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Friday, November 30, 2012

When I was a boy, I used to sit on the sofa watching a black & white TV with no remote control during the two hours a day when children's programmes were broadcast on one of the three available channels.

Times have changed a bit since then...

That's Amelie and Toby watching cartoons on the iPad this morning. I think it was some kind of morality tale about not changing horses in midstream. I told Amelie she looked like a Pacer, but she just stared back at me blankly. Sometimes I feel very old.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I arrived home from Crawley Hospital this evening feeling like death warmed up, only colder, and was presented with this picture by Amelie...

She told me it was her and Toby, and that she'd drawn it herself. A few things about that didn't ring true. The first is that Toby's clearly smiling, and since his latest round of vaccinations yesterday afternoon, there's no way he'd have posed for that picture. The second is that despite being a keen artist with a high production output, Amelie tends to favour a more abstract form of art which basically consists of scribbling in various colours on my work rotas. Anything recognisable is generally an accident. Unless you ask her to draw spaghetti.

I knew Lisa hadn't helped her, as I've seen my wife's art, and she's not capable of anything that advanced, but Lisa's Mum had been here all afternoon, and I've watched 'My Kid Could Paint That', so I suspected there was an adult's hand in it somewhere.

Amelie, however, insisted it was all her own work, so I asked her to draw me another one. And then watched in silence as she quickly produced this...

She wrote her name by herself without any help at all. It's like she's gone from scribbler to savant in an afternoon.

So I asked her to draw me...

She said the dots are the hairs on my face. I think my eyes convey exhaustion and jealousy. Both of which I was feeling.

So envious of her talent, and too tired to question it, I suggested she end with a self-portrait...

Van Gogh's effort went for more than seventy million dollars. I'd be happy with half that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As the intermittent blogging might suggest, the last few days have been a bit of a struggle. Since the weekend, my dodgy throat has become a heavy cold, and whilst I've made a return to work, doing so has been like wading through treacle with a bag of rocks on my back. By 5pm I feel older than most of my patients.

But while I've spent the week slowly dying in hospital, Lisa's had a visit from an old friend, who brought us an array of gifts on Monday, including a personalised chocolate advent calendar (her daughter works in Thorntons), some baby clothes for Toby, and a couple of books by the nation's two leading authors.

The first is by Julia Donaldson, the current Children's Laureate and best-selling author of The Gruffalo. And the second is by Peter Andre. It's called 'A New Day at School', and as the blurb says, "Peter Andre is a singer-songwriter, TV Presenter & personality and businessman. Out of all these roles, he feels his most rewarding job is being a dad". Especially if he gets paid for writing rubbish. I read it to Amelie last night, and frankly the man should have stopped after Insania.

But fortunately I'm not the book's target audience, and Amelie seemed to love it. She's always been a Mysterious Girl. So hats off to you, Mr Andre, you've got another hit on your hands. I'd also highly recommend reading the reviews on Amazon. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments there.

On the subject of high quality writing, we had a letter from Amelie's nursery yesterday about her Christmas Concert in December. It says this:

There using all there skills to teach our daughter spelling, which is very reassuring. I'm also impressed by the way they're highlighting the effects of global warming by naming rabbits as a winter creature.

Lisa's currently scouring the internet for a costume, and doing her best to ignore Amelie's request to go as a pony. We're tempted to buy a bit of net curtain and call her a Snow Princess, but as things stand right now, it's between a Christmas Tree and an Angel. Amelie favours the latter, but I'm worried the role of an angel might be too much of a stretch for her.

Monday, November 26, 2012

We were watching 'Strictly Come Dancing' last night in that way you do when you're on the verge of a nervous breakdown and can't summon the strength to get off the sofa, and Tess Daly made a comment about the contestants having a ball. Which seemed to be stating the obvious on a dancing show. It prompted me to ask Lisa when she last had a ball. She replied "Daily", which slightly surprised me. Until I realised she'd thought I'd said 'bawl'.

It's actually been a tough few days in the world of parenthood. My own personal level of agony has been outdone in the past week by Toby, who appears to be teething, and is spending a lot of time screaming his head off with his fist in his mouth. Which is not the most endearing habit at 3am. As a result, Lisa and I have been feeling somewhat stressed and sleep-deprived, while Amelie has suggested putting Toby in the bin. But despite the regular tears, his winning smiles are keeping us going. And when those fail, we're using chocolate and paracetamol.

Fortunately, we're still managing to get out of the house. Down the stairs, past the broken lift. Lisa and Amelie had an appointment to get their hair cut in Portslade on Saturday afternoon, so having written my blog while Lisa stood by the front door in her coat, I gave them a lift over there. It gave Amelie the chance to educate me from the back seat of the car.

Obviously she's already done her best to keep me informed about the world's beluga whale population, but she followed that up on Saturday by saying "Daddy, did you know there's a type of fish called a salmon?". She never asks Lisa these questions, so clearly she thinks I'm the ignorant member of the family. I told her that yes, I did know that, and decided to demonstrate my knowledge of wildlife by telling her that bears like to catch and eat them.

I was expecting her to be impressed by that, but instead she replied "I know. And black bears scratch on trees to tell the other bears where they are". I should know better than to try to compete with Miss Attenborough.

Anyhoo, we made it to the salon (ten minutes late), so here's Amelie displaying the fringe benefits of a new haircut...

I think the teapot might sue for copyright infringement, but it's impressive how many Christmas songs she's managed to learn. She knows a lot more than I do. As she frequently points out.

Having felt physically rough all week, I decided to order this weekend's shopping online, which is just as well, because by Saturday evening I'd taken a turn for the worse. The chap from Sainsbury's was due here at 7pm on Saturday, and with the lift still broken, I felt slightly guilty about making him carry all our shopping up to the second floor. In the end though, I decided that he couldn't possibly feel as weak as I did, and was being paid to do it, so I resolved not to feel bad.

Until he arrived with our three sacks of cat litter and sixteen pints of milk, and revealed himself to be a woman. Not literally, of course. It was actually quite obvious, so I chose not to ask for a sex test. But in all the years I've dabbled in online grocery shopping, it's never been delivered by a young lady. Until now, when the lift's out of order.

Obviously in this day and age, the issue of gender shouldn't matter to anyone but the Church of England, but sadly I'm an old fashioned chap, and couldn't bear to let the girl trudge up and down the stairs with our jacket potatoes, tinned tomatoes and bottles of squash, so I insisted on doing it all myself. It's no wonder I felt so rough yesterday.

I did have one moment to treasure on Sunday though. We took Amelie for her regular swimming lesson in the afternoon, and she wore her brand new rubber swimming cap that Lisa bought for her online. It's the first time the girl's looked like me since she grew hair.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

If there's one thing I've always said, it's that parenthood is all about sacrifices. Mostly of goats to Lucifer whilst begging for an undisturbed night's sleep. Unfortunately he couldn't hear our prayers yesterday over the sound of Toby crying, so we didn't get a lot of peace last night.

To make matters worse, we'd already made plans for today which had been set in stone a week ago, before I started dying of an undiagnosed throat condition. So despite feeling as rough as a mute insomniac with a cough, I dragged myself out of bed this morning for a monumental moment in this family's collective existence...

Our first ever trip to the cinema!

No, really. We've had Gardner Family Fun Days in the past, of course, but we've never broken down in tears at the pictures, so we felt it was about time we gave it a go. Amelie's home video collection makes Bob Monkhouse's look minimalist, but we've never let her run riot in a cinema, preferring to keep her movie mayhem confined to our own home.

Recently however, we feel she's reached a new level of maturity, and with Toby now able to watch TV in an armchair for a couple hours...

... it seemed like the perfect time to try it. Particularly when we discovered that Cineworld do tickets for £1 on Saturday mornings.

So we headed down to the Marina this morning to treat our children to a new level of luxury by spending three quid on a family outing. Toby got in for free as he's too young to eat popcorn. They were offering a choice of two kids' films today, one of which was 'The Lorax', so given Amelie's love of all things Dr Seuss, we opted for that one.

Unfortunately it was sold out when we got there. Which I found to be a slightly terrifying concept. Just the thought of a full size cinema completely packed out with children was enough to make me want to head back to the multi-storey car park. And then throw myself off.

But fortunately the second film was proving deeply unpopular. So having weighed up our options, we decided to risk £3 on 'The Three Stooges'. And frankly it was the best loose change I've ever spent. Admittedly, the popcorn we bought cost us more than the tickets, but the movie itself was great fun. Not for Amelie and Toby, obviously, but for me and Lisa.

Toby was too busy feeding to pay much attention, and whilst Amelie was transfixed for the best part of an hour, most of the jokes went over her head, and she was asking to go home ten minutes before the end. She did very well though, considering it was a film aimed at older children. Namely me and Lisa. Quite honestly, we both loved it. As befits a movie made by the Farrelly Brothers, it featured such delights as Larry David dressed as a nun, a priest being hit with a sledgehammer, and a scene in which Larry performs the Heimlich Manoeuvre on a dolphin with a peanut stuck in its blow-hole, only for the nut to fire out and hit a lion in the testicles. And we took our four-year-old to see that. It's what they mean by Parental Guidance.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A visitor alerted me last night to the fact that this blog is ranked number one out of several million websites on Google for the phrase "as it transpires". I had no idea I used it so often. I might need to broaden my vocabulary.

Anyhoo, as it transpires, I didn't feel quite as well as I thought I would this morning. Having had some rest yesterday afternoon, I perked up a bit in the evening (particularly when Amelie went to bed), so I confidently set my alarm for work today. Which was pointless, as I tend to be woken up by children (mostly my own) before it ever goes off.

I managed to drag myself out of bed and get as far as a cup of tea and a shower, but having done so, I finally admitted to myself that I felt a lot worse again, and after a stern talking-to from Lisa, who took advantage of the fact that I couldn't answer back, I agreed to phone in sick again - by nodding as I took some paracetamol. In reality, of course, it was Lisa who phoned in sick for me. I didn't want the office thinking it was Marlon Brando trying to contact them from beyond the grave.

So I spent the day at home. And by 9:30am was wondering if I'd have been better off at work. If there's one thing I've noticed about the under-fives, it's that they tend to put their own needs above those of their sick father. As far as Amelie was concerned, my proximity to death's door just made me a more convenient playmate. And she doesn't go to nursery on a Friday. So I haven't had a great deal of peace.

To make matters worse, my throat problems seem to have expanded into a sore head and blocked nose, which could technically be classed as a cold, but is almost certainly far more serious than that. I'm thinking SARS or the Black Death. In addition, Toby's been griping about his teeth all day in a voice loud enough to wake the dead, which possibly explains my bad headache and similarity to a zombie.

As it happens though, I'm not the only one who isn't working at the moment...

Our lift's been out of order since last Saturday. I had to come home at lunchtime on Wednesday and carry Toby's buggy down the stairs before driving off to Lewes, just so that Lisa could take Amelie to nursery. That graffiti's not mine (I wouldn't end a sentence with a preposition) but the author's got a point. Our rent includes a maintenance charge to prevent problems such as this, and it impacts on us all greatly. Lisa struggles to get out with two children at the best of times, so a few flights of stairs make it virtually impossible.

But the good news is that after seven days with no lift, an engineer finally turned up this morning. And worked on it for a few hours. Before leaving at lunchtime. And not coming back. It's now Friday evening, and the lift still isn't fixed. It's a good job I'm too ill to go out, or I might be quite annoyed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Amelie turned to me a couple of hours ago and said "Daddy, did you know there's a type of whale called a beluga whale?". I was slightly taken aback, but I told her I'd heard rumours to that effect, and asked where she'd got her information. She replied "I saw it on the laptop".

This is why I was never on University Challenge. As a teenager, I had to walk a mile into town just to look something up at the library. Amelie's four, and doing her own research on the internet. She'll have no trouble plagiarising Wikipedia for her A-levels.

Unfortunately I'm in no fit state to help her with her homework. Having struggled all week with a bad throat and a vanishing voice, I finally threw in the towel at lunchtime today. Yesterday afternoon I was apologising to the patients for my lack of a voice. This morning I was unable to apologise.

I think I was finally broken at the end of yesterday's clinic by a 93-year-old in a wheelchair who turned up without an appointment due to a mix-up at the care home. I used up my last vestiges of good health by staying late to see her, and by this morning I was running on empty. I got through a half-day clinic using a mixture of smiles, hand gestures and painkillers, and then took the afternoon off sick.

Fortunately Amelie was at nursery today, so I was able to get some life-giving sleep this afternoon. I was eventually woken up with this...

I think the angelic sign language of 'Christmas Tree' would look slightly more holy if she didn't have the hand tattoos of a navvy, but other than that, it's delightful. She even had Toby joining in in the background. It's no wonder I've got a headache.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's a fine line between peek-a-boo and child abuse...

Fortunately I'm exonerated under the terms of the Nuremberg Defence, but when the case of Baby T hits the Daily Mail, Amelie's going daaaaaan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lisa and I embarked on yesterday's school trip holding hands and with sweets in our pockets. I suggested that we also attach mittens to our coats with elastic, but in the end we opted for the more adult approach of freezing to death on a hillside. The school in question commands spectacular views over Brighton, but is essentially halfway up a mountain, with a climate more suited to Nepal. I refused to tour the playing fields without Sherpa Tenzing and a pair of snow shoes.

The meeting for prospective new parents was scheduled to start at 2pm, but as luck would have it, Lisa mis-read the instructions and booked us in for one-thirty, giving us the chance to spend half an hour sitting outside the school office next to a life-size painting of Jesus and a collection of tins for the homeless.

When 2pm finally came, we were joined by about fifteen other parents, and treated to a talk by the head teacher, who gave us a copy of the school prospectus, and pointed out some interesting facts. One of the most startling was that 30% of their pupils have English as a second language. I was quite shocked by that, but when I stopped and thought about it, I realised that the same statistic applies to my friends, and it hasn't really held me back. Although I find Canadian quite hard to follow. And let's face it, there are days when Amelie uses words rarely found in any dictionary, so it's probably not a great problem.

Of course, there comes a time when the talking has to stop, and in this case it was 2:30pm. At that point we were joined by the six members of the school council, a group of nine-year-olds who had been elected to a position of power by their peers, and selected to show us around the school. Our personal tour guide was a lovely little boy who informed us that when he grows up he wants to be a rapper, a footballer, a scientist or an inventor, but he hasn't quite decided which yet. I encouraged him to combine the first two and be John Barnes.

Our tour took in a number of interesting displays, including a Year 6 project to learn Microsoft Excel by creating a spreadsheet of their favourite characters from The Hunger Games, and whether they lived or were slaughtered horribly. We also saw displays about tigers, recycling, foreign food, and one boy's trip to London to pray for peace in Palestine. That clearly didn't work. In addition, our guide warned us about the teacher who tends to shout a lot.

So it was quite a useful exercise. I did have a few reservations about one or two aspects of the place, and I regretted heading out into the playground without my thermal underwear, but at the end of the day, it's still our first choice for Amelie's future schooling. And as a bonus they have a daily breakfast club and lots of after-school activities. For a total cost of £10.25 a day, we wouldn't have to see Amelie from 7:45am until 5:30pm. That could be money well spent. If only they'd take Toby as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I had an e-mail overnight from an English-Spanish translation student in Argentina (hello if you're reading this), who told me that she's working on 'Brian, the Itch & the Wardrobe' "as part of a literary translation essay". Yes, as if the Falklands War wasn't enough, people in Argentina are now being forced to study my Micro Fiction. They've suffered like no other nation on Earth.

Her questions are almost as long as the story, but I'll be answering them later today in a kind of hands-across-the-water act of diplomacy which should help to foster a new sense of peace and understanding between our two countries, and ensure we avoid a punch-up at the next World Cup.

In the meantime, however, I'm off to see some students of a slightly younger age. Lisa and I have an appointment this afternoon to view the school that we're hoping Amelie will be starting at next September. I'd already booked the afternoon off work, which is unfortunate, as the way my voice was giving out by the end of this morning's clinic, I should have been phoning in sick. Not that I could muster the vocals for a phone call.

Lisa's already visited one other school nearby, but unfortunately their entrance criteria involve Amelie going there over Lisa's dead body, so we're discounting that one for the time being, and pinning our hopes on this afternoon's fact-finding mission to the school up the road. We think they'll be a class apart, and should be able to teach the other place a thing or two.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I'm not sure if it's Madame Butterfly...

... or the Mothman of West Virginia, but either way, she's done well to get a face-painting that matches her top.

That particular piece of body art (I'm ignoring the tattoo on her hand) was the result of a trip to a garden centre with her Grandad yesterday afternoon. At the time, Lisa and I were battling our way around Asda with Toby in a trolley, attempting to see how much money we could spend in an hour. The answer was more than we have.

It might only be mid-November, but Lisa managed to persuade her Mum and sister to club together this week and buy her a half-price Tassimo T20 coffee machine as an early Christmas present. I think it was a reaction to the Starbucks tax scandal. And the fact that she's tied to the house by screaming children, and needs an espresso to keep her going.

Unfortunately, I think it operates a bit like a video games console. And not just because I can't work out which button to press. I think they sell the machine at a knock-down price, knowing full well that you'll then spend a fortune on the coffee. Having loaded up on refills at Asda yesterday, we can no longer afford to eat. But as I said to Lisa at the checkout, caffeine's a good appetite suppressant, and if you're going to live in poverty, you might as well do it with some middle-class gadgets.

Lisa responded by pointing out that if she was still drinking, she'd be spending far more on wine, before adding that a latte at Starbucks would cost three times as much, and a lot more once you add a sweet treat. Which was her justification for the Danish pastries I found in the trolley.

It does make very good coffee though. Unfortunately we don't have space for it in the kitchen, so it's currently in the living room, where it can spend its life tempting Amelie to scald herself with boiling water.

In other news, I've had a throat infection since Thursday night, which I'm blaming on my trip to the doctor's on Wednesday. I've spent the past two days unable to swallow much more than my pride, and as of this morning, I have the voice of Clint Eastwood and an addiction to Lem-Sip.

It would be ironic if I couldn't go into work tomorrow, as I've spent part of my weekend doing unpaid work at home, writing some stuff for the department's new website. I also need to get Amelie's bike out of those bin liners and give it a thoroughly good clean while she's out of the house with her grandparents. I plan to paint it with Superglue to stop it falling apart. That's in addition to all the other jobs I need to get done, such as cooking, cleaning, and making coffee. Frankly I barely have time to write this. So I don't think I can fit in an illness.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Amelie woke up crying in the middle of last night, so Lisa went in to find out what was wrong. Through the sobs, she managed to tell her Mummy that she'd had a bad dream, so Lisa asked her what the nightmare was about. Having eventually composed herself enough to explain, Amelie replied:

"I dreamt a guinea-pig was nibbling my toes."

It's a miracle that girl's not in counselling.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Look at Amelie holding that big fat lemon...

What's less obvious though, is the giant fruit in her right arm. That's a Honey Pomelo. No, really.

One of the advantages of working in the same department as the hospital's graphic design team is that I have access to highly trained professionals with clever software, who can edit PDF documents and turn them into printable full-colour magazines in return for nothing more than a simple smile, a kind word and a bit of blackmail. As a result, I'm now in possession of a hard copy of my recent article, which I can casually leave on the coffee table when visitors come round. Obviously I'll have to buy a coffee table first, but that's a minor expense compared with the rewards of making myself look good in front of guests.

As it happens though, a copy of Visibility wasn't the only freebie I got my hands on yesterday. Amelie's current obsession is "going out in the dark", so I think she's heading towards a career as a burglar, but in the meantime I do my best to satisfy her demands by taking her for a walk after work. It's a lot like owning a dog.

On Tuesday night we walked to Lidl, and once there, Amelie picked up what I thought at first was a melon, and asked me what it was. I checked the sign, and discovered it to be a Honey Pomelo. Which didn't really help. Amelie felt we should buy one on the off chance that it might taste nice, but as a general rule I like to avoid food I've never heard of, so I flatly refused.

Having got home, however, I looked it up on the internet, and discovered that it's a fruit with its own website. Honey Pomelos are actually the world's largest citrus fruit, taste a bit like a sweet grapefruit, and in common with a lot of brands I've never heard of, are made in China., a website which I'm sensing wasn't written by a native English speaker, says this:

"Honey Pomelo not only rich in vitamin C, carotene, lower heat, but also have Adjuvant treatment for diabetes, hypertension, asthma and other diseases, which was very popular in markets and our consumers love it deeply."

It's a cure for diabetes!!! And they're selling it in Lidl! No wonder consumers love it deeply.

So with the revelation that I could treat all my patients and lower heat (?) with just a simple piece of fruit, Amelie and I headed back down to Lidl last night and bought one. They're only £1.49 and the size of a football, so as an adjuvant treatment for diabetes, we felt fully justified in buying some chocolate as well. By the time we got to the checkout, we had four items, and got change out of a fiver.

So here it is...

That's actually our largest dinner plate it's sitting on. It's like a grapefruit on steroids. I started self-medicating immediately, and although not as juicy as an orange, it's much sweeter than a grapefruit, and perfectly edible. It tasted sweeter still when I looked at my receipt. It seems the girl on the till at Lidl failed to scan my Honey Pomelo correctly, and it didn't come up on the bill. It's like a free box of Metformin. I could take a fruit salad into work tomorrow and save the NHS a fortune.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Friday, September the 7th is obviously best remembered as the day I got clamped by Ethical Parking Management, but prior to that blood-boiling moment in a car park, I'd been studying the bleeding obvious at the doctor's surgery, as I watched them suck a bit of plasma out of my arm.

Three weeks later, when I finally remembered to phone up for the results, my GP gave me the "very encouraging" news that I was slightly less terminal than I had been two months earlier, and suggested another blood test in November, just to keep the practice nurse in employment.

So today was the day. And I didn't park at Lisa's Mum's this time. I was, however, quizzed by Amelie before I left the flat this morning. She's recently decided that she wants to be a doctor, so she was very interested in the procedure. I explained that they'll be taking a sample of my blood, and then testing it to see if it's ok. To which she replied "And if your blood is ok, do they put it back in your arm?"

I said I'll find out when I get the results. Which should be this time next week. I'm hoping that by next Wednesday I'll have something to shout about, but in the meantime, it's Toby who's turned up the volume. For the past week he's been projecting his speaking voice like Brian Blessed at The Globe, and drowning out everyone from town criers to pneumatic drill operators. Lisa keeps telling me to film him doing one of his shout-outs, but unfortunately, every time Amelie sees the camera, she's straight in there doing a bit of baby talk herself...

Toby might find it hard to compete, but he can always make his sister laugh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

As it happens, a dirt-cheap bike isn't the only thing we've bought online recently. Lisa ordered a personalised swimming bag for Amelie last week, and it arrived yesterday morning...

The question is whether we should order another one, or just change her name by deed poll.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The good news of the day is that this incident was nothing to do with me. Or indeed any of my colleagues. Except in a wider sense. It's obviously a sad state of affairs, and something which shouldn't have happened, but fortunately Mrs D sounds quite tenacious*, so I'm sure she'll bounce back.

As of today, however, the best site for sore eyes is undoubtedly the Envision University website, which has just published the latest issue of their ophthalmology journal, 'Visibility'. Back in April they invited me to cobble together a few words for the fourth quarter issue, and having considered their offer for a couple of weeks, I decided to accept - quickly, before they realised they'd e-mailed the wrong person.

Having looked up some long words in the dictionary, I spent May writing the article, and June trying to understand the 'AMA Manual of Style' for my list of reference citations. In August it went through Envision's rigorous editing process, which basically consisted of changing every 'centre' to 'center', 'programme' to 'program' and swapping the odd 's' for a 'z', then in September they made it look pretty with some nice bits of graphic design. The final proof was sent to me in October, and today the completed issue has been published online. If you want to say 'Hi Visibility!', you can download the PDF by clicking here.

My article begins on page 9, and anyone who makes it to page 13 gets a prize. I'm also listed on page 2...

... where I stick out like a sore thumb amongst some learned men (and women) of letters. With hindsight, I wish I'd mentioned my BSc. I can't boast a good degree from a top university, but I graduated from primary school with a bronze swimming certificate.

* It's a miracle I'm not charging for these jokes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Amelie with the world's most expensive karaoke machine!

I'm sensing she didn't quite know all the words, but what she lacked in lyrics, she more than made up for with movement. That girl could dance to the speaking clock. Or, as she proved today, the Last Post.

The white rat leaving the sinking ship after two and a half minutes was actually Chloe with a new haircut. I like to trim her fur when the weather gets cold, just to keep her on her toes for the winter, and make survival more of a challenge.

I filmed that video this morning, shortly before Amelie left for church to remember the fallen. She paused at 11am to think of Lisa walking down the hill from the bus stop. As for Toby, he stayed at home with me, and spent the two minutes silence screaming his head off on the sofa. I thought it showed a certain lack of respect, until I presented him with some defrosted breast milk and he threw it up on my shirt.

Toby and I walked into Kemp Town to meet the girls after church (although he found it less tiring than I did), and having encouraged Amelie back up the hill using the persuasive powers of a chocolate chip cookie, we had lunch, and then dropped the girl at Lisa's Mum's so that we could do some Christmas shopping. Yes, Amelie might have the world's most expensive karaoke machine, but she's on the verge of getting Britain's cheapest bike...

We discovered that pink pedal-powered Hello Kitty speed machine on eBay just over a week ago with a starting bid of 99p. It was 'collection only', but by a stroke of good fortune, the seller lived in Worthing. Lisa and I spent a long time discussing just how high we should bid, but in the end it was academic. We got it for £7.39.

So while Amelie was enjoying an afternoon of blissful ignorance with her Nanny, the rest of us were in Worthing, handing over some loose change to a burly bloke with a bicycle. It could do with a bit of spit and polish, but other than that, it's the best seven quid we've ever spent. At least it was, until I got it home and managed to snap off the plastic seat at the back. Which is a shame as that's where Toby goes.

I'll have a go at fixing it next weekend, but for now it's wrapped in black sacks and hidden out on the balcony. What are the chances of Amelie not spotting it before Christmas..?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Just look at those happy-go-lucky expressions...

You'd never guess I was standing on broken glass, with a pair of used panties in my pocket.

Of course, the key to looking good in these group photos is to use perspective to your advantage by standing a foot behind everyone else and adopting the pose of a hawk, thereby losing an instant three stone, and concealing your double-chin and four stomachs. The bloke on the right's a lot nearer to the camera than he looks. No, really. Although he told me to say that.

Anyhoo, Toby's expression might suggest that we were dining with terrorists this evening, but in reality, the happy couple in the picture above (because there's obviously only one) is none other than Jon & Steph Cheshire, Milton Keynes' answer to John Lennon & Yoko Ono. But with more chocolate and better art. Jon was telling me today that he can't understand people who use pseudonyms on blogs, so I'm not only using his full name, but will be publishing his address and phone number tomorrow.

It's a well known fact that the first website I ever created back in 2001 led to me bagging a wife, but eleven years later, it was also responsible for today's meeting. In addition to writing a fine blog (which is sadly now classed as abandonware), Jon was the power behind the throne of Kajagoogoo, and played some bass guitar on The Senators' third album. All of which led to him stalking me back in 2008, when he used to send me Mick Kitson memorabilia and secretly taped recordings.

Since then, he's branched out into bespoke artwork, and forced his wife to send me food parcels, probably against her will. Much like myself, Steph enjoys the luxury of four stomachs as founder, CEO and executive chef of the world-renowned Concrete Cow Confectionery. Which makes her a very useful person to know.

These days, Jon's usually hanging out with Nick Beggs and the bird from the beefburger ads, but after four years of e-mailing, commenting and occasionally ignoring each other, we felt it was about time we met up. Preferably without Lisa and me having to drive anywhere. So we were delighted today to welcome Jon & Steph to Brighton for the first of what I hope will become a series of regular meet-ups. And I'm not just saying that because they brought gifts. Here are the Cheshires saying cheese after a bowlful of parmesan...

You can tell from Amelie's expression that she knows they have access to chocolate.

To be honest though, we nearly didn't get as far as that restaurant. Jon and Steph arrived at our flat at lunchtime today, where they were instantly met by the dodgy bloke from upstairs, who welcomed them to the neighbourhood by telling them they couldn't park out the front. Jon pointed out the visitor's permit I'd given him, to which our neighbour responded by asking them to move anyway, so that he could park there. It was the warm 'Welcome to Brighton' they'd dreamt of, and if I were them, I'd have left. After letting down the man's tyres.

Fortunately they're far more forgiving than that, so they hung around long enough for a cup of tea and a biscuit, over which they presented us with an array of gifts, most of them home-made, edible and not featured on any diet. The exceptions were a 'Paint Your Own Piggy Bank' for Amelie, and a copy of Michael Winner's 'Dirty Weekend' on DVD. That was my fault for suggesting in an e-mail this week that they might want to stay the night in Brighton.

Having bonded over some nibbles, we soon headed down to Prezzo at the Marina, a restaurant we chose partly for the quality of the food, partly for the atmosphere, but mainly because we had forty quids worth of vouchers and you can park for free. Amelie ordered a pizza, which she then refused to eat, only to ask Lisa if she could have her lettuce. But other than that, we enjoyed the food. Although I was talking so much, I was the last to finish. Which is unheard of in social circles, and indicates just how much I liked the company.

Sadly, when you're riding the crest of a social wave, things inevitably come crashing down around you, and sure enough, Amelie's bowl of strawberry ice cream soon hit the floor like a cluster bomb, sending shards of broken glass across the restaurant, and forcing a member of staff to crawl under our table in body armour with a dustpan and brush.

I tried to gloss over the situation by getting Jon to dish the dirt on The Senators, before deciding to give up and get the hell out of there by taking Amelie upstairs to the toilet. When she asked to go again ten minutes later, I knew something was up, and sure enough, she'd had a slight accident in her knickers. With no access to laundry facilities, I was forced to remove the offending item of clothing, roll it up tightly, and then stuff it into my pocket, before heading downstairs for the photos.

I didn't tell Jon and Steph what had happened. It's not the sort of thing you want to admit to in public.

Friday, November 09, 2012

We're getting dangerously close to an album now...

The composer of Frère Jacques might have a copyright claim, but the chimney wiggle's all her own.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

With only forty-seven days left until Christmas, rehearsals are stepping up a gear...

If you're sensing a certain tension between star and director, it was because I'd just refused Amelie's request to walk her to Lidl in the dark for a second night running. There's only so much Stollen one man can buy, and I'd had a long day at work, so having done it once yesterday, I said a flat no. Which was clearly the height of unreasonableness, and gave her carte blanche to burst into tears and start screaming. It was only our mutual love of good music that brought us back together.

On the bright side, we've now got a date for the concert, and have been informed by the nursery that Amelie's the loudest singer they've got. Having seen her audition, they've cancelled the plan to do 'Silent Night', and are going with 'Shout' instead.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

I love those old black & white Christmas films...

... especially in early November. Amelie's spent the past fortnight coming out with random festive songs at inappropriate moments, as she practices for her nursery's Christmas concert. I'm taking the chance to film them now, as any attempt to do so at the concert is likely to end up forming part of Operation Yewtree. Fortunately I'm getting plenty of opportunities. Amelie seems to think that if she sings about Christmas twenty-four hours a day, people might give her some presents.

And oddly, she's in with a good chance. Six weeks ago, when my parents popped round for some free cake, they brought with them two big bags of birthday gifts for Amelie. It's generosity like that which is dwindling my inheritance. At the time, we were reluctant to let her have them all in one go, partly because she already had quite a few presents, but mainly because we thought we could keep them for ourselves and then sell them all on eBay.

Well ok, we didn't. We did, however, hold back one bag of gifts for the day after her birthday, to extend the celebrations even further.

Unfortunately we forgot to give them to her. I discovered them at the back of the wardrobe on Saturday, along with two boxes of cheese straws that Lisa had bought for the party. My initial reaction was that we should save them all for Christmas (including the cheese straws) and save ourselves a fortune, but having discussed it, Lisa and I were overwhelmed with guilt, and decided to let Amelie have a present every time she's good.

So she's had one since Saturday. It's a nice one though: a box-set of eleven 'Charlie & Lola' DVDs, featuring all eighty episodes. My parents need to rein in their spending or they'll have nothing left to lend me when I can't pay my bills. Naturally, Amelie's over the moon, but it's created an unexpected problem. I took this photo before leaving for work this morning...

If you're wondering why Toby's looking grumpy, it's because I'd just turned off Charlie & Lola. It was the only way to get his attention. The boy's more obsessed than his sister. He's either facing the TV and smiling, or looking at me with a scowl on his face.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

One of the good things about living in Brighton at this time of year is that we're only a stone's throw from Lewes, which, according to the world's most reliable encyclopaedia, is "the Bonfire capital of the world". And not just because they have a lot of arsonists in the prison there. Every year, 80,000 people descend on the place to witness some of the country's finest Guy Fawkes Night festivities. Not only are they free of charge, but they're only a 20 minute drive from our flat.

But obviously they can't compete with the chance to spend an evening on a council estate balcony with a couple of cheap sparklers, so we chose to stay in last night instead.

To be honest though, fighting our way through a crowd of eighty thousand fired-up people armed with high explosives would have been a cake-walk compared to getting hold of some sparklers from Asda. I picked up Lisa, Amelie and Toby from a friend's house after work last night, and we drove down to the marina to pick up some sparklers. I thought they might just be sitting on a shelf somewhere, but unfortunately they only sell them from the firework counter.

So while Lisa browsed the clothes with Toby in a trolley, Amelie and I queued up for a 50p pack of sparklers, behind a string a pyromaniacs trying to outdo the IRA. When I eventually got to the front of the queue, I tried to hand over my loose change, only to be told that I couldn't pay for them there, and that I had to take them to the customer service desk instead. I asked if I could pay my 50p at a checkout, and they said no. I asked why, and they said I can't carry fireworks around the store. I pointed out that they were 50p sparklers for children. She just shrugged.

So we headed for the customer service desk, where Lisa joined us with the trolley, and we stood in line behind a middle-aged woman making a lengthy complaint about the flavour of her pizza. No, seriously. It took forever, but I was eventually served, and paid for my sparklers, after which I was asked if I was about to do some shopping. I made the mistake of saying yes, we were going to pick up a few things, at which point I was informed that I'd have to return to my car first. As the lady said to me, "They might only be sparklers, but we can't let you walk around the store with them".

It was probably just as well. The way the staff were winding me up, I could have been tempted to skewer someone through the heart. So I walked all the way back to the car and dropped off my sparklers, before returning to the store to pick up a pint of milk in complete safety, without the risk of self-combustion.

It was all worth it though. We eventually got home half an hour before Amelie's bedtime, and headed straight out onto the balcony for some explosive firework fun. Here's Amelie reaching a crescendo of excitement as she rides the wave of her first ever sparkler...

She walked straight back in after that and took her coat off. I told her we could light another one, but she said no. That was 50p well spent.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

He might be too small for a baby bouncer, but he's old enough for some biker gear...

At least he will be in nine months time. We've been given a bag of cast-offs from this little chap, which is handy as he's generally at the cutting edge of fashion, and wearing clothes that cost more than my car. That leather jacket was amongst them, but sadly it's for age 12-18 months, so Toby's still got a bit of growing up to do. By next autumn though, he'll be the coolest dude in the playgroup.

As for our low-budget princess, she returned home this morning, armed with about twenty paintings, some home-made jewellery, a cuddly cat and a Christmas tree. Lisa had turned to the painkillers within half an hour of her arrival, but other than that, it was good to have her back. She had a swimming lesson this afternoon, so she was on a tight schedule, but fortunately she managed to find time to stuff a few cuddly toys into a stockpot before she left, and leave it on the kitchen floor. It was like a scene from 'Fatal Attraction'.

So while Amelie splashed about in the pool, I spent the afternoon swimming in Toby's vomit, as I attempted to persuade him to keep down some defrosted breast milk. It's a good job I'd taken off the leather jacket, otherwise we'd have had one heck of a dry-cleaning bill.

When Lisa and Amelie returned, I gave Am a bath, Lisa soothed Toby, then I cooked a load of food that Amelie flatly refused to eat, and cleared up the bottle of bubble mixture that she'd managed to pour down the bedroom mirror and onto Lisa's haircare products. That left us free to play a quick game of Supercow, have a brief argument in the bathroom, and do a mountain of washing up. Not including the stockpot, which was still full of cuddlies. By that time we were all pretty much ready for bed. And a holiday. Preferably without the kids.

Amidst all of that chaos, however, we did have one moment of stunned silence. I was looking at the photos of Toby, and I made a joke about him getting a tattoo to go with his leathers. Amelie overheard, and immediately said "Grandad's got some tattoos". I've never been more shocked in my life. And judging by her expression, neither has Lisa. We both turned to Amelie in unison, and said "HAS HE???"

She replied "Yes. He's got lots".

Fortunately, just as we were thinking my Dad must be going through a mid-life crisis, thirty years late, Amelie added that he keeps them in a box, and applies them with water and a flannel. But only if she's been good. Which not only explains my Dad's sudden interest in body art, but also why Amelie hasn't got one.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

It's amazing how much I can get done when Amelie's asleep on the sofa...

Particularly when that sofa's thirty miles away at my parents' house. She's been at my Mum & Dad's all day today, which has resulted in a highly productive Saturday for yours truly. And a nightmare weekend for my Mum.

Having whipped up a quick casserole for the slow cooker this morning, I spent the afternoon on the armchair in Amelie's bedroom, writing a 1200-word opinion piece about the creeping privatisation of the NHS. No, really. It's a shame I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year as I'd be close to my daily target. That article is currently residing on another, slightly duller, website. I offered Lisa the chance to read it, but having considered the offer, she decided to do the ironing instead. Let's face it, some people just love ironing. Unfortunately Lisa hates it.

Toby did show an interest though. He was on Amelie's ladybird pillow at my feet during most of the creative process, so I should probably mention him in the credits.

As for Lisa, she took the opportunity to do some gourmet cooking today. It was her AA anniversary on Thursday, meaning she's now been sober for more years than I care to remember (mainly because I've forgotten), so I presented her with a card and a copy of Jamie Oliver's '15 Minute Meals'. She thought it was a heartfelt gift, but in reality I was just testing her resolve with a recipe for chicken in white wine.

So while my beef casserole was simmering all afternoon, Lisa knocked up a quick Rosemary Chicken. It was supposed to be served with grilled polenta and asparagus, but Lisa chose to omit those. I think the pressure of time got to her, and she realised she couldn't spare 15 minutes to make the whole thing. By leaving out two ingredients, she should have been done and dusted in twelve.

Anyhoo, having tasted the results hot off the pan an hour later, I think the effort was worth it. Although it took me another half hour to do the washing up. And then pick all the bits of rosemary off the floor. But fortunately I had the time. That's the beauty of free 24-hour childcare. I can cook, write, clean, tidy, hoover, change all the bedding and put on the washing. And I still have time for my blog. It's a shame she's coming home in the morning.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Compare and contrast:

Amelie almost four years ago...

Toby almost four minutes ago...

I'm not sure if we've got a smaller baby or a higher door frame, but either way, he'll have to hang around till he grows.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Yesterday's horrifying photo of witchcraft was taken at lunchtime, shortly before Amelie flew down to the nursery for her much-anticipated Monster Mash Party. It featured far less potato than she expected, but other than that, it was a roaring success. She even got a certificate...

It's pre-school certificates like that which should get her into Hogwarts. On the downside, she failed to win the prize for best costume, which was clearly a travesty. I can only assume the judges were intimidated by a particularly scary Gruffalo.

Sadly, despite turning one quarter this week, Toby was forced to sit out the monstrous activities at home, where he celebrated Halloween with his usual wide-eyed and horrified expression. Here he is being tormented by a demon...

Oh no, hang on, that was Andrew holding him on Saturday. You can tell he's got the devil in him though.

If there's one person who really got into the spirit of Halloween, however, it was Lisa, who spent the day letting out blood-curdling screams of agony and anguish like some kind of undead hell-fiend. It was genuinely scary. And surprisingly funny. We're not quite sure what the problem is, but she's claiming she's broken a rib through coughing. I think she's just trying to make me laugh though.

Not that she needs to. The whole thing's amusing enough as it is. She spent yesterday staggering around the flat like a zombie, wailing like a werewolf, and taking pills like a junkie. All whilst wearing a Hello Kitty onesie. It brought a new level of horror to Halloween.

She's definitely in pain though, whether her sides are splitting or not. I've checked the internet, which is a highly reliable source of medical information, and there are people who say you can fracture a rib by clearing your throat. It's also true that Lisa's been coughing a lot since she saw that advert about lung cancer. So I'm not ruling it out completely. If I'm honest though, I think she's just using it as an excuse not to hug me.