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Friday, August 31, 2012

One of the downsides of my current job is that I frequently have to leave behind the pleasant council estates of Brighton, and head out into the more crime-ridden pockets of Sussex. Having started my working day at the local hospital, I was soon sent off to the ghettoes of Forest Row, Uckfield and Lewes this morning, which meant driving through the mean streets of Ashdown Forest. They're currently experiencing the kind of crime wave rarely seen outside of Dodge City, so I was lucky to get out of there alive.

Only today, the local press have reported a shocking eyewitness account from someone who was petrified by five cobs. No, seriously. It came straight from the horse's mouth. More shocking still is that according to the article, "It is the latest in a series of incidents reported in the forest. Earlier this month Ashdown Forest Conservators appealed for help tracing two men described as riding extremely fast on thoroughbred polo ponies".

These common criminals make me sick. Why can't they use Ford Escorts like the rest of us? Frankly it was a relief to get back to Brighton and our inbred pit bulls.

On the subject of dangerous animals, Shimmy is currently staying with my parents in St Leonards, where she's been weathering the baby storm since Toby was born. I was hoping to have her back by now, but firstly she's having too much fun chasing squirrels, secondly we've run out of money to feed her, and thirdly Lisa's worried that her return might tip us over the edge into a nervous breakdown. Suffice it to say, she's not the easiest of cats.

Unfortunately that decision might be taken out of our hands. Word has reached us from along the coast that our beloved cat's in the doghouse. Apparently she wandered into the bungalow next door and started terrorising their hamster. Obviously that's not our fault - it's the fault of my Dad's Tom & Jerry DVDs - but at this rate, the foster parents might be sending her back.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

With any expanding family, there's a risk that the older child will experience feelings of jealousy when you try to take photos of the baby. But I think Amelie can handle it...

Possibly by hitting me in the face with a book. Frankly I'd have been safer taking photos of Liam Gallagher.

On the subject of dangerous explosions, I was driving past Brighton Racecourse this morning on my way to East Grinstead, when a massive truck pulled out in front of me, and started chugging down the road at about 10mph. It was part of a convoy from the Extreme Stunt Show, a touring band of daredevils that had been performing there the night before, which was slightly ironic, as the moment I found myself stuck behind it, I began considering taking my life in my hands by performing a dangerous manouevre at high speed.

In the end I didn't overtake, which was just as well, because as I followed the juggernaut towards Woodingdean, one of the right rear wheels began to smoke, and the tyre suddenly exploded in front of me, causing the lorry to veer across the road and onto the pavement. You've got to hand it to them. Even when they're not working, they're doing extreme stunts.

I'm particularly pleased I wasn't killed, because yesterday was mine and Lisa's 99-month anniversary. I want to live for a few more weeks so that we can celebrate our centenary by renewing our vows. Not our wedding vows, obviously. I'm talking about the vows we made to stop remembering these monthly anniversaries. I break mine about twelve times a year.

Eight years and three months after I ground Lisa into submission and forced her to become my girlfriend, we celebrated yesterday's milestone by collapsing onto the sofa, having a little cry, and then going to bed quickly before we slipped into a coma of exhaustion. I'm beginning to understand why women have the menopause in their forties. It's to save them from a life like this.

But while I crawl under a consulting room desk in East Grinstead and contemplate my sanity, I'll leave you with a joke I wrote yesterday in a vain attempt to stimulate my mind and stay awake during a clinic...

I say, I say, I say, what's the difference between Brighton and St Osyth?

St Osyth had their pride parade last weekend.

I thank you. I'm here all week. Although I might be asleep.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

After four weeks at home with the kids, it's good to get back to work on the fourth floor of Crawley Hospital...

Fortunately it wasn't me doing the Crawley clinic today. I was safely holed up in Brighton, wondering if our patients could see well enough to evacuate the building after having the eye drops. It was one of my colleagues who had the pleasure of spending the afternoon on the pavement, watching the flames edging closer to her handbag. Still, it could have been worse. She might have had to abseil to safety.

To be honest, the room I was in today could have burst into flames and I don't think I would have noticed. I've felt like a lobotomised zombie with M.E.. The only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that the nursery had cocked up Amelie's fees again, and I needed to stay awake for an argument.

So it's not been an easy day. And to rub salt into the wound, this was the scene I left behind me at home this morning...

Those kids are a dream come true. Lisa couldn't have it any easier.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Toby's four weeks old today, which means it's also the last day of my extended paternity leave. Tomorrow the hard work ends, and I go back to my job. I've successfully completed approximately 2% of the tasks I set myself for the month of August, and have had less sleep than an insomniac on amphetamines, but I think it's been a worthwhile exercise. If only to confirm that we're far too old for all this. Whoever said that having two children is easier than one, is clearly a liar with an only child.

Fortunately for a couple having the most tiring month of their lives, we know where we can find a reclining sofa...

Obviously you're not meant to recline on it like that, but when you're as exhausted as Lisa, you could sleep on a clothes line. If it wasn't full of babygros.

We actually visited my parents yesterday, in a last ditch attempt to persuade them to adopt our children before we have a nervous breakdown. They politely declined, but we did get to see my brother and sister who were staying for the weekend. So if you're wondering what kind of excitement occurs when the Gardner clan get together on a bank holiday weekend, here's your answer...

The green goddess with the slinky hips is Big Sis. She told me that if she ends up on YouTube there'll be trouble, but it was hard to edit her out when she kept shimmying into shot during every chorus. Still, it was good to find out that my Dad worked for the YMCA in 1978. I think he was the biker with the big moustache.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On this day in 1969, Lisa was fighting for her life in an incubator, having been born eight weeks premature, weighing less than two bags of sugar. Forty-three years later, she's struggling to get dressed. It's as though she's given up the fight. Or maybe she's just fed up with washing baby vomit stains out of her best clothes.

Either way, Lisa spent her birthday in her pyjamas, hence I have no photos of her. She's quite accommodating when it comes to photography, but she draws the line at nightwear. Unless it's a special occasion.

I think she had a nice birthday though. Amelie spent more time designing her Mummy's card than Hallmark did, as a result of which, we discovered that she can write her own name...

She's clearly on the way to becoming a doctor. Or a graffiti artist. It's either prescriptions or vandalism for her.

With that done, we gave Lisa her gift. I got her a slow cooker. It was either that or a lock for the kitchen door and a chain for the sink. As it happens, she's wanted a slow cooker for ages. I think the microwave's too fast for her, and she can't take the pace. You can get them very cheaply now, but naturally I went for the Rolls Royce of slow cookers. They don't come any slower than this one. It's barely luke warm. So it should last her a lifetime. Which at her age isn't long.

I also bought her all the ingredients for 'Chicken in Red Wine' and 'Sausage & Bean Casserole'. It's been hours since she opened them, so obviously they're not ready yet.

Fortunately, the Princess Cupcakes were a lot quicker. At least, the cakes themselves were. Amelie had them mixed, beaten and baked within half an hour. Unfortunately, having iced them and added pink glitter, we discovered that we were expected to colour in twelve strips of paper, cut them out and stick them to the cake cases. Each strip featured three princesses. That's thirty-six princesses in all. Frankly I lost the will to live.

But as yesterday's photo proves, we managed it. Although by the end I was trying to make them look like Andy Warhol's screen prints of Marilyn. Once done, we added a candle to each one, at which point Amelie shouted "Now put fire on them, Daddy!" in the crazed voice of a pyromaniac. So I lit them, and we presented the plate to Lisa for a big blow-out.

After a lunch of pink glittery cupcakes, Lisa opened all her cards, while Amelie and I attempted to guess who each one was from by the writing on the envelope. Amelie guessed 'Jesus' for one of them, but it turned out to be Lisa's friend Maria. She clearly loves her a lot more.

Obviously a top-of-the-range slow cooker is basically as good as it gets, but sadly for me, Lisa's mother managed to pip me to the title of 'Best Gift' by offering to have Amelie for the afternoon. So at 2pm I dropped the girl off at the sheltered housing, Lisa pumped Toby full of milk, and the two of us settled down for an afternoon of uplifting DVDs. We watched 'Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple', followed by 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room'. When you spend three hours learning about murder, suicide and corporate crime, you feel better about not getting dressed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


The Princess Cupcakes are made...

Now, if I can just persuade Toby to sleep for more than five minutes without crying, we might be able to get dressed and eat one...

Friday, August 24, 2012

The older Amelie gets, the more I think there's been some kind of terrible mistake on her birth certificate...

If I hadn't been there when she was born, I'd never believe she's still three. It's a miracle they still let her on buses without paying. Frankly she could order drinks in a bar if she wanted to.

So with it being only a matter of time before she's invited to play pool with Prince Harry, we decided to get Amelie's hair cut today. That's her doing a bit of impromptu posing in the salon, and embarrassing the model behind her. The fact that she can button up that cardigan proves that she's silicone free. She's essentially a paraben of virtue, and fit to marry a prince any day.

Of course, Amelie might be our main route into royalty, but the real Princess Dye of this family is Lisa. So we got her hair done too. She's now sporting a stylish bob (not Robert Pattinson), which looked completely stunning as she walked from the hairdresser's chair to the salon door... and out into the pouring rain. Without an umbrella. Or a coat.

The weirdest thing about this August weather, however, is that whilst it can rain hard enough to ruin a gorgeous hair-do and soak us all to the bone in our light summer clothes, it still doesn't wash the glitter out of Toby's hair. He might have to wait until he's bald like his father.

On the subject of premature ageing, it's Lisa's birthday tomorrow. I can't say exactly how old she is for legal reasons, but suffice it to say, she's spent the past year learning the meaning of life, the universe and everything, and now it's all downhill into ignorance. Amelie and I have spent a good half hour decorating her birthday card (it's now no longer readable) and we have a Disney Princess Cupcake Mix to make in the morning. Amelie insisted it's what Lisa would have wanted, and not just her personal choice, so I decided to trust her judgement. She looks old enough to know what she's talking about.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two heads are definitely better than one...

... as long as neither of them are crying. To be honest, finding Amelie smiling and Toby not screaming is a bit like spotting a yeti. It takes a lot of patience plus a great deal of luck, and no one will believe it without photos.

The more usual view is this one...

That's Toby speaking his mind, and Amelie proving that we're not as clever as we think we are.

Amelie spent a lot of yesterday lying down next to Toby. I'd like to think she was bonding with her brother and keeping an eye out for him, but in reality, I think she's just realised that anyone lying on a play mat is allowed to moan as much as they like. She told us yesterday that her name was Baby Olivia, and then promptly started crying.

As it happens, she caused a bit of stress at nursery yesterday too. When I picked her up in the afternoon, one of the supervisors came rushing over to me with a concerned expression on her face, and asked me if Toby was alright. I panicked slightly, thinking that something must have happened in the time it had taken me to walk down the hill, but suffice it to say, it hadn't. Five minutes after arriving there yesterday lunchtime, Amelie had told the staff that her Mummy was taking Toby straight to the hospital in case there's something wrong with him.

We'd told her we were taking him to the surgery to register him with a doctor in case he gets ill in the future, so she was close, but not quite close enough to avoid a major panic at the nursery.

Ironically, however, we never even made it as far as the GP. We decided to drive to Toys R Us, followed by Asda, and by the time we'd filled the car with non-essential purchases, we'd run out of time. We needed to be back home by 4pm to welcome the latest person into the baby-cuddling hot-seat...

That's H (not from Steps). And Toby looks just as shocked to see her as he does when he claps eyes on us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm thinking of hiring out Toby for Persil commercials...

He's like his father: whiter than white, but with a look of deep concentration which belies the fact that his mind's generally blank. To be honest, Lisa's already getting worried about his expressions. He spends all his time looking either shocked and stunned, or seriously worried. It's as though he can't believe the situation he's found himself in, and it troubles him greatly. Every time we talk to the boy, he looks back at us with the kind of incredulous expression which says "How on earth did I end up with this family?". He clearly feels he could have done better.

So I don't think he'll be staying with us past sixteen, which is probably good news for our sanity. But while he's still here, I'm doing my best to stop the flat looking like he's taking part in the new series of The Hoarder Next Door. One of our neighbours is having some building work done, which doesn't make it easy to sleep during the day, but despite the industrial strength drilling, I did manage to sleep for an hour or so yesterday morning. I think the vibrating walls helped me drop off.

I awoke just in time to take Amelie to nursery (unshaven and in the previous day's clothes) (me, not her), and returned home with a new determination to clear up. I spent the rest of the day tidying, hoovering, cleaning, and sweeping up glitter. Toby has been sparkling for the past week, since Amelie had a craft session and unwittingly decorated her brother, and despite having had three baths in six days, his hair still glints in the sunshine. He's the campest baby in Brighton.

Unfortunately he's not the only thing covered in glitter. The dining table's like a giant mirror ball, Chloe's doing an impression of Ziggy Stardust, and the living room wall's been completely re-papered...

The one in the top left is my favourite, but I'm still not sure if I've hung it upside down. The bottom left features a seagull feather. And probably numerous diseases.

But obviously all work and no play makes Phil a dull boy, so having done nothing but housework and art facilitation for the past twenty-four hours, I'm taking Lisa out this afternoon. We're going to the doctor's surgery to register Toby with a GP. And then ask for shampoo on prescription. We need something stronger for that glitter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One of the nice things about life is that just when I think I don't have enough time to write a blog post, fate steps in and keeps me up all night, giving me ample opportunity to get the job done. Obviously when I say 'fate', I mean Amelie, but it amounts to the same thing.

I planned to sleep in the living room last night to avoid Toby's polite requests for food, but having inflated my bouncy castle and stuck a sheet on it, Amelie turned up with impeccable timing and asked if she could share my bed. Naturally I said no, and forced her back into her own bedroom, but ten minutes later, just as I was dropping off to sleep, I felt someone climbing under the duvet. I thought it was Lisa testing the weight limit of the Aerobed, but sadly for me, it was my wayward daughter.

Anyway, I don't know if you've ever tried picking up a fifty pound sack of potatoes from floor-level when you've got a dodgy back and the potatoes keep clinging on to the mattress, but trust me, it's not easy. I did try verbally ordering her back to bed in a low-toned Supernanny voice, but I don't think she's seen the show. My low-toned voice seemed to send her to sleep.

So having failed to drag her out by her ankles, I had no choice but to join Lisa in the torture room for a night of constant wailing. Which got even worse when Toby woke up. By 4am I'd barely slept, and having tried - and failed - to move Amelie for a second time, I admitted defeat and retired to her bedroom with the laptop. She might not want to sleep in here, but at least the room has wi-fi.

It's ironic, because we've had a busy couple of days, and I could do with a good night's sleep. Lisa had a bad night on Saturday, so I took the kids out for a walk on Sunday morning to give her a break. That went well. Toby started crying when we were a mile from home, and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Amelie fell over, grazed both her knees, and told me she couldn't walk back. I had to push the buggy with one hand, pull Amelie with the other, and listen to stereo sobbing. For a mile. Just as it started to rain.

Fortunately the afternoon was a lot better. We had a visit from Stefan and Andrew, who seemed very pleased to meet Toby...

It's easy to be happy when he's not crying. They should try coming at night.

To be honest, it was the same with Amelie...

... and look how she turned out.

They gave Amelie those leopardskin booties, but Toby received something far more bespoke: a hand-made blanket from the S&A fashion house. Stefan chose the wool, and Andrew took charge of the crochet hooks. They also gave him a spring-powered zebra, which is something no baby should be without. Although he'll be lucky if he can get it off his sister.

Anyhoo, Stefan declined to hold Toby, presumably because he didn't trust me and Lisa not to run straight out the door and never come back, but he did make us feel better by proving that things could be a lot worse if we'd kept those kittens. Apparently he and Andrew had a female guest the other week, and having allowed her time to settle in, Zita & Rozi made her feel truly welcome by pulling a line of toilet paper out of the bin and running through the flat with her used tampon. It must have been a memorable moment. And let's face it, memories are all they have, as there's no way she'll be coming back.

As for yesterday, I took Amelie to Asda, tried to set up a trust fund for Toby, fixed a light, rewired the TV, hoovered up Rice Krispies, cleaned Amelie's slippers, printed out photos, did about six loads of washing, and generally fetched, carried and sorted. It's a week until I go back to work. And frankly I can't wait.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I think the Grim Reaper's let himself go...

That's the modern face of slaying. Slippers, braces and a look of sympathy. It's what I call Death warmed up.

To be honest, I feel a bit like that myself today. After a late night with Toby and an early morning with Am, I could happily crawl into a grave and die. But we had a nice day yesterday. My aunt is currently visiting St Leonards from the wilds of Cambridgeshire, so we headed over there at lunchtime for some free babysitting...

That was taken quite early on. By tea time she was fed up with his crying, and encouraging us to leave. But before we did, we were able to take some nice photos in the garden. This was me and Lisa back on May 29th, 2009...

And here we are yesterday...

That's the effect children have on you. We look about three years older.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The good news is that I've found my old camera. The bad news is that Amelie still can't take a photo without cutting out half the subjects...

Or maybe she was just trying to capture the Regency architecture. Either way, that's me and Toby down on the seafront yesterday, soaking up a few rays in the August summer heatwave. He was in a coat, and I had long sleeves. You can't trust this weather.

Having watched thousands of kids receive their A-level results this week with his usual startled expression, Toby was particularly pleased to get his first test results in the post yesterday. The outcome of his 'Newborn Blood Spot Screening' is that he's officially free from Phenylketonuria, Congenital Hypothyroidism, Sickle Cell Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Medium-Chain Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency. Which they abbreviate to MCADD for reasons of sanity. Frankly you could die of old age whilst typing it out.

So to celebrate, I decided to let Lisa go back to bed while I took the kids to the seaside...

When I say the seaside, I mean the main road above the beach. I couldn't get the buggy down the steps.

With the seafront well and truly scootered, I returned home, parked Toby on the balcony, and attempted to get Amelie ready for her next swimming lesson. Which isn't easy when Lisa's asleep and I've no idea where her goggles are. By some miracle, however, I got my daughter out of her Hello Kitty dress and into her Hello Kitty swimming costume, before packing her Hello Kitty shampoo into a bag with her Hello Kitty towel, and walking her down the hill. We left the Hello Kitty scooter at home in case people thought we had some kind of sponsorship deal going on.

Swimming turned out to be an even better deal than usual. Amelie was the only one who turned up, so she had the sole attention of four teachers for the first half hour. It was the best three quid I've ever spent. By the end of the lesson, she was more disturbing than Ye Shiwen on a good day.

It also meant there were no young boys in the changing rooms, so I was able to get Amelie dressed with my eyes open, and return home, where I found Lisa's sister trying out our tastefully decorated 'Snugly Sling' in the bedroom...

It's basically an off-cut from a deckchair with the price tag of a sofa. And it's nice to see it getting some use. We've had it for three months and Lisa and I still can't follow the instructions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I was watching Everything's Rosie on CBeebies at 8 o'clock this morning. It's just something I like to do when I've got a spare five minutes and Amelie won't give me the remote control. When the closing credits rolled, however, in addition to the usual sense of blessed relief, I noticed this...

It's interesting because I've always thought that tree looks a bit like Bin Laden.

In other television news, the new series of Celebrity Big Brother started on Wednesday, and having seen Jasmine Lennard (don't say 'who?') enter the house, I spent most of yesterday trying to work out where I know her from. At one stage I was beginning to wonder if we'd dated. It was a good few hours before I realised that I'd actually written about her seven years ago. And I didn't know who she was then either.

The biggest television news, however, is that I'm currently setting up an extension to our cable TV so that Lisa can watch rubbish in the bedroom when she's up all night contemplating her decision to have a second child. Obviously there's every chance that the act of crawling along the skirting boards with some cable clips and a hammer will exacerbate my back problem, but Lisa's need is greater than mine, and Amelie thinks I'm doing an impression of Tom from 'Tom & Jerry', so it's keeping them both happy.

So that's what I'm doing. What I'm not doing is buying tickets for these guys...

Matchbox Twenty announced this week that they're playing a show in the UK next month. They've only performed twice in this country in the past ten years, and I've been there both times, once in 2003 with my friend Helen, and then in May 2008, when I took my whole family. Babies can hear sounds at about eighteen weeks gestation, so Matchbox Twenty are officially the first band Amelie ever listened to. And she's been hearing them ever since.

Unfortunately, by September 2012 I'll have a seven week old baby, and be of an age myself when I can't make it up to London for an evening gig without two days off work and a lot of bed rest. We also have bigger money worries than Greece. I've already booked the whole of August off work, followed by a conference in September and jury service in October, so the week of the 18th is just about the only time I'm due to be there. If I go AWOL that week, they'll start to think I'm in prison. Which I might be, as the only way we can afford a concert is to turn to crime.

So after much soul-searching, I've decided to give it a miss. Tickets went on sale at 9am this morning, so I told Lisa to guard my credit card until they sell out. Which they have, less than two hours later. I'll have to make do with all the bootlegs on YouTube.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I knew it was worth coming back home...

Not only has Amelie taken part in an Olympic Sports Day (one week late, and three days after it finished), but according to her, she won every event. Admittedly, she waited until we were out of earshot of all her friends before she told me, but I have no reason to doubt her claims. I'm particularly impressed, because they had a bicycle race, and she's never even ridden one. That girl has innate abilities we don't even know about.

On the downside, despite outperforming Sir Chris Hoy and Michael Phelps in a single afternoon, Amelie's only reward was a cardboard medal decorated with glitter. And all her friends seemed to have one too. Which was odd, as they were all losers. She seemed pretty happy with it though.

Sadly, however, my own chances of Olympic glory have suffered a major setback, as I've sustained a serious shopping-related injury. I drove Amelie down to Asda after nursery yesterday, which was a bit of a waste as she could probably run there in about ten seconds flat (it's just over half a mile). Once there, we bumped into our good friend Andrew, which was slightly embarrassing, as I looked like a fat tramp, and was so tired I could barely grunt at him in my tea-stained shirt and five-day-old beard.

But the main problem occurred when we got home. My lack of energy meant that I was determined not to have to make two trips up to the flat from the car, but despite Amelie's proven athletic ability, she decided she couldn't be bothered to carry any of the bags. As a result, I chose to haul the entire load of shopping upstairs in one go. And I succeeded. In hurting my back.

I've asked Lisa to give me a massage, but she claims she's got better things to do, so I've been forced to suffer in silence. In between moaning about it. Every cloud has a silver lining though: it takes me so long to get up off the sofa, I'm making far fewer trips to the fridge.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Amelie turned to me yesterday and said "Daddy, you've got the fattest tummy in the whole world". I was tempted to tell her that she needs to watch a few more documentaries on Channel 5 before making an assertion like that, but instead I replied "Have I??", with a expression of mild incredulity. She responded by lifting up my shirt and saying "See?".

I think that was the moment when I decided we ought to go home. In the three weeks leading up to Toby's birth, I actually lost half a stone in weight, although I don't think anyone noticed. Probably because it was like a centipede losing a leg. Unfortunately, with my work routine on hold, and energy at a premium, I've been filling the gaps with food, and replacing lettuce leaves with lard. By the time we arrived at my parents' house on Saturday, a lot of my good work had already been undone, and by yesterday it was not so much undone as destroyed. My Mum kindly offered me healthy food, but I went with the ice cream option instead.

So we left St Leonards yesterday, and returned to the empty fridges of Brighton for a bit of a detox. Things are naturally a lot more austere around here, and it's not easy for any of us. Amelie had only been up for a couple of hours this morning when she sighed loudly and told us that it's much more fun at Grandma & Grandad's because they have Tom & Jerry DVDs. I told her to shut up and watch her painting dry.

To be honest, if anyone's got it tough, it's me. I managed to leave my camera at my parents' house, so I'm unable to take any photos until I can summon the energy to look for my old one. And that's not likely to happen until the kids leave home.

Fortunately, however, I do have a photo supplied by someone else...

That's Tilly, formerly known as Bad Eye. Or was it Good Walker? It's so hard to keep track of your grandchildren. Especially when they all look the same. Either way, it's the kitten adopted by H (not from Steps), and she appears to be doing well. Although she's ruining that kitchen roll holder.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just look at the quality of that hair colouring...

You'd never know she had two-tone ears and a black forehead. It just goes to show what you can achieve with a Hitler fringe and some careful combing. I should be working in a salon.

Anyhoo, as the picture above shows, raising a two-week-old baby isn't just about the constant breastfeeding and sleepless nights. It's also about persuading your relatives to take over the childcare so that you can go out for the evening. Having successfully convinced my mother that Toby's more of a dream than a nightmare, she offered to look after him yesterday evening so that Lisa and I could go out for a meal.

I don't know which was more reckless - offering to have Toby, or expecting us to come back - but either way, it was a kind offer, and one we accepted in approximately half a second. Lisa spent the afternoon expressing two bottles of breast milk, and at 8:30pm we finally left the premises. Two hours later than planned.

The restaurant we chose was the Trattoria Italiana in Pelham Crescent. I'd looked on TripAdvisor, and it appeared to be the highest rated Italian in Hastings, with generally favourable comments. One review described the proprietor as "a small Italian man with a bad attitude and a gruff manner", while another stated that "the manager is so much fun and really chatty". It was the latter one which put me off. I can't think of anything worse than being trapped in a confined space with a talkative man who thinks he's funny. Lisa would never cope with two of us.

As it transpired, the truth was somewhere in between. The man was small and Italian, but his attitude was good, and he made us feel welcome. The restaurant was pretty empty, which might not be a sign of good quality, but suits me down to the ground. And the food was very nice too. Not quite up to the standard of La Locanda Del Duca in Eastbourne, but cheaper, and less of a drive.

To be honest though, after a fortnight of sleep deprivation and child wrangling, I'd have eaten roadkill in a lay-by just to give me two hours alone with my wife. So thank you, Mum & Dad, you've saved another marriage, and made two (slightly) older parents very happy. Can we do it again tonight?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Today's quite a momentous day for Toby. Not only is he two weeks old, but it's also the first time in his entire life that there's no Olympic coverage on TV. He's never known a world like it. He's like the children who grew up in the eighties wondering if a man could ever be Prime Minister. And now John Major's turned up to shatter his illusions. Although in this case, John Major's a low budget daytime TV show.

With the Olympics finally over, we can book Toby in to have his birthmark removed...

... but it's also given us some time to devote to other activities. I dyed Lisa's hair this afternoon, which is something I've never done before. And will never do again. I basically turned my parents' bathroom into a scene from Hostel for half an hour, before making Lisa look as pretty as a picture. The picture being 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch. She now has the forehead of a Friesian, and I've advised her not to go out without a hat. Preferably one with ear flaps.

Fortunately I have no such problems (although having seen the adverts for new Just For Men AutoStop, I'm considering growing my hair, dying it black, and trying a comb-over), so I took Amelie out to the park again this morning. We enjoyed another lengthy swinging session for couples, after which we made our way into town to carry out some good work for charity by buying stuff from the local hospice shops.

I have to say, if Lisa thinks that having a face like a black & white minstrel is embarrassing, she should try walking through St Leonards with Amelie. I suppose I should be proud of her ability to read certain words before the age of four, but when she points at a woman in the street who happens to be holding a familiar carrier bag, and shouts "That lady's been to Lidl, Daddy!!!" in a loud voice, I'm not sure it reflects well on either of us.

To be honest though, risking the wrath of a working class woman from Sussex was nothing compared to her next target. Walking past a church in London Road, Amelie suddenly laughed, pointed, and shouted "Look at that stupid man!".

It was a statue of Christ on the cross. And I think we're all going to hell.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

As a general rule, I find family life a lot easier to cope with if I replace Amelie with a cushion...

In that photo, however, Toby's more stuffed than his sister. I've never seen a baby eat so much. Well, not since Amelie was born. We were asked yesterday how often he feeds, which is a difficult question to answer. It's easier to say how often he stops. The answer being once or twice a day.

As it happens, we had an impromptu visit from two midwives yesterday. I'd like to think they just happened to be in the area, and decided to drop in unannounced for a quick cuddle of Brighton's bonniest baby, but in reality I think they were the labour ward's answer to Phil & Kirsty, doing some secret filming for the next series of Dislocation Dislocation Dislocation. Fortunately, despite being caught unawares by their visit, they failed to find me yanking Toby's arm out of its socket, and decided to check Lisa's perineum instead. Which is not the news you want to hear when you haven't had a shower that day. I think it was unpleasant for both parties.

With the medical checks over, we packed our bags for the seaside, and drove along the coast to St Leonards to join our daughter at the Gardner holiday home. We're a bit like a plague of locusts. We turn up, eat everything in sight, and then move on. We plan to stay with my parents until the food runs out. I've checked their fridge, and I'm estimating Tuesday.

Amelie and I were up bright and early (well, early) this morning for a visit to the nearest park. It being a beautiful sunny day, you'd naturally expect that Lisa, Toby and both my parents would be there too. Unfortunately...

But still, when you're the only motivated ones in a family of lazy people, you can always pose for some treasured father-daughter photos in the summer sunshine...

If you zoom in on my watch, it says 'EARLY'. The bags under my eyes say the same thing.

After a strong coffee back at my parents' house, we were soon joined by my brother, sister-in-law and niece, who'd driven down from Essex to meet Toby. It wasn't enough to get Amelie off the iPad...

... but it was very nice to see them. Although I don't think Toby noticed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stuart Hazell might be grabbing all the headlines this morning, but the biggest news in yesterday's paper was this...

It was certainly like a terrorist attack for Lisa. She went in there like a suicide bomber on a mission. By the time she left, there was blood on the floor and two midwives with flesh wounds. The timing of the report is particularly spooky, as Lisa told me yesterday morning that she'd had a nightmare in which she relived the full horror of labour. I thought she meant she was dreaming about Gordon Brown, but in reality she was having a flashback to the moment she punched her sister.

Of course, if you're suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, the best thing is to try your hand at self-hypnosis...

It's working for Toby. He might have come into this world covered in poo, to the sound of his mother swearing like a trooper, but he's accepted his lot and moved on.

He's also now an official human being. We registered his birth at Brighton Town Hall yesterday afternoon, as well as re-registering Amelie as a product of our marriage, so we're now a bona fide family of four. We celebrated by drowning our sorrows in ice cream at the Gelateria de Luca, a new(ish) ice cream parlour in St James's Street. It was nice, but most of the flavours are in Italian, so you do feel like you need a phrasebook just to place an order. Especially if you're like Lisa, and can't tell the difference between chocolate buttons and coffee beans. It was like being at the canteen in 'Mind Your Language'.

Unsurprisingly, having practised our conversational skills in Italian, and then stuffed ourselves with ice cream, we forgot to go and register Toby at the GP surgery as planned, but the good news is that he was given a clean bill of health just hours earlier, when the health visitor came round. Having lost ten ounces in his first five days, he's piled on the pounds ever since, and is now slightly above his birth weight at 7lb 6oz.

More worrying is that we appear to have been flagged up as potential child abusers. Well, I say 'we'; it's more me, really. Although Lisa's performance at the birth must be on some kind of red alert list. Not long before leaving, the health visitor revealed that she had a note about Amelie's sprained shoulder on our family welfare records. Apparently we've been grassed up by the hospital. She was unaware that it had happened more than two years ago, and seemed more interested in whether or not I'm likely to do the same thing to Toby. So I told her I'm waiting to see how annoying he is.

Well ok, I didn't. But I wanted to. Let's face it, everyone's got a shady past. My previous has got nothing to do with it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

We've had shocking news from St Leonards...

Apparently Am's fallen off her new swing...

... and hit the ground like a sack of potatoes...

But after a cuddle, she was ok...

I knew it was a good idea to pack Shimmy in her suitcase.

As for the rest of us, I spent yesterday sorting out the mess those two have left behind, and cleaning the flat ready for their return. Today we've got the health visitor coming at midday, and an appointment at the Town Hall at 2pm. And after a poor night's sleep, Lisa's told me that she WILL be sleeping for the next two hours. Her tone of voice didn't leave much room for negotiation. So I'm heading out with Toby...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Not another Mars ice cream...

It's enough to drive a small boy to despair. Mummy's never going to reach size zero at this rate.

Of course, in our house we don't have such luxuries as ice cream desserts. Our freezer's stocked with gruel and roadkill. But fortunately there's an oasis of sweet treats just along the coast in St Leonards. It's like a soup kitchen for the homeless obese. And it's run by my parents.

So we decided to head on over there yesterday evening for some chocolate-based TLC. To be honest, it was just one of a number of excursions I've embarked upon in the past couple of days. It's important to give children a variety of experiences in life, so having taken Amelie to Lidl quite a lot recently, I changed tack on Tuesday and drove her to Asda instead. She did her best to persuade me to bring Toby too, but as I explained to her at the time, Daddy's a well known figure in the community, and it's important for him not to have a nervous breakdown in a supermarket, otherwise his patients won't respect him.

So I left the baby at home, and did the big weekly shop with the small difficult child. She managed to melt my heart on the way though, when she turned to me in the car (I probably should have strapped her in better) and said "I've got the best baby in the world". I didn't really want to hear those words for another thirty years, but when she followed them up with "Nobody's got a better baby than Toby", I couldn't help but go aaahhh...

Following the success of that little outing, I decided to double the stakes yesterday morning by taking both children into work to show them how Daddy plans to support his family for the next twenty years. Unfortunately, the lady who does the lottery wasn't there, so I had to show them my job instead.

It was worth going though. Toby was held by a total of seven different people, which was nice (although they all insisted on giving him back), and I received this card from my colleagues...

It contained a generous gift voucher which is valid in thousands of shops nationwide, and should ensure that I don't have to spend any money on Lisa's birthday present this year. Assuming there's enough credit left after I've bought myself something nice. I'm considering two nights alone in a Travelodge.

With the office party over, I dropped Amelie off at nursery for her annual sports day, which was promptly cancelled due to the weather, before returning home and deciding that what we really needed was a change of scenery. Preferably with ice cream. So at 5pm, we picked up Amelie, and the three of us drove over to my parents' house.

We were able to leave my Mum holding the baby...

... while we inspected the new garden swing they've installed out the back. It has a weight limit of 40kg, so Amelie should be ok for another year. With such advanced childcare facilities, it seemed rude not to let her stay for a couple of nights, so we dumped Amelie with her grandparents (she's never been so pleased), and returned home late last night for a bit of peace and quiet.

At which point Toby decided he didn't want to sleep any more, and kept Lisa up all night. I think we dumped the wrong child.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Toby was a week old yesterday...

... so it's about time I mentioned what his middle name is. I almost announced it on the day he was born, but Lisa had a slight wobble during labour, and momentarily considered one of the dodgy American names she's picked up from The Real Housewives of New Jersey. So I held back until her hormones had calmed down, and she was willing to go with something more sensible.

In the end, we've stuck with our original choice, which is... Lloyd. We chose it mainly to act as a reminder for future concerts, but also because Toby L. Gardner sounds a bit like Samuel L. Jackson, and will therefore convey upon him a cast-iron coolness which will ensure he's the most popular boy in school.

We've got an appointment at the Town Hall on Friday to register the birth, and we'll also be re-registering Amelie. She's grown on us over the past four years, so we've decided to keep her. When we got married two years ago, they told us that having previously brought shame on the Gardner family name by living in sin and having a child out of wedlock, we had the opportunity to make amends for our scandalous lifestyle choices by re-registering Amelie as the product of a bona fide marriage, and making her birth more legitimate.

Suffice it to say, we never bothered. It was presented to us as something we could do if we wanted to, but not the most vital thing in the world. Having just looked it up on the council website, however, it states that "if you have married the other parent of your child since the birth (even if the natural father's details were originally entered in the birth register), you are legally required to re-register the birth". So she's been illegal for the past two years. When Lisa made the appointment yesterday, they told us to arrive ten minutes early. I expect that's to meet the police.

On the subject of illegal acts, I spent yesterday afternoon in the shower with a group of young boys. I didn't want to, but Amelie had another swimming lesson, and Lisa refused to take her on the grounds that she has a baby attached to her chest, and is still bleeding in unmentionable places. So I was handed the short straw. And the pink goggles.

They don't allow men into the ladies changing rooms (which is discriminatory in the extreme), so I had to get Amelie ready in the men's. We were the only ones there on arrival, but when she finally emerged from the pool two hours later, she was quickly joined in the shower by a group of eight-year-old boys. I'm telling you now, it's not easy supervising your daughter in a hot shower room whilst surrounded by pre-pubescent boys with no clothes on. I didn't know which was more likely to get me arrested: turning away from the wall, or allowing my girl to get scalded. In the end, I pretended I had a congenital neck problem which prevented me from looking at anything but the floor, and then buried my face in a towel. I might have looked like a disabled person in tears, but at least I avoided a court case.

Monday, August 06, 2012

If you're going to have a Michael Jackson moment on a balcony, it's important to get both your children holding their hands to their heads in horror...

It makes for a better photo in the papers. The cardboard medal is optional, but adds a certain irony to the baby-dangling. And the day-glo shirt's for visibility.

Anyhoo, if you think I look tired, old and fat in that photo, it's partly a trick of the light, but mainly the result of a busy Sunday with the kids. Having got me up at the crack of dawn to soak up the Olympic spirit, Amelie asked me to make her a medal saying 'Best Holder of Toby'. She's never been one for modesty.

She followed that up by dictating a personal mission statement which she asked me to put on a rosette. Clearly it spelt trouble. No sooner did she have it stuck to her leg with double-sided sticky tape, than she was asking if we could take Toby out in the buggy.

We've still got the same buggy we had for Amelie, but since the age of twelve months she's insisted on walking everywhere, and refused to get in it, so it's been stuck in the cupboard for three years. Yesterday, however, it came out again for Toby's first every buggy ride.

For such a momentous occasion, you need a very special destination. So I decided to take him to Lidl. I wanted to show him where I hurt his sister's arm. It serves as a warning against future bad behaviour. So while Lisa went back to bed, I headed down the hill with Toby in the buggy, and Amelie doing her best to push him whilst wearing a cardboard medal and a union flag hat.

Fortunately we made it back in one piece, and were soon welcoming a VIP guest to the flat...

We rarely get visitors who aren't qualified midwives or postmen, but yesterday we had Big Sis dropping by for a cuddle. With Toby, not me. She couldn't sit down as we were too tired to clear the sofa, but she seemed quite happy to stand.

Sis could only stay for an hour or so, but she was able to fill us in on her career developments, love life and international travel plans. She's hoping to visit Africa in the autumn with a man from Zimbabwe who's offered to act as her tour guide to Namibia. Which is a bit like me showing you around France. I expect he needs her help to get ten billion dollars of the king's money out of the country. I've told her to pass on my bank details.

Anyhoo, it was good to see Big Sis, but even better to see my lovely wife looking so well...

She's still got the bruises from her fight on the labour ward, but she looks pretty happy.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

I told you I was tired yesterday...

Still, at least one of us managed to look at the camera.

To be honest though, it wasn't just child-related exhaustion. Lisa took that photo in the afternoon, and by that point I think I was slipping into a hyperglycemic coma. Not only was I full of honey biscuits, but I'd received a bar of chocolate in the post, and it seemed rude not to eat it.

The honey biscuits were actually a roaring success. The recipe said it made thirty, but I can't be doing with bite-sized treats, so I told Amelie to make twelve. At which point I ate three and she ate two. They were basically gone before the oven cooled down. They were easier than expected too. The book said you need a thousand bees, a field of wheat and a cow, but in the end we just walked to the corner shop.

One thing the recipe didn't mention, however, was that the midwife would turn up just as you're weighing out the butter. It turned out to be the same midwife that visited Amelie when she was one day old. As I wrote at the time, "it's good to know that under the right circumstances, I can go from naked and sleeping, to standing at the front door, fully clothed, introducing myself to a woman with the same name as my cat, all in under thirty seconds".

Four years on, the woman's name still caused us problems. She overheard Amelie in the kitchen telling me that Chloe's a silly old cheeky-chops, and she got quite offended. She took her revenge though. She watched Lisa changing a nappy, and told her off for using baby wipes. Apparently it's cotton wool only for the first couple of months. Assuming you live on the same planet as the midwives.

No sooner had she left, than the doorbell rang again. This time it was the postman with another care package. It turned out to be from the lovely Marie, who saved the day with a parcel full of goodies, including books for Amelie, a cuddly dog for Toby, and numerous products, including the kind of quality nipple cream that made my Asda own-brand look like a cheap tube of lard. I did a deal with Lisa, whereby she could have sole use of the nipple cream if I got to eat all the chocolate.

An hour later, we had a visit from the Next courier, delivering some clothes that Lisa had ordered, and then, just as I was wondering if the batteries in our doorbell could cope with all this harrassment, another midwife turned up. She claimed it was an administrative error, and that Lisa had accidentally been put on two people's lists, but in reality I think they were meant to come together for personal safety, just in case Lisa got hold of a weapon. In the end she apologised for bothering us, I apologised for her wasted journey, and we let her leave quickly before she could tell us her name was Shimmy.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

In ten years time, when they're screaming at each other and trading punches, I think I'll show them this photo...

Although they'll probably rip it up in my face. For now though, they couldn't be more loving. They're like me and Lisa when we first met.

Not that we've changed, obviously.

Anyhoo, Toby's five days old today, which means we're expecting another visit from the armed wing of the midwifery service, who will be weighing the little fella and carrying out a heel prick test to screen him for various hideous conditions.

Unfortunately it's also the day when the tiredness has really hit me. Toby's feeding well again, and sleeping soundly, but Amelie's doing her best to compete for our attention by arguing with everything I say, and dragging me out of bed in the middle of the night. It's hard to ignore someone who's jumping on you at 3am, so it's quite an effective tactic.

She attended her first party yesterday, which was supposed to involve an open-top bus tour of Brighton, followed by cake in the Pavilion Gardens, but due to a sudden monsoon of biblical proportions, the only travelling they did was a taxi ride to the birthday girl's house, followed by indoor activities. Amelie seemed to enjoy herself though, and came home with various goodies, including a plastic union flag hat, tastefully decorated with flowers and feathers. She looked like a right-wing hippy.

Sadly, she then insisted on me taking her out in that hat to buy the ingredients for Honey Biscuits, a recipe she got from the book of the same name, which she received on Thursday. It's written by an antarctic explorer, so I expect they freeze well. I've promised to make them with her this morning, which could be an unwise decision. I've just realised that with all the distractions, I forgot to take my prostate tablets yesterday, which could explain why I feel twenty years older and like death warmed up. So I probably shouldn't go near the oven. I'm tired, irritable, and I've got an argumentative daughter. It'll be my head in there, not the biscuits.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Up until last night, I've pretty much owned the title of biggest clot in this family. Although Amelie runs me close sometimes. But that was before Lisa dropped a ball of blood the size of a King Edward potato during last night's episode of Big Brother.

Prior to that, it had been an uneventful day. Too uneventful, in fact. Having fed with no problem since he was half an hour old, Toby suddenly decided to kick back, relax, and stop eating yesterday morning. He was quite alert...

... but the way he reacted when offered any milk, you'd think he'd gone vegan.

Lisa put in a request for a breastfeeding chair yesterday morning, as sitting up in bed all night was giving her backache, so having dropped off Amelie at nursery at 1pm, I headed for the shopping metropolis of Woodingdean, and the Martlets Hospice furniture store, where I picked up a wicker chair for fifteen quid.

Back home, however, Toby was having none of it. No matter how Lisa tried to tempt him, he didn't want to breastfeed. Amelie gave it a go when she got home from nursery...

... but not even she could persuade him to eat. By early evening, he was crying constantly through hunger, and Lisa had the kind of milk sacks that made watermelons look like kumquats. We phoned the midwife for advice, but there was clearly some kind of birthing emergency going on, as they wouldn't answer the phone. We finally got through just after 10pm, and they advised us to try and tempt him with some expressed milk in a sterilised syringe. Which I just happened to have in the bedroom.

Before we could try it, however, Lisa dropped a bombshell, in the form of a major blood clot, which fell out of her like a cow from the sky. Only more unexpected. We'd already been concerned that Toby was likely to pass out from malnutrition, so the fact that Lisa was clearly now about to peg it through blood loss wasn't the best news we'd had all day.

So we phoned the midwife again, and told her about the blood clot. She said "Is it as big as a 50p piece?". Lisa said "No, it's the size of my fist". The midwife said she'd call us straight back.

The upshot of the group discussion on the labour ward was that they'd send a midwife straight round in the morning. Assuming Lisa made it through the night. If it happened again, or if she started feeling unwell, she was to get straight down to A&E. But fortunately, at the time of writing, Lisa's still alive. She's currently asleep, but I know she's still breathing from the sound of snoring.

We were up until 1am, pumping breast milk into Toby, and checking Lisa for blood, but by the time the midwives arrived (in a pair for safety) at 9:30am, Toby was beginning to feed again. Lisa was fully examined in the bedroom, and they seem to think she's ok.

So things appear to be getting back to normal. We've had no sleep, Amelie's playing up, and Lisa's exhausted, but that's pretty much par for the course. The good news is that we successfully shocked two experienced midwives. Not with the blood clot and the starving baby, but with the news that Amelie won't be four till October. Having met her on Wednesday, and then again today, they'd guessed she was six years old.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

After a day off to celebrate the birth of her brother, Amelie returned to nursery yesterday to spread the good news.

When I picked her up at 5 o'clock, one of the supervisors congratulated me on our new arrival, and said that the moment Amelie had walked in, she'd told everyone she had some very exciting news. I said "Aww, that's sweet". To which the lady replied "Yes, she told us she had a Hello Kitty scooter. It was later that she mentioned her brother".

To be fair though, it is a nice scooter...

I took her out on it this morning, which is a brave thing to do when you consider that we live at the top of a steep hill with a main road at the bottom. It's a miracle we both made it back alive. The journey to Lidl has never been so quick. We returned home with some crisps for Amelie and a bunch of flowers for Lisa. She didn't really want any, but I thought they might mask the smell of baby sick.

As for Toby, he was visited yesterday by not one, but two midwives together. So they'd clearly got the memo about Lisa's potential for violence. Having taken a leaf (which in this case was savoy cabbage) out of Gillian McKeith's book, they examined Toby's poo and suggested he might be a bit dehydrated, but other than that he seems fine. They were quite impressed with Lisa's breastfeeding technique, but given the amount Amelie used to eat, she's had plenty of practice.

This morning saw the arrival of a much-needed aid package from a faraway land. It came from a fellow retinal screener who's either on a much better pay scale than I am, or is stealing credit card details from the patients. Whichever it is, she's been able to afford a generous parcel of gifts, featuring two books and some transfers for Amelie, a complete set of clothes for Toby, and a selection of pampering treats for Lisa. I think my gift must be coming in a separate delivery. So thank you very much to her, and also to the senders of other cards and good wishes.

I'll leave you with the highlight of yesterday's Olympic action: a glorious victory for blondes over brunettes in the women's basketball...

That's Big Sis second from the right. Not on the court, in the crowd. She's putting the basket back into basket case.