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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If there's one thing I've always said, it's that you haven't really lived until you've been named over the tannoy at Asda as an irresponsible parent. And the good news is that as of 6pm last night, Lisa and I have that honour. Well, Lisa has that honour. Personally, my name was kept well out of it. But only because Amelie didn't grass me up to the authorities.

With Lisa now officially able to smile and eat apples, we decided to embark on a family outing to Asda after work last night. It started just like any normal shopping trip - Amelie refusing to sit in the trolley, demanding to know where the rides are, saying she prefers Lidl, and knocking over everything from fresh fruit to underwear displays. But after ten minutes, the trip took an unexpected turn.

We'd just returned from the upstairs clothing department, and as I pushed the trolley towards the salad aisle (it's a shortcut to the pie section), Amelie made straight for the coloured pencils in the 'Back to School' display. I paused and watched as Lisa tried to drag her away, then, as they began to move on, I turned and proceeded to the first food aisle. Once there, Lisa and Am failed to appear, but I thought nothing of it, because they'd have had to pass the magazines to get there, and passing the magazines is something Lisa finds impossible.

So I began filling our trolley in the fruit and veg section, while I waited for my girls to finish reading 'Heat' and 'Charlie & Lola'. Five minutes later, and still shopping alone, my brain vaguely registered the end of a tannoy announcement asking for someone named Lisa to go to the customer service desk. I smiled at the coincidence, went back to my bananas, and thought nothing more of it.

Until thirty seconds later, when they asked for Lisa again, and this time added "We have your little girl, Amelie". It was like the ransom demand I've always dreaded. At the time, I was only ten yards from the customer service desk, so I turned, looked straight down the fruit aisle, and there, sitting on the four-foot high counter with her legs dangling over the side and her thumb in her mouth, was Amelie. Accompanied by a security guard.

Naturally I assumed she'd been caught shoplifting, so I was tempted to disown her, but my conscience soon got the better of me, and with no thought as to how I was going to afford bail, I put on some speed to the customer service desk. As I got there, Lisa arrived from the other direction.

It transpired that as I'd turned away from Lisa and Amelie at the 'Back to School' display, Amelie had begun to follow me, so whilst I'd assumed she was with her mother, Lisa had seen her trot after me around the corner, and assumed she was with her Dad. In reality, she was heading off on her own to look for the coin-operated toddler rides. A few minutes later, she was found wandering alone by a nice young couple with better parenting skills than us. They delivered her to Customer Services, and the absent parent alert had gone out.

We didn't know whether to be cross that Amelie had walked off, embarrassed that we hadn't realised, or proud that a month before her third birthday, she was able to tell her rescuers not only her own name, but that of her Mummy. She knows my name too, but they didn't think to ask her that. Which is handy when you're trying to evade social services.

As for Amelie herself, she couldn't have cared less. She wasn't the least bit upset, and barely reacted when we reclaimed her from lost property. Given her lack of excited recognition, Lisa was worried that they wouldn't believe we were her parents, and we'd go straight from child neglect to abduction, but fortunately we escaped without charges.

It was one of those situations where ignorance was bliss. Had we known she was missing, we'd have both been going frantic, but as it was, I was happily filling our trolley, and Lisa was browsing the birthday cards, each confident that the other was in charge of our child. The only one going bananas was me in the fruit aisle.

So we calmly collected our daughter from the lost & found, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and continued on with our shopping. Two minutes later, she was picking up grapes from the shelf, and eating a carrot we hadn't paid for. At which point we considered trying to lose her again. But still, it's nice to know that as well as a car parking refund, you can also get your child back from the Asda Customer Service Desk.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As it turns out, there was no need to go ape about my solar-powered funky gibbon. I took it apart last night, monkeyed around with the wiring, and Bob's your monkey's uncle, it works...

It's a chimp off the old block. And it just goes to show, when the gift shops Lacock it up, Phil Devizes a solution.


Anyhoo, the rise of the dancing monkey is obviously the biggest feelgood news story of the day, but as it happens, there's another one too. Yes, after six weeks of toothless torment, Lisa finally got her temporary teeth this morning, and the nightmare which started back in mid July is now officially in respite.

On the left is Lisa pictured on August 22nd last year, two days after having her brace removed. And on the right is her this evening...

Oral AOral B
I'm not allowed to publish any photos from the past six weeks for legal reasons. Namely that I can't afford a divorce. But take it from me, there's no comparison. She looks instantly back to normal.

On the downside, Lisa's remaining front tooth (on the right, as you look) was also damaged in the accident, and the dentist is sounding increasingly pessimistic about its survival. It appears that it may be 'dying', getting gradually more discoloured, and may ultimately have to come out. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, I feel like I've got my wife back.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Well, Well, WellThere's an old 16th century proverb which states:

"So oft goeth the pitcher to the well, that at last it commeth broken home."

Frankly I know what they mean. In the last four days, I've been to The Well so often, I'm flat broke. Not that I'm worried. I might not be able to pay the rent this month, but I can live off my fat until Christmas.

And besides, it was worth it. I may be putting the bulk back into Bulkington, but hey, you only live once. And not for long at this weight. So with that in mind, Lisa and I took Big Sis back to The Well for Sunday lunch yesterday. For Sis, the experience was a slight disappointment, but to be honest, that was her own fault for being vegetarian. She refused to order all the decent dishes on a point of principle, and then complained that her pasta was too cheesy. I think she's protein-intolerant. Frankly it's a miracle she had the strength to lift her fork.

Lisa and I, however, went away happy, and having done the verbal equivalent of singing 'We'll Meet Again' (emphasis on the meat) with the proprietor, we parted company until our next trip to Wiltshire.

On the way back to Devizes, we stopped off for a photo at Caen Hill Locks, the steepest uphill waterway this side of the log flume at Alton Towers...

Locked Out
To be honest, the locks weren't the only uphill struggle involved in that picture. I had Big Sis parked illegally in a resident's driveway, and Lisa standing in the middle of the road with a camera, just to get that one photo. It's a miracle I look so relaxed.

Ultimately though, all good things must come to an end. So having pigged out at Bulkington and felt locked out at Caen Hill, Lisa and I packed our bags and returned home to Brighton this afternoon. We'd received this photo by e-mail last night, and we couldn't wait to get back...

Cheeky Chops
Not to see her smiling, but to stop her eating those crisps.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You see a lot of hopeless old cows in the average abattoir...

Like a lamb to the slaughter.
But not this one, obviously. That's Big Sis putting the laughter back into slaughterhouse in the historic village of Lacock. A place which isn't as rude as it sounds.

After the excitement of fleecing The Well out of a five pound tip on Friday, Lisa didn't feel much like going out yesterday, and by mid afternoon it was looking like the highlight of the day was going to be the moment we realised we were out of toilet rolls. So when Sis returned from a cycle ride at 3pm, the two of us decided to take drastic action. I told Lisa to rest her gums, Sis grabbed her sat-nav, and we both hit the road for Lacock.

To be honest, I'd never heard of the place, but Sis informed me that it's basically ground zero for Harry Potter fans, and that all eight movies were shot there. A claim which was instantly cast into doubt when I pressed her for details and she started shrugging a lot. Lacock is, however, home to an impressive abbey...

Photo by Jürgen Matern
That photo was taken by someone who was willing to pay ten quid to get through the gates. This photo was taken by someone who wasn't...

Abbey and you know it.
Having posed for pics at the gates of Lacock Abbey, I said to Sis "So is that Hogwarts in the films?". To which she replied "What's Hogwarts?". That was the point I stopped asking questions.

Moving swiftly on, we visited the Lacock Pottery, home of David McDowell, a happy potter, which is probably where the film rumours started. Sis pointed out a mirror she'd like for Christmas, I pointed out that I don't earn that much in a month, and we moved back outside for a photo...

Happy Potter
Fortunately a passing tourist took pity on our plight, and offered to take a photo of the two of us together, so we did our best to look like young lovers (neither of which we are) and posed on the historic tarmac by St. Cyriac's church...

By that point, I'd acquired a green bag of goodies from the slaughterhouse. Lacock is full of little craftsmen and gift-sellers. Even the residents are hawking souvenirs from their doorsteps. So in addition to purchasing a hand-made light-pull for the bathroom (don't ask), I also popped into the abattoir and bought a solar-powered dancing monkey for Amelie. It was only four quid. Which seemed like a bargain, until I got it home and found it doesn't work. I considered taking it back, but it would cost £2 to park and £5 in petrol, so I'm not sure it's worth it. I'll just tell Amelie I was too late to save it from the slaughtermen.

We made our way back via the oldest building in Lacock, a 14th century tithe barn, where we did our best to soak up the historic atmosphere, and really get a feel for the gruelling hardships of life in the Middle Ages...

Barn Storming
Obviously we failed. But Lisa's forty-two, so we'll ask her.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Well, the good news is that I feel a lot less psychotic about Lisa's dental problems since I took a couple of Nurofen Plus last night. I've also located the cloud which has been hanging over us for the past six weeks...

Under a Cloud
It's Hurricane Irene's little sister, pictured from Big Sis's window.

As for Lisa, she still looks like she's slitting her wrists...

Mostly Armless
But in reality she just tripped over a box and scraped her arm on a bookcase. She also leaned over my sister's banister last night to wave to me from the stairs above, and promptly banged her head on the ceiling. The woman's a walking disaster area. Well, I say walking. To be honest, she barely manages that on a good day without falling over. And she's not even the one with a middle ear infection.

Anyhoo, one thing which I probably haven't made clear in the last few days, is that we're visiting Devizes without Amelie. Although she's definitely here in spirit...

Our daughter's currently feeding her face in St Leonards, where she's doing her best to convince my Mum that what Lisa really wants for her birthday is a Peppa Pig cake. It means that her parents have the opportunity to spend a couple of days doing all the things they never get a chance to do. So with that in mind, Lisa spent yesterday afternoon in bed, while I popped out alone to the local charity shops. I was basically left to my own Devizes.

In the evening, however, we reunited for a return trip to this place...

The Well at Bulkington
There was a lot of water in The Well last night. Frankly the car park was almost flooded. But the welcome was enough to warm us up, and the food was hot in more ways than one. For the second time in two days, Lisa spent the evening with her hand over her mouth, looking like she was about to throw up, but that impression couldn't have been further from the truth. In reality, I think she loves their food more than she loves me.

Having tasted some exquisite starters in the form of Pea & Parmesan Risotto and a Cod & Chorizo Fishcake, I then went with the Grilled Pork Tenderloin on a Celeriac & Potato Rosti served with Savoy Cabbage & Bacon with a Stilton & Sage Sauce, followed by a Victoria Plum Crème Brûlée served with Vanilla Shortcake... while Lisa chose the Lasagne and Banoffee Pie. I felt like AA Gill on a night out with Ronald McDonald.

After a brief chat with the owner, during which he said he remembered us from April and made it clear that he'd read my blog, I then proved that there's a fine line between diner and stalker by threatening to return for Sunday lunch. We parted like old friends. Namely, Little and Large. Only funnier.

Ten minutes and five dark, flooded miles later, I suddenly realised that I'd been so busy shmoozing the restauranteur, I'd forgotten to leave a tip. Our love of their food might be paying his mortgage, but his staff might not serve us on Sunday.

Friday, August 26, 2011




They say that bad luck comes in threes, and they're right. At 3:33pm yesterday, we were three miles from Basingstoke on the M3, when Lisa got a call on her mobile. She's with O2, not Three, but it didn't make any difference. It was the dental surgery, saying that her teeth had arrived unexpectedly, and that despite what they'd told us earlier, they had a dentist available to fit them that afternoon if we wanted to come straight in.

It was one of those situations where you either have to laugh or cry. And if you cry, you're liable to crash the car into the central reservation at 70mph. So we did our best to laugh maniacally, whilst cursing the gods of dentistry and gnashing what teeth we had left. We did consider turning around at the next junction, but we were eighty miles from Brighton, and there was every chance we wouldn't make it back before they closed at 5pm. In the end, we decided not to waste any more of our precious time (or petrol money), and drove on to Big Sis's house instead.

So there you go. If Lisa hadn't rung her dentist yesterday morning and been told that she had no chance of getting her teeth this week, we'd have been in Brighton for that phone call, could have picked them up immediately, and would now be out and about in Devizes, smiling at strangers and posing for photos. As it is, I'm on Big Sis's sofa, and Lisa's just gone back to bed.

But to her credit, Lisa was determined not to let her lack of teeth ruin her birthday, so despite having little to smile about (or with), she and I went to The Well at Bulkington last night for a celebratory meal. We managed to get a table in the corner, where Lisa could face the wall and talk with her hand over her mouth without anyone thinking she was plotting an act of terrorism, and we successfully got through the evening without her speaking to any member of staff. It meant, of course, that I had to order everything for her, which made me feel slightly awkward. It's not easy saying "And my wife will have..." all the time, without sounding like a Victorian gentleman or a domineering husband. I'm hoping they thought she was either mute or Russian, but in reality they probably had me down as a wife-beater.

It was worth the embarrassment though. The Well lived up to all the expectations we'd built up from our last visit. Frankly if the chef had come out and introduced himself, Lisa would have filed for divorce on the spot. The food they serve is like nothing I've ever tasted elsewhere. And I've eaten at a Harvester. Lisa spent the entire meal giving out little moans of pleasure and ecstacy, the like of which I usually only hear... in my imagination.

It's tempting to think that when you've tasted Tuna Steak topped with Tomato & Basil Salsa on a bed of Pink Fir Apple Potatoes, followed by an Amaretto & Dime Bar Cheesecake served with Amaretto Ice Cream, that there's nowhere left to go. But as it happens, there were at least six other desserts I want to try, and a dozen main courses. So on the basis that you only live once, and the obese die young, we're going back again tonight. I've booked a table for seven-thirty. Look out Bulkington, the mute and the wife-beater are on their way!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's Lisa's birthday! I can't say how old she is for legal reasons, but suffice it to say that she now knows the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Although she's not sharing it with me.

Obviously the best birthday present she could have is to hear that her temporary teeth are ready from the dentist, so having heard nothing from the surgery all week, she gave them a call an hour ago. They told her that the denture isn't back from the lab yet, and even if it was, she couldn't have it before Tuesday because her dentist is off sick all week, and there are no other dentists available. They didn't add "Many Happy Returns!", but I'm sure they were thinking it.

So that's another week, another holiday, and another set of hopes and dreams ruined. At least, partially ruined. For the past six weeks, Lisa's felt unable to go out without her teeth, so our planned trip to Wiltshire has been postponed twice. But right now, she's so hacked off with the whole situation, and so far beyond the end of her tether, that she's sticking two metaphorical fingers up to the world, and we're going anyway. We'll be driving down to Big Sis's house this afternoon. And possibly never coming back.

Forget 'Happy Birthday'. When Lisa blows out her candles, I'll be singing 'Things Can Only Get Better'.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In the wake of all the recent looting, I think Amazon must be having a fire sale. As of this week, they've reduced the price of my blog to just 99p. It means I'm now officially too cheap for Poundland. I don't actually get a say in what they charge for the thrill of reading this blog on a Kindle, but they've clearly looked at what's on offer, measured the level of interest from the buying public, and realised they need to slash the price if they're ever going to get any sales. It's the online equivalent of being remaindered.

Personally I think it's a good move. At the new discounted price, I get around 30p of every sale, so I only need to find 5,000 subscribers who are willing to pay good money for something they can get for free on the internet, and I'll be able to give up work. They reckon there are more than ten million Kindle owners out there, so if I appeal to just one in every 2,000, I've got it made. I only need a market share of 0.05%. If this was Dragons Den, they'd be biting my hand off.

Obviously I'll soon be using that one remaining limb to hand in my notice at work, but in the meantime, it's nice to get out and about to the health centres of Sussex. I was in Forest Row yesterday, screening the woodcutters of Winnie the Pooh country, so I popped out at lunchtime for some honey. When I returned to the surgery, I found a young man standing outside in the rain by the locked staff entrance, trying (and failing) to get in.

Seeing me approach with my natural air of authority and quiet intelligence, he immediately mistook me for a GP, shook me by the hand (I still had two at that point), and introduced himself as Dr X, the locum. He then added that he doesn't usually work in Forest Row, but that he'd been asked to cover a clinic for the afternoon, and didn't know how to get in.

As a custodian of all world knowledge, I naturally possessed the code to the door, so I opened it for him, showed him where to go, and then completely freaked him out by informing him that not only did I know who he was, but that I'd met him twice before. The first occasion was at an intellectual pig party in 2009, and the second was on April 14th last year. He was the doctor who saw Amelie in A & E after I yanked her arm off in Lidl. When I told him, he panicked slightly, and asked if I'd tracked him down to the forest to take revenge for a bad diagnosis. I told him no, and that it's Amelie he needs to be frightened of.

So that's a doctors' mess in 2009, an emergency room in 2010, and a forest clearing in 2011. We're obviously destined to meet every year. Frankly I've got relatives I see less often. He's a very nice chap though. It's a shame I can't remember his name.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I might be on a manly dose of antibiotics, but boy, does my ear still hurt. Lying in bed last night, I could barely hear Lisa asking me to rub her feet. It's like someone's banged me hard in the side of the head with a tub of Play-Doh. And I'm talking from personal experience there.

But the good news for the hard of hearing is that I can finally pump up the volume in my Skoda. My new car stereo arrived at the weekend, and having spent an hour sitting in the driving seat and feeling like I was going nowhere, I eventually managed to get the old one out...

Wired for Sound
I'd say it was like pulling teeth, but judging by the past five weeks, that's not as difficult as it sounds. Frankly the Americans had an easier time getting out of Iraq. The release keys I got on eBay didn't work, and although a pair of flattened picture hooks did, the stereo was wedged so tight it wouldn't budge. In the end, I had to remove three buttons from the panel above, and prise it out with a screwdriver.

But having done so, the rest was as easy as pie...

Radio Active
That's 'American Pie' by Don McClean, which I think I still have on cassette. Obviously I'm far too old to listen to Radio 1, so the picture's for illustrative purposes only. The only banging tunes I ever hear are the complaints about noise from the neighbours.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I know I'm biased, but I do think the NHS is brilliant. And I'm not just saying that because private dental care has let us down. In the midst of the weekend's oral calamities, I've neglected to mention my own health problems. Oh yes indeed, when it comes to the family trophy for 'Most Likely to Die', I'm right up there with Lisa and Amelie.

As it happens, I woke up on Friday morning with an ear infection. At the time I thought I might just have a bit of bath water trapped in my ear, and expected it to clear during the day, but having spent eight hours struggling to hear a word anyone said to me, I changed my mind. By Saturday I was not only deaf, but in pain, and on Sunday morning I was popping paracetamol whilst failing to hear Lisa asking "How's your ear?". But it was yesterday afternoon, when Amelie turned to me and said "Daddy, why is your ear green?" that I finally decided to take action.

Unfortunately my GP doesn't work Sundays. And even if she did, I wouldn't be able to get an appointment without crossing my fingers, rubbing a rabbit's foot and phoning six times within a minute of them opening. But that's where the brilliance of the NHS comes into play. For a while now, I've been aware of a secret oasis of medicine called the Brighton Station Health Centre...

Brighton Station Health Centre
It opened in July 2009, and is run on behalf of the NHS by Care UK. In addition to being a normal GP practice, it's also open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, for walk-in patients from any surgery. According to their website, "The centre has been designed to help people with busy lifestyles who would like access to flexible and convenient health services". Which is me to a tee. I barely have time to phone my doctor during the week, never mind attend an appointment.

As a general rule, the only doctor you can usually expect to see at the weekend is Matt Smith, and you'd be lucky to get medical attention at short notice without first hacking off your hand with a chainsaw and queuing up in A&E for a couple of hours. So it seemed a bit too good to be true. But the alternative would have been to phone my GP this morning, fight for an appointment, and then cause chaos at work by changing the rota to make it. Probably on Wednesday.

So on the spur of the moment, I decided to pop into town yesterday afternoon, and put the walk-in service to the test by staggering in off the street. And very pleasantly surprised I was too. Within forty minutes of entering the building, I was being seen by a doctor. Let's face it, at a lot of surgeries, that doesn't even happen when you've got an appointment. The GP examined my ear, used the attractive phrase "full of pus", and then told me I need "a manly dose of antibiotics". Five minutes later I was handing over my prescription at Boots.

So I'm now on 625mg of co-amoxiclav three times a day. I've checked the leaflet for side-effects, and apparently I should contact a doctor immediately if I get "a black tongue which looks hairy". So the moment Amelie stops mentioning my green ear and says I look like the Gruffalo, I'll be straight on the phone.

In the meantime, I'm wondering if I'll ever see my own GP again. The Brighton Station Health Centre is open Saturdays, Sundays, evenings and bank holidays, and I don't even need to phone for an appointment or alter my work commitments. It's a hypochondriac's dream. I feel like I've joined Bupa for free.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm beginning to think we're living under the influence of a big fat gypsy curse. Having spent yesterday dabbing Lisa's tears from her sad, toothless face, I put Amelie to bed last night, breathed an instant sigh of relief, and sank straight onto the sofa. Where I was startled, two minutes later, by a scream.

Within seconds, Lisa and I arrived in Amelie's bedroom to find her lying on the floor with blood apparently pouring from her mouth. Lisa instantly suffered a flashback to her her sideboard incident, almost fainted, and was forced to leave the scene quickly while she still had the use of her legs. I was left to pick up the pieces and mop up the blood.

To be honest, I wasn't much better than Lisa. Having lived through one devastating dental disaster, the thought of what I might find when I prised Amelie's blood-soaked hand from her face, was enough to make my heart pound. I was convinced she'd be the spitting image of her mother.

As it transpired, it wasn't as bad as that. She'd simply fallen out of bed and bitten her lip. It looked quite nasty at the time, but by this morning it was already a lot less swollen...

Believe it or not, she asked me to take that photo, so that she could see how much better it looked. She's always had a lot of lip; she's just got a bit more than usual at the moment. I'd offer to kiss it better, but I don't want to be accused of snogging my daughter.

On the subject of bloody surprises, I should just mention that by a stroke of coincidental luck, the French film 'Hidden' is on Channel 4 tomorrow night. So anyone who ploughed through my blog post a couple of weeks ago with a gallic shrug of the shoulders and a sense of laissez-faire, can now find out what I was wittering on about. It's on at 12:50am, which is not so much primetime as night-time, but it's well worth recording. Not least because you're bound to miss the point of the final scene, and need to rewind. And when you've watched it three times, you can explain it to me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It was the night of a thousand tears in the Gardner household last night. In one room I had Lisa, who'd realised that it was exactly one year ago today that she had her brace removed, and was feeling the loss of her teeth ever more intensely. And in the other I had Amelie, who was upset for a different reason. She awoke at 3am, crying her eyes out, and when asked why by a sympathetic parent, replied "I wanted two boiled eggs for my lunch". That girl has suffered like no one I know.

On the subject of suffering, I mentioned last week the hordes of deranged mental-heads that populate my daily life, and my need to be a little more assertive with them. I was referring primarily to my neighbours, who, over the past year, have plunged out of windows, died in suspicious circumstances, and accused me of everything from drilling at night to smoking on the stairs. Neither of which I've done. Mainly because I don't smoke, or do anything productive at night. Apart from sleep.

I signed up for the assertiveness course just days after the police discovered that the grass was greener on the other side of the stairs, in the hope of saying no to any drug pushers or witness intimidators. But despite that, the incident which still irks me more than any other was last September when the bloke upstairs told everyone I'd been drilling at dawn (the time of day, not the girl next door) and composed a beautifully written poster to help spread the lie even further.

The sign was so offensive, both in terms of bad language and spelling mistakes, that I didn't reproduce it on my blog, but the good news is that one year on, he's come out with a sequel. A new family moved into the block this week, and they're getting the same friendly welcome to the neighbourhood that we were lucky enough to receive last year...

Not exactly the same, it's true. Ours was hand-written and contained more swear words, but the unique grammatical style is identical. It's what Virginia Woolf might have produced if she'd had access to Microsoft Word and a printer.

Obviously, when he says...

who have to go to work"

... he's stretching the situation a bit. It's basically just me, two drug-dealers and a woman on the game. But even so, it's nice to get a mention. And even nicer not to be accused myself. Maybe I didn't need the assertiveness course after all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

After a week living the high-life in St Leonards, Lisa and Amelie came back down to earth with a bump by returning home on Wednesday. Lisa had a pressing engagement here in Brighton. I needed her to iron my shirts.

To be honest, I did pretty well without her. Rather than get the ironing board out, I popped to the nearest charity shop during my lunch break last Thursday and bought a new work shirt. I then wore it to my assertiveness course on Friday, and kept it on when I drove to St Leonards that evening. When I went to bed, I sneaked it into my Mum's laundry basket, and by Sunday afternoon, it was magically washed and ironed.

I wore that same shirt to work on Monday and Tuesday (don't worry, I sniffed the armpits), then on Wednesday I went to another charity shop, bought another shirt, and wore it yesterday. And today Lisa ironed all my shirts. So for ten days, I've successfully avoided housework, looked like a tramp and raised money for charity. I'm like the new Bob Geldof.

As it happens though, my ironing wasn't the only reason for Lisa's return. She also had to pick up her temporary teeth from the dentist today. After a month of hermitage and torment, 3:50 this afternoon was meant to be the moment Lisa got her life back. Unfortunately, anyone who's been following her progress for the past five weeks will know that Lisa never gets what she wants.

To cut a long story short, the lab that made the denture did a complete botch job. The dentist had only just opened the package when we arrived, and she'd already phoned the lab to complain. As she put it, "This is not what you've paid five hundred pounds for". There was a gap between the front teeth, part of the false gum looked like it was growing over a tooth, one front tooth was protruding, and the rear of the denture was discoloured. Frankly Amelie could have made something better out of play-doh.

The dentist was fuming, but to be honest, that's nothing compared to how we feel. We postponed our trip to Wiltshire for my birthday last month, and rescheduled it for Lisa's birthday next week, on the assumption that her teeth would be in place by then. The dentist has said she'll phone us as soon as the denture is fixed, and that she's willing to come into work on her day off to get it sorted for us, but she thinks it's unlikely to be ready before Thursday. We were supposed to be driving down to Devizes on Wednesday.

By this time today, I thought Lisa would be crying tears of happiness. It turns out I was only half right. She's cancelled a hairdresser's appointment for next week, changed her plans for this weekend, and we've spent the evening drowning our sorrows in pizza. I feel sick for two reasons now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When it comes to flogging a dead horse, nobody does it like the Gardners...

Flogging a Dead Horse
We're also good at kicking ass, and talking the hind leg off a donkey.

So with all of that in mind, I'd just like to urge everyone who's reading this before midnight on Thursday to click on this link and vote for my buddy Peter Chapman to win the final of Pod Idol.

Paddy Power Pod Idol
Think of it as Pop Idol, but with Chappers playing the part of Rik Waller. Only thinner, and more inclined to give away his chocolate to Amelie.

He's been chosen as one of only eight finalists, and if he wins, he gets to appear every week on the Paddy Power podcast. And it's only a small step from that to hosting his own show on Radio 5 Live, and presenting Match of the Day. At which point he can get me a job writing after-dinner speeches for Alan Hansen. So it's important you vote. It only takes two seconds, and you don't even have to give your name. Frankly it makes the Zimbabwe Presidential Election look above-board and transparent. But vote anyway. Or I'll burn down your farm.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As if to prove the point I made yesterday, I bought a four-cassette, six-hour Tom Clancy audiobook for 50p in a hospice shop at lunchtime today. So that car stereo had bloomin' well better arrive. There's no sign of it yet, so the seller's probably stealing it to order from the local council estate.

By way of contrast, I spent yesterday in a corner of Sussex so classy that it doesn't even have charity shops. The neediest locals are the ones who can only afford a part-time butler. There's not much for a commoner like myself to do at lunchtime (which explains the length of yesterday's blog post), but they do have other things going on...

One for the Ladies
Not only are they ladies, but they're British and they're amateurs. So a round of golf could take all week. I bet they're still hacking away as we speak. But still, it's the closest the local gentlemen are ever likely to get to a bit of rough in their neighbourhood.

That aside, it was inspiring place to spend a day, not least because of the text I found hanging on the wall of the GP's surgery I was working in. I remember seeing it when I was last there a year ago, but I failed to write it down or look it up. Having researched it last night, it's a story which appears on the internet in various forms, and seems to be about ten years old, but the author remains unknown. I thought it was worth reproducing...

The Rat Race Explained

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. "Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go to the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs... I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one, and a third one, and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise!"

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years." replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?"

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your time with your friends..."

And people wonder why I have no ambition...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Being an absent father might have brought about the instant delinquency of my daughter, but it was worth returning home on Sunday evening. Not that Amelie took kindly to it. Apparently she was inconsolable after I left. Not because I'd gone, but because I'd taken her best cat Chloe with me.

My return to Brighton was well-timed though. For the past year, I've had problems with my car stereo. It started last summer when the on/off switch broke, meaning that the only way to turn the thing off is to take the keys out of the ignition. Which is not a practical solution every time Ronan Keating comes on. Well, not when you're doing seventy on a dual carriageway. Although I would rather die than listen to him.

So for the past year, I've had to drive around with the radio permanently on, but the volume turned down to zero if I don't want to listen to it. When my car was serviced in December, I did enquire about the possibility of replacing it, but the price they quoted me for an official Skoda stereo would have doubled the value of my car. So I've made do with the old one ever since.

Until last month, when the knob dropped off. Which is every bit as distressing as it sounds. Since my foot took a big step backwards in February, I've been driving pretty much everywhere, and having spent so much time twiddling with the volume control, it finally gave up the ghost. For the past few weeks I've been stuck with a mid-range level which is deafening at traffic lights and barely audible on motorways. So unless I get Ronan on the M23, I'm in trouble.

So driving my car has been driving me mad, to the point where something had to be done. Unfortunately there's a problem. To the casual observer, I might appear to be living the good life at the cutting edge of modern technology, but in reality I'm driving a machine that makes the Tata Nano look high-spec and luxurious. It was in the news the other day that CD players in cars are becoming obsolete, as everyone uses MP3s now instead. Well personally I still use a tape deck.

And that's the way I like it. For the past two years, I've been driving to and from the remote health centres of Sussex whilst listening to audio books on cassette. And whilst you might be able to get audio books on CD, you can't get them for 50p from every charity shop in the country. My basic Skoda tape deck means I have access to a vast library of pulp fiction wherever I go. And I'm not prepared to give that up. I'm currently halfway through a word-for-word recording of a John Grisham novel on twelve cassettes, lasting thirteen hours, which set me back two quid. And if I buy myself a CD stereo, I'll never find out whodunit. Or what it was they did.

Unfortunately, driving home from St Leonards on Sunday, it appeared that I have no choice. Unable to turn up the volume, it was like being read to by a softly-spoken asthmatic with laryngitis. I could only hear silence in court. As a result, I decided the time had come to remove my knackered old stereo. For which I would need some release keys. So having unpacked my bags on Sunday evening, I went onto eBay to look for some...

... and instead found a simple twist of fate. And I don't mean the film with Steve Martin. By sheer chance, I found someone selling the exact same make and model of Skoda car stereo as my own, for a price of just £3.99. Which is particularly low when you consider its antique value. The auction had been open for a week, had only three hours left to run, and had attracted no bids whatsoever.

As a veteran of last minute bidding wars on eBay, I waited until forty-five seconds from the end, then entered my maximum offer, before sitting back nervously for the flurry of counter-bids.

A minute later, I'd bought it for £3.99. No one else in the entire country wanted a second-hand Skoda cassette player. What are the odds?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lisa sent me a text message last night which read:

"Am was right. We're very sad without you."

That was followed this afternoon by this photo...

Very SadNow, I know they say kids are resilient, but this is getting ridiculous. If her face was any braver, she'd be verging on elation. Obviously I'm touched that she's pretending to be ok, but frankly I think she needs to tone down the Baywatch look and go for something a bit more sackcloth.

I'm also concerned that without my steadying hand on her shoulder, Amelie's crashed straight off the rails. If you look closely at that photo, she appears to have a tattoo on each arm. And one of them's a football. She might as well have the word 'hooligan' scratched across her bicep. Lisa's only been a single mother since yesterday, and she's already lost control of our daughter. By Wednesday, she'll be smoking, drinking and smashing up Toys R Us.

Just as long as she gets me a Playstation 3 while she's there...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

As Ogden Nash once wrote:

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.

It's why I'm generally so quiet. I think it also explains why this attempt at constructive criticism didn't go down too well...

I should have used my assertive non-verbals instead.

But despite Amelie's success in putting a brave (and remarkably cheerful) face on the sadness, I did indeed have to go home today. You can't be an absent father if you're going to stick around beyond Sunday teatime. So I drove back to Brighton late this afternoon, leaving Lisa and Amelie at my parents' until Wednesday. I've left them a paddling pool and a laptop, so they should be ok.

Before departing, we sat down as a family and watched our wedding DVD from last year, which I successfully edited into a 28-minute edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride of a movie last weekend. It made Lisa wistful for her teeth, but despite that, the film garnered at least one positive review from a member of the audience. Amelie declared it "very good after all", whilst failing to hide her surprise. She then insisted we watch it again. I'm not sure if she's an incurable romantic, or a glutton for punishment.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I could get used to this absent father lark. You turn up at the weekend, take your daughter to the beach, buy her an ice cream, then return the girl to her mother before she throws her next tantrum.

Weekend Dad
That's me using my assertive non-verbals to stop her running off towards France. After two days of intensive training, I'm now fully qualified in the dark arts of assertiveness, with a can-do attitude and an arsenal of magic phrases I can employ at any time to deal with difficult people and challenging situations. Although within five minutes of arriving in St Leonards last night and trying them out on Lisa, she told me I was being annoying, and asked me to go home.

I said no. Which is something I learnt on the course. Yesterday's session involved a lot of useful advice, including the importance of avoiding the words 'should' and 'try'. Apparently it's better to adopt a more definite approach where you either do or you don't, rather than faffing about with uncertainty. It sounds like something I should try.

In the afternoon we were put into pairs for ninety minutes of role-playing. I was partnered with a hospital doctor, so whilst she asked me to play the part of a difficult consultant who wouldn't listen to her concerns, I found it easier to adopt the role of a needy patient wanting advice on his plantar fasciitis and chronic prostatitis. She eventually resorted to non-verbal communication by putting her fingers in her ears.

Overall though, the course was very good. The trainer was excellent, and I learnt a lot of useful techniques for dealing with the aggressive, the passive, the manipulative and the diabetic. So having filled in my action plan and awarded top marks on the course evaluation sheet, I walked out with my head held high, and drove straight to St Leonards to show Lisa what I'd learnt. It didn't go down that well, but I think she'll appreciate my assertiveness more in the long term. That's if we're still together.

After a bad night, during which Amelie asserted her right to get out of bed at 2am and scream the place down for half an hour, I got up this morning and took her out to the local charity shops. We followed that up with a stroll along St Leonards seafront, where she demonstrated her skills as a front-runner...

... before taking this photo of me...

Blue Sky Thinking
After two days of assertiveness and self-confidence training, that's me doing some blue-sky thinking.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I spoke to Lisa on the phone tonight, and she told me that Amelie came up to her this afternoon and said this:

"Mum, is there a difference between a lie and, as they say, an exaggeration?"

Which sounds like a pretty impressive question for a two-year-old. Until you realise it's a direct quote from an episode of Angelina Ballerina. She's not so much a free thinker as a copycat. It's like quoting "To be or not to be", but with a better question.

Anyhoo, I haven't heard Lisa's answer yet, but I doubt she told her the truth. Personally I've been busy this evening completing my homework from the Assertiveness Course. The trainer asked me to do it, and I didn't like to say no.

Today's session involved writing the film script of my life, but with less apologising and backing down, plus tips on how to recognise aggressive behaviour in others. We all agreed that punching you in the face would be a giveaway, but we also discussed other methods of non-verbal communication. Which led us to the story of the man who didn't realise he'd lost two fingers in an industrial accident, until he tried to say goodbye to his boss.

Tomorrow we've been told to expect role-playing. So I'm taking my Dungeons & Dragons set, and some twenty-sided dice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

With just two weeks to go until Lisa's birthday, the good news is that Amazon are now selling the perfect gift for the woman who has everything. As long as 'everything' includes a Kindle. It's so reasonably priced too. There's even an American version for people who can't spell.

Bearing in mind the contents of my recent blog posts, it means that I'm now literally selling my sole. Or possibly flogging a dead horse. Obviously, for the same price, you could cure cancer instead, but where's the fun in that? I might not cure your terminal illness, but I'll give you something to read in the waiting room. I think I'll get Lisa to put that in a review for me.

Unfortunately I can't ask her at the moment, because she's left me for another man. Yes, it's true, I've finally driven her away. Via the A27 between Brighton and Hastings. I've taken her and Amelie east this evening to stay with my parents for a few days. Lisa's still housebound due to a gap in her teeth and a hole in her heart, so with me out at work all day, Am's going stir-crazy. Quite literally. She can't stop playing Cookie Maker on the iPad.

So for the sake of all our sanities, Lisa and Am will be living in St Leonards for a while, where they have access to a garden, a paddling pool, and two grandparents who'll take Am to the park every day. And possibly bring her back too.

In the meantime, I'll be spending two days on an NHS Assertiveness & Self Confidence Course. I signed up a couple of months ago in the hope of learning how to use specific assertive techniques appropriately at work, make flexible and realistic plans to cope with difficult situations, build upon my individual sources of self confidence, but above all, learn how to stop taking crap from the hordes of deranged mental-heads that populate my daily life. Present company excepted.

I saw the course advertised on the staff intranet back in May, and I remember discussing it with Lisa over a meal at The Brasserie at Brighton Marina. I was interested in signing up, but as I said to Lisa at the time, I don't think I have enough of a problem with assertiveness to want to bother my boss by asking for permission to take a two-day course.

At which point I realised I do.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Thursday's happy feat of heeling might have set my sole free, but at this rate it could end up sounding the death knell for this blog. For the past eight months, my foot has been so painful that no matter where in Sussex I was working, how beautiful the surrounding countryside might be, and how appealing the local charity shops, I've been forced to stay in at lunchtime, unable to hobble more than fifty yards from my consulting room without two ibuprofen and a wheelchair. It means that since Christmas, I've been writing a lot of my blog posts during my lunch break, and just finishing them off in the evening.

But all that's changed this week. Far from nursing a dodgy foot in the nearest outpatients department, I spent my lunch break today walking back to happiness across Horsham Park, and heading straight for the town centre to pump the British Heart Foundation for an arresting outfit. It might have only been a round trip of a mile, but it's the furthest I've walked this year, and I did it with virtually no pain or after-effects. It's like a miracle. If there was a religion based on guided steroid injections, I'd be well and truly converted. I feel quite evangelical about it. I'm tempted to get out there on the streets of Britain and start telling people how steroids saved my sole, but I don't want to get caught up with all the looters.

Unfortunately, the downside of this miracle is that it's rapidly approaching my bedtime and I haven't written anything meaningful today. Which probably isn't that different to any other day - it just feels it. So in the absence of anything non-podiatric to say, here are the results of the 2011 Intergenerational Funny Face Competition, which took place in the bedroom today when I got home from work...

Amelie might have scored highly on style, performance and technical merit, but I definitely won the photography round.

Monday, August 08, 2011

It's a well known fact that I work very hard for a living...

Although I'd prefer it if she didn't sound so surprised when she says it.

So with that in mind, I returned to work this morning after two days of foot-related sick leave. Having strolled the corridors of Lewes Hospital all day, I can confidently say that my foot is marching heel-to-toe along the road to recovery. It still feels weird to be walking normally though. I'm far more used to limping, so I don't feel comfortable unless I'm hobbling along like a polio victim. I'm convinced I'm going to fall over if I start taking even-paced strides.

This time last week, I'd have been laid up on the sofa after a full day's clinic, unable to get a cup of tea without physically leaning on the furniture or verbally leaning on Lisa, but today is mercifully different. I've done a hard day's work (that's not the different bit), yet I'm managing to stand without a cocktail of painkillers or an outbreak of fire on the sofa.

So steroids are definitely the way forward. It's no wonder Ben Johnson looked so good at the Seoul Olympics. Frankly if this improvement continues, I could give him a run for his money myself.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Despite still being married to Lisa, I did actually manage to watch 'Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' last night. And frankly I should listen to my wife more often. By the halfway point, I was the one rolling my eyes and complaining of a headache. To say it was rubbish would be an insult to the contents of my bin. It might have been wall-to-wall action, but I was bored out of my crystal skull within twenty minutes. I don't know what's gone wrong. I used to love 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' when I was eight. I'm sure I can't have changed that much.

But whilst I ponder with hindsight the wisdom of Lisa's review of 'Hidden' on Thursday night, which was "I love it because there's no action whatsoever", I should mention what happened to her at the dentist on Friday. I was going to write about it yesterday, but I was impatient to try out my new foot, so I couldn't sit still for very long. As it transpired, I'd worn it out by teatime, and it was painful again yesterday evening. Which proves that you should listen to your doctor, and not start doing star jumps within forty-eight hours of a foot operation.

But that aside, Lisa returned to her dentist on Friday afternoon for a denture fitting. As it happens, she loathes the word 'denture' with a passion, so having run through a few alternatives, and rejected my suggestion of 'falsies', we've eventually settled on the term 'temporary teeth'. That's what we'll be calling them from now on.

Unfortunately, at the moment they're not so much temporary as non-existent. The appliance of science that was presented to us on Friday afternoon was merely an ill-fitting wax prototype, so having tried it on and seen her looks instantly, and tantalisingly, transformed back to normal, Lisa was forced to hand the thing back, and told it would be another fortnight before it's ready. Having seen them in the wax flesh, I think the temporary teeth will be well worth waiting for, but that's little consolation to Lisa. For her, it's another two weeks of heartache and hermitage. I'll never get her to come and see 'Super 8' now.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Don't be fooled by this photo. It might look like a shot of Amelie relaxing by the pool at an unnamed East Sussex coastal resort, but in reality it's the first footage of the world's greatest miracle-worker...

Gardner, Heal Thyself
That girl has the lips of a healer. She could probably walk on that water if she wanted to.

Yes, just forty-eight hours after Amelie kissed my foot better, I genuinely think I'm cured. Obviously there's an outside chance that the steroid injection played a role too, but in truth, it wasn't until Am had put joy in my sole by wrapping her laughing gear around my heel that my foot started to get better.

I began to believe, very tentatively, that there was some genuine improvement last night, but having done no walking for more than twenty-four hours, it was hard to tell what was real healing, and what was just the symptomatic improvement I'd expect after a day on the sofa. There was definitely a slight change for the better last time, but it turned out to be no more than temporary relief brought about by a couple of days rest.

This time is different. I got up this morning to an almost total lack of pain. For the first time in more than six months, I can actually walk normally. Or I could do if I could remember how. I've actually become so accustomed to walking without putting any weight on my right heel, that I'm finding it incredibly difficult to adjust. Without thinking, I automatically put all my weight on my left foot, whether walking or standing, because that's how I've been living since Christmas.

But the stunning development is that I no longer have to. As of this morning, standing on my right heel produces only slight sensitivity and mild aching, as opposed to the jump-out-of-my-skin shooting pain I've been used to. I can hardly believe it.

Unfortunately, my foot's gone straight to my head. So I must be more supple than I look. I'm still supposed to be resting it, but having spent six months as a virtual prisoner in my own car, I can't wait to do something on foot. As a result, I've spent the morning completing my first workout of the year. I've put on almost a stone since Christmas, simply because I can't take any exercise. I've been driving the five minute walk to work every day, and unable to pop to the shops at lunchtime. I've gone from walking miles every day, to limping the few yards to the bathroom.

So the recovery starts here. I've just burned off my first proper calories of 2011, so by 2012 I might be back to a decent weight. You have no idea how good it feels to be walking across the living room like a man, instead of cruising around the furniture like a baby. I just need to avoid breaking my ankle while I'm jumping for joy.

Friday, August 05, 2011

One of the good things about being the sole survivor of a foot operation is that I get to spend 24 hours with my leg up on the sofa, watching all the DVDs I've never had time to see. My parents gave me 'Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' for my birthday, and I still haven't got around to watching it. Which wouldn't be so bad if it hadn't been my birthday last year. Unfortunately, every time I suggest we put it on, Lisa rolls her eyes, mentions her heartburn and says she's got a headache, so having failed to persuade her yet again last night, I decided to leave that for my second marriage, and choose an alternative. We eventually compromised on this...

Hidden Caché
That's the French film 'Hidden', or 'Caché' as it's known outside the UK. I bought the DVD in a charity shop in Crowborough a few months ago for £1.99. I'd never heard of it, but I'm an advertising man's dream, and easily swayed by big quotes in capital letters and lots of flashy stars. I'm still not sure how Time Out managed to give it six stars out of five, but I took that as a measure of just how good this film was going to be. It's the equivalent of giving a hundred and ten per cent.

After buying the DVD, I discovered that The Times had placed 'Hidden' at number one in their 2009 list of the best 100 films of the decade, which is surprising for a film no one's ever heard of, and suggests that Rupert Murdoch might have good taste after all.

Which is more than can be said for the person who gave it away to charity. Suffice it to say that having watched the DVD last night, it won't be seeing the inside of a hospice shop again. Fourteen hours on, I'm still rewatching the film, and reading through the numerous internet sites discussing it. It gripped me from the moment it started, and hasn't let go yet. Lisa and I were still awake at midnight last night, discussing our theories on whodunnit.

And that's the strength of the film. So much is never explained, but clues seem to be everywhere. In January 2010, four years after originally reviewing the movie, the American film critic Roger Ebert wrote an article in which he said "How is it possible to watch a thriller intently two times and completely miss a smoking gun that's in full view? Yet I did. Only on my third trip through Michael Haneke's "Cache" did I consciously observe a shot which forced me to redefine the film". He continues, "Now I call your attention to the shot I missed the first time through. You will find it on the DVD, centering around 20:39. You tell me what it means. It's the smoking gun, but did it shoot anybody?"

Five days later, he wrote a 2,400 word blog post dedicated to solving the mysteries of the movie, which attracted 263 comments from people putting forward their own theories. And trust me, if you've been up half the night reading them, you'll still be none the wiser. Especially if you're Lisa, and you've never heard the phrase 'smoking gun'. She was scouring the movie for a rifle.

Anyhoo, I'll probably never fully solve the film's puzzles, but that didn't stop it being a great movie. And a very odd one. It has no music whatsoever, not even over the credits, and features various long-range, unmoving shots, where you're never quite sure what you're meant to be looking at. Which explains how Lisa and I managed to miss the significance of the final scene on first viewing. It's also made in this weird, incomprehensible language called French, which surely can't be the way forward for cinema. But despite that, we loved every minute.

Especially the 85th minute. Which was a moment so utterly unexpected that it made me physically cry out in shock and surprise. For the second time that day. It was like my foot injection all over again, but with slightly less blood.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

If you'd said to me back in August 2009, as I gently reclined on the couch with an electric cattle-prod up my bottom, that almost two years later to the very day, I'd be back in that same room, on that same couch, crying out in pain as a blonde woman stabbed me in the foot with some steroids, I wouldn't have believed you. Mainly because Harold Camping said we'd all be dead by now.

But sure enough, having already experienced an anal probe in an alien environment, I found myself back in the hospital's x-ray department this morning, being subjected to a bit of foot torture on the NHS. I've now had a 'guided injection' for my plantar fasciitis, which is a lot like the first one, but with pictures.

It turned out to be an experience of both good and bad news. The good news is that judging by the level of excruciating agony I experienced as the steroids swilled around my sole, she definitely hit the right spot. The bad news is that having examined my foot with an ultrasound, the doctor thinks there might be a tear in my plantar fascia. Frankly there was one in my eye too, but this one's pronounced differently.

If she's right, then the steroid injection will never completely cure the pain, because it will only treat the inflammation, not heal the tear. She did mention the possibility of foot surgery, but frankly I'd rather spend Lisa's tooth money on an electric wheelchair and have done with it. I'm not good with scalpels.

Despite all of that, I'm quite optimistic. The first injection was painful, but for a few lingering seconds, this procedure took the notion of pain to hithero unimagined realms. Frankly that pretty blonde doctor touched my sole like no woman has before, and made me scream out loud in bed for the very first time. So she must have done something right. There's surely every chance it will help.

In the meantime, I'm back on the sofa for a couple of days with an achy breaky heel and a laptop. Amelie has already asked me to remove my sock so that she can kiss my foot better, and Lisa's currently in the kitchen, making a lasagne for my tea. It's care in the community, Gardner style.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Having spent today locked in a darkened room in Haywards Heath, taking snapshots of diabetics while the rest of the world parties in the sunshine, I didn't think it was shaping up to be a very exciting day. But within an hour of getting home tonight, we went from mild midweek mundanity to major momentous milestone.

Yes, at the age of two years and ten months, Amelie's just written her first joke.

The three of us were sitting at the dinner table, eating a fine gourmet meal of cottage pie and garden peas, accompanied by a vintage bottle of Dr Thunder (which is like Dr Pepper, only cheaper and made by Asda) and I'd just passed on my compliments to the chef, who was having a pyjama day on the other side of the table due to an obvious lack of teeth, when Amelie scooped up a spoonful of veg, and said this:

"I'm having some peas..."

She then paused momentarily, before adding:

"Peas and quiet."

At which point she burst out laughing at her own joke. She's so like her father, it's scary.

In other news, I trimmed Chloe's fur last night, in response to the sweltering summer heatwave which started yesterday and is expected to carry on for at least the rest of today. It prompted an interesting response from Amelie, who examined my handiwork this morning, considered the situation, then asked "Is Chloe still a cat?", before accusing me of chopping off her whiskers. She needs to be careful who she insults. With money the way it is, I'll be cutting her hair next. It's four years since Scissorgate, and I'm taking no prisoners.

Anyhoo, I need to go and prepare myself mentally for being speared through the sole with a blunt needle tomorrow morning, but before I go, I'd just like to extend our thanks to the mystery benefactor who sent us this postcard today...

Milton Keynes Heritage
The back of the card features the phrase 'Milton Keynes Heritage', which I presume is some kind of joke, but it's one of the best gifts I've received in a long time. Mainly because it was attached to a box full of sweets. I can't be certain who sent it (although I have my suspicions), and I'm not sure if it's a birthday gift for me, or a pick-me-up for the wife, but Lisa still won't answer the door without a Spiderman mask, so frankly she's lucky we got it at all. I found the parcel on the doorstep when I got home.

But thank you, kind chocolatiers of Buckinghamshire. Your generosity is much appreciated, and the sweets are very nice. You'd never know they'd been manhandled by Winnie Mandela.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lisa's life at the moment may seem like an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, but personally I'm living through a second rate sequel to The Twilight Zone. I was driving through Monk's Gate this morning (which is something I like to make a habit of, and a route I follow religiously) on my way to Horsham Hospital, when I passed a car coming in the other direction. Nothing unusual in that, you might think. Except that the driver's door of this particular car was hanging off its hinges, and flapping about in the breeze.

The car had obviously been involved in a collision, and the driver's side was comprehensively dented in, particularly around the door, which was kinkier than Ann Summers and jutting out like a beetle with a broken wing, making it impossible to close. But undeterred, the owner had clearly decided to drive it home anyway. Surviving a car crash is one thing, but he sure as hell wasn't going to waste money on a taxi.

It was one of the oddest sights I've ever seen, and it preyed on my mind all day. Until the middle of the afternoon, when my next patient walked into the room. She was an elderly lady, and the moment she sat down, she asked me to make allowances for her vision because she'd been crying a lot today. I naturally assumed she was an Amy Winehouse fan with family in Norway, but having asked her for more info, she told me that her husband is currently in hospital after having a car crash.

She then told me that another car had smashed into the driver's door of his vehicle on a roundabout in Horsham, and he'd hit his head, but as a typical bloke (I'd say 'bloody-minded', but in this case, that would be tactless), he'd refused to call an ambulance and had made his way home instead. Only later had he agreed to go to hospital.

Now, I'm not saying it was definitely the same chap, but even if it wasn't, it was enough to make the Twilight Zone music play in my head. Even now, I'm beginning to wonder if I dreamt it all, or if it was some kind of hallucination. Let's face it, it was over 28 degrees in that consulting room. There's every chance I've got heat-stroke.

Monday, August 01, 2011

When I got up yesterday morning, I mentioned to Lisa that I'd been thinking about her during the night. Naturally she immediately tried to pin me down on specifics, so I told her I'd been thinking about all the sadnesses she's been through. To which she responded "Blimey, you must have been awake all night".

Fortunately, however, there are signs that Lisa's bad-luck cloud may be moving on to another victim. I'm pleased to report that despite all of us spending time in my parents' garden yesterday afternoon, it was Big Sis, not Lisa, who got splatted with seagull poo and required hosing down with disinfectant. The rest of us remained clean, dry, and unlikely to contract bird flu.

But the good luck didn't end there. Upon returning home yesterday evening, we found not one, but two pieces of good fortune waiting for us. The first was this potentially priceless piece of high art...

Arty Farty
It's the latest in a series of bespoke collectable greeting cards produced in the surrealist art houses of Milton Keynes, and has been personally signed by its creator, and dedicated to me for my birthday. I've received a couple of others in the past, and I'm holding on to them all, in case their value skyrockets in the future. I call it my 'refuse collection', because I'd be mad to turn them down.

But that wasn't all. We also found an answerphone message from the hospital nursery, saying that Amelie has successfully passed the lengthy selection process (which basically involved us writing her name on a form), and won a place there, three afternoons a week from next January. It's handy because the nursery's based in the same building that I am, so I can watch her bullying the other kids from the window of our second floor kitchen.

On the downside, the fact that we weren't in when they called, means that they heard our outgoing answerphone message. A message which Lisa recorded a few months ago, and which, for purely comedic purposes, goes like this:

"You're through to the stressed-out parents of Amelie Gardner. Please leave a message after the tone."

I expect the nursery have made a note of that already. She'll be the only girl with a behaviour record five months before she starts.