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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'The Artist' might have left us dumbstruck, but fortunately there's nothing that can't be fixed by some high calorie food. So having suffered in silence for ninety minutes, we went straight from the cinema to Prezzo on Monday afternoon for a slap-up meal. It being date-day, I wanted to spare no expense and treat Lisa to her favourite Italian food. And besides, I'd spent my Tesco Clubcard points on vouchers, so it cost me virtually nothing.

Whilst at the restaurant, I revealed to Lisa that unbeknownst to her, I had plans for the rest of the evening, and that we'd actually be going on somewhere else afterwards. She was naturally quite excited, and sure enough, within the hour, we were parking up next to a Porsche 911 with the numberplate '18 AR'...

18 AR
It was in the Lidl car park. Times are clearly harder than I realised.

Having walked out of Lidl with some kitchen rolls and a bag of sweets, it soon became obvious to Lisa that date-day was drawing to a close, so I drove her home to do the ironing. Which is where our week took an unexpected turn. When we arrived home at 5:30pm on Monday, we were met outside our block of flats by a little cat who came running up to us, desperate for attention, and started jumping up to meet our hands, rather than waiting to be stroked.

We spent a couple of minutes making a fuss of it, then came inside, narrowly avoiding being followed in by the cat, who then pressed its face up against the glass of the door in a calculated attempt to tug at our heart strings. We watched it from the window for a while, and it seemed to be going up to every passer-by, begging for attention and asking to come in. We knew it was unlikely to belong to our block, as we have no ground floor flats, but we assumed it had an owner, and thought no more of it.

So that was Monday. On Tuesday, Amelie was back, so I told her about the cat, and suggested she keep a look out for it, whilst not really expecting to see it again. So I picked her up from nursery at 5pm yesterday and walked her home, where lo-and-behold, the same thing happened again. We were greeted by the same cat, with the same behaviour. I couldn't drag Amelie away. We were out there for twenty-five minutes. She even asked to put her gloves on because her hands were so cold, but she still wouldn't leave the cat and come in.

Whilst doing some industrial stroking, one of our neighbours came by and said that the cat has been around for a few days, and is sleeping under the portacabins which have become a permanent fixture on the estate. I was tempted to take it in there and then, but caution prevailed, and Amelie and I eventually made it through the door without our cat shadow.

Lisa was out at the time with a friend, but at 7pm, I looked out of the window, and saw the cat sitting forlornly on a breeze block outside one of the portacabins. I considered going down, but Amelie was just on her way to bed, and I could see myself getting caught up in some kind of McCanns/Tapas situation. So I stayed where I was. Until Lisa got home and virtually demanded that we adopt it.

When the poor little thing was still out there at 9pm, I gave in...

That was ten minutes after arrival. Talk about making yourself at home.

I'm writing this at 7am, and Amelie's not up yet, but she's going to think it's Christmas when she does. We don't know whether it's male or female, lost or abandoned, pregnant or diseased, but this cat is the friendliest creature I've ever encountered. I feel like I'm being stalked by Top Cat. The thing won't leave me alone. I'm trying to type this with a laptop on my knees and a cat on my chest. If it doesn't maintain physical contact at all times, it's not happy. I can't even go to the toilet alone. In fact it's hard to take photos, because the moment I stand back more than two feet, I'm immediately followed.

Chloe's a little wary, but we've had no fights, and as for Amelie, she'll probably faint with excitement, but we'll be warning her not to get carried away. Which is more than can be said for the cat when Am sees it. We've checked the latest mug-shots on Lost Cats Brighton, and it's not on there, but I'll be taking it to the vet today to have it scanned for a microchip. With a bit of luck, it might be identified. But if not... well, we haven't decided yet...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The ArtistTwenty minutes into 'The Artist' yesterday afternoon, Lisa turned to me in the cinema and said "Are you enjoying this?"

I lied through my teeth and said "Yes."

To which she looked incredulous and said "Really?"

Suffice it to say that Richard Roeper and I are no longer friends.

I don't know what it is about the films that Lisa and I choose to see together, but I don't think we've both loved a movie since 'Juno'. And that came out four years ago. Admittedly we only get to the cinema about twice a year, but even so, it means we've sat through at least eight turkeys.

The Artist was beautifully made, well acted and very innovative, but it just wasn't our cup of tea. With hindsight, that should have been obvious. We both like films with sparkling dialogue and a witty script, so one with just eleven spoken words (twelve if you count 'woof') was never likely to win us over. But when everyone who sees it says it's great, and it's named as best film at the Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes, we felt we had to give it a go. Unfortunately I can only conclude that the six thousand industry professionals who make up The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences don't know as much about films as I do.

I'm not saying it was a bad movie, but it bored me in the same way that The Bolshoi Ballet would bore me with a performance of Swan Lake. I like language and wordplay, not art and expression. There were also practical problems. At one point, George Valentin picks up a note from his wife, which prompted Lisa to lean across and ask me what it said. As I whispered back into her ear, "The film's got no words, and you can't read the handwriting. We really do have problems".

There were bits that I liked though. Jean Dujardin's moustache was excellent, and the intertitle which read 'BANG!' was very cleverly placed. I also liked the way that Lisa completely failed to get the ending of the film, when George speaks his only two words of dialogue, and had to have it explained to her over the closing credits. But other than that, it was disappointing. Next time I'll be insisting we see a film with both colour and sound.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Right. After two days of ceaseless hard work, the cooking, cleaning, washing and shopping are all done, and I'm seriously testing the theory that housework never killed anyone. But on the plus side, the carpets are so clean, it would be a pleasure to collapse on them. In addition, we're doing our bit for medical science by finding out if the development of an unborn baby can be improved by regular doses of Ben & Jerry's Vermonster ice cream and microwaved Frankfurters. Lisa thinks yes.

In the meantime, Amelie's made a new friend in St Leonards...

That's the friend on the left. The bloke on the right (who appears to be wearing Amelie's dog hat) is the one who put her in a summer dress in late February. We've all been there. I went through most of last winter without knowing where Amelie's vests were.

But wardrobe malfunctions aside, it's important to make the most of any child-free opportunities life throws at you, so having spent some quality time with a bottle of Flash and a hoover, I've decided to get up close and personal with my wife. With Amelie due back in 24 hours, Lisa and I have decided to extend date-night to the whole day.

Needless to say, when you've spent the weekend doing housework, what you really need is a nice sit down and a bit of peace and quiet. So we're going to the cinema to watch a silent film.

 Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty  ImagesPersonally I refuse to see anything that hasn't won five Oscars the night before, so we're off to see 'The Artist'. I want to find out which of these two is the better actor.

Admittedly it's taken a certain amount of persuasion. As Lisa said to me this morning, "I don't even like black & white films with sound, never mind ones without", and with the exception of 'Clerks', I'm pretty much with her on that one. But as the American film critic Richard Roeper said, "Yes, it's virtually silent, it's black-and-white, and you might not know the leads. But if you don't take a chance on this film, we can't be friends any more". And I'd hate us to fall out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

When the Leveson Inquiry used the phrase 'hounded by the press', I think this is what they had in mind...

That's Amelie on her way out in her dog hat and pink sunglasses, carrying an 'I Love Chocolate' bag from Thorntons. And she really didn't want her photo taken. It's not easy being a paparazzo. I almost had a Liam Gallagher situation on my hands.

Anyhoo, back on January 1st, I wrote that "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", which as predictions go, has proved to be only partially accurate. My parents' house might be the perfect winter getaway, but in the end we decided it would be far more relaxing if Amelie went on her own. So we've packed her off to my Mum's for a couple of nights.

She has a habit of taking her Peppa Pig umbrella to nursery on the brightest of sunny days, so typically she looked out of the window at the grey clouds and drizzle, and decided to wear dark glasses. The dog hat was apparently "to keep the sun off my head". And to prove to the world that she's barking.

In the meantime, Lisa and I are living it up by sleeping, shopping, hoovering, sorting, dusting, washing, cleaning, tidying and wondering where we're going to fit a Moses basket. Lisa's taken the first of those jobs, and I'm handling the rest. By the time I go back to work, I'm going to need a holiday.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One of the advantages of feeling queasy is that you tend to walk about with your eyes on the ground, looking for a convenient gutter. And that means you spot things you might otherwise have missed. As luck would have it, I did make it into work yesterday (woo-hoo), but I still felt a bit fragile, so I completed the five-minute walk through Kemptown and past St George's church with my head bowed in reverence, in the hope of giving the vomit a shorter distance to travel.

I was just out of sight of the Sussex Eye Hospital, and walking along Sudeley Street with my eyes down, when I saw a vision of green on the ground. I'm no stranger to rescuing things from the gutter (it's how I found Lisa), so I picked it up, and discovered this...

It's a green folded card with the words YORK HAS BEEN WLA'D printed on the front. For a moment, I thought Fergie had joined the Women's Land Army.

More intriguing still, is that the inside of the card features a hand-written list of addresses...

You've been WLA'd.
Naturally I wanted to know what the WLA is, and what they've done to the residents of Eaton Place (which is where Patsy Palmer lives), Chesham Place (home of the Seven Veils pole-dancing school), Chichester Place (where our friend Nora used to live) and Chesham Road (where nothing interesting ever happens), so I went home and looked them up on the internet. Ten minutes later, I'd visited the World Lottery Association, West London Alliance, Worral Lees Associates, Wimbledon Language Academy and Westcountry Landlords Association, and frankly I was none the wiser.

Personally I think it's a hit list from the World's Leading Assassins. But having wiped out the occupants of 24 Eaton Place at 9:55 in the morning, they encountered some fierce resistance a few doors down, and met a sticky end at number 17. Clearly the card got tossed into the gutter in the crossfire. I always knew Patsy Palmer could handle herself.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I'm not saying I don't want Chloe to feel better, but she's now perked up so much she's ruining our lives. For a start, she's now eating such a lot that I had to make a mercy dash to the vets after work this afternoon just to buy her some more food. And that meant being forced to deal with a receptionist so rude I could have punched her in the face. But in addition to putting me through that ordeal, Chloe's managed to spoil Lisa's entire evening.

She (by which I mean Lisa, not Chloe) had programmed the TV to record a vitally important show this afternoon. She wanted to watch 'The Real Housewives of Orange County', which is pretty much the classiest show on ITV2. Personally I thought the only 'Orange County' was Essex, but this is about an entirely different set of bronzed women. It's essentially a public information film designed to show Lisa what life could be like if I had a better job.

Unfortunately we came home to find Chloe asleep on the TV remote control, having pressed a button to bring up the help menu. Lisa's recorded an hour of information on how to upgrade your cable services. Which would never have happened if we had a maid.

Mind you, Lisa's used to missing out. She had a midwife appointment yesterday, at which she was hoping to hear the new baby's heartbeat, but she was forced to cancel at the last moment due to a high risk of vomiting. Naturally I wanted to make it up to her, so once Amelie was asleep this evening, I pinned Lisa to the bed, spread jelly all over her, and dug out our old foetal doppler to record this astonishingly bad, lo-fi bit of distortion...

It's not so much a heartbeat as a panic attack.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blood-spewing episodes aside, there's been a lot of sickness in the Gardner household over the past couple of days. Chloe spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday throwing up all over the carpet, and by yesterday I was fearful that Amelie's days of lying on the sofa, watching Cbeebies and sucking her thumb with a cat under her arm, could be coming to an end.

Sofa so good.
But oddly, Chloe seems to have perked up a bit today. Which is more than can be said for the rest of us. I spent yesterday doing a clinic in Haywards Heath while the reception staff went down with the lurgi one by one. By lunchtime they'd all gone home sick.

Despite the lack of face masks, I made it through the day apparently unscathed, only to arrive in the office this morning and have a conversation at the water cooler with one of my colleagues about how rough she felt. Half an hour later, she'd gone home too.

It was soon afterwards that I started feeling queasy myself. At the time I put it down as some kind of psychosomatic reaction, but having felt mildly nauseous all morning, I popped home at lunchtime to get some sympathy escort Amelie to nursery, only to find that Lisa had been throwing up all day. She assumed it was pregnancy, I thought I was suffering from paranoia, but in reality we might both be ill.

Lisa certainly wasn't feeling herself. I told her at lunchtime that I'd booked a couple of weeks annual leave for August, and she replied, in complete seriousness, "Is that for the Jubilee?". I had to remind her that we're having a baby.

So Lisa took to her bed this afternoon, while I took Amelie to nursery and returned to work. I still don't feel too great, so tomorrow's rota has been changed to make sure I'm not far from a sick bucket. Amelie appears to be fine (I watched her plummeting down the nursery slide from the window of our department), but she told me afterwards that her best friend Mandy "had a sad face all day". I asked her why, and she said "I don't know, I didn't ask her", which shows what a caring little friend she is, before adding "Maybe her Mummy told her she couldn't have any ice cream".

She then asked if we could go to the shops. I think that's what they call emotional blackmail.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I don't know if it's the creeping progression of the nanny state or just the continual erosion of an individual's right to privacy, but it comes to something when a grown man can't bleed profusely on his own bathroom floor without attracting attention from his mother.

Within twenty minutes of publishing yesterday's blog post, my Mum had texted me to ask why I was coughing up blood over Sunday lunch. It's a fair question, I suppose, and one I'd intended to answer, but I'd already written 2,000 words at work yesterday (the minutes of that meeting were more like hours), so frankly I couldn't be bothered.

As it happens, it goes back to the night of 18th February 2004, when I had an unforgettable deep throat experience at a club on the outskirts of Dallas. I didn't mention it in my blog post the next day, but whilst having dinner by the stage of the Addison Improv, I managed to choke on a French Fry. To cut a throat story short, a razor sharp piece of potato got lodged in my gullet, and grazed a bit of soft tissue as it went down. I ended up gagging in the comedy club. Which was no laughing matter.

Ever since, I've been vulnerable to attacks by hard carbohydrates, and if I don't chew my chips thoroughly, I end up cutting my own throat. Which was what happened on Sunday. I swallowed a pointy piece of pizza, and before I knew it, I'd sliced open my oesophagus. In a very minor way.

To be honest, I would have been fine, but I excused myself anyway and went to the bathroom, just in case I started heaving at the dinner table. I was soon joined there by Amelie, who needed help wiping her nether regions, and as I bent down to assist her, I felt something catch the back of my throat. As I stood up, I gave an involuntary cough, and to my surprise, blood spurted out of my mouth and all over the floor. It was like The Exorcist, only more horrifying.

Physically, I'd just scratched the inside of my throat and felt fine, but mentally it was something of a shock to see Amelie standing on a plastic stool in the middle of the bathroom, surrounded by her own father's blood. So we both stood in stunned silence for a moment. Until Lisa arrived, saw the blood on the floor, and almost fainted.

Fortunately, the situation was saved by Amelie, who took in the murder scene around her, looked at her Daddy, and shouted "You've got red on your face!!", before bursting into laughter. At which point I mopped up the pool of blood on the floor, changed my t-shirt, and rejoined Marie for banoffee pie. As Sundays go, I've had worse.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Since Friday of last week (which, coincidentally, is when she last saw her cousins), Amelie has been delighting us with a new and definitive fifth verse to the song 'The Big Ship Sails on the Ally Ally Oh'. It's a thoughtful and poignant piece of songwriting, which we're currently hearing about six times a day, and it goes like this (sing along if you can):

We all dip our bums in the deep blue sea,
The deep blue sea, the deep blue sea,
We all dip our bums in the deep blue sea,
Whoops, bang, whee.

In reality of course, it's not quite as simple as that. It can take the persuasive powers of three adults to coax her into the water...

That's Amelie explaining to a trio of swimming instructors that she's more of a poolside sun-lounger than a dolphin. It's ironic, because at home you can't get her out of the bath for love nor money. I've offered her both.

Fortunately, however, the girl in the yellow had a stick...

Whoops, bang, whee. Or in Amelie's case, wee. I'm sure the deep blue sea was a different colour at the end.

Anyhoo, yesterday was quite a momentous day around these parts. Not only did our good friend Marie come down to visit us from Croydon, but we took Amelie for her first ever swimming lesson. Lisa made the discovery a few weeks ago that the local pool is a training centre for swimming instructors, and that if you allow these trainees to practice on your offspring, they only charge you £3 for ninety minutes. It's the cheapest childcare in Brighton. And Amelie gets a wash.

We weren't quite sure what to expect, but as it transpired, it was brilliant. They had a total of seven children and thirteen trainee instructors, meaning that Amelie had the undivided attention of at least two people at all times for ninety minutes. And it cost us three quid. I could have hugged them all at the end.

On the downside, you weren't allowed to take photos...

No, really, you weren't...

... but fortunately I didn't see that sign until they spotted me in the public gallery and pointed it out to me.

The no-photography rule is obviously designed to deter paedophiles, which is also why they have a no-touching rule for the instructors. Which was a shame, because Marie quite fancied one of them. I can see the sense of it, of course, but at one point a well-meaning instructor attempted to persuade Amelie to jump into the pool with him by getting her to hold the other end of a rolled-up laminated piece of paper, simply because he was too scared to offer her his hand. Lisa was tempted to go straight down there and tell him he can do what he likes with our daughter. Frankly, for three quid, we don't care.

Despite a slow start, Amelie was remarkably good. Especially as we spent the entire ninety minutes upstairs behind a pane of glass, chatting to Marie. Admittedly, our daughter gave the impression that she might be more suited to floating around on a li-lo than doing fifty lengths, but she quickly grew in confidence, and seemed quite happy in the care of the instructors. A total of five had a go with her in the end, and all appeared to be excellent. It can't be easy working with someone who just bobs about in the waves with her feet in the air. So within hours of getting home, Lisa had booked her in for more sessions. We'll have her doing the breast stroke by Christmas.

As for Marie, it was a pleasure to see her as always. She's off to Sweden next month to witness the aurora borealis, so the bright lights of Brighton don't hold much excitement for her these days. Fortunately Amelie injected a bit of sparkle into her visit by showing her a few levels of Supercow, after which we fed her copious amounts of pizza, pasta and banoffee pie, pausing only for Amelie to have a poo while I coughed up blood all over the bathroom floor. That was a meal to remember.

The biggest news to reach us from swinging London, however, is that our mutual friend James, who is not only a world expert on micropenises, but is also the author of eleven blog posts, and someone with whom I once played Mike Read's Pop Quiz, is getting married in the summer. I haven't seen him for six years, so I asked Marie to pass on my congratulations. She said "You can do it yourself. He still reads your blog."

So congratulations, James. Where's our invitation?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I think this is possibly the best photo Lisa's ever taken of me...

TherasnoreShe's found a way to distract onlookers from my permanently pink eyes by making me look like a serial killer. It just goes to show that you don't have to go out on a Saturday night to have fun as a couple.

But before anyone thinks I've taken up cage-fighting at the weekend, I should point out that the small, comfortable device which is being worn discreetly in my mouth, and is almost invisible to the naked eye (assuming you're Stevie Wonder), isn't a boxer's gum shield, it's a self-fitting anti-snoring appliance. It works by stopping you getting any sleep.

As it happens, I'm not the one with the problem. I'm the one with fifty quid to waste on a hulking piece of plastic that not even Carly Simon could fit in her mouth. I don't know if it's down to pregnancy, teeth-related accidents, or just an urge to annoy me, but Lisa's been working on her night-time impression of a motorbike for some time now. My main worry is that she's going to develop serious spinal bruising from me poking her in the back twenty times a night, but I'm also concerned about my own sanity, and the possibility of me violently smothering her with a pillow at 3am, just so I can get some sleep. Which is something I'd probably live to regret.

So I bought her a Therasnore for Christmas. It's "a soft, small appliance that is so simple and easy to fit" and prevents the lower teeth and jaw from falling back during sleep, thereby stopping you snoring. The makers say it's "probably the most comfortable solution for Loud Snoring and mild to moderate Sleep Apnoea available today". Which makes you wonder what the others are like.

Anyhoo, I'm not saying it isn't "simple and easy to fit", but it's taken us two months to understand the instructions and set aside an evening to do it. Every time we get it out of the box, I take one look at the manual and decide it's easier to sleep in the other room. But last night, we finally got around to it.

Apparently the fitting "takes just a few minutes", so I think our clock must be wrong, and involves a saucepan of boiling water, a bathroom mirror, and a very real chance of Lisa gagging uncontrollably and bringing up her dinner. By the time we'd finished, everything became clear, and it was obvious how the thing works. It basically stops you breathing in any meaningful way, and prevents you ever sleeping again. Except possibly with the angels. You might as well stuff your mouth with a pair of socks, and then point your spouse in the direction of your will. The Therasnore website states that "after just a few nights of wearing it you will hardly notice it at all". Mainly because you'll be dead.

Anyway, I'm sure the makers of Therasnore have many satisfied customers, and the device has saved thousands of marriages, but frankly it's not for us. Lisa eventually stopped heaving long enough to tell me that she felt like a pig with an apple in her mouth. Although obviously she couldn't say that until she'd taken it out.

Fortunately, Therasnore comes with a 30 day money-back guarantee to cover the unlikely eventuality that you have a human-sized mouth and can't get it in there without dislocating your jaw. Sadly I bought it two months ago. But as Lisa said to me last night, as she reached for the camera and insisted I try it myself, "you'll get a blog post out of this".

Friday, February 17, 2012

If there's one thing I've always said, it's that birds can't wait to see me naked. Especially the ones with big breasts.

I'd just stepped out of the shower this morning, and was standing starkers in front of the living room mirror, admiring my muscles in that way you do when your pregnant wife's still asleep, and your daughter's busy singing about potatoes in the bedroom, when I heard a tap-tap-tap at the balcony window.

I turned around to find a pigeon staring at my privates...

Papped by a pigeon.
It even had its head cocked to one side in a thoughtful manner, as if it didn't know what to make of it all. I've never felt so intimidated. It was like being eyed up and down by Katie Price. I had to grab a towel immediately. And not just to clean those windows. That might look like a mere bird at first glance, but I've heard of the pigeon paparazzi. One wrong move and I could have been all over the tabloids.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

As a headline writer, I'd probably be more suited to a job with The Daily Star than The Daily Telegraph, but even with my limited vocabulary and penchant for puns, I think I could come up with a better headline than this...

Apple iPad China sales and shipments threat in name row. No, really.
Apple iPad China sales and shipments threat in name row. That's been on the BBC News website for more than twenty-four hours now, and I still can't make sense of it. As a headline, it definitely lacks a certain something. Possibly a verb.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Valentine's Day! Sadly, I haven't been chatted up by any patients, but I have looked Lisa in the eye and told her I love her. She was asleep at the time, so I don't think she noticed. But fortunately she was woken up a few minutes later, when Amelie discovered the cuddly romantic bear I'd hidden in the living room, and ran into the bedroom to show Mummy.

As it happens, stolen goods aren't the only thing Amelie can handle. She can also cope with any challenge life throws at her. A couple of months ago, Lisa bought her this book...

I Can Handle It! By Susan Jeffers & Donna Gradstein
It's basically 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway' for children. You might think that three is a bit young to start on the self-help books (I certainly did), but despite the fact that it's aimed at slightly older children, and the only pictures it contains are of stick men, the 'I Can Handle It' book by Susan Jeffers has become Amelie's favourite bedtime read.

Every night, Lisa reads her a one-page scenario from the book, featuring a child who's facing some kind of dilemma, problem or difficult situation, after which Amelie shouts "Let's see how they handle it!", and they move on to the solution.

Up to now it's been difficult to gauge whether Amelie is learning genuine life skills and coping mechanisms, or simply enjoying the stories, but finally, after two months of self-help heaven, she's proved to us that she can successfully analyse a situation, recognise the problem, and apply the lessons she's learnt from the book.

She was on the living room floor last night, building a tower out of Megablocks, when Lisa came in and told her it was time to get ready for bed. Amelie ignored her and carried on building, so Lisa told her again. This time she replied, informing her mother that she was busy building a tower, and needed to finish it first. Lisa responded by saying no, she wanted her to come to the bedroom immediately and start getting ready for bed.

At that point Amelie stopped what she was doing and put down the Megablocks, before turning to Lisa and speaking with the clear, assertive voice of a confident child:

"Mummy, remember the 'I Can Handle It' book. You need to be patient and find something else to do while you're waiting."

She then went back to her tower.

I don't care if Amelie learns nothing else from that book. The look on Lisa's face was worth the purchase price alone.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three years ago, when Chloe was at the height of her international fame, I received a Facebook friend request from a bloke in China, who'd seen my cat's news coverage in the Far East, and felt that I was just the kind of animal-loving Westerner he'd like to get to know online. Little did he realise, of course, that befriending me on Facebook is a bit like trying to get up close and personal with a yeti. My appearances there are so rare and fleeting that you'd have more chance of spotting the Loch Ness Monster. I'm basically the Santa Claus of social networking. Well known but non-existent.

So for the past three years, he and I have been maintaining the kind of friendship which does nothing for either of us. I rarely post anything at all, while most of what he says is in Chinese, and completely meaningless to me. But the other day he shared a drawing done by a friend of his called Martin Lau, who appears to be some kind of political cartoonist. And here it is...

(c) Martin Lau
According to the automatic translation feature on Facebook, that picture's entitled 'Two Species Beggar', which I think says more about computer generated translation than it does about the drawing.

Sadly, my knowledge of Chinese politics is matched only by my understanding of their language, so I couldn't tell you who the figures are or what they're saying, but I do feel confident that you could be locked up and tortured for mocking them. Part of the description translates as "But the pirates listen to the drawings", which presumably means that actions speak louder than words when you're protesting against corrupt officials.

But that's not what intrigued me about the picture. What I found really interesting is that the bespectacled chap on the left pauses in the middle of his Chinese speech and starts stumbling along in English. Is that a known phenomenon in China? When they're lost for words, do they start speaking in another language? Or is there just no word for 'Er' in Mandarin?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When it comes to creating memorable family portraits, composition is everything. Personally I like to place my subjects in the middle of a public car park, in front of a no entry sign, facing a sun so blinding that they can't keep their eyes open, before standing in such a way that my body forms a shadow puppet of Cyril Smith...

One for the album.
It's a technique which works for me. That's another one for the album.

Anyhoo, that was the three of us yesterday afternoon in Portslade, where we'd taken Amelie for another haircut. I took that photo afterwards, which makes you realise just how much hair she had beforehand. Her fringe was so long, you couldn't see her scowling eyes.

By that point in the day, I'd already hoovered the flat, put the rubbish out, done two lots of washing, one lot of washing up, and picked up all of Amelie's craft materials from the floor under the living room table. So I was particularly pleased to get out of the flat and onto the open road. Only to find that the open road had been closed, and there was a major diversion through Hove.

We arrived at the hairdressers ten minutes late for Amelie's appointment, which for us is virtually on time, and I settled back in the comfy chairs to watch my daughter transformed from a shaggy dog to a pampered pooch. I have to say, Amelie's very good when it comes to having her hair cut. She might never sit still at home (unless she's playing Supercow), but she's always the model child at the beauty salon. It's the only time she does what she's told. If I could afford it, I'd send her there instead of nursery.

Anyhoo, we had a relaxing fifteen minutes while Amelie had her hair done, and the stylist told us about her boyfriend and his mates paying a thousand pounds for a table at the Sugar Hut in Brentwood. Apparently he's a big fan of The Only Way is Essex, so it's money well spent. Although personally I'd prefer a table at Pizza Hut.

From there we got the bus to the Holmbush shopping centre in Shoreham...

The last time we were there, Amelie had a ride on Igglepiggle's boat and a slide down an inflatable. This time she demanded a bus tour and a turn on Bob the Builder's digger. Plus ten minutes on the slide. And a Happy Meal.

Personally I let her get on with it. I've just started another health kick (or short-lived toe-poke), so I avoided the temptations of McDonalds by heading next door to Tescos to begin the weekly shop. Fortunately the rest of the family soon joined me, and before I knew it, I was being ably assisted... all the way back to the toy department, where Amelie told me what she wanted for her birthday (it's less than eight months away), before demanding that I buy her some plasticine. I told her she could have it, as long as she didn't ask for anything else. She agreed. And then asked for some doughnuts.

By the time we got home, I'd been up for twelve hours, most of them working, and still had the shopping to put away. Which explains why I was a touch on the tired side. Fortunately today's been a lot more relaxing. Lisa took our youngest to church this morning, so I've spent some quality time with Amelie, playing Supercow and tackling a crisis in the bathroom. She had a slight accident when she went to the toilet, ended up with poo on the floor, and didn't notice until she'd stepped in it, and trodden it all over the bathroom.

It was upsetting for two reasons. Firstly because I had to scrub her feet clean, throw away the bathroom mat, and spray Cilit Bang all over the floor. And secondly, because I kept thinking that if she'd done it just two days earlier, we could have got a council refit.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Back on October 4th, 2008, I wrote that "as Amelie was born, the most gorgeous red sunrise was breaking over Roedean School on the horizon". Well, three and a half years later, I can finally illustrate that with a photo...

Crack of Dawn
Don't worry, we weren't on the 13th floor of the hospital at dawn today. That was actually taken from our balcony. On the 2nd floor. Which explains why the school's partly hidden by the houses.

Unfortunately, having risen with the sun, and then spent the day with my daughter, I've got the mother of all headaches and I feel Dad tired. I mean dead tired. So I'm putting down my keyboard and heading straight for the sofa...

Friday, February 10, 2012

I received this text message from Big Sis yesterday:

"I've been offered a part as a policewoman in a feature film on Saturday for 70 quid. Trying to decide..."

Naturally I responded with just two words: "DO IT!", but sadly she was forced to turn down the offer due to heavy snow and an even heavier workload. It's a shame because apparently "it sounded quite good - about riots etc", and is being made in Ealing. So presumably the word 'riot' refers to uproarious comedy, not violent looting. I expect they saw her care home video, and realised she had a talent for slapstick.

Incidentally, if you're reading this, Sis, you still haven't sent me a copy of that second training film you made. I want the one of you being punched in the face. E-mail it to me now. Thanks.

Anyhoo, snow might have scuppered my sister's chances of appearing at next year's Oscars, but it didn't stop me getting to work today. This was the view from the fourth floor of Crawley Hospital at 8:30 this morning...

It's not so much a winter wonderland as a view of some portacabins and a car park, but there was quite a lot of snow.

It didn't, however, prevent Brighton council workers getting out and about to visit their tenants today. It was in the news last week that the council is planning to spend £74.6m to tackle the local housing crisis, and I can exclusively reveal that work has already begun. They've taken a look at our bathroom.

We had an appointment this morning for a representative of the council to assess our bathroom for a possible refit. I'm not sure how old the current bathroom suite is, but our toilet cistern's six foot off the ground, which I don't think is the modern way of doing things. Lisa's been keen to have it modernised for as long as she's lived here, so she was particularly excited about the prospect of a council upgrade - so much so, that she spent yesterday afternoon cleaning and tidying the bathroom in preparation for the visit.

By the time the woman from the council turned up this morning, the bathroom was spotless. As a result, she took one look at it and told Lisa that "it's been very well looked after", and as such, we're not entitled to a refit for another five years.

You have to laugh.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

To be honest, I'm not sure my lie-in this morning made much difference. I was tempted to phone in sick today, but I wasn't sure 'feeling a bit knackered' was a valid excuse. I do feel strangely tired though, and I've got an early start tomorrow morning, so I'm heading off to bed shortly.

But in the meantime, here's a video I shot this evening of Amelie playing Supercow...

Obviously I wasn't much help when it came to answering her questions, but firstly I was tired, and secondly I was busy praying that she wouldn't turn around, as she'd already told me not to film her in case it put her off.

I thought her comment on the discovery of the secret area ("That's a good place to be") was quite impressive, but her description of Chloe is a bit out of date. She might have been "a going to sleep cat" a fortnight ago, but contrary to the vet's prediction, she's currently still going strong.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Amelie looked at me just before she went to bed tonight and said "Daddy, your eyes are red."

She's not wrong. I couldn't be more tired if I'd just sailed naked across the Atlantic in a pedalo. Suffice it to say, it's been a busy week so far, but the good news is that I've worked so much extra time, I can go in late tomorrow morning. If I manage to get up at all.

But in addition to diagnosing sleep deprivation in the eyes of her father, Amelie's also displayed a keen insight into her own character this evening. I picked her up from nursery in the car after work, and as we were driving home, she said to me "This car used to belong to Grandma and Grandad". Which is true, but something I didn't realise she was aware of. I actually bought it from my parents three years ago, when Amelie was less than four months old, so I don't really expect her to remember.

So having been impressed with her intimate knowledge of my vehicle, I asked her "How do you know that?"

She replied "I'm very special, that's how."

I'm not saying I disagree, but I bet my Mum told her.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

When Lisa became a good Catholic girl last November, the first aspect of Christian doctrine that she wanted to check with the priest was whether it's ok to lie to your children. I think she was worried she'd never be out of confession. But fortunately, having discussed it at length (the length being about two seconds), our heavenly Father confirmed that sure, what the heck, absolutely, it's fine. In fact it should be positively encouraged. Apparently you start with Noah's Ark, and by the time you get to Jonah and the Whale, they'll believe anything you say. I'm paraphrasing him there.

Anyhoo, it's a well known fact that I'm more honest than the average priest, but on occasion, even someone with my own level of personal virtue will fall victim to a small white lie. I'm not proud of this, but I've successfully convinced Amelie that Chloe can use a computer.

I was on the sofa after work last night, playing Kitten Sanctuary on the laptop with Amelie, when Lisa came in and said it was time for her to get ready for bed. We were near the end of a particularly tricky level, the aim of which was to rescue a poor kitten called Coffee from the clutches of the evil aliens, and we'd vowed not to stop until Coffee was full of beans, and safely back on the ground. But sometimes it's more important to put your pyjamas on. So despite Coffee's precarious state, Amelie trotted off into her bedroom to get changed.

Thirty seconds after she left, I successfully completed the level, and put the laptop down on the sofa. At which point Chloe wandered into the living room, jumped up next to me, and sat down in front of the laptop.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what came over me, but the actions of my cat triggered some kind of mischievous urge, and I casually got up, walked into Amelie's bedroom, and told her that Chloe was playing Kitten Sanctuary. I was expecting her to come and look, laugh, and then think nothing more of it. That wasn't quite what happened.

Suffice it to say that Chloe's ability to play Kitten Sanctuary is the biggest news to hit this family since the arrival of the Potty Fairy. Amelie took one look at the laptop, saw that the level had been completed, and immediately hailed Chloe as some kind of computer genius.

Admittedly, I may have fuelled that opinion slightly by telling her that Chloe knows a lot about rescuing kittens because she came from a cat shelter, but even taking that into consideration, Amelie's reaction has been astounding. Frankly she's talked about nothing else since. She's spent today telling anyone who'll listen, about Chloe's amazing ability to use a computer mouse, complete difficult levels, and rescue kittens like Coffee. Her first words to me when she woke up this morning were "Daddy, is Chloe still playing the kitten game?", after which she ran straight into the living room, expecting to see her pet with a paw on the mousepad. She's convinced we own the world's only I.T. cat.

To be honest, it's a shame we don't. Showers are all very well, but if I could film her programming a computer, we could really make our fortune.

Monday, February 06, 2012

As it transpired, we couldn't get Amelie home yesterday. Well, not by car. Huskies might have been an option, but after paying Chloe's vet bill a week ago, I was reluctant to take on any more animals.

I did make an exploratory trip out yesterday morning by agreeing to give Lisa a lift to church, but having made it out of our cul-de-sac and along the ridge at the top, I watched a van edging gingerly down the steep hill, and decided I didn't fancy it. So I turned around, and dropped Lisa at the bus stop. She arrived home ten minutes later, after discovering that the buses didn't fancy it either.

The good news is that my main reason for picking up Amelie yesterday morning was that my parents needed to go out in the afternoon. And that became irrelevant the moment they got snowed in. So we left the babysitters to plough on regardless until their road became clear enough to get our daughter out of St Leonards.

Fortunately she was able to help clear the way this morning by carefully removing large amounts of snow from the street outside their bungalow, and then throwing it at my Dad...

Snow Road
By lunchtime the road was passable, so Amelie returned home to us this afternoon, wondering why she couldn't bring her snowman with her.

Our extra child-free day meant that I was able to spend Sunday transforming Amelie's bedroom by cleaning the latest mould off the wall and putting up a shelf...

Map Room
I've added a map of the world, so that she can gaze in wonder at all the places we're never going to take her. The shelf is in no way horizontal, but the good news is that it tilts to the left, so that things won't roll off onto her head while she's asleep.

Interestingly, Lisa came to the door while I was putting up the shelf, and asked me what I was doing, completely failing to notice the five-foot-wide map on the wall. She's always struggled with the bleeding obvious. Frankly Stevie Wonder's more observant. Fortunately, when I pointed it out to her, she showed an immediate interest, had a closer look, considered it for a moment... and then asked me whereabouts we are.

Apparently secondary school geography in 1983 was all about farming. She can't find Britain on a map, but she can talk about arable crops until the cows come home.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

It's my pregnant wife on Valentine's Day!

Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Somewhere over The Rainbow, way up high, there was a snow cloud heading for Sussex, but fortunately it hadn't arrived when we got there yesterday. It certainly put in an appearance overnight though. This was Amelie in St Leonards this morning...

Snow Angel
So I'm not sure how I'm going to get her home today. But I'll cross that ice bridge when I come to it.

As for yesterday's romantic lunch at The Rainbow Inn, it was very nice indeed. The place has only been open for six weeks, and when Lisa phoned them in mid-January, she was half expecting them to say they're booked up until April, but as it turned out, we needn't have worried. We were the only ones there for the first half hour. Well, I say we were the only ones there. We were the only diners. Before being transformed into a fancy restaurant by Marco Pierre White, The Rainbow Inn was a village pub, and bizarrely, a few of the locals still insist on drinking there, despite the fact that the bar is only about three feet long, situated in a posh dining room, and staffed by a man in a suit.

So we had the slightly surreal experience of being doted on by smartly dressed staff who took our coats, pulled out our chairs and laid napkins on our knees, while a couple of blokes in jeans drank beer in the corner. But other than that, the surroundings were very nice. And the food even nicer.

They do a set lunch menu with two courses for £16.50 and three courses for £19.50, which on the surface is excellent value. Unfortunately they then add a 'cover charge' of £2 per person, tell you that service is not included, and make you pay through the nose for drinks. A glass of Coke is three quid, so I was tempted to ask for tap water, but in the end I ordered an orange juice & lemonade, which came in a half pint glass, and would cost less than two pounds in a pub. Here's our final bill...

The Rainbow Inn, Cooksbridge£5.60 for a small soft drink. I was going to complain, but I was worried they might notice that they hadn't charged us for pudding. We actually had three courses, not two. So I see that as a bit of karma. It's where we get the phrase 'just desserts'. I'm an honest chap, but if you've just charged me more than five quid for a small glass of squash, I ain't saying a word. It's just a shame they remembered the four pound cover charge.

Anyhoo, liquor and merchandise aside, the experience was all good. Angelo was an angel, and the food was to die for. I started with some Kipper Pâté with Whisky, as created by Michel Bourdin, head chef of The Connaught in London for 26 years, and followed that up with the finest Shepherd's Pie I've ever eaten. Apart from my Mum's, obviously. It made me want to go out and buy a Knorr Stock Pot immediately. For dessert, I had Mr White's Rice Pudding with Prunes d'Agen à l'Armagnac, which quite honestly was exquisite. Forget Ambrosia, this was the food of the gods.

As for Lisa, she chose the Baked Saint-Marcellin Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes followed by Cumberland Sausages in a Red Wine Sauce with Creamy Mash, which was actually even better than my Shepherd's Pie. I know, because I stole some. The Triple-Cooked Chips (which seems a bit excessive) were great too. Her only disappointment was the dessert, which was a Bread & Butter Pudding so small in size and light in texture that it was like eating a fun-size blancmange. The taste was fine, but it wasn't the warming stodgy pudding she was expecting. So it's just as well it was free.

As it happens, I think we were their easiest customers of the day. After half an hour, we were joined by an elderly couple who sat down at a table, ordered some drinks, and then promptly sent back the first one for not tasting right. I thought they were a little awkward, until another couple arrived and asked if they could have risotto for their main course. Despite the fact that it didn't appear anywhere on the menu.

But despite being the most working class people there (even the waitress told us that she lives in Surrey), we blended in seamlessly with the cream of society, poured it liberally over our stolen desserts, and left there as satisfied customers. I'd rather lap water from the sinks in the toilet than pay £5.60 for a soft drink, but we'll definitely go back for the food.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

It's Valentine's Day!

Well, it is if you've got a three-year-old child and can't get a babysitter for the real thing. Amelie's spending some quality time with her grandparents today so that Lisa and I can celebrate our love by stuffing ourselves with expensive food that we can't really afford. And I don't mean Chloe's renal diet.

We've actually booked a table at The Rainbow Inn in Cooksbridge, a pub near Lewes which was reopened as a restaurant in December, by none other than Marco Pierre White. It hasn't been well-publicised yet, so we're hoping to get in quick before Michael Winner turns up.

On the downside, we've booked a table for lunch, which is a shame, as if we'd got ourselves in there tonight, we might have been snowed in, and forced to survive on Michelin-starred food for three days until the snow ploughs arrived. But still, it should be good. I'm not sure if they serve Marco Pierre White's world-famous signature dishes, or just his Bernard Matthews turkey range, but either way I can't wait.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Lisa's taken to her bed this evening with a mild case of pregnancy-related sickness and toddler-related exhaustion, so I've been on my own for the past two hours. It means I've had a chance to get on with some productive tasks without any distractions. Unfortunately it's a chance I've failed to take. There's a mountain of washing-up, the bins needs emptying, and I was planning to go shopping at Asda. But after a busy week myself, I've ended up slumped in front of YouTube watching car crashes, plane crashes and lion attacks. I also saw a woman killed by an elephant, but I didn't enjoy that one. I've been put off pedestrian walkways too.

So after ninety minutes of mindless vegetation (and I don't mean Mr Bloom's Nursery), I've decided to stop the rot by writing a blog post. And what's more, it's about literature. Kind of.

It's a well known fact that I haven't used my eyes to read a novel since Justin Bieber was born, but I do like to devour the odd audiobook on my way to and from clinics. My choice is limited to whatever I can get for a quid in charity shops, but a few weeks ago I bought this on cassette...

Digital FortressIt's 'Digital Fortress', the first novel by Dan 'Da Vinci Code' Brown. Despite sales of over a hundred million, I've never read any of Dan Brown's books (or seen the resulting films), so I didn't know what to expect, but having listened to three quarters of this one, suffice it to say, I'm not disappointed. It's so bad, it's brilliant.

What I particularly love is that Dan Brown writes like I did when I was fourteen. He has conversations going on between some of the world's leading cryptographers, in which they explain to each other what they're doing in language so basic, a three-year-old could get it. I've tested that fact, and it's true. It's a bit like having a conversation between ophthalmologists in which they explain to each other what the retina is. For no apparent reason. Using words of one syllable.

As a piece of writing, it's constantly entertaining, partly because of the ridiculousness of it all, but mainly because it sounds like the kind of adventure made up by a teenage boy and his mates, and then written down at play time. This article on the Daily Telegraph site quotes Geoffrey Pullum, an Edinburgh professor of linguistics, as saying "Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad", which is harsh, but probably true.

I haven't finished the book yet (so don't tell me how it ends), but having thoroughly enjoyed the brilliance of its ineptitude so far, it reached an all-time high today, with possibly my favourite line from any supposedly serious novel. Part of the story is set in Seville, where one of the characters attempts to kill another by shooting him in the lung whilst at church. No, really. I was driving home from Lewes Hospital this afternoon, listening to this little episode, when the deadly earnest narration provided me with this genuine laugh-out-loud moment:

"A punctured lung was fatal, maybe not in more medically advanced parts of the world, but in Spain, it was fatal."

Apparently in Madrid, most women die in childbirth, and no one lives beyond the age of forty. You'd be lucky to make it out of Barcelona alive.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

As a tireless charity worker and hospice shop veteran, I'm no stranger to claiming the personal effects of the dead. And then wearing them to work. Some of my nicest shirts have come from the widows of deceased war veterans. I expect. To be honest, if it fits me and it's less than a fiver, I'm not really bothered where it came from. The bloke could have been wearing the thing when he died, for all I care. As long as the blood stains have come out, I'm happy.

But the good news is that as of yesterday, I've moved on from charity shops, and have branched out into a whole new world of recycling. I'm now robbing the graves of pet cats.

I was talking to a colleague on Tuesday about the state of Chloe's kidneys, and she (the colleague, not Chloe) told me that her cat died last year at a ripe old age, having suffered from the same condition. After comparing notes (and vet's bills), it transpired that my colleague's cat was on the same expensive food, and the same expensive tablets. And what's more, she still had some left. Apparently the vet refused to buy them back on the grounds that he'd already spent the money on a new sports car and a two-week Caribbean cruise. It's possible I've made that bit up, but I expect it's accurate.

Anyhoo, if it was me, I'd have buried the tablets with the cat in an Egyptian-style funeral, just in case he needed them in the afterlife, but my colleague's a lot more reckless than I am, so she opted to keep them on the kitchen shelf instead. And what's more, she said I could have them.

So I gave her a lift home after work last night (it was the least I could do) (no, really, it was) and having parked in a bus stop outside her house for five minutes, she kindly brought me out 70 Fortekor tablets, 14 pouches of renal food, and some premium branded cat litter. I get Chloe's from Lidl, so it's like having Andrex for the first time.

The vet gave me seven Fortekor tablets last week and charged me £8.95, plus £8.78 for 12 pouches of food, so it doesn't take a mathematical genius to work out the value of that haul. Although for Lisa's sake, it's about a hundred quid.

Obviously I'm very grateful, so I asked my colleague if I could give her anything in return. She said that if I really want to say thank you, I could do the rest of her City & Guilds in Retinal Screening. I told her she'd have to drag my family out of a burning building for that kind of reward. I'm grateful, but I'm not that grateful.