health" because "the Bassett Hound breed has a genetic predisposition to Glaucoma, a sight threatening eye disease also found in humans". So he knows how most of my patients feel.

Not only do Bassett Hounds get glaucoma, but I have it on good authority (I'm talking Wikipedia here) that chinchillas get Asteroid Hyalosis. So I'm pushing for the NHS to buy us a departmental rodent to take out to clinics. Not only are they educational, but they're very soothing to cuddle. It's what I call stroke care for the elderly.

Anyhoo, the President e-mailed me in response to something I'd written elsewhere on the web (think WikiLeaks, but without the sexual assaults), and asked to be added to my mailing list. So I'm trying to find a way of telling her I don't have one, without sounding unprofessional. I need to keep in touch though. With puns, pets and possibly my own Winnebago, I could be within reach of my perfect job offer. And having driven through the rain to Crawley Hospital this morning whilst listening to the latest drought news on the radio, I'm even prepared for the weather. Watch out Arizona, here I come!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

If there's one thing I've dreamt of my whole life, it's meeting an octogenarian who can effortlessly recreate scenes from 'Airplane!'. It's an obscure dream, I grant you, but today it finally came true.

One of my patients this afternoon was a lady in her 80s who chatted to me at length about everything from her grandchildren to the wound on her leg and what she was having for dinner, but when she finally got up to leave, she turned to me at the door, shook my hand, thanked me for my time, wondered how I'd managed to grow a beard in the time it had taken her to stop talking (I'm guessing there), and then said "Oh, and one more thing. My name's Doreen, not Shirley."

I looked confused (which is nothing new for me), so she helpfully added "You kept calling me Shirley".

Now, admittedly she was white-haired and deadpan...

... but I felt she lacked Leslie Nielsen's comic timing. Nevertheless, I picked up her ball and ran with it, by calling the nurse a stewardess and replying "Surely you can't be serious?". To which she responded "You did!" and walked out.

It was a disappointing end to a short scene, but with a few more rehearsals it should be alright on the night. The irony is that I hadn't called her Shirley or Doreen all day. I'd been calling her Mrs 'X' since she walked in the door. So I think I need to stop saying "Certainly there's nothing obviously wrong with your eyes..." when I look at the deaf patients' photos.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I'm sure Google are basing their adverts on me...

Let's face it, this blog is basically one long love-letter to Amelie. I've even dressed her as a leopard. And as the video says, "One day we'll look back at these together". Which is the point when she'll take out a super-injunction and have me barred from her life.

But until that day, I'm pleased to report that she's still giving me expert advice on my foot. She asked me this morning which heel was my bad one, so I pointed out that I was standing on one leg at the time like a fat flamingo, and told her it was the other one. It prompted an impromptu examination, and the following conversation:

Dr. Amelie: I'm looking at it.
Me: Yes, you look at it for me. What do you think?
Dr. Amelie: [after careful consideration] It's just nice.

Which is encouraging news. Unfortunately I hadn't taken my shoes off at that point, so either she's demonstrating extraordinary x-ray vision, or her diagnostic abilities need to be taken with a pinch of salt. The way my foot's still hurting, I think it might be the latter.

Monday, June 06, 2011

My extensive foot notes might not have attracted much sympathy on this blog, but if there's one person I can rely on for a bit of comfort, support and encouragement, it's my two-year-old daughter. I went to get Amelie out of her cot this morning, and as I walked into her bedroom, she jumped up, took one look at me, and said:

"Your foot is better now?"

Naturally I lied through my teeth and told her that yes, it feels a bit better. To which she nodded enthusiastically and replied:

"It might turn into a big smile!"

Well, I've certainly had to grin and bear it. To be honest it's been no better at all today. I'm not sure the sofa's so good for the sole.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

It can't be easy for Amelie having to spend the weekend away from her convalescing father, but she's managing to put a brave face on it...

She's a little battler like her Daddy. For me, it's been a weekend of tough personal challenges. I've fought my way through an afternoon of horse racing, a bit of football, one of Lisa's roast dinners and the Britain's Got Talent final, which I watched in my pants due to slightly muggy weather conditions and a dangerously high body temperature brought about by drinking too much hot chocolate.

To be honest, I don't think I'm very good at relaxing. Instead of enjoying the chance to kick back and unwind, I seem to be spending my time anxiously thinking of all the things Lisa could be doing instead of fetching me food. I might tell her not to cook me lunch today, and to get on with the ironing instead.

As for my foot, it's hard to say how it is when I'm barely using it, but suffice it to say, I'm not cured yet. My walking's still as limp as a German salad, and I think I've damaged a metatarsal by putting all my weight on my toes. But the good news is that I'm not the only one suffering. For many years now, Big Sis and I have been having the kind of freaky 'twin experiences' usually reserved for... well, for twins really. We can be thousands of miles apart, indulging in completely different activities - her on a whitewater river raft ride down the Grand Canyon, me on the sofa eating a whole banoffee pie in front of a Channel Five documentary on cosmetic surgery gone wrong - and yet we'll both suddenly feel sick at the same time. It's weird.

And this weekend has been weirder still. One of the known side-effects of my injection that I was warned about by the podiatrist is facial flushing, caused by the hormonal effects of methylprednisolone. And sure enough, at about 9:45pm on Friday, I started feeling quite flushed. Which was surprising as I couldn't even walk to the toilet. Over the next half hour, I got very hot, and my heart started racing like the Queen's horse in the Derby. Only faster. Admittedly, I'd just watched the results of a Britain's Got Talent semi-final, so I was in an excitable mood, but even so, I felt very odd. By 10:20pm I'd had enough, and went straight to bed, where I lay next to Lisa, feeling red-hot with my pulse racing. But not for the reasons you might think.

Having been warned about the steroid's side-effects, that experience wasn't entirely unexpected. What was surprising was to wake up on Saturday morning to a text message from Big Sis, sent at 2:54am from Southampton, where she'd been attending a friend's birthday meal. She said this...

"Another dramatic evening... Was part way thru the main course when I collapsed - apparently I was very very hot suddenly! An ambulance arrived and they spent ages testing me in the amb until they eventually let me go... I think I'm ok now, tho not allowed to be by myself or drive tonight."

I'm not allowed to drive either! And the hot flush is even more coincidental. I texted her back with my own experience, and asked her what time she slumped into her nut roast. She replied with this:

"No way!! It was 10pm and my heart rate was double what it normally is! The ambulance report confirmed it - they got the call at 10:21pm and I'd been feeling ill for about 20 mins."

It's another twin experience. We're like a cross between The Cheeky Girls and Jedward.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

I was such a brave little soldier...

Phil Injection
Although obviously I had to take my Mum with me. I'm not allowed to drive for 24 hours after the injection, so I needed a lift home last night, and sadly the only things Lisa can drive are a hard bargain and me up the wall. So my Mum got the job of holding my hand, dabbing my tears and chatting up the podiatrist.

He gave the injection via the side of my heel, because apparently that's a lot less painful. Which makes me wonder how it would have felt going straight up into the base of my foot. I'm not saying it was excruciating, but I once trod on a plastic Tombliboo, and that was less painful.

Mind you, it seems my plantar fasciitis is a bit of an extreme case. Before carrying out the procedure, the podiatrist gently prodded my heel to check the exact location of the pain, and having peeled me off the ceiling and made sure I was still conscious, he looked visibly shocked, before saying "Wow. You really do need this injection, don't you?"

The procedure itself involved a local anaesthetic followed by a depomedrone injection and some more anaesthetic, all administered via the same (big) needle. Quite what effect the lidocaine had, I have no idea, because frankly I felt every moment. It was like being impaled on a metal spike for two minutes. Which is probably not that surprising.

Disappointingly, the anaesthetic wore off within an hour or two, and I was quickly back to my usual level of pain, plus a little extra at the site of the injection. I've been told it could take up to a week before it feels better, and that it might actually feel worse for a couple of days, but in a gargantuan effort of mind over matter, I'm managing to convince myself that it's improved a bit this morning. Possibly because I've spent three hours on the sofa with Lisa fetching me cups of tea. Frankly if I relax any more than this, I'll end up with bed sores.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Today's the day. After months of suffering in silence, I'll be off shortly to get my foot pumped full of steroids. Obviously when I say 'suffering in silence', I'm referring mainly to Lisa, who's had to put up with me moaning about it every five minutes since Christmas. Something she's done with patience, understanding, and regular jokes about me being a decrepit old man who can't walk.

After the injection at 6pm this evening, I've been told to spend 48 hours kicking my heels and putting my feet up, which I plan to do on the sofa with Lisa waiting on me hand and foot. Particularly foot. Unless of course I'm the one in 23,000 who ends up with a ligament rupture and bone infection. In which case she'll be waiting on the foot of my hospital bed, and praying for my sole.

We've recruited an army of experienced toddler wranglers to keep Amelie off my back for two days, and I've prepared for my period of convalescence by popping into Sainsbury's at lunchtime today and buying the DVD of 'Inception' for five quid. I've heard it takes about six viewings before you understand it, so that should keep me going until Sunday. I might need a lot of help this weekend, but by Monday I should be standing on my own two feet.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

I think I've unmasked the owner of the local cannabis factory...

Cannabis Factory
That's Amelie the Gardener inspecting her pot plants. She's definitely growing weed, but I'm not sure it'll ever get you high. Unless you count the second floor of a tower block.

I was out in the sun, screening the locals at Crowborough Hospital yesterday. It's always an easy clinic because the residents of Crowborough don't tend to get sick. They pay a man to get sick for them. But having discussed horticulture with a few people who've watched their staff work wonders in the grounds of their manor houses, I felt it was about time I returned to an estate of a different kind, and sowed a few seeds on our balcony.

It's six weeks since Amelie and I planted some sunflowers, and the three seedlings we produced were going great guns on the windowsill. Unfortunately those guns were immediately shot to hell the moment I put them out on the balcony. We repotted the flowers a fortnight ago and placed them outside, just as the second ice age blew in on a tornado. Our balcony's been like a cross between 'The Day After Tomorrow' and 'The Wizard of Oz' for the past two weeks, and having watched the leaves promptly leave, I now look like I'm growing a trio of three-foot bamboo plants. Or I would do if they were still alive. Frankly the canes they're staked to look more vibrant.

On the plus side, we have two tomato plants and a courgette bush, which were kindly donated to me by my Mum when I claimed that we couldn't afford to eat. But in addition to those, Amelie and I bought a 'Pepper Starter Kit' from Asda a few weeks ago, which we've never done anything with. To be honest, Amelie lost interest when she realised it wasn't Peppa Pig.

But having been inspired by the English country gardens of Crowborough yesterday, my daughter and I finally headed out onto the balcony after work today to celebrate the changing of the seasons and grind out a few pepper plants.

Here's Amelie watering the compost pellets...

Pepper Grinder
... and then planting the seeds in front of a concrete hedgehog...

... before finally reading the instructions...

Harvest Festival
... which say "Plant: February to April" and "Harvest: July to October". It's the second of June today. I think we'll be giving them away as Christmas presents.