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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Halloween!

And that's the cover of Witch Magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Anyone who watched yesterday's video review of 'Come Dine With Me' featuring The Terminator, will have noticed Amelie's impression of Princess Diana at the end. She saves it for those odd occasions when Axl Rose isn't appropriate. I actually got her to sing the song three times in front of the camera, and every time, she ended the performance with a head-down, eyes-up expression of coyness.

Having seen her do it for a third time, Lisa asked Amelie if they'd taught her that at nursery as part of the actions to the song. She replied "No, I just wanted to look very pretty". You can't teach showmanship like that. She's also been known to curtsey at the end of dance routines, and then tell us to throw flowers at her feet. No, seriously. We need to get that girl on the stage.

As it happens, Amelie's showbiz career is even more crucial now, as I've all but given up my hopes of making it big in the computer games industry. Week two of my Python programming course began well, when I received a 100% score for my first mini-project from all four assessors (I think I got the pity vote), but having struggled my way through two online exams on Tuesday and Thursday, I failed to even begin the week two mini-project. It was due on Sunday, and sadly I was too busy dying.

To be honest, I was already beginning to doubt my own sanity, and wondering whether it was really worth running myself into the ground just to create a game of 'Guess the Number'. The actual course is excellent, but I'm not sure I have either the free-time or the required level of geekiness to complete it. So having taken stock of my own ignorance, I've decided to drop out of university and spend more time on the sofa. I can pay for Netflix out of my college fund, and study a different kind of programming.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The problem with leopard-print furniture is that it makes it hard to tell when you're being stalked by a dangerous cat...

There could be a pussy riot going on behind you, and you'd never know. Fortunately Amelie's easier to spot, as she's dressed as Axl Rose.

Anyhoo, following our afternoon in the paradise city with that sweet child o' mine, I said to Lisa on Saturday night that I was really looking forward to an extra hour's sleep when the clocks go back. She just laughed in my face. And she was right to. I'd forgotten that we have two members of the family with no consideration for time and no time for consideration. As Lisa wrote on Facebook, "Love the clocks going back. You get to spend an extra precious hour with your children". That hour came at 6am. And the word 'precious' described how little sleep we'd had.

Personally, however, my main problem was that I came down with a cross between swine flu, SARS and the plague overnight, and by first thing yesterday morning I was on the verge of a lingering death. I was even off my food, which is a sure sign it's serious. I spent the day feeling sorry for myself (mainly because no one else would), with a bad headache, persistent nausea and a painful sense of my own demise.

But as luck (mostly bad luck) would have it, I made a miraculous recovery just in time for work this morning. Which was quite annoying. I put it down to some TLC from Lisa, and a rousing song from Amelie...

I realised I can't afford to die until I get her on Britain's Got Talent.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

If there's one thing I like to do on a cold weekend in October, it's to pack up my family, pick up my camera, and head across town to see The Amazing Levitating Cat of Brighton...

It's one of the great wonders of the modern world. Not quite awe-inspiring enough to get the attention of Lisa, obviously, and even Amelie looks a bit unmoved, but personally I thought the cat's ability to hover three feet above the floor without the use of wires, catapults or Photoshop was quite impressive.

It's four and a half months now since we successfully palmed off our delinquent kittens onto an unsuspecting public, and sixteen weeks since we last saw them, so we decided to head over to Stefan & Andrew's yesterday to check on their progress.

Needless to say, a lot's changed in that time. This was Rozi back in early July...

And this was her yesterday...

It's heart-warming to see how much progress she's made. In just four short months she's gone from chewing a three-year-old's sandal, to savaging a size ten shoe. By Christmas she should be tearing apart wellies.

As for Zita, she's a growing girl too. Back in May she looked like this...

But now she's allowed onto the furniture...

I think her tail's growing faster than her body, and she's slowly turning into a lemur.

Mind you, she's not the only one changing species. Four years ago, Amelie visited Stefan & Andrew's flat looking like a leopard...

I'm never far from a kitchen.
And now she's a lot more dalmatian...

I'm still struggling to get a photo of Toby that doesn't make him look like a plastic doll. People are going to think Amelie got a Tiny Tears for her birthday. I'm also wondering how I've managed to look greyer than in 2008 when I don't have any hair. I blame the dodgy flash. I've lost some weight in the face though, which I put down to old age, extreme stress, and less reliance on collagen implants.

Anyhoo, as always, we had a lovely afternoon being fed with cakes, biscuits, and a diet of good conversation. I examined the latest NHS brochure of sexual health training courses in East Sussex, counted how many times Andrew's name appears, and then read a book on the Berlin Wall, while Amelie did an impromptu performance of 'When the Robots Came for Dinner' and Lisa chatted about gonorrhea. We also heard about Stefan and Andrew's recent visit to the mother-ship of discount shopping, when they went to a German branch of Lidl and came back with a kilo of breadcrumbs.

Unfortunately I think the experience took a lot out of me. Namely my ability to fight off disease. I came down with a headache late last night, which then developed into nausea and shivering, and right now I feel like I've done a few turns on the spin cycle. I'm not sure if I'm allergic to cats or coming down with swine flu, but either way, I feel a bit rough...

Friday, October 26, 2012

The thing about retinal screeners is that they have a keen eye for minutiae, and a fine attention to detail that others can only envy. But we miss the bleeding obvious. Unless it's a pre-retinal haemorrhage.

It's five months now since our NHS Trust launched this year's Hospital Star Awards, and invited patients, staff and readers of The Argus (who are undoubtedly the best judges of character) to nominate suitable candidates in various categories. A month later, the list of nominees was published, and a few weeks after that, in late July, the winners were announced. In September, those winners attended a glittering awards ceremony at the Brighton Corn Exchange, to which mere mortals like myself weren't invited. Or maybe we just chose not to attend. I can't really remember.

Either way, a mixture of boredom and nostalgia led to me spending some time idly perusing the list of nominees last night, at which point I noticed something to which I'd previously been blind. Click on this link and scroll down - way down - way, way down to the very bottom of the page, and the category of 'Good News Story of the Year'. It's the section with the least nominations, which is appropriate, as the awards are sponsored by The Argus, who rarely have anything positive to say about us. But here are the few good news stories that were up for an award...

WTF. No, seriously, what the bloody hell's going on? I was nominated as one of the good news stories of the year??? And I didn't even notice??? Back in June, I wrote an entire article for my departmental newsletter about the fact that two of my colleagues were nominated in category number 8, and I completely failed to spot that I was up for an award myself. It beggars belief. As does the fact that I'm listed alongside the Trust's infection control record and our newly won status as a Major Trauma Centre, as a good news story???

Obviously I think I'm great, and deserving of both an award and a massive pay rise, but seriously, it must be some kind of typo.

At least, that's what I thought. I e-mailed the Communications Team first thing this morning to ask for some more information, but clearly the head of communications is the kind of strong, silent type who prefers to say nothing, and by the end of the afternoon I still hadn't had a response. Fortunately, however, I'm like a cross between Miss Marple and a ferret, so despite the lack of communication, I was on the case like a hound. And by 5pm I'd successfully sniffed out the story. Modesty prevents me from explaining further. As does the fact that I don't think I'm technically entitled to the nomination. But it's nice to get a mention. Even if it took me four months to notice. So thank you to the people involved. And no, it wasn't my parents.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Toby had the second of his smile-sapping vaccinations yesterday, and Amelie's a bit needling at the best of times, so after a day of highly stressful childcare, I treated Lisa to an evening of takeaway pizza last night. It gave us the chance to relax on the sofa in our onesies and discuss whether we should move to Welwyn Garden City for 39k. In the end, we decided against it. We can barely muster the energy to move from the sofa to the bedroom, so Hertfordshire's asking too much.

Instead, we settled down to watch 'Indie Game: The Movie' on Netflix. I thought it might inspire me to complete my programming course. As a general rule, Lisa's knowledge of computer games begins and ends with Pong in about 1976, although she was quite into Farmville for a while, and has been known to enjoy the odd game of Puppy Sanctuary and Mahjong. As a result, I'm not sure she was that into the film, but date nights are a two-way street, and I have to say I loved it.

Admittedly, I don't quite understand what motivates someone to give up four years of their life to work full-time on a computer game with no guarantee of any success whatsoever, but it has taught me that the phrase 'development hell' has its own Wikipedia page, which is definitely worth knowing. It describes the process of creating Toby.

I also now fully understand the motivation and philosophy behind Super Meat Boy, which is not a phrase I ever thought I'd type. On the downside, the film made me realise that I'll probably never have the right combination of intelligence, brilliance and complete madness to create a best-selling game. Especially as I'm struggling to understand Python. I've got an online exam which is due for submission this evening, and it's only half complete. I'd better crack on. With 'crack' being the operative word...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The papers are reporting today that a 'famous' 17-year-old TV star has been charged with the rape and molestation of a 14-year-old boy on five separate occasions at a London theatre and school, and will appear before Highbury Youth Court on November 6th.

Here's the Daily Mail's take on the story. Both boys are under age, meaning that neither can be named for legal reasons, so all the newspapers are permitted to reveal about the accused is his age of 17, the fact that he lives in Sutton, and the added detail that he's a television star or actor. To reveal his identity would put them in contempt of court.

So that article doesn't tell you who he is. Unfortunately this one does. Most of the papers reported his name back in May, before the courts ruled against it. And they've still got the old articles up on their websites. Here's The Sun's version.

I wonder where they stand legally on that..?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Toby had his 3-month check-up from the health visitor yesterday. At the time, I was doing some health visiting of my own at Crawley Hospital, so I wasn't present for the verdict, but fortunately it was a different lady this time (I expect the last one has gone into labour) and she had that rarest of qualities amongst healthcare professionals: legible handwriting. So for the first time I was able to read her notes about my son.

And it's all good news. Apparently Toby was "alert and vocalising" (which means wide-awake and screaming), and produced "lots of lovely smiles". He gets that from me. I'm relentlessly cheerful. Apart from when I'm moaning. Interestingly, however, whilst Toby remains at the 9th percentile for both weight and length, he's now on the 50th percentile for head circumference. So his brain's growing faster than his body. In thirty years time he'll look like the Tefal man.

Most telling of all, though, was the health visitor's final comment to Lisa. Having witnessed the quality of home life I've provided for her, and the exceptional children we've raised, the lady turned to Lisa at the end and said "You've done well not to get depressed". She was standing near our wedding photos at the time, but I'm sure that was just coincidental.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I had an e-mail over the weekend from this chap. I thought for a moment he was going to pass on some confidential information about hedge funds and allow me to do some insider trading, but as it turned out, he's just a closet Senators fan, and wanted to thank me for my website. It's a shame he waited until now though. If he'd e-mailed me ten years earlier, he could have got in before Lisa, and I'd now be living in New York instead of Brighton, with a portfolio of shares instead of kids.

Admittedly, if I was occupying Wall Street, I wouldn't be able to watch The Great British Bake Off...

... but I'd probably be a lot thinner. I also wouldn't need to spend my time mediating in The Great Brighton Quilt Off...

That's Chloe wandering lonely as a cloud past Lisa's wooden leg, and straying onto Toby's patch. It's nine months now since she was given two days to live, and she's still refusing to curl up and die. She's quite keen on the curling up bit though. Frankly we can't get her off that quilt. She's spending more time on it than 'C' did.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

He's my little quilty pleasure...

They say that original sin is the guilt of Adam, well that's the quilt of Toby, my original son.

As it happens, that photo has been in the making since April of last year. At the time, our good friend 'C' was perfecting the art of patchwork in an effort to sew up the handicraft market and go from rags to riches, while Lisa and I were trying to conceive of where we were going wrong in our efforts to have another baby. Who would have thought that eighteen months later, those two projects would have been completed successfully and combined into the photo above? It was almost worth getting stuck in that traffic jam.

Anyhoo, it's a well known fact that 'C' likes to be beside the seaside, and I do like to be beside the 'C', so I was particularly pleased to be stitched up by the material girl yesterday when she turned up in Brighton to visit Toby, armed with a home-made quilt. She's making one for Amelie too, incorporating fabrics from America and Germany, but that one isn't finished yet. I don't think she can afford the import tax. If it's anything like Toby's though, it'll be among the most beautiful things you've ever seen. The photo above doesn't really do justice to the amount of work involved. Which is a statement that applies to Toby too.

On the subject of beautiful things, take a look at this...

That's a photo of me posing in the living room mirror. Unfortunately I couldn't get a clear shot of myself due to all the people on the sofa. It does, however, prove that in addition to being a highly skilled patchworker, 'C' is the kind of person who thinks of everything. The red object on the seat next to her is a box of 'Colour Catcher'. When she gives someone a hand-made quilt, the woman takes no chances.

So having experienced a bit of quilt guilt at the generosity of 'C's gift, we decided to repay the favour by taking her down to the marina for a slap-up meal. And then making her pay for herself. We usually go to Strada, but tragically it was forced to close down after Amelie ate them out of business, so we ended up at Prezzo instead.

We'd been there for almost an hour before we realised that the lady on the very next table, sitting three feet away from us, was one of my colleagues. And neither of us noticed each other. It was actually her husband who recognised me, and he's only met me once, almost two years ago. That's what it's like in the world of professional eye care. We're all as blind as bats.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Amelie went to her Grandma & Grandad's house yesterday and made cupcakes...

But if you think she's got the proudest face in this family, think again. I'm currently taking self-satisfaction to a whole new level with the kind of smug expression rarely seen since Monkhouse hung up his greasepaint. Yes, after countless hours of ceaseless hard work, I've completed the first week of my programming course. And it only took me a fortnight.

While others were enjoying the balmy mid-October flooding and gale-force conditions, I spent my lunch breaks this week holed-up in various NHS consulting rooms, wrestling with my bodily functions in an attempt to understand the serpentine constrictions of Python. Lunch on Thursday consisted of an online exam featuring questions such as this one:

Implement the function f(x) = -5 x5 + 69 x2 - 47 in Python. Compute that the function values f(0), f(1), f(2), and f(3). Enter the maximum of these four numbers.

I completed that poser in the on-call doctors' room at Uckfield Hospital. It's just down the corridor from Minor Injuries, which is handy as the test gave me slight brain damage.

Having passed both the week's quizzes, that just left me with the 'mini-project', which is best explained by this video tutorial...

The aim was to write a program that simulates five rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. And I'm telling you now, there have been times this week when that's felt less achievable than winning The X Factor. I've come close not only to throwing in the towel, but to wrapping it around my neck and strangling myself. But finally, late last night, twenty-four hours before the class deadline, and with my sanity levels hitting rock (paper, scissors) bottom, I successfully completed the task.

This is possibly the most disappointing link you'll ever click on, but my program is here. You run it by pressing the top left button with the arrow. And then brace yourself for an anticlimax. It's not interactive, it's not exciting, and it doesn't look good. But every time you run it, it chooses five random guesses and decides the winner. And I programmed that myself. I'd say it's the proudest moment of my life, but I don't want to upset Lisa and the kids.

***UPDATE*** Having just watched Lisa try - and fail - to run my program, I realise I should have pointed out that it doesn't work in Internet Explorer. You need Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Otherwise it's an even bigger waste of your time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The apology's arrived!

I'll be honest, it's not quite the unreserved, grovelling, eating-humble-pie-and-wearing-sackcloth-and-ashes-whilst-holding-your-hands-up-and-admitting-your-guilt, big fat SORRY I'd hoped for. In fact it has a lot in common with their original letter, in that it clearly wasn't composed for me at all. I didn't even use a credit card. But I'm grateful for small mercies, and will be framing it nonetheless. There's every chance I'm the only person in the world who owns one.

It also means I can repay my parents, who lent me a hundred pounds in September so that I could get my car unclamped without having to starve my family or go to So with hindsight, I probably should have kept the refund a secret and pocketed the cash for myself.

In other news, Amelie was on our bed this morning, helping to mop up Toby's sick from Lisa's pillow, when she re-stated her belief that it's hard work looking after a baby. Personally I think she's got that from Lisa, who likes me to think she's slaving away like a Japanese prisoner of war all day instead of watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, but Lisa swears she hasn't, and that our daughter's just naturally perceptive when it comes to the enormous challenges of childcare.

So having heard her say it again this morning, Lisa asked Amelie why she thinks that looking after Toby is so difficult. She thought for a moment, and said "Because you have to do everything his way". I've told her that's why marriage is so knackering too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Laurel & Hardy tribute act is coming along nicely...

I just need to grow a toothbrush moustache for Movember, and invest in a bowler hat. The other fine mess he's got me into is just out of shot, and consists of a puddle of sick on my lap.

But fortunately, I'm hardy enough not to rest on my laurels, so I'm also cultivating a Judy Garland / Mickey Rooney partnership...

No, seriously, I think we could be onto something...

I need to make the most of it while I can, though. Amelie turned to me last night and said "Daddy, it's hard work looking after a baby". So I'm sensing she wants out already. If I can just keep them together long enough to make my fortune...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In the words of Errol Brown, "I believe in miracles...". And I'm from Brighton, thanks for asking.

It's twelve days since my jury service was interrupted by a criminal gang and I received a letter from Ethical Parking Management informing me of their decision not to uphold my entirely legitimate appeal against their unlawful clamping of my car. Despite being halfway through the trial of the century, I took some time out from my deliberations that weekend and spent a couple of hours in the pursuit of justice.

With help from my legal secretary, Lisa, (who does all the work and gets none of the glory), I wrote a letter of complaint to Brighton & Hove City Council, and included a copy of my clamping invoice, appeal letter, EPM's parking regulations and their response to my appeal. The council replied to say they'd investigate, and this morning they wrote back to me.

Their letter re-states the circumstances of the incident, before going on to say this:

"Ethical Parking Management have provided photographic evidence which was taken at the scene. I am satisfied that your vehicle was correctly parked in a visitor bay and that there was a visitor parking permit displayed in the windscreen of the vehicle.

Therefore if a valid permit was being displayed and your vehicle was parked correctly then the clamping company would be incorrect to immobilise the vehicle under the terms of the contract that they hold with us.

Finally, concerning the reason stated by EPM on the invoice you have provided with your evidence, namely that the permit was being misused by you as you 'had left the site immediately':-

Whilst it is true that the visitor bays at [name of sheltered housing complex] are for visitors only and that it may have seemed to their operative that the bay was being improperly used in this instance, EPM operatives are not authorised by Brighton & Hove City Council to make a judgement of this nature.

As this is the case and as your vehicle was parked by you in a manner which was in accordance with both the clamping contract signage in place at that site and the information supplied to the resident you were visiting by the Car Parks & Garages Team, I am satisfied that Ethical Parking Management were incorrect in applying a clamp to your vehicle in this instance. I therefore uphold your complaint and have instructed EPM to refund the £100 clamping release fee to the same account which it was paid from at the earliest possible opportunity.

In addition I have requested that EPM provide you with a letter of apology which will be sent to your home address."

I know the refund of my money is the main thing, but it's the apology I'm really looking forward to.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I've spent today managing to completely avoid doing any programming...

I think this is why computer geeks don't have girlfriends. Women are far too distracting. And babies don't look after themselves either. I tried it all morning with Toby, and it just made him cry even more.

That photo's like a 'Where's Wally?' picture, but with Amelie playing the wally. Trust me, she's there somewhere. But with the exception of a few questions on the intricacies of Python functions, the biggest puzzle in my life right now is this one...

Now, I'm no stranger to talking nonsense at the wheel of a moving vehicle, but what the heck is she gibbering on about? Lisa's position on the nearby bench wasn't in question, but "I can do this from the back of my eyes"??? What?? Let's face it, I do this sort of thing for a living, and I still don't have a clue what she means.

I can only assume that the g-force from the rocking has detached her retinas. Which might explain why she staggers off down the hill like Donald Pleasence at the end of The Great Escape. There's a Nazi waiting for her just out of shot. No really, we live on a council estate.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

As the old saying goes, if you want something done, ask a busy person. I haven't got time to explain that, but trust me, it's true. So in late August, when my paternity leave came to an end and I returned to work with the mind of Ozzy Osbourne, the body of Billy Bunter and the schedule of Nicola Horlick, I decided to ask some serious questions of myself by signing up for a university course in computer programming.

No, really.

At the time I felt a bit like a zombie, which makes a lot of sense, as it's not the action of someone with a functioning brain. The course in question is an online extravaganza run by the prestigious Rice University of America (I think their dean's called Paddy Field), and is administered via Coursera, which was launched earlier this year, and provides free undergraduate courses to anyone in the world with an internet connection. I thought I'd get in quick before they start charging.

Having browsed through the courses on offer, I eventually signed up for An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python, which presumably features a lot about spam, taught by a professor called Monty. I also put my name down for Clinical Problem Solving, but that one doesn't start until January, giving me plenty of time to fake an illness and pull out. Problem solved.

The Python one, however, starts on Monday, and is due to last for eight weeks. When I signed up back in August, mid-October seemed a long way off, and I assumed my life would have settled down by then into a relaxed, care-free existence filled with spare time and boredom. In reality, I'm no less busy than I was in August. And I'm slightly more stressed. But as of Monday, I'm supposed to find 7-9 hours a week to watch video lectures, do quizzes and complete mini programming projects online.

Here are my four professors hanging out before class...

That's what passes for fun when you've got a PhD. Personally I'm aiming to prove that it's possible to have a detailed knowledge of computer programming and still be at the cutting edge of coolness, which is why I'm taking this class. I can work on the coolness later.

The professors state that "People who finish this course won't be professional programmers, but they will know just enough Python programming to have fun and be dangerous". So I'm expecting to be able to program weapons systems and write viruses. For my own amusement.

Assuming I don't drop out, that is. Since signing up in August, more than 54,000 people have followed my example, so it's getting pretty crowded in the classroom, and I'm feeling a little intimidated. They released the first week's lectures a bit early, to give students extra time to get acclimatised, so I'm already up to my neck in strings, functions and variables. And sinking fast.

By this time next week, I'm supposed to have programmed my first game, which at the moment seems unlikely. I might have to trawl the class forums for a nerd I can start bullying. It could be my only way of getting the answers...

Friday, October 12, 2012

After two weeks of being judgemental, my first stint of jury service is finally over. And I think the British tax payer got their money's worth out of me. Having completed two gruelling trials by the end of Tuesday, I thought they might give me the rest of the week off, but to my surprise, I was informed on Wednesday that my services were still required down at the law courts. Apparently there was a burglar out there who needed my particular brand of justice.

Needless to say, my only personal experience of theft was when I stole Lisa's heart eight years ago. Unless you include all the times I've failed to scan stuff at self-service checkouts. But despite that, they felt I was just the kind of juror who could weigh up a burglary charge with speed and precision, and return a verdict by the end of the week. I see jury service as the most vital of civic duties, but I haven't checked my e-mails for a fortnight, so I told them I needed to be back at work on Monday. They responded by assuring me that the case would be over by Friday afternoon.

And so it proved. Hanging might have been removed from the British legal system in 1969, but hanging around is still very much a part of the court process. So having been kept waiting for inordinate periods of time while shadowy deals were done in dimly lit back rooms (mostly over who gets the sandwiches), we were eventually told that the defendant had changed his plea to guilty, and the trial was being abandoned. He must have seen me striding up the courthouse steps with the air of a young Perry Mason, and realised he didn't have a prayer.

My jury service might have ultimately fizzled out into nothing, but over the course of the two weeks, it was a very worthwhile experience. It's taught me that the job of a barrister is essentially a dull one, although not quite as dull as being a judge, but my overall interest was huge, and for the most part I loved every minute. Although it drained me faster than Amelie with a Fruit Shoot.

It also gave me the chance to read a book (not in court, I hasten to add, but in the jury assembly room), which is no mean feat for a non-reader like myself. I actually read 'The Code Book' by Simon Singh, from start to finish in nine trialling days. As a result, I'm now attempting to clear some time in my schedule to crack The Beale Ciphers, and pop over to America to dig up some treasure. I think I can have it done by Christmas, assuming Lisa looks after the kids.

In the meantime, we've had an official letter from Am's nursery...

They want us to dress our child as a monster. Which makes a change from dressing our little monster as a child. The alternative is to opt for her favourite scary character. So we're going to give her a cigar and some jewellery, and let her go as Jimmy Savile.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Today is World Sight Day, an annual day of awareness to focus global attention on blindness, but while my colleagues were broadening their view of diabetic retinopathy with a day-trip to London, I've spent six hours looking at the inside of Hove Trial Centre. Which seems aptly named when you're kept waiting indefinitely with no explanation.

But just when I thought I might never see daylight again, they let me out for an hour at lunchtime, and I found this eye-opening vision of loveliness in a nearby charity shop. Not only is it a sight for sore eyes, but it looks like an eye-witness account of Lisa's life with me. And I can answer the question on the cover.

She basically just apologised, and promised she'd never eat my chocolate again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Having spent the past week embroiled in under-age groping allegations myself (I should probably rephrase that), I was pleased to see Freddie Starr on the news last night, making his position on paedophilia absolutely clear...

Child sexual abuse just isn't his style, and whilst others might feel quite loving towards paedophiles, Freddie simply can't stand them. Which seems a bit judgemental to me. Still, it's nice for him to clarify his position in public. Whilst standing next to his fiancée who's 35 years his junior.

On the subject of sex and children, Lisa finally had her contraceptive implant fitted yesterday. The surgery had made her an appointment for 5:30pm, which was good timing, because it gave me a chance to get back across the city from Hove Crown Court in time to pick up Amelie from nursery, and get home to look after Toby before Lisa had to leave at ten past five.

Unfortunately the doctor phoned a couple of days ago to say that she was changing the appointment to 5 o'clock because she didn't want to work any later. I know how she feels. It's an inconvenience, and means you might end up missing The Simpsons. As a result, we had to get Lisa's Mum over to mind the baby for half an hour, while I rushed back from court to get Amelie, Lisa got the bus to the surgery, and I then drove my mother-in-law home.

It was all worth it though. Or it would have been if the doctor had actually called Lisa in at 5pm. Unfortunately they kept her waiting for forty minutes, making the whole operation a waste of faffing time.

But the good news is that Lisa's now implanted. She came home with a Mr Bump bandage on her arm, and this plastic card which she has to keep about her person at all times for the next three years...

It's in case she gets hit by a bus, and the paramedics mistake her implant for a bit of shrapnel. The consequences could be disastrous. The moment they whip it out, and I catch sight of Lisa looking sexy on the emergency ward in a green surgery gown, we could have a third child on our hands.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

My second trial as a juror finally came to an end this afternoon after five days of intense evidence, arguments and debate. My first experience of jury service last week was a simple case of handling stolen goods. This one was a little more challenging. The defendant faced a total of twelve charges: four counts of sexual activity with children, four counts of sexual assault, and four counts of offering illegal drugs to children.

We found him not guilty on all charges. Which is quite a responsibility to take, and not a decision you want to get wrong. When I arrived at the court last Monday, the first thing I was given was a leaflet telling me how to get support from The Samaritans if I end up on a case I find upsetting. It never really came close to that, but it has to be said that a trial of this nature does take it out of you emotionally.

For an entire week (five days in court, two days in thought) you're completely immersed in the minutiae of a case which affects many people's lives in numerous different ways - all of them negative. And you have the weight of those negative outcomes on your shoulders. Strangers' lives will be ruined - temporarily at least - regardless of the final decision you make. But you want to be sure that you don't ruin things for the wrong person. And sadly, you may never know if you did.

Having spent each day listening to conflicting accounts, making copious notes, and trying to sift through the weight of evidence in an attempt to get close to the truth, you're sent home with the advice not to think about the case until the next day. Advice it's impossible to follow. If you have any kind of conscience, you live the trial, day and night, till it's over. And probably for a while afterwards. On arrival this morning, three of my fellow jurors told me they didn't sleep last night.

So it's been an utterly draining week, and I've been feeling increasingly unwell all day. I'm very happy with the verdict in the case, but the outcome of the trial for me personally is exhaustion, headache and nausea. I was back in time to pick up Amelie from nursery today, and there was a sign on the door as I went in, warning that they've had six confirmed cases of vomiting and diarrhoea this week. I've felt steadily more sick and achey as the evening's gone on. I just don't know if it's a pre-school bug or post-traumatic stress.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Today's important life lesson is that four hours locked in a jury room is surprisingly draining, and leaves one incapable of coherent blogging.

We'd also been promised a phone call today from the council about the ethics of parking management, but that's failed to materialise. Much like the refund of my money. The whole saga's a bit of a trial, and this trial's turning into a saga. It's no wonder I'm tired.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The problem for Toby is that as a Gardner male, he's inherited the gene that makes us look fat in photos...

In reality we're all stick thin, lean and muscular, but whip out a camera and we instantly put on three stone. I think he looks like my Dad in that photo...

It's all in the cheeks. And the high forehead.

As it happens, it's my parents' wedding anniversary today, so HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to you both. This time last year, we surprised them with an all-expenses-paid fine dining experience, and a professionally printed photobook of their lives. This year, the surprise was much greater. For us at least. We only remembered it an hour ago.

It's particularly annoying because my parents' anniversary comes exactly one week after my own, so it should be easy to remember. And it is. But only for about twenty-four hours. It was fresh in my mind last Sunday when we accepted some free babysitting from my parents so that Lisa and I could go out for a meal, and I resolved at the time to return the favour by getting them a cheap card. It seemed like the least I could do. So having finally been released from court last Monday, I got the bus along to Churchill Square and bought two anniversary cards. I then congratulated myself on remembering the date. Before promptly forgetting it again.

It was just after 2 o'clock this afternoon, as Lisa got Amelie ready for her swimming lesson, and I sat here telling Toby how much he looks like his Grandad (chubby and asleep on the sofa), that I remembered what today is, and realised with horror that I'd never sent the cards.

But whilst I might have the memory of a goldfish, I also have access to a scanner. So in the immortal words of Jim Bowen, look at what you could have won...

That one's from Amelie and Toby, and this one's from me and Lisa...

They're supposed to be representative. The kids are cute and well-fed, and the parents are as poor as church mice.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

I wrote yesterday's blog post on a park bench (not literally) in Palmeira Square, just down the road from Hove Crown Court, during a break in a heavy day's trialling. I felt like Samuel Pepys during the Great Fire of London. But with biros and a packed lunch.

The case which began on Wednesday is ongoing, and will enter its fourth day on Monday, but as we broke for lunch yesterday, the judge told us that before reconvening that afternoon, he had some other business to attend to, and invited us all to sit in on it. At the time, it sounded more like the kind of proposition that would land him on the other side of the courtroom, but we accepted, unsure of what to expect.

So having vented my anger about Ethical Parking Management into a notebook, I returned to court to find out what it was that the judge thought might be of interest to us.

It turned out to be a murder trial. Or at least a preliminary hearing for one. We were expecting some kind of dull legal meeting, but we were led into a highly charged courtroom complete with two defendants, three Queen's Counsel, three barristers, some solicitors, detectives, and a packed public gallery complete with burly policeman in body armour to keep the two sides apart. Intimidating doesn't even come close to it.

The hearing lasted less than twenty minutes, although must have cost thousands in lawyers' fees, and I've never experienced anything like it. Despite sitting in the jury box, we were there in an entirely unofficial capacity, with the same status as those in the public gallery, but quite what they thought we were doing there, I have no idea. One of my fellow jurors said afterwards that she felt like holding up a sign confirming that we're not the jury, just in case we started getting death threats.

Fortunately, when my jury service ends next week, I can't be forced to do it again for another two years, so I know I won't be trying that case. I've always thought I'd like to decide a murder trial, but having experienced one for a few minutes, I've completely changed my mind.

Going back to yesterday's other criminal act, I've located the minutes of the council meeting in 2010 when Brighton & Hove City Council decided to renew their contract with Ethical Parking Management. It reveals that the council pay EPM nothing for their service - they just allow them to keep all the fines. So it's in EPM's best interest to clamp as many people as possible, because it's their only way of getting paid. If no one contravenes the parking regulations, they don't make a penny.

It's interesting too, because it presents Ethical as a highly professional company, with impeccable standards, whose operatives are all "trained in social and communication skills". Which is odd, as the lady on the phone was rude, and the clamper didn't say a word to me, other than "Sign here".

I took Amelie over to see her Nanny this afternoon, and with spooky timing, Lisa's Mum handed me a letter she received this morning from the council. It says this:

"From 1st October 2012 the clamping of vehicles on private land became illegal following a change in the law introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. As a result of this, Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) can no longer use clamping as a means of parking enforcement in off-street Housing car parks, as these are considered private land."

So September was the last month of clamping, and they got me. Four weeks later, and I'd have received a Penalty Charge Notice instead, with the ability to withhold payment while I lodged an appeal.

Unfortunately the letter goes on...

"Ethical Parking Management will continue to provide parking enforcement by the issue of PCNs in accordance with the terms of the existing contract that they currently hold with BHCC."

So the word on the street was wrong. Clamping might be going, but EPM are here to stay. At least until their contract comes up for renewal next year. That might be a council meeting worth attending...

Friday, October 05, 2012

As it happens, the defendants at Hove Crown Court aren't the biggest criminals I've heard from this week. I had a letter yesterday from Ethical Parking Management. And here it is...

According to EPM's own rules, if you submit an appeal within 28 days, and supply a stamped addressed envelope, "you will receive correspondence within 14 days (allowing for post)". That letter took 25 days to arrive. So either Ethical failed to abide by their own rules, or Royal Mail took a week and a half to deliver a first class letter.

I'd like to think the delay was due the EPM Appeals Committee's lengthy and exhaustive analysis of the evidence, but after more than three weeks of waiting, the letter they've sent me is clearly just the standard response they send to everyone, regardless of the circumstances of the clamping or the validity of your appeal.

They don't name the location of the clamping, don't know if I supplied any evidence, and don't state which parking regulation I'm supposed to have broken. The bit about "extenuating circumstances" is clearly just the platitude they hand out to everyone. After all, you wouldn't be appealing if you didn't think there were extenuating circumstances.

I was legally parked in a visitor's space and displaying a valid visitor's permit, but the reason for immobilisation given by the barely literate clamper was as follows:

Lisa's Mum has spoken to the manager of the sheltered housing complex who has confirmed that if I was parked in the correct space and displaying a valid permit (neither of which are disputed by Ethical), then my departure to get shopping for my mother-in-law is irrelevant, and I shouldn't have been clamped.

I was back at the sheltered housing today, as I am two or three times a week, so I took a photo of Ethical Parking Management's regulations for the site, which confirm what the manager says...

"Vehicles must clearly display a current valid permit in the windscreen and be parked correctly in bay/space only". Those are the only terms and conditions stated, and I complied with them in full.

Unfortunately, having ignored the facts completely, and made a "full and final" decision with no basis in truth, EPM are "unable to issue further correspondence regarding this matter either directly with you or any third party". Meaning they're unlikely to respond to the manager who's about to phone them on our behalf, or indeed Brighton & Hove City Council. Making their provision of the complaints department address entirely pointless.

The word on the street is that the council have already decided not to renew the contract with Ethical Parking Management, and will shortly be taking over control of the car park at the sheltered housing themselves. Which perhaps explains why EPM feel they can clamp the innocent without fear of reproach, and be as unscrupulous as they please. I will be writing to the council, but my hopes of ever getting my money back from a company who break their own rules, disregard the facts, and have an ironic lack of ethics, are rapidly approaching zero.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Lisa was due back at the doctor today to have her contraceptive implant fitted. So I was looking forward to this weekend. Jeremy Forrest wasn't sure he'd make it back in time, but fortunately Lisa's sister had agreed to look after Amelie this morning, so we were all set for surgery. Unfortunately the surgery wasn't. They phoned yesterday to cancel the appointment, saying that the only doctor trained to fit implants is having to go into a care home today. Which is odd, as she doesn't look that old.

So Lisa's still dangerously fertile, which is ironic as we received an e-mail yesterday from DuoFertility, inviting us to a party in London in November to celebrate the birth of their 500th baby. Toby is proud to be one of that number, so they've asked if we'll send some photos for them to display. I told him, and he looked shocked. So it's hard to tell if he heard me.

On the subject of a hearing loss (this is seamless), organised crime was the loser yesterday as justice prevailed and I found my first defendant guilty. And it wasn't Jimmy Savile. We were informed by the jury bailiff that now the trial is over, we can discuss the details of the case in public, but that what went on in the jury room must go with us to our graves.

So I can't tell you how much tea and coffee we drank, but I am at liberty (unlike the defendant) to reveal that it was a case of handling stolen goods. Namely the steering wheel of an Audi A5. The case started on Monday, was scheduled to last a day, and duly finished on Wednesday. Which is what happens when the defendant goes on the run. He turned up on Monday, saw the evidence against him, and promptly did a runner. There's currently a warrant out for his arrest.

So a lot of Tuesday was spent hanging around in the proverbial dark while the police went knocking on doors and the judge considered whether to carry on without him. We eventually found him guilty late yesterday morning, at which point we learnt that not only is he on the run, but he already has a criminal record, and is currently on bail for another crime. So I'm sensing we made the right decision.

There was some debate between the judge and the barristers about why the man was granted bail for a second crime when he was already out on bail for the first, but hindsight's a wonderful thing, and no one could ask him as he wasn't there.

In his absence, he was sentenced to a total of twenty-seven months in prison, and is likely to be deported back to his native Eastern Europe. Assuming they can find him.

People I've spoken to who have experience of jury service told me to expect days of doing nothing, and possibly even a week with no cases. That's not been my experience so far. The first trial finished at lunchtime yesterday, but just as I was building myself up for an an early finish and a relaxing few hours with my feet up, I was promptly selected for another jury, and sworn in for a new trial, shattering my hopes of an afternoon off, and putting me instantly back to work. There's no justice.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Well, I think Amelie did have a good 4th birthday yesterday...

Admittedly, things got off to a shaky start when I unwittingly trod on a tube of Bepanthen whilst trying to get her presents out of the wardrobe in the dark, and then tracked nappy cream all the way into the living room without realising. I subsequently missed quite a bit of the birthday fun due to being on my hands and knees with a bucket. And I don't mean throwing up. Although it did make me sick.

Fortunately things picked up from there. I was due in court first thing, so we only let Amelie open half her presents in the morning, leaving the rest for when I was let out for good behaviour. But she seemed pleased with the Sea Monkeys...

... and that new doll on the green mat is scarily life-like.

I felt slightly guilty when she looked at the picture on the Sea Monkeys box...

... and asked me if that's what they'll look like, but having explained to her the concept of poetic licence, she accepted the difference between advertising and reality, and declared "I can't wait to watch them swim!". So they'd better hatch after all this.

Of equal success was the collection of Zoobles, which were greeted with much pleasure and excitement. My brother bought her a box of twenty, which looked remarkably like a set of snooker balls, and we added an overpriced play-set complete with babies so small that we'd lost them within a few hours.

As it transpired, however, that play-set wasn't so much overpriced as priceless. I mentioned ten days ago that my understanding of Zoobles is roughly akin to my understanding of quantum physics, and sure enough, having unwrapped and examined the Zoobles, not one of us could work out how they opened. Not even Amelie, who claimed to be a world expert on the creatures.

Fortunately, this is where the internet proved its worth. Having entered the question into Google, I discovered that "Zoobles are collectible colorful spheres that 'pop' open into fun and cute characters when placed on their magnetized 'Happitat'" – a statement which filled me with instant horror when I realised we hadn't got one. I was also mildly concerned that the price of a Happitat would be so great that it would work out cheaper to buy a snooker table and use the Zoobles as balls.

But as it transpired, the overpriced play-set I'd been persuaded to buy in Toys R Us contains one solitary Happitat amongst all the sad plastic tat, which is enough to open her twenty Zoobles. I've never felt so relieved. And having seen them in action, I'm actually quite impressed. They might just be colourful characters to Amelie, but they're remarkable feats of engineering to me. It's no wonder they're so expensive.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Happy Birthday Amelie!!!

Your brother can't believe his eyes, and your Daddy's too tired to write about it, but we hope you've had a good day. xxx

Monday, October 01, 2012

Today was my first day of jury service, an important civic duty which is expected to last for the next two weeks, and is, on today's evidence at least, a lot like 'Waiting for Godot', but with slightly more hanging around. Fortunately, things picked up significantly this afternoon, but due to my overwhelming fear of following Matthew Banks and Joanne Fraill down the road of juror stupidity to the nearest jail, that's about all I'm prepared to say about it. At least until I sign a book deal at the end of the trial.

In the meantime, the old folks down at the Brighton Retirement Castle have got a new entertainments coordinator in...

She's got little regard for health & safety, but she does come with her own hospital. And here it is...

It's actually a Puppy Hospital, which opens out to reveal a bustling maternity wing, complete with newborn dogs in nappies. So it's quite realistic. It's just one of the many presents that Amelie received yesterday on the first of her two official birthdays. The second one's tomorrow.

When she turned two in 2010, Amelie looked like this at her birthday tea, but there's a gulf of difference between a toddling two-year-old and a fully formed fourster. Yesterday she looked like this...

You can tell she's a lot older because she's reaching for a pair of glasses.

Anyhoo, we successfully managed to convince her that we'd made that cake ourselves, but sadly we were less successful when it came to written instructions. I bought her a new toy box to store all her puppies and kittens, and on the side it bears the legend: 'Keep Calm and Tidy Up'. Having seen it for the first time yesterday, she asked her Grandma what it said, and when told, she instantly declared, "I'm not going to do that. They're just joking".

Twenty-four hours later, I can tell you she's a girl of her word.