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Monday, October 31, 2011

After four years of accepting Facebook friend requests from people I was at school with, can barely remember, and have no wish to chat to, my stupidity has finally paid off. One of them's just posted something quite funny:

Met a transvestite from Greater Manchester yesterday.
He had a Wigan address.

Well it made me laugh anyway.

Changing the subject, I was looking at this page on the BBC website today, and having entered my date of birth, it told me with quite astonishing accuracy and precision that "When you were born, you were the 3,925,680,835th person alive on Earth and the 78,203,648,881st person to have lived since history began". Unless you think Adam & Eve were an allegory, in which case I'm the 78,203,648,879th. Apparently in 14 years time, the population of the world will have doubled in my lifetime, which is quite a sobering thought. It means I must be getting old.

But with the world's population set to reach the seven billion mark, and tonight being Halloween, the good news is that I've found a way to increase that figure still further, whilst simultaneously scaring small children.

Unfortunately it's date night tonight, so I'll have to tell you tomorrow. But before you ask, it doesn't involve impregnating Lisa whilst dressed as the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Frankly, once was enough.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The thing about putting the clocks back is that it makes a bad night seem so much longer. It was barely still summertime when Lisa and I made it to bed last night, but within an hour, Amelie had woken up in tears, claiming that a Mummy spider and a girl spider had come into her bedroom and frightened her. There was an encouraging moment when she mentioned that they both had eight legs, thereby proving that our educational efforts haven't been in vain, but other than that it was a pretty bad experience. She promptly refused to stay in her bedroom in case the arachnid single mother came back, and within five minutes she was installed on my side of the bed, while I slept in the living room.

To be honest though, I think I had the better deal. I might have been woken up by Chloe howling in my ear at 6am, but Lisa's been awake since four, listening to Amelie chatting incessantly and kneeing her in the back. She could have done with a good night's sleep too, because as of last night, Lisa's going down with a cold.

So in terms of mood, we're currently putting the mean back into Greenwich Mean Time, but prior to that, we'd actually had a very nice evening. We kindly invited Lisa's mother over to spend an evening of fun and relaxation on our sofa... while we went out for a few hours without Amelie. We'd been invited over to Worthing by the lovebirds in this photo. I described them last November as looking like Taylor Swift and Minty from EastEnders, a comment which went down a lot better with her than with him.

But a year on, all has been forgiven, and we were duly invited over for a game of Scrabble at their new love nest in the upper reaches of High Salvington. Despite preparing for the event by downloading Scrabble for the iPad a month ago, I've failed to wrestle it away from Amelie long enough to actually have a game, meaning that it's about ten years since I last played. Unlike Lisa, who's never played. To be honest, I don't know why we accepted this challenge.

But fortunately, Scrabble's like riding a bike. Lisa can't do it, and I've never forgotten it. I successfully positioned myself to Lisa's left at the table, meaning that every time she innocently built towards the edge of the board, I was right there to get on the triple word score. It was a tactic which worked wonders, and despite some stiff opposition (and mild cheating) from our opponents, I managed to scrape home in front. They've assured me I won't be invited over again.

With the Scrabble challenge completed, we settled down for meal of pizza and pasta, which was slightly delayed when the chef had a Gordon Ramsey moment, looked at her home-made pasta dish, and said "I'm not serving that", meaning we had to wait while she whipped up another one. By the time the dessert came out, it was almost 11pm and our hosts were considering putting the clocks back just to make it less embarrassing.

But despite that, we had a lovely evening with two lovely people, and returned home shortly before midnight to relieve Lisa's mother from baby-sitting duties. Her evening had apparently gone smoothly, with just one notable exception: she couldn't find Amelie's toothbrush. Needless to say, most children would be only too pleased to go to bed without having to clean their teeth, but not Amelie. She went to bed telling her Nanny that her teeth will go rotten and fall out. Like I say, our educational efforts haven't been in vain.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Anyone who thinks that Amelie spends all her time on the iPad would be wrong. She also uses the laptop a lot...

Ammy the Explorer
It's better because it balances on your knees, leaving you one hand free to suck your thumb.

Obviously she uses it mainly for Facebook, Twitter and Skyping her friends in other countries, but today she's been engrossed in a game called 'Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom'. For about six hours straight. Frankly I could have saved the place quicker myself. As it happens, we met Dora back in September when we visited Nickelodeon Land, but Amelie got confused and thought it was just "a person dressed up as something", so she's none the wiser. The game could be about Dora Bryan for all she knows.

Anyway, the good thing about this game is that in addition to teaching Amelie important life-lessons about singing butterflies and talking monkeys, it also uses Dora the Explorer's status as the world's most famous Latina (after Gloria Estefan) to inject a bit of Spanish into her life. At various points in the game, Dora repeats key phrases in her native tongue, allowing Amelie to pick up the lingo and learn a second language.

She's played it so much today that she really should be fluent by now, but unfortunately I don't think I'll be booking a holiday in Barcelona just yet. A major part of the game involves clicking on bunnies as they pop out of rabbit holes, whilst avoiding clicking on the squirrels and armadillos. Amelie's already questioned the realism of it all, by asking why on earth the other animals are in the rabbit's burrow, but in addition to that, she's wrestling with a far more confusing concept.

When you've captured your full quota of rabbits, Dora shouts "Cinco conejitos!", which is Spanish for 'five bunnies'. Unfortunately, Amelie, who assumes she's speaking English, hears it as "Click on the hippos!". She's spent the afternoon frantically moving the mouse, searching in vain, and asking me where all the hippos have gone.

But the good news is that Amelie's newfound linguistic skills could come in very handy in the future. Twenty years ago, Lisa worked in an office with a chap called Chris, who has recently left Brighton behind him to become an estate agent in Arizona. He's started a blog to publicise his business, and yesterday he published this photo...

From the Ashes
That's a house in Phoenix with 2,400 square feet of space, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms (I presume the half is a sink), a garage and a private swimming pool. And it's on the market for about £60,000. The moment Amelie learns Spanish, we'll be hiring a Mexican pool guy and moving.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm usually poles apart from the Telegraph, but today they're reporting the life-affirming news that the happiest people in Britain were born in 1973. Presumably because it's when we joined the Common Market. According to this article, a recent "poll of 2,000 British adults, aged 18 and above, found that on average, 38 was the age at which people felt most content with their lives". It means that over the course of the rest of my life, I'll never be as happy as I am now. Which is quite a depressing thought.

Of course, the playwright Eugene O'Neill said "One should either be sad or joyful. Contentment is a warm sty for eaters and sleepers". So with only nine months to go until I turn 39, I'm going to spend the evening lying on the sofa with some food.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When you're in the running for a major award, it's important to perfect that look of genuine (fake) surprise, so as not to appear arrogant in front of your fellow nominees when the winner is announced. So with an avalanche of votes already flooding in (I know of at least three people who've voted), and the possibility of the kind of landslide rarely seen outside Thailand, I've begun preparing Amelie for the moment she's announced as the Cutest Kid in Sussex...

I think that's pretty believable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The front page of today's Argus screams 'HORROR OF HUMAN FIREBALL', and reports on a man who suffered major burns after being electrocuted in Brighton. But the biggest story in today's issue is the bright spark lighting up page 27...

Cutest Kid in Sussex
Yes, like her intrepid cat before her, Amelie's being featured in The Argus. At least I think that's her. To be honest, there are a total of 276 children pictured in today's issue, and it took me about ten minutes to spot her. I'd know that face anywhere. But clearly not in a newspaper.

Amelie's featured in the 3-5 years category of the Cute Kids portrait competition, alongside beautifully named cherubs such as Destinee, River, Chanel and Orlando. Phil and Lisa don't feature. But there's a Charlie and Lola on the same page, which is nice. She's losing points by refusing to do the 'back of the hands under the chin' modelling pose, and her smile looks a little strained, but let's face it, she usually poses like this...

Big Wide Mouth
... so we can't really complain.

You now have until Friday, November 11th to vote for Amelie to win the competition (other children are available), and you can do so by phoning this unique number:

09011 592707

Alternatively, you can text the word CUTEKIDS followed by a space and then the code 2707 to the phone number 80360.

Unfortunately each vote costs at least 50p, and the prize is only worth £300, so Mum, if you're reading this, don't vote more than six hundred times.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's more than a fortnight now since I started my latest diet (I'd call it a health kick, but to be honest it's more of a toe-poke), so I feel I should report on my progress before I lose the use of my fingers due to extreme muscle wastage.

I've actually lost thirty pounds. Which was the price of three months subscription to the Weight Watchers website. It was worth it though, because after two weeks of slow fasting and phat slimming, I've lost a total of 5lb. Which is fantastic news, because according to Weight Watchers' advanced online calculations, I only need to lose another four-and-a-half stone to be healthy. I think I must have entered my height wrong.

To be honest, I've found it fairly easy. The all-new Pro-Points version of Weight Watchers allows you to eat as much fruit as you like, so I've been going bananas in spectacular fashion. The worldwide banana price seems to have crashed in recent weeks, and all the supermarkets are selling them at 55p a kilo. It means I can eat a pound of bananas a day (and don't think I'm not) for about 25p. If this carries on until Christmas, I'll have saved enough money to get liposuction, and the whole diet will be pointless.

But in the meantime, I think there's every chance I'll be in a bikini next summer. Although I'll be wearing it under my work clothes, so no one will know.

Monday, October 24, 2011

You know that sinking feeling you get when you realise you've been double-booked...

An Illustrated Talk by Phil Gardner
This one's particularly bad, because on top of being down to do a clinic in Brighton on Wednesday afternoon, I know nothing about Eastbourne in the 1960's. Although I've visited the Wish Tower Restaurant, which amounts to the same thing. You know what they say though, if you can remember Eastbourne in the sixties, you weren't there. Either that or you've got Alzheimer's, which is not uncommon in the town.

To be honest, I don't even remember agreeing to give an illustrated talk, but I find it hard to believe there are two Phil Gardners willing to work for £3 a ticket. Frankly I'll turn up to anything if you pay my bus fare and buy me an interval ice cream. I like to think it's my USP. So I refuse to accept there's another one.

The last time my words were spoken in public, they were charging five pounds a head...

I made ten quid that evening. So £3 seems pretty reasonable. It's all about market forces. And setting out your stall. No, hang on, I'm getting Phil Gardner mixed up with Ian Beale.

Anyway, if you fancy turning up on Wednesday to ask Phil about his memories of Eastbourne (mine are here, but they're unlikely to feature), the talk's at East Dean Village Hall. It's a stone's throw from Beachy Head, so if the audience lose the will to live, they'll have somewhere to go on to afterwards.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I was in the bath this morning, reading 'The Week' magazine from a fortnight ago (it's what you call being behind The Times), and I came across this apology for an article on page 11...

Sheikha Noora bint Isa Al Khalifa
You'd think the cow in the background would have given it away.

It's an easy mistake to make though. Personally I've never heard of this Noora bint, but I'm always confusing Devon dairy farmers with Bahrain princesses. It's why I've never married into royalty, but I eat a lot of cheese. Admittedly there's a Persian Gulf of difference between a milk maid and a princess, but if I were Sheikha Noora bint Isa Al Khalifa, I'd change the 'b' in my name to a 'p' and tell everyone I come from Moo-rain. Bahrain sounds like it's full of royal shepherds.

On the subject of awkward cows, I've spent today building bridges with Amelie (mostly out of Megablocks), and attempting to repair the father-daughter bond that was stretched to breaking point at the gates of Queens Park yesterday. Her first words to me this morning were "Have you still got a headache, Daddy?", to which I was tempted to reply "Yes, and bizarrely we're trying for another one", but I wasn't sure she'd understand the subtext, so I told her I was fine, and offered to play a game with her instead.

As it transpires, we've had a relaxing, enjoyable Sunday, spent playing, chatting, reading, cooking, cleaning, eating fish finger sandwiches, and proving that sometimes, just sometimes, a cover version can be better than the original song...

She owned that stage, made the song her own, and above all, proved that what the original lacked was a driving beat played on a plastic beehive. It's a yes from me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

If you're looking for explicit photos from the Brighton swinging scene, you've come to the right place...

Swinging Couple
We did a bit of dogging shortly afterwards with a Yorkshire Terrier and a poodle. Frankly they were like animals.

Anyhoo, that was Amelie and me at Queens Park this afternoon, where we had a threesome with Lisa for a couple of hours. I pushed that girl to her limit, which, it transpired, was about forty-five minutes on a swing. My arms are aching like you wouldn't believe. But not as much as my head. Or my heart. Suffice it to say that two hours spent pushing, swinging, spinning and sliding, followed by ten minutes eating an ice cream, wasn't enough to satisfy our daughter. She threw a major tantrum when we tried to leave, and Lisa and I were reduced to dragging her through the gates of the park by her wrists like a couple of child abductors, while an entire playground full of parents half our age, turned to see where all the screaming was coming from. Never mind swinging, it was more like sadomasochism.

Friday, October 21, 2011

With the possible exception of Chloe, Amelie's favourite toy at the moment is a purple plastic pony called Hellodadada. She named it herself. She also has a pink pony with an interesting name, but I haven't worked out how to spell that one yet. When she says the name, it sounds like Chewbacca speaking Swahili. I'm waiting for her to learn how to write, so that she can set me straight on the letters.

As befits the role of the chosen one, Hellodadada was selected to be part of Amelie's entourage when we went to Stefan and Andrew's on Sunday, and was party to the tea making that went on. As mentioned at the time, we were lucky enough to receive some old china from our old chinas, and Amelie's been itching to make a brew ever since. When I got home from work yesterday, the first thing she asked me to do was to put the kettle on. I think she gets that from Lisa.

As an experienced Mr Tea, I pity the fool who can't make their own cuppa, so naturally I agreed to help, and within minutes, Amelie, Hellodadada and I were sitting down to afternoon tea in the drawing room. Although I made her put the crayons away first.

There was some initial confusion about the difference between a kettle and a teapot, and I was disappointed with Amelie's reluctance to sing a song ("don't know how it goes", my foot) but other than that, the event was a complete success. Hellodadada blasted off in a teacup, Amelie used more sugar than tea, and above all, the three of us learnt not to cry over spilt milk...

Her self-belief is admirable, but I'm still trying to get that tea out of the carpet.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I must admit, yesterday's blog post wasn't the one I intended to publish. I actually wrote a couple of extra paragraphs about my own motivations to quit between 8:30am and 1pm yesterday morning, but having shown it to Lisa, she felt that rather than offering me "support and information", they'd be more likely to sack me without any pension. So I filed it under 'Things to Publish After I Win the Lottery', and left it at that.

The Killing RoomBut in the meantime, I've discovered the perfect date movie. And I don't mean 'Friday the 13th'. Lisa and I attempted another romantic evening of love this week, so I suggested we snuggle up on the sofa and watch The Killing Room. Wikipedia gives the plot away within three sentences, so I wouldn't click on that link, but suffice it to say it's a charming everyday tale of four people being murdered in a box. I bought the DVD for three quid in Asda, mainly because it stars the bloke who presents 'America's Got Talent', and I thought I'd enjoy seeing him slaughtered.

As it transpired, it was a very good film. Frankly, Nick Cannon needs to fire himself from the talent show and do more of this acting lark. He and Timothy Hutton were outstanding, the concept was engaging, the plot riveting, and the whole experience was worth £3 of anyone's money. Well, anyone but Lisa. She lost interest shortly after the opening credits, and spent the evening playing 'Puppy Sanctuary' on the laptop. To be honest, it's a miracle we're still married.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Breaking news from the staff intranet at work...

By Appointment
I presume they help you write your resignation letter, and then show you the door.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One of my patients gave me a box of chocolates yesterday afternoon. Sadly, it wasn't a blonde bombshell who'd fallen in love with me, it was an Asian pensioner who wanted to thank me. At least that's what he said. In reality he was probably trying to make me diabetic so that I could suffer like he does. Naturally, the offer of gifts from a patient presented me with a bit of a moral dilemma. Not 'should I accept them?', but 'should I give them to Lisa and pretend I bought them for her?'.

Fortunately I have a strong moral compass (which is down to my animal magnetism), and instantly knew the answer: I noticed the chocolates were from Lidl, so I knew she'd never eat them. I'll be sharing them with my colleagues instead.

It was an afternoon of surprises actually. Following on from the Milk Tray man, my next patient was a lady seven years older than Lisa, who was telling me about the problems her son is having looking after his diabetes. I said "Yes, it's a real challenge when you're young". To which she responded "Young? He's thirty-one."

It's not the first time that's happened. I really must remember that Lisa and I are decrepit old freaks of nature who have no right to reproduce at our age and really should be grandparents by now, otherwise I'm going to keep making myself look stupid.

Monday, October 17, 2011

There's nothing more civilised than Sunday afternoon tea with your best bone china...

Tea Time
You'd never guess she was wearing her cousin's pants and smelling faintly of urine.

We were invited round for Sunday lunch yesterday by our good friends Stefan and Andrew. It was our second lunch date of the day. We'd already been invited over to Portslade to eat out with a couple of cats. So having dressed Amelie in a cute new outfit (age 4-5, obviously) we hit the road for West Hove, on a mission to fix the feline famine with a pouch or two of Whiskas.

It was ten minutes into our journey when we heard the words "Oh no" coming from the back of the car. We responded with an optimistic "What?", which produced the reply "My seat's wet". I won't go into details, but suffice it to say, it wasn't a leak in the sunroof.

Once at Lisa's sister's house, I fed the starving cats, while Lisa removed Amelie's gorgeous tights, took off her pretty underwear, then dressed her in a pair of her 5-year-old (male) cousin's pants, and put her boots back on with no socks. She then rode to Stefan and Andrew's on a pile of kitchen roll. It wasn't quite the stylish arrival we'd anticipated, but hey, we knew our hosts were unlikely to dress for dinner...

Dress Down SundayAlthough Andrew had made a bit of an effort. That's not him, obviously. That's just a well-dressed dummy. And standing behind her is a mannequin.

Anyhoo, it's been stated on this blog many times that meeting up with Stefan & Andrew is a bit like visiting a cash & carry. But without the cash. They gave us so many free gifts yesterday that I felt like I was playing 'Double or Drop' on Crackerjack. Andrew's got so many boxes of cut-price goodies stashed away in that flat, it feels like you're having lunch with Del Boy.

The finest of the gifts we received yesterday was the miniature china tea set in the photo above. It's probably 'china' as in 'made in', but it's the perfect size for Amelie, and before we knew it, she was making strawberry redbush tea for us all. She already knows how to open the biscuit tin, so I just need to teach her to boil the kettle, and we'll be living the life of Riley. Or Tetley.

To be honest though, I think she prefers cold beverages. Having asked for "a real drink" (I don't know where she gets these phrases), she was handed a glass of cactus juice (no, really), complete with a couple of ice cubes. It began a three-hour-long love affair with frozen water. By the end of the afternoon she'd eaten so many ice cubes, she was like Hansel & Gretel in an igloo.

So with pre-dinner drinks downed, it was onto lunch. Here's Andrew's sister Nora (who was invited over mainly for her gravy-making skills) showing the ice queen how they use a knife and fork in Canada...

Wrongly, judging by that photo.

But if they struggle with cutlery, Canadians sure know how to make a pumpkin pie. Andrew produced the finest home-made pie I've ever tasted. And I've tasted Lisa's cottage. It was so good, I had to have second helpings, just to confirm I wasn't dreaming. Obviously I'm on a strict diet at the moment, but I'm allowed as much fruit and veg as I like, and I'm sure my third of a pie was about four of my five a day.

Having eaten her dessert with a spoon that Andrew stole from Pizza Express, Amelie retired to the drawing room...

Drawing Room
That's Stefan politely pointing out that she was colouring the elephants green. I don't think she was that bothered.

So while Amelie relaxed on the sofa, Lisa and I continued to see what gifts we could extract from our hosts. The answer, in case you're wondering, was a glass cafetiere and a lava lamp. It felt like a 1970s game show. The star prize, however, went to Nora, who received a USB record player for her birthday, and promptly started burning MP3s of Marlene Dietrich at the dinner table.

That left the rest of us free to look at old photos of Andrew riding Marvel the Mustang, while he decorated the laptop with rhinestones, and Stefan demonstrated his new gadget: a Polaroid PoGo Digital Photo Printer. It's a small handheld device which can print three-inch long, full-colour photo stickers wirelessly from a mobile phone, without ink of any kind. It's the closest you can get to magic without actually being a witch. Nora snapped a photo of us on Andrew's mobile, and within seconds, this was spewing out of Stefan's hand...

For a 2"x3" printout of a mobile phone pic, I think that's pretty good. My photo might be slightly clearer...

Sofa Six
But you can't peel the back off and stick it on the fridge within thirty seconds of taking it. I think that's why Amelie looks so anguished.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

When a stroke strikes, you have to act FAST...

Stroke FAST
I saw Amelie's Face turn to a smile, her Arm go up, and the start of a short Speech about how much she loves cats, and I knew it was Time to grab my camera before she got clawed in the face.

Lisa's sister and her family have gone to Wales for the weekend. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it's some kind of mobile counselling service for depressed rugby fans. So as experienced animal handlers (Amelie can pick up anything smaller than a hippo), we've kindly agreed to feed their cats. The one above is Basil, a sage old cat that Amelie has a lot of thyme for. He's the replacement for Pie, who got a little run down in March.

So like a feline meals-on-wheels service, we drove over to Portslade (or West Hove as Lisa's sister likes to call it) yesterday lunchtime to save a couple of cats from starvation. It's the first time that Amelie's met Basil, but she's an old friend of Tiger. This is what they looked like in June 2010, and here they are yesterday...

Tiger Hunting
They've both grown up so much. Amelie's a lot bigger, and Tiger's a great deal wiser. He kept at least a metre away from her at all times.

Anyhoo, our first attempt at cat-feeding went pretty well. Admittedly, most of the food was eaten by Basil, while Amelie was busy chasing Tiger up the stairs, but the way I look at it, if one of them survives the weekend, we've done a good job. I did ask Lisa if we should empty their litter trays while we were there, but she assured me that we hadn't been asked to do so, and that she's not going within three feet of cat poo without an industrial hazard suit and a face mask. And I didn't know where they kept those. So I hope they've got an air freshener when they get home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

3D OCT 2000I spent yesterday afternoon doing a bit of Optical Coherence Tomography at the Sussex Eye Hospital with this bloke and the machine on the left. Those are twenty-five words I never thought I'd write. Mainly because I struggle to string a Coherence sentence together. I've never done OCT before, but having looked at the calendar, this seemed like the right month to try it.

In addition to operating the camera, I also posed as a patient and had an OCT done on my own eyes, which was an interesting experience. Suffice it to say that the person who designed the opening titles of The Matrix clearly suffered from macular oedema and was seeing an ophthalmologist. Frankly, Topcon could sue for breach of copyright.

But the moving green grid the patient has to look at is nothing compared to the visuals on the other side of the machine. This is the screen the operator gets to see after every scan of the retina...

That's what you call eye candy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's amazing the things you find when you're looking for photos of children on the internet.

Let me rephrase that. After publishing yesterday's blog post, Lisa mentioned that every day this week, The Argus have printed a couple of random shots from their Cute Kids contest, in an effort to encourage more people to enter. Naturally, we're too cheap to buy the paper, so I presume she got this information from her mother, who's the last of the big spenders, and reads The Argus religiously. She's even in it on a regular basis.

So I began idly perusing the Argus website, and the site of The Brighton and Hove Studio, which is home to the photographers who took Amelie's picture yesterday, in the hope of finding some under-age models who could put a smile on my face. BH Studio have some nice shots of Katie Price, and one of Kerry Katona (so they clearly have a classy clientele), but their site also features this announcement: "CUTE KIDS Pictures will be uploaded and on a gallery after all the pictures have appeared in THE ARGUS newspaper (Oct 24-28th)". So there's currently no cuteness available.

But if you think the search was a waste of a time, you'd be wrong. In the course of my investigations, I clicked on a link, and ended up at this website, where you can purchase photos that have appeared in The Argus. There's a red button in the top left where you can search the images 'By Keywords and Date Range', so on a whim, I entered the word 'cat', and the dates of the second week of February 2009, and to my complete surprise, it came up with this:

Rogue's Gallery
That's twenty photos of me drowning a cat in the shower, and then strangling it in the living room. Despite worldwide media attention at the time (and I'm reliably informed that Chloe's still pretty big in Lithuania), I'm fairly certain that no more than eight of those were ever published. Twelve of them I've never seen. Let's face it, if they'd ever shown them to me, I'd have insisted they publish this one...

Younger Looking Skin?
I don't know if I've been airbrushed by The Argus or touched up by The Times, but either way, my skin has never looked so good. Frankly I could pass for a twelve-year-old. Albeit with stubble and premature baldness. You'd never believe I had a four-month-old baby in the next room.

I've checked out the purchasing options for that picture, and apparently I can have it printed onto a t-shirt for £16. So that's Lisa's Christmas present sorted.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Here's a rhetorical question for you:

Do you have the cutest kid in Sussex?
Although if you need an answer, it's "Duh".

I discovered yesterday that The Argus are running a cute kids contest at the moment. Obviously if Amelie enters, it'll be a no contest, but that aside, if you take your child along to the Churchill Square shopping centre any day this week, you can have their portrait done for free by a professional photographer. The resulting pics will then be published in The Argus, and the great people of Brighton will use their skill and judgement to select the cutest. At which point the person with the most friends wins.

Obviously, Amelie's been caught on camera many times at Churchill Square, but usually it's by security guards armed with CCTV. She's no stranger to being snapped though. Only the night before last, she woke up at 3am, saying a crocodile was after her. To be honest, at the moment she's not so much living the dream, as having a nightmare. She burst into tears at 10 o'clock last night, and when we went in and asked her what was wrong, she told us a talking giraffe had upset her. It's like she's being haunted by the ghost of Johnny Morris.

So while I was slaving over a hot retina at work today, I instructed Lisa to soothe our disturbed daughter by taking her out for a photo shoot. Like all top models, Amelie won't get out of bed for less than fifty quid, which is handy, as that's the prize in each category. I think the word 'great' is a misprint. It cost Lisa three quid to get there on the bus, but that still leaves us £47 up on the deal. Unless you include the 42p we spent on The Argus.

Obviously I wasn't there to witness today's photographic assignment, but I'm reliably informed that Amelie was the very model of professionalism. She marched in there, complained about being kept waiting, then tried to jump the queue, did her best to get into other children's photos, and nearly threw a tantrum when they refused to photograph her dog, Chef. I should explain that Chef is a cuddly German Shepherd I bought from a charity shop. I suggested she call him Shep, but due to a breakdown in communication, and the fact that I was speaking with my mouth full, she mis-heard me, and he's been Chef ever since. It's like we're living in South Park.

Anyway, they took six photos of our little diva this afternoon, two of which Lisa liked, and one of which will be appearing in The Argus on Wednesday, 26th October. So you've got two weeks until I start shamelessly begging for votes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's almost a week now since I last mentioned any medical problems (unless you count my morbid obesity), so in case anyone's concerned about my current state of health, I'd just like to reassure everyone reading this that I'm still ill. Frankly I've been at death's door for so long, the Grim Reaper thinks I'm squatting in his porch.

I returned to work last Thursday, so with perfect timing, my throat got a lot worse on Friday, and by Sunday I was coughing. Fortunately the soreness is now a lot better. So today I've developed a blocked up nose. I feel like I'm playing the I-Spy game of common ailments. I coughed my way to Crawley yesterday, and today I've been sniffing around Haywards Heath. By tomorrow I'll be vomiting all over Brighton.

I obviously look pretty rough too. One of my patients today was telling me about his experiences at a minor public school in Leamington Spa (I didn't tell him I went to a Comprehensive in Basildon), and having mentioned his old GCE exams, he said "It's all GCSEs now of course, but I'm sure you remember doing GCEs". I've never been so offended in my life. I was going to say "No, but my wife does", before realising that Lisa's finest achievement was a CSE in Child Studies. I wasn't sure he'd be that impressed.

But while I crawl slowly into my sick bed and die, here's an interesting article to read. Judging by the 1,000 angry and insulting comments it's received within a few hours, not everyone agrees with the author's conclusions, but it's always good to challenge your own perception of the truth. And as everyone knows, alcohol changes your perceptions. I expect she'd had a drink when she wrote it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I think last night went pretty well. Let's face it, the last time Lisa went on a date, she had to get her Mum to tell the bloke she'd gone abroad the following day. At least this time she's still in the country. Obviously I don't want to get carried away, but she says she'd like to see me again, so I think I'll play it cool and phone her in a couple of days. Unless I get a better offer in the meantime.

As for my diet, I've successfully completed two days of deprivation, although I've also had fair warning of the temptations I'll face. One of the receptionists at Crawley Hospital (she refers to herself as 'Front of House', so I keep expecting her to show me to my seat with a torch) has just become a grandmother for the first time. As a result, I spent most of today flicking through baby photos and hearing what labour feels like on two paracetamol. For the mother, that is. The grandmother was on something much stronger. I received an apology from her for the fact that I'd missed the celebratory cake last week, followed by a promise that she'll bring one in especially for me next week. I didn't like to tell her I'm on a diet. Mainly because I probably won't be by then.

After a day hearing about other people's bundles of joy, I returned home to my own this evening. Unfortunately she was busy ironing, so I quickly moved on to Amelie, who was swanning about the place in her superstar dressing gown with a cat under her arm. Having told me how much she'd missed me today, she then launched into her latest comedy routine by asking me why the chicken crossed the road. I said I didn't know, so she told me it was because he wanted to get away. To be honest, I laughed mainly out of politeness.

But never one to miss an opportunity for a bit of comedy improv, I turned on my camera and the two of us started riffing like old showbiz pros. It was essentially 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' for people with no sense of humour. I might not have unearthed a great deal of talent, but I did uncover a dastardly plot...

I think Lisa's Mum is after my iPad.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The main thing to come out of our first anniversary celebrations ten days ago (apart from two sore throats and a lengthy Asda receipt) is the fact that Lisa and I need to spend more quality time together. Too often, our evenings are spent catching up on chores, tidying up after Amelie, and looking up pointless stuff on Wikipedia. By the time we've done the washing up, picked the Wotsits out of the sofa and discovered if Roddy Frame's married, it's usually time for bed.

So after much discussion, we've decided to designate two evenings a week as 'date nights'. They'll be chore-less, computer-free evenings of love, romance and trash TV. We've vowed to watch nothing more classy than Sky Living and Channel 5. Even BBC Three will need special permission. The intention is to rebuild our lives from the wreckage of hurricane Amelie, and do what we used to do before she was born. Which was essentially to watch Big Brother and slag off celebrities. It was an old-fashioned courtship.

It means that I have until 7pm tonight to write this blog post, otherwise the plug gets pulled, and I lose the lot in the name of romance. When Amelie goes to bed, the computer goes off, the TV goes on, and we're officially dating.

Obviously time's running out, and I haven't cleaned my teeth yet, but there is one thing I still need to do today, and that's publish this photo...

Ignore the green goddess on the right, I'm the one you should be looking at. I've started a new diet today, and that's my official 'before' photo. Although it was taken after my parents' anniversary meal. I feel like I've started more diets over the years than I've had hot dinners, but obviously if that were true, I wouldn't be the size that I am. The important thing is that this time I'm serious. If I'm not a shadow of my former self by Christmas, you have my permission to shoot me.

But preferably not with a gun.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

I think yesterday is best summed up by this photo...

Shop Til You Drop
We basically shopped til Amelie dropped. Which is surprising as we only made it to one store.

But what a store. With the whole family reunited for twenty-four hours, and a rare chance to do something meaningful together, we decided to head out to TK Maxx yesterday morning. Not only do they have a wide choice of top brands at low prices, but it's the nearest shop with free parking.

After a night of bottomless chips and topless photos, my parents decided to conserve their energy by staying at home, but the rest of us piled into two cars and drove a mile down the road for what was described as "a quick trip" to TK Maxx. I'm not sure how long we spent there in the end, but if you compare the photos of me when we arrived to the ones of me when we left, I look noticeably older. Frankly, people have had shorter prison sentences. At one point I wished I'd packed an overnight bag.

But it was worth the investment of time. Amelie and I had a major argument in-depth debate about the pros and cons of spending £12.99 on a Zhu Zhu Hamster set, during which I proposed the motion that a cuddly pink hippo (which happened to be only £2.99) would be a lot more fun, and we eventually compromised on a Third & Bird play set for seven quid.

Having wiped away the tears of that discussion (more mine than hers), we then assisted Big Sis in the purchase of shoes. She was keen to hear our views on this pair...

Shiny Shoes!
That's not a security tag on the left, it's the result of Big Sis's ASBO. So after careful consideration, I told her I wasn't that keen, my sister-in-law felt they gave out the wrong impression, and my niece said they were "a bit too Essex". It was food for thought for Big Sis, and she devoured it with relish. And then bought them anyway.

By the time we started trying on hats...

... my brother had had enough, and decided to wait in the car. We told him we'd be out in a minute. And then spent another half hour in the changing rooms. By the time we left, Amelie had persuaded me to buy the pink hat in the first photo above (for her, not for me), and Sis had filled a trolley with the contents of the ladies clothing section. We eventually walked out of the shop tired, penniless, but completely satisfied...

... until three hours later, when we decided to go back. Sis wanted to return a woollen dress which barely covered her hips, and Amelie's always up for a bit of extortion, so we drove back to the Maxx for round two. An hour later, Sis had another dress, Am had some new shoes, and I'd bought Lisa a potato ricer. Let's face it, if you're spiralling fast towards bankruptcy, you might as well have some decent mash.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Someone's been to a classy restaurant...

And I don't mean Chloe. I've never been to Claridges, but I bet they don't give you free balloons.

Anyhoo, yesterday was my parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary, a major milestone in anyone's life, and one that Lisa and I are only likely to see if we head down the cryogenics route. As a thirteen-year-old, I remember buying them a small silver cross. Ten years ago, I bought my Mum a ruby necklace. And this year I let them hold Amelie's rabbit for ten minutes. It's the recession biting.

But the good news is that I'm always willing to eat in someone else's honour, so we took my parents out last night to the White Hart, a Beefeater Grill in the northern reaches of Hastings. They're generally more used to the Wish Tower in Eastbourne, so anything more upmarket than a Happy Eater and they tend to get giddy. Lisa and I had told them it would just be us and them, but needless to say we were lying through our teeth, and had arranged for Big Sis to drive up from Wiltshire, and my brother to come down from Essex. Frankly the number of e-mails that were exchanged trying to organise this thing would have been enough to crash the servers of a small country.

In addition, we've been working on a professionally printed photo book of their married life for what seems like an eternity. Sis stole my parents photo albums about nine months ago, Lisa started sorting through them in August, I started scanning them, Sis started arranging them, Amelie started laughing at them, Bro started deleting them, and after a few late nights and a lot of expense, the finished book finally arrived on Thursday.

It was all worth it though. The book is essentially a record of how they've gone from this...

Happy Couple
... to this...

Happier Couple
... in fifty years, without the use of Botox. Frankly the only face lifts they need are help getting their double chins off the table.

Anyhoo, with my brother's wife and daughter, my wife and daughter, and Big Sis's lack of success in the dating game, there were nine of us for dinner. And very nice it was too. All Beefeater meals now come with 'bottomless chips', which means you can stick two fingers up at Dr Atkins and induce another potato famine by eating as many as you like. Suffice it to say, I made good use of that offer. But then I didn't have a starter. Apart from the six we collectively shared.

Overall, it was a cultured evening of fine dining, good conversation, fun, laughter and music. Especially when DJ Amelie hit the decks...

The Amelie Beat
Admittedly there was a slight lull in the frivolity when the bill arrived, and I sat there for two minutes wondering if I could remortgage our council flat, but to my mind, any evening where you come away with a photo of yourself fondling your own man boobs, has to be considered a success...

I have no idea what I was doing there. I think the magnitude of the occasion got to me a bit, and I thought I was Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping.

So I might have let the side down a bit, but fortunately my family know how to pose for a nice photo...

Eyes Wide Shut
We'll have that in a photo book in forty-nine years time.

Friday, October 07, 2011

It was fifty years ago today that this photo was taken...

The Happy Couple
I'm off to buy a box of Terry's All Gold, and take my parents out for a meal.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

One of the advantages of being at death's door is that you can hear the radio coming out of hell's kitchen. I was popping some ibuprofen at the sink yesterday morning, and I happened to catch the 'Pause for Thought' on Radio 2. Which is something I never normally stop to think about. This edition focused on the benefits of altruism and the value of doing good deeds, but oddly, I found myself thinking far more about this moment...

I suppose it's one way to escape the fires of hell. I should point out that the lady on the right is comedienne Miranda Hart. Although when Amelie saw the picture, she said "Is it Mummy?"

Anyhoo, I'm still a little peaky, in fact I'm barely any better, but like a brave little soldier (with Gulf War Syndrome, shell-shock and an itchy trigger finger) I returned to work today in the hope of killing off my colleagues. I've also managed to edit together Amelie's birthday footage into an eighteen-minute montage of mindless movie magic. Film-making isn't easy when your throat's too sore to shout 'Cut!', but the star never listens to me anyway, so it didn't make much difference.

As I said this time last year, I don't really expect anyone to sit through all eighteen minutes of this. It's really just there as a record of Am's childhood, so that when she divorces us in ten years time, we can claim back the cost of the presents. Sadly, I had to edit out the girl's attempts at cake decorating, due to the threat of legal action from Lisa, who felt that I hadn't quite captured her best side. It meant that I had to lose the moment when Amelie stood back, admired her birthday cake with the wild eyes of a pyromaniac, and shouted "I want to put some fire on it!"

But in the absence of magical childhood moments like that, it's well worth winding forward to the nine-minute mark, to find out what she really thinks of her grandparents...

To be honest, I think they're bad news too.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I always knew that romance was bad for you. Ever since I wooed Lisa on Friday night by taking her to Asda for our anniversary, I haven't been quite right. We both woke up on Saturday morning with a sore throat, which I took to be the after-effects of whispering sweet nothings to each other until we were hoarse, but while Lisa's kissing disease cleared up pretty quickly, mine seems to have lingered. Probably because I'm too red-blooded.

I battled my way to East Grinstead on Monday, but despite being in a health centre all day, I only got worse, and by the end of the clinic I was more ill than most of the patients. I returned home with a splitting headache and razor blades in my throat. Which will teach me to be more careful when I shave.

I was no better on Tuesday morning, so reluctantly I phoned in sick. Which isn't easy when it hurts to talk. I was only expecting to be off for a day, so despite still suffering with a headache and sore throat, I phoned the office again in the afternoon and told them I was hoping to be back today. That's what they call tempting fate. Within an hour, my chronic prostatitis, which last flared up in late June (it's so useful having a blog), decided that now would be the perfect time to put in an appearance. I spent the next two hours feeling like I was going through a difficult labour whilst suffering from swine flu.

An afternoon of agony took it out of me somewhat, and as the clock approached 9pm, I went into the bedroom where Lisa was reading a book, and told her that I might need to go to bed early. Five minutes later, I'd fallen asleep in my clothes, and hardly moved for eleven hours.

Suffice it to say, I phoned in sick again today. And then went back to bed. To be honest, I'm barely awake now.

Monday, October 03, 2011

In the 2011 Garfield Lookalike Competition, one entrant is emerging as the clear favourite...

Where's Odie?
That’s Amelie loitering with intent. Well, next to the tent. You can tell she’s turned three because she now fits the age 4-5 dress she’s wearing.

But enough about Am, here’s a photo of me...

Head & Shoulder Above the Rest
That was us celebrating as a family last night, shortly before putting the birthday girl to bed, collapsing onto the sofa, and weeping uncontrollably into the cushions.

I’m joking of course. In reality, we were clearing up until midnight, and could only dream of weeping into a nice cushion.

Anyhoo, suffice it to say that Amelie did eventually wake up yesterday morning. In fact her very first words were “Is it my birthday now?”. Words which were swiftly followed by “Can I have a present?” and “Where’s the cake?”. We began the day by watching her open all the gifts we’d bought her. That didn’t take long. She basically rips the paper to pieces like an industrial shredder, takes one look at the contents, and then moves on to the next one. But before long, she was settled down on the floor with her new dog under her arm, playing with her favourite gift from last year...

Birthday Girl!
To be honest, I don’t actually remember ever giving it to her, but she seems to think it’s hers.

Obviously the most important thing for any young person’s birthday is to put the child first. So having looked outside at the beautiful weather and the sparkling sea, Lisa decided to go out on her own for a few hours. I forget why. But she left me with strict instructions to give Amelie whatever she asked for on her birthday.

So after a nutritious breakfast of ice lollies and biscuits, Amelie asked if I’d take her out somewhere. We ended up at the toddlers’ playground on the seafront, soaking up a few rays, and queuing for the children’s toilets with a load of burly blokes from the London to Brighton Landrover Run.

Two ice creams later, she and I returned home to prepare for her party. I’ve always said that you can judge the quality of your birthday bash by the party animals who attend...

And if your living room looks like the day room from a care home, you’ve got problems.

But as it happens, a lot of Amelie’s closest friends are pensioners. I think it’s because she’s mature for her age. And old people are more gullible. So we spent an enjoyable few hours celebrating her birthday in the company of her grandparents, whilst eating mini Cornish Pasties to the sound of Amelie chanting “I want another present!” ad infinitum. To be honest, you begin to tune it out after a while. Especially if you focus on the fact that she’ll be leaving home in fifteen years.

Having rolled around in her new tent, done some hand-printing on the carpet, and watched the birthday girl head-butt the furniture, we were soon fanning the flames of obesity by setting fire to a pig...

Greedy Pig
But once Amelie had blown out the candles on her Peppa Pig cake, and we’d each helped ourselves to a slice, it was time to call it a day. Before retiring for the night, Amelie informed us that she’d like it to be her birthday "forever", but having explained to her the practical difficulties of that suggestion, and refused her two-hundredth request for another present, we put her to bed in tears (mostly ours), and breathed a sigh of relief that it was all over for another year.

That’s the written account. The film version will be out in a day or two.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

It's Amelie's third birthday! Any normal child would have been awake since 4am and excited to the point of hysteria, but it's now 8:25 and she's still asleep. She's so like her mother. It's handy though, because half the balloons Lisa blew up yesterday evening seem to have deflated overnight, so I think we still have some work to do.

Anyway, despite her sleeping through it, it's obviously a momentous day. Turning three brings with it a new level of maturity, wisdom and intelligence, meaning that Amelie now has the ability to "think, to ask questions and to understand", thereby allowing her to indulge in the intellectual pursuit of modern art appreciation.

Unfortunately I showed her the picture last night when she was still two...

I think it was the six-pack that gave it away.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Traditionally, the first anniversary is paper, so I left Lisa a note yesterday morning saying I was going back to the conference. This year's trade stands turned out to be an ischemic wasteland when it came to free gifts and competitions. I came away with a couple of pens and a handshake. But the conference talks were much better on the second day. In addition to some interesting research on automated grading, we heard from a blind lady who put the other speakers in the shade by opening a window on the patients' experience of retinopathy. It was basically an insight into the sightless, from a woman with no eyes but great vision. She was entertaining, informative, and ended up having to be physically dragged from the stage before she told another anecdote. She gets my vote for speaker of the year.

In addition to her, I admired the vitalstatistics of this lady, who taught me a thing or two during a brief chat in the morning coffee break. She has some drop-dead figures, and she's not afraid to use them. I also liked the talk from Massimo Porta, who made a big entrance (that's an Italian joke) at the end of the morning about the history and future of diabetes treatments. Unfortunately I had to leave before he announced the cure, as I had a clinic in the afternoon.

I returned home at tea time to find two exciting-looking parcels waiting for us. The first was from my brother, and contained a birthday gift for Lisa, a birthday gift for Amelie, and an anniversary card for us both. The second was a sparkly gold box addressed to me and Lisa, and marked 'Extremely Fragile'. So I knew it must be to do with our marriage.

And so it proved. We opened it with great excitement, to find an exclusive gift from Jon & Steph Cheshire. They'd taken the paper anniversary quite literally by sending us a copy of the Milton Keynes Citizen. Naturally I was over the moon, as I thought at first it was the newspaper that the legendary Mick Kitson used to write for. Before realising that was the Leighton Buzzard on Sunday. Which is a bit like fish on a Monday. Probably best avoided.

Anyhoo, having settled down on the sofa to view my copy of Citizen Keynes, I eventually realised I was reading the packing paper, and returned to see what else the box contained. I'd ordered some anniversary truffles from Steph's sweet factory, but in addition to receiving those, I also found an exclusive piece of modern art...

That's now sitting in a 12" x 10" frame on our new bookcase. As the note from the artist states, "Art is an intellectual pursuit. It is not a handbag, it is not a chair. It is something else. So it is necessary to think, to ask questions and to understand". Although to me, it's all about flogging it for lots of money. Let's face it, it's a Cheshire original, featuring a superstar cat. It could be worth millions.

It being our first wedding anniversary, we'd dispatched Amelie to my parents for a night, to allow Lisa and I to go out for a romantic meal. So when I got home from work, I had a quick bath, put on my best clothes, and got myself ready for a lovely evening out with my wife. At which point we decided we were too knackered. So we ordered a pizza instead, and spent the evening at Asda, shopping for party food for tomorrow. I think it was a mistake to get married two days before Amelie's birthday.