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Monday, December 31, 2012

Just when you think she couldn't pack any more into an already busy year, Amelie's just qualified as a midwife...

To be honest, it was a lot easier than I expected. She just printed out the certificate from the CBeebies website. I'm not sure it's a hundred per cent legit, but it should be enough to fool them on the maternity ward. Apparently there's one born every minute.

And on that subject, it seems I was a fool to think that Amelie might stay in St Leonards for a couple of days and let me get on with a raft of important jobs. We had an e-mail from my Mum yesterday afternoon to say that our daughter wasn't feeling well and wanted her Mummy. There was no mention of me, so I was tempted to ask if I could swap places with her and head straight for their spare bedroom, but in the end Amelie just came home in the evening.

She hasn't been right for a couple of weeks now, but in addition to seeing the doctor once, she's had numerous days when she's apparently felt fine... only to go downhill in an instant and spend the day in bed. She was fine on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but quite unwell the day after with a high temperature and no appetite, only to perk up again on Friday and Saturday. Yesterday morning she was happily peddling her wares across Hastings...

... but by the afternoon she was in tears, and feeling so unwell she chose to put herself to bed. My Mum brought her home in the evening...

... and today she's seemed fine. Which is frustrating as we've now made her another doctor's appointment for Thursday, and at this rate they're going to think we're paranoid parents with a passion for time-wasting. I did my best to make her ill again by dragging her around an overcrowded Asda this morning, and leading her through the pouring rain in a force nine gale, but not even a downpour could dampen her spirits. I think she's just being awkward.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I think it's about time we bid farewell to Christmas 2012...

Which is a shame, as Amelie doesn't know any songs about other seasons.

Lisa, Toby and I are now back home in Brighton, but Amelie's staying on in St Leonards for another day or two. Mainly because we couldn't fit her in the car. It was a choice between her and the presents, and she lost out to a bag of Lisa's books. One of them's called 'Playful Parenting', and claims to help you "nurture close connections" with your children, so we thought we'd try it from thirty-five miles away.

On the downside, I do have concerns about leaving her with a couple of pensioners who are permanently bent double with old age...

I had to force my father to wear a hat so that the flash wouldn't reflect off his bald spot.

As it happens, that photo was taken yesterday afternoon in the gardens at Seaside Road, a pleasant esplanade enclave where the hurricane force winds whip the frozen sea spray right off the ocean and across the road, before slamming it into your face with the kind of velocity that can remove the skin from your cheeks and give you permanent frostbite. We didn't stay long. Frankly I've met snowmen who are less cold than I was at 2pm yesterday.

It did, however, give Amelie the chance to practice her cycling skills without having to dodge plastic patio furniture and do a u-turn every three metres. It took three of us to explain to her that she needs to pedal forwards, not backwards, and she did request at one point that we just push her until she's old enough to do it, but by the end of the outing, she was beginning to get the hang of self-propulsion, and I was wondering why we didn't hold onto the bike until summer.

Fortunately, within an hour, I was able to feel my fingers again, and my Dad was back out on the patio, putting bricks under the stabilisers so that Amelie could practice her pedalling without cycling into a wall. Ultimately, I think it's a good thing for her to stay on there for a couple of days. She can get all the fresh air and exercise she needs, before returning to a life more like this...

Who needs the great outdoors, when you can surf the internet in your dressing gown?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, whatever happened to this...

... and this..?"

Well, the answer is they're both here...

That's Shimmy on the left. Although Amelie's ambition is to swap her with the cat on the right.

Shortly before Toby arrived in July, we shipped Shimmy out east to my parents' house, on the grounds that she was a nightmare at the best of times, so with a newborn baby to cope with, and our stress levels sky high, there was every chance we might be tempted to drown her in a sack the first time she nibbled on a dummy. The plan was that we'd have her back once we started sleeping properly. Which is why, five months on, she's still there.

In addition to our own situation, Shimmy's settled into a comfortable life of plenty, with a spacious garden and an even more spacious fridge, while my parents have grown to love her, just as her stomach has grown with food. The result is that there's no way we're getting her back. Even if we wanted her, my parents wouldn't want to lose her, and she wouldn't want to come.

So whilst we miss her (like she misses her fleas), we're happy that she's happy, and have accepted that things have worked out for the best. So we thought we'd try it with Am's bike. It's six weeks since we bought it, and five weeks since we decided it would be a lot better off at my parents' house. They have far more room, and seemed a lot more likely to clean it. We intended to give it to Amelie on Boxing Day, but due to a combination of bad weather and ill health, it was this morning before we got her kitted out for some cycling...

It was worth the wait though. Having got her to stand on the patio with her eyes closed, I fetched the bicycle from the garage, untied the tarpaulin, and did the big reveal. Amelie then looked, gasped, and uttered those six little words that made the effort all worthwhile:

"I wanted one with a basket".

I told her to get on her bike.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It's another bitter defeat for the Thumb Fairy...

I have to say though, the Thumb Fairy's loss is photography's gain. Amelie's a lot cuter with her thumb in her mouth. Mainly because it stops her answering back. I'm making the most of it now, because obviously in a couple of year's time she'll have the kind of protruding front teeth you could open a tin of beans with, and I won't want to take her picture.

Anyhoo, keen observers will notice that the walls in the photo above are entirely free from felt tip, stickers and mould, so it clearly wasn't taken at home. We've actually been at my parents' house since Wednesday. We thought Boxing Day would be appropriate for a family punch-up, so having proved our self-sufficiency by getting through Christmas Day without access to my Mum's fridge, we decided that enough was enough, and made the journey to St Leonards the next morning. I've basically been eating ever since.

We've been joined in the gluttony by my brother's family and Big Sis, and together formed a plague of human locusts in an attempt to clear the house of food. We've not succeeded yet, which is why we're still here. My brother's family called it a day last night, and checked in to the nearest branch of Weight Watchers, but we spent an enjoyable day-and-a-half together, flaked out on the floor through overeating...

Just look at that little troublemaker with the beady eyes and the wandering hands. That's my sister-in-law. Toby's the one on the right. They're doing 'The Creation of Adam', but with a playmat and dungarees.

This year's festivities included the traditional Christmas Quiz, as set by my niece, and featuring (as always) a round of questions about herself. After last year's debacle, Lisa and I decided to spend twelve months revising for this test by memorising all her status updates on Facebook, and sure enough, our knowledge came into play immediately when we were asked to name her three best friends outside of school. Unfortunately we ended up listening to her father, and got the question wrong.

As for my father, he revealed that at the age of 74, he can still name the bloke who sang 'Gangnam Style' and describe the dance in detail (although sadly refused to demonstrate it), while Amelie single-handedly won the Gruffalo round with a breathtaking display of knowledge. My team eventually won, due to being able to name more members of One Direction. I'm not proud of that.

Yesterday I ventured out to the local charity shops, and wandered into Shelter, where I found a book my Mum had received for Christmas, next to an obscure DVD I'd asked for. For a moment I thought we'd been burgled by a homeless person. In the end I bought 'Paranormal Activity 3' and 'Taxi to the Dark Side', both for £1.50. I'll let you know which is more disturbing.

On the subject of disturbing phenomena, we had a sleepless night last night, after Toby woke up screaming at the top of his lungs, apparently in pain. I thought it was the African shoes kicking in, but at the moment we're not sure what the problem was. We dosed him up with Calpol and eventually calmed him down, but the amazing thing is the effect it had on Amelie. Or striking lack thereof. She's sharing a tiny bedroom with her brother, and despite lying less than four feet from the kind of deafening screams that could wake the dead, she managed to sleep through the whole thing. Until I turned on a bedside lamp in the next room. At which point she woke up, burst into tears, and told me I'd disturbed her with the light.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Every little girl wants to be like her Mummy, and in this house that can mean only one thing...

Yes, Amelie's got a Hello Kitty onesie, just like her mother. Not that Lisa wears it all the time. On special occasions like Christmas, she's generally in her pyjamas...

Onesies are more for evening wear. Which explains why she didn't get dressed until teatime.

Anyhoo, our first ever Gardner Family Christmas as a foursome was a roaring success. Unless you're me, and you were expecting presents. Amelie eventually dragged herself out of bed at 8:30am, which was a relief as I was still putting her dolls house together at midnight, and before we knew it, she had her hands on some presents...

She had them all open by 9am. It was like a festive tornado had ripped through our flat, leaving in its wake a scene of utter devastation. Mostly on my face, when I realised none of the gifts were for me. Amelie helpfully opened Toby's presents too, leaving him to play with the wrapping paper...

... while she reached new heights of excitement with her main gift: a state of the art dolls house...

I got it off a bloke called Ibsen. It's made of Norwegian wood. To some people, of course, an old-fashioned wooden dolls house might seem like a bit of a retro present, but as the photo above demonstrates, we've still got an Argos catalogue from Spring 2010, so to us, it's pretty contemporary.

This year, for the first time ever, we failed to receive an invitation to Christmas dinner at my parents' house. Which is why I didn't buy them presents this year. I can only assume they've gone down the Herod route and taken a dislike to baby boys. But undeterred, I set about proving that anything my Mum can do for a family of nine, I can do for Lisa and a four-year-old who won't eat chicken.

To be fair to Lisa, she did do her bit for the festive family feast. Whilst I took charge of the chicken, bacon, stuffing, roast potatoes, sausages, Yorkshire puddings and gravy, Lisa volunteered to microwave the veg. Which was the main thing holding us up at the end. Her main contribution, however, was persuading Toby to sit quietly on her knee while the rest of us stuffed our faces.

By the end of the meal, Amelie had refused all the chicken and choked on the bacon, while Toby was covered in bits of potato that Lisa had dropped on his head. But other than that, it was a successful Christmas dinner. And we all ate far too much.

In the evening, we were lucky enough to be visited by Big Sis, who phoned me on her mobile from outside our flat to say that she kept ringing number 18 and we weren't answering. I explained to her that we don't live at number 18, and she was soon inside, and feeling positive about our daughter...

... which is more than we do a lot of the time. Sis presented us with some high quality souvenirs from her recent trip to Uganda, most of which should have been intercepted at customs and burnt for reasons of health and safety, but among the ones we won't be chucking in the bin are these delightful elephant shoes for Toby, which were handmade in a remote African village...

He started laughing at his own feet the moment we put them on. Unfortunately he then started sucking them. So we're currently watching him for symptoms of Marburg.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas everyone!

I haven't quite blocked out all the other children, and if the snowman sues, the sheep is bound to follow suit. That's a yew tree on the left.

In the meantime, it's 8:20am and we have the only four-year-old in Britain who's slept through the night and isn't up yet. Either she's not well, or she's terrified of Santa. I think Lisa ate that mince pie and carrot for nothing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Only one more sleep until Christmas. And for us it's likely to be a broken one with a chatty baby and a crying four-year-old. Toby's learnt how to laugh in the past three or four weeks, which is ironic, as we haven't had much to smile about, so he's now combining his extra loud talking with endless chuckling. Usually late at night. It's as though he's practising for a stand-up career before he learns to walk.

He finds Lisa's actions particular laughable, which is something he and I have in common, but whilst we might be able to cope with one loud-mouth in the family, we're currently dealing with his ill big sister as well. Amelie blows a bit hot and cold at the moment. Quite literally. She seems fine at times, then starts to go quiet, and quickly develops a high temperature. By 5pm yesterday she was burning up like an apocalyptic asteroid in the earth's atmosphere, but much like the world after the Mayan prophecy, she seems a lot brighter again this morning.

On the downside, she barely ate a thing yesterday, which is unfortunate as we've bought all our Christmas food now. We've actually discovered the solution to stressful festive food shopping, which I'm tempted to keep to myself for future years, but in the spirit of Christmas and goodwill to all men (who have to work particularly hard at this time of year), I'm willing to share. The solution is the Marks & Spencer's food shop in Hollingbury.

I've done a bit of Christmas food shopping at Marks & Spencer's before, and it's a lot like trying to do the breast-stroke in this swimming pool...

But that was the branch in town. We're lucky enough to have another store on the fringes of Brighton, which sells simply M&S food. It's only been there for eighteen months, and as this article in The Argus explains, its opening was met with a lot of criticism from people who live on council estates and have never heard of cars.

Fortunately, whilst I do live on a council estate, I have heard of cars, and what's more, I'm willing to drive mine a couple of miles to shop in 'their' branch of Marks and Spencer. So with it being Christmas 'n' all, we decided to push the boat out, go into debt, and eschew Asda in favour of buying all our festive food from M&S.

And boy, was it the right decision. We arrived there on Saturday evening with both the kids, expecting the kind of crowds that would test the parking angel to her very limits, and instead found the place deserted. I think all M&S customers must be Mayans, and they'd given all their money away. We had our choice of parking spaces right outside the entrance, and spent a leisurely hour strolling the empty (but well-stocked) aisles, choosing delicacies that are high in both calorie content and price. Frankly it was worth the extra money just to avoid the stress. Although our hearts might not cope with that £9 chocolate dessert.

On the subject of heart attacks and death, we thought Lisa's Mum had popped her clogs yesterday. No, really. The doorbell went at 9:15am, and I answered it to find two of Lisa's cousins standing outside with a hamper of festive goodies. Sadly they weren't for us, but were intended instead for my mother-in-law. Unfortunately, having told her in advance that they'd be dropping by that morning, they couldn't get her to answer the door. They'd hung around for a while, still got no answer, and had to dash off elsewhere, so they left the hamper with us, and departed.

Lisa's Mum usually phones us every day, but it occurred to us that she hadn't rung at all on Saturday, so when Lisa gave her a call and she failed to answer, we began to get worried. The chances of her going anywhere on a Sunday morning seemed slim, especially when she was expecting guests, so when the unanswered calls continued for the next half hour, we began to convince ourselves that Lisa's cousins weren't the only ones who'd departed that morning.

So while Lisa did her best to avoid a panic attack, I dropped everything, grabbed her Mum's spare keys, and drove at high speed to the sheltered housing, where I found an ambulance parked outside...

... and Lisa's Mum happily doing her neighbour's washing in the laundry room downstairs. The ambulance was for someone else. Although it could have come in useful as I felt like slapping her around a bit. While half the family were thinking she was dead, she'd been out of her flat for an hour and a half, doing festive chores for the other residents. Frankly Lisa had been closer to a heart attack than her mother was. But all's well that ends well. She gave me a tin of biscuits, so it wasn't a wasted journey.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mmmm... pink cupcakes. They can only be flavoured with one thing...

Beetroot. Strawberries are so last season.

Those beauties above are actually 'Funky Beet Muffins' (can you see what they did there?), an original idea which came courtesy of CBeebies, and the 'I Can Cook' show. Amelie found the recipe on their website (she's worked out how to surf there without parental consent), and asked if we could make them. I got the ingredients on Thursday, which was slightly ironic. I was out with Lisa's Mum, and I was the one buying beetroot.

Anyhoo, before I describe in detail the pink river of juice that flowed across the kitchen floor when I spilt the jar of pickled beetroot, I should just mention Amelie's trip to the doctor's. Lisa had made her an appointment for 4:30pm on Friday, so having witnessed her being an angel all afternoon, we changed her back into something more heathen, and drove her to the surgery.

Having dropped Lisa and Amelie at the door, I returned shortly afterwards to find them standing back outside. They'd finished the appointment in the time it had taken Toby and me to park the car. I'm not sure if that says more about our GP's impressive level of promptness, or my own failure to invoke the powers of the parking angel, but either way, it was brief. Apparently the doctor confirmed that Amelie's ear is a bit red, but said they don't give out antibiotics unless there's some kind of discharge, so advised us to continue with the Calpol, and sent her away.

Amelie's clearly still not feeling well though. You can tell that by the way she sits quietly, doesn't answer back, and is generally no trouble. I took her out for a walk yesterday, and whereas I usually fail to get a word in edgeways, this time she was completely silent. When I asked her if she was ok, she nodded and said "Yes, but I just want to walk along". It was a shock, as I always assumed her legs didn't work unless her mouth was moving.

So I spent a lot of the day trying to cheer her up and include her in activities. Which is what led us to the Funky Beet Muffins. She was watching TV in the morning, so I took the opportunity to clean the kitchen thoroughly in preparation for our cheffing. By the time we started, it was spotlessly white and immaculate. Which made it all the more annoying when I gathered our ingredients together, positioned Amelie on a stool, washed our hands, and then promptly tipped the jar of beetroot all over the work surface. Quite honestly, whoever said "Trust pink, forget stains" doesn't know what they're talking about.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's not easy being an angel when you have the tattoos of a navvy...

The trouble with those temporary transfers is that they're just not temporary enough. She's had a dinosaur on her arm for the past three weeks, and it still won't come off. She looks like a bridesmaid at Kerry Katona's wedding.

But body art aside, yesterday featured that traditional combination of festive treats: a Christmas Concert and a doctor's appointment. Having made a miracle recovery on Thursday, Amelie tumbled back down the ill hill overnight, complaining that her ear was painful, and that she couldn't sleep. Which in turn did the same for me and Lisa.

I'd already had an exhausting evening, trailing around Asda with an old woman who wants to spend her entire state pension on luxury goods for other people, while she lives on beetroot and Rich Tea biscuits. By the time I'd been through a re-run of last year's Vodka episode, the last thing I needed was a sleepless night with an unwell child. Quite honestly, by Friday morning, Lisa and I felt worse than Amelie did. And she felt bad enough to wear a hat to bed...

... I did wonder whether a woolly hat was really the best way to bring down a high temperature, but she wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. She said it would help her ear.

So on Friday morning, rather than ironing Amelie's angel outfit, Lisa was on the phone to the doctor, making an appointment for the end of the afternoon. At the time, I wasn't sure she'd make it to her Christmas Concert, but in the world of musical theatre, the show must go on, and like a stage school trooper, she was there...

You wouldn't believe how long it took me to add all those Santa faces. But it was time well spent. I'm quite keen to avoid Operation Yewtree.

Anyhoo, the important thing to note is that even when they stand Amelie next to a boy in a giant top hat, she's still the tallest one in the class. And I can't believe the fuss about her going as an angel; there's a Gruffalo on the left.

To be honest, I assumed photography would be outlawed for paedophilic reasons, but the moment the kids took to the stage, everyone was whipping out their cameras, so on the basis that there's safety in numbers (and Yewtree can only raid one home at a time) I quickly followed suit. I took some video too, but I'm still working out how to pixelate the other children for broadcast. It's like being employed on Panorama.

Anyhoo, the concert itself was a triumph, and naturally Amelie was the star. A lot of the children seemed to be there for decorative purposes only, and did very little singing, so frankly Amelie carried the whole show. Her enthusiastic hand gestures during 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' were the stand out performance of the afternoon, and she took it upon herself to curtsey at the end of every song. She was a true professional from start to finish, and I'll be selling the videos to The Daily Mail when she's famous.

With the concert over, the children were led out of the hall in a snake formation, with each child's hands on the shoulders of the one in front. It was quite a sweet moment. Until Lisa said it reminded her of Sandy Hook. I suppose we've got a lot to be grateful for.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The weather's been pretty miserable today, but things are supposed to warm up a bit tomorrow...

More surprising than the end of the world, however, is the news that I popped home from work at lunchtime today to find that our lift is now working. No one seems to have witnessed any workmen come to fix it, but the out-of-order signs have gone, and it appears to be running perfectly. I sent Amelie down to test it, and she reached the ground floor without ending up at the bottom of the lift shaft, so I think it's been mended. Bearing in mind last week's update, I think it's some kind of Christmas miracle. Or possibly proof of the power of swearing.

Matching the lift in the realm of miracle recoveries, however, is Amelie, who is now so far from death's door that she's in a totally different postcode. Having slept all day and all night, she awoke a different person this morning (although she still woke up Lisa), and was fine for nursery this afternoon. So the Christmas concert is back on for tomorrow. Which is a relief, as I'd already asked for an hour off work.

In the meantime, I'm off to Asda tonight to take the mother-in-law Christmas shopping. With the world about to end, she wants to stock up on Pringles while she can.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

With less than a week to go until Christmas, things are shaping up nicely for another hideous seasonal sick-fest, the likes of which we haven't seen since the legendary Great Festive Plague of 2009.

Personally, I'm approaching the five-week milestone of my cold, so I'm definitely over the worst, and have high hopes of being cough-free by the new year. Not this new year, but possibly 2014. As of yesterday, however, Lisa's developed a seriously bad throat, and currently feels like her tonsils are wrapped in barbed wire. Twelve hours ago, we thought she was the most unwell member of this family. But that was before Amelie got up.

I did say to Lisa last night that I thought the girl looked a bit pale when she went to bed, and sure enough, she didn't emerge from her bedroom until I'd left for work this morning, which is highly unusual. When she did, she told Lisa that she didn't feel well, and didn't want to go to nursery today. Which is a bit like Rik Waller refusing a trip to Greggs.

She's spent most of the day asleep on the sofa, has played with none of her toys, and by the time I got home this evening, she had a temperature of 39 degrees. Fortunately, despite having refused most offers of food and drink all day, I managed to tempt her with some cream soda, and having downed a whole cup, she then asked for something to eat, and seemed to brighten up a bit... before asking if she could go to bed early.

So she's not a well girl. Which is slightly tragic as tomorrow she's got a Christmas party, and on Friday it's her Christmas concert. But while she's too ill to notice, I'll do what I threatened promised on Sunday, and publish her end of year report from the nursery...

Child's Voice

Amelie is a very clear speaker and joins in with all activities. She is a popular member of pre-school.

Characteristics of Effective Learning

Amelie is always keen to participate in activities. She loves playing different games with her friends indoors and in the garden.

Personal, Social, Emotional Development

Amelie has made some very close friends in pre-school who she shows concern for. Amelie is a very confident girl who loves to communicate with adults as well as children.

Communication, Language

Amelie is a confident and clear speaker and has a wide use of vocabulary. Amelie loves rhyming with her peers and making up words. She is also keen to look at books.

Physical Development

Amelie loves being physically active in the garden - running, jumping and playing ball games. Amelie loves using pens to draw and holds them correctly although currently struggles to use scissors appropriately.


Amelie enjoys independent reading and is careful in how she treats books. Amelie is expanding on recognising sounds in words and the levers associated with this.


Amelie recognises number digits from one to ten and can count beyond this.

Understanding the World

Amelie loves to tell others about her past experiences and is keen to ask questions about others. Our recent laptops in pre-school will give Amelie the opportunity to play with technology.

Expressive Arts and Design

Amelie loves being imaginative with her friends and is always the first to dance when music is played. Amelie is a very clear singer.

Wider Context/Interests

Amelie is very popular amongst her peers and loves to join in play with everyone. She is keen to try new things and develop her skills.

So in summary, she's got a voice like a foghorn, won't shut up, talks a lot of nonsense, is generally nosey, hyperactive, a fantasist and a show-off, and she belts out a tune like Shirley Bassey with a megaphone. Oh, and she's better at running with scissors than cutting with them.

You see, Argentinian students aren't the only ones with advanced translation skills.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

For the past quarter of a century, the biggest single-handed act of Argentine brilliance ever witnessed by the English was, of course, Maradona in the 1986 World Cup. But that all changed this weekend with the arrival of an e-mail from South America, informing me that the English-Spanish translation student I heard from last month has successfully passed her exam by accurately translating some of my work into her native tongue.

I've always been open to interpretation, but sadly very few people get me, so this is something of a first. It means that Spanish speakers the world over are now in a position to read, enjoy and above all misinterpret my Micro Fiction like the rest of the English-speaking world. Which can only be a good thing. What's more, this particular student has kindly provided me with the fruits of her labours (which counts as one of my five a day), so here, published for the very first time online, is 'Brian, the Itch & the Wardrobe' in Spanish...

Brian, la Intriga y el Ropero

En sus ocho años él nunca intentó abrir la puerta del ropero. Demasiado miedo. Estaba prohibido. Se encontró de nuevo frente la intimidante puerta de roble, mirándola. Pero con coraje esta vez. Imprudencia quizá.

Lentamente estiró un brazo. ¡Sin llave! La puerta hizo un crujido al abrirse.

Un mundo nuevo. No había oscuridad, sino luz. Un sol brillante. Entró de un paso. El aire dulce, los pájaros cantando, la calidez y el color lo envolvieron completamente. Era el mágico mundo que había soñado.

Disfrutó del paraíso por dos minutos, hasta que regresaron y lo volvieron a encerrar en el ropero.

I think the pun in the title might have been lost in translation, but the story's still full of intriga, and I'm loving the upside-down exclamation mark. It's definitely a job well done, and I feel privileged to have been worked on by a cunning linguist. Now I just need Mr Tumble to translate it into Makaton, and my bucket list will be complete.

Anyhoo, at the risk of writing a fourth consecutive blog post about Saturday, I should just mention that I had my work's Christmas do at the weekend. Sometimes it's more of a Christmas don't, but this year I had a thoroughly good time. Amelie told me that as it's a Christmas party, I should go dressed as a Christmas pudding, but having considered her suggestion, I opted to wear my leather coat instead. A decision which backfired a bit when I picked up Stefan and he told me that he has a similar coat himself, but rarely wears it for fear that he'll look like a member of the Gestapo. It was at that point that I wished I'd gone as a pudding.

Fortunately, however, the party featured enough distracting puddings of an entirely different nature, and the biggest wardrobe malfunction was when our office volunteer was presented with a mug featuring a picture of herself at last year's Christmas party. Whereupon we all realised she was wearing the same outfit.

But that awkwardness aside, the evening went without a hitch. Right up until the end, when I lost my balance in the hallway, stumbled into the wall, and knocked over a bottle of wine, which poured down behind a radiator and onto three people's umbrellas. I wouldn't mind, but I was the only one there not drinking.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's every girl's dream to meet Russell Brand...

I'm joking, of course. That's clearly not Russell Brand. It's Santa's Grotto. No, seriously. I think they're going for a subtle religious subtext by celebrating Christmas with a bloke who looks like Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth. Albeit with a red spotted hanky and a cutlass.

Anyhoo, just to prove that idiots don't know when to quit, and a fool and his money are soon parted, we followed up Saturday morning's treat-fest with a festive trip to meet Father Christmas. Obviously there's only one Santa, but as I explained to Amelie, he's capable of appearing in various locations across Sussex on any given day, as part of his extensive market research to find out what kids want for Christmas.

The most logical place for us to meet him would be at the Churchill Square shopping centre in Brighton, but sadly in the run-up to Christmas, it's about as crowded as this train...

... only the occupants are less cheerful, and you're unlikely to get anywhere.

Fortunately, Santa's a keen horticulturist, as is proven by his regular personal appearances in local garden centres, where he's presumably shopping for Christmas trees and black welly boots, so we decided to look further afield for a more peaceful location. The local garden centre had opted for an upmarket all-ticket 'Breakfast With Santa' option, which was not only expensive but sold-out, while the branch near Lewes was charging so much to meet the red-suited sugar-daddy that you might as well buy a ticket to Lapland and knock on his door yourself.

So we opted for the South Downs Nurseries near Hassocks. I'd read glowing reviews of their Santa on the 'Burgess Hill Uncovered' Facebook page (consider yourself plugged, Mr C) and they were only charging £3 per child, with all the money raised going to the Burgess Hill District Lions Club, which supports local good causes.

At that price, there was obviously a risk that they might be putting the grot back into grotto with a shabby, low budget affair, and let's face it, three quid is more than a family trip to the cinema (even if you stay for the whole film), but I like to do my bit for charity - it's why I buy lottery tickets - and the idea of a drive into the countryside appealed more than a walk into a shopping centre, so we decided it was worth the risk.

And we weren't disappointed...

Well, actually we were disappointed. But only by the queue. That photo was finally achieved after AN HOUR spent in line. I know it's for charity, but frankly people should have been sponsoring me to stay there. Climbing Kilimanjaro would have been a breeze in comparison. At least you get some kind of view. I was stood next to a lawnmower display for thirty minutes.

But just when I thought I couldn't take any more, we reached the front of the queue, had a lovely chat with an elf, and with much excitement were shown through the curtain and into...

... the pirate display. No, I don't know why either. It was quite nice though, and featured a wooden ship, plastic cannon, various buccaneers, and a sign to the Lost Boys' Den. Or the customer service desk, as it's also known.

From there we were eventually called into Santa's inner sanctum, which was decorated with framed photos of reindeer, and granted an audience with the big man himself. He asked Amelie about school, so she told him she's at nursery, which prompted him to ask her age. Upon being told, he looked at me and Lisa for some kind of denial, and having confirmed that she really is only four, he then asked us what we're feeding her. It's a conversation we're used to.

Within a minute, she'd got her hands on a present, I'd taken five photos, and we were being ushered out through the exit. It was a brief experience, but a good one. And Amelie seemed to think it was worth it. She had that present open within thirty seconds (it was a Winnie the Pooh wall chart and book), and before we knew it, we were back at the main entrance, checking out the garden centre's Christmas display...

I think that's what the pre-school meant by a Nursery Winter Wonderland. Although they'd never let that Baby Jesus in.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Right, where to begin..? Well, two men from the council turned up on Friday afternoon and removed the fruity language from the noticeboard downstairs, so it's a good job I photographed it for posterity. They didn't fix the lift while they were here, but I did see them going up and down the stairs to check that no one had sworn on other floors.

Of course, the good thing about your lift being out of order is that it allows you to bond with grumpy delivery drivers who refuse to carry your stuff up the stairs. I'd ordered our shopping online this week, not, ironically, because of the broken lift, but because Tesco had sent us an £8 voucher, and because it's almost Christmas, and I prefer not to stand there trying to choose my vegetables in an aisle that resembles a tube train at rush hour.

The chap arrived on Friday evening, and promptly phoned me to say (in a slightly intimidating voice) that I needed to tell him which block we're in. I was tempted to point out that I'd provided detailed directions with my order, but he already sounded like he wanted to knife me, so instead I went out on the balcony and waved at him in a slightly camp manner.

Five minutes later, he phoned me again from the bottom of the stairs. Having discovered the broken lift, he could have popped up two flights and asked politely if I'd give him a hand, but instead he decided to phone me and insist I go downstairs in a tone of voice that suggested he'd been a prison officer in his previous job. Luckily for him, I'm easily intimidated, so I did indeed help him. Which is a euphemism for doing it all myself.

To be fair to the man though, I didn't quite do everything. He carried the last couple of bags up the stairs, and promptly dropped Lisa's jar of Loyd Grossman pasta sauce, smashing it all over the communal hallway, before placing another bag in the puddle. So having wished him a Merry Christmas, I put the shopping away in the kitchen while Lisa cleaned the floor by the broken lift. It was a good start to the weekend.

But things were to get even better. Amelie received her end of year report card on Thursday (which I may reproduce here at some point, just to embarrass her in later life), and it appears she's some kind of model student, so to reward the girl for her outstanding success in hiding her true personality from the nursery, we decided to take her to the cinema yesterday morning.

As we discovered three weeks ago, Cineworld at the marina charges just £1 a ticket for children's films on a Saturday morning. What we didn't know until this week, however, is that if you book online, you get 10% off. It meant that I was able to take my entire family to the pictures for a total of £2.70 (plus a complimentary baby).

The film we chose was 'Arthur Christmas', a festive family film from the producer of The League of Gentlemen, the writer of Alan Partridge and Borat, and the studio that made Wallace & Gromit, which stars the likes of Hugh Laurie and Bill Nighy, was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, and gets an outstanding critic rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Unfortunately Amelie didn't want to see it. We got up extra early to get ready, which meant we were able to spend a good couple of hours listening to her whining that she's been to the cinema before, doesn't want to go again, and doesn't like Christmas films anyway. With hindsight, we probably should have changed our plans, but at the time we were convinced she'd enjoy it when she got there, decided we knew best, and told her she's bloody well having a treat whether she likes it or not.

I did attempt to whet her appetite by showing her the trailer online...

... but having watched it, transfixed in silence, she then told me she didn't like the look of it.

So we drove her down to the marina in tears (mostly hers, but we were close to joining in), and picked up the tickets we'd paid for. To our relief, she agreed to go in, and for a while seemed to be enjoying the film (which was very well made and quite amusing), but having reached the halfway point, she suddenly insisted on leaving. So I have no idea how it ends. Frankly you don't argue with a loud-mouthed child in a cinema who announces that she wants to go home. Repeatedly, during a quiet part of the film.

We rewarded Amelie's politeness, humility and unfailing gratitude with a trip to McDonalds. Then we braved a pre-Christmas Asda with two children for a jar of Loyd Grossman pasta sauce. Which resulted in more tears when we wouldn't buy our daughter a toy. We returned home feeling tired, stressed and unappreciated. And that was before we met Father Christmas...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "With children like these...

... weekends must be an absolute pleasure".

Well it's only lunchtime on Saturday, and I've already done the cinema, McDonalds and Asda. We've got Father Christmas this afternoon, and I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But other than that, it's lovely.

If this were Twitter, I'd put #LivingTheDream.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's four weeks now since our lift went kaput and surprisingly (or inevitably, depending on your view of the council) it still isn't fixed. Engineers have visited three times to my knowledge, but things are no more up and down than they were a month ago.

Fortunately, however, we've now received an update on the situation, courtesy of the council's 'Neighbourhoods Team'. A letter was posted through every letterbox yesterday afternoon providing more information, and a prediction on when it will be fixed. I could obviously just scan the copy we received, but it's far more entertaining if I use the one they stuck to the noticeboard downstairs...

I should point out that we don't live at number 19, and that's not my handwriting. I do have some sympathy for the views expressed though. I also think the council is fanning the flames a bit by stating that it's "taken a lot of time so far just managing to work out the real problem". They might as well just say "we're incompetent", and have done with it.

So it looks like I'll be carrying Toby's buggy up and down the stairs for another month. It's not stopping the mother-in-law from visiting though. She moved into sheltered housing two-and-a-half years ago because she couldn't cope with the hill, but she's currently scampering up those stairs three times a week. Usually with her hands full of shopping.

By coincidence (or maybe there's a connection?), I've been out of order for the same amount of time as the lift. Yesterday marked the four-week point of my cold, and it still hasn't left me. I'm a lot better than I was, but I'm still coughing, sniffing, and sounding far more manly than I should.

I'm hoping I'll be fixed before the lift, but as I slowly improve, Amelie's started going downhill this week. She's been off-colour for a couple of days, and was complaining of earache yesterday morning. She still insisted on going to nursery, but told us afterwards that she'd had to tell her best friend to play gently with her, because she wasn't feeling too well. She then promptly fell asleep on the sofa...

Lisa was going to take her to the doctor today, but typically she'd perked right up by this morning, and seems fine now. We've kept her in all day just to make sure, but she's been back to her noisy, boisterous self. So she's no longer the one with the earache.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

With just over a week to go until Amelie's long-awaited stage debut at the nursery Christmas Concert, preparations were suddenly thrown into turmoil yesterday when we were accused of being too religious. Which is a bit like calling the Pope too secular, and prompted me to take the Lord's name in vain.

Having received the nursery's instructions a fortnight ago, and considered there vague theme of 'Winter Wonderland', we checked out the full range of Easter Bunny costumes, before eventually settling on this angel outfit from Marks & Spencer, which not only makes Amelie look pretty, but successfully masks her demonic tendencies with a halo. Lisa picked it up last week, and Amelie loves it.

Unfortunately, having been to nursery on Tuesday, Amelie suddenly announced to us on Wednesday morning that one of the teachers had told her that she couldn't go as an angel because it doesn't fit in with the theme. Apparently it has to be a winter creature not a Bible character.

Naturally, as an agnostic church non-attender, I was outraged, and felt tempted to send her in on a donkey, dressed as the Virgin Mary, and holding a couple of crucifixes. But we decided to investigate first. In a way, the news made perfect sense, as the Baby Jesus has been conspicuous by his absence from Amelie's Christmas songs, and the nursery staff seem to have gone out of their way to choose festive tunes with no mention of God, stars, wise men or shepherds. Frankly they've succeeded where Herod failed. But we couldn't quite believe that her angel costume had been banned. Amelie's capable of offending people in numerous different ways, but wearing wings isn't generally one of them.

So Lisa went in and spoke to them yesterday. They're denying that angels are outlawed, and trying to pin the comments on one of the children, but Amelie was insistent it was a teacher who'd said it, so we may never know the whole truth. They did, however, say that the other children are dressing as winter animals. So I presume she'll be the only angel in a room full of penguins.

The important thing is that we've kept Amelie's Christian values intact, and stood up for her God-given right to lord it over a bunch of polar bears by flapping about with a halo. It's an important part of her upbringing. And to prove the effect, Lisa asked her this morning "Do you know what Christmas Day is?"

She replied "So much fun?"

That's religious devotion for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I was in Asda on Saturday night during the X Factor final, which was a bit like shopping after the apocalypse, and made me feel like the last human alive. Apart from the girl on the checkout. With whom I was reluctant to rebuild the human race. So ignoring the only other person in the shop, I chose instead to pick up a pack of Asda 'Chicken Breast Fillets with a Delicious Blend of Bengali Spices', which was reduced to a pittance due to being dangerously close to expiry.

Fortunately I like living dangerously, and I'm always hopeful of kick-starting some serious weight loss with a nice bout of food poisoning, so I left it until Monday to eat them. Interestingly, however, when I got them out of the fridge last night, and gave them the once over for signs of mould, I noticed this IMPORTANT announcement on the packet...

To be honest, I'm reluctant to try anything that involves me exposing my breasts to the air to get rid of the stench. And I don't care how normal it is, any food which feels it has to warn me about its smell to ensure that I don't chuck it straight in the bin, is not likely to get me salivating.

But when I'm hungry I'll eat anything. And they actually tasted ok. I can't comment on the smell, as my nose is still blocked up.

The good news, however, is that home cooking will soon be a thing of the past. Yesterday's All-Staff Info-Mail at work contained the fantastic revelation that in February or March of next year, a branch of Subway will be opening on the hospital site. It'll be located next to Amelie's poster, which is only a three minute walk from our flat. So firstly I'll be seeing a lot more of my daughter, and secondly I can pick up dinner on my way home. It's just a shame I'll be too fat to walk.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's a well established fact that Amelie and Toby come from a long line of highly successful songwriters. Despite some dodgy earlier efforts, I myself achieved lyrical perfection with 'The Piglet Song', a hauntingly evocative muse on porcine anatomy that was met with both international success and critical acclaim, while Lisa has successfully reinterpreted an old skool classic by providing a fresh new twist on 'London's Burning', incorporating some fierce beatboxing and unplanned animal noises.

So it will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that Amelie has already completed her first musical composition. They say that Mozart wrote 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' when he was five, but firstly that's not true, and secondly Amelie's only four. And she started working on this when she was three. So she's streets ahead on every level.

She first came to me with this musical work-in-progress about three months ago, and has performed it for us on a few occasions since, honing it each time with slightly different lyrics and a tune which is hard to pin down. In recent weeks however, she's settled on a set of words that she's happy with, and a melody which, whilst not immediately catchy in the traditional sense, is unchanging, and what Paul Gambaccini might call a grower.

The impressive thing is that whilst at first listen it might sound like a rambling, tuneless old mish-mash, the performance is consistent, and after you've heard it six times a day, it's hard to get out of your head, and is a definite earworm. And Amelie wrote it all by herself. At least she says she did. And no one else is owning up to it. In fact it's proving such a hit that she's now taking it on tour.

So here, for the first time in front of a global audience, is Amelie's debut performance of 'Twinkling Stars'...

I'll be honest, I did have my reservations about the line 'Twinkling stars in the night, twinkling all day', but Lisa claims that's explained by the 'never stopping' bit. She also says the lyrics are better than 'The Piglet Song', which is slightly outrageous. And besides, I was focusing more on the tune.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

As a frustrated boy scout whose parents could never afford the membership fees, I'd prepared thoroughly for Thursday's trip to Gloucester by booking Friday morning off work, just in case I got stuck in the Slough of despond due to signal failure. It meant that in addition to enjoying a half hour lie-in until Toby started crying, I was able to finish 'The Hunger Games' in the bath before returning to work.

And I was slightly disappointed. Not just with work, but with the ending of the book. It's hard to criticise a story which held my interest throughout all 454 pages and made me want to keep reading (partly because I was stuck on a train with nothing else to do), but ultimately it never quite delivered on its promise. The first half built up so much anticipation that I couldn't wait to get to the second half. But when I did, there just wasn't enough there to keep me satisfied. As brutal slaughters go, it lacked a certain something.

I think part of my problem was that whilst Suzanne Collins claims she'd never heard of 'Battle Royale' when she wrote 'The Hunger Games', I saw the film six years ago. And I have the blog post to prove it. So I couldn't shake that constant sense of plagiarism. And it spoilt the book somewhat.

But the good news is that I bought the entire trilogy for a fiver and I have an aversion to wasting money, so I'll be ploughing on with the second book in due course. Assuming I can find another train to get stuck on.

In the meantime, yesterday was spent ticking off items on my list of weekend jobs. Amelie was at my parents' all day, which not only gave me the chance to write a thousand words about breakfast spreads for another website, but also meant we could throw out all her toys. For a council estate kid with no money, Amelie owns a remarkable amount of stuff. Quite a bit of it's from charity shops, but she's also conned a lot of people into spending money on her over the years, with the result that you can no longer see the floor in her bedroom.

We've bought her a doll's house for Christmas, plus numerous bits and bobs, and despite the fact that Toby's getting nothing more than an orange and a lump of coal, we need to make space before the 25th, otherwise Santa won't have room to drop anything off.

So Lisa and I spent yesterday afternoon in Amelie's bedroom with a roll of black sacks and a ruthless streak a mile wide. She's back home now, and so far, she hasn't noticed. Probably because she returned with a load of new toys from my parents. I think that's how we got into this mess.

Friday, December 07, 2012

As it transpired, yesterday's trip to Gloucester could hardly have been more difficult if I'd stepped off the train and straight into a puddle right up to my middle. I'm beginning to understand how Dr Foster felt. I'm never going there again either.

To be honest, any day which begins with my alarm going off at 4:45am is always going to struggle to be a good one, but I was quite optimistic when I left home in the dark shortly after 6am to catch a bus to the station. In fact, my journey to London went very smoothly. Right up until the point when the ticket inspector checked my ticket, saw that it said 'Brighton to Gloucester', and said "Oooh, you've got quite a journey ahead of you!". That's what they call tempting fate. I was doomed from that moment onwards.

Having watched the sun rise over East Croydon from the window of a moving train, I got to Victoria before 8am, and took the tube to Paddington. Which is where my problems started. Frankly, darkest Peru had better transport links than Paddington yesterday morning. According to the announcements, there had been some kind of power failure, resulting in delays, cancellations and breakdowns. Mostly mental. As the Evening Standard put it last night, "there were delays of up to an hour and a half for First Great Western, Heathrow Connect and Heathrow Express services to and from Paddington. This was due to line-side equipment failure between Hayes & Harlington and Southall".

The tannoy informed me that the only trains which were definitely running were up on the electronic board. Out of fourteen available platforms, there were two in the next hour. Neither of which were mine. The announcer cheerfully told us that we could go to Waterloo instead, but I'd had enough of a battle to get to Paddington, so I decided to fight the war where I was.

As luck would have it, I soon noticed that one of the two trains, which was already running half an hour late, was due to stop at Swindon. And I knew I could change there for Gloucester. So I hopped on it and hoped for the best.

My meeting was being held in the eye screening department of Gloucester Royal Hospital at 11am. It's a three minute walk from the station. There was a train which left Swindon at 9:54 and was due to arrive in Gloucester at 10:52, getting me there with five minutes to spare.

Unfortunately my train got to Swindon at 9:58. And it was an hour until the next one. After a brief conversation with a bloke in a high visibility jacket, I was advised to get a train to Bristol instead. Apparently it's a much nicer place anyway. Which is how I ended up on the platform of Bristol Parkway station at 10:54am, talking on my mobile to someone who was in the room I should have been in.

My journey from there to Gloucester was on a small two-carriage train, the likes of which I'd expect to see at a children's theme park. And it only got me there fifteen minutes earlier than if I'd stayed in Swindon for an hour. But still, it made the journey more exciting.

I spent the next four hours in a room with some of these people, discussing weighty issues, and feeling slightly out of it on cold remedies. I'm still not sure I was coherent. Or that I even spoke English.

Fortunately, by the time I got back to Gloucester station at four-thirty, there was no mention of delays. My train left on time, and sped through the countryside at high speed. Until we reached Slough, at which point it ground to a halt. The driver announced that he'd "just been told" there was a signal failure near Southall. I could have told him that nine hours earlier. We crawled for the next half hour, and got to Paddington forty minutes late.

But the good thing about leaving home at 6am, getting back at 9:30pm, and spending ten hours on a train, is that it gives you time to do other things. Namely curse Network Rail and vow never to visit Gloucester again. But in addition to that, I took with me a copy of 'The Hunger Games' which I'd bought on the cheap, just to see what all the fuss is about. It's 454 pages long, and when my train finally pulled into Brighton last night, I was on page 395, and there were only three people left alive. It's a shame I wasn't delayed another hour; I could have finished the darn thing.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Here's a photo I didn't expect to be taking today...

I said on Tuesday that I was expecting an eight-hour round trip for a five-hour meeting. What I got was an eleven-hour round trip for a four-hour meeting. Which is what happens when you're diverted via Bristol and arrive an hour late. Those are my best laid plans in the bin.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Marie asked me on Saturday if I've been taking as many photos of Toby as I did of Amelie when she was a baby. Sadly I can't answer that question for legal reasons and a justified fear of incriminating myself, but in lieu of a lengthy blog post, here's a photo to redress the balance...

Lisa was just off out for a busy night's burgling. I think Toby's wearing her swag bag.

On a different subject, I was shaking some ass at the 'Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land' shop in Burgess Hill yesterday (they had salt & pepper pots), when I suddenly realised that it's a year to the very week since David Barby popped in to flog a dead horse and hunt for a bargain. And eight months later he was dead.

I'm not sure how the two events are connected, and if I can prove a causal link, but I might hold off from making a birthday list.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Past experience has taught me that if I don't blog for two days running, everyone assumes I'm lying dead under the wheels of a retinal camera with a pinhole occluder plunged through my heart and a sight chart smashed over my head. It's mostly wishful thinking. So in an effort to avoid my mother worrying, and everyone else organising parties, I feel I should write something today.

Unfortunately we're now on day twenty of Phil Gardner & the Deathly Hallows, and I don't really feel up to it. My chronic (and possibly terminal) cold has improved marginally since I offloaded some of it onto Marie on Saturday, but by the time I've battled my way through the working day, fought my way through Amelie's bedtime routine, and then been woken up three times a night by Toby, I don't have the strength left for blogging.

I've got thirty-two patients to see tomorrow, followed by an eight-hour round trip to Gloucester on Thursday for a five-hour work-related meeting, so things are unlikely to improve before the weekend. But trust me, I'm not dead.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

There's a certain look that people tend to get when they're forced to spend time with my daughter...

It's an expression I often see in the mirror. But yesterday I saw it on the face of our good friend Marie, who came down from Croydon for the day to spend some quality time with our children...

... while Lisa and I went to bed. At least, that was our hope. As it transpired, only one of us got to sleep, and it wasn't me.

Marie's visit started well when I picked her up from the station, and almost managed to bundle the wrong woman into the back of my car. I blame the weather. If it wasn't so cold, people wouldn't insist on covering their faces with scarves, and I might have had a fighting chance of realising that the lady walking towards me wasn't my friend before I attempted to give her a hug. Although if you do want to make friends, that's a good ice-breaker.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid an assault charge and successfully identified Marie, who was holding a bag of Christmas presents she'd wrapped on the train, plus a chocolate fudge cake from Waitrose, which I offered to carry for her. On my hips, for the rest of my life.

We returned to our highly sought-after postcode, where I guided Marie past the organic dog poo, and reduced our carbon footprint by leading her up the stairs past the broken lift and the dodgy hall light, before welcoming her into the drawing room. Where she produced this...

I sometimes struggle to interpret modern art, but I think that one speaks for itself.

Anyhoo, if there's one thing history has taught us, it's that when Marie comes to visit, it's only a matter of time before we get James on the phone, asking me to mention him on my blog. He's not so much an old flame as a bright spark who smokes, but despite dissolving the jam partnership a number of years ago, J&M still speak to each other regularly. Mostly on the phone at my flat.

So it came as no surprise when Marie's mobile rang after half an hour, and Lisa and I found ourselves shouting "HELLO!" across the living room to someone we haven't seen for six years. James got married in the summer (congrats, buddy) so I expect our cake's in the post, but on top of that, he's just had a short story published in a best-selling (that's more of a prediction than a fact) anthology. Entitled 'London Lies: Urban Tales from Liars' League, it's already attracting two-star reviews on Amazon, and at just £8.99 (how can they afford to pay tax?) is the perfect Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for relative, or person you don't like. Although if you don't have the money, you can enjoy James' story for free. It's about hippos. Personally I'm getting his brother's book instead. It sounds a lot more absorbing.

Anyhoo, after a home-cooked lunch of pasta and garlic bread, we warmed our hands on the glowing embers of the Atkins Diet, and sent Lisa into the bedroom to catch up on some sleep while the rest of us went out on the town. Here's Toby in his gangsta rapper's hat, and Amelie dressed as Dappy from N-Dubz...

Personally I was a bit more Louis Walsh...

Uncool, old, and with the vacant grin of a fool. More embarrassing still was that the moment I got Toby dressed, Marie noticed he was wearing the same coat that Amelie had at his age. She even remembered the occasion Am had worn it. But hey, we're not going to let gender stereotyping stand in the way of a few hand-me-downs. We're on a tight budget. And he can pay for his own counselling when he's older.

As for Amelie, she had the awkward experience of meeting a dalmatian dog whilst wearing her spotty tights, and looking like Cruella de Vil's daughter. But despite that, the four of us spent an enjoyable hour strolling along the promenade above Brighton beach, to the sound of Amelie asking if we could go to Lidl, until she was eventually pinned to the ground by a metal pole which fell from heaven in an act of divine intervention...

She still made us go to Lidl though.

We eventually made it back to the flat after sundown, at which point I dragged Lisa out of bed and forced everyone to recreate this two-year-old photo. Amelie's twice that age and three times as heavy, but when you're the right side of thirty-five and you employ a personal trainer, no amount of weight is too much...

And it helps that by the end of the average day, you feel more inclined to drop Am on her head.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Yesterday was Toby's third birthday. Third of a year, that is. So to celebrate the milestone, we've employed a personal trainer to encourage him to start crawling three months ahead of schedule...

She's on the verge of reducing him to tears, but sometimes that's the only way to make progress.

Friday, November 30, 2012

When I was a boy, I used to sit on the sofa watching a black & white TV with no remote control during the two hours a day when children's programmes were broadcast on one of the three available channels.

Times have changed a bit since then...

That's Amelie and Toby watching cartoons on the iPad this morning. I think it was some kind of morality tale about not changing horses in midstream. I told Amelie she looked like a Pacer, but she just stared back at me blankly. Sometimes I feel very old.