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Monday, April 30, 2012

Day nine at the cat shelter has been an eye-opening experience...

No, really, it has...

Not all the time, obviously...

But for the most part, the kittens are taking a long hard look at themselves...

Apart from the fat one with the lighter stripes, who's generally too stuffed to wake up. I think he takes after his mother.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eight days old, and one of the kittens has its eyes open...

It also has pink ears and a yellow tail. To be honest, I'm wondering if it might be adopted. But surely no one would choose a child that ginger?

As it happens, the cuckoo in the nest is actually a toy mouse, which was placed there this morning by Amelie, who thought that Shimmy might want to play with it. I did explain to her that once you have kids, leisure time is effectively a thing of the past, and even if you do get a spare five minutes to yourself, you're far too knackered to play, but she insisted on leaving it there, just in case. I've taken it out twice, and she keeps putting it back. She'll be attaching it to a nipple if we're not careful.

Much like Shimmy, Lisa and I have always been advocates of equal parenting, so we decided to split the childcare straight down the middle yesterday evening: I took Amelie to Asda for the weekly shop, and Lisa took the baby on a hen night. So while my wife and son were savouring the sea bass at a fancy restaurant in Hove, I was dragging Amelie towards the Smart Price fish fingers. It's an arrangement which works for us. Although why Lisa chose the fish when she was on a hen night, I have no idea. She really should have gone with the chicken.

Anyhoo, having arrived home ten minutes before Am's bedtime, with enough shopping to feed a small African village, it was another hour before I sat down to write yesterday's blog post. But when I did, I had no idea how insightful it would be. Unbeknownst to me, as I was writing that line about Lisa bouncing down the hall like a beach ball, she was actually falling over on a bus.

Admittedly, Lisa's never been too steady on her pins, and an average week for her features more pratfalls than a Laurel & Hardy film, so it wasn't just a wild stab in the dark, but even so, my words were strangely prophetic. Apparently when she got on the bus to Hove last night, the floor was wet, and as she walked past the driver, she slipped straight over and landed on her back. So at least the baby didn't feel it.

Shockingly, however, despite it happening in plain sight on an almost empty bus, the bus driver just carried on regardless, leaving a heavily pregnant lady rolling around on the floor of a moving vehicle. He then highlighted the inherent sweetness of his nature by honking his horn at a passing car and shouting "F**k it!"

But in this case, the victim of his actions wasn't just a heavily pregnant lady. It was a heavily pregnant lady with a pen. Lisa wrote down the registration number when she got off the bus, so if you're reading this, Brighton & Hove Bus Company, there's a letter on its way.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

If there's one thing Lisa and I have always believed, it's that there's nothing that can't be achieved through ten minutes of lying to your children. To be honest, we're never more productive than when we're pulling the wool over Amelie's eyes. And today was the perfect example of that.

Since inventing the Thumb Fairy nine days ago, our plans for major deception have been on hold due to the unexpected arrival of kittens, but when I got up this morning, I decided it was about time we took the lying to the next level. I wanted to get out to the nearest toy shop to buy Amelie a cuddly cat, but unfortunately there were two things stopping me. The first is that I try to let my pregnant wife stay in bed at the weekend and avoid full-time childcare, so that she gets some rest, recovers her strength, and avoids tripping over the furniture and bouncing down the hallway like a beach ball. And the second is that Amelie has x-ray vision, eyes in the back of her head, and the sonar hearing of a bat, and nobody leaves this flat without her say so.

So I was reluctant to go shopping on my own, but equally reluctant to take Amelie with me, and thereby ruin the magic of the Thumb Fairy. Which is where our God-given talent as grifters came into play. At 10:30 this morning, I called Lisa into the bedroom for a secret discussion, and two minutes later we'd not only formulated a plan, but put it straight into action. Lisa ran Amelie a bath, and the moment she was in there, I was straight on the internet, downloading a bit of clip-art, and forging the following note...

I folded it up and slipped this inside...

... before sealing the whole lot in an envelope, writing Amelie's name on it, and adding it to the pile of post on the doormat. The whole operation took ten minutes. If I could muster that kind of enthusiasm for anything work-related, I'd be a millionaire by now.

When Amelie came out of the bath, Lisa casually asked her to fetch us the post from the front door, so she went trotting down the hallway to get it. Thirty seconds later, we heard her cry "There's something for ME!", which is gratifying as it proves she can read her own name (and my handwriting), after which she came running in, brandishing the envelope and spelling out the letters on the front.

Within half an hour, she was fully dressed and standing at the front door with her golden ticket in her hand. I told her that they wouldn't let her in the shop without it. Her parting words as the two of us left the flat were "Bye-bye Chloe, bye-bye Shimmy, bye-bye kittens". I had to prompt her to say goodbye to Lisa.

So Amelie and I headed into town to The Animal House in Bond Street. Or 'The Thumb Fairy's Special Shop', as Amelie referred to it. She waved her golden ticket at the entrance (attracting some puzzled looks from the staff), and she and I browsed the vast array of cuddly toys, from lions and tigers and bears (oh my), to a kiwi, a lynx and a platypus. She eventually settled on a grey tabby cat called Kayla for £7.95.

It was mission accomplished and a job well done. The two of us walked home, Amelie telling me how much she liked the Thumb Fairy's Special Shop, how much she loved Kayla, and how she would never need to suck her thumb again; and me feeling proud of our ingenious plotting, slick execution, and simple solving of a difficult problem.

When I got back, I high-fived Lisa in the bedroom, before toasting the end of Amelie's thumb-sucking days, and heading into the living room for a well-earned sit-down...

That was eight quid and a morning well spent.

Friday, April 27, 2012

It's almost three months now since I did a drug deal with one of my colleagues on a street corner in Brighton, and successfully plundered the personal effects of a dead animal in a last-ditch attempt to feed Chloe's crack habit. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write. To be honest, it was deal which saved my cat's life. She's perked up no end ever since, and is threatening to outlive us all. Which is bad news for Am's nose.

Sadly, despite cutting down the dose of Chloe's tablets, she's beginning to run low, so I'll be returning to the vet in the next fortnight to pay through the nose for more drugs. But whilst Chloe's freeloading days are coming to an end, Shimmy's are only just beginning. Having already experienced the benevolence of one cat-owning colleague, I've now had an offer of help from another.

It transpires that Shimmy's not the only slut in the neighbourhood. My colleague owns one too. And having been presented with two litters of kittens in a short space of time, she decided to invest in a puppy cage, which she used in place of a nursery. For anyone not familiar with puppy cages, they're like shark cages, but less waterproof. It's why they used the phrase 'Top Dog' in Prisoner: Cell Block H.

Anyhoo, my colleague has kindly lent me said cage to enable me to provide a safe and secure environment for Shimmy to raise her kittens, without fear of interference from Amelie. As I see it, there are two methods by which I can achieve that aim.

This is Option A...

And this is Option B...

I'm leaning towards B. It would give me more of a lie-in in the morning.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Five days old, and they're not getting any less cute...

But personally I'm more concerned about day three of Nosegate...

Amelie came home from nursery today with her first ever Accident Form. Apparently she hit her scabby old nose on a chair. Which will teach her to sniff other people's backsides. To be honest, I think it's just the nursery's way of letting us know that they're monitoring her facial injuries, and keeping social services on speed dial.

I questioned Amelie on the intricacies of her medical treatment, and apparently the cold compress was a wet paper towel. I've no idea what the cuddes were.

As it happens, she's not the only one who's received advanced medical care today. I've had a telephone call from my doctor. Not at the time I was expecting it, obviously, but this is the NHS, not Bupa. Lisa kindly phoned the surgery for me this morning while I was cleaning my teeth, and booked me a telephone consultation for 11:30am, which was the perfect slot. It meant I could have the whole thing done and dusted by lunchtime, when I was due to take Amelie to nursery for a bit of chair-butting.

Unfortunately by 12:30pm, the phone still hadn't rung. At least, my phone hadn't rung. Their phone, however, was ringing off the hook, with people like me calling to ask what was going on. Having got through to a receptionist, I was told that all timings are approximate, and I'll get a call when it suits my doctor. Apparently if you book a call for 11:30am, they expect you to be available indefinitely.

As it transpired, the time that suited my doctor was 12:47pm, when I was walking out of the door with Amelie. It meant that I had to go back inside, chat to my GP for five minutes, and end up being late for nursery. But it was worth the wait. I had a very pleasant chat, during which my doctor asked me if I'd like to try coming off my tablets. I asked her if she thought I should, so she checked the report from my urologist, who advised me to stay on them indefinitely, before saying no - but if I want to, I can.

So I asked her if it'll do me any harm to be on them for life. She said no, none at all - but if I want to come off them, I can. I think she was trying to save the NHS money. So having thought about it for a nanosecond, I opted to stay on the tablets which stop the excruciating pain and do me no harm at all, rather than opting for a life of drug-free agony and exhaustion. At which point she printed out the prescription.

I did ask if I'm entitled to any kind of discount on my prescription charges, but apparently that only applies to certain chronic conditions, and prostatitis isn't one of them. I should have asked her for some cuddes instead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Peppa Pig nose plaster's looking good...

... but I hope the Thumb Fairy's not watching. To be fair though, Amelie still hasn't got her hands on a tiger. Since the weekend, the elves in the Thumb Fairy's purchasing department have been a bit preoccupied with real cats. But then, so has Amelie. In fact she's now saying she wants a cat instead of a tiger. I might forget the trip to Toys R Us, and just give her one of the kittens.

In other news, I need to get a repeat prescription from my GP this week for another batch of Wee-Wee Time, or whatever they're calling it now. I've been single-handedly keeping the NHS afloat for the past two and a half years by forking out every couple of months for another dose, just to keep my men's problems under control, and apparently I'll be doing so for the rest of my life. But despite being a permanent arrangement, my GP insists on doing a 'medication review' once a year, partly to check that the drugs are still working, but mainly to annoy me and ruin my day.

When I got my last prescription in February, it contained a note saying that I needed another such review before my next fix, and that I could do it via a telephone consultation. Without one, they won't give me any more gear, so it's sadly necessary. When I had my medication review via teleconference last year, however, it consisted of my GP asking "Are you happy with the tablets?" and "Do you want to carry on taking them?", then waiting for me to say "Yes", before putting the phone down. So it seems a bit of a pointless inconvenience. If I didn't want to take the tablets, I wouldn't be asking for a repeat prescription.

Anyhoo, I've been working in the hospitals of Lewes, Uckfield and Horsham this week, so I've avoided the doctor in an effort to spare my own patients the experience of me answering the phone during a clinic, and chatting about my prostate while I give them the eye drops. But I'm back in the office tomorrow, so before doing my Noah impression this morning, and sailing up to Horsham in my motorised ark, I asked Lisa if she could phone the surgery when they open, and book me a telephone consultation for tomorrow or Friday.

Having made it through the torrential rain and floods, I received an e-mail from Lisa at 9:45 this morning which said this:

"Hellooo. You have to phone up tomorrow morning to make a telephone booking."

I replied with this:

"That's ridiculous. Why can't they book me a day in advance???"

To which Lisa responded:

"I think it's because they don't like you."

There's clearly no other explanation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Here's today's obligatory kitten photo...

It's where we get the phrase 'bundle of trouble'. They have a lot in common with Lisa - she can't keep her eyes open for a photo either.

On the subject of trouble, yesterday was a day of extreme violence in the Gardner household. Amelie had her face sliced open, and I was kicked in the head. More shocking still is that Lisa was responsible for neither.

To be honest, we don't really know the full story regarding Amelie, as the other party isn't talking, and the only witnesses were blind kittens. Amelie claims that she was minding her own business and sitting quietly, contemplating her responsibilities in life, when Chloe walked up to her and scratched her on the nose.

In reality, Chloe wouldn't voluntarily go up to Am unless you dipped her in cream. And even then she'd think twice. But unfortunately, since Shimmy joined the Mothers Union and became officially off-limits to small children, Chloe's borne the brunt of Amelie's affections. For the past couple of months, Chloe's been relegated to second place in Amelie's list of preferred playmates, which is a position she's more than happy to occupy. Quite honestly, she's loved the peace and quiet. But now that Shimmy's permanently in a box under the table, Chloe's being hassled once again.

So despite Amelie's protestations of innocence, I think it's less of an unprovoked attack, and more of an act of self-defence. But either way, Amelie's now sporting a big plaster on her nose, and we've got about an hour before the nursery calls social services.

As for me, I was assaulted by my own son. I'm like Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. I was lying with my head on Lisa's bump last night, when the baby kicked me in the side of the face. I think he was telling me off for paying more attention to the kittens than to my unborn child. But as I said to Lisa yesterday, if she pushes one out at the side of the sofa, I'll give her my undivided attention.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The trouble with kids is that the moment you sit down, they're all over you...

A lot on her shoulders.
You've got one over your shoulder, and another two getting under your feet. It's a living hell. Although they are very cute...

And to think that Lisa's Mum suggested we drown them in a bucket. Doesn't she know there's a drought on?

Anyhoo, before I go any further, I'd just like to say a big thank you to everyone who's already offered to have one. As things currently stand, we could probably rehome five, so Shimmy might have to get pregnant again just to satisfy demand. Although she'll be homeless again if she does. Suffice it to say, it's a major relief to know they have loving homes to go to, but apologies in advance to anyone left empty-handed in the first-round kitten draft.

Adoption issues aside, my biggest concern about the sudden arrival of kittens is that Amelie's going to think they've come from the Thumb Fairy. She'll be taking them to bed if we're not careful. Up to now though, I have to admit she's been pretty good. We did have one slightly hairy moment yesterday afternoon when Lisa was taking a nap in the bedroom and I was making Chicken & Leek Pasta in the kitchen. Which was Amelie's cue to raid the nursery in the living room. I walked in to find her under the table, pulling the cat bed along the floor with Shimmy and the kittens still inside it.

Bizarrely, however, they weren't the slightest bit bothered. Which is what's been amazing from the start of this saga. Shimmy's such a laid back parent, I could base an entire series of childcare books on her actions.

She's happily raising a family of three under the living room table while Amelie sings along to the TV, jumps about in her pyjamas, and turns the furniture upside down looking for her Megablocks. And nothing's stressing her out. Not even the sight of a camera lens being shoved in her face. She calmly comes and goes, heading off to get food and say hello to the rest of us, before returning promptly to her offspring. The only sound we hear is her constant purring.

Oh, and the three little squeaks of these chaps...

If they stayed like that, we might keep them.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In the immortal words of Cilla Black, "Surprise surprise! The unexpected hits you between the eyes..."

Surprise Surprise!
Or in this case, between the nipples of your overfed stray. I couldn't be more shocked if Lisa had just given birth. At least I knew she was pregnant.

Four weeks ago, I said (in the light-hearted, humorous tone of someone who doesn't believe it) that Shimmy could be stuffed full of kittens. In reality, I thought her bulging stomach was down to copious amounts of chicken and an ability to eat anything within a three metre radius, whether edible or not. She has an appetite like no cat I've ever known. Which makes sense, because she was eating for four.

I was woken up early yesterday morning by Amelie, who fails to grasp the concept of a busy working week, and feels I can afford to be up at 7am on a Saturday. So with Lisa still in bed, I decided to take Am down to Asda for a new casserole dish. On our way back, we popped into Lidl, where they're currently selling chainsaws for sixty quid, and radiator cat beds for seven.

Amelie persuaded me to buy the latter (which was a relief), so we took it home and mounted it on the living room radiator. I happen to have a catnip spray in the bedroom (I like to give Lisa a light misting when she's asleep, so the cats will play with her), so I decided to spray the new bed so that Chloe and Shimmy would fall in love with it. Within a couple of minutes, Shimmy had arrived, and was lovin' it big time...

Warm Welcome
So with cat and daughter happy, I went into the kitchen to put the rest of the shopping away. Shortly afterwards, Amelie came in to tell me that Shimmy kept miaowing. I followed her to the scene of the disturbance, and sure enough, Shimmy was hiding behind the TV, wailing like a banshee. She emerged a few minutes later, and walked across the living room, still shouting at the top of her voice - behaviour which continued for the next twenty minutes.

All the best cat-care websites tell you that one of the signs of a pregnant cat in labour is "excessive vocalisation", but at this point I hadn't read them. When Lisa popped her head out of the bedroom, I told her that either Shimmy was about to give birth, or she was having a bad trip on the catnip. It was supposed to be a joke.

Amelie was quite concerned, so she went and sat on the floor at the side of the sofa, holding Shimmy and telling her that everything was alright. After five minutes of this, I told her to put Shimmy down, just in case she's not feeling well. Amelie did so (which was a miracle), and thirty seconds later the first kitten popped out...

Just one minute's delay, and the backdrop to that photo would have been Amelie's lap.

To say we were stunned is an understatement. I think I'm still suffering from shock today. I might have to take a year off with post-traumatic stress disorder. I've been making jokes about Shimmy being pregnant for the past month, but at no point did I genuinely believe it.

The gestation period of a cat is nine weeks, and we've had her for just under eight, so she clearly got herself up the duff while she was living on the streets. She's like a pregnant teenage runaway. Her previous owners (if she ever had any) can't have thrown her out for being in the family way, as it would have been too early to tell. Why she hadn't been spayed though, is anyone's guess. Either way, she's been an indoor cat since we adopted her, living with another female, so we thought kittens were something we didn't need to worry about.

Obviously we were wrong. According to a leading cat website, "A very young cat (under one year) may have a hard time with birth, with the possibility of deformed or stillborn kittens, or the death of the queen", which would be a disaster with the jubilee coming up. But despite being a young cat, Shimmy has proved herself a natural mother. With no help whatsoever, she gave birth to three kittens down the side of the sofa, and for much of yesterday afternoon, she was lying there purring at the top of her voice. Motherhood clearly agrees with her.

I went out and bought a hooded cat bed, attached it to a cardboard box, and lined it with old tea towels, before placing it under the living room table. When Shimmy finally ventured out from the dusty birthing corner late last night, she inspected the nursery, and within minutes she went back and carried her kittens across the living room, placing them carefully into the cat bed. I wish I'd got that on film.

So there you go. We're now a five cat family. The next eight weeks could be interesting (especially if our baby comes early), but fortunately we've already taken a reservation on one of the kittens from this lady. That's assuming I can prise any of them away from Lisa. They're not even a day old, and she's already plotting ways to keep them.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Here's an exclusive preview clip from tonight's episode of Britain's Got Talent...

As it happens, the ability to count to five could come in handy today. Although it has more to do with cats than with fish. I'll be back with the story tomorrow...

Friday, April 20, 2012

I was doing a clinic over in Mile Oak yesterday when Lisa sent me this e-mail:

"Sausage casserole is nice and I've left you some in the oven. Unfortunately I've smashed the lid on the casserole dish as I forgot things are hot when they come out of the oven. I have very burnt fingers."

To be honest, it's not the first time she's got her fingers burnt in the kitchen. She needs to stop meddling, and leave it to the professionals. I did GCSE Home Economics, and I knew by the second year that ovens get hot. Although I'm not sure I knew that casserole dishes had lids.

Anyhoo, the sausages were cold by the time I got home, but that's what microwaves are for. And besides, the delay was partly my fault. I drove back from Mile Oak along the seafront, and spotted a camera crew filming outside the Brighton Centre, so I deliberately slowed down in an effort to get into shot. There were two police vans parked nearby, a few coppers wandering around, and when I got to the traffic lights, another TV crew crossed the road in front of me. I almost missed the green light in my attempts to wind down the window and stroke their furry mic.

When I got home and saw the sausages, the incident went right out of my head, but at 10pm I turned on the BBC News and watched their report on Abu Qatada. For some reason (possibly involving armed police) it reminded me of my drive home, so I asked Lisa if she knew what was going on in Brighton. She didn't. So we both wondered aloud what was happening. At which point the Abu Qatada report crossed straight to Brighton for an opinion from Kenneth Clarke.

It seems that most of Europe's top ministers (and Ken Clarke) are currently staying in one of Brighton's uninspiring, airport-lounge-style hotels. A few years ago we had Maastricht, and now we have Brighton. According to that report, delegates from the Council of Europe "were due to end their day's deliberations with a fish and chip supper on Brighton pier", which is enough to make anyone eurosceptic. I've tried those fish & chips and they're dreadful. Apparently relationships had been rocky all day. I think I'll vote UKIP.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whilst facing our fears on Monday, one scare source which didn't enter the conversation was the dentist. That's because Amelie had been for a check-up that afternoon, and was given a sticker. Frankly if spiders could hand out badges, she wouldn't have a problem.

You might expect the sticker in question to look like this one, but in reality it just featured a picture of Tinkerbell sitting on a toadstool. Or "a fairy on a mushroom" as Amelie put it. I think it had been sourced from the local pound shop, but either way it was enough to persuade Amelie to open her mouth. Not that she normally needs an excuse. Frankly the only time she stops talking is when she's eating. So she doesn’t say much.

As it happens though, this is the first time she's opened wide for a dentist. Lisa took her last June, but Amelie gritted her teeth and burst into tears, so they didn't get very far. Lisa's usual dentist has just gone off on maternity leave, however, so this time they saw a replacement. You might say he's just filling in.

Anyhoo, the man bridging the gap for the next few months is Mr O'Keefe, who featured on this blog last July when he won Lisa's heart by drilling down into the root of her problems, and making her feel a lot better. This time he worked his magic on Amelie, who let him examine her teeth (of which there are twenty), before announcing that his chair made her dizzy, and accepting a sticker as compensation.

On the downside, we were advised to stop Amelie sucking her thumb, as he felt that her front teeth were beginning to protrude a little. It's a real shame. She loves her sucky thumb (as she calls it), and having tasted it myself, I can see why. So we've spent the past couple of days formulating a cunning and dastardly plan to wean her off it. And we've come up with...

The Thumb Fairy. Obviously the Potty Fairy is still legendary in this house, but we weren't sure how to translate that concept to thumbs without the need for amputation. So in the end we've told Amelie that rather than removing her thumb in the dead of night and replacing it with a bubble machine, the Thumb Fairy will bring her a soft toy that she can cuddle every time she wants her sucky thumb. Lisa's helping her write a letter to Fairy HQ, requesting the toy of her dreams.

At the moment she's gone for a tiger. And the Thumb Fairy will be bringing her one, just as soon as Daddy can get to Toys R Us. It's a plan with no drawbacks. Until three years from now, when we have to invent the Cat Fairy just to wean her off the tiger.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm beginning to wonder who this carrycot is for...

Cot Basket
Amelie spent yesterday fighting over it with Shimmy, and the moment they both went to bed, Chloe was in there. The irony is that it cost less than the cat basket I bought from Pets at Home. And no one's slept in that for weeks. I think I might save it for the baby.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If there's one channel you can rely on for universal truths, positive affirmations, reassuring platitudes and blatant lies, it's CBeebies. I remember with great fondness hearing Amelie joining in with the familiar chorus of "It's the end of a lovely day" at 7pm last July, as I was mopping up blood from the sideboard.

But yesterday's statement of fact was far less refutable. As Lisa was attacking Amelie with the nit comb last night (she doesn't have nits – we just like to annoy her), CBeebies announced that "Everyone is scared of something".

It prompted Amelie, who's no stranger to group therapy, to respond with "I'm scared of spiders". So in a moment of father-daughter solidarity, I added "I'm scared of balloons".

It's ironic because she came back from my parents' with a balloon model of a spider. I didn't realise that at the time though. I'm just genuinely scared of balloons.

At that point, the conversation was let down by Lisa, who's no stranger to deceiving small children, and decided to join in the therapy by declaring "I'm not scared of anything". Which is a bit rich for someone holding a nit comb. She found a grain of sand in Amelie's hair last week and almost had a panic attack.

I thought the session was over at that point, but to my surprise, Amelie continued with the following statement:

"I'm scared of eyes".

I think it's because she's worried we'll see what she's up to. And with good reason. I was in Lewes yesterday, and I found a gorgeous powder blue carrycot in a charity shop for the ridiculous price of £4. So I bought it, got the thing home, and left it in the hallway. Five minutes later, I found this:

Big Baby
I wouldn't mind, but the moment I got her out, Shimmy was in there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Dad, who has retired from his working life in order to spend more time sending me pointless stuff via e-mail, passed on this video to me yesterday...

That's the Mae Klong railway in Thailand. It's the only vegetable market in the world where you can get a gravy train with your potatoes, and the phrase 'five-a-day' refers to the number of commuter express trains. It makes me wonder why I get so stressed out at Asda. At least I can choose my bananas without fear of decapitation.

Anyhoo, the weekend's over, and needless to say, I haven't written my article. But I'm not blaming that entirely on my father. It's much more Lisa's fault. We might have got rid of one child for the weekend, but sadly the baby left behind has been wreaking havoc with Lisa's insides, kicking up a fuss, and causing an acid trip in her oesophagus. She's had such bad heartburn since Saturday that I've been forced to maintain an all-night vigil with a sick bucket. She only has to lie down and she throws up. Which I think is God's way of telling her to keep working.

So combining Lisa's physical shortcomings with the distraction of the Grand National means that my article remains incomplete. I did make a start, but sadly I seem to have used up a third of my word count on the introduction, and it's currently about as readable as a phone book, so I may have to start again. I was going to do so yesterday afternoon, but tragically I had to pop into town for some new bedding, and ended up at a friend's house, eating garlic bread and strudel. I think I may have procrastination issues.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Suffice it to say, I put the hoarse back into horse racing yesterday afternoon. I haven't screamed so much at the TV since I dropped it on my foot getting it out of the box. As Neptune Collonges ran up the home straight at Aintree in second place, closing in on the leader with every agonising step, I was literally on my knees in front of the television, shouting like a nutter.

But a nutter who can now afford to retire. For a couple of days at least. When I was drawing up my shortlist for the Grand National yesterday morning, I actually had Neptune Collonges as the winner. But before going to press at 13:13 (which is unlucky for some), I had a last minute change of heart, scribbled out '1st', and swapped it for The Midnight Club...

By that point, however, the bets were already down. At 12:52pm yesterday, I went on to Blue Square and put £3 each-way on Neptune Collonges...

Each Way Thief
Twelve minutes later, as the odds crept out, I stuck another two quid on him at Betfair...

Win Win Situation
It's what you call a win-win situation. Even with my losing bets on the others, I still made a clear profit of over two hundred pounds. Although I might have to spend some of it on throat sweets. My voice still hasn't recovered.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Amelie's visiting her grandparents again this weekend. We're practising for when she's a teenager and we never see her. Obviously I could spend the time having a well-earned rest, and watching Britain's Got Talent in my underwear, but I'm actually planning to convert the peace and quiet into something far more productive by writing a serious article. In my underwear.

I was slightly dubious about the proposal I received from the private eye people of America, so I replied to them, pitching a completely different article. And to my surprise, they went for it. So I'm now writing 1500 words about something else. I've been told I can use diagrams, graphs and pie charts (mmm... pie charts), but sadly the only graph I like the look of at the moment is this one...

TATThat's from the national online 'Test and Training' site. I'd love to mention it in the article (quick, before my average drops), but unfortunately it features the words "Welcome to Year 3 of TAT" in big letters on the front page, so I'm not sure it gives the right impression.

Anyhoo, I'm clearly trying to avoid writing the article by writing a blog post about writing the article, so I probably ought to get on. Unfortunately it's the Grand National this afternoon, and that means I'm contractually obliged to drop everything and continue the fine Whines tradition of tipping the first four home. Who can forget 2006 (everyone, which is why I'm linking to it), when I accurately predicted that Silver Birch would win the National at a big price. All I got wrong was the year.

So with that in mind, I've done my homework, studied the form, consulted a psychic and polished my pin, and I can now reveal that the winners of this afternoon's big race will be...

The Midnight Club1st. The Midnight Club at 40-1. He was the favourite last year and finished 6th. This year I've got two quid on him at 66-1. It's madness of the highest order, and he'll be romping home at the end.

Neptune Collonges2nd. Neptune Collonges at 33-1. He's carrying 11st 6lb, which is what I've been aiming for for years, but despite that, he should finish in the places.

Giles Cross3rd. Giles Cross at 20-1. Improving all the time, no weight to carry, a good jockey, and stays longer than the mother-in-law. What's not to like?

Becauseicouldntsee4th. Becauseicouldntsee at 20-1. Fell at the second fence last year, but should make it a bit further this time.

I also quite like Cappa Bleu, but didn't put him in my first four, so he's bound to win now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Amelie turned to Lisa this morning and said this:

"I think I love Daddy the most. But I like you too".

So my work here is pretty much done. I just need to maintain those sentiments until she leaves home.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

BBC News reported yesterday that the annual number of applications made by local councils in England to take children into care has exceeded ten thousand for the first time. Apparently 886 were made in March alone.

Well, if my own experience is anything to go by, the figure for April could be even higher. I walked into the grading room at work yesterday to find this:

Care Application
That particular care application was attached to a two-foot-tall Dora the Explorer, who was taken away from the children of one of my colleagues after they became unable to care for her. Due to being too old for such things. Apparently they couldn't care less.

So I picked up Amelie from nursery yesterday afternoon and took her into our office, where she considered the application carefully for about half a second, before deciding to take over custody of Dora on a permanent basis.

As it happens, it's not the first time they've met. I photographed them together last September, when Lisa was doing some stirling work as a veteran Dora impersonator. I'm convinced they use the same hairdresser. If she could just learn to keep her eyes open in a photo, Lisa could have a whole new career ahead of her.

But a lot's changed in seven months, and interestingly it's now my daughter with the lucrative lookalike potential...

Amelie's the one on the left. And she holds a cat in much the same way.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One of the nice things about having a website is that it gives you the opportunity to assist international visitors from far flung corners of the globe, who are thirsting for knowledge and enlightenment, and seeking answers to important questions via the worldwide web.

Only the other day I had a visitor from the Islamic Republic of Iran, home of one of the oldest civilisations in the world, and a nation of proud and noble people, not all of whom are developing nuclear weapons, who spend much of their time in prayerful contemplation of life's true meaning, and their role as devout Muslims in an increasingly secular world.

This particular prince of Persia visited here on Monday, on the lookout for something specific. My website stats tell me not only where he came from, but also his internet service provider, the page he visited, and the search term he entered into Google...

Unfortunately, the image he found was this one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The thing about Shimmy is that she's very cute when she's on the dining table with her face buried in a bouquet of roses...

... but slightly less appealing when it's buried in a plate of roast chicken. Sadly I don't have a photo of that. I was too busy sprinting across the living room and shouting "Noooooo!!!" as I watched our bank holiday dinner disappearing down the cat. I wouldn't mind, but there were twelve chicks hidden around the flat on Saturday night, and she didn't touch those.

The good news, however, is that despite our cat-related disasters, we've been able to remain positive and upbeat at all times. And it's all thanks to Amelie. She asked me to play 'Hungry Dinos' with her yesterday, which is basically 'Hungry Hippos' for victims of child poverty, and as I got it down from the shelf, she said this:

"And remember, Daddy, there are no sad faces allowed when you're playing this game."

As a man who'd just lost his dinner to a fat stray, I was naturally a bit indignant to hear this news, so I responded with "Really?"

To which Amelie replied, "Yes. It says so on the box."

I rarely accept anything she says as the truth, so I asked her to show me.

And she pointed out this:

No Sad Faces
I wasn't sure if that was a 'No Sad Faces' rule, or just a ban on less than four Tintin impersonators, but either way, we both smiled and got on with the game.

Monday, April 09, 2012

I don't know about anyone else, but in this family we celebrate Easter in the traditional way, marking the death and resurrection of Christ with the centuries-old custom of giving a dog in a bag...

It's interesting how the stuffed toy is given a sensible name like Rusty, while her real cat gets saddled with Shimona. Oh, and I apologise for the lack of focus. I was suffering from a chocolate hangover at the time, and chose the wrong setting on my camera.

To be honest, that wasn't even the video I was intending to shoot. I spent Saturday night hiding twelve chocolate chicks around the flat, and was planning to film Amelie hunting for them in the morning. Unfortunately she got up in the night and found most of them before I'd even turned the light on. I'll try again next year.

As it happens though, Easter wasn't the only excuse for a bit of gift-giving around here yesterday. It was also my niece's birthday. She turned 13, which was unlucky for anyone hoping to maintain a healthy waistline. So despite being stuffed full of chocolate already, we met up with the birthday girl and her parents yesterday afternoon, and together joined my parents for a family feast at Frankie & Benny's.

In the Lassie film above, Amelie states after two minutes that "I'm not going to take him to the meal". And I'm pleased to say that she's a girl of her word. The word being 'liar'...

Camera Shy
That's my niece on the left. It might look as though she's reluctant to have her photo taken, but in reality, the head in the hands is just the default position for anyone sitting next to Amelie.

The good news is that she enjoys giving (almost) as much as receiving, so it wasn't long before we were handing over the gifts in the pink flocked paper...

Present and Correct
That's not me in the background. Frankie & Benny's just happens to be popular with fat, bald blokes. And if you're not fat when you arrive, you will be by the time you leave.

Cheese!So with the gift-giving done, we settled down to a refined meal of chips, burgers, pizza, pasta and sugar dissolved in fat. It was actually very nice, although I'm not sure Dr Atkins would agree.

The Frankie & Benny's menu is so extensive it could keep an entire African village going for a decade, but as one of David Cameron's working poor, with numerous cats and kids to support, I decided to opt for the rather limited 'Specials Menu' (as recommended by Terry Hall) which offered three courses for thirteen quid. Which was appropriate, given the birthday. So I was naturally devastated at the end of the meal when my brother insisted on paying. If I'd known, I'd have ordered the steak.

But still, I managed to put a brave face on it all...

Brothers Grim
I don't know which is more puzzling: the fact that my brother's seven years older than me, half the size and has managed to hold on to his hair; or the fact that Frankie & Benny have put a bust of Colonel Sanders on the wall.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Back in March of last year, shortly after the council fitted our new front door, Lisa's Mum got chatting to a man at a bus stop who told her that these particular doors are so robust that not even the police can break through them. Which is madness when you consider that most of the city's criminals live in council flats. I expect.

Anyhoo, the good news is that one year on, I'm now in a position to judge the veracity of that claim. And I can report that it's false. As long as you've got a decent battering ram. And you don't mind breaking it.

I'd just put Amelie to bed last night when an ambulance drew up outside with its lights flashing. Lisa was still in town, assisting AA with a few recoveries, so I felt it was my duty to watch what unfolded, so that I could report back to her. What I didn't realise at the time was that I'd be able to watch it all from the spyhole of our new front door.

It transpired that the ambulance had been called to our immediate next door neighbour. He's rarely ever there, and I haven't seen him since Christmas, so for all I knew, they could have been three months too late. But either way, their ringing and banging on his front door elicited no kind of response. So they tried mine instead. Fortunately I was a lot more forthcoming, so I was soon chatting to a couple of paramedics on the doorstep, and pooling our remarkable lack of knowledge about the chap next door.

At that point the paramedic told me to expect a lot of noise, as they'd called the police to break down the door. I was tempted to tell them that I know a few people at bus stops who would laugh in the face of assertions like that, but I didn't want to ruin their evening, so I kept quiet. He then added "He's almost certainly not in there, but we have to be sure". That struck me as an odd thing to say, as I'd fully expect the victim of a 999 call to be unable to answer the door, but I didn't question them. Instead I went inside and braced myself for the noise.

And boy, they weren't kidding. The police soon arrived with an electric battering ram. Although it sounded more like a cannon. Thirty seconds of bone-shaking, earth-moving, door-shattering booms later, and I felt like I'd lost all my fillings and perforated an ear drum. Although I still managed to hear the woman from upstairs come down to shout at the police about the noise.

When the pounding stopped, I looked through the spyhole to see one smashed-in front door and two bewildered policemen looking at their state-of-the-art battering ram in disbelief. It was bent at an angle and ruined. So while one of their colleagues accompanied the paramedics into the flat, I watched the other two discussing the fact that no door has ever broken their battering ram before. I couldn't wait to get down to the bus stop and pass on the news.

Anyhoo, the result of all that activity was that the paramedics were right. The chap wasn't in there. It was like the Easter story brought to life. Only it makes even less sense. A carpenter turned up an hour later to board up the door, and the police left a sign instructing the occupier to phone them when he gets home. Not that he can get into his home without a power saw and a crowbar. Give it a few hours and I could be making up a bed on the sofa.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Amelie told me this afternoon that she wants us to call her baby brother Boris. I thought for a moment she was coming out for the Tories at the London Mayoral elections, but as it transpired, she'd heard the name on an episode of 'Grandpa in My Pocket'. She was quite insistent though. In the end I told her I'd sleep on it, and see how I feel when I wake up. Which was an entirely wasted attempt at humour.

On the subject of sleep, there's been an ironic turnaround in the family health situation, which has resulted in Lisa spending the day in bed. Until ten minutes ago, when she got up and went out on the town. I don't know who she thinks she's fooling.

Personally I'm much the same as I was yesterday, but after a few spoonfuls of Calpol and a slightly disturbed night, Amelie's perked right up. Unlike Lisa, who seems to have been struck down by a bout of mid-pregnancy morning sickness. In the afternoon. She threw up a hot cross bun around lunchtime, and has been in bed ever since. But against medical advice (I work for the NHS), she's just dragged herself out of bed, and gone into town to help some people from AA avoid a breakdown.

As a result, Amelie and I have been fending for ourselves all day. We struggled our way around Asda this morning for the weekly shop, then came home and prepared a gourmet home-cooked lunch. I'm no stranger to advanced culinary adventures, so I made us beans on toast...

Homemade Baked Beans
I cut the recipe out of The Week magazine. It was cheaper than spending forty quid on the book. The result was quite tasty, but took approximately two hundred times longer than opening a tin of Heinz, so I'm not sure I'll make it again.

Other than that, we've just been playing 'Home Sheep Home 2' on the iPad, watching The Flumps on DVD, and wrapping my niece's birthday presents in pink flocked paper. But now Lisa's off the premises, we can wrap up her chocolate gifts and paint a few eggs. Easter, here we come.

Friday, April 06, 2012

I've always said that I'll get into my mother-in-law's good books by hook or by crook. And today it was by hook. She's been wanting some way of hanging clothes on the back of her bedroom door for some time now, so what with it being Good Friday and all, I decided to do her a turn by popping to B&Q this afternoon.

Let Sleeping Cats LieLisa had gone on ahead to her Mum's, taking Amelie with her, which left Chloe and Shimmy to curl up peacefully below Amelie's reward chart. Which, to be honest, is a generally quiet place to sleep. You're unlikely to be troubled by much activity there.

So I left them snoozing, and eventually dragged myself off to the DIY store for a coat hook. I hadn't been feeling great all day, which I put down to a suspected prostate-related flare-up, so it was tempting to stay at home, but in the end I was driven on by a determination to help my mother-in-law. And the possibility that she might have Easter eggs.

So I made it to B&Q, bought a hook, and drove over to Lisa's Mum's, where she told me that she doesn't actually have anything to hang on it, but that she thought it might come in useful. Possibly for stringing up children. So I fitted it successfully, and we headed down the road to Queens Park for some fun in the sun. Lisa was radiant in her pregnancy glow...

Ghost Child
... and Am was as white as a sheet. I'd felt like death warmed up all day, but by the time we left the park, I seemed to have passed it on to Amelie. Which is remarkable if it's prostatitis. After an hour in the sunshine, Am was as pale as a milk bottle, and visibly shivering with cold. When we got her home, she refused any food (I nearly fainted with shock) and fell asleep on the sofa with a temperature. When she woke up shortly afterwards, she told us "I don't know how to smile".

To be honest, I feel much the same myself, but I don't know if we've picked up the same virus, or if it's just my recurrent men's problems. Either way, I've had to cancel tonight's shopping trip to Asda. Thank god we've stocked up on Creme Eggs.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

It's a well known fact that I refuse to work for anyone who isn't on Twitter. Which explains why I was mostly unemployed until 2008. But fortunately these days I can enjoy regular tweets from my employers, such as this one, published yesterday about hospital radio at the Princess Royal...

An aerial destroyed by a car?? Was it Dick Van Dyke driving Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

You know, it's only when you talk to a three-year-old that you realise just how confusing the English language is. I had a conversation with Amelie while I was feeding the cats this morning, in which she told me that Chloe's a good patient because she waits quietly for her food, but that Shimmy's a bad patient because she keeps miaowing and reaching up to where the bowls are. She then asked me why Shimmy's not a good patient at feeding time. I told her it's down to NHS cuts.

On the subject of cuts (these links are seamless) I bought some new knives and forks today. I was thinking at the weekend that we could do with some replacement cutlery. There might only be three of us in this household, one of whom prefers to use her fingers (I've told Lisa to stop that), but the cutlery tends to get a lot of use, and it's important we have sharp forks so that I can tell when Lisa's been scraping out the non-stick pans with metal implements.

So I was back in Hassocks today, looking out for celebrities, when I spotted a cutlery set in a charity shop. It's new and unused, but seems strangely dated...

Toscane Cutlery
It's a lot like Gwyneth Powell - hot in the 80s, but still pretty cool today. If you like orange cutlery, that is. Fortunately I'm never happier than when I'm eating garlic bread and grapes with a spoon that looks like it's been Tango'd. Although I don't fancy those flower starters much.

The important thing is that I only paid £2.49 for a complete boxed set of cutlery, so I can view them as pretty disposable. And judging by Lisa's reaction when she saw them, they'll be in the bin pretty soon.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

I had an e-mail last night from the Director of Professional Education at an American ophthalmology journal, saying that he's enjoyed my blogging, and would like to invite me to write a 1,500 word article on the etiology of retinopathy for their 4th quarter issue. And it's not even April the first. It was my boss who pointed that out when I told him.

Obviously it's a tempting request, and one which prompted me to take immediate action. I headed straight for the dictionary to look up 'etiology'. Having done so, I'm not sure I'm the most qualified of candidates, but fortunately the e-mail says I can use as many references and photos as I like. So I might just quote other people and add some pictures of myself posing in a pair of glasses.

Apparently they're "also very interested in the work you do", which is worrying on so many levels, and might lead them to discover that I don't do much, but by the time I've written a few dozen jokes about my daily life, I can probably gloss over the etiology bit, and finish on a song.

The good news is that my work features a lot of material for potential articles. Mostly for publication in 'Heat' magazine. I was in Hassocks yesterday, around the corner from the health centre, when I spotted Gwyneth Powell walking down the High Street. Yes, Gwyneth Powell! I know, I couldn't believe it myself.

Mrs McCluskyFor anyone not familiar with the phrase 'Bridget the Midget', Gwyneth Powell played Mrs McClusky in Grange Hill throughout most of my childhood. As a straight-laced boffin with no street cred, she was something of a role-model for me, so naturally I had a bit of a crush on her. Which is the kind of thing I shouldn't be admitting to in public. Fortunately I'd grown out of it by the age of twenty-five.

Much like my daughter before me, I couldn't believe my eyes, but I've checked Wikipedia and it says she lives in Hurstpierpoint, which is only a mile down the road, so it was definitely her. And what's more, she's a patron of the Hurstpierpoint Players. I think I'll forget that ophthalmology journal, and write them a play instead.

Monday, April 02, 2012

It's Ladies Day at Ascot Racecourse!

Ladies Day
Or possibly Car Boot Day at Brighton Racecourse. The two look so similar. But the transit vans in the background, and the general lack of horses, would suggest the latter.

Anyhoo, it's a well known fact that if you want to get Amelie out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, you need to promise her lizards. So in an effort to make the most of the sunshine, I offered to take her for a walk yesterday afternoon to the garden centre on the Race Hill. She'd been pestering me all morning to drive her back to Pets at Home, but I was reluctant to use the petrol in case I'm forced into a panic-buying punch-up on the forecourt next time I need to fill up. Frankly if I have to fight anyone for fuel at the local garage, I'll be lucky to come away with a bag of charcoal briquettes.

So in the end we compromised, and walked to the garden centre instead. Like all good garden supply stores, they sell reptiles, hamsters and guinea pigs, plus some mice you can feed to your snakes. So Amelie was in her element. She was particularly taken with the plastic trays of live crickets, which she took to be a trendy new pet, and asked me to buy for her. I said no, and tried to distract her with the baby tortoises instead. A move I regretted when she loved them, and I saw they were £139.99 each.

Fortunately we made it out of there without maxing out the credit card, and headed next door to the race course, where they were holding their weekly car boot sale. It turned out to be the perfect cheap toddler entertainment. Amelie assumed we were in a car park with people who don't tidy their stuff away. She had no idea it was all for sale. We walked right the way around, and she didn't ask me to buy a thing until she saw an ice cream van. We had a lovely afternoon out, and it only cost me £1.50. I've told her we can go back next week.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

When she got up this morning, Amelie told me that she'd been dreaming about cars and boats. She then added "I like cars and boats, but my favourite dreams are about potatoes". I'm not sure if that's an April Fool's joke, or just evidence that she loves chips.

But as it happens, I've been far more occupied with my other child this weekend. Deciding on a name for our baby last week meant that I could get on with the most important task facing any father-to-be: registering the website address. It's pretty much a certainty that both my children will grow up to be international superstars, so it's vital to bag them a dotcom at the earliest opportunity.

Having done so a few days ago, I spent some time yesterday creating the baby's website. I was still working on when Lisa was in labour, so I thought I'd start a bit earlier this time. I don't want to be late getting to the maternity ward, just because I'm editing a bit of HTML. Once was bad enough.

So the website's taking shape nicely, although it appears to be heading in a slightly psychedelic direction which makes it look like he's starring in 'Hair'. Amelie had understated pastels; the baby has primary day-glos. Frankly the web address should come with a complimentary pair of sunglasses. But other than that, it's lovely.

In addition to creating an online presence, I've also been driving around Brighton like a Salvation Army worker, picking up unwanted baby clothes. Amelie's old playgroup friend (who's since become her swimming partner) has a little brother who's rapidly approaching two, so their mother offered us the shirt off his back. Plus numerous other bits of clothing. She's originally from Germany, and the kids are bi-lingual, so we're now the proud owners of a t-shirt featuring the words '101 Dalmatiner' and a picture of a dog.

I picked that up on Friday night, but as it transpired, Saturday was much the same. We had a phone call yesterday morning from Lorraine, who was having a clear out, and offered us not only an expensive car seat, but a car to go with it. Admittedly it was only a ten-inch toy, but given their financial circumstances, it's probably worth more than my Skoda.

So Amelie and I drove over to Hove yesterday afternoon to pick it all up, and collect a load of baby bed-linen and clothes they were chucking out too. We'll be selling it all on eBay and buying something cheaper.

On the way back, we popped into Pets at Home to look at the lizards. Amelie's a bit obsessed with reptiles at the moment, and thinks there's a very real chance of us buying her one. I've told her she'll have to book us into Dignitas first, but she hasn't given up. So as a compromise, I let her visit them in pet shops just for the fun of it. It's like taking the poor kids to the stately home to show them what they'll never have. Although we'd already been to Lorraine's, so that's twice in one day.

Despite Amelie's requests, we didn't buy a bearded dragon, but we did come home with a packet of 'Paws Away'. It's a revolutionary anti-scratch protective film that you apply to your furniture to stop your trouble-making cat shredding your sofa. Having opened it up, it turned out to be double-sided sticky tape, but with one important difference: it costs three times as much. Presumably it works by ensuring that the next time Shimmy scratches the furniture, she's stuck fast for the rest of her life. And in the meantime, we can relax on sofas that look like they've been gift-wrapped in sellotape.

The tragedy is that all this activity came at a price. By the time I'd designed a website, picked up some hand-me-downs, and stuck down the upholstery, I realised I'd missed the fat bloke's event of the year: free pasties in Brighton. It's enough to make a grown man weep.