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Friday, March 30, 2012

I discovered a website today called I was expecting it to feature photos of ice cream and sausages, but it turned out to be even more literal than that. It's basically porn for people who like watching paint dry.

So imagine my delight to discover that I'm on it.

Or at least a photo of mine is. I haven't been so excited since Chloe committed an internet hate crime. But at least she spread vitriol with my written consent. This time I have no idea how the pic got there. So come on, 'fess up - which one of you submitted the photo?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Was Brave TodayAmelie's found her sticker! Apparently Chloe was sitting on it. Which might explain all the fluff stuck to the other side. Frankly, even I haven't got such a hairy back. But either way, it was in Am's bedroom all along, hidden amongst Chloe's furry nethers, from where Amelie bravely retrieved it this morning. I scanned it for posterity, gave it back to her, and she stuck it on her top. Whereupon it fell off, and she lost it again.

But on the subject of NHS acts of bravery, I passed a Unite demonstration outside the hospital yesterday lunchtime. They handed me a leaflet entitled 'Support NHS Workers Defending NHS Pensions', so I smiled and said that I would. Their slogan was 'Pay More, Get Less, Work Longer', which describes my life with Amelie, so I have a lot of sympathy for their cause.

As it transpired, however, I need a lot more than a street corner demonstration to defend my pension. I need a bomb-proof safe and an armed security guard with a rabid dog. I returned to work after lunch to find a letter waiting for me from the Salary & Wages Department. Apparently they've done "an audit of the pension bands" (which involves listening to The Rolling Stones and Bowie), which has revealed an almighty cock-up on their part. It seems that since June of last year, they've had me on the wrong pension band, which has resulted in me underpaying them by almost two hundred quid.

Naturally, as the mistake was entirely theirs, and I'm in no way to blame for the error, they're demanding every penny back. So for the next nine months, I have to repay £21.18 a month. Plus the £21.18 I should have been paying since June. Meaning that I'll be forty-two quid worse off than I thought I was. It's a case of pay more, get less and work longer. I feel like picking up a placard immediately.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I met Finn today. Amelie introduced me to him when I dropped her off at nursery, so I looked him in the eye and asked him about his prospects and any future plans for my daughter. He responded by showing me a paper aeroplane. So I took that to mean a jet-setting lifestyle by the first anniversary. Although judging by the way it flew, things might come crashing down around them.

Amelie didn't go to nursery yesterday, as she had an appointment with the nurse at our local doctor's surgery. The nurse distracted her with a toy woodpecker, and pumped one arm with the MMR vaccine, and the other with a 4-in-1 pre-school booster. According to the official NHS schedule, that completes her early childhood vaccinations, meaning she's immune to all known diseases until she's 13 and gets the HPV jab. Which stops her getting cancer from truckers.

Apparently she didn't even flinch when the needle went in (no sense, no feeling) so the nurse gave her an NHS bravery sticker. Frankly I deserve one of those every day of the working week, but we don't have that kind of budget in our department. As a victim of child poverty, Amelie was naturally delighted with her sticker, which made it all the more heart-breaking when she lost it on the way home. Lisa had to buy her a new game for the iPad as compensation. Which is something I don't have the budget for.

All of those shenanigans meant that today was Amelie's first visit to nursery for six days. And a lot's changed in that time. Most notably the weather. When she started back in January, we were informed that every child must be supplied with a warm hat and gloves in winter, and a sun-hat and sun-cream in summer. As a result, Amelie's been walking to nursery every day with her Peppa Pig bag filled with appropriate clothing. Appropriate, that is, until today.

When I collected her at 5pm this afternoon, they were all out in the garden. Amelie was wearing a tatty old hat I'd never seen before, so I asked her where she'd got it. At which point a member of staff came over and took me to one side for a quiet, but stern, word. I was told she'd had to borrow a hat, as she was the only one without. Naturally I felt a bit guilty, and was just trying to work out how I could blame it on Lisa, when Amelie trotted up and said "Daddy! I was the only one without sun-cream too!"

Apparently they'd checked her bag for sun-block, and found a woolly hat and mittens. But as Lisa put it, when I finally escaped my detention and made it back home, "If they'd had snow this afternoon, she'd have been the only one prepared".

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

After a weekend away at her grandparents', it's always nice to have Amelie home. For about five minutes. To be honest, when the girl's got Shimmy in a headlock before she even has her coat off, you do feel like shoving her straight back out the door. But obviously we've missed her. In the same way an amputee misses his painful, infected leg. Being without Amelie is like losing a limb. Although it's tempting to learn how to hop.

Anyhoo, Am's been back since yesterday. Which explains why I'm so tired today. She woke up crying at 3am last night, so as the more compassionate (and less pregnant) of her parents, I went in and asked her what was wrong. She told me she'd had a bad dream in which "a monster as big as the sky" had gone chasing after her and "tried to snip my toenails". I told her that's not a dream, it's Mummy after bathtime.

She settled down after that, but insisted I chat to her for half an hour about nursery. It seems she had something on her mind. Apparently Finn has told her that he likes her. That's the same Finn she wants to spend the night with. And having sat up until 4am, he's welcome to her. I'm not dealing with boy talk for another ten years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's four weeks today since we first met Shimmy. And Amelie's got the battle scars to prove it. Our Savlon bill's gone through the roof, and the Cat Rules are running to a second page. But a lot's changed in the past month. Not only has Shimmy grown on us, but her stomach's grown on her. We're praying it's down to good living and a healthy appetite, but there's a chance she could be stuffed full of kittens.

So to be on the safe side, I looked up the gestation period of a cat today. It appears that whilst Lisa might take months to pick up a rubbish heartbeat, Shimmy can drop a litter in nine weeks. It's hard to conceive that she was pregnant when we found her, but if she was, she's in the same trimester as Lisa. Which explains why they're both eating so much.

Amelie's guerilla affection techniques might have proved a little traumatising since she moved in, but Shimmy's remained surprisingly friendly throughout. I like to believe that her attachment to me in particular is down to the unbreakable bond that's been forged over the past month by the constant care I've provided, and my unfailing dedication to the feline cause. But as it transpires, she'll cuddle up to anyone...

She met another man for the first time yesterday, and she was all over him like a rash. She's not so much a pussy as a hussy.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I had a bit of fan mail last night from a 13-year-old Albuquerquean, which was both charming and delightful. I'm planning to respond, but I'm still working out the best way of e-mailing a teenage girl without being accused of grooming.

In the meantime, the big news from around here is that Lisa and I have finally agreed on a name for our baby. With Amelie in St Leonards for a couple of days, the two of us were able to get a word in edgeways for a change and discuss the issue at length, with the result that Lisa finally came around to my way of thinking, and agreed on a name I suggested nine days ago. She claims it's been growing on her since last weekend, but in reality I think she's just accepted that I'm right.

I can't yet reveal the name for legal reasons, but even in combination with Gardner, it's not entirely unique. According to Facebook, there's another one living in Hertfordshire. He lists his interests as "sport, footy, nightclubs, gambling and poker", so if ours is the same, I'll have nothing to say to the boy. Unless the gambling refers to horses. Or failed lottery tickets.

But on the subject of horse racing, word has reached us from the easternmost parts of Sussex that our first-born is onto a good thing and riding her way to victory in the 2:30 at Hastings. We received this covert video footage via e-mail yesterday...

Obviously I'd have been happier if she'd rocked a little further and earned me £250 from You've Been Framed, but even so, she's come a long way in two years.

I put a lot of money on that horse back in January 2010, when I bought it for £4 from a charity shop in Haywards Heath. But the investment's paid dividends. She'll be sticking her brother on it in six months time and giving him a push.

Mind you, it's just as well I paid the price that I did. If the horse had been £3 cheaper, I could have ruined that town for good.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I could be wrong, but I always thought the point of a cat's whiskers was to stop it putting its head into narrow gaps..?

Shimmy Through the Looking Glass
As you can see, we always keep a tube of Savlon at the side of the bed, to deal with Am's cat-related injuries. She asked me yesterday to add 'No Pulling Their Whiskers' to the list of Cat Rules. I said I would. To which she responded, "I'll still do it though".

It's no wonder we've packed her off to her grandparents for the weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Just in case anyone wants a closer look at Am's new shoes...

Feet First
She's following Clarks' advice, and teaming them with "fashionable dance-inspired skirts, leggings and tees for a pretty, urban look". They're also perfect for crossing tightropes...

Walk the Line
Mind you, she's constantly walking a fine line, no matter what shoes she's wearing.

The flowery dress and yellow cardigan are part of Am's new Spring/Summer collection. She'll be three-and-a-half the week after next, so naturally the clothes are age 5-6. We tried 4-5, but it was like getting a giraffe into a horse box. She hasn't worn 3-4 since she started walking. Apparently there was a smaller girl she played with at the park today. She turned out to be six.

Fortunately I've checked Wikipedia, and women can play basketball professionally in this country. So I'm going to save money on school books and stick a hoop on the door.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Someone suggested to me today that this photo on the BBC website is of me. Which is an outrageous slur. I've got a lot more hair than that. Mostly across my eyebrows, but even so.

Mind you, it's no surprise that I'm tearing my hair out. I was owed a bit of time at work this week, so I decided to have a much needed lie-in this morning and go in late. Which was Amelie's cue to wake me up at six-thirty. This time, however, she wasn't crying about her door being closed. She was crying because she wanted me to take her photo. I knew it was a mistake to show her the one I took yesterday.

So there I was at 6:30am this morning, photographing my daughter in bed with her cuddly walrus, purely to stop her crying. And here's the result:

We've modelled her hair on Kevin Keegan, circa 1974.

Kevin KeeganThat's not the only attractive headgear she's sported in the past twenty-four hours though. When I picked her up from nursery yesterday, the children were outside in the garden, making the most of the sunshine. They were all playing quietly and sensibly on the slide and the climbing frame, with the exception of one rogue individual who was sprinting across the yard with a giant toy-basket on her head. That was Amelie. It was essentially this, but with two more years experience.

Having got her out of one basket, I then handed her another by taking her to Asda for a few essentials. We ended up buying flowers for Lisa, which is about as unessential as you can get. She told me back in 2003, before we'd ever met, that she doesn't like flowers. Which was handy as I had no intention of buying her any. Amelie, on the other hand, loves them, and likes nothing better than bending down at the side of a busy road to retrieve a dandelion from a pile of dog poo next to an old beer can.

So when she saw the array of flowers at Asda, she insisted on buying a bunch for Lisa. Naturally I did my best to steer her towards the £2 selection, whilst simultaneously telling her that Mummy doesn't like them, to which Amelie responded "Is that because she's scared there might be flies and bumblebees?". I made the mistake of saying yes. So she checked them for insects and chucked them in the trolley.

But on the subject of thoughtful children, I'd just like to say hello to the well-educated 13-year-olds of New Mexico. No, really. I had an e-mail last night from an English teacher at the Albuquerque Academy, an independent school in the US, asking if she can print out my Micro Fiction stories and give them to her 7th graders. Apparently there are seventy of them, so that's quite a lot of printing. It's no wonder they charge $35,000 a year. I bet most of that goes on toner.

So for the benefit of any students who have the misfortune to end up here on some kind of homework assignment, I'd just like to say hi, good luck, and no, I don't understand most of the stories either. But be sure to recycle them appropriately, and don't chuck them in the Rio Grande.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I was woken up at 5am this morning by Amelie, who was lying in bed, crying that she wanted the door left open. Bearing in mind that she's fully capable of opening it herself, I think that's proof of what I wrote yesterday about slavery. As we've established, I always do what she wants, so within five minutes I was getting up and opening it.

But as it happens, Amelie's open door policy opened the door to a photo opportunity. Two hours later, I stuck a zoom lens into her bedroom and snapped her with her cuddly toy...

Am & the Walrus
I wanted to eye Am & the Walrus. Goo goo g'joob. She looks like her little brother in the scan photos. Relaxed to the point of laziness.

But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether you have to live with her), she perked up shortly afterwards, and was soon heading into town with her mother to buy a new pair of shoes. Which explains where my credit card went to this morning. As Lisa wrote on Facebook, "Taking Amelie to Clarks to view the array of shoes they haven't got in her size".

After a bit of measuring, her size turned out to be 10H. Which is as close as you can get to an elephant without having a trunk. Lisa eventually settled on this pair for £32...

Dana Glam
The Clarks website describes them as "Girls' shoes in on-trend shade of washed denim, perfect for teaming with fashionable dance-inspired skirts, leggings and tees for a pretty, urban look". The sales assistant described them as "the only shoe in her size". We're thinking of trying some Chinese foot binding.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Crawley Observer published this story at 9:30am this morning about a seven mile queue on the A23, and delays of an hour and a half. It's a shame they didn't publish it two hours earlier. I could have phoned in sick and saved myself a bit of stress. But still, the good thing about being stuck in a traffic jam for an hour on the way to Crawley Hospital, is that you can pass the time by chatting to your colleague who's two miles behind you in the same jam. She was on her way to Horsham Hospital. Very slowly, and with no likelihood of arrival. We didn't chat for long though. The traffic suddenly reached a speed of 5mph, so I got a bit giddy and had to put the phone down.

But prior to putting the crawl back into Crawley by creeping up the A23, I'd had quite a nice morning. Not only did I witness Shimmy climbing up the living room curtains and swinging by two paws, six inches from the ceiling (I missed that photo by seconds), but I also gained a little insight into the kind of relationship I have with Amelie.

She'd asked me to download two new games for her on the iPad this morning, both of which happened to be free, so I duly obliged. I've already spent 69p on Little Acorns, so she's used up her iTunes allowance for this month, but she can generally have what she likes if it's free. Admittedly, the apps take up valuable space on the iPad, but that's not a problem as Amelie's learnt how to delete all my stuff without asking.

Anyhoo, ten minutes after getting her new games, she came back and asked for a third. I was in a hurry, as I wanted to leave for Crawley in good time, so that I could enjoy a relaxed and trouble-free journey, and get to the hospital extra-early to take in a leisurely cup of tea with the admin staff, so I quickly agreed to Amelie's request, whilst reminding her what a lucky girl she is.

She took the iPad back from me, smiled, and said "I know, Daddy. You do everything I want."

I wasn't quite sure if that was an appreciative compliment from a grateful daughter, or a sinister threat from the Godfather. So I just said "I do". Which got me into trouble once before.

Amelie then turned to Lisa, who was still in bed, sleeping off the effects of a large glass of Coke with a scoop of chocolate ice cream (it's a fine line between pregnancy and gluttony), adding "And Mummy's my friend".

So it's official: Lisa's her best mate, and I'm just her slave.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I had the misfortune of listening to Richard Madeley on Radio 2 while I was driving to Lewes this morning. He was asking people to e-mail the show on the topic of 'The Time I Met a Living Legend', so naturally I was expecting stories about Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Elvis. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. The first one he read out was from a woman who'd met Kriss Akabusi. On that basis, I should have texted him about Robin Cousins.

But on the subject of living legends, we had Lisa's Mum over for lunch yesterday. I thought she'd be cheaper than a chicken. I'd forgotten to post a Mother's Day card to my own Mum, so it seemed like the perfect way to claw back a bit of karma by treating the mother-in-law to a Sunday roast. Not that I did the cooking. I'd already worked the morning shift at Amelie's Breakfast Bar, so I knocked off at ten-thirty, and let Lisa peel the potatoes.

I did, however, make the gravy. Which was probably the worst part of the meal. Lisa had insisted that we try Colman's Instant Gravy Paste, which is basically gravy mix in a toothpaste tube. The instructions called for two heaped teaspoons, but I think my interpretation of 'heaped' differs slightly from the one used in Norwich. I basically squirted it out like a Mr Whippy ice cream. It meant that by the time I'd mixed my two spoonfuls with 250ml of water, it had the consistency of cement, and you could stand the spoon up without touching it. I ended up adding so much extra water, I could have served it in a bucket. And it didn't even taste very nice. By the time I'd finished, it had all the flavour of wallpaper paste, and the texture to match.

To be honest though, it's about time I started being rubbish at cooking. With a son on the way, I need to work on my image as a male role-model. Obviously I'm very much a man's man – I like my football, beer-drinking, pub fights and lap-dancing clubs... oh no, hang on, that's Danny Dyer, not me. To be honest, I'd rather watch 'Come Dine With Me' over a cup of redbush tea. I've got four months to man-up before Gaylord arrives.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't let the cat out of the bag...

Don't let the cat out of the bag.
... but Amelie and I are up early to prepare a surprise breakfast in bed for Lisa on Mother's Day.

It's a surprise which would have worked a lot better if Lisa hadn't already been up for an hour, dealing with a monster in Amelie's bedroom.

The imaginary kind, not Shimmy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Yes, I know she looks cute...

Spirit of Radio
... but when she sits on that power button at 6am and presses the volume button with her paw, it's not quite so endearing.

I was woken up at the crack of dawn yesterday by Radio 2 blasting out of the kitchen stereo at maximum volume. I thought we were being burgled by Vanessa Feltz. Admittedly, if you'd told me my cat would be appearing on the radio, I'd have been quite excited, but this wasn't what I had in mind.

On the plus side, it meant that I had yesterday's blog post written by 8am, which is probably a record. Although not one I want to repeat. To be honest, my entire life seems to revolve around cats and babies at the moment. And you can't have one without the other. The moment you start a bit of baby-talk with Amelie, you're quickly de-railed by the Shimmy express train...

Not even the thought of dressing her brother in pink trousers can keep her mind on the matter in hand. Still, at least she kept to Cat Rule #1: No Chasing.

In the meantime, Lisa and I are still arguing about baby names. We've been through about fifty, and we still can't agree. Amelie's rooting for 'Olivia', in a kind of post-modern unisex way, and if things continue like this, she's got every chance of success. Lisa's current favourite is a four-letter word. As is my response to it. At this rate, we'll be following the Tarzan example, and calling him 'Boy'.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Boy, oh boy, it's a boy!

Son & Heir
And a right troublemaker he is too. Not only has he got hold of some bubblegum in the womb, but he took two hours to show us his privates. Not even Lisa's that coy.

If you look in the top right of the photo above, you'll see that it was taken at 2:03pm. At 3:36pm we were still at it...

That's My Boy
That's my son and heir turning his head to stare directly into the camera. There's a definite look of Skeletor about that face. Which is ironic, as his Dad looks more like He-Man.

It's a well known fact that Lisa and I are at least ten minutes late for everything, so it's a measure of how desperate Lisa was to sex her child that we were booked in at the hospital and sitting in the waiting room at 1:42pm yesterday. We were so early, I felt giddy. They called us in ahead of time too, so my prediction of us knowing our baby's gender by 2pm was looking pretty accurate.

Unfortunately, that's where it all went wrong. At the 12-week scan in January, I mentioned that our baby was lounging around on its front like a beached penguin, and frankly he hasn't moved since. As the sonographer said to us two hours later, "He clearly likes this position". To which Lisa responded "He's just like his Dad".

There are various checks and measurements they have to perform, and at the first attempt they could only complete a few. Despite prodding Lisa aggressively in the stomach (which was something I told them I was happy to help with), they couldn't get the baby to move, so after twenty minutes of ultrasound, they told us to get out. And walk around for a while. We were instructed to do a few circuits of the hospital and come back in 15 or 20 minutes.

Clearly there was no need for me to leave the comfy chairs, but in an act of selfless moral support, I agreed to accompany Lisa around the hospital. Mainly because I knew she'd never find her way back. And was likely to fall over a sick person. So we both set off for a tour of Brighton's healthcare services. And ended up at Forfars, buying Eccles Cakes.

Twenty minutes later we were back, and Lisa was jumping around the waiting room like Big Daddy on a trampoline. I helped by chanting "Easy! Easy!" like a 1980s wrestling fan, which I'm not sure went down very well.

Sadly, it wasn't quite as easy as I thought. The second scan was no better. They managed to get a couple more measurements, but it was a sexless marriage between sonographer and baby, so they said they'd give us one more chance, and if the baby didn't move, they'd have to rebook us for another scan next week.

So off we went for another walk, this time heading around Brighton College, where I offered to punch Lisa in the stomach behind the bike sheds. To my surprise, she agreed. That woman was desperate to know the sex of her baby. In the end though, I felt it would look bad if our child went back with a broken arm. We're already sending Amelie to nursery covered in cat scratches, so it's not going to take much for social services to step in.

So I rejected violence in favour of some firm jiggling. Which attracted some odd looks from passers-by. Twenty minutes later, we were back in the ultrasound room, and this time our luck was in. The baby was still on his front, but had rolled fractionally, and was too lazy to keep its legs together. They announced that it was a boy, but still needed one more measurement. In the end, the sonographer called in one of her colleagues for a second opinion, and they decided that despite not being able to accurately measure his stomach, it would be stupid to bring us back for another scan. I told them he's a Gardner, so just put it down as 'large', and we left it at that.

By this time, it was almost 4 o'clock, so Lisa headed home, while I popped back into work to show off the baby photos do an hour's hard graft. By the time I'd picked up Amelie from nursery and returned home, Lisa had been through the entire book of baby names, and made a short list of about twenty. Ten of which I crossed out immediately. Gaylord might be in the book, but that doesn't make it a valid choice.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Despite what David Cameron might think, I'm pleased to report that gender equality in 21st century Britain is working a treat. Amelie and I were up early this morning – me, because Shimmy pounced on my foot at 6am and then drew the curtains by climbing two feet off the ground and swinging across, and Amelie because she has no concept of time and likes to annoy me.

So by 6:45am, she was complaining that I'd dressed her squirrel in a Santa hat on 'Little Acorns', and asking me to help her with the underground bat level on 'Supercow'. I was naturally a bit miffed, as I'd spent ages last night collecting enough fruit to buy that Santa hat, and was in no mood to battle giant bats on her behalf. So I replied that whilst I'd love to help her further the bovine cause, I actually needed to do last night's washing up before going to work.

To which Amelie responded, "Leave it, Daddy. Mummy can do it when she gets up."

I thought about that, and agreed with her. Washing up is women's work, after all. And let's face it, Lisa's got a pretty easy day ahead of her. I'm taking her into hospital this afternoon for a nice lie-down. We have our 20-week baby scan at 1:50 today. So by 2pm, we'll be calling 'it' either 'him' or 'her', and arguing over names.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Despite what David Cameron might think, I'm pleased to report that multiculturalism in 21st century Britain is working a treat. After an hour of watching CBeebies this morning, Amelie informed Lisa that she should throw away her jeans and start wearing a sari. And to be honest, I agree with her. They're the perfect maternity-wear. It's like wrapping yourself in a curtain.

Coincidentally, Lisa and I were discussing the thorny subject of immigration and cultural diversity the other night. It led to us both completing the British Citizenship Test on the Channel 4 website, which is based on the test that prospective immigrants have to pass before being allowed to settle in the UK. You have to score at least 18 out of 24 to get a British passport.

So Lisa went first, and scored 12. Which should lead to immediate deportation if you ask me. Her father's Irish, so I told her to go back to where she came from, and stop taking our English jobs. Before realising that she doesn't have a job. At which point I told her to stop sponging off our welfare state, and get on the next boat to Dublin.

But before she went, I took the test myself. And scored 11. I don't know who wrote the questions, but I'm not sure English is their first language. And if question 9 isn't some kind of mistake, then frankly I'm a Dutchman.

But the good news is that our lack of local knowledge won't matter much in the long run, as we're destined to be leaving these shores for a new life in the sun. The way Amelie's progressing at nursery, she'll soon be earning enough money to buy us a retirement home in St Tropez. She came out of nursery today with this...

Dr Amelie
Judging by the note paper, she's moved on from the pre-school room and taken a part-time job as a consultant. And with all that red, it's not looking good for that patient.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If there's one thing I wasn't expecting when I kissed Amelie goodnight, threw Shimmy out of her bedroom, and turned on the kitchen radio half an hour ago, it was to hear my old school mentioned on the 7 o'clock news.

Apparently a 12-year-old girl died this afternoon after being hit by a rugby ball during a P.E. lesson at Woodlands School in Basildon. Which happens to be my old, and much loved, seat of learning. I'm even listed as a 'notable alumnus' on their Wikipedia page, which quite honestly is just weird. Especially as I didn't put it there.

When I was at Woodlands, they used to let us go down the local snooker hall once a week, instead of getting sweaty on the sports field, which definitely worked for me, and made me the man I am today. Fat and unfit. But quite good at snooker. Things have clearly changed since then though, and with catastrophic results.

I don't quite know how you get over the shock of losing a daughter in a school P.E. lesson, so my heart goes out to the parents. Sadder still is that they'll probably have a major investigation, which will result in new health & safety rules banning any kind of ball games on school property. And that would be a shame. One thing I loved about Woodlands was the vast expanse of playing fields, and variety of sports on offer. Not that I wanted to do most of them, but I appreciated the fact they were there. I spent many happy hours on that rugby pitch, writing articles for the VIth Form Magazine between classes.

So it's a terrible thing to have happened, and the family have my utmost sympathy. In fact my jaw dropped when I heard the news. But oddly, I found something else just as startling. It transpires that the headmaster at Woodlands hasn't changed since I left there twenty-one years ago. The chap leading the tributes on the national news this evening is the same man who stumped up 20p for a copy of my first magazine in 1990. It's a miracle how little we've both moved on.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I don't know if it's our pioneering advancement of cat rules, or simply my extraordinary talent in the field of Gruffalo redesign, but either way, it's been a record-breaking weekend here at the Whinery...

Vital Statistics
In just forty-eight hours, more than seven hundred people have flocked here to read my thoughts on cat-care, child-rearing and colouring-in. If only I could work out how to charge them each a quid, I'd be laughing.

In reality, of course, my overwhelming popularity with the English-speaking world has less to do with me being the the newly elected voice of the people, and more to do with the fact that Robin Cousins was on Family Fortunes on Saturday night.

No, really.

Since Cousins' first cousins first lined up in front of Vernon Kay, everyone's been desperate to know where his wife was. They asked a hundred people. Seven times. And the survey led them here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

With any new regime, it's important to study the rules carefully, to ensure that nothing of importance has been left out...

Let's face it, you don't want to find yourself in a compromising position on a Sunday morning, just because someone forgot to write 'No Cats at the Art Table'...

She might look like she can't breathe, but in reality she's just answering the question 'How much do you regret coming to live here?' by holding her paws as wide apart as she can.

Interestingly, I discovered today that St Gertrude, the patron saint of cats, is also the patron saint of travellers in search of lodging (that's Shimmy) and Gardeners (that's us. If you put a holy cross through the 'e'). So with that in mind, Lisa went to church this morning to pray for our souls and beg forgiveness from old Gerty, before we're all struck down by a thunderbolt.

It left Amelie and me to get up to mischief on our own for a few hours, so we decided to try out her new felt-tip pens. I bought them last night from Asda (£1.45 - bargain), because whilst Amelie is very good at keeping all her felt-tip pens together in her flowery pencil case, she tends to keep the lids together somewhere else. Meaning that they tend not to work for very long.

So as Lisa disappeared into the shower this morning, I was busy chucking Amelie's old pens in the bin, and replacing them with twenty new ones. Having done so, I grabbed some paper, Amelie grabbed a cat (which contravenes rule number two), and the pair of us settled down to draw the characters from The Gruffalo.

First up was the fox...

I was quite pleased with that one. I think it's because Amelie only helped on one of its legs. Generally speaking, I find that my daughter's drawings are a lot better when she's not involved.

As we moved on to the owl, Lisa popped her head in to say goodbye, and took the photo of us above, before adding that we need to write some more Cat Rules. I told her that you can't interrupt great art, and she left.

Attractive hooters are few and far between, and I've certainly got my knockers, but you won't see a better looking bird than that.

As everyone knows, you follow owl ice cream with scrambled snake...

I think we suffered there from a lack of variety in the Asda colour range. I wanted a delicate jade, but when it came to it, I had a choice of either mustard yellow or grass green. Amelie did her best to distract the eye with some avant garde scribbling around the edges, but I'm still not a hundred per cent happy.

And as for the Gruffalo, the less said, the better...

It looks more like Shane MacGowan in a fur coat. I wasn't helped by the fact that Amelie got bored halfway through, decided I should draw the Zingzillas instead, and ran off with the book. I had to do most of it from memory. And I drew it too big. When you've got an A4-sized Gruffalo, and only one brown felt-tip pen, you soon get bored with the colouring-in, and wish you'd chosen the mouse.

But still, I've got four original artworks, and one satisfied daughter. Now, if I can just forge Axel Scheffler's signature...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lisa will be twenty weeks pregnant tomorrow, so we're officially halfway to having a baby. And with perfect timing, we've just received a hand-written card in the post...

DuoFertility Card
It's from the people at DuoFertility. They can afford the price of a stamp, as they don't have to refund our purchase price. In addition to the card, which I thought was very sweet, they also sent us a parcel of freebies, including Pregnacare tablets, iron supplements, and even a baby-gro.

I have to say, I've been impressed with them from day one. The DuoFertility gadget would automatically send Lisa's temperature data to Cambridge every time we connected it to the computer, and as a result, they knew she was pregnant before most of my family. They actually e-mailed Lisa in December to say that just by looking at her temperature records, they thought she was up the duff.

When I paid that £500 last May, I thought I was just getting an electronic gadget, but we actually got a great service too. Not to mention a baby. They were constantly in touch with advice, and even now Lisa's pregnant, they're still sending us stuff. Frankly I don't know why anyone chooses IVF. This was a much better investment.

But while we celebrate our new half-a-baby, we're still struggling to cope with our first. Since Shimmy took up residence here eleven days ago, Amelie's become the Wile E Coyote to her Roadrunner. If she had access to the Acme catalogue, we'd be bankrupt by now. Shimmy spends most of her life being chased, hugged, poked and carried, and whilst she's remarkably patient with our daughter, Lisa and I fear for her mental health. With this level of harassment, she could be heading for a nervous breakdown. Only this morning, I heard a distress call from the next room, and shouted "Amelie, are you making those cats squeal?". To which she replied, "No, Daddy. Just one of them".

So while Lisa had a lie-in this morning, I set about making Amelie a list of Cat Rules. We began with a consultation period and brainstorming session, during which I discussed with Amelie the do's and don'ts of cat care, and suggested some possible ground rules. To give her credit, she was very enthusiastic, although I'm not sure she quite grasped the concept of what we were trying to do. When I asked her to suggest some rules, she came up with 'No cats allowed to do gluing' and 'No cats allowed to drink fizzy drinks'. I had to start a second list, just so she could write those down.

In the end though, we compiled a definitive set of Cat Rules, and after a bit of drawing, printing and sticking (no cats allowed), we had this:

Cat Rules
I left plenty of room at the bottom to add more, and within five minutes Amelie wanted another line added below 'Let sleeping cats lie'. I was in the kitchen, and I could hear her hassling Shimmy on the back of the sofa, so I called through "Remember the Cat Rules, Am!". At that moment, I heard a cry. Not from Shimmy, but from Am, who came running into the kitchen, holding up her hand, which had a red line streaked across the back. With a tear in her eye, she looked up at me and said:

"I wanted you to write 'No Scratching'!!!"

Friday, March 09, 2012

I didn't hear from Lisa while I was in Uckfield yesterday. But apparently she heard from me. I'd left my mobile phone unlocked, and it seems that I inadvertently called her (which is something I thought only lawyers did) from my pocket whilst taking a patient's photographs. She heard me instructing a woman to follow the flashing light, and thought I was being rushed to hospital in an ambulance.

Fortunately, she soon realised what was going on, and having eavesdropped on the appointment for a while, she told me afterwards that I "sounded very nice". So we probably had a crossed line.

As it happens, Lisa had a hospital appointment of her own yesterday, in the maternity unit down the road. When I arrived home from Uckfield, I asked her how it went, and she told me that they want to hospitalise her for the rest of her pregnancy. Which was deeply upsetting news. Not least because it means I'd be left alone with Amelie.

It transpired, of course, that she was joking, and everything's fine. But by that point I'd already suffered three seconds of cardiac arrest and lost a pint of nervous sweat. I felt like hospitalising her myself.

In the end though, I let her live long enough to tell me what had happened at the nursery. You might remember that we'd received a bill for £93.40, which had been double-checked by the manager, and certified as 100% accurate and error-free. Well it turns out it was wrong. It should have been £43.40. Which is what I'd told them. It's nice when people agree with me.

The manager didn't give any explanation for the mistake (which is technically two mistakes, as she'd double-checked it), but she did say she'd put it right. At least she would do if the form hadn't already gone to the payroll department, asking them to deduct £93.40 from my next pay packet. Obviously under these kinds of critical circumstances, you'd want to act quickly and decisively, and do everything in your power to intercept the form before it's too late, in a last ditch attempt to stop the payment going through. So she said she'd e-mail them in the morning.

But in the meantime, Amelie, who's blissfully unaware of our constant money-wrangles behind the scenes, is continuing to enjoy nursery, and making new friends every day. When Lisa picked her up yesterday, they had the following conversation:

Amelie: I want to go for a sleepover at Finn's house.

Lisa: Has he invited you?

Amelie: No.

It doesn't bode well for her teenage years.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

One of the good things about Amelie attending nursery is that it gives her the chance to learn basic maths. And when she's done so, she can teach it to the admin staff, because frankly they don't have a clue.

Amelie does 12 hours a week at nursery, of which 9 are funded by the government in some sort of benevolent, philanthropic act of kindness. So we pay for 3 hours a week.

The hourly rate is £3.80, so that's £11.40 a week.

The first term is 12 weeks long, so that's £11.40 x 12, which comes to £136.80.

We'd already paid a deposit of £50, so that left a balance of £86.80 to pay for the first term.

Are you following this? Good. Because they clearly aren't.

We were given a document in January stating that the payment of £86.80 would be taken from my salary in two instalments: £43.40 in February, and the same again in March. So imagine my delight when I picked up our invoice for February four weeks ago, and found that it listed a total charge of £207.48.

Naturally I queried it with them, and was told (quite casually) that it was a printing error. They corrected it, printed out a new invoice, and charged me £43.40. So that was all fine. If a little annoying.

That was February. Now we're into March, and frankly nothing's changed. I picked up this month's invoice yesterday lunchtime, and instead of the £43.40 we were expecting, the figure they've plucked out of the air this month is £93.40.

So I spoke to the deputy manager. She told me that because of their error last month, she'd instructed the nursery manager to double-check this invoice before printing it out. Which is worrying on so many levels.

As a result, she was confident it was correct. She then suggested that the reason it was £50 more this month was because they'd knocked off our deposit last month. I explained that this wasn't the case, and then went through a simple maths lesson with her: 3 hours a week at £3.80 an hour can't possibly add up to £93.40 a month. She looked back at me blankly and said she didn't know.

Apparently the only person who does know is the manager. She alone deals with all the figures and payments. Which is scary, as she's got it wrong both months, even after double-checking it. Unfortunately she'd gone home early yesterday (possibly to watch Numberjacks on Cbeebies), so I couldn't speak to her. Lisa's going in to see her at 1pm today.

I'm writing this twenty miles away, during my lunch break at Uckfield Hospital, so I don't know what the outcome is. This one's a cliffhanger for me too...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

If there's one person I'd like to hear from when I'm lying in a Lem-Sip induced coma at eleven-thirty on a weekday evening, it's probably a Brummie lawyer. But only if he's informing me that Ozzy Osbourne's dead and he's left me all his money. And sadly that hasn't happened yet.

We did, however, receive an unexpected phone call just before 11:30pm last night, which woke me up with a cough and made me think my alarm clock was going off. Within seconds I was reaching for the snooze button and telling Lisa to phone in sick for me.

She instantly picked up the phone, which made me think she was following the 'obey' line in our wedding vows for the first time in her life, but instead of an emergency distress call from her mother, all she heard was a recorded message telling her she'd dialled the wrong extension number. Which was odd, as they'd phoned us.

By this time I was wide-awake, and on the annoyed side of livid, so having blown both my nose and my top, I dialled 1471 and was informed that we'd just been called from the number 0121 314 0002. Which is in Birmingham, apparently.

I'm a trusting man, but I'll never phone someone back unless they can prove they're not based in Nigeria, so I left it there, and went back to sleep... an hour later, when I'd calmed down a bit.

This morning, I was straight on to, where I found five pages of messages from people who had been phoned last night from that exact same number: 01213140002. Apparently it started yesterday evening, and went right through the night. So it could have been worse. I could have been one of the dozens who was woken up between 2 and 3am, and thought they'd had a family death.

By this afternoon, the list of the angry had grown to seven pages, so I checked an alternative site: You've got to love the internet. It's a miracle anyone knew anything before the web was invented. Anyhoo, the giant gorilla on 'Who Phoned Me' thought about it for a bit, then informed me that the calls had been traced to a law firm in Birmingham, called Bridgehouse Partners. But they're accepting no responsibility.

Their website says this:


We are aware that a number of people are complaining about our phone number calling them. This is not us doing this, we are a victim of what is called Caller ID spoofing.

Please speak to BT or your telecoms provider to see if they can trace the origin of the phone calls.

We are extremely sorry for any inconvenience and please be assured we are doing everything we can to resolve the situation.

At 3pm this afternoon they added this update:

15:00hrs - 7th March 2012

We have now been in contact with OFCOM & the Information Commissioners Office. We urge you to do the same please.

We have also filed a report with the Action Fraud Team a branch of the Police.

Please do not think we are being complacent in asking you to contact your service providers to report the problem, the reason we ask you to do this is because none of these calls are going through our system at any point and therefore it is very difficult for us to trace them. However they are coming through your system to you via either BT, Virgin etc. If enough people get onto these big providers they will be able to trace the calls and hopefully put a stop to it.

We continue to do everything in our power to try and rectify the situation.

Never mind OFCOM and the police, when I find the people responsible, I'm suing them for harassment. Has anyone got the number of a good lawyer..?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

My cold worsened a bit this afternoon. Which was annoying as I'd offered to do an extra half-day clinic to help out a colleague. More annoying still was that a third-year medical student then asked to sit in on it. Ideally, you don't want to have a sore throat when you're training the doctors of tomorrow. He was a very nice chap though. I asked him what he wanted to do with his career, and he said "Qualify, and not get struck off". I told him that was a pretty good goal.

By the end of the afternoon, my voice was fading fast, and my headache worsening, but I managed to summon the energy to cross the road and pick up Amelie from nursery. As I walked up to the entrance, a lady got out of a car just in front of me, and approached the nursery door. We arrived there together, so I let her press the buzzer, and we both stood back to wait for a response. When a voice eventually replied, the lady leaned into the intercom and said "Hi, I'm here to pick up Amelie".

So I leaned in and said "Me too."

We then had a pleasant conversation about how we both thought we'd picked an unusual name, only to discover that we're not as original as we thought. It transpires that the two Amelies (perish the thought) are in neighbouring rooms at the nursery. Hers is only two-and-a-half though, so we definitely got in first.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Someone said to me the other day that people don't photograph their second child as much as they do their first. Judging by the past week with Shimona, I'm not sure that's true. Admittedly, I don't expect our new baby to set up home in the tumble dryer...

A load of hot air.
... but even when she's just lying asleep on the sofa, she's being constantly snapped by either me or Amelie. It's verging on harassment. On this evidence, our unborn child might need a restraining order.

But tumble-tots aside, I successfully made it up to Horsham today and sniffled my way through a clinic. I don't really have much to say about that. Mainly because my throat's too sore. I think I need a holiday.

As for my last day off work, that was spent very pleasantly yesterday, with a visit to our good friends Stefan and Andrew. To be honest, I don't have much to say about that either. Not because it wasn't lovely, interesting and stimulating, but because most of what we talked about can't be repeated. At least not without the threat of legal action. But fortunately a picture paints a thousand words, so here's a paragraph or two...

Famous Five
What I can say is that if you want someone to spray-paint a cake silver, then Andrew's your man. Stefan baked us a home-made banana cake, which despite being richer than Rockefeller, lacked a certain something. Namely a metallic sheen. So as the Johnnie Cradock to Stefan's Fanny, Andrew got hold of some edible spray paint, and coated the whole thing in silver. It gives new meaning to the phrase 'plating up'.

After the last time we saw them, we were naturally cautious about accepting any offers of food, in case it contained vacuum-packed bird offal, but as it transpired, the cake was very nice. As were the biscuits I kept eating when no one was looking.

In addition, Stefan and Andrew were their usual generous selves. Not only did they let Amelie share their wind-up racehorses and Bugs Bunny DVDs, but they also gave her a goody bag filled with crayons, colouring books and a personalised CD of Amelie-related songs.

Personalised Songs for AmelieApparently they do lots of different ones. But not Phil or Lisa. You have to draw the line somewhere.

It's very good though. She's insisting on listening to it at full volume as I type this, which is slightly distracting. It's one thing having your daughter playing loud music in the living room, but somehow worse when all the songs are about her. Mind you, I suppose it's no different to me playing 'You Sexy Thing' by Hot Chocolate.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Let's face it, if the owners come forward to claim this cat, someone's going to be gutted...

And that someone is Lisa. Amelie might be the one in all the photos, but behind the scenes, Lisa's more attached to Shimona than any of us. She's spent most of the week cooing and fawning over that cat like it's a newborn baby. I feel like I've been on paternity leave.

Tragically, due to a chronically deprived childhood and a mother who refused to buy her a puppy, Lisa's never really had a pet of her own. And she's not getting her hands on Chloe. So Shimmy's become the cat she never had. Amelie might be the one falling over the back of our headboard in an effort to stroke her on the windowsill, but it's Lisa who's taken Shimona to her heart. She's not prepared to empty the litter tray or get cat food on her hands, but other than that, she's devoted. She's like Joy Adamson in Born Free. Except she won't let the cat go.

So while Lisa was acting like a lovestruck teenager, Amelie and I did the responsible thing by heading down to Asda yesterday for the third time this week. We wanted to get some more Felix while it was still on special offer, but we also had some important charity work to undertake. There's a collecting box at Asda for 'Lost Cats Brighton', where people can donate food to help rescued cats in need. So Amelie and I stood there, posting all the pouches of food that Shimona had refused to eat. There were quite a few, so it took a while. But it gave me a warm feeling to know that within a day or two, that food will be presented to homeless, starving, perhaps desperate cats. Who'll probably turn their noses up at it too.

Obviously my week's annual leave has been pretty much hijacked by cat-related activities, but we did manage to squeeze in one other activity: Amelie's second swimming lesson. When we first took her a fortnight ago, they gave us ninety minutes for £3. This time we got two hours for the same price. And while other children left halfway through, Am stuck it out til the end. By the time we got her out, she looked like a bleached prune.

But a bleached prune who can swim. I have to say, I was amazed at how much she's come on. Two weeks ago she took ten minutes of persuasion just to enter the pool. This time she was paddling about like a pro...

I was only brave enough to break the no-camera rule for twenty seconds, so that's the only footage I have, but it's one in the eye for the midwife's ski-ing trips.

On the downside, we're lucky she ever got dry. Lisa did her bit for German culture by leaving Amelie's towel on a bench while she was in the pool, but by the time she came out, it had gone. The staff couldn't find it, so it appears there's a linen thief in town. It's probably being hawked around the car boot sales as we speak.

The good news, however, is that whilst Amelie left considerably lighter than she arrived, I came away with more than I bargained for. I might have avoided the verucas in the changing room, but I picked up a nasty cold in the café. I woke up this morning with razor blades in my throat, a splitting headache, and a tendency to sneeze every two minutes. Horsham, here I come!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Since June 2010, when Amelie was twenty months old, and discovered that she could pick up Chloe using nothing more than speed, persistence and a pair of turquoise cat-wrangling trousers, she's dreamt of owning a cat that would sit on her lap without being pinned down by physical force. And now, two years and a lot of failed attempts later, she's finally got what she wanted...

That girl's in cat heaven. She can't believe her luck. On the downside, however, her hands are so covered in scratches, she looks like a self-harm victim.

It's not that Shimmy's aggressive, she's just a young cat who's barely more than a kitten, and as a result, she thinks everything's a game. We've explained this to Amelie, and she understands that her cat's playful, but unfortunately the girl knows no fear. Her hands might be cut to ribbons, but she can't keep her fingers away. Interestingly, no matter how much she gets scratched, it doesn't upset her in the slightest, because she loves Shimona so much. She got scratched on the chin yesterday, and burst into tears for the first time. Not because of the injury, but because Lisa picked her up and carried her away. She was sobbing through the tears, "I want to go back to Shimona!"

Lisa went out to meet a friend yesterday, so I decided to take Amelie over to the new Pets at Home superstore in Hove. Lisa had suggested that we buy Shimmy a basket. I told her that she'll never use it, because she loves sitting on people's laps so much. Suffice it to say I was wrong...

Basket Case
She's barely been out of it since we got the thing home.

Admittedly, Chloe looks a bit grumpy about it...

Green Eyed Monster
But to be honest, she always looks like that. She might not have an eight quid bed, but she's had £400 worth of vet treatment, so she can't complain.

As it happens, the Pets at Home superstore was well worth a visit. It was like an animal park with no entry fee. Amelie got to see rabbits, hamsters and lizards (not all in the same cage), and learnt the words 'degu' and 'oranda'. We were particularly impressed with their fish department. They might not have had any battered cod, but they were selling Doctor Fish for £4.99 each, or two for £9. Having experienced their healing powers for myself last year, I considered getting a dozen, then buying a washing up bowl from the pound shop, and setting myself up in business for fifty-five quid.

It was at that precise moment that I received a text message from work, asking if I can do a clinic in Horsham on Monday. I took it as a sign that I should be my own boss. And then replied and said yes.

We left Pets at Home to go home to our pets, but changed our plans en route, and headed to Asda instead to buy a different brand of cat food. Frankly I've given up with the Tiger and Opticat. Whilst in the pet food aisle making umming and erring noises, we encountered an elderly lady with a similar turn of phrase, and ended up having a lengthy conversation about fussy cats. To be honest, it was like talking to myself. She told us that she's had her cat Elkie for a few months, and that as a rescue cat, she should be grateful for anything she gets. But needless to say, she's not. The lady was back for the umpteenth time to try a different, even more expensive, brand. She said that after the last time, she told Elkie she's not getting anything else, and that if she doesn't eat it, she can starve. I told her I'd had the same conversation with Shimmy. And yet there we both were.

Fortunately, I hit the jackpot. Having compared notes with the old lady, I plumped for some Felix 'As Good As It Looks' Doubly Delicious in Jelly. And Shimona loves it. So much so, that I'll be heading back there today for some more.

In the meantime, I think I'll hand over this blog to Amelie. She asked if she could borrow my camera yesterday, so I reluctantly gave it to her (mainly to avoid a tantrum), and she disappeared for ten minutes. Which was a blessed relief. When she came back, she'd taken 36 photos of Shimona and Chloe, and amongst them was this one...

Close Up
I'm genuinely impressed with that. She can take all my photos from now on.

Friday, March 02, 2012

According to this website, the name Shimona comes from Hebrew, and means "hear, listen". Which is ironic as we met her on the way back from a silent film. She's certainly made her voice heard since though. And it appears to be telling us that she doesn't like cheap food.

Naturally, as a former stray, you'd imagine she'd eat anything, so I popped down to Asda on Wednesday and bought her some of their own brand Tiger food. She won't touch it. She will, however, eat Chloe's expensive renal food. And fresh tuna. So yesterday I tried her on Lidl's Opticat range. She won't go near that either, but I told her she's not getting anything else, so I left it down on the floor. Until Chloe came along and ate it.

So I've got a stray cat who won't eat anything but the best, and a Persian with kidney failure who loves cheap Lidl food, but isn't allowed to eat it. My Mum has suggested that maybe Shimmy was owned by a little old lady who used to cook her fresh meat every day, and I'm beginning to think she's right. Not only was she sniffing around the oven a lot yesterday, but she seems to prefer Lisa to me. Which is madness when you think about it.

Lisa and I are getting used to the name Shimona now, which is ironic as Amelie keeps forgetting it. When she got up yesterday morning, she couldn't remember what she'd named the cat, but she knew "it was something unusual". Lisa and I attempted to fool her by suggesting some names that we'd prefer, but she wouldn't have it. She didn't know what it was, but she knew what it wasn't. She pointed out on Wednesday that Shimmy looks a lot like Tabby McTat, so whenever she forgets the name, she tends to call her Tabby. In fact, her first words as she walked through the door after nursery yesterday were "Now... where's that Tabby cat?". The two have become inseparable.

Shimona's not the only new arrival to be taking up our time though. There's also the matter of our unborn baby. Lisa had to cancel her midwife appointment last week due to uncontrollable vomiting, but the good news is that it was rescheduled for yesterday afternoon. So with Amelie at nursery and me on annual leave, it meant I could go with her. Lisa has to venture into the depths of Whitehawk for her midwife appointments, which are held at the Roundabout Children's Centre, a council-run facility that was opened by the Queen at 2:45pm on Thursday, 8th March, 2007. I know that, because I mentioned it on my blog. Little did I know that five years later, I'd be following in the Queen's footsteps.

It's actually a very nice place. Think of it as a prefab teepee with stairs. Their noticeboards are full of posters advertising numerous local groups, including one for Dads under 26, and another for Mums aged 16-18. That one's called 'Little Pickles'. I'm not sure if the name refers to the babies, or the mischievous tykes who got pregnant.

I'd just started reading a leaflet entitled 'Keeping Love Alive After Your Baby', when we were called in. So I'll never know if they recommend affairs. But the good news is that the appointment went well. The midwife listened to our baby's heartbeat, which was coming through like an express train, and then sent Lisa off to wee on a stick in the bathroom. While she was gone, she asked me if we had any plans for the weekend, so I told her we're taking Amelie swimming. I mentioned that although she's almost three and a half, we've only just started going.

The midwife sympathised, and said that despite the best of intentions, it's often hard to get around to these things. She said it was the same with her five-year-old son. Before adding "But we love our winter holidays, so we take him ski-ing all the time". That pretty much trumped my £3 swimming lessons.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

I think we might have a new member of the family...

Amelie loves that cat so much, she's practically spooning it at bedtime.

Even Chloe can't tear herself away...

Living in perfect harmony...
It's like a scene from 'Ebony & Ivory' being played out in our living room.

As it happens, none of us slept very well on Tuesday night. Amelie was kept awake by a persistent cough, I was worrying about the potential cost implications of pet adoption, and Lisa was busy panicking that we're living through the final segment of Cat's Eye, and are all about to die.

By 8:30am, the three of us had been sitting on the bed for an hour, stroking the new cat, while Amelie jabbered on relentlessly about how much she likes it, how cute it is, and that if we can't find its owners, she'll look after it herself. Before adding that if it's a boy cat, she wants it to have kittens with Chloe. At which point Lisa turned to me and said "It feels like Christmas morning". I said "What, because it's all so magical and exciting?". She said "No, because we've been up for hours, no one's had any sleep, and we all feel like death warmed up."

At 9am I phoned the vet, told them our story, and asked if they can scan the cat for a microchip. The lady on the phone checked their database of missing cats, found none that matched the description, and told me to bring it in for scanning. Half an hour later, Amelie and I were at the surgery, watching as a veterinary nurse waved some kind of computerised probe over our stripy friend. She did it three times, just to be sure, but there was no microchip present. She did, however, say she was "pretty sure" the cat's female. And probably less than a year old. I didn't ask for a more qualified opinion for fear of being charged, but the girl seemed to know what she was talking about.

I returned to the receptionist to complete the 'Found Cat Report', which included a description of her appearance and location, plus my contact details in case the owner comes forward, but to my surprise, both members of staff seemed to think I should keep her. Experience has taught them that a caring owner will usually ring around the local vets within a day or two of the cat going missing, and this one had been gone for at least 48 hours - probably twice that. She's not been chipped, doesn't have a collar, and the owner's not reported her missing. As the receptionist put it, "She's so lovely, they don't deserve to get her back".

So we drove home with Amelie in the back seat of the car, asking if the cat belongs to us now. I told her yes - for the time being. So she insisted on choosing a name. Within a minute, she'd plumped for Shamona. Which is something only Michael Jackson has ever said. I think she picked it up from Bo' Selecta! It could have been worse though. With her track record in the naming department, we could have had another Hellodadada on our hands.

To be honest, Lisa and I aren't that keen, but Amelie's so insistent (despite being unable to tell us where she heard it), that we've finally admitted defeat and are going along with it. We are, however, changing the spelling to Shimona. Mainly so that we can shorten it to Shimmy.

No doubt she'll lead us a merry dance...