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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

If there's one thing I've always said about Lisa, it's that she has the body of a 37-year-old. Which proved quite offensive when I first met her. But fortunately a lot's changed since then. Most notably her age.

We received a letter this morning with the results of Lisa's Maternal Serum Biochemistry Study. Otherwise known as the blood test she had last Thursday. They use it in conjunction with the nuchal scan to calculate the risk of your baby having Down's Syndrome and other less desirable conditions.

A woman of Lisa's advanced years has, on average, a 1 in 55 chance of giving birth to a baby with Down's, but having examined her blood and scan results over the past couple of days, they've estimated her risk for this pregnancy at just 1 in 201. Which is what you'd expect for a lady five years her junior. Frankly she has the Pregnancy Associated Plasma Protein-A and Free ß-Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin levels of someone in their mid-thirties. Like me, for example. If I was female. And pregnant.

It's particularly ironic, because I have the arthritis and prostate of a pensioner. But between us, we have a good chance of raising a healthy child.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I was boiling an egg yesterday lunchtime, when Amelie walked up to me with a serious expression on her face, and said this:

"I'm Super Cow, you're a snail, and Mummy's a mushroom."

Which is possibly the first time those words have ever been combined in a sentence.

For the past year, Amelie's been so at home with the iPad, you'd think that Lisa had enjoyed a one night stand with Steve Jobs, but as it happens, the girl's also pretty handy with a mouse and keyboard. Since Christmas, her favourite PC game has been Super Cow, a platform arcade game featuring snails, moles and naughty dogs. It's basically Sonic the Hedgehog with udders.

Worryingly, Amelie's so computer literate that she can now walk up to the PC, close down Facebook, minimise my blog, and double-click on Supercow, all in the time it takes me to put the kettle on. I can pop out for a cup of tea, and return two minutes later to find my blog post gone, and Amelie sitting on the computer chair, halfway through level five. The only thing which stops me being angry is the pride I feel at the fact that my three-year-old daughter knows as much about computers as I did when I was twenty-five.

Better still, that technological know-how looks set to bring this family together. I took Amelie for a walk yesterday, and we had a long chat about the new baby, during which she told me that whilst she'd rather the baby didn't come out, she does want to show it all her games on the iPad. I like to think that's Steve Jobs' main legacy - helping toddlers to bond with their unwanted siblings.

In other news, Lisa spent most of yesterday counting her blessings on the living room floor, and the result is that we now have about thirty bags of change, totalling £164. That equates to less than 24 hours at the local vets, but it's a start. The good news, however, is that whilst two days of hospitalisation left Chloe only marginally better than she was before, two days at home seem to have done her the world of good.

She began eating little bits yesterday, and by the evening was voluntarily socialising with us, and seeming more like her old self. She doesn't seem keen on the ridiculously expensive biscuits the vet sold me, but overnight she ate all of the stupidly pricey tinned food I'd left out for her. So this morning I tried her on the outrageously dear pouches. She was actually asking for her breakfast for the first time in a week, which is encouraging, and she tucked into the pouched food with enthusiasm. At least I thought she did. Five minutes later, it transpired that she'd licked up all the gravy, and left the actual meat. But it's still an improvement. For the first time, I'm beginning to think that £400 was worth it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

In the words of the great philosopher Keating, "Life is a rollercoaster". It makes you sick, costs you a fortune, and is over far too soon. But having spent yesterday on the edge of both a nervous breakdown and a financial crisis, I've decided to regroup, gather my thoughts, and step forward into a new age of positivity. The new baby might have to play with a cardboard box, but we're not living in one yet, and if necessary, Lisa can go on the game.

The game being bingo. Let's face it, the last time we went, she won a hundred pounds, so I need to send her there weekly.

But in the meantime, desperate times call for desperate measures, so I've drawn up a two-pronged plan of attack...

Spare Change?Moneybags
They don't call me Moneybags for nothing. I've got a whole stack of them on the right. And on the left are my life savings. I've been putting spare change into that jar for about four years now, so I think the time has come to empty it. I'd originally planned to wait until it's full, but despite Amelie helping me out by adding two plastic hamsters and a football, I think this is as close as I can get before the bailiffs arrive.

Lisa's volunteered her services as cashier, on the grounds that "I like mindless tasks" (she plays a lot of Farmville), so we should have it all counted within a day or two. I've no idea how much is in there, but judging by the weight of the jar, it should be worth something as scrap metal alone.

As for the subject of all this financial pressure, the good news is that Chloe seems to have improved slightly. I'm giving her an antibiotic called Nisamox, and a kidney tablet called Fortekor, plus some ridiculously expensive food for cats with renal problems, and having combined it all with a lot of stroking and patience, she appears to be responding. She hasn't quite got the energy of a kitten, but she doesn't look to be at death's door either.

She's supposed to go back to the vet on Thursday, which is already a worry as I've studied my £400 bill, and they seem to charge more than thirty quid just to say hello. The kidney tablets are about £9 a week too. And I could do without another £75 blood test. But we'll see what happens. I'm already praying there's more silver than copper in that jar.

In the meantime, there's one other thing we need to start counting. Two, if you include calories. We might have a poorly cat and no money, but we really should count our blessings. We've spent two and a half years trying for another baby, and whatever financial and emotional hiccups life throws at us, there's no getting away from one fact: we've finally got what we wanted.

And it should be delivered six months from today.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Unsurprisingly, Lisa's been sick to her stomach since she found out she was pregnant. And not just with nerves. She's also been lethargic to the point of coma, and has even gone off crisps. But as it happens, she's not the only member of the family who's been feeling poorly just lately. Amelie's had a cough this week, which kept her awake most of Wednesday night, and meant that two minutes after getting home from nursery on Thursday, she looked like this...

That's nothing, however, compared to how Chloe's been feeling this week. Brighton's most famous cat stopped eating on Monday, started hiding away on Tuesday, and when she still couldn't be tempted by her favourite food on Wednesday, we phoned the vet and booked her in for Thursday afternoon. So having checked on the health of our baby at the hospital, I headed straight home, picked up Chloe, and drove her to the vet.

Having checked her over, the nice lady vet asked me to leave her there so that they could do some blood tests, and when I returned after work, she told me that Chloe has kidney failure and an infection. Despite being the cat equivalent of Methuselah, the vet felt that Chloe's like a feline Joan Collins and well preserved for her age, so although she's in her twilight years, treatment was probably worth it. The vet wanted her to stay in for twenty-four hours and be treated intravenously.

Chloe's not insured, and with a new baby on the way, cost is a major issue for us at the moment, so I told the vet that before agreeing to go ahead, I needed to know roughly what the cost would be. She said "about a hundred pounds". So I gulped, and agreed. Particularly as the vet was supremely confident that the treatment would be effective, return Chloe to her normal self in a day or two, and give her perhaps another year or so of life.

I was expecting to pick her up after work yesterday, but one of the veterinary nurses phoned me at lunchtime on Friday and said that although Chloe was responding well to treatment, they thought it would do her good to stay another night and have a blood test this morning. As the nurse put it, "You've already paid for the intravenous drip, so we might as well keep her on it, just to make sure she's completely fine". I casually agreed, and called my next patient.

I phoned the practice again this morning and was told that Chloe was still having tests, but I was contacted an hour later by a different vet, with a very different attitude. Having been cheerfully told by everyone up until that point that things were great, this vet sounded ominously pessimistic. Chloe hadn't responded to the intravenous drugs anywhere near as well as I'd been led to believe, and her blood tests still weren't within normal levels. But he said they'd send her home with some tablets and see how she goes. He then said that she may go downhill in the next few days, and reach the end of the road.

I got to the vet's fifteen minutes later, introduced myself to the receptionist, and was handed a bill for £398.67. I spent the next forty-five minutes 'discussing' it with a nurse. Apparently there had been a "miscommunication". The original vet (who conveniently wasn't there) should never have told me it would be a hundred pounds. The first blood tests alone were over ninety. The quick one this morning was seventy-two. Apparently by the time I'd agreed to let Chloe stay in on Thursday night, I'd already accrued a bill of almost £200. And that was despite me telling the vet that we don't have a lot of money and can't afford much more than a hundred. If I'd known it would be four hundred, I'd have told them on Thursday not to go ahead.

And I told them that this morning. About five times. But apparently "there's nothing we can do". The nurse apologised on behalf of the vet for giving me misleading information, and then said "I don't mean to be rude, but I think we're all so used to the NHS that you forget how much treatment like this costs". Quite honestly, I could have punched her. I'm well aware how much veterinary treatment costs, which is why I asked them for a price up front. They just chose to ignore it.

The nurse did agree to check the vet's notes to see if she'd mentioned the cost of £100, but needless to say, she hadn't. So it was my word against theirs. And I lost. To the tune of £400. Next month's credit card bill's going to be interesting.

I wouldn't mind so much if my £400 had delivered me a healthy cat, but having been told on Thursday that I could have Chloe back to full health within 24 hours for £100, I'm now four hundred down, and sitting here with a sad, weak cat who will barely eat, and may need to be put down within a few days. Frankly they're lucky I'm not currently rampaging across Brighton like Michael Douglas in 'Falling Down'.

But still, anger is a great incentive to productivity. I've written this blog post in about twenty minutes flat. If I could do this every day, NaNoWriMo would be a breeze.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This is my 2,500th blog post!

And this is my second baby...

That's my baby!
Although it looks more like a weather front sweeping in from the Atlantic. Frankly I've seen clearer photos of the Loch Ness Monster, so you'll have to take my word for it.

But photographic evidence notwithstanding, the good news is that eight months after spending £500 on a DuoFertility gadget, we're definitely not getting our money back. As of today, Lisa is 13 weeks and 5 days pregnant. Which is a shock, as we thought she was only 12 weeks gone. That'll teach me to trust her with a calendar.

We've known about Lisa's status as a mother-to-be for the past eight weeks, but after two miscarriages and a lot of dashed hopes, we've been too nervous to tell anyone. On top of that, Amelie's dead set against the idea of a sibling, so we're avoiding baby talk for fear of a tantrum. The way she's coming across at the moment, she'll be there at the birth, trying to shove it back in.

It's less than a year since a top consultant looked at our test results, made a face, and advised us to spend four thousand pounds on IVF, and there have been times since when I've wondered if we were right not to. Although checking my bank statements usually convinces me that we were. As it transpires, £500 on DuoFertility was a much better investment. Especially as I got the money off my parents.

When she was pregnant with Amelie, Lisa had to go all the way to London for a nuchal scan, but fortunately they now do them about two hundred yards from our flat. So we popped in yesterday afternoon, fully braced for the worst. As it turned out, the only bad news was the quality of the photos. Amelie's nuchal scan looked like this, which compares quite favourably to the new baby's portrait...

That one's less Leonardo da Vinci, and more Pablo Picasso. It's also upside down, because the baby insisted on lounging around on its front like a beached penguin.

The important thing though, is that everything else appears normal. Not only is the baby older than everyone thought (much like its mother), but it has two arms, two legs, and a brain the size of a planet. Albeit a very small planet. We don't yet have the results of the accompanying blood test, but it appears there's no reason to worry.

On the downside, the baby's due on July 29th, which just happens to be my birthday. So I'm concerned that Lisa won't be able to get out to buy me a present. I've told her to order something online, and if necessary, I'll stay in to receive it while she pops down to the labour ward.

I'd also like to apologise to those people who have invited us to summer parties in late July or early August, and received cagey answers over the past few weeks, with no explanantion as to why we can't make it. I hope our reluctance makes a bit more sense now. Well, Lisa's reluctance. Personally I'm just not very sociable.

So that's the good news. Unfortunately the scanning of our second child wasn't the only thing going on around here yesterday. The rest of the saga will have to wait until tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

There are times in my life when I feel convinced that Amelie is actually a middle-aged self-help guru trapped in the body of a three-year-old girl. I was sitting at the table eating my tea last night, when she looked up from her position on the sofa, and - out of the blue, and with no preamble whatsoever – began the following conversation:


"Yes, Ammy Am?"

"Don't let me down."

"I won't, darling."

"And don't let Mummy down either."

"I won't."

"And Daddy?"


"Don't let yourself down."

I think I've just been put in my place by a toddler. Either she's had a serious talking to at nursery, or she's been listening to one of Lisa's rants about absent fathers again. Either way, she's given me something to think about.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The postman delivered a letter to us this morning addressed to Lisa's Mum, which is odd as she hasn't lived here for two years, and didn't get much post when she did. Odder still is that it was posted in Malaga, Spain, which is virtually another planet as far as my mother-in-law's concerned. She's never been "over the water", as she so quaintly puts it, and considers the Isle of Wight to be foreign soil.

So on the grounds that it might be something dodgy, I suggested to Lisa that we open it. And boy, am I glad we did. It turns out she's won the lottery!

Intl. Lotto Commission
The letter comes all the way from the International Lotto Commission in Madrid, who are clearly saving a lot of money on ink for their dot matrix printer, and ploughing it all back into the prize fund, because whilst their letterhead has clearly seen better days, their generosity knows no bounds. They're writing to inform Lisa's mother that despite never having been to Spain, bought a ticket, or heard of their international sweepstake programme, she's somehow managed to win €815,950 in the latest draw. Her luck really is in.

Obviously under such circumstances, you'd expect there to be a cheque attached to the letter, but the Intl Lotto Commission must have done their homework and discovered that Lisa's Mum doesn’t have a bank account, because they haven't bothered. Instead, they're asking her to contact them for "processing and remittance of your prize money to a designated address of your choice". Presumably they'll stuff it through her letterbox in used fivers.

Anyway, it's all very exciting, and couldn't have come at a better time. It's her birthday on Saturday, so if she gets hold of her winnings by then, she can pay me back for the photo book.

Monday, January 23, 2012

After a day of gift-giving and receiving (the receiving being entirely on our side), we had high hopes of more presents yesterday, with the arrival of our old friend Marie from the depths of darkest Croydon. We haven't seen her since the riots in the summer, so at the very least I was expecting some basmati rice and a stereo.

Sadly however, she texted me on Saturday, resigning from her position in my cabinet of friends, in order to spend more time with her sofa. Her employers keep sending her across Europe like one of Hannibal's elephants, and she needed a rest day at home. So we've rescheduled for mid-February. The only thing likely to ruin those plans is if she gets invited out for Valentine's Day. So I'm confident we'll be seeing her.

The change of plan meant two things: firstly that I could eat the massive pizza we'd bought Marie for Sunday lunch, and secondly that we could have a rest day of our own...

A princess at Queens Park
Amelie could barely be more relaxed. Not only does she get to lie down, but she has two people to push her.

So with some unexpected free time on our hands, we dropped in on Lisa's Mum yesterday afternoon, before heading over to Queens Park for some fun in the sun. If you can't afford a gym membership, I can highly recommend pushing Amelie on a swing for half an hour. Not only does it give your biceps a thorough workout, but she acts as your personal trainer by shouting at you every time you start to flag.

In addition to building muscle on the swings, I also achieved a full cardiovascular workout by running rings around the world's heaviest roundabout, pushing Amelie and two other kids in circles for ten minutes. In the end, I had to be physically restrained by Lisa, who was concerned that I was about to collapse with a heart attack and didn't want my death to traumatise any small children.

So we headed instead to the tranquil setting of the nearby lake for a game of 'Name That Film'...

Name That Film
That's Amelie doing Forrest Gump...

Forrest Gump
She just needs to look the other way and put Lisa's handbag on the ground.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I say, I say, I say... what do you call a man with a duck's kidney and a chicken's foot?

Truly Offal
Fowl. I was looking both ways for a sick bucket.

We had our good friends Stefan, Andrew and Nora around for the afternoon yesterday, and having spent years listening to me say I'll eat pretty much anything, they've finally put me to the test. And found me wanting. We haven't seen Stefan and Andrew since they returned from a two-week holiday in Hong Kong last November, so they've been saving up the gifts for me ever since. I'm now the proud owner of some of the finest shrink-wrapped bird offal this side of Taiwan.

To be honest, it was like Christmas here yesterday, because in addition to some choice cuts of game, they brought Amelie so many presents, she thought they'd run over Santa on the way here. The biggest hit was a foldable wooden tray...

And all because the lady loves her tray.
She's wanted one since she tried out Andrew's in October, and it means she can now fulfil her dream of becoming a consummate couch potato by drawing, playing and eating, all without leaving the sofa. In the picture above, she's trying out the farmyard stencils and puzzle books she also received yesterday, whilst wearing a cardboard hat she was given by Nora.

The hat is part of a set called 'Snap Happy', which provides you with various dressing-up supplies such as hats, wigs and glasses, plus a frame to pose in for photos. It's hard to describe unless you have a willing model. And as luck would have it...

That's Andrew with his face on. I think the lips were modelled on Amelie...

As if the internal organs of a range of poultry weren't enough, Lisa and Amelie also received souvenirs from Hong Kong. Amelie is now the proud owner of a pink umbrella, while Lisa received a beautiful Chinese fan. So they're pretty much set for any weather conditions. The fan's made of sandalwood, which is presumably what they make clogs out of. It smells gorgeous anyway, and not like any sandal I've ever sniffed.

Sadly, Nora had to leave early to pick up her daughter from Africa, but the rest of us settled down to plough through the 500+ holiday photos I'd asked Stefan and Andrew to bring on their laptop. Nora thought I was mad, which possibly explains her early exit, but personally I enjoyed it. All three hours of it.

The holiday snaps ranged from pictures of pandas, crocodiles and dolphins, to photos from cable cars, skyscrapers and mountains, including shots of a giant buddha, ancient temple, modern casino and doggy toilet. They also showed us views of the Thai restaurant where their meal was interrupted by a cockroach walking across the table.

But the highlight for me was the photo of an elderly Chinese woman on the underground, who was sitting next to Stefan with a live fish flapping about in her bag. I'm not sure which was more amusing - the sight of a old lady nonchalantly returning from market with a fish that refuses to die, or the look on Stefan's face.

The only moment to compare with that was when they showed us a photo of a sealion at Ocean Park. I was keen to showcase Amelie's vast zoological knowledge, so I pointed at the picture and said to her "What's that?".

Amelie looked at it long and hard, before answering: "Nora".

It's no wonder she left early.
Providing financial support to the terminally ill is all very well, but sometimes you have to adopt a more hands-on approach in an effort to help the sick and dying. So I personally answered an SOS call yesterday afternoon.

Fortunately, it wasn't so much a medical emergency, as an invitation to attend a meeting of the Southern Ophthalmological Society, but there were a lot of distress flares on display. And corduroy jackets. With elbow pads.

Well, ok, there weren't. To be honest, I think modern ophthalmologists have better dress sense than I do. I was the only one there in a cardigan. Luckily for me though, there was an outstanding Tan on full view in the front row, which deflected attention from my clothes.

Anyhoo, it was an interesting afternoon, not least when they discussed the case of a man who underwent treatment for a corneal ulcer which resulted in his tongue turning black. It was eventually discovered to be nothing to do with his eye surgery, and purely a side-effect of taking ciprofloxacin. Which is worrying, because I've been on that twice. Once when conducting biological warfare with a learner, and then two years later, after a stranger fondled my privates. I'm glad he didn't give me a black tongue too.

The other highlight for me was the presentation of a recent ophthalmic investigation which resulted in three stated conclusions, the third of which was: "Being without Wikipedia for 24 hours is quite debilitating". I felt the same on Wednesday. Frankly it was a nightmare. I had to ask Lisa who sang 'D.I.V.O.R.C.E.'.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I sprung Amelie out of nursery again yesterday afternoon, and I'm pleased to report that having done it for a second time, I'm now well in with the staff, and marginally less likely to be arrested for child abduction. Sadly, however, that has very little to do with my trustworthy face and impeccable credentials, and is more down to a glowing reference from my daughter.

Having been eyed suspiciously at the door by another parent, who refused to enter the code while I was standing there, I eventually made it into the pre-school room, where Amelie was busy amassing a collection of plastic farm animals on the mat. She was quite engrossed in a bit of cow/horse cross-species husbandry, but having clocked me by the door, she quickly stood up, trotted over, and said "Daddy! I've missed you so much!".

The moment I heard that collective "Aaaaaahhhh..." from the nearby members of staff, I knew I had it made. She's done wonders for my reputation.

So as a reward for all her PR work, I decided to visit an exclusive boutique today to get Amelie a present. Yes, that's right, I've been to the St Catherine's Hospice shop in Crawley. Obviously I help people all over the Weald with my purchases from hospice shops, but it's important that my charity work doesn't begin and end with marriage guidance. So in an effort to support those poor souls unlucky enough to end their days in Crawley, I bought Amelie an electric guitar for £3...

She's definitely got a Stevie Wonder head-sway going on at the end there. Give it a couple of years, and we'll have her blacking up for 'Stars in Their Eyes'.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I drove up to Crowborough yesterday to visit the 'Hospice in the Weald' charity shop. Admittedly I had to do a clinic at the hospital while I was there, but that was a minor inconvenience. As charity shops go, it's always been one of my favourites, and has achieved Weald-wide fame as the place to go for quality films and cheap laptops.

I'm not sure I've ever been inside without buying something, and yesterday was no exception. I picked this up for a song...

Making Marriage Work for DummiesThe song being 'D.I.V.O.R.C.E.' by Dolly Parton.

Obviously there's very little a book like that can teach me, but I thought I'd buy it for Lisa, so she can see where she's been going wrong. Especially after she had the nerve to give me a 'D' in the Relate Heart-to-Heart test.

It's written by Dr Steven Simring and his ball & chain (I bet their relationship's simring hot), who are apparently "America's foremost husband-and-wife marriage-counseling team", so with a bit of luck, it should help us make it to our second anniversary. Although if not, there's a chapter on remarriage.

In addition to 'Making Marriage Work for Dummies' (which is much harder than for normal people), the Hospice in the Weald also had a copy of 'Rekindling Romance for Dummies'. I flicked through it, but decided against buying that one. It seemed to be all about taking your wife away for weekends, and frankly I'm too knackered. So I stuck with the book above.

Interestingly, however, having arrived home with my purchase, given it to Lisa, and narrowly avoided being hit around the head with it, I noticed a piece of paper stuck between the pages. It turned out to be the Amazon receipt for both books, dated 18th November 2002. The addresses at the top appeared to explain the reason for purchase...

Shipping that passed in the night.
It can't be easy making your marriage work when one of you is living in Japan.

As it transpired, however, that wasn't the case at all. Reading further down, I found a personal message from the buyer...

Rekon it will.
So John came across two books about saving your marriage, and decided to give them to Malc and Joelle for Christmas. It makes Madge seem positively friendly.

Fortunately, the world is a wonderful place. One day, you're buying a marriage guidance book in Crowborough; the next day, you're entering a stranger's name into Google. It turns out that John has a website. I might e-mail him and ask him what he was thinking.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm beginning to wonder if it might be possible to make a living from photography without going any further than my living room balcony...

Only Sun
I could just pop my head out of the window every morning and let the photogenic subjects come to me.

But moving on from the sun to my daughter, Amelie returned home to us yesterday, bringing with her half a tin of Dulux and a roller. Since doing up the flat eighteen months ago, we've been storing the leftover paint at the headquarters of the decorating firm we employed, which just happens to be based in my parents' garage. So we asked Am to collect some supplies on her way back, in the hope of repairing the damage done by my over-enthusiastic mould cleaning on Saturday.

When I got home from work yesterday, she came running down the hallway to greet me, and the first words out of her mouth were: "Daddy! Can I help you paint the wall with a roller?!"

So I picked her up, gave her a hug, and said "Of course you can, darling!"

The look which appeared on Lisa's face is hard to describe, but I'd place it somewhere between horror, disbelief, and major panic that she might have married a lunatic.

Admittedly, the idea of handing your three-year-old a fully-loaded paint roller, and letting her loose within two feet of a cream-coloured sofa, might seem like the height of lunacy, but there was method in my madness: I knew it would make a good blog post.

As it transpired, Lisa's fears were entirely unfounded. I gave Amelie a thorough talking to before we started, explaining the finer points of interior design and the consequences of getting paint on my CD collection, and this was the result...

She's like a cross between Michelangelo and Rolf Harris. But with no clothes and more talent. I might let her do the whole flat.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It goes without saying that the main advantage of being without Amelie for a couple of days was the opportunity it gave us to rid the flat of fungus, wash the fruit juice from the furniture, and take the piss out of the carpets. But in addition to catching up on the housework, our child-free weekend meant that I was able to get out of the flat for a few hours yesterday afternoon and spend some time with another woman. And what a woman. Frankly she made Lisa look like Mrs Mouse in a burkha.

We actually went to see The Iron Lady...

The Darkest Hour 3D!That's not her on the left. That's the film I would have chosen to see. Sadly, however, despite being a sci-fi blockbuster full of aliens, explosions and all-action adventure, Lisa was put off by the fact that it has an average rating of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been universally panned by the critics. So we rejected the 3D in favour of something more one-dimensional.

We were actually torn between Thatcher and 'Shame'. Not only do they sound pretty similar, but they're written by the same person, so it probably didn't make much difference. In the end, Maggie won over the sex addicts, and we opted for a blue movie of a more Conservative kind.

The last film we went to see was 'The King's Speech' on our honeymoon last March, so we're keeping up our average of one cinema visit every year since Amelie was born. I might be tempted to break that record in 2012 though, because one of the trailers we saw yesterday was for a film adaptation of 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close', a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. It's a well known fact that I haven't read a book since 1996, but I do spend a lot of time buying rubbish in charity shops, and I actually picked that up on audiobook for £1 about six months ago, and listened to it on my way to and from work. The New York Press called it 'Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False', but personally I thought it was excellent. So I'm looking forward to seeing that ruined on film.

As for 'The Iron Lady', I must admit I was disappointed. The film-makers appeared to have rejected the notion of either a political biopic or a personal portrait, and instead gone down the confused pensioner route. It was basically ninety minutes of Meryl Streep sitting around in a bedroom. Lisa felt that the point of it all was to show that even the most powerful of people eventually become helpless old codgers, but personally I felt she gave the makers too much credit. I just don't think they knew what they wanted to do, so they ended up doing nothing.

The result was a very frustrating film. Every time it touched on a major issue like the Falklands War or the miners' strike, it sparked instantly into life, only to die moments later by leaving the interesting subject matter completely unexplored, and returning to Maggie in her dressing gown. It barely scratched the surface of her career, and gave no insight into her private life. I really wasn't sure what the point of it all was. And as for the last scene with the teacup, I felt like throwing one at the screen.

That said, I thought Meryl Streep was very good, and it contained one set of lines worth quoting:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

It's just a shame they weren't written by Margaret Thatcher or the author of the film.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

One of the toughest things you can face as a married man is the sight of another bloke with his arm around your missus...

Hands Off My Bird!
I feel like Rhodri Giggs. But with less chance of selling my story to The Sun. She's clearly got love in her eyes. And a doily on her head. But let's face it, with a suit like that, he's clearly going to turn a few heads. And stomachs.

The worst part is that I always thought Lisa was the kind of girl who stayed in at the weekends, playing Scrabble with her Mum...

It's Curtains for Fashion
Although with curtains like that, you'd probably want to get out of the house quite a bit.

Anyhoo, I successfully scanned sixty-seven - yes, sixty-seven - old photos last night, before adjusting them, cropping them, and uploading them all to Photobox. But if you think that must have taken ages, you'd be wrong. I was asleep by 1am. Well, a quarter past.

Fortunately I didn't have to be up this morning, as my parents have kindly run off with Amelie this weekend to give us a chance to relax, unwind, and get the Ribena stains out of the sofa. I'm sitting here surrounded by ten naked cushions and the gentle hum of the tumble-dryer finishing off our dry-clean-only sofa covers on a very high heat.

It's been a day of discovery, because in addition to testing whether our cushion covers can survive a spin cycle, I also found a mould farm down the back of the sofa. Obviously we're no strangers to fungus, and there are strong rumours that the caravan city outside is linked to the council's plans to re-render the exterior of the block in an effort to solve the damp problem, but this was still a momentous discovery, because whilst we've had mould in both bedrooms and the bathroom, we've never before lived with it in the lounge.

Needless to say, black mould on your mauve walls is not a desirable look, so I successfully removed it all this afternoon. And replaced it with some attractive pale turquoise patches. It seems that despite using the same brand of mould cleaner in both bedrooms without the slightest hint of a problem, the paint on the living room wall has reacted like I've thrown a bucket of bleach at it, and now looks like a piece of modern art.

I'm in good company though, because whilst I've been redecorating the living room in two-tone pastels, Lisa's been experimenting with a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art hair dye which guarantees to be 100% drip-free. She's been waltzing around the flat with a black cape on, looking like Michael Keaton in Batman. But with more confidence, and much darker hair. The results are pretty spectacular. In fact her hair looks so good, she's decided to go out tonight. Just as soon as she's finished cleaning all the drips off the computer chair, carpet and my bedside cabinet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I said to Lisa this evening, "It's Friday the 13th today. Have you had any bad luck?"

She replied, "No more than usual".

So on that positive note, it's my mother-in-law's birthday in two weeks time. Assuming she lives that long. Lisa and I are spending the weekend sorting through old photos to scan, upload, and turn into a professionally printed photo-book to present her with on the day. Ideally, we're looking for pictures of the lady herself, but personally I'm more distracted by her daughter...

Seventies Glam
That's my wife on the left, aged about eight. Which is surprising, as I didn't think cameras had been invented back then. We don't know who the stunner on the right is, but I'm sensing she's not a relation.

On the subject of things which looked good in the seventies, my Dad passed on the news this week that the Wish Tower in Eastbourne is set to be demolished. The council has been considering its future for a while now, but after a slight breeze took the roof off in December, they've decided to knock the whole thing down and start again.

Rumours that this hard-hitting exposé played a major role in the council's decision have yet to be confirmed, but suffice it to say that the BBC's sub-heading of 'Suffering and Fortitude' is more apt than they realise.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On balance, I think I prefer today's sunrise...

Springtime for Hitler
It looks a bit like the German flag has finally been raised over England, but apart from that, I like it.

I was working in Brighton yesterday, so I had the pleasure of taking Amelie to and from nursery for the first time. It was a bit like escorting a prisoner on day release, but without the time off for good behaviour. Dropping her off wasn't too much of a problem - the only difficulty I had was getting her to pause long enough to say goodbye before she ran off to play - but picking her up was a different story.

With the ever present threat of paedophiles lurking on every street corner, and statistics showing that at any given time there are upwards of ninety-three child molesters, violent abductors and kiddy-fiddlers within a ten-metre radius of where you're standing, security at the nursery is naturally tight. Getting Amelie out of there was like springing Charles Manson from a maximum security prison.

When I dropped her off, they were happy to take the girl off my hands without a fuss, but returning as a single unaccompanied man clearly put me on the danger list for the axis of evil. Having rung the doorbell outside and got no response whatsoever, I was met by another parent on her way out. I told her they weren't answering my calls, and she informed me that there's a video camera hidden in the doorbell, and they're probably studying me as we speak and deciding I fit the profile of a paedophile. Those weren't her exact words, but I knew what she meant.

Undeterred, I snuck through the door as she left, only to be confronted by another locked door with a keypad. Lisa had given me the code that morning, but I'd burnt it after reading, and committed it to my unfailing memory. So naturally by 5pm I'd forgotten it. As luck would have it, another parent arrived, refused to give me the code, and forced me to make a second daring entry attempt by piggy-backing her through the door. Not literally.

By the time I'd made it through a bolted gate, down the corridor and through another closed door to the pre-school room, I felt like I was on an episode of Prison Break. Frankly if Bin Laden had set up home there, he'd still be alive now.

Fortunately, once there, I was greeted by a happy little three-year-old who was very pleased to see me. Not Amelie, obviously, but a little boy who came running up to me, smiling, and said "I showed Amelie how to wash her hands today!". I didn't tell him that's more than I've ever done.

While my own daughter completely ignored me, he then said "This is for you..."

Drawing Your Attention... and handed me the drawing on the left. It was like being passed a note by a lifer at visiting time. Either it's a coded message he wanted me to get out to his loved ones, or it's a picture of a llama lying down. I'm not sure which. But either way, I was grateful. He was the only person who acted like he wanted me to be there.

In the end, I had to virtually drag Amelie out of there by her wrists. There was a quiet beeping as we left, which I think was the sound of the staff phoning social services. Unfortunately she appears to have brought something home with her. She was up in the night, barking like a seal and telling us her throat hurts. So we need to keep that quiet. If they discover she's walked out with a cough, they might try to charge us extra.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This was the view from our balcony at seven-thirty this morning...

Reach Up for the Sunrise
Believe it or not, I haven't tinkered with that photo at all. Those were the exact colours on display as the sun came up over Brighton today. Obviously I'd rather have been looking at the inside of my eyelids at that time in the morning, but the sunrise came a close second.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Having returned home from our winter retreat in St Leonards the Sunday before last, and carried eight bags of Amelie's presents up from the car, I decided to spend the Bank Holiday Monday sorting out her toys. In addition to cramming her wardrobe so full of stuff that no one's ever going to find Narnia, my main masterstroke was to gather together all of the various cuddly toys that she likes to take to bed, and place them in a handy red basket by the window, so that instead of wasting five minutes every night running around the flat looking for the specific one she wants, she can simply choose one from the basket and hop into bed.

It was a plan with no drawbacks. At least I thought so, until this morning...

Basket Case
That was the scene which greeted me when I opened her bedroom door at 7:30am. It's like she's been looting at Toys R Us. On the bright side, however, she can no longer see her Peppa Pig duvet, which according to the Daily Telegraph is a good thing.

The only toy not visible in that picture is her cuddly Gruffalo, so here's another photo...

Wheely GoodTo be honest, it's not really visible in that one either. But she is holding it in her left hand.

I took Amelie out for a walk after work last night, and she insisted on taking the Gruffalo with us to protect her from flies, bees and giants. (No, me neither). I'd intended just to stroll down to the seafront and then head straight back, but unfortunately when we got there, she spotted a number of evening joggers, and before I knew it, she was sprinting towards the pier like Anthony Worrall Thompson through the checkouts at Tesco. By the time I caught up with her, we were close to both the Brighton Wheel and a heart attack.

But in addition to an extreme cardiovascular workout, Amelie also provided me with a smile. And made a total stranger laugh. She has a habit at the moment of coming out with creative new descriptions for everyday things. Only the other day, she told me over dinner that her fizzy pop was wonderbubble, and her runner beans vegelicious. Which is not only a new word, but a surprising sentiment for a three-year-old.

So last night we were walking down Eaton Place, past Patsy Palmer's house, when a man came out of a side street with a dog on a lead. There was no traffic, and the night was quiet, but as the man crossed the road in front of us, Amelie broke the silence by announcing with great gusto, and in a very loud voice, "That dog is hairy-fantastic!".

As shaggy dog stories go, it was a little on the short side, but the owner walked off in hysterics.

Monday, January 09, 2012

I was invited to a meeting at work this morning to discuss the creation of a new department website. I've been asked to rewrite the text to make it all a bit more "friendly". So I'll be using the word 'darling' a lot, and finding some photos of come-to-bed eyes.

Obviously my ability to string a sentence together is one thing, but to be honest, I think the main factor which makes me the go-to guy for website production is my ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world's great Olympians at the top of the Google search rankings. No, really.

As mentioned here previously, if you enter the words 'Robin Cousins' into Google, you get this...

Robin Cousins' Gay Expression
It's a photo of me. And some other bloke.

It's a well documented fact that I'm essentially a gay icon in the world of figure skating. Although I manage to keep my head down for most of the year. So I was particularly pleased to see the new series of 'Dancing on Ice' begin on ITV1 last night. When I say 'see', I don't mean that I watched it. I'm not an idiot. But I did keep a close eye on my blog stats...

Sister v Cousins
The spike in November was when Big Sis linked to this post on Facebook, and the world turned up to stare in open-mouthed wonder at her acting. But frankly, Cousins can trump sisters any day of the week. I had enough visitors yesterday to knock Sis into a cocked hat. I'd like to think a lot of them were reading about the framing of Madge and Stella, but the fact is that most were after a bird's eye view of Robin. I really need to start selling merchandise before next week's episode.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Amelie told me yesterday that she'd like Chloe to have lots of little white kittens. I told her that's unlikely to happen, so naturally she asked me why. With hindsight, I probably should have just pointed out that Chloe's fifteen, and the cat equivalent of Barbara Cartland. Except that her ivory tower's a council block. Unfortunately I was a bit more honest. So I'm now being pestered to buy a boy cat.

That was just one of the charming conversations we had yesterday while Lisa was out at the AA convention. Frankly it was more tiring than going to work. But I did enjoy the moment when Amelie discovered that I'd neatly placed two of her books inside the book stack table, at which point she turned to me and said "Daddy, you're a genius!". At least she got something right.

On the subject of books and intellectual decisions, I bought a classic work of poetry on Friday. And what's more, I've read it. Although some of the pages were missing. I was working in Crawley, so naturally I found myself in the Save the Children charity shop at lunchtime, where they were having a half-price January sale. I was browsing the bric-a-brac, and I came across this...

Poems of Shelley
If that looks like the inside page of a poetry book, it's because it is. Unfortunately the rest of the book wasn't attached. Someone had taken the first two pages of a book called 'Poems of Shelley', personally inscribed to Stella with a heartfelt Christmas message from Madge and Janine (Jonnie? Jannice?), and then framed it. And 'Save the Children' were selling it for 50p. Reduced to 25p in the sale.

I spent so long puzzling over this, I almost made myself late back to work, so in the end I decided it was worth spending 25p on the mystery, and bought it.

The point is this: if I were Stella, and Madge had given me a work of poetry for Christmas, I would certainly be inclined to chuck most of the book in the bin. Particularly as Madge clearly doesn't like me enough to put 'Dear', 'Love', or spell the word 'Christmas'. I'm not sure I'd have bothered to keep the inscription, and I certainly wouldn't have spent money on a frame, but other than that, it makes sense.

However, that can't be what happened. Above the inky words of her Madgesty is the date 10/06 and the price £1.00, both written in pencil. Now, if Madge is half the woman I think she is, there's no way she'd have inscribed a book to Stella without removing the price first. She's economical with her words, but she doesn't want to look like a cheapskate.

So it wasn't Stella who framed it. It was Stella who sold it. I'm liking her more and more. In fact, I'd buy Stella a beer if I met her. So Stella clearly received the book prior to 2006, put up with it for at least six months, and then chucked it out in the summer. It must have been sold as a book for a pound (a bargain, because it's £4.50 here), at which point the person who bought it decided that the poems of Shelley were rubbish, but the inscription was worth framing. The question is, why?.

Presumably Madge meant nothing to them, and if they thought it was valuable, they wouldn't have ripped it out of the book. Or given it away to charity and let an idiot buy it for 25p. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I suggested to Lisa that we hang it on the living room wall as a conversation piece, but she wasn't keen. Apparently we talk enough rubbish without putting junk on the wall.

Friday, January 06, 2012

At the end of January last year, we met up with our old friends Crash & Donna (or Chris & Donald, as Amelie likes to call them), and went out for breakfast in Brighton. Here's a photo of us all together...

The Usual Suspects
We look like one of the line-ups from the Identity Parade round on 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks'. At least I thought we did, until last night's edition on BBC2...

Number five definitely looks the part, but the others barely resemble us at all. Although I look a bit like number four.

Still, it comes to something when one of your friends is being introduced to Vic Reeves by a Natural Born Killer, using the words "C U next Tuesday". Things like that usually only happen in my dreams.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

While I was in Haywards Heath yesterday, hearing about Tufty getting hammered, Brighton Council were busy doing some DIY of their own. I came home from work last night to find that in the space of a few hours, they'd built four portacabins on the grass outside our flat...

For a moment, I thought we had gypsies. As mere residents, we obviously haven't been told what's going on, but the council came back today and erected a fifth one, before digging a hole and connecting it up to the electricity supply. So I think they're re-homing asylum seekers. Or preparing for a Hollywood film. It's like having a row of Winnebagos parked outside.

That wasn't the only momentous thing which happened yesterday though. It was also Amelie's first ever day at nursery. And needless to say, there were tears. Not when she got there, but when she had to go home. It was only an hour-long settling-in session, but they had a water play area with ponies, which is pretty much everything Amelie wants in life. Frankly she was in hog heaven, and Lisa could barely drag her out of there.

They returned today for settling-in session number two, and Amelie's already made a best friend called Mandy. A lot of toddlers can be selfish with their toys, but apparently Mandy came and she gave without taking.

Unfortunately, the shine's been taken off the situation entirely by the news we received this morning, which is that despite having registered Amelie solely for the fifteen free hours a week she's entitled to by law (in fact, she'll only be there for twelve), the nursery's going to charge us almost fifty pounds a month anyway. It seems that the hours you do are irrelevant, and nobody gets away without paying. As Lisa was told this morning "We'd go out of business if everyone just had the free hours and paid nothing".

In addition, the government entitlement is for 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year (to tie-in with school term times), so we assumed we'd just keep her at home in the holidays. Apparently not. The nursery have said she'll lose her place if she doesn't attend throughout August. And if she attends throughout August, we'll be paying the full fees.

So we're not very happy. Especially as Amelie won a place there six months ago, and they've waited until she's started, fallen in love with the place, and made a new friend, before telling us it's going to cost us big time. Naturally we're looking for someone to blame, and it appears we may have found him. It's all David Cameron's fault.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I was in Haywards Heath today, where I discovered a shop selling just about everything you could ever want in life...

Sex, Food & Wine
The only thing they don't supply is top quality anecdotes, but as luck would have it, I picked up one of those at the St Catherine's Hospice Shop around the corner.

I was idly browsing the menswear section at lunchtime today, when the lady on the till asked her colleague if she'd had a nice Christmas. An innocuous question, you might think, but one which resulted in an answer so surprising that I actually loitered in the shop just to hear the end of the story.

Apparently the lady had been staying with friends for Christmas, and as she arrived home a few days ago, her neighbour came rushing out to inform her that whilst she'd been away, a squirrel had got into her house via the chimney and set off the burglar alarm. Fortunately the neighbour had a set of keys, and was able to go in and turn off the alarm, but the lady was naturally concerned that the squirrel might have caused a lot of damage, so she asked her neighbour how long it had been in there for.

The news was good. The whole thing had only happened that morning, the neighbour had gone straight in, and the squirrel had spent less than half an hour in the house. From that point on, however, the news took a turn for the worse.

The lady continued her story by posing this innocent question to her colleague:

"Now, if you were going to remove a squirrel from your neighbour's house, how would you do it?".

The colleague said she would open all the doors and try shooing it out. The lady herself suggested throwing a blanket over the creature, and scooping it up safely. Neither of those things had happened.

Instead, the neighbour had summoned "her gentleman friend" to deal with the situation in his own inimitable style. As the charity shop colleague put it, in a slightly alarmed voice, "Don't tell me he used a shotgun?"

"No," the lady said. "A hammer."

Apparently the gentleman friend had entered the neighbour's house armed with nothing but a carpentry set, and in an admirable feat of agility and lightning-fast reflexes, had succeeded in getting close enough to the squirrel to hit it on the head with a hammer.

Game over for Tufty, you might think. Sadly not. Despite being smashed in the skull with a piece of DIY equipment, the squirrel, which up until this point had caused no damage whatsoever, survived the blow, and immediately set off across the living room at high speed with blood spurting from its head like a fountain. The neighbour's squeeze took off in hot pursuit, and by the time the creature was cornered by the three piece suite, and a second, fatal blow delivered, there was a trail of blood on the carpet, and the wallpaper had been redecorated in red. Frankly a shotgun would have caused less damage.

Of course, when you've given new meaning to the phrase 'Hammer Horror' by creating an indoor sprinkler system out of a squirrel, turned your neighbour's house into a crime scene, and found yourself standing on the sofa with blood on your hands, you're naturally going to want to clear things up a little. And sure enough, the gentleman politely removed the corpse from the living room.

The charity shop colleague then asked the lady what he did with it. She rolled her eyes before answering:

"He left it on the lawn for the crows".

If I were her, I'd move house.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

I've no idea what was going on with the weather in Brighton this morning, but walking down the hill past A&E at 8:30am was like trekking down a wind tunnel in a tsunami. I took this photo from our living room window before I left for work...

... and frankly it was no better on dry land. Not that there was any. I'd have driven the 400 metres to work, but I wasn't sure it was passable without a hovercraft. By the time I reached OPD, I was soaked through and could no longer feel my face. My first patient said it wasn't weather for the faint-hearted. I told her to forget the faint-hearted and spare a thought for the bald-headed. That's the last time I leave home without a hat.

Monday, January 02, 2012

I had an e-mail while we were away from this chap, suggesting that as the owner of, I might like to buy '' off him for five hundred bucks. It's a tempting offer, obviously, but not one I'm inclined to accept. Mainly because it turns my witty domain into one that just sounds like I'm moaning.

Intriguingly though, he states in the e-mail that "I am offering this domain name to several potential buyers over the next few days, and the first one to agree to buy it for $500 will get it". So I'm clearly not the only one with 'Whines' in my website address. Unless he's flogging it to the owner of

On the subject of this blog, since redecorating at the weekend, I've changed the format of my archive listing (on the right, scroll down), and it's inadvertently revealed the surprising news that 2011 was my most prolific blogging year since I met Lisa. I'm clearly spending less time with her than ever before. I could get up now and go and join her on the sofa, but there's not really any great need. If I want to know how she's doing, I can just check her status on Facebook.

Looking at those figures, however, it's also apparent just what a bad year 2006 was. It was the year that Lisa needed me more than any other, and the time I felt least like blogging. I was watching a wise and worldly woman on TV the other night (it was Kerry Katona if you must know) and she said that alcohol is a harder habit to kick than heroin. I think she was pissed at the time. I've no idea if her words are true (I haven't given up either), but I do know that what Lisa's done over the past five years has been phenomenal.

It's the annual Brighton AA Convention next weekend, and this year Lisa will be attending, not only as someone with long term sobriety, but as the treasurer of a city centre meeting and, as of yesterday, the Chairperson of the International AA Public Information Committee. She's spreading sobering thoughts across the world.

After a year in which she lost the teeth she'd spent her life savings on, and then the baby she'd set her heart on, the fact that the above paragraph is still true, and hasn't all gone by the wayside, is both remarkable and admirable. She also has to cope with Amelie's bad behaviour, which is enough to turn anyone to drink.

Mind you, Amelie has a lot to cope with herself. She dreamt the night before last that she was being chased by a horde of snakes who were, and I quote, "licking my hair and making it knotty". Venomous snakes are bad enough, but when they start ruining your hair, you've got good reason to wake up screaming.

Anyhoo, 2011 has been a challenging year in many ways, but the manner in which my wife and daughter have come through it is a source of great pride to me, and I love them both loads. So while Amelie battles snakes in her sleep, I'm going to join Lisa on the sofa. We're catching up on our Christmas TV and doing 'The Big Fat Quiz of the Year'. Love her or not, she'll owe me money by the end of the night.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

There's no better way to start the new year than with a vision of the Virgin Mary...

The Virgin MaryOr failing that, Amelie in a towel. She's not so much a vision as a sight.

But the good news is that as of two hours ago, the three of us have managed to get some clothes on and return safely through the flooded countryside of Sussex to our humble home in Brighton. And I'm pleased to say there are no police lines outside. Which is a marked improvement on last year.

2012 is set to be quite an exciting year for us. Assuming it lives up to the film. But sadly, despite doing no partying whatsoever, an afternoon spent packing up all of Amelie's Christmas presents has left me feeling drained and exhausted. By the time I'd loaded up the car with all her stuff, I felt like heading straight to the nearest car boot sale. Frankly she needs to get her own flat, fifteen years ahead of schedule, because I've no idea where we're putting it all.

We've had a very nice week though. We didn't make it far from the sofa, but it's all been very relaxing. I'm not back at work until Tuesday, but I'm already looking forward to my next week off at the end of February. I think we'll be choosing St Leonards for that holiday too.