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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of course, when I said that we have lots to do and so little time, I forgot that Amelie would be waking me up at the crack of dawn, and giving me an extra two working hours I wasn't expecting. I had the washing up done before the sun had made it over the horizon.

This time two years ago, I was getting ready to snog a woman outside the Town Hall...

... whilst appreciating the Bible's advice not to have sex before marriage...

Amelie did boost the cute quotient of the photos though. And lower the average age of the guests. There are only so many pensioners you can invite.

On that subject, the grey brigade will be arriving in a few hours, so I need to text them and remind them to bring presents. Preferably anniversary ones. I'm currently allowing Lisa to sleep late as a token of my love, which is a problem as I haven't written her card yet, and I've just realised that I've left it in the cupboard at the side of the bed. I bought it a couple of weeks ago, but decided not to write it ahead of time, in case we had a major argument and I went off her. I didn't want to waste a good spell book.

As it happens though, I still love her as much today as I did a hundred months ago. More, actually, as I barely knew her back then, and she turned out to be even better than I expected. Not only is she the perfect wife, but she couldn't be a better mother. As I said to her last week, even if I divorce her and end up hating her guts, I'd still employ her to look after my kids. She's that good.

I'm planning to hold my parents hostage later, and force them to look after Toby and Amelie so that I can take Lisa out for a meal. We don't have much money, but I've been saving up my Tesco Clubcard vouchers in the name of true romance, so she can order anything she likes. Up to a certain value. In the meantime, I'm reliving our wedding day by browsing all our photos. Marrying Lisa was the best thing I ever did, and I love her to absolute bits.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

(\ /)
( . .)
c(")(")     Look! It's a bunny rabbit sitting down!

No really, squint a bit. And then suspend your disbelief. It's a rabbit! Who knew that punctuation could be so endearing? It's the perfect cover shot for 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'.

It's also particularly appropriate today, because it's a major weekend of romance for Brighton's most notable love-bunnies. And we're at it like rabbits. Or we would be if Lisa could get a contraceptive implant. Unfortunately we can't find a chemist who stocks them.

But as of today, Lisa and I have been together for one hundred months, and tomorrow's our second wedding anniversary. We've received a card in the post from my parents (I'm not sure which anniversary it's aimed at), but sadly they made the mistake of choosing one that's a bit sparkly. As a result, Amelie grabbed it the moment it came out of the envelope, and started calling it her 'Magic Spell Book'. She's currently refusing to let me read it in case I turn Lisa into a frog.

As it happens, tomorrow is a triple celebration. Not only is it our anniversary, but Toby will be two months old, and Amelie's having a birthday party. Without any of her friends. She doesn't turn four until Tuesday, but we've got all three of her grandparents coming round for a slap up tea tomorrow. Which means we need to get this place shipshape.

Unfortunately the table's covered in glitter, there are crumbs all over the carpet, and we've been out all day at Monkey Bizness and Tesco's. Amelie climbed the walls at the former, and I did the same at the latter. As a result, all four of us are knackered, but while the two junior members of the family get to sleep for as long as they like, the resident lovebirds still have work to do.

For a start, I need to pop to the nearest late-night garage for Lisa's present... ❤

Friday, September 28, 2012

Toby's experience at the doctor's on Wednesday left him red-faced, angry and deeply unhappy. Which was pretty much the effect the surgery had on Lisa yesterday.

Since our second child was born, Lisa and I have had lengthy discussions about the best way to ensure that this never happens again. And having weighed up the various options, and read numerous leaflets I've stolen from health clinics across Sussex, we (by which I mean Lisa) decided to opt for a contraceptive implant. It's a lot like a breast implant, but it makes you even more attractive to men.

So she phoned the surgery last week and told them what she wanted. They made her a double appointment with the only doctor trained to fit them, and Lisa duly arrived at 9 o'clock yesterday morning to be implanted. Despite having only just opened, they kept her waiting for a good half hour, but she was eventually called in, whereupon the doctor asked her why she was there. She said "For a contraceptive implant". To which the GP replied "Have you got it with you?"

Apparently the doctors don't stock the implants themselves. They give you a prescription for one, and you bring it along yourself. It's a bit like taking a scalpel to your own operation. Unfortunately the receptionist didn't mention that when Lisa phoned, meaning that her entire trip was a waste of time. She left as fertile as when she arrived, with another appointment for next week.

It's particularly annoying because I'd taken two hours off work, and got up extra early in the morning, just so that I could look after the kids. I thought I was on a promise. And childcare for next week is more complex. I start my jury service on Monday, so unless I can persuade Judge Judy to mind my two kids, they'll have to play doctors and nurses at the surgery.

But still, by this time next week, we should have Lisa successfully implanted with drugs. She'll be a lot like Big Sis's shed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Late last night, my sister posted this photo on Facebook of a four-eyed, double-chinned fat bloke recreating the death plunge of Sue-Ellen's little sister from the balcony of the Southfork Ranch in Dallas...

Unfortunately that's me on 16th February 2004. It was five weeks before I met Lisa, so I was a lot more wild and reckless back then, and willing to ignore any number of official signs...

In those days, Blogger didn't allow you to upload photos (and I used to write my posts by candlelight, using a quill and a bottle of ink), so those pictures never appeared here. I actually had to describe everything. Using words. Sometimes of more than one syllable. So, eight and a half years too late, here's the photo I mentioned of me on Miss Ellie's bed...

You can tell I wasn't the most natural of law-breakers. It's the first time anyone's looked uncomfortable on a bed that expensive.

Anyhoo, the reason those photos have finally seen the light of day after all this time is because Big Sis found them on an old memory stick. And because she's currently as high as a kite on drugs. I expect. She phoned me late last night to tell me that she's just become the kingpin of a vast narcotics empire, with a network of growers and pushers doing her bidding across the south-west of England. Or something.

Sis is actually the slumlord of an extensive property portfolio consisting of houses she used to live in and can't be bothered to sell. She rents them out to responsible, well-vetted professionals of the highest calibre. You know the sort: enterprising, resourceful individuals who know how to turn a garden shed into a cannabis factory.

Under normal circumstances, the only dope found at any of Big Sis's homes is the bloke she's currently dating, but out of the blue yesterday, she had a phone call informing her that the police had raided one of her properties with sniffer dogs, and promptly made an arrest. Which is worrying, because she'll never get any rent out of her tenants if they're staying at her majesty's pleasure. It's also annoying, because if she'd known they were making a fortune out of illegal drugs, she could have charged them a lot more.

As it happens, Sis isn't the only one dabbling in drugs at the moment. Toby had his first taste of Calpol yesterday. Lisa took him to the doctor's for his initial round of vaccinations, and they recommended that he was dosed up with painkillers before they started. Not that they did much good. He spent yesterday evening screaming at us with a red face and a plaster on each thigh, while Lisa tried to persuade him to have some milk, and I attempted to shove some more drugs down his throat. He wasn't a happy bunny. I think he takes after his sister.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who's that dodgy looking Scouser with the big bush and small bollards?

Yes, it's me at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Liverpool, being snapped by a former military photographer. It's not the first time someone's been shot by an ex-army man in a plaza, but this time it didn't result in the death of JFK.

As of this morning, that photo has been added to the rogues' gallery on the association website. They've put my profile in a slightly bigger font to emphasize my greater importance, and stuck me next to the bloke who hands out free iPads. That's a friendship I need to cultivate.

On the subject of people who give out tablets, I spoke to my doctor again today, and the good news is that there's every chance I'll live long enough to see the iPad 4. Assuming it comes out in the next year. A few days before Toby was born, she told me that if I survive the first few weeks of fatherhood, I should have another blood test to find out just how ill I am. I duly did so on September 7th, which was the day I got clamped. They did well to get a sample, as my blood was boiling at the time.

I was supposed to phone up for the results the following week, but I was busy posing for the photo above, so that combined with my sieve-like mental problems (which no blood test has ever fully explained) meant that it was last Wednesday before I gave the surgery a call. When I did, the receptionist did her usual thing of sounding cagey, and telling me that the doctor wants to see me.

So today was the day. And the results were the same. My white blood cell count is still abnormally low, albeit not quite as depth-plumbingly low as the last time, so my doctor's taking the same tack as before, and suggesting that although she still doesn't know what's wrong with me, we should avoid worrying about it, and meet up again in a couple of months time for another bloodletting. I've told her I'll look forward to it.

Interestingly, when I spoke to her in July, she wouldn't tell me exactly how low I'd sunk, but today she was a lot more forthcoming. The normal white blood cell count for a red-blooded male without a terminal illness is between 4 and 11. As this blog post handily documents, mine dropped as low as 3.1 in 2010 and my doctor was duly worried. She's now admitted that in July of this year it was 2.7.

Fortunately it's now back up to 3.1, a level which was hugely concerning two years ago, but is now "very encouraging", due to the fact that it's slightly better than before. Apparently if I was dying, it would keep going down. So I'm clearly rallying more successfully than Colin McRae, and likely to see another Christmas. Although if it's down again in November, she wants to swap Santa for a specialist, in the hope of getting some answers. It's a good job we're not worrying about this, otherwise it could all be quite concerning.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's a good job that Amelie's beaming smile instantly draws the eye...

... otherwise people might notice the state of her knees. Frankly she's filthier than Toby's TV viewing habits.

But the good news is that she's currently running all the way home...

Good news for some, anyway. That speck on the swing is my Mum. And she's clearly not giving chase.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's a good job that Toby's beaming smile instantly draws the eye...

... otherwise people might notice the porn on the telly.

In our defence, we don't usually spend our weekends watching gratuitous nudity. Even when Amelie's away. The clock says 11:30, but rather than the late-night freeview on Playboy TV, that's actually an episode of 'Revenge' on Channel 4 yesterday morning. No really, I swear. You can show anything you like now Mary Whitehouse is dead. I've cleverly camouflaged my left arm as part of the sofa, and am operating Toby from the rear. It's the only way to get him to smile.

Anyhoo, the fact that I was still watching sex shows with my son at eleven-thirty yesterday morning, indicates that we didn't get to Toys R Us quite as early as we'd intended. And judging by how crowded it was, neither did anyone else. It's a statistical fact that every child under ten in the entire Brighton and Hove area was packed into that shop at 2pm yesterday afternoon. I can't prove it, but I know it's true.

Despite that, we did manage to get everything we wanted. Which in this case was a set of Zoobles.

Now, I'd just like to state for the record that I don't get Zoobles. I don't know what they are, what they do, or how they work. And even having bought them, I don't understand what the heck they're all about. And how shops can charge so much for them. But Amelie's been begging for a set for the past two months, and there comes a point when you have to accept that if she wants some vastly overpriced and pointless blobs of plastic, then she can bloody well have them. And on her own head be it. Oh, and Happy Birthday.

That point came at about two-thirty yesterday afternoon, as I stood in the packed Zoobles aisle at Toys R Us, shaking my head in despair, and saying to Lisa "But what are they?" for the twenty-seventh time. It was also the point when I realised just how old and out of touch I am with the younger generation.

Of course, when you're choosing birthday gifts for your daughter, it's important not to focus entirely on things that she wants. You need to buy her things that you want too. So I got her some Sea Monkeys.

I loved Sea Monkeys when I was a kid. I'm not sure I ever kept them alive for more than a week, but the excitement of that possibility kept me going for years. The packaging says they're not suitable for children under six, but Amelie's quite an advanced child, and let's face it, they're not really for her anyway. Frankly I can't wait to get started. Only nine more sleeps to go.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I took an extended lunch break yesterday in order to fill in a few forms that were sent to me after last week's conference. As a result, I missed an impromptu visit from one of my colleagues who gave birth to a baby two weeks before Toby was born, which was a shame as it meant we were unable to compare exhaustion levels and grips on reality.

On the plus side, however, when those forms reach Companies House, I'll officially become a director of a limited company. A very limited company. Frankly our powers couldn't be much more restricted. But it's enough to make my mother proud, and ensure that if it all goes horribly wrong, I'll probably lose the house. Not the house we live in, fortunately. My personal liability is about twenty-five quid, so if the company goes tits-up, I'm selling Amelie's Peppa Pig playhouse.

Having clicked on the link above, I was slightly concerned to discover that my year of birth will be a matter of public record, but at least I now know how old all my fellow council members are. Although what's going on with those middle names, I have no idea.

Anyhoo, Amelie turns four in ten days time, so we've shipped her off to my parents today to enable us to go shopping for presents. We did order one online, but it arrived yesterday in a big cardboard box, and resulted in tears from the birthday girl when we told her she couldn't open it. She didn't even know it was for her, but that made very little difference.

So we need to get the gifts bought, wrapped and hidden before she returns. We'll be heading off shortly to brave Toys R Us on a Saturday with a seven-week old baby. I'm not sure I'm going to survive...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We had a visit this evening from two of Lisa's oldest friends. They're even older than she is. They brought some sticker books for Amelie and some biscuits for us all, but they also gave Toby his very first rattle...

And he's not letting go of it for anyone.

Until he sees what his sister's got...

That photo's in the dictionary next to the word 'covet'. Give him three months to master control of his hands, and that cat will be his.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One of the main purposes of attending a work-related conference is to learn about the latest breakthroughs in your field and discover innovative new methods to improve your professional performance. Whilst in Liverpool last week, I was lucky enough to undergo training in a powerful new technique which is designed to ensure that patients are seen more promptly, with fewer delays, resulting in an overall improvement in service and a reduction in stress for the screener.

Within two days of returning to work this week, I've already had the opportunity to put the technique into practice, and I'm pleased to report that it's proved an instant success, outperforming even my most optimistic expectations. I'd go so far as to say it could be life-changing. Yes, it's true, I've learnt how to invoke the powers of the Parking Angel.

To be honest, this particular training course took place outside of the main conference programme, and over dinner on the Thursday evening. After a couple of drinks. But I don't think that makes it any less valid. It's a method of ensuring that healthcare professionals are always on hand, at the centre of the action, and able to make a quick getaway. Let's face it, you can know everything there is to know about the eye, diabetes, and the world of clinical photography, but if you can't park at the hospital, that knowledge will get you nowhere.

The technique, which was passed on to me over a paltry (or should that be poultry?) starter of chicken liver pâté, is for use on those occasions when you're driving to a clinic and suspect that you might have trouble parking when you get there. Under those circumstances, you simply say out loud "Parking Angel, I could really do with a parking space", place your faith in the heavenly traffic warden above, and lo and behold, when you reach your destination, a space will be waiting for you.

I'll admit I was sceptical. But I was confidently assured that the method never fails. After all, as Joni Mitchell reported, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, so it makes sense that angels know a lot about car parks.

I was working at Horsham Hospital yesterday, so I left Brighton at 7:45am for the journey of twenty-four miles. It took me an hour and thirty-five minutes. They were doing unannounced gasworks near Horsham town centre, which resulted in me covering the last two miles in about forty-five minutes. Even Amelie goes faster than that.

Ordinarily, you need to arrive at the hospital by 8:45am to stand any chance of getting a space in the staff car park, so when I was still stationary a mile away at 9 o'clock, I knew I'd blown my chances. Which is when I remembered the Parking Angel. Admittedly, my first call was to the office, asking them to let the receptionists know I'd be late, but my next cry for help was to the heavens above.

You do feel slightly self-conscious sitting in your car, speaking aloud to an unseen Parking Angel, but I felt I had nothing to lose but my sanity, so I gave it a try.

I eventually arrived at Horsham Hospital at 9:20am. And there, right in front of me, was a single solitary space, close to the entrance, right where I always choose to park. I couldn't have been more stunned if you'd hit me with a taser. Ordinarily, those spaces are gone by eight-thirty, but this time it was as if one had been celestially saved for me by the power of the Parking Angel.

Of course, it's possible that the rest of the hospital staff were stuck in the same traffic jam, and everyone arrived an hour late, but I prefer to think it was a miracle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Toby was seven weeks old yesterday, so he had his six-week check-up from the health visitor. I think she's running a bit behind. Mind you, the woman's currently pregnant with her fourth child, and told Lisa that she'd just visited a mother with newborn twins, a 14-month-old and a three-year-old, so it's not surprising she was late. She must have felt like the first responder at a natural disaster.

Anyhoo, despite eating like an American, and having a big sister the size of a giant, it seems that Toby's a bit small for his age. He's on the 9th percentile for weight, which apparently isn't a problem, but makes him significantly smaller than Amelie was at this age. The health visitor did ask Lisa if Am's father was particularly tall, so she said no, he's five foot seven. Which is an outrage. I'm at least five foot eight and a quarter. I only look short because I have the plodding, world-weary stoop of a man with a lot on his shoulders.

As for Toby, he might never be able to see over people's heads in a riot, but he can hear the police coming a mile off. The health visitor gave him an aural examination, and he passed with flying colours. He also has the reflexes of a cat burglar and the ability to smile like a conman. Lisa tells me about twenty times a day that he's grinning from ear to ear, but by the time I arrive with my camera, that smile has generally faded to a look of vacant self-satisfaction...

Lisa says he gets that from me.

I may not have the power to make him smile, but fortunately I do know how to make him a success. According to this article on, an unusually high proportion of top American politicians have fathers who were absent, alcoholic, neglectful or dead, whilst here in the UK, the rate of bereavement amongst British Prime Ministers is exceptionally high. It seems the way to ensure that your son becomes a successful world leader is to abuse him, abandon him, and then die when he's young. My Dad has a lot to answer for. It's no wonder I've amounted to nothing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Everyone knows that God moves in mysterious ways. What's less well known is that his son has a funny walk too.

Lisa took Amelie to Sunday School yesterday in the hope of them performing some kind of exorcism, and when our child of God eventually emerged from the confessional booth, she came out clutching a sacred Christian artwork. She proudly informed Lisa that it was a picture of Jesus. And here it is...

Obviously if that was Mohammed, we'd all be dead now. But as religious cartoons go, I think it's got legs. Admittedly with nothing at the end of them.

Apparently those bushy things around the son of God are cacti. So it must be the time when he was tempted in the desert. Presumably tempted to hack off his own feet and do his hair like Hitler. Let's face it, when you've got long arms, four eyes, and your Dad's the boss, you can do pretty much anything you like.

On the downside, if Jesus is ever going to walk on water with no feet, he'll need a miracle, but clearly the gold-paved heavens (and green ozone layer) above are ready for Christ's ascension, and he's about to take off for home like E.T. in a spaceship. Which might explain why he looks like an alien.

Anyhoo, such attention to detail proves that Amelie's clearly something of a Biblical scholar, which is not surprising, as she's always got her nose in the scriptures...

She looks like she's studying God's word. In reality she's watching SpongeBob SquarePants.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I took this photo from the window of the Liverpool Travelodge on Thursday evening...

That's the Merseyside Maritime Museum. And a queue about a hundred yards long. I had no idea shipping was so popular with Scousers. Although I suppose 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' was quite a big hit.

I'd been for a walk around the Albert Dock (named after Uncle Albert from 'Only Fools and Horses') after chucking-out time at the conference, and the queue was just beginning to form then. I assumed it was a coachload of sailing enthusiasts keen to do a bit of naval-gazing, but by the time I'd walked back to my room to get changed for the evening meal, the line was stretching back from the entrance of the museum to the doors of the Tate Gallery.

At the time, I was shocked by the presence of so many ardent seafaring fans in one place, but since getting home and doing a bit of research, I've discovered that they were actually queuing up to see 'Jaws'. Which is even more shocking. It's almost thirty years old and the shark looks fake. It's particularly ironic, because when I published that photo on Friday, I was only joking.

One thing which is clearly no joke, however, is my discovery that in Liverpool you have to give way to humped zebras...

It's down there in black and white. With a hump. So it must be true.

In other news, I'm pleased to report that our recent run of crippling bad luck has come to an end, and I'm currently riding a wave of good fortune. No, really. I may not have won the lottery (yet), but I've achieved something which in many ways is a lot more impressive. I've retrieved a metal rod from a lift shaft. And trust me, the odds were far greater.

Following on from the clamping and the champing, our luck reached an all-time low on Wednesday morning, half an hour before I left for Liverpool. My Mum had driven over here to keep Lisa and the kids company, and she brought with her Amelie's old cot, which has been stored in my parent's loft for the past two years. I wanted to get it set up in Am's bedroom, ready for when Toby outgrows the Moses basket. Which at this rate will be sometime next year.

The cot arrived in five bits, with two metal rods and a bag of screws, so I helped my Mum carry it all in from the car, and up to our flat in the lift. When the lift door opens, it reveals a one-inch-wide gap in the floor - a tiny gap, down which you'd struggle to ever lose anything. Unless, of course, you're on a roll of bad luck. Suffice it to say that as I carried the side of the cot into the lift, a two-foot-long metal rod dropped off at precisely the wrong moment, and fell down the one-inch-wide gap. You could have given me a hundred attempts, and I couldn't have repeated it if I'd wanted to.

I had a train to catch and some gods to curse, so I had no time to do anything about it (if indeed anything was possible), so I consoled myself with the fact that at least the lift still worked, and then promptly left for Merseyside.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I decided to investigate, and having headed down to the ground floor with a torch, I discovered that a miracle had taken place. It's a three-foot drop from the floor of the lift to the bottom of the lift shaft, and only a one-inch gap to play with, but somehow the rod had managed to land on its end and stay there. For three days. The top of the rod was a foot from the floor, and tantalisingly within reach. Not of my fingers, obviously, but of two sticks and some blu-tac.

I broke a garden cane in two (why we had a garden cane when we live in a flat is anyone's guess), attached copious amounts of blu-tac to each end, and having practised on the other rod we still had, discovered that whilst one stick with blu-tac wouldn't pick up the rod, two in conjunction would. For a short while. If you were lucky.

So with Lisa holding both the torch and the lift door, the two of us got down on our hands and knees, and carried out the kind of tense, delicate operation known only to bomb disposal experts. Although to be honest, ours was more dangerous. If some of our neighbours found us blocking the lift for five minutes, we could be lynched. Fortunately, after a lot of stress, and a combination of optimistic dowsing and blind fishing, I held my nerve, and the rod emerged stuck to my blu-tac, whereupon it was quickly grabbed by Lisa before we dropped it back down forever.

We did come close to divorce at one point when the pressure got too much and I accused Lisa of shining the torch in the wrong direction, but other than that, the operation was a complete success. I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the cot back together, and installing it in Amelie's bedroom. As Lisa said to me when she saw it, "It's a job well done. Toby's all set for January".

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Well, I'm back from my magical mystery tour...

... and it's been a fab four days...

Although I was only there for three.

From the sound of it, it's a good job I came home when I did. Apparently Amelie told Lisa on Thursday that she wanted to have another Daddy while I was away. She did add that she'd like the new Daddy to leave when I got home, which is nice, but no matter how you slice it, she's given her blessing to Lisa getting another man in. If I'm not careful, we could end up like John Le Mesurier and Hattie Jacques. And I don't mean posh and fat. Although we're halfway there already.

(Posh, obviously).

Anyhoo, the conference in Liverpool was a great success. I've spoken to a lot of programme managers, ophthalmologists and Scousers, seen some hideous photos of feet, and given my phone number to a professor. I've also had my photo taken twice; once standing outside the hotel, in a portrait shot for the association website, and once on my knees by the dancefloor, with a council member prostrate in front of me. I'm not sure if that one will be published.

The highlights of the conference programme for me included the speaker who began by listing all his financial disclosures (I didn't trust a word he said after that), the moment a friend of mine tried to start a Mexican wave... on her own... at the front of the hall... while the chairman was speaking; and the chap from Diabetes UK who completely misunderstood what was said, and accused the national QA director of excluding disabled people from screening.

He was what you might call an unexpected guest in the open eye gallery...

As a performance artist, he certainly entertained me, although I'm not sure that was his intention.

My favourite statement of the conference was "Diabetes stabs you in the back and then walks away", which not only describes the lack of early complications of the disease, but also a lot of people I've known. In addition, I learnt that in Newcastle in 1985, there were six people under twenty-five who were blind due to diabetes. Twenty years later, after the introduction of screening, there were none under thirty-five. It's why we do what we do. And why the Geordies are now better at football.

Anyhoo, if you're going to climb the career ladder to success, you don't want to be tied down to one bird...

... or even two...

... but despite a decent conference, some useful networking, and a range of beautiful surroundings...

... I couldn't wait to get home to my even more beautiful wife. I don't think we're meant to be apart. I missed her like Kate Middleton misses her privacy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Conference calls, and no time for a blog post. But here's a photo of me with the Liver Birds...

Me at the Museum of Liverpool...

And one of a shark chasing Del Boy and Rodney...

Where's Uncle Albert when you need him?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Never mind the bollards, it's me in Liverpool!

That's a Yellow Submarine in the background. And I'm a Day Tripper. I look like I've had a Hard Day's Night too.

I've never actually been to Liverpool before, but after thirty-nine years on this planet, what better day to choose for my first ever visit to Merseryside than the day they announce the findings of the Hillsborough report. It gave me the chance to offend the locals within half an hour of arrival.

Unbeknownst to me, the entire city was holding a two-minute silence at 3:06pm to commemorate the 96 dead. My train had pulled in at two-thirty, and by three o'clock I was browsing the postcards in WHSmiths, trying to choose one for Amelie. Six minutes later, I was at the till, wondering why no one would serve me. I thought they'd mistaken me for Kelvin McKenzie. And the trouble with a silent vigil is that when you ask people what's happening, they won't tell you.

Fortunately, having chatted through most of the city-wide mark of respect, I finally realised what was happening, and successfully carried it off as an attack of Tourette's. I feigned a tic as I handed over my money, and the assistant joined in by looking like she was about to swear uncontrollably. It's one thing to say we'll never forget...

... but next time I could do with a reminder.

Anyhoo, despite the pouring rain and lack of decent directions, I eventually made it to the Liverpool Travelodge in The Strand. At £29 a night, it's a lot cheaper than the Crowne Plaza where the conference is taking place, and it also has one key advantage...

It's built on a Tesco Express. It's like having a well-stocked larder just along the hallway. It was all I could do to stop myself popping down for ice cream every half hour.

My room is one of the windows in the very top right. The chap on the desk offered me any room I wanted (I'm sensing they're not fully booked) so I asked for the one with the best views. Ten minutes later, I was on the 8th floor with my suitcase unpacked, taking this photo from my window...

That's looking south towards the Albert Dock, best known as the former home of Fred Talbot's weather map. If I turn the camera to the north, I get this...

Obviously it took me quite a long time to turn the camera north. Frankly the sun had gone down and I was getting ready for bed. But my window has views of the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Or the Three Graces of the world famous Liverpool Waterfront, as they're also known. Personally I was more interested in Fred Talbot's weather map.

Having settled into my surroundings, I soon headed out for a bit of sight-seeing. I saw the Liverpool Playhouse theatre...

... which is next door to a branch of Poundland, and has the Radio City tower sprouting up behind it, before managing to unearth The Cavern...

I think that's Justin Bieber on the left. I'd taken about twenty different photos...

... before I realised that was The Cavern pub. The Cavern club where The Beatles were born was on the other side of the street...

Having examined the Liverpool Wall of Fame and failed to recognise most of them, I then walked to the World Museum, discovered they were about to close, and instead strolled through St John's Gardens, with St George's Hall in the background...

The police were busy closing the surrounding roads for another Hillsborough-related vigil, so I made my way back through the city centre to the waterfront, where I took a few photos like this one...

... before retiring to the Travelodge via Tesco Express. By 7pm I was knackered, and at 8pm considering bed. I had a text message inviting me to drinks with the council at nine, but I respectfully turned it down. I've got two nights away from the children, and I need to catch up on some sleep.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

As of this morning, the phrase 'GoDaddy outage' refers only to my imminent departure for Liverpool. I'm due to leave in half an hour for the annual shindig of this great nation's retinal screeners. The conference doesn't actually start until tomorrow, but I've taken a day's annual leave and booked an extra night at the Travelodge so that I can journey up there at my leisure and see the sights of Merseyside. It also gives me two decent sleeps away from my wide-awake kids.

Whilst on paternity leave last month, I was voted onto the national council representing my profession (I should go away more often), with the chance to wield unimaginable power and influence over my fellow professionals up and down the country, so it's important I'm not asleep when they announce my name at the AGM. I've learnt from my experience in Newcastle three years ago and then Manchester the following year that travelling up on the morning of the conference is conducive only to an afternoon nap. Unless the conference is held in Brighton. So I'm getting there a day early in the hope of keeping my eyes open for the ophthalmologists, and seeing the inside of this room...

... instead of the inside of my eyelids.

On the downside, the longer I stay, the more likely I am to come back with a Scouse accent, so I'll be leaving straight after the conference.

Amelie has drawn me a total of nineteen mixed-media artworks to take with me, and is working on the twentieth as I write this, so I might need to pack a second suitcase. I've promised to send her a postcard in return, so I'll be buying that the moment I step off the train, to ensure it gets here before I do. Lisa's got instructions on how to keep Chloe alive, and I've told Toby he's got to be good. So I think we're all set. Liverpool, here I come.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Last night, on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, we suffered a couple of vicious attacks of our own. The first was from an Anonymous, and probably very lonely, hacktivist, hell-bent on spreading minor inconvenience throughout the developed world. My blog was unavailable for about an hour, which was obviously the headline event of the day, but millions of other websites were affected too.

It seems that GoDaddy, the domain registrar and website host, was subjected to a malicious DDoS attack, as a result of which, every GoDaddy-registered site was temporarily knocked offline. This blog isn't actually hosted at GoDaddy, but I registered the web address with them, and use their DNS servers to redirect to this domain. Those servers went down, and therefore couldn’t point anyone to this page.

If none of that makes any sense, you can always try the simplified version from Christina Warren, entertainment editor at Mashable, who described the event with these words: "The epicness of this sort of hack cannot be denied. I mean, hot damn. That's a huge get."


That particular problem now seems to be resolved, but sadly it wasn't the only vicious hacking we encountered last night. Amelie's face was cut to ribbons by her scooter. To be honest, we're still not entirely sure what happened. I was doing the washing up, Lisa was feeding Toby, and Amelie was tearing down the hallway on her Hello Kitty scooter with half her clothes missing. It was just your average domestic scene in the Gardner household.

Unfortunately, the relative calm was broken by a bump and a scream, and the sight of Amelie standing in the living room doorway with blood pouring out of her mouth. When a similar thing happened a year ago, Lisa was forced to exit stage left before she fainted with nerves, and twelve months on, things were no different. The sight of her daughter's bloody face was enough to bring the memory of Lisa's own trauma flooding straight back, and she had no choice but to leave the scene of the accident, and head off for a cry in the bedroom.

To be honest, it looked a lot worse than last time. The amount of blood was much greater, and the handful of tissues I held to Amelie's face was soon soaked right through with red. I rushed to get her some Calpol, and thought I'd be rushing her straight to A&E, but as it transpired, it was a similar situation again. She'd bumped her face on her scooter, and the impromptu handlebar moustache had cut the inside of her top lip on her front teeth, slicing it open and producing lots of blood, but leaving her teeth undamaged.

Within ten minutes she'd stopped crying, and this morning she cheerfully insisted that it's all better. She looks a bit like Angelina Jolie, but we can cope with that. Especially as Toby looks like Brad Pitt.

Monday, September 10, 2012

If you want to stay on the right side of the 'Keep Sunday Special' campaign, whilst simultaneously enjoying the convenience of Sunday trading, then the answer is to go around Asda at 9am, and then head off to church and start praying for forgiveness. That's what Amelie did yesterday.

Back in March, George Osborne announced that Sunday trading laws would be relaxed for eight weeks over the course of our Olympic summer, in a shameless attempt to win popularity and ensure that he would be cheered enthusiastically by the public during the games. As a result, Asda's been open from 9am until 8pm every Sunday. Which is handy, as churches don't get going till eleven.

So Amelie and I did the big weekly shop first thing yesterday morning, then returned home just after 10am, in time to get Amelie into her 'Little House on the Prairie' dress and puritan hairstyle (with Hello Kitty slides), so that she could escort her mother to church. We'd debated which of the two children Lisa should take (she refused my suggestion to take both), and in the end decided that Amelie drinking out of the font might produce less tutting than Lisa getting her breasts out.

They got back two hours later, and I asked Amelie if she'd enjoyed it. She said yes, so I asked her which was her favourite bit. She said "The bit where I came home". I think she's her father's child.

Religion done for another week, I spent the afternoon packing my suitcase for Liverpool, where I'm due at a conference later this week. Amelie did her best to emotionally blackmail me by repeatedly telling me how much she's going to miss me, and insisting that I send her a postcard, while Lisa helpfully asked if I'd packed any condoms.

Whilst in the bedroom, trying to find a pair of trousers that still fits me, Amelie came in and told me that she was decorating my shopping list to make it more pretty. I wasn't worried, as I'd done the shopping that morning, and had finished with the list, so I basically ignored her. She then came back half an hour later and told me she'd finished, and that I now had the prettiest shopping list ever.

It turned out to be my list of things to pack...

It's the prettiest sight ever. Until I turn up in Liverpool with my red shirt, denim jacket and shoulder bag. Thank God I'm taking my camera.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

I was taking photos of Toby in his Moses basket this morning...

... when Amelie walked in from the right...

That boy loves his big sister. He won't smile at me for love nor money (I've tried both), but Amelie only has to wander past with a paintbrush in her hand, and he starts beaming from ear to ear.

Personally I haven't had much to smile about, but I have now written to Ethical Parking Management, and sent a copy to the council. I'd like to think there's no way they can refuse to uphold my perfectly legitimate appeal, but clearly that requires a level of naivety I probably shouldn't admit to. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I've spent the afternoon reorganising our flat, ready for the day when Toby will move out of the Moses basket and into a cot in his sister's bedroom. It's been like an episode of Grand Designs, only quicker and on a much smaller budget, but as things stand right now, I think we can house both children in the same room. Assuming, of course, that Amelie doesn't fill up the beautiful space I've made before we get the cot out of my parents' loft.

The rearrangement of Amelie's bedroom necessitated the removal of the girl herself, but as luck would have it, Lisa's Mum offered to have her for the afternoon. So I drove her over to the sheltered housing complex at lunchtime. I've never been so nervous to walk away from my car, and in such a hurry to get back.

Friday, September 07, 2012

It's been a day of good news and bad news. The good news is that I went back to the doctor for another blood test, and had a fantastic result. A man in the waiting room said he liked my shoes, and asked me where I got them.

I won't actually get the result of the blood test for another week, so I still don't know if I'm dying, but it's a vote of confidence for my new footwear. Although the man in question was a pensioner.

On the downside, I was mugged this morning for a hundred pounds. In broad daylight. At a sheltered housing complex. Yes, if you're looking for someone to put the moron back into oxymoron, then you need look no further than the good people at Ethical Parking Management, a clamping company based in Worthing. I think the 'Un' fell off the front of their sign.

Brighton & Hove Council, in their infinite wisdom, have employed Ethical Parking Management to run the car park at the sheltered housing where Lisa's Mum lives. It's only just down the road, and within walking distance - in fact Lisa walked there this afternoon with a three-year-old and a baby - but we're entitled to park there whilst on the official business of seeing my mother-in-law, by using a visitor's parking permit.

So I parked there this morning, on my way to work, displayed a visitor's parking permit, and then walked to the nearby shops to get Lisa's Mum some shopping. When I returned half an hour later, I'd been clamped. The penalty notice stated "Misuse of visitor permit. Walked of site down Edward Street". There was an 'f' missing, but I supplied a few of my own when I read it.

It seems that if I'd taken the lift up to the 5th floor, said hello to my mother-in-law, and then done her shopping, I'd have been fine. But because I knew what she wanted, and went to the shops first before returning to her flat, that makes me a law-breaker.

I called the number given, which wasn't free, explained the situation to the lady, and pointed out that I'd done nothing wrong. She offered no sympathy whatsoever, and demanded £100. The back of my 'Unauthorised Vehicle Clamp Release Invoice' states:

"Ethical Parking Management provides a fair and honest service to users and owners of private car parks. You may raise an appeal or complain if you feel that your vehicle has been incorrectly immobilised."

However, it then says this in bold type:

"No appeal or complaint can be considered until the full release fee has been received."

So it doesn't matter how much they're in the wrong, they want £100 before they'll speak to you. It goes on:

"You must provide a stamped self addressed envelope for us to reply."

So they won't pay the price of a stamp. Even if it's their mistake.

I was due at Lewes Hospital, and they had my car held hostage, so I paid over the phone, under duress, and on the edge of tears. At which point they told me it could be two hours before the clamper got there from Worthing.

I've had better mornings than having to sit in my car and phone work to tell them I won't be in for two hours because I've been clamped at the sheltered housing. Ninety minutes later, a bloke turned up by the name of Richard Mussell. My fear of the libel laws precludes me from making any comment about the man, but suffice it to say that this description is uncannily accurate.

There are, in fact, a lot of comments online about Ethical Parking Management, and the inappropriateness of their name. As it happens, Ethical is only their most recent incarnation. As this Brighton-based blog points out, they go by a number of different monikers, and seem to change their company name every year or so. Why Brighton & Hove Council see fit to employ them, I have no idea.

By the time I'd been released, Lisa's Mum had already phoned the council to complain, and I'll be writing my appeal letter to EPM tonight. And including a stamped addressed envelope. I'll never get back my time and the cost of the phone calls, but if that hundred quid isn't back in my account pretty darn quick, there'll be trouble.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

I visited the charity shops in Uckfield again today...

It's not so much Sense as senseless. Admittedly, it's always nice to see blue sky through your windows, but not when you're standing outside.

Three teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of arson, and subsequently bailed, but apparently the Sense shop will have to be demolished. So I hope the perpetrators don't end up in need of a bit of deafblind support in the future. Or a dress for their mother-in-law.

On that subject, Lisa's Mum dropped in today and told us that whilst she hasn't yet tried on her new dress, she has firm plans to do so tomorrow. The woman's clearly so pleased with her gift that she's wringing every last drop of excitement out of the experience by prolonging the anticipation as much as possible. She's whipping herself up into a frenzy. So I hope the thing fits.

As it happens, my mother-in-law's not the only one being decked out in the second-hand clothes of a pensioner. I've bought a new pair of shoes on eBay. Obviously I'm no stranger to wearing the cast-offs of the dead, but I'm also perfectly willing to try on the clothes of the elderly. To this day, Lisa still likes to remind me that I dress like a septuagenarian, but as of today, I'm raising the bar even higher.

I successfully bid on a pair of MBT Karani shoes at the weekend...

... and they arrived in the post this morning. They're second-hand, but in nearly-new condition, as explained by the description on eBay:

"I have worn these shoes a few times but they are in excellent, almost new, condition and only a few months old. I think they are wonderful and wish I could continue with them but I am 80 now and my balance is not very good."

So I've got the shirt of a man in his seventies and the shoes of an octogenarian. If I can just find a 90-year-old who'll sell me his trousers, I'll be rocking the pensioner chic look.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

I was getting ready for work this morning when I knocked a small flask off the shelf in the hallway. It's the flask I use to take milk to certain clinics where they guard the tea-making facilities tighter than the methadone. Amelie heard the deafening crash of metal on carpet (she has the sonar of a bat) and came rushing out of the living room to find out what I'd broken.

I showed her my flask, and she asked me what it was. And then what I use it for. I told her I use it to take milk to work so that I can make a cup of tea. To which she responded, "Do you make tea for all your colleagues?"

She clearly doesn't know me at all. But she does know the word 'colleagues', which is impressive at the age of three.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

It's been a busy, yet strangely uneventful, day. At least in terms of things I can write about. I did have a conversation with a patient in which I asked her if she had high blood pressure, to which she responded "I'm fat. Of course I have high blood pressure", but other than that refreshing display of honesty, it's not been the most noteworthy of days.

On the plus side, a visitor this evening has alerted me to the fact that this blog is currently ranking 9th on Google for the query 'How do I not have a pig nose without surgery?'. I'm one higher than Which is ironic, as I barely understand the question. It's all down to Amelie's Peppa Pig nose plaster, apparently.

On the subject of Amelie, she told me this evening that she couldn't go to sleep unless I sang 'Away in a Manger'. I think it's her way of hastening the arrival of Christmas. She'll be expecting presents in the morning.

I've also received a leaflet through the door which makes me wonder if people on the Whitehawk estate can spell pizza...

But other than that, nothing's happened. Apart from Toby's nappy leaking all over the sofa. If you're due to visit us in the next couple of days, I'd suggest you sit on the floor.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Whilst horsing around in the forest with a few well-bread cobs on Friday (I like a big packed lunch), I stopped off at the Uckfield charity shops in search of a few bargains, and to procrastinate a bit before driving to Lewes for an afternoon clinic. In particular I was looking for a full-length womanly dress that would fit someone like me.

Namely, Lisa's mother. We're about the same size. And she's notoriously difficult to buy for. She basically lives in the kind of clothes that nobody makes any more. To her, the phrase 'two-piece' refers only to the packs of frozen fish she buys. When it comes to clothes, she insists on wearing full-length dresses and nothing else.

But not just any full-length dresses. They can't be low cut or brightly coloured. She's not happy unless she's dressed for a funeral.

Needless to say, my mother-in-law poses something of a shopping challenge, especially since Littlewoods closed down, but she's been in need of a new outfit for a while now, so I've taken to scouring the county's charity shops in search of something suitably dated.

Which led me to the Sense shop in Uckfield at lunchtime on Friday, where I found something which seemed to fit the bill. Not only did it make sense, but it made Sense £2.95. I bought a full-length, tastefully coloured and conservatively cut dress for less than three quid.

On the downside, I made a pensioner deeply uncomfortable. And I don't mean Lisa's Mum. When I went to pay for the dress, the member of staff was away from the till, so I folded up the dress and placed it on the counter. When she returned, she looked at the price tag on the collar, and said "That's a nice top", before ringing it up on the till.

I responded by smiling and saying "Before you ask, it's not for me!", but oddly she didn't respond. It was only when she picked it up to put it in a bag that the whole thing unfurled, at which point she looked at me with the widest eyes I'd seen since I kissed Toby goodbye that morning, and said "Oh! It's a dress!"

I smiled and said yes, but I don't think anything I said registered with her. She was too busy trying to stuff my dress into a bag with a look of genuine panic on her face. She couldn't even look me in the eye as she gave me my change.

So that was Friday lunchtime. And this was last night...

The self same Sense shop went up in flames overnight, in a fire which also spread to the charity shop next door. And what's more, the police think it was started deliberately. As yet, the arsonist's motive is unknown, but I can't help wondering if on the weekend of Pride in Brighton, news of my purchase leaked out, and they were targeted by transphobic bigots.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

We're all set for the Persil sponsorship deal...

Toby's the laundry ad man's dream. Not only is he willing to pose in snowy clean towels, but you can always see the whites of his eyes.

And what's more, his Dad's willing to muscle in on the action...

I mean that in a quite literal sense. I was actually doing a bit of weight-lifting in the living room when Lisa asked me to lift Toby out of the bath. I was hoping she'd ask me to kick sand into the face of a seven-stone weakling, but it didn't happen. I think she just saw me looking ripped in a figure-hugging white t-shirt and thought it would hide the baby sick while we got him dry.

Either way, we're clearly the whiter-than-white family, and ready to sell out to the first multinational that offers us more than a fiver. I could do with the money for a new shirt. I can't get the sweat stains out of that one.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

I'm currently typing this one-handed with Toby on my knee, while Lisa goes out for an evening of fun, laughter and communion at the local church. As long as he keeps looking up at me with his strabismussy eyes and startled expression, I should be ok...

... but at any moment I might have to change my priorities, drop everything, and write my blog post with him crying on the floor.

Anyhoo, it's the weekend, which means that young people the world over are grabbing a set of wheels and hitting the streets in search of fun and excitement. Toby's parked on double-yellow lines...

... and Am's in a wheelbarrow...

I think someone mis-heard her when she asked for a trowel.

As it happens, Amelie's at my parents' house this weekend. We sent her to sort out Shimmy. It means that Lisa, Toby and I have been able to get out and about, do the touristy thing, and see the sights of Sussex. It's Brighton Pride today, one of the biggest events of the year, and an unmatched spectacle of colour, glitz and exuberance, which only the congenitally churlish could fail to enjoy. So we went to a charity shop in Hassocks.

To be honest, we just wanted to get out for a bit, and at our age we need a bit of peace and quiet, so we drove over the downs for a bit of fresh air, before strolling around Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint with the buggy. Lisa breastfed Toby on a bench, which is hard to do in Brighton without asking the homeless alcoholic to budge up, and we bought some baby stuff in the charity shops.

I was hoping for a repeat of this experience, but sadly it didn't quite happen. We did, however, buy a state-of-the-art Fisher Price musical mobile for only four quid. I'm playing it to Toby as we speak. And it's failing to stop him crying. I think I might need to go and defrost some breast milk...