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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Amelie and I were watching Milkshake on Channel 5 at seven o'clock this morning, which was not how I planned to start my weekend, when they mentioned their 'Pet of the Day' feature. Within seconds, I'd been ordered to fetch my camera, and Am was grabbing the nearest cat...

Shimmy's currently on heat, and needs to be neutered as a matter of urgency, so I think she took it as some kind of mating attempt. I won't be mentioning that when I send the photo to Channel 5.

If you look closely at that picture, you might notice that in addition to her normal everyday attire of stripy socks and pearl-studded tiara, Amelie's wearing an attractive paper bracelet which makes her look like an escapee from a mental ward. It was made for her yesterday by her six-year-old cousin, who is emerging as one of Brighton's leading purveyors of bespoke ladies' accessories. Primarily those involving sellotape and the extensive use of biros.

Obviously high-fashion isn't really built to last, especially when you wear it around your bicep, and sure enough, by mid-morning it was broken. But fortunately I've saved it as a family memento, and scanned it for posterity. I think it gives an interesting insight into their relationship. It's like the Rosetta Stone. Only harder to decipher. But I'm willing to give it a go...

Loved... up... boy... [would like to meet] fiery... cat-owner... with a sunny disposition... for highs and lows... on a rainy day.

I think I'll give her a lift over to his place.

Friday, June 29, 2012

There are times in life when you suddenly realise that you don't know your friends quite as well as you thought you did. Today, for example, I discovered that contrary to the overwhelmingly positive impression I've held of him for the past four years, my good friend Stefan is actually the angel of death, spreading fear, panic and mortality everywhere he goes. No, really.

Stefan started working in the same department as me this week, so I took him to Lewes Hospital this afternoon to show him our clinic there. He'd already come close to giving one of my colleagues a panic attack when he spotted a slight cataract in her eye yesterday, so while she got onto the RNIB and put a down payment on a guide dog, I kindly escorted Stefan out of the building and over to Lewes, where I thought I'd show him what a healthy eye looks like. So I let him take a photo of my retina...

It's a beautifully taken photograph, and clearly you won't find any cataracts there. Just a massive haemorrhage from the superior arteriole...

It wasn't there two years ago, when I last had my photos taken...

So it's official: I'm about to peg it.

It could just be one of those random anomalies, or I could have undiagnosed hypertension. But if my blood pressure wasn't high this morning, it has been since I saw that photograph. I've made an appointment to have it checked by my GP on Tuesday. Stefan's got a lot to answer for.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I was reading a newly-published scientific paper today, entitled 'Most Older Pedestrians Are Unable to Cross the Road in Time', which is quite an accusatory title. I think the author has mown down a few pensioners and is trying to make her excuses.

The surprising outcome of the study is that approximately 90% of people over 65 can't walk fast enough to use a pedestrian crossing in the UK. The other 10% are driving around in Nissan Micras, clipping them before they reach the kerb.

According to the report, "The ability to cross the road safely is important for the health of older people", and helps them avoid getting mangled under wheel-arches, but the most startling revelation of all is that "There is some evidence that walking speed is socially patterned".

Apparently the more common you are, the slower you shuffle around the council estate.

Those aren't my words, those are the words of legitimate science. Although I've paraphrased them a bit. It explains why it takes Lisa ten minutes to walk up the hill from the bus stop. She claims it's because she's eight months pregnant, but frankly I've been packing that kind of weight around my middle for years, and I can still haul myself up the hill. I'm clearly just a lot more classy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

As it turns out, there is such a thing as a free lunch, but it's served on plates so small, the only square meal you can fit on it is an After Eight mint. I had to go back for seconds. Twice. Which is technically thirds. They'd also dipped the sausages in honey, although personally I quite liked that.

Anyhoo, I've spent today tackling a mountain of subjects at the K2 leisure centre, and listening to ophthalmologists, diabetologists, and the only physician in Sussex. If he leaves, we're in big trouble. They put us in the room next door to the swimming pool, so when someone said we all need to change, I panicked slightly and looked for my towel.

But that aside, it was an interesting day. They had a 12-metre climbing wall which made Mount Amelie look like a hillock, but frankly it was nothing compared to the tower of sandwiches I had on my saucer-sized plate. Sadly, our lunch break was less than half an hour, so I only had time to tackle one of them. I went with the latter. It seemed like more of a challenge.

I stopped off on the way home to visit Stefan & Andrew's kittens, who have grown into strapping young cats since I saw them a week and a half ago, after which I picked up Amelie from nursery, took her to Lidl for an argument, and got home later than if I'd been at work.

Fortunately I was greeted by some fantastic news, courtesy of The Daily Mirror...

My hair has never looked so good.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I was back in the wilds of Sussex today, screening the filthy rich, so I decided to do my bit to support small independent retailers by getting some locally sourced bananas. To be honest, I'm not sure how locally sourced they were (possibly not Sussex), but it was a choice of either the Co-op or the village greengrocer, so I went with the veg in the shed.

Asda charges around 69p for a kilogram of bananas. Although they won't let you have that many if you order them online. The one they delivered on Sunday cost me 15p. So I picked up two bunches in the fruit & veg shop at lunchtime today, and handed them to the farmer's wife with the scales. She charged me £2.51. Which was embarrasing, as I was holding about £1.50 in change. For a moment I thought I'd have to put some back, and started wondering if she'd left her shotgun leaning against the scales, but just as I was about to question her accuracy (with the scales, not the gun), I noticed the price list on the wall, and saw that bananas were £1.31 a kilo. Frankly it would have been cheaper to hire some staff and send them into town.

I coughed up (to be honest, it was more of a splutter), and regretted not going to the Co-op, but having checked the prices there, I found they were charging £1.15, which wasn't a great deal better. They might be good with food, but they know how to rack up the prices when they're more than ten minutes from a town centre.

Anyhoo, the good news is that I'll be saving a fortune on food tomorrow. I'm attending a conference in Crawley, where I'll be thoroughly testing the theory that there's no such thing as a free lunch, by eating everything I can lay my hands on. It's being held at the K2, so it shouldn't be too taxing. I think the guest speaker's Jimmy Carr.

Monday, June 25, 2012

As a 24-hour party person with a heavily pregnant wife, I decided to do our shopping online this weekend. They charge me £5 to have it delivered, but I thought it would save me time. And it did. Assuming you don't include the half hour spent on the phone to Asda Customer Services trying to correct all their mistakes.

I ordered two boxes of eggs. They charged me for both and delivered only one, containing three eggs that were broken.

I ordered 2kg of bananas. They delivered one single banana weighing 200g.

I ordered two boxes of skinny lattes. They charged me for both and delivered only one.

I ordered one pack of ground coffee. They charged me for it and didn't deliver it.

And as for the single red pepper that my personal shopper chose for me, well frankly I've seen bigger tomatoes. Seriously. Amelie could fit the whole thing in her mouth without chewing. They claim that the people who pick the shopping are trained to select the goods as though it was their own shopping they were choosing. So I presume this one doesn't like peppers.

Fortunately they've refunded me for the missing goods, but I got no compensation for the bananas, because the lady on the phone suggested that maybe they'd only had one left in the store. That's the 24-hour superstore, stocking thousands of bananas a week. She proposed that ordering 2000g and receiving 200g was purely coincidental.

So I'll be spending my refund on petrol to get me to a shop where I can pick up everything I ordered. Which kind of defeats the object of the exercise. It's a good job I've got a soothing photo of two kittens, or I'd probably go mental...

Not only are they permanently surrounded by leopard print, but Andrew tells me they keep trying to break into his cocktail cabinet. It must be like living with Bet Lynch.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

If you're looking for an old boiler, I can point you in the right direction...

That one's more of a pot-boiler, obviously, but if big stomachs aren't your thing, I'm sure Andrew can hire you out something more appropriate. Like a bunny boiler...

I wonder why Lisa's not wearing her wedding ring..?

Anyhoo, despite being five weeks away from labour, we had a nice time at H's 40th birthday party last night. To be honest, Lancing Leisure Centre wasn't quite the classy destination I thought it would be, and we didn't so much walk down the red carpet as through a netball court. I think I was put off the place on a subliminal level too, as the first thing we saw on arrival was the word 'boil', which is not what you want when you're in Lancing.

Ordinarily, we'd arrive about two hours late for something like this, but Lisa was so terrified of having to stand when she's eight months pregnant, that she insisted we get there early to bag a table. It meant that we had plenty of time for a detailed kitten-update from H, and the big news is that they took their little one to the vet for the first time yesterday. Unfortunately, despite being nine weeks old (the kitten, not the vet), they were told it was too young to accurately sex, and the vet wouldn't be drawn on its gender. Which is outrageous. I was willing to have a go at four weeks, and I know next to nothing. A qualified vet should be far more confident.

So they still haven't named the thing, but they have been told that it's healthy, so they won't be returning it to the breeder. Although H's husband thinks its ears are too big, and keeps calling it 'The Rat'.

Anyhoo, we spent most of the evening rooted to our table, chatting to anyone who came near, and wondering how a group of ten-year-old boys know all the steps to the Macarena when it came out sixteen years ago. I attempted to persuade Lisa to bust a few moves on the dance-floor, and after a couple of hours, she did, which is quite impressive when you're the size of a teletubby and wearing three-inch heels. I did a kind of Spanish-style dance which involved holding my arms out wide, just in case she fell.

Obviously I ate far too much from the buffet, and the birthday cake was to die for (from clogged arteries), but ultimately it was just nice to spend an evening out with my wife...

We might look like we're in a caravan, but we take a nice photo.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

If there's one person who was cheering on Sweden in their match against France at the European Football Championships last Tuesday, it was our friend H (possibly from Steps). To be honest, I don't know if that's literally true, but if she wasn't, she should have been.

It's H's 40th birthday this month, and she's throwing a party tonight at one of the glitziest and most sought-after function venues in the south-east: Lancing Leisure Centre. The invitations went out months ago, and we RSVP'd in April. But had France not lost to Sweden this week, the whole thing could have been ruined. Were it not for one shock result in the football, England would have been playing Spain tonight, and the party would have been an all-female affair. Lisa wouldn't have been there either, as I'd have refused to give her a lift. Not even H's husband would have made it. So if ever someone had cause to thank her lucky stars and play Abba all evening, it's H.

Our attendance tonight means that Amelie is spending the day at her grandparents', demonstrating how her mother gets from A to B...

Lisa would never run, of course, but other than that, it's accurate.

One old mare who can run, however, is Black Caviar in the 3:45 at Ascot this afternoon. I've been trying all week to persuade Lisa to let me put the rent money on her to win today, but despite my cast-iron assurances that the horse can't lose, Lisa's inexplicably refused to give her blessing to the venture.

In a spooky twist of fate, however, it was pay-day yesterday, and I failed to receive my travel expenses for last month, meaning that we're a couple of hundred pounds down until the end of July. Black Caviar is running at odds of about 1-5, meaning that we could instantly recoup that two hundred quid, simply by risking a thousand pounds of my salary. It's a 20% return on a five minute investment. I don't see what could possibly go wrong.

Unfortunately, Lisa can. So we might not be doing it. I think she's just jealous because I'm friends with the girl on Facebook.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Anyone who's ever seen me in close-fitting lycra will testify to the fact that I have buns of steel, and the kind of sculpted rear end it takes years of gym work to achieve. But only if I pay them to lie. In reality, the only firm butt I can touch with both hands is collecting rainwater in my parents' garden. And here it is...

That's an old flame on the right. She's still carrying a torch for me.

Anyhoo, to be honest, I'm more like J.Lo at sixty. But it seems that my son is looking far more chiselled than his father. Lisa went for another ante-natal appointment yesterday, a fortnight after being told that the baby could be breech, and this time she saw her usual midwife. The one who wasn't sure about the baby's position two weeks ago was a different lady - possibly less experienced - and having been examined by a second pair of hands, it seems that all is well. Apparently our son has "a particularly bony bottom", which is easily mistaken for a head. Although that won't last once the Gardner fat gene kicks in.

The other possibility, of course, is that the baby has two heads, and could be the subject of a future Channel 5 documentary, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

In the meantime, he's being well looked after by Amelie. Lisa was walking to nursery yesterday afternoon, when she had one of her trademark stumbles. Fortunately she recovered quickly, picked herself up, and attempted to carry on regardless, but Amelie forced her to stop for a few moments. Not because she was worried about her mother, but because she wanted to check the baby was ok, by talking to him through Lisa's stomach.

We'll see how long the concern lasts once he's taking her parents' attention and breaking all her toys.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The problem with doing a clinic today is that all my patients have now realised I'm not a doctor. They'll be asking me to take them to the toilet now, instead of inviting me to join the Masons. It could ruin my standing in the community.

But despite that, I've had a nice day out in the Sussex countryside, screening people who don't want to live near a hospital. I was reading the village noticeboard at lunchtime (there was precious little else to do), and it highlighted perfectly the problems of living in a well-to-do countryside location. It was full of 'wanted' ads for cleaners. It seems that the local residents are desperate to get some staff in, but there's no one working-class enough to do it.

It makes sense of course. If you can afford to live there, you're not going to be doing menial work for a few quid an hour. You're going to be advertising for someone to do it for you. But having viewed the noticeboard, I think there's a definite gap in the market for an enterprising young entrepreneur. Frankly someone could clean up in more ways than one. The locals are willing to pay up to to £10 an hour for a bit of hoovering, and most want about three or four hours a week, so by the time you've signed them all up, you could probably afford a mortgage on one of the houses. I might have to bus Lisa up there a few afternoons a week.

One corner of the market which has reached saturation point, however, is the home tuition sector. There were notices advertising one-to-one tutoring in foreign languages, primary school education and GCSE maths. I wasn't sure about the last one though. He was promoting himself as "a Cambridge applicant", which is hard to distinguish from a reject. Let's face it, my sister's an ESA applicant, but it doesn't mean she can teach you much about the moon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This picture appeared on Facebook yesterday...

It's a bit like Kate & Gerry McCann getting a recent photo of Madeleine. It brought a tear to Lisa's eye, and made her feel like rushing straight round to H's house to steal the kitten back. It's either that, or send Shimmy back out to get pregnant.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I've spent most of today writing the departmental newsletter at work, and publishing gratuitous pictures of cake, but as it transpires, I haven't just been writing for the NHS recently. I've also been writing for The Daily Mail. Although I wasn't aware of it until yesterday.

When I came home from work last night and checked my visitor logs, I discovered that someone at Associated Newspapers had been reading my blog...

It was just your average everyday visit of 2 hours, 58 minutes and 43 seconds. Nothing unusual, obviously. In particular, they were interested in the post I wrote a month ago about the Winfield employment tribunal, which was the focus of roughly 2 hours and 57 minutes of their visit.

Associated Newspapers own the Daily Mail, which is interesting because I can name a lot of things that cause cancer, and I'm quite judgemental about travellers and people with cellulite. I assumed they were drawn to my article because it concerns a drugged-up benefits scrounger who refuses to work, just because she's in a hospital bed with a newborn baby.

It was puzzling though, because that tribunal isn't really news. The case took place last year, and the judgement was published at the end of November, so the story's already seven months out of date. I thought I was a bit behind the times when I wrote about it in May.

But not as behind as The Mail. They published the story yesterday...

That was 2 hours, 58 minutes and 43 seconds well spent. Shame I didn't get a byline.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day was badly timed this year. If it had come six weeks later, I'd have had two children, and would have received twice as many gifts.

But despite that overwhelming sense of frustration, I had a nice day yesterday. Amelie gave me the card on the left, which contained a message she'd personally dictated, thanking me for a bagel I'd made her the day before. And the gift she presented me with was as much from the baby as from herself. It was a bedside lamp, for use during the sleepless nights we'll be having in August.

As for my own father, I got him something far more practical...

It's the latest in veterinary healthcare products, and allows you to boost the local squirrels' caffeine consumption in a particularly civilised manner, thus ensuring that they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at all times. If they weren't already.

Having bought the thing last week, I showed it to Amelie, and explained to her that Grandad would be having coffee with the squirrels in his garden, and would no doubt send her some photos to prove it. Frankly she'll believe anything, and I wanted to see how my Dad would get out of that one.

Annoyingly, the answer was 'very well'. Never mind photos, by the end of yesterday afternoon, he'd sent video footage...

Next year I'll buy him the badger cutlery.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Any worries we might have had about the kittens settling into their new homes were dispelled within two hours of them leaving. Stefan & Andrew sent us this photo of their new arrivals last night, taken about ninety minutes after they got home...

It's possible they've been chloroformed just for the photo, but personally I think it's the leopard-print throw which is putting them at ease. They clearly think the sofa's a giant cat.

Surprisingly, Shimmy's just as happy as they are. We were expecting her to spend the rest of the weekend searching the flat for her missing kittens, but she hasn't looked for them at all. She's like David Cameron in a pub. From day one, she seems to have instinctively known what to do, and has coped with her kittens like a pro. Albeit a pro who likes to eat the kids' food whenever possible. So now they're gone, she's just accepted it as the next step, and is happily resting and relaxing with no upset. I'll be reminding Lisa of that when Amelie leaves home to go back-packing across Iran for six months.

So with the cats' lives sorted, I can put my feet up and enjoy a relaxing Father's Day with my beautiful daughter...

Not everyone can pull off the tiara & swimming goggles combination, but I think she's managed it with style.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It's easy to get carried away...

... but I think we're probably the best cat-rearers in the world. In just eight short weeks, we've transformed those kittens from three little bundles of fluff...

... into a trio of action heroes...

They're not even fazed by Amelie honking a squeaky fish on the other sofa. And then falling on her nose.

So our work here is done. Fifty-seven days ago, we had no idea we were about to become grandparents to three small cats, but despite being about as prepared as Ethelred, I think we've done a good job. So having spent most of Amelie's trust fund on cat food, it was finally time to say our goodbyes today, and bid the kittens a fond farewell.

H (not from Steps) arrived promptly this morning for her pick of the bunch...

Actually, I say 'not from Steps', but there is a definite resemblence...

She'll be singing Tragedy when she sees that.

Anyhoo, little did I know when I attended H's wedding in 2010, that two years later, I'd be the man responsible for the pitter-patter of tiny feet in her household. It's probably just as well - I'd have been thrown out of the reception.

Both the kitten and Shimmy took to the separation bravely, stoicly, and with the attitude of two cats who couldn't care less, and were quite happy to see the back of each other. The kitten was lying down in the basket before they'd even made it out of the living room, and Shimmy never batted an eyelid. Helen phoned this evening to say that her kitten had been asleep on her lap all afternoon, and happily trying to play with her other cat. I think it's forgotten us already.

That just left two kittens to be re-homed, and they were duly claimed this afternoon...

Even Amelie looks happy about it, which is a miracle. Stefan & Andrew took their pair of kittens with just as little trauma as the first adoption. It we'd known it was this easy, we'd have got rid of them weeks ago. They haven't decided on names yet, but their last two cats were called Linda and Steve, and at one point they were considering Susan. When I asked them why, Andrew said "because Susan's a nice name". It's hard to argue with logic like that.

So that's it. We've found two loving homes for three lovely kittens, and we can sleep easy in our beds, without fear of being pounced on. Bring on the empty nest syndrome.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I was back at Cross-Hair Hill today in the Valley of the Spiders, hunting big game in an effort to impress my daughter. Oddly for someone related to Lisa, Amelie loved my photo of a zebra spider on Wednesday, and when I told her I was going back to the same place again today, she ordered me to film the beast this time. As she said to me last night, "I want to see it move, Daddy". She's like that with sleeping kittens.

Sadly, as any Nessie hunter will tell you, these things never turn up when you want them to. The clinic was a spider-free zone this morning. There was a horse on the wall...

... and a bottle of cranberry juice...

... but that was about it.

Until mid-afternoon, when this turned up...

It's hard to run away from a spider when it's standing on your shoe. No wonder they call them beetle-crushers. I probably shouldn't have filmed my feet though, as they give away how tiny the creature was. Obviously that one wasn't a zebra spider. Zebras are far more scary. You wouldn't want to cross one.

On the subject of elusive animals, the kittens will be eight weeks old tomorrow, so it's almost time to send them off for slaughter. Sorry, I mean laughter. And fun. With their new owners. We were going to keep them for another week, but in the past few days we've decided we need to get rid of them fast, before they suck the life out of their mother.

To be honest, they're sucking the life out of me too. It's not easy feeding five cats, four times a day, and dealing with the resulting litter trays, worming treatments and accidents, whilst holding down a full-time job, a three-year-old daughter and a heavily pregnant wife. Not that the wife and daughter want to be held down, but sometimes it's the only way to deal with them.

Shimmy, however, seems to be suffering even more than I am. As a mother, you give a lot of yourself to your children, but in the eight weeks since the kittens were born, they appear to have been eating her alive. She's only a small, young cat, and as the kittens have grown bigger, she's been getting ever thinner. She's always eaten well, but sadly in the past two months she's achieved my lifelong dream of stuffing herself constantly and still losing weight.

For the past week or so, I don’t think the kittens have really needed their mother's milk, as they're merrily eating up my wages in Felix, but Shimmy still offers, and they’re happy to accept. The trouble is, they're now so big, they have the appetites of lions, and see Shimmy as a tempting wildebeest. She's now looking like a deflated balloon, and has about as much energy as Lisa.

So tomorrow is D-Day. The D stands for de-kittening. H (not from Steps) is coming round in the morning, followed by Stefan & Andrew in the afternoon. By the evening, we'll be back down to two cats, and looking up the number of a good neutering service. It's been fun while it lasted, but never again.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I looked up that Chinese abortion photo on the internet today (don't worry, that link won't take you to the picture), which was possibly the most upsetting thing I've ever seen, and made me feel like weeping in front of my patients. It's one of those stories I'm glad I know about, but wish I could forget.

So while I regroup, gather my thoughts and dab away the tears, I'll pass you over to Brighton's second best blogger for a more light-hearted post...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I was doing a clinic in Uzi Valley, near Handgun Hill today, and I found myself sharing a consulting room with this fella...

I'm not sure if he's diabetic, but he can probably afford to lose a leg or two and go blind in one eye. It's particularly ironic, because the room I was working in didn't have web access.

When I got home, however, I was able to look it up on the internet, where I discovered that it's a Zebra Spider. Which is spooky, as that's the name I'd have given it, and I know nothing about arachnids. Spookier still is that it chose the right room, as Zebra Spiders never use webs, preferring to pounce on their victims instead. According to Wikipedia, they're also "noted for their awareness of humans" and "upon noticing someone observing them, they can be seen raising their head". So they're a lot like Amelie, but without the guilty expression.

Fortunately I managed to avoid being stared at and jumped on, and survived the day without turning into Spiderman, although as it transpired, the ability to swing from the ceiling might have proved useful. One of my patients phoned up this afternoon to cancel her appointment, citing the reason as 'flooding'. Apparently her neighbours were in the same boat. So why they couldn't make it, I have no idea.

Personally I think the floods were just an excuse, and she was heading for Worthing to see this chap...

Under normal circumstances of course, you'd want to steer clear of a Mann who offers to show people his eminent organ, and tries to ply them with free drinks in the hope of having an afternoon of fun, but frankly anything goes in Worthing. You'll get change out a fiver too. I'm tempted to go myself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Following on from yesterday's blog post, it's been pointed out to me by one of the world's leading linguists (thanks, Dad) that if you go to and enter the words 'La Ferme' into the French-English translator, it comes up with 'shut your trap'. Which has made me see Andrew's gift in a completely different light. I'm scared to enter 'Les Véhicules', in case it tells me to f*** off.

But bad language aside, I had the day off work yesterday, which was bloody great. I booked it a couple of months ago after we received an exclusive invitation to spend the weekend in Oxford, at the home of one of England's leading scholars. Unfortunately, our trip to the city of dreaming spires began to look more like a nightmare once Lisa turned anaemic, developed pelvic girdle pain, and started throwing up. So we took the decision to cancel. We might have been staying with a healthcare professional, but she didn't want to deliver our baby.

So that's the second weekend away that we've had to call off in the past fortnight. Our names must be mud on the high society social scene. It's no wonder we didn't get called to the palace last week. But hey, I'm sure the invitations will start rolling in again once we've got a screaming baby in tow. Everyone loves a newborn.

So with that in mind, we spent my day off acquiring a new wardrobe for our impending arrival. One of Lisa's friends has an eleven-month-old son, and she kindly offered to give us the clothes off his back, so we drove over to Portslade yesterday afternoon to pick them up. Once there, Lisa disappeared into the kitchen for a girly chat, leaving me to help Amelie break the ice in the living room with the baby's four-year-old brother.

It was a bit like mediating in a marriage breakdown. I had Amelie on one sofa, refusing to speak (if only she was like that at home), and a young man on the other, telling me about his holiday, but trying not to look my daughter in the eye. In the end though, they went from one extreme to the other. After twenty minutes of sterling work that ACAS would have been proud of, I had a mini-breakthrough, got them to talk to each other, and within thirty seconds they were heading upstairs to his bedroom. If she was ten years older, she'd be grounded.

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's a well known fact that beauty without brains is like an iPhone with no SIM card. So a pack of 'Don't Have Ugly Children' chewing gum can only go so far in creating the perfect family. What you really need is a two-pronged approach, tackling both looks and intellect.

So it's fortunate that in addition to plying us with beauty gum, Andrew gave Amelie some books yesterday afternoon. He picked them up in France a couple of weeks ago, having decided that it's about time Amelie stopped living on her looks, and started learning a second language. She's already fluent in the gibberish Igglepiggle speaks, but that hasn't yet been recognised by any nation state. Although it's only a matter of time.

So she's now the proud owner of two French books, one called 'La Ferme' and the other 'Les Véhicules'. It's difficult to describe the plot of each book in any great detail, because, let's face it, they're both in a foreign language, but if I had to sum them up in a sentence, I'd say that they basically allow you to ouvre la porte de la ferme (et la porte du garage) et découvre plein de beaux dessins. But don't quote me on that.

Obviously learning any language takes time, even when it's a simple one like French, but she's had twenty-four hours now, so she's pretty much fluent. I think her longstanding love of Mr Rude has stood her in good stead and allowed her to take to the lingo like a chick to water...

Not even a dead kitten on the floor can put her off. It's particularly useful, because when France equalised half an hour ago, she was able to slag them off in their own language.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm not claiming to be a world expert on body language or animal behaviourism, but I think I can recognise mild concern when I see it...

It's the pleading look in the eyes which says "Help me". And "Stop taking my damn photo".

Under normal circumstances, of course, I'd move heaven and earth to help a kitten in distress, but at the time I was more focused on the fact that Amelie appeared to be morphing into Vishnu, the multi-armed Hindu deity. It's only a week since she developed stigmata, so I wasn't going to miss her latest religious miracle. She could be on the verge of making me a fortune.

In reality, however, the man behind the cruelty, and the first bloke ever to give my daughter the elbow, was none other than our good friend Stefan...

The orange book in front of him is this one. It's never far from my coffee table.

As it happens, Stefan's coming to work with me in just a couple of weeks, so I thought I'd lend him a bit of bedtime reading matter before he starts. It's important to get some rest before embarking on a new career, and that should send him to sleep in no time.

But my vast library of medical textbooks (I've got two) wasn't the only reason we received a visit from Stefan and Andrew this afternoon. They also wanted to inspect the kittens...

The concerned cat in the first photo above has been reserved by our good friend H. Although she needs to check that her pet insurance covers post traumatic stress disorder. The other two kittens will be going to Stefan and Andrew. That's assuming they survive another week or two with Amelie. She looks particularly pleased in that picture, because she's succeeded in her dastardly plan to distract everyone's attention by wearing odd shoes, so that she can subtly cover Shimmy with a cushion.

It goes without saying that our generous gift of two kittens has pretty much ensured constant happiness for Stefan and Andrew for the next eighteen years, but to be fair, they've done the same for us...

They brought us some 'Don't Have Ugly Children' Beauty Gum, "as used by the world's most perfect families". I tried a piece, and frankly it proved that when it comes to beauty, it's a case of no pain, no gain. I certainly felt the burn. It was like chewing on a chilli pepper.

The good news, however, is that whilst we can't guarantee the gorgeousness of our offspring, we can be pretty sure the kittens are in good hands. I was worried about them being upset when they leave us, but on the evidence of this afternoon, they won't give us a second thought. Andrew only had to sit on the sofa, and the kittens swooned all over him...

Either he has a natural affinity with felines, or he's got catnip in his jeans.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

That face can mean only one thing...

Amelie's at her Grandma & Grandad's today. She's rarely that happy at home.

Mind you, it's not all fun and laughter...

When my Mum told me they had a new dishwasher, I didn't realise that's what she meant.

Anyhoo, the luxury of a child-free day means that I was able to pop into town this morning for a few essentials. I came back with the plaque on the left, for Lisa to hang on the door when the baby comes. Unfortunately, our son's currently putting his best foot forward in an all too literal sense. Lisa had a midwife appointment on Thursday afternoon, and the lady couldn't tell what position the baby's now in, so with only seven weeks to go until the due date, there's a slight concern that he's breech. Amelie chose to come out with her hand up, and now her brother's trying to jump out feet first.

There's still time for him to move though (or there would be if he wasn't so lazy), and there's a chance that Lisa might be offered another scan to establish his position. Which is good news, as it means we'll get some more photos.

And in the meantime, we've got baby photos like this one...

I knew it was worth shutting Shimmy in the bedroom.

Friday, June 08, 2012

In an effort to test the theory that familiarity breeds contempt, I did the same 21 mile road trip across Sussex again this morning. Frankly I could do it with my eyes closed. Although that's one test I won't be repeating. Fortunately, today's trip was a lot more straightforward. In fact the only thing not working was the concept of nice weather in June. It wasn't so much flaming as inflammatory. I felt like strangling Michael Fish. Mind you, I always do.

Anyhoo, the big news from around here is that I've received a new date for my jury service. The British legal system now requires my skills of reasoning and judgement on October 1st this year. So I could be spending Amelie's birthday up to my ears in murder. Having had it deferred from the end of July, this new date is technically unavoidable for anyone but the dead, so I'll need a pretty good excuse to get out of it. Not that I want to. I plan to emulate Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. Only fatter and in colour.

In other, more cuddly news, we're hoping to rehome one of the kittens in just over a week's time. They'll be seven weeks old tomorrow, and our friend H (not from Steps) will be off work the week after next, so it seems like the perfect transfer window. H can find out what it's like to have kids by staying in all day with a crying baby. Give it a few days and she'll be desperate to get back to work.

In preparation for the move, H popped round yesterday with a red cushion cover. She's already selected the kitten she wants, so now she just needs to make sure it goes with her soft furnishings. Preparation H often involves the use of cushions to ease any discomfort, and this plan is no different. H wants the kitten to get used to the cushion cover in the next few days, so that it'll have something familiar to use as a security blanket in its new home. We've offered her Amelie, but she said no.

Unfortunately, as with food, treats, and pretty much everything else in these kittens' lives, accessing the comfy cushion means having to shove your mother out of the way first...

The only time she gets up is to eat her children's meals.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I had one of those days yesterday. You know, one of those mildly irritating days where you drive 21 miles across Sussex to do a clinic in a new location, find that your laptop doesn't work, spend half an hour on the phone to IT, ten minutes apologising to patients, and another half hour with IT, before telling the patients to go home whilst trying to avoid getting punched, and drive the 21 miles back to Brighton, where you wait half an hour for IT to fix your laptop, pop into the hospital to pick up a CD-ROM, check that the office have managed to rebook your patients, and drive the 21 miles back across Sussex in time to do the clinic in the afternoon. We've all been there.

But still, after 84 miles of stress, there's nothing I like better than coming home for a relaxing bedtime story with my three-year-old daughter. She was recounting it to me, obviously. So sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy Amelie's retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff...

(I've had to edit it substantially. Amelie telling a story is a lot like Ronnie Corbett telling a joke. They're the same height too. She carried on for about fifteen minutes, went off at numerous tangents, and at one point had about five goats in the story. But that aside, it's a cracking tale. Oh, and the union flag on her cheek may look like some kind of neo-nazi statement, but is actually just her nursery's way of extending the jubilee into a fifth day. Right, on with the story...)

You've got to hand it to her - there aren't many storytellers who can spontaneously fall over just as they say the word 'trip'.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Much like Boris Johnson before her, Amelie's position on cake is pro-having it and pro-eating it. Even as she scaled the cliff face on Monday, I couldn't help wondering if she'd mistaken it for a giant rock cake. So it came as no surprise to me when she got swept up in a wave of patriotism on Monday night and declared that she wanted to round off the weekend's celebrations by making a Jubilee Cake on Tuesday.

To be honest, I think her proposal had less to do with a fervent love for the monarchy, and more to do with a lifelong passion for buttercream, but either way, I had the day off work, so I was happy to oblige. Particularly as Lisa went down with a sudden attack of morning sickness, leaving me with a three-year-old to entertain for five hours.

Now, I'm not known as a food blogger - let's face it, I'm generally too busy eating it to write about it - but I'm not afraid to break new ground (after nine and a half years), so for the benefit of anyone scouring the internet for new recipe ideas, here's a step-by-step guide to making your very own Jubilee Cake...

1. The first step is by far the most crucial. You have to pop out to the shops and buy a Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Mix and a tub of ready-made buttercream icing. There's simply no other method worth discussing. Once you've done that, preheat your oven to gas mark 4, and crack three eggs into Lisa's favourite coffee cup...

The stigmata on the hand is optional, but does mean that you can feed five thousand people with just the one cake.

2. Add the eggs to the cake mix, along with 70ml of oil and 200ml of water...

3. Realise that you've forgotten to grease the cake tins, and do it quickly, before Lisa wakes up and wants to use the last of the butter on her toast...

4. Combine the ingredients thoroughly using an electric mixer which almost certainly shouldn't be operated by children...

5. Check the instructions, which recommend lining the cake tins with greaseproof paper, decide you can't be bothered, and ladle out the mixture into two equal portions...

6. Ask your heavenly father to pop them in the oven, and spend twenty-five minutes relaxing behind the sofa with a multitude of cats...

If you don't have cats, dogs would work just as well. It's also important to pause every five minutes to ask if the cake is cooked yet, while your Dad does the washing up.

7. When cooked and cooled, spread one half of the sandwich with buttercream...

8. Put the other half of the cake on top, and spread with the other half of the icing...

9. Pose for a photo with your cake...

10. Clock the expression of disapproval on your Daddy's face, and decide to pose properly...

11. Serve up the cake to your friends...

If you need more details, you can write in for the fact-sheet. I'll send it out when I've finished stuffing my face.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A friend of ours had a Jubilee Tea Party yesterday, complete with red, white and blue desserts served on union flag plates...

We didn't go, obviously. I love diamond jubilees as much as anyone, but I think I'll wait for the next one.

So we stayed in instead. Although by 3 o'clock we were climbing the walls...

That's Amelie going up in the world by trying her hand at rock climbing. The youngest person to climb Everest was thirteen, so she's got ten years to practice.

Anyhoo, we returned to Monkey Bizness yesterday afternoon, where they greeted us with a receipt every bit as confusing as the last one. After our visit ten days earlier, they'd e-mailed us a voucher entitling Amelie to free entry within a fortnight, so we just had to pay £1.25 each for me and Lisa. Clearly they reached the right conclusion, but quite how they got there is anyone's guess. As Lisa said to me last time, they must be using the same accountant as the nursery.

It being a bank holiday, the place was a lot more crowded than last time, but it also meant they'd laid on some extra activities. The main one being the rock climbing wall, which was closed the last time we were there. To my surprise, it was included in the price of admission (which in Amelie's case was nothing), and to my even bigger surprise, she was keen to have a go. Here she is at base camp, having her equipment checked by Sherpa Tenzing...

I was tensing a bit myself. To be honest, the only way I'd expect Amelie to get to the top of a mountain at the age of three-and-a-half is over the shoulder of a yeti. I had to stop filming to give her an initial bunk-up, but before I knew it, she was ten foot off the ground...

For the next hour and a half, the rest of the play equipment barely got a look in. Amelie would scale the rock climbing wall, abseil back down to earth, and then rejoin the queue for another go. She never did quite reach the top, but she reached the point where I could no longer reach her, which was slightly concerning as a parent. I don't like heights, so I was worried I'd have to send Lisa up to rescue her, and I wasn't sure they had a harness which would fit her. Pregnant mountaineers are a niche market.

Fortunately, Amelie managed to spend the afternoon driving herself up the wall without it turning into a remake of 'Touching the Void', and we eventually returned home to spend the evening watching the Diamond Jubilee Concert on BBC1. I think Cheryl must have dropped the Cole because she doesn't want to put her name to that singing, but her aside, I thought it was all very good. And the arrival of Elton John gave me the opportunity to prove something that I've been telling Lisa for the past eight years. Namely that the best version of Crocodile Rock ever performed was by Debbie Gibson in Pittsburgh in 1988. No, really.

I've told her that before, and I don't think she's ever believed me. But having watched Elton warble his way through the song like Vic Reeves doing his pub singer act, I muted Rolf Harris, and made Lisa sit through Debbie's version on YouTube.

And what's more, she agreed with me. It was an appropriate jubilee moment, because as 4,200 beacons were lit across the UK last night, I realised I'm still carrying a torch for Debbie Gibson. She was the Queen of 80s Pop, and I'll still love her sixty years later.