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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Every birth needs an official photographer, and fortunately ours arrived within hours...

From this point onwards, there's more than one Big Sis in my life...

And she holds a baby better than she holds a cat...

If that was Chloe, she'd have cut off the oxygen supply to the brain by now. She tends to support the head by means of a vice-like grip on the neck.

But on the subject of extreme physical violence, let me tell you about Lisa's experience of birth. If you've ever seen an episode of 'One Born Every Minute' where a dodgy character from a council estate arrives on the labour ward, flips out, and starts threatening all the staff, then you can skip this bit and just look at the photos.

After a weekend of frustration, Lisa finally went into labour at about 3am on Sunday night. She woke me up at 3:45am, but having assessed the situation carefully and concluded that it was the middle of the bloody night, I went back to sleep until five-thirty. By 6:30am, things seemed to have moved on rapidly, so Lisa phoned the hospital, and they agreed to let us go in for assessment.

By the time we got there, the contractions were every few minutes, but not as intense as the midwife wanted, so having examined Lisa and found that she was still only 2cm dilated, they sent us home again, saying it could be quite a while yet. That was at 7:45am. Readers of yesterday's blog post will know the accuracy of that statement.

So we returned home, and Lisa invited her sister over to give her a second person to punch. Less than three hours later, she said she wanted to go back to hospital, which seemed a bit premature to me, but frankly I'd rather argue with Mike Tyson in a mood than Lisa in labour, so I agreed. We got there just after 11am, and after a lot of faffing about in the triage section, they finally examined Lisa at 11:30am and found that she was almost 10cm dilated and about to give birth.

It was at that point that things got interesting. Lisa might look like a mild-mannered Mother Earth...

... but deny her an epidural, and she could take on Charles Bronson in a prison riot.

As a general rule, Lisa's quite big on pain relief, so she was asking for an epidural from the moment we walked through the door. Unfortunately, by the time they examined her, the window of opportunity was so small, and the anaesthetist so busy, that it soon became clear it was unlikely. Although I don't think that gives you the right to attack a midwife with the gas & air pipe.

As it transpired, getting Lisa onto a bed was a lot like treating Shimmy with Frontline. Not only was she hard to pin down, but there was every chance she'd slash your jugular if you tried to grab her by the wrists. At one point she reacted to the midwife's instructions by screaming "You're having a laugh!" in a crazed voice, which would have been funny, had she not been ripping the flesh off her sister's arm at the time.

Before she was onto the bed, Lisa's waters broke (suddenly, and all over our feet), and the liquid was full of meconium, which suggests the baby could be distressed. Having struggled to get a heart monitor onto a pregnant woman who's liable to hit you in the face with a gas inhaler the moment you venture within three feet of her stomach, the midwife finally checked Toby's pulse, and found it to be a bit low. She called for help, at which point things started happening very quickly.

Lisa hadn't even begun pushing at this point, but just as they asked her to try, Toby's heart rate suddenly dropped from a low 112 bpm to an alarming 60 bpm. One midwife shouted for a doctor, while the other shouted at Lisa to push as much as she possibly could, saying that we had to get the baby out now.

To my astonishment (and, I think, that of the midwives) it worked. Lisa pushed for two minutes, and Toby popped right out. The doctor hadn't even arrived yet, which was a shame, as Lisa's sister had some flesh wounds that needed attention. Not only was there meconium in the amniotic fluid, but Toby did a poo as he was delivered, which is a sign of extreme stress. Although it's something he'll have to get used to, living in this house.

As a result, they informed us that he needed to be monitored every two hours for the first twelve hours, to check that he hasn't developed Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. I told them he's a Gardner; he's not going to have aspirations. And it appears I was right. Each two-hourly check turned out to be fine.

So far, in fact, he's been the perfect baby. Although I'm writing this at 7am with no idea how the night went. Like his sister before him, he had no trouble feeding, and spent most of yesterday refusing to be separated from the breast. As long as you keep him topped up with warm milk, he's no trouble. The same goes for Lisa...

Needless to say, the hospital kept them in overnight, partly to monitor Toby, but mainly to give Lisa a chance to apologise to all the staff. I must admit, having seen Lisa swear at a midwife, and then try to garrotte her with a gas tube whilst slapping her in the face, I realise why they have panic buttons in every room. I'll be picking them up at 9am with a car seat and some handcuffs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Toby Gardner, born at 12:10pm this afternoon, weighing 7lb 5½oz...

Lisa's not yet in a fit state to be photographed, but I'll be back when she is...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Even when you're just out there having fun, there's always a little devil on your shoulder trying to convince you to cause mayhem...

Not that she usually needs much persuading. To be honest though, her brother's just as much trouble. Not even Godot took this long to arrive.

I'm not sure if it's possible to go through labour and then not get a baby, but Lisa seems to be giving it a good go. It's more like New Labour, but all the spin doctors are from NHS Direct. I hate to use the phrase 'mucus plug' without warning, but Lisa's managed to lose two of them, and she still hasn't given birth.

Having felt like she'd experienced labour on Friday night, things calmed right down yesterday morning. But by Saturday afternoon, Lisa was showing me a wad of tissues which made me think she had a heavy cold with catarrh. From that point onwards, the contractions started up again, the backache increased, and just as we reached the stage where they looked like becoming regular...

They stopped. And nothing happened all night. But the good news (for anyone not eating their breakfast) is that Lisa lost a load more mucus this morning. At 10am I thought she'd sneezed down her leg. So there's something going on up there. Whether it'll result in a baby, though, is anyone's guess.

In the meantime, it's my 39th birthday today! Although I keep forgetting that. I think it's because Lisa hasn't made me a cake. We spent yesterday watching documentary films on Netflix to prove that fact is stranger than fiction (and to get our money's worth out of that subscription), and I've received another five documentaries on DVD today (thanks Mum, Dad, Bro and the Mother-in-law). Yesterday we saw Client 9, which was excellent, followed by Page One, which was interesting without being riveting. We were planning to watch The Most Dangerous Man in America this morning (assuming we weren't at the hospital), but having received Bus 174 for my birthday, I think that's more likely to bring on labour, so we're going with that.

In twelve hours time, we'll know if my 40th is going to be hijacked by my son's first birthday.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The trouble with this long, hot and record-breakingly dry summer we're currently experiencing, is that it leads to a high incidence of bushfires breaking out across Sussex. And since the death of Red Adair (they tried to cremate him, but he kept putting out the flames), what we're really lacking in this country, and indeed the world as a whole, is a brave fire-fighting super-hero with the courage to tackle the most fearsome of blazes single-handed.

Until now, that is...

She can even make the sound of the siren. I call her Polka Dot Gardner. She's hot stuff. And a little bit fiery.

But while Amelie's providing emergency services in the Hastings area, her baby brother's refusing to get off his bony bottom and put in an appearance. When the midwife gave Lisa a clean sweep yesterday afternoon, she said that within twenty-four hours, Lisa would probably start to experience period-like pains, after which the contractions would start, and labour would be under way.

Well, those period-like pains kicked in at 6pm yesterday evening. You've never seen such panic amongst two people old enough to know better. Having been told by the midwife that she fully expects this labour to be quick, we thought we had a matter of minutes before the head popped out. Lisa was chucking the last of her stuff into her maternity bag, and I was making sandwiches as though I was on Ready Steady Cook.

What followed was five hours of intense semi-labour. Strong pains, a lot of aching, and some irregular contractions. Lisa spent the evening on two paracetamol and a birthing ball. But by the time Paul McCartney started singing Hey Jude, things had calmed back down again. We didn't have a great night, but other than a bit of dull aching, nothing's happened since.

I tempted fate by going out to Asda this morning, but even that didn't bring on labour. I did, however, buy Amelie's present from the baby. He's coming into this world armed with a gift for his sister, so that she won't hate him when he starts getting all the attention. I've gone for a Hello Kitty 'Move n Groove' Scooter. It was either that, or a garden swing for the balcony.

In the meantime, I've been whiling away the hours by checking out our experience with Amelie. And what I discovered to my amazement, is that when Lisa went into labour last time, I was busy dreaming about penguins. Given what happened on Monday, I find that slightly unnerving. Although in 2008, I probably meant the chocolate biscuits.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I don't want to tempt fate, but I think I might need some concealer for my spot by tomorrow. Lisa and I have just been to her last antenatal appointment, and the midwife's pretty much guaranteed us a baby this weekend. Although Sunday's the due date, so she's not really sticking her neck out.

One neck which is sticking out, however, is Lisa's cervix. Apparently she's already two centimetres dilated, and the midwife could feel the baby's head. She did what's known as a 'sweep' - so called because much like Sooty & Sweep, it involves putting a glove on, saying 'izzy wizzy, let's get busy', and then performing some magic with two fingers. As a result, she discovered that Lisa's lady-parts are so close to being ready, she said she'll be amazed if we don't have a baby within twenty-four hours.

As if that wasn't enough, she added that Lisa's cervix is so stretchy and pliable, and the baby so low, that she can virtually guarantee us a quick labour. It could be the fastest opening ceremony we see all evening. I don't know whether to pop down to Asda while I've still got the chance, or just sit in the car with the engine running.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I woke up this morning with a bright red spot on my lip, which I'm taking to be some kind of George W Bush stress-boil, brought on by my failure to listen to my penguin dreams. It's a concern, because if the baby's born now, I could look like a scurvy-ridden sailor in all the photos. I might have to start gurning just to cover it up.

Typically, now that I look like I've got herpes, I went and bumped into Claire outside A&E at lunchtime today. She's our Trust's answer to Florence Nightingale, and I haven't seen her since April of last year, so she probably thinks I've developed leprosy in the past eighteen months. Of course, if I had, I'd get to see her more often.

More ironic still, is that having returned to work after lunch, I had a phone call from my doctor, and discovered that I need a nurse more than ever. As predicted last Friday, my GP informed me that my white blood cell count is currently lower than the people who burgled Rosemary Snell. More worrying still is that having been somewhat cagey (not to say evasive) about precisely how low, she finally admitted that it's lower than it ever was in 2010. Which means it's below 3.1. She wouldn't be drawn any further.

She did ask if I've had any serious viral infections just lately, so I said not that I've noticed, after which I suggested that maybe it's the result of living with plantar fasciitis and a dodgy prostate. She said no, it wouldn't be. So having failed to identify the cause, she told me to have another blood test in six weeks time. Assuming I live that long. I'll have had a month of screaming babies and sleepless nights by then, so they'll be lucky to find a pulse.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

With just four days to go until D-Day (the D is for Due), everything seems to be falling into place. For a start, I've found a way to raise some much needed extra cash after the baby's born. I'm going to send Lisa to Flu Camp. She can stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks, watch a bit of TV, and if she survives, she'll leave with three grand in her back pocket. My parents can look after the baby while she's gone.

As for Amelie, she's dead easy to care for. I've been given sole responsibility for her welfare throughout August, which sounds like a daunting task, but with impeccable timing, we've discovered a new drug which keeps her permanently docile and under control. It's called Netflix.

Lisa signed up for a free month's trial about five weeks ago - a trial which she subsequently forgot to cancel - so in a fit of guilt, she's spent the past week trying to find stuff to watch, in a vain attempt to get her money's worth. She started looking for children's programmes at the weekend, shortly after which she realised we could get Netflix on the iPad, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I downloaded the Netflix app on Monday night, and Amelie's barely turned on the TV since. She learnt how to use it in about five seconds flat, and has spent the past forty-eight hours choosing her own programmes and watching them on the sofa. I keep expecting the cable company to phone up and ask why we haven't had CBeebies on all day. Lisa and I are watching grown-up TV shows before 7pm for the first time in three years.

Amelie's current Netflix obsession is Wonder Pets, an Emmy Award winning animation about a trio of heroic pets who save baby animals whilst singing songs about teamwork. It's basically Bagpuss the opera. According to Wikipedia, "Completing each episode takes thirty-three weeks from script to final delivery", which, given that they've made 42 shows, suggests they've been working on it since the eighties. I think that might be misleading.

But the result is that Amelie's gone from being the kind of whirling dervish who makes the Tasmanian Devil look lethargic, to a quiet, well-behaved little girl who sits on the sofa, glued to the iPad. It's probably stunting her intellectual growth, ruining her eyesight and making her fat, but we can deal with that in September.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amelie and I popped down to Lidl last night for some frozen kangaroo steaks. I thought I'd be hopping mad if I missed them. Having got there, however, and looked at the cold, lifeless body of Skippy lying in the deep freeze, I decided I couldn't do it, and bought some cod fillets instead. I never saw 'Finding Nemo', so I don't feel an emotional attachment to fish.

What I love about Lidl though, is that in addition to selling chainsaws for fifty quid, they frequently stock the kind of impulse purchases that I can never resist. Amelie and I only went down there as an excuse to go out for a walk in the sunshine, but by the time we came out, we'd bought so much stuff we could barely stagger home.

Chief amongst our non-essential purchases was a 'Moor Mud Back Pillow', which sounds like something Myra Hindley went to bed with, but is actually a therapeutic heat pad for back sufferers. It's why they wrote the song 'On Ilkley Moor Back Pad'. I bought it for Lisa, so that she can take her mind off her pregnancy-related back pain, and focus on her heartburn instead.

Even more thrilling than a plastic bag full of mud, however, was the German-made 'Door Decoration' that Amelie chose. It's basically a high quality photo print in three adhesive sections, which you can apply to any standard interior door to make it look like this...

Amelie wanted one for her bedroom, so I examined the packaging thoroughly, saw the words "Easy to apply", and promptly handed over £4.99. I told Am we could put it up this evening.

So I got home from work an hour ago and opened the box. The instructions inside say this:

I wish I'd bought the kangaroo steaks instead.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's a well known fact that there's nothing more dull than other people's dreams. It's also universally true that people who trust online dream interpretations are generally the kind of gullible fools who believe in fairies, Santa Claus and climate change. But that aside...

I dreamt last night that I visited the Grand Canyon and saw penguins. No, seriously. I was lying there at 3am wondering if I need to be sectioned. As a general rule, I've forgotten my dreams by the time I've walked three feet from the bed, but this one was so apparently random and ridiculous, I not only remembered it, but spent the day being bugged by the point of it all.

So I've just looked it up online. According to, "To see a penguin in your dream signifies that your problems are not as serious as you may think. It serves as a reminder for you to keep your cool and remain level-headed." meanwhile, states that dreams about canyons are linked to fertility, and that the "Grand Canyon is an archetypal expression of Mother Earth, and the aspect of mothering that can be overwhelming".

I think that's pretty conclusive. It's my subconscious telling me to keep my cool when Lisa goes into labour. So that's what I plan to do. After I've written to Father Christmas and made the most of this lovely global warming. I've made my bed...

... so now I just need to chuck the cats out, keep my cool, and lie in it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

As it transpired, those eighteen hours of expectant twinges turned out to be a false dawn. The son didn't rise after all. Although he certainly kicked a lot. On Friday night, Lisa would have gambled every penny she owned on us having a baby by the end of the weekend, but I decided I could live without another 50p, so I didn't take the bet. And sure enough, things seem to have settled down again. It could just be the calm before the storm, but as things stand right now, we're approaching twenty-four hours of inertia. So if you've got an appointment for retinal screening tomorrow, you're in luck: there's every chance I'll turn up.

In the meantime, I've spent the weekend entertaining Amelie by running myself into the ground and having a nervous breakdown. She likes it when I collapse from exhaustion. Especially when we're playing Ring a Ring o' Roses. After viewing the work of a real artist yesterday, we were inspired by Lydia Monks to produce some masterpieces of our own, so having stocked up on craft supplies at the marina, we set about creating some modern art.

This one says Amelie...

I'll let my Mum decide what this picture's about...

And then there's this one...

Modern art can seem impenetrable at times, and there's a lot of subtext in the last one, but the important thing is whether or not the public like it. So having completed our work, we got Lisa in to judge which was best. It was a blind trial, by which I mean that firstly we didn't tell her who had done which picture, and secondly that she wouldn't know great art when she sees it. Suffice it to say, she chose the second one. I'm not saying if that was mine or not.

It's a well known fact that serious artists get through a lot of glitter, so having spent an hour or two looking for inspiration in the children's playground at Queens Park, Amelie and I headed back down to the art shop at the marina for more supplies. We followed that up by doing the weekly shop at Asda, which proved to be an interesting experience. As I was walking in, I spotted this bloke near the entrance, so I quickly ducked into the magazine aisle before he asked me for a lift home. At which point I came face to face with Frankie Cocozza. To be honest, I wouldn't have recognised him with his new haircut, but I'd been watching him on 'The Million Pound Drop Live' the night before, and I think he was still wearing the same outfit.

Amelie saw me do a double-take, and asked me who I was staring at, so as he pushed his sunglasses further up his nose, and headed off towards the fruit and veg (it's en route to the alcohol), I told her it was Frankie Cocozza. She looked at me and said "Who?". That's modern celebrities for you.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It gives me great pleasure to announce that after a night of constant pain and insomnia, the Gardner family have had a very special delivery this morning.

But it turned out to be a girl, not a boy...

Obviously there's still no sign of a baby. Lisa's spent the past eighteen hours stretched out on the bed, looking like Violet Beauregarde after a three course meal, and complaining of constant twinges, but as things stand right now, she's contracting less than the economy and looks unlikely to be joining the labour party for another day at least.

But one person who does deliver is the postman. Although he's rarely here before lunchtime. Today, however, he turned up bright and early at 11am, and pushed this thing through the letterbox...

Amelie's such a local celebrity, her fan mail tends to get here without a complete address. She's like Santa Claus. Although in this case, I've blocked out two lines for security reasons. If people know where we live, they're more likely to return the kids when we try to lose them in Asda.

Anyhoo, as fans of the current Children's Laureate may recognise, the envelope above features a hand-drawn picture of The Rhyming Rabbit. And that can mean only one thing: it's from Lydia Monks!

It was back in May that we embarked on another Gardner Family Fun Day by taking Amelie to see Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks at the Brighton Dome, after which we successfully crushed our daughter's hopes and dreams by failing to get her copy of 'The Princess & the Wizard' signed by the authors. Fortunately, however, a bit of public whining can work wonders, so having written about it on my blog, Lydia got in touch and offered to repair Amelie's broken heart with a free gift.

Great art takes time, but two months later, she's sent us an original signed painting of Princess Eliza. And Amelie loves it. I couldn't be more pleased if Damien Hirst had mailed us a cow. So thank you, Lydia, you're a star.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I need to make this quick because Lisa's just taken to her bed with what she describes as "shooting pains" in her lower abdomen, so either she's entering the early stages of labour, or she's poisoned herself with home-made pasta bolognese. I'm not sure if I need to pack her bag for the labour ward, or change my plans for dinner, but either way I think action is required. I just don't know who to phone first: the hospital or Pizza Hut.

But on the subject of health-related phone calls, I rang my doctor this afternoon for the results of the blood test I had on Tuesday. Having received the rundown of results from the receptionist, it seems that that my liver, thyroid, cholesterol and blood glucose levels are all fine (so I'm not diabetic yet), but two of the tests produced dodgy outcomes, and they're both related to my white blood cell count.

The advantage of writing this blog is that I can enter the words 'white blood cell count' into the little box in the top right, and discover that it was actually more than two years ago when I was first told about my dodgy blood cells. The normal white blood cell count of someone without any hideous diseases is between 4 and 11. In June 2010 mine was only 3.1, so much like Tim Westwood, my blood was nowhere near white enough.

Five weeks later it had edged up to 3.4, and I was told to have it checked again in three months time. I finally got around to it in January 2011, at which point it was 3.8, and my doctor got bored with testing me. So it's not been checked since, but judging by the doom-laden way the receptionist told me that I need to see the doctor, it's not improved much over the past eighteen months.

According to the NHS website, "A low white blood cell count may be due to problems with your bone marrow, a viral infection or more rarely, cancer of the bone marrow. However, a low white blood count can also be genetic and of no significance".

So that's reassuring: it's either cancer or nothing. I've got an appointment next Thursday to find out which.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The trouble with spending too much time indoors is that you end up being brainwashed by the TV. Amelie told me this morning, with great enthusiasm, that if I use Vanish Power Shots, I can lift stains right out of our clothes and fabrics, and that with 50% more power, we should all trust pink and forget stains. She then added that the Samsung Galaxy is great for gamers and tweeters. I've told her I don't care, she's not having one. I wasn't happy about her criticising my laundry skills either.

But it's not surprising she's been suckered in by the marketing men. She was actually housebound all day yesterday, with nothing to do but watch adverts. I was working on the other side of Brighton, when I received a lunchtime text message from Lisa saying that she couldn't find her keys. We have four sets in total, but one was in St Leonards with my parents, one was at Lisa's Mum's flat (and she was out all day), while the other was in my pocket. I had a patient due in half an hour, and not enough time to get home.

Fortunately, Lisa wasn't locked out, but she was due to take Amelie to nursery, and frankly you wouldn't want to leave a flat unlocked around here for more than about five seconds. She'd have come home to find all our possessions gone, and a family of squatters in the kitchen. So the result was permanent entrapment with a three-year-old child.

I phoned her from the clinic and suggested various places to look, but Lisa had already checked them all. She'd also questioned Amelie, who insisted that she didn't know where the keys were. So that was it. The two of them were stuck indoors for the afternoon. Lisa had to phone the nursery and make her excuses, while I spent the afternoon wondering how annoyed she'd be if I got home from work and found the keys straight away.

Fortunately I didn't. It took at least five minutes. The key (no pun intended) was to ask the right questions. I too received a flat denial when I asked Amelie if she knew where the keys were, but when I asked her where she'd last seen them, she quickly pointed to the two-seater sofa. I picked up the UHU box, which she'd left lying there after her last story, and underneath were the keys. I'm not saying who was responsible, but they were sitting on top of the iPad, next to an empty Fruit Shoot bottle. I don't think we need Poirot to solve this one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The ability to talk rubbish non-stop for an indeterminate amount of time is obviously an important quality in any would-be QVC host, but in addition to the gift of the gab, you also need to look good when presenting mundane items to the public. So having proved her verbal skills with a storytelling screen test on Monday, I decided to check Amelie's visual appeal in front of the camera yesterday.

Here she is with an ever ready smile, displaying the long lasting qualities of a battery...

To be fair though, it's no challenge flogging an item that everybody needs. If you really want to test yourself, you need to try the hard-sell of a stray cat with a bald patch in a Moses basket...

Clearly the elegant pointing has descended into a bit of brutal face-shoving, but other than that, I think she's doing pretty well. I'll have to add those shots to her show reel.

As it happens, Amelie's ability to support me in my old age with a highly paid TV career is now more pertinent than ever, because it seems I've got longer to live than I thought. I went back to the doctor yesterday for a barrage of tests designed to find out if I'm as ill as I look. When I was there two weeks ago, I mentioned that my life contains a lot of heartache, so she booked me in for an ECG.

It was an interesting experience, not unlike being Frankenstein's monster for a morning. I had to lie on a couch while a nurse trimmed my chest hair with surgical scissors and attached electrodes all over my body. I kept expecting her to throw a wall-switch and shout "It lives!!!" in a crazed tone of voice. As it was, she just confirmed my address and asked me about retinal screening.

By the end of it, she had a three-foot-long printout which resembled the movements of the FTSE 100, and she said the doctor would phone me with the results. That phone call duly came at 4:40pm, and it seems my ECG was normal. She did say that my pulse was a bit on the low side, but apparently that could just be a sign of extreme physical fitness and a permanently laid back attitude. Which is me to a tee.

So I'm not as broken-hearted as I thought. I do, however, still have to wait for the results of a blood test, which they carried out before the ECG. I had to fast for twelve hours beforehand, so it was a miracle I was still alive at that point, but by Friday afternoon I should know exactly where I stand. And if I'll need a walking stick to do it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People often say to me, "Phil, what's your favourite bedtime story?". Not that often, admittedly, but every now and then. Needless to say, my tastes are both cerebral and eclectic. I like anything by Julia Donaldson, and I'm partial to a bit of Charlie & Lola, but when I fancy something a bit more edgy and alluring, I go for the latest medical journals. It's how I discovered that women's sexual health depends entirely on the position of their handlebars. Fortunately Lisa can't ride a bike.

But if I were forced to name one favourite above all others, I think I'd go for the tale about the Brilliant Bull and the Bad Piggy. You know the one. It's published on the back of UHU boxes. We've all read it.

What I like most about the story is the way it challenges gender stereotypes by making the bull female, and then empowering her to such an extent that she can do anything, including Olympic sport. That's assuming the IOC doesn't re-introduce sex testing. Either way, it's rare to find such a positive role model in modern feminist literature.

There's quite a lot of anger in the story, obviously, not only from the Good Horse, but from the Brilliant Bull herself, who frequently gets furious with the Bad Piggy for being the naughtiest piggy in town, but I think it's important for your heroines to have flaws. It makes them more bovine.

Anyway, it's basically escapist literature (for which the bull wins a prize, and receives a medal and a rosette), but for sheer long-winded excitement, it can't be beaten. To be honest, I wasn't quite so keen on the sequel, which I felt was just a cynical attempt to cash in on Christmas and sell a bit of merchandise (although the pens decorated with flowers, holly and poppies sound quite good), but overall I think it's a franchise with legs.

Of course, any good story needs a good storyteller, so it helps to employ a professional...

She basically just keeps making stuff up until everyone falls asleep. I employ the same technique with this blog.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The problem with writing about my weekend is that it's difficult to describe what I did without sounding like Kim & Aggie. Suffice it to say that the kitchen is now so clean, I'll be forcing Amelie to live in there permanently without her slippers. I even cleaned the oven, which was no mean feat, given that we bought it almost two years ago, and the only Mr Muscle ever to go near the thing is me with a tray of potatoes.

As it happens though, my assault on the axis of oven-baked evil yesterday morning led me to the discovery of a new all-purpose household detergent. From now on, I'm going to spray everything with industrial oven cleaner. Admittedly, the bottle features more dire warnings than a can of anthrax, but our oven's already claimed the fingers of one innocent worker, so I needed something pretty dangerous to tackle it.

The interesting thing though, is that in addition to removing two-year-old baked-on grease, a can of Mr Muscle Oven Cleaner works a treat on council-installed worktops. One of the warnings on the can is not to allow it to come into contact with any of your surfaces, but if you follow my example and ignore that advice to the letter, you'll find that your kitchen gleams whiter than Simon Cowell's smile.

During my opening offensive on the enemy within the oven, I accidentally sprayed the stuff on the kitchen worktop, and when I came to wipe it off ten minutes later, I found that it had miraculously transformed the stained, greying surface beneath into a glowing (possibly radioactive) vision of whiteness. So I decided to spray it all over.

The result is that we now have a kitchen so white, you need sunglasses to enter. It looks like John Lennon's house in the Imagine video. I keep expecting Yoko Ono to turn up and start slagging off my friends. And it's all because I ignored the instructions, and used oven cleaner on our surfaces. I'm going to try Toilet Duck on the furniture and see what happens.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Clearly 104 days was enough. As it happens, I was asked on Friday if I have any plans for the weekend, and I replied that having spent the past two weekends preparing the flat for a baby, I could chillax for a couple of days, and enjoy a bit of me-time. So naturally I've had my busiest Saturday in months.

On paper (and I don't mean my 'To Do' list), it should have been a relaxing day. My parents kindly offered to have Amelie, so that Lisa could stretch out like a starfish who's swallowed a beach ball, and balance out her inability to sleep at night, by failing to sleep during the day. So while Lisa was incubating a baby in bed, and Amelie was leading my parents a merry dance...

... I should have been living the life of a single man about town.

Instead, I was cleaning the bathroom. On one of her early morning shuffles to the toilet, Lisa gently pointed out to me that due to her being the size of a house, and unable to touch her toes without a barge pole, the kitchen and bathroom haven't been cleaned in a dog's age, and are liable to be harbouring the kind of lethal bacteria that could kill a baby within seconds. Apparently Amelie now refuses to enter the kitchen without her slippers, because the floor's so filthy. Which is a bit rich coming from the sofa crumb queen.

So having looked longingly at all the DVDs I haven't watched, and the copy of Fallout 3 I bought for two quid in a charity shop, I opted instead for a pair of rubber gloves and a bottle of Cillit Bang.

Obviously, if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing for the whole bloody day, until you're fit to drop. I've done so much cleaning, I've developed breathing problems from all the chemicals. I even scrubbed the walls. It'll be more pleasant when I'm climbing them. The bathroom mirror is so well-polished, you can see your face in it, and as for the bath, it's now so clean, you could perform major surgery in the tub without fear of MRSA. Or failing that, deliver a baby on the floor. If we weren't ready for the birth last week, I think we are now.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It being Friday the 13th, my luck's run out, and I can't think of anything to say today. But having inflicted a blog post on the world every day for the past 103 consecutive days, I'm well aware that if I publish nothing today, people will think I'm down the maternity ward, screaming "Push!" at a woman who looks like a space hopper.

So just to reassure everyone that that's not the case, I'll pass on some news of our re-homed kittens...

That's not them. That's a random photo from the Daily Mail website. But it demonstrates what Amelie spent nine weeks trying to achieve.

As it happens, Amelie told Lisa today that when the baby comes, she's going to explain The Cat Rules to him. Which is ironic, because she never follows them herself. As the saying goes, 'Those who can, do...'

But the breaking news from our network of kitten adopters is that Zita and Rozi are getting naughtier by the day, and doing their best to wreck a perfectly decent home, while Tilly is reducing her owner to tears by attempting to tunnel out like Charles Bronson in The Great Escape.

Apparently H came home from work this week to find her kitten under the floorboards. As a result, she was forced to spend an enjoyable evening making holes in her house in the hope of getting her out, before admitting defeat and calling a plumber. It was a bit like a game of Donkey Kong, but with cats instead of gorillas.

By the end of the night, she'd spent £95 on a call-out charge, and had a repair bill to match, but she was reunited with her kitten. Unfortunately the plumber left before she could ask him to drown it. Frankly these cats are more trouble than they're worth.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I often think pregnancy is a lot like preparing for death. As the birth of our baby approaches, I keep thinking of numerous things I want to get done while I still have the time. It's as though my life ends in August.

So it's particularly nice to get a couple of things resolved in good time. For a start, there's my retinal haemorrhage...

The photo on the left was from June 29th, and the one on the right was yesterday. It's fading faster than Lisa walking up the hill from the bus stop. In another week it should be gone. From the look of it, Stefan's taking even clearer photos now too. Unless it's just my cataracts improving.

But not only are my leaky blood vessels on the mend, I'm also no longer haemorrhaging money from Amelie's nursery fees account. It's exactly a week ago that the nursery warned me of their intention to rob me blind out of this month's pay packet, and I'm pleased to say that the matter's now been resolved. I received another letter yesterday, essentially telling me to ignore the previous one. Apparently the original letter contained a lot of "misinformation", which is management-speak for bollocks, and they've apologised for it, and confirmed that I did, in fact, pay Amelie's nursery fees last month. Which is what I told them a week ago.

So I can sleep easy in my bed and relax, safe in the knowledge that my wages are protected, and I can continue to support my family at a socially unacceptable level of poverty. Happy days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

As any fancy-dress aficionado will tell you, pigs wear pink, zebras wear black & white, and tigers wear...

... grey shirts from charity shops. It's where Esso got the phrase 'put a tiger in your tank top'.

Anyhoo, that's my family and other animals posing for the camera at 7pm last night. I know it looks like Lisa's had the baby, but in fact that's Big Sis on the right. She popped in for a couple of hours yesterday evening, on her way to a meeting of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which was taking place in Brighton. She's not a member, obviously, but she was invited to speak to them about aviation. It's what you call a flying visit. I think they'd seen 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and assumed it was a documentary.

So we spent an enjoyable two hours catching up on the state of Big Sis's love life, work life and deeply private life (I'll publish those details another time), before hearing a first-hand account of one person's experiences in the modern world of piracy...

She'd let the mask slip by then, of course, but she paints the kind of appealing picture of piracy that makes you feel like booking a cruise around Somalia. It's odd how the issue seems a lot less black & white when she's no longer dressed as a zebra.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Amazingly, it's a year ago this week since Lisa had her accident. Which means it's a year ago next week since we lost our last baby. Naturally, with pregnancy-related hormones flying all over the place, that's made for a slightly emotional couple of days around these parts, with the occasional Sinéad O'Connor-style tear.

But it's also led me to re-read my blog from last July, and rediscover one of my favourite videos of Amelie. So rather than dwelling on the losses of twelve months ago, I thought I'd republish the unfailing happiness of a two-year-old...

She didn't moan as much back then either.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Well, the baby didn't come this weekend, so I've won another two quid, which softens the blow where Federer's concerned. And at least Oxfam made some money out of him. Personally, however, I had a weekend of further expense. Maternity pads don't come cheap, you know.

It's now less than three weeks until we're due to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet, as Amelie runs down the hallway with our newborn son under her arm. What I find particularly shocking is not the fact that the baby could come any day now, but the fact that we're pretty much ready for it. A couple of weeks ago we were about as prepared for a baby as we were for kittens back in April. But after two weekends of ceaseless work, I think the baby infrastructure is in place.

Amelie's bedroom now contains an extra cupboard, extra bookcase, and a lot less toys, while our own bed has taken a more conservative approach by moving significantly to the right. We spent yesterday afternoon at my parents' house, helping to declutter their home by removing all the junk they've been storing for us, and as a result, our old Moses basket is now standing in pride of place in our bedroom. On my side of the bed. Which I'm sure is some kind of mistake.

Of course, it's not even our Moses basket. Our friend Lorraine lent it to us four years ago, and as I wrote on my blog at the time, we were asked to return it if she had a second child. Well she did have a second child. And we didn't return it. Which shows you what grateful, giving people we are. I think I was storing DVDs in it at the time, and refused to give it back.

Lisa still hasn't packed her bag for the hospital, but I've told her she can do that during labour. The important thing is that I've got an extra loaf of bread in the freezer, and plenty of cheese and tuna, so I can make my sandwiches at the drop of a hat. Maternity ward, here we come.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sometimes I need to put my money where my mouth is. I could be rich by now, and sending my PA up to Harrods for a top-of-the-range Moses basket.

As it is, I missed most of the final, as I was sending my Pa up to his loft for Amelie's old bedding, and then driving it back to Brighton.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

I've spent all day today working on phase 2 of Operation Tardis, my master plan to create enough space in this flat to house two children. The obvious solution is to get rid of Lisa, but I've asked her, and she's refusing to go. Actually that's not true. She's quite keen to go, but she's refusing to take Amelie with her, and I can't let her leave under those conditions.

So instead, I've been rearranging our bedroom to make enough space for a Moses basket, and potentially a cot. That's involved moving stuff out. Which in turn has meant rearranging Amelie's bedroom. Again.

So I've had no time for blogging, but at the end of the day, I think we're ready. Which is just as well, because Lisa's convinced the baby's coming. She said that last weekend though, and I successfully won a pound on that bet. It's double or quits this time. Either I get two quid or a baby. I couldn't be more excited. Especially about the two quid.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the Wimbledon final tomorrow. It's almost eight years now since I accurately predicted Andy Murray's future success at Wimbledon, so I can't wait for the match. I'm backing Federer to win in four.

Friday, July 06, 2012

It's an indisputable fact that we're all looking for different things in life. Which is why Lisa ignored all the men with hair and a flat stomach, and opted for one with a hairy stomach and a flat. It's where we get the phrase 'different strokes for different folks'. And 'what'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis'.

I, for example, wouldn't want someone like this at my party...

But there are others out there - some of them clinically sane - who are only too happy to invite this person to their birthday celebrations. There's simply no accounting for taste.

When I picked Amelie up from nursery yesterday, I was handed a personalised party invitation from one of her pre-school classmates. It was addressed to Emily, but apparently that's close enough. Amelie spent a good three months telling us she had a friend called Jinson. We've only just recently found out his name's Vincent.

So I accepted it on her behalf. It's Am's very first party, so it's quite a major milestone, and it's taking place on August 3rd. By which time we should have a five-day-old baby. It also means that we might have to return the favour by throwing a party for Am in October. And unfortunately, the bar's been set pretty high. Never mind jelly & ice cream with musical statues, this party involves an open-top bus tour of Brighton, followed by cake in the Pavilion Gardens. It's going to piss on my pass-the-parcel.

But as it happens, that wasn't the only thing I picked up from nursery yesterday. I was also handed a letter from the admin office, which began with the words "As you are aware...", and followed them up with three paragraphs of information that was totally new to me.

The letter states that due to an error on their part, Amelie's nursery fees for June weren't deducted from my salary, so they'll be taking double the amount in July. Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that I have my payslip, clearly stating that they did deduct the fees in June. The letter suggests that if I want to discuss the matter further, I should see the nursery manager. Which is a bit like spotting Nessie at night in the fog.

As I've discovered over the course of their many regular mistakes, speaking to the nursery manager is a bit like shaking hands with Bigfoot. Lord Lucan hangs out in that office more than she does. The only person available yesterday told me that she was "just covering because there's no one here today". And as a result, she knew nothing. Which is pretty much par for the course. You'd have more luck nailing jelly to the wall than pinning them down at that nursery.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

As of this afternoon, we officially have no womb to swing a cat...

Yes, that shaven patch can mean only one of two things. Either Shimmy's been spayed, or Amelie's got her hands on my hair clippers. And luckily for anyone with whiskers, it's the former. Shimmy's lost the ability to have kittens, and I've lost seventy quid, but I think we'll both be happier in the long run.

On the downside, any expectations I had of her calming down a bit, seem to have been dashed already. When I picked her up from the vet at 5pm, they said that she won't be back to normal until 24 hours after the operation. I was told she could be dopey, grumpy, sleepy and at least three more of the seven dwarves. They also weren't expecting her to eat much.

Well they clearly don't know our Shimmy. Within five minutes of getting back, she was chasing Chloe down the hallway, playing with her bandage like a mouse, and attempting to eat everything in sight.

Well, I say everything. She wouldn't touch this, obviously...

That's the expensive food the vet gave me to take home. And she's treating it like poison. I swear she actually made a face when she tried it. But she's successfully eating everything else, whether I want her to or not. I have to take her back tomorrow for a check-up. And at this rate I'll be leaving her there.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Don't you just hate those supermodel children in professional photo shoots with their stage school looks and sickly sweet smiles..?

It's ironic, because whenever I ask her to pose for a photo, she does this...

Back in May, a poster went up at Amelie's nursery saying that a professional photographer would be visiting at the end of the month to take pictures of the children. I assumed it was part of a police crackdown on juvenile crime, but we didn't know if it would involve Amelie, as she only does three afternoons a week, and tends to miss out on all the exciting stuff (like lunch). We did ask her a few times if anyone had taken her photo at nursery, but she's been taught to deny everything under questioning, so she kept saying no.

Fortunately, Amelie and the truth are virtual strangers...

When I took her to nursery yesterday, I was handed nine miniature proofs from a local portrait photographer. They're each the size of a postage stamp, which is why you can see all the dust on my scanner when I blow them right up.

We can buy prints at a cost of £8 for a small one, £10 for medium, £15 large, or just thirty quid for something you can put above the fireplace. Assuming you trust the power of blu-tac. Unfortunately for our bank balance, about eight of the nine are keepers, so we could be looking at a hefty bill...

I think I'll have two on a keyring for £3.50.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

I went to the doctor this morning to find out how long I've got to live. I wanted to know if it's worth me making a birthday list, or if I'm just wasting my time. And the bad news for Lisa is that she is going to have to buy me a present. In fact, in a shocking twist of gargantuan proportions, I seem to be ok.

Having looked myself in the eye last Friday and found a bloody mess, my years of expert training (I once stayed awake during a lecture) told me that I probably have undiagnosed hypertension. But apparently not. Having been subjected to a rigorous examination this morning, I was informed by my GP that I have the blood pressure of a perfect physical specimen. Which is surprising when you look at me.

Given that my retinal haemorrhage isn't a symptom of high blood pressure, I asked her what might have caused it. She responded by suggesting that as I know a few ophthalmologists, I should probably ask them instead. It was a case of screener, heal thyself.

She did ask if I lead a particularly stressful life, so I told her that I exist in a world where the Queen is an Elvis impersonator...

... my daughter looks like John Major...

... and I'm seeing spots before my eyes...

... but other than that, not particularly.

She has, however, booked me in for some further tests. I whinged so much about my general feelings of death and illness that she agreed to an ECG and a blood test. So I'm going back in two weeks' time. She told me to fast for twelve hours beforehand. I don't think it's vital for the blood test; she just wants me to lose some weight.

Monday, July 02, 2012

I don't want to alarm anyone, but I think there's an army of zombie cats marching across Britain...

And I wouldn't want to be in Amelie's shoes when they get here...

But if there's one thing scarier than the walking dead, it's my friend Stefan's ability to spot ocular pathology from across the room. He's like Medusa. The moment you look him in the eye, your life is pretty much over. It also explains the snakes in the photos above. I think he's losing his hair.

Anyhoo, despite the obvious dangers involved, we decided to pop over to Stefan & Andrew's flat yesterday afternoon to visit their little ankle-biters. Amelie had just been swimming, so I told her to keep her goggles on for protection, and not to meet Stefan's gaze. It turned out to be no problem. She was too busy looking at the kittens.

We arrived to find Zita and Rozi living the champagne lifestyle by drinking from an ice bucket...

That's Rozi on the left, looking like a miniature Shimmy, with the more tortoise-shell Zita on the right. The box in the background is either champagne or lasagne.

To my disappointment, it was champagne...

I think they're playing chase. That's Lorraine Chase on Celebrity Squares. The tanned spotty thing at the bottom is Bob Monkhouse.

Anyhoo, the good news is that Zita and Rozi have landed on their feet (often from a great height), and are being far better cared for than they ever were living here. I'm not sure they're giving their mother a second thought either. They're a lot like Amelie at her grandparents. While Lisa and I chose to lock the kittens in a cage, Stefan and Andrew give them their own DVD to watch...

... and a state-of-the-art (the art being kitsch) cat bed...

They also have more mice than Rentokil, and enough balls to host Wimbledon. It's no wonder Zita and Rozi wouldn't let us pick them up. They must have been terrified we'd take them back home.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

In this day and age, it's important to have your sexual performance judged by a trained professional, just to make sure you're doing it right. It helps you avoid embarrassing cock-ups. So it gives me great pleasure to announce that mine was judged yesterday by not one, but two independent experts, and I was found to be spot on. Yes, all three of Shimmy's kittens are female. Which is exactly wot I said.

Admittedly, on my first amateur sex night in May, I thought one was a boy, but three weeks later, I'd nailed my colours firmly to the female mast, and on adoption day two weeks ago, I assured the new owners they had girls, girls, girls.

They didn't believe me, obviously. But having taken their little ones to the vet yesterday, my sexual prowess has been confirmed, and all three kittens now have names. H (possibly from Steps) has called hers Tilly, while Andrew has lost the naming battle with Stefan, and rather than calling theirs Janice and Susan, they've gone with a couple of old Hungarian names: Zita and Rozi. Which makes Shimona sound a bit more normal.

As for their Mummy, I phoned the vet yesterday and booked her in to be spayed. I tried the RSPCA first, in the hope of getting it done on the cheap, but due to limited funds, they told me I need to be on benefits. And, as previously discussed, I'm far too classy. So she's going to our usual vet on Thursday. Which gives me five days to find £70.

In the meantime, I've been trying to get this place ship-shape and ready for the new baby. I've been wanting to chuck out most of Amelie's belongings for... oooh, about three years now, but with the baby due in just four weeks time, it's become a matter of urgency.

So I took Amelie over to Lisa's Mum yesterday afternoon, to give me a few hours de-cluttering time. By coincidence, I met my colleague's mother in the laundry room at the sheltered housing, and she offered to take Amelie upstairs to see her husband's etchings. Two hours later, Amelie had burgled them to the tune of a bear, a dog, and a couple of quid in loose change. Frankly they've had more of a clear-out than I have.

But I didn't do too badly myself. I managed to fill three bin bags with unwanted (by me, not Am) toys, as well as making two trips to the communal rubbish area. I then rearranged Amelie's bedroom to create more space, and emptied two cupboards to store all the baby's belongings. By the time I'd finished, it looked like this...

It was so inviting, Lisa ended up in there with the laptop. It's the separate bedroom she's always wanted.

When Amelie arrived home, her first word was "Wow!". She then told me how much she liked it, before inspecting the cupboards and telling me that she wants them both, and the baby can't have either. Which is a taste of things to come. She then settled down to bed, enthusing about how much space she now has in her bedroom, and how lovely it all is.

When I got up this morning it looked like this...

Three bin bags, two lots of rubbish, and she's still got enough left to cover the floor. It's no wonder Lisa's scarpered. I'm beginning to think the only way to keep a child's bedroom tidy is to have them adopted.