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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Amelie had a bad dream last night in which she was standing in a garden (not our garden, obviously - we can barely grow a sunflower on the balcony), surrounded by bees who were trying to sting her. No sooner had she escaped those, than a pack of wolves turned up and started wrecking all the flowers. So she's obviously progressing nicely. Two months ago, the worst she could dream up was a hungry guinea pig. Now she's right in there, taking her chances with the killer bees and razor-fanged wolves. Give it a few more weeks and she'll be dreaming about Freddy Krueger and Jimmy Savile.

To be honest, she's not the only one who had a nightmare in the early hours of this morning. My journey to work at Horsham Hospital was like an episode of World's Most Dangerous Roads. When I left home at 7:35am, the scene outside our flat resembled a black & white shot from The Wizard of Oz, but with more water than The Perfect Storm. Frankly I felt like Rainman. But with slightly better social skills.

It took me half an hour just to get out of Brighton, and having made it through localised flooding and weather-induced traffic jams, I drove up the A23, passed one minor accident, and then spotted a lake on the carriageway ahead. My brain was just processing the information that I ought to slow down, when the cars up ahead of me suddenly braked, and I rounded a slight bend to see that one of them had just aquaplaned across the road and ploughed into the central reservation.

Fortunately the driver appeared to be ok, and I managed to swerve around the resulting debris, but by the time I made it to Horsham, the journey had taken me an hour and twenty-five minutes, and there were no spaces left in the car park. Which would have annoyed me, if I didn't feel lucky to have got there alive.

The good news, however, is that today's journey may well be the last I ever have to take alone. The eBay auction of Amelie's LOVELY green dress ends tonight, so by this time tomorrow I should be able to afford a chauffeur. Despite our intention to list a wide range of vintage (ie. old and secondhand) clothes, it's currently still the only item we have for sale, but the way this baby's attracting bids, we're not going to need a second one.

As things stand right now, there are currently four buyers battling it out in a fierce bidding war for the right to own Amelie's cast-offs, and the price has already reached the giddy heights of £2.42. The way things are hotting up, we could top three quid before the end of the night. And what's more, we've had another e-mail from Germany, enquiring about postage. Those Bavarians can't get enough of this dress. Anyone would think it was a bargain. It's a good job we didn't chuck it in the bin.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Toby's six months old today!

I wanted to take a photo of him on his own to celebrate his half-year birthday, but generally that's only possible if you tie Amelie up with a skipping rope and lock her in a cupboard. And I've been told not to do that again. So he had to share his birthday portrait with his sister.

The past six months have gone remarkably quickly, which is worrying as it's my last year in my thirties and I'll be officially over the hill come the summer. As will Toby, the way he's learning to move. Give him another month and he'll be disappearing over that horizon faster than my youthful good looks. Only this morning, Lisa left him on his changing mat on the bedroom floor, and came back five minutes later to find him four feet away with his hands on her clutch bag. He's like Amelie and the Marmite Breadsticks. Except that while his sister goes for food, he prefers ladies' accessories.

Ironically, having failed to get a picture of him alone this morning, I managed to snap him behind Amelie's back this evening... only to attach the result to a photo of his sister at the same age...

Lisa says they're identical, but I think there's just a very real chance that all babies look the same.

Anyhoo, as if to mark Toby's six-month milestone, I discovered this morning that Facebook have kindly given me their newest feature, 'Graph Search', a veritable stalker's charter which allows me to search very specifically for people in a particular location who have liked a particular thing. In time, it'll be rolled out to everyone, but I added my name to the waiting list a couple of weeks ago in the hope of getting it early, and sure enough, it's been enabled today.

My reasons for wanting it are purely comedic. It means I can entertain myself for hours on end by searching for 'Jews who like bacon' or 'Catholics who like condoms'. For example, a quick search this evening has revealed that there are eight people on Facebook who work near the Sussex Cancer Centre and like smoking. And what's more, it's given me all their names. It's enough to make you want to change your privacy settings immediately.

But in the meantime I want a word with this lady...

I'm tempted to send her a friend request with her next screening appointment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I had an e-mail yesterday from one of the world's leading suppliers of high-end quality cases for iPads and Smartphones, offering to send me some for free if I'd be willing to write a review on my blog and link to their website. It's the kind of offer which gives an independent anti-capitalist blogger with high moral standards a bit of an ethical dilemma. But fortunately not me. I'm quite happy to sell out to the highest bidder if it gets me a new case for my iPad.

So I've e-mailed them back and said yes. Their cases cost thirty-five quid, and are used by the CIA, so I can pretend I'm on Homeland without paying a penny. There's clearly no decision to be made.

But if you think I'm only out for myself, you'd be wrong. I was in a far flung cottage hospital this morning, chatting to a lady who was named after a character from King Lear (not the Fool), and she asked me if I'd be willing to take part in the 15 Steps Challenge. At the time, I wasn't sure if it was a 12 Step Programme that includes relapse, or an episode of Strictly Come Dancing, but either way I was happy to help, so I said yes. At which point she handed me an eight-page form and a pen.

It transpires that the 15 Steps Challenge is an NHS initiative designed to improve patients' experience by evaluating their first impressions of a hospital or department. It was developed after the mother of a patient commented that "I can tell what kind of care my daughter is going to get within 15 steps of walking on to a ward". So she clearly hasn't visited any hospital I've ever worked in. If you take fifteen steps through one of our wards, you'll end up at the back of the cleaner's cupboard.

But that aside, I was asked to consider my arrival in outpatients this morning, and fill in a questionnaire about my initial impressions of the hospital, and what could be done to make those first fifteen steps more welcoming and reassuring for the patients. It was difficult to know what to put. So in the end I just pointed out that it's eighteen steps to the chocolate vending machine, and suggested they might want to move it nearer the door.

Monday, January 28, 2013

For shock value, you can't beat a bit of male full-frontal nudity...

And he certainly looks pretty shocked. It's not easy keeping your composure when a man bursts into the bathroom unexpectedly, whips out a camera, and finds you sitting naked in the seat of a toddler swing that your parents nicked from the local park.

Lisa prefers this photo...

But that's only because he's gazing lovingly at her. She says he's got the look of his father in that picture. Man-boobs, spare tyre and very little hair.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Amelie spotted this picture in a copy of 'The Week' magazine this afternoon, and promptly asked if it was me. When I told her it's not, she replied "But you wear that shirt to work, Daddy". Anyone would think I've only got the one. Admittedly I like to stretch a work shirt to a second or third day to save on laundry bills, but that doesn't make my wardrobe predictable. I've got at least two others.

As for Lisa, she took one look at the photo and asked if he was a benefits cheat. Which, after Amelie's comment, I'm taking as a personal insult. In reality, it's Steve Hilton, the Conservative Party's former director of strategy, and the man who told David Cameron to hug a hoodie. Which might explain why he looks like a criminal.

Anyhoo, it's been a busy day, during which I've done numerous things, none of them worthy of mention. But amongst it all, I did find time to take the kids out again. We've done the seaside to death (which is usually only possible at Beachy Head), so today I took them on a day trip to Lidl. It was an enjoyable excursion, which taught me one important lesson. Namely that if your daughter loses her mittens, she'll not only insist on wearing your gloves, but will then walk through the streets, waving her arms about like Kenny Everett doing Brother Lee Love...

On the plus side, however, it means you can stop off at the nearest park on the way home and shoot a top quality visual gag...

Of course, it's only remotely funny when you know that the backing track is genuinely called 'Fly Together Purple Dinosaur'. It's by a chap called Khleo. And he followed it up with a song called 'You Don't Fight Fair'. So give Toby a year to grow up, and there's every chance I can film a sequel.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

As a loving and dedicated father who puts his own priorities aside at the weekend in order to spend some quality time with his children, there's simply no beating that look of unbridled joy and happiness which lights up your daughter's face as you treat her to an ice lolly at the playground on a Saturday afternoon...

It makes you feel all fuzzy inside. Which is the first sign of a stroke due to high blood pressure.

Anyhoo, if there's one thing I've learnt from two and a half years of marriage, it's that when your wife's had a bad night due to a screaming baby and a troublesome child, it's wise to vacate the premises before she starts throwing jars of peanut butter. So while Lisa went back to bed this afternoon, I took the kids out for a trip to the seafront. Amelie was only saying to me the other day that it would be great if we lived by the seaside, so I thought it was about time I admitted that it's only a ten minute walk away.

Obviously it's important in situations like this to make the best use of your local knowledge, so having dressed Toby like Igglepiggle...

... I told Amelie that I'd push him all the way to the beach if she'd push him all the way back. Naturally she agreed. Which explains why I'm smiling in this photo...

That's me and Toby nearing the end of our downhill-all-the-way route to the seafront. Amelie took the picture, and quite honestly, the way her photography's coming on, I may never need to use the self-timer on my camera again.

Anyhoo, having finished posing for photos in front of the gay cruising ground of Duke's Mound, we entered Madeira Drive, and soon found ourselves at Peter Pan's Playground. I'd already agreed to buy Amelie an ice cream when we got there, but sadly, having taken off my thick winter gloves and retrieved my wallet from inside my thermally insulated coat, I was told by the lady at the outdoor cafe that the only frozen desserts they stock in January (apart from her iced fingers) are Mini Milk lollies.

Amelie said "WOT NO ICE CREAM?"...

And I bought her a lolly instead. Which she ate with a frosty expression. Whilst giving me a cold hard stare.

Fortunately the thaw was quick in coming, and having warmed ourselves up by having a go on everything in the playground at least seventeen times, we were soon heading home with smiles on our faces...

That was at the bottom of the hill. And I was expecting the smile to fade about three steps later. But the thing about my daughter is that she's a girl of her word (occasionally, and not as often as I'd like). So to her eternal credit, she was soon heading up that hill like Sisyphus with a boulder...

I stopped filming before he rolled back down.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Anyone who's ever browsed the bric-a-brac on eBay will know that you can buy a lot of worthless tat on there. What you might not know, however, is that you can now buy your worthless tat from us. Yes, in an effort to avoid the fiscal cliff, we're fitting our financial lemmings with parachutes and attempting to bolster our budget by flogging our flotsam on eBay. It was all Lisa's idea. And we're using her account because she's got much better feedback than I have.

So if you're looking for a stylish new dress to give to the love of your life on Valentine's Day, how about this chic little emerald number...

It's LOVELY, as indicated by the title and description. And we're throwing in the child for free if the buyer collects. As with all eBay items, there's an area at the bottom of the page for people to leave questions for the seller, so if you want to know why Lisa typed it all in capital letters, feel free to ask.

Obviously the key to successful selling is in the visuals, so attractive photos are a must, which is why we enlisted the help of Amelie. I wanted to use the photo of her wearing it on the steps of our caravan in Blackpool back in 2011, but Lisa was worried that people might think they're buying from a family of gypsies.

She'd already taken one professional-looking photo...

After which Amelie kindly volunteered to take another...

But obviously nothing sells clothing like a supermodel. And having carted Chloe around since the age of one, Amelie's no stranger to the catwalk. So we got her to pose for some photos last night. Fortunately, when we asked her to do some modelling, she thought we meant plasticine handicraft and assumed the dress was some kind of overall, so she didn't take much persuading. Although it took five attempts to get her to smile.

The good news is that despite only listing it last night, interest in the dress has already gone global. It's a well known fact that nobody bids until the last thirty seconds, so we haven't yet been troubled by any of those, but Lisa did have an e-mail from Germany this morning asking if we'll ship the dress to Europe. I think they're trying to get in quick before we leave the EU.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

It's been a long and busy day, filled with patients who refuse to stay at home just because the streets are paved with ice, and I gave up half my lunch break to screen a blind octogenarian who'd journeyed through the snow for five hours on six buses, via the wrong hospital, just to get there an hour late. So I'm a little bit tired, and I've got an ice-cream headache from all the sleet.

But if there's one thing which can perk me up when I get home, it's the sight of Amelie advancing towards me with a camera in her hands...

© Amelie Gardner Portraiture Ltd
Commissions Available Now

I think soft-focus is definitely the way forward. She also does a mean self portrait...

I'm hopeful that if I leave my camera lying around every day, I'll eventually come home from work to find that Amelie's filmed the next found footage masterpiece, and I can take early retirement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

As a general rule, we only ever get 'Emergency Communications' sent out to all hospital staff in the event of a major terrorist attack, imminent tsunami, or simply as a warning that the Chief Executive's doing his Amarillo dance again. But that all changed at lunchtime today with the arrival of my favourite ever crisis management e-mail, which came winging its way into my inbox at 12:25 with a suitable sense of panic...

Yep, apparently it's true. If you can smell something foul, it's just the French.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Well I did return to work today, clean shaven and slightly out of it on throat lozenges. Within half an hour of arrival, four people had commented on my weight loss, so I think they all suspect I've been at Fat Camp for a fortnight, or having my stomach stapled at a private clinic. Unfortunately my thin torso has been outweighed by my thick head, and I've spent the day feeling quite fuzzy. And not in a warm sense. So whilst my body's been back at work, I think my brain's still off sick.

But as if to remind me that things could be worse, I received an e-mail from Lisa halfway through my clinic this afternoon, informing me of the untimely death of Michael Winner. Naturally I refuse to take anything Lisa says at face value, so having told her to calm down (dear), I checked the BBC News website, where I read this:

"The director had experienced a run of ill-health since eating a bad oyster on holiday in Barbados in 2007. He later picked up the E coli virus from a steak tartare, and was hospitalised eight times in the last few months of his life".

It makes me feel grateful to be working class. We might have horse meat in our burgers, but it's unlikely to kill us.

In the meantime, I've found someone to take over Winner's Dinners...

Not only can Toby suck down a banana at the age of five months, but he's got a ready made source of foie gras.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I think Obi-Wan Kenobi's going out mugging...

That's the 'too ill to shave' look I've been sporting for the past fortnight. Unfortunately the longer my beard gets, the more I appear to have fifty shades of grey sprouting out of my chin. I look like a menacing Santa.

My aim is to transform that face by tomorrow morning into one that looks suitable for work, and is less likely to scare the patients. It's two weeks since my symptoms began, and they're basically back to where they started fourteen days ago. Which is to say that I have a mild sore throat today, but nothing much else. And I'm going slightly stir crazy indoors. So I think tomorrow might be the day to call time on this illness and get back on the workhorse.

Unfortunately it currently looks like this outside...

... which is a shame, as I'd rather walk to work than toboggan. On Friday morning it was more like this...

... which is also worrying, as it means that plenty of people are still moving their cars in this weather. In that first snowy photo above, there's actually a car stuck in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill. He was there for a good ten minutes, struggling to get a grip, before two passers-by gave him a shove in the right direction. At which point he headed down the hill, unable to stop.

Anyhoo, as should be obvious by now, we have a rule on this estate that cars painted in primary colours must be parked at the end of the road, while black cars go at the front. I'm not sure where white vehicles go, as you can't see them in the snow.

But the good news is that I have now been out. I decided yesterday that if I'm going to return to work on Monday, I should probably test how well I'll cope with the shock of fresh air and exercise. So I forced myself to go for a walk. On pavements of ice. In the dark.

Fortunately I own a pair of these things on the left, so I strapped them to my feet at 8 o'clock last night, and headed down to Lidl for an evening constitutional. It taught me a valuable lesson. Namely that a pair of Overshoe Snow & Ice Grips allows you to walk confidently down a steep footpath of sheet ice that looks like the Cresta Run, but is liable to kill you on the shiny concrete stairs of a block of council flats. Next time I'll be attaching them on the ground floor.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Well I didn't go snowboarding. To be honest, I'm more like James Stewart in 'Rear Window', but with slightly dodgier neighbours. Physical incapacity (and a reluctance to get dressed) means that my experience of this inclement weather is restricted to what I can see from our balcony. Which was this at 8:15am this morning...

... and this, five hours later...

The ivory tower in the background is where Amelie and Toby were born. Why Lisa wouldn't walk there in labour, I have no idea. It's practically within spitting distance. She could have made it between contractions.

Anyhoo, the second window down on the far right is the operating theatre where they yanked Am out of Lisa, while the one on the same floor at the far left is the triage room, where they sent her back home with Toby... four hours before he was born. Interestingly, a lot of the lights were on in that first photo, but they all appeared to have been switched off by lunchtime. So either there was a power cut, or the staff went outside to play snowballs.

Personally I haven't been out at all, but one person who has braved the weather today is our postman, who arrived at his usual time of noon, and handed us the letter we've been waiting for. Yes, exactly one week after we requested it, we're now in possession of a written statement from the council's emergency plumber, detailing his version of the events that unfolded on the evening of Wednesday, 2nd January. And here it is...

Yeah, so do I. Because, to be honest, I was expecting something slightly more detailed. You know, like the 600-word statement I've written. But still, I suppose plumbers aren't known for their literary skills. At best, they're known for rescuing princesses from turtles in the Mushroom Kingdom. Report-writing barely comes into it.

Still, I'm grateful they entitled the letter with the words "leak from flat above", because the plumber gives the impression it was our washing machine. I was hoping he might verify the fact that the water leaked into three different rooms and caused significant damage, but to be fair, the insurance company didn't ask for that. They requested we get confirmation of the cause of damage, which we've duly done. So as the letter suggests, that should be sufficient.

We've now written a covering letter, and included our 600-word statement, the plumber's 26-word statement, our neighbour's 10-word statement, some original receipts, proof of the value of everything we don't have receipts for, and fourteen photos providing evidence of all our water-damaged stuff. After which I packaged it all up, weighed it, and realised that on top of everything we've spent so far, it's going to cost us another £1.20 to send it. It's just a shame we can't get to the postbox because of snow.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Someone's in a fowl mood...

Still, it makes a change from his father being hen-pecked. At least one of us has something to laugh about.

To be honest, I don't know what's going on with my health at the moment. My throat's suddenly a lot worse this morning, which really shouldn't be possible, and may threaten my plans to go snowboarding tomorrow. I can only imagine that it's God's way of telling me to stop talking to Lisa.

Worse still is that I've run out of my only means of self-medication: Stefan and Andrew's carrot cake. With My Lidl Pony burgers off the menu, it's been my main source of vitamin A, and tragically I finished it last night. We're a family of four, so I'd like to think we had a quarter each, but in reality I've eaten most of it in three days. Although Amelie did her best to help. She's definitely her father's daughter.

Of course, it's only when you've eaten it all that you realise it was sitting on a vintage Barbie paper plate from 1990...

It's like getting a cake from Waylon Smithers. And I've told Lisa she should do her hair like that.

Anyhoo, there's not really a lot to say when the only place you've been in the past seven days is the doctor's surgery, and your throat's too sore to have a meaningful conversation. The biggest news of the week is that we've finally managed to put our Christmas tree away. Twelfth Night coincided with all our insurance shenanigans, and two days later I was at death's door, and evacuating the premises. So what with one thing and another, the decorations didn't go down until Twenty-Second Night. Which is a worry, as it means the glorious run of good fortune we've enjoyed so far this year may not be set to last.

But whilst I might lack the strength to get dressed, I can still lift a pen with my daughter...

To be honest, she helped me more with Clarinet Mouse than with Axe-Wielding Fox. Although the fox's whiskers are all Amelie's own work. I was glad she added them actually, as up to that point he was looking more like an eagle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sadly I wasn't able to blog yesterday as I popped over to New York for a bit of activity...

To be honest, I'm not sure the phrase 'Arm Yourself' is really the best one to use with Americans. They're already claiming that Sandy Hook didn't happen in an effort to keep their guns. In fact, as of today, more than eight million sick-minded people have watched the film mentioned here, and I'm sad to say I'm one of them. Although in my case, it's more a sickness of the upper respiratory tract than a disease of the mind. Frankly it's hard to fill your time when you're off work.

Anyhoo, it's basically 'Bollocks: The Movie', with some added spelling mistakes, and I wouldn't recommend you waste half an hour of your life on it. I don't know whether to be depressed that people believe this stuff, or impressed at mankind's ingenuity. Let's face it, it takes a lot of imagination to come up with these conspiracy theories in the face of obvious facts.

On the subject of my death-defying week off work, I think I've now reached the stage of my illness where I need to spend a month convalescing on the south coast with a sea view and some sunshine. Unfortunately I'm already there, and I feel no better. My actual symptoms have improved a little: I feel less achey, and I'm talking myself into a belief that my throat is less sore. Although every time I do talk, it hurts.

But for some reason I feel desperately tired. Frankly if I wasn't living with a hyperactive four-year-old and a crying baby, I could happily sleep all day. As it is, I can barely sleep at night. I'm tempted to go into work just to have a nap in a dimly lit grading room.

But at the moment I'm sticking it out at home, trying to recuperate. On the insurance front, we're still waiting for the report from the plumber, which is disappointing as the council gave us the impression on Monday that they were sending it out immediately. On the bright side, I've been through a box of old receipts, guarantees and general junk that lives under the bed, and in addition to finding the one receipt Churchill have asked for, I also found this...

It's a signed photo of Nick Abbot, circa 1997, and is worth marginally less than nothing. By which I mean you'd have to pay someone to take it. I was going through a difficult period in my life at the time, and felt that a picture of a Talk Radio presenter might help ease my troubles. So I wrote in and requested one. It was shortly afterwards that I heard Nick mention on air that he gets the work experience boy to sign all his photos.

But I'm treasuring it nonetheless, particularly as it's one of my few paper possessions that wasn't dripped on by flood water. On that subject, I'd just like to thank all the people who have offered advice regarding her upstairs, and our claim, small or otherwise. Lisa and I have discussed it at length (which is why my throat is so slow to improve), and at this point we're still undecided. It's essentially a battle between what's fair and just, and what's best for our own peace of mind.

The small claims court seems like the most sensible option, but when you're permanently separated from an oddball by just a few inches of leaky concrete, it makes you reluctant to risk bringing further trouble raining down on our heads. She's a bit of an unknown quantity, owns a couple of scary-looking dogs, and might not be worth antagonising for the sake of a hundred quid. Which isn't the fair option, of course, but might just turn out to be wise.

Monday, January 14, 2013

At 7pm last night, 54 hours after putting a note through her door, we finally heard back from our neighbour upstairs. She didn't knock, shout sorry through the letterbox, or leave us a nice bunch of flowers, but she did return our note with this message attached...

That's the entire message. There's no apology, no offer of compensation, no concern or enquiry about the damage. And I don't know why it took her two days to write it. I can only assume she was perfecting that swirl on the 'd' of 'do' with her expensive fountain pen. Although with no insurance, she'd better hope it doesn't leak on her sofa.

Anyhoo, as I understand it, if the lady above did have insurance, then Churchill could have claimed back our £100 excess from them and returned it to us, along with the possibility of compensation for the loss of items with sentimental value, such as our signed Julian Clary book, which was completely saturated. As it is, that hundred quid is gone, along with any hope of compensation for our suffering.

Morally speaking, she really ought to pay us that money out of her own pocket, and having taken some free legal advice via numerous internet forums, it appears that she is liable for that £100 excess, as she was negligent in leaving her washing machine running while she went out for the evening. However, that would involve us pursuing her through the small claims court, and after all the hassles we've already been through this year, that's something we're unlikely to do.

It doesn't seem right, though, that someone can choose not to buy insurance, when that decision harms the people living below who are responsible enough to have insured their home. Not only do we pay out every year for the policy, but we're now at least £100 down, while she gets away scot-free without paying a penny. Our premium will go through the roof too. It's just a shame that's not literally true, as it might ruin her laminate flooring.

Ok, rant over. As Lisa's been telling me all morning, accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. And then put a hose through her letterbox and see how she likes it.

On the bright side, we've had a phone call from the council this morning, promising to send us a report from the plumber, so at least we're getting somewhere there. With a bit of luck, we might actually be in a position to prove our case by the end of the week. Which will be an almighty relief.

Anyhoo, if you're wondering what the effect is of twelve days spent living in a damp, musty, flood-damaged flat, then here's your answer...

Well ok, I don't really know how much the flood had to do with it. To be honest, I'm still trying to pin it on Lisa's Mum. But let's face it, living with damp walls and ceilings can't have helped.

Either way, I went to see the doctor this morning, and he signed me off work for another week. He said my throat is "red raw", which I could have told him myself if it didn't hurt so much to talk, but he said I'm probably not contagious any more. Although I might have RSI after spending twenty minutes pressing the redial button on my phone just to get that appointment.

So what with one thing and another, it's not been the best of years so far. But it has had one undeniably bright spot. Stefan and Andrew turned up on our doorstep yesterday with a home-made carrot cake. I think they'd read my blog post about losing half a stone, and decided to take action. Although with hindsight, I wondered if Stefan was on an undercover mission from my boss to find out if I'm genuinely ill. Either way, it was a touching thing to do, and after a week of unfeeling insurance companies, uncaring neighbours, and unending illness, it cheered me up no end. Unfortunately, having eaten next to nothing all week, one slice of the world's nuttiest, fruitiest and most gorgeously delicious carrot cake was enough to make me queasy.

So I waited a good twenty minutes before having a second slice. Upper respiratory tract infection or no upper respiratory tract infection, some things are too good to miss.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If you're looking for a simple and effective weight loss regime for the new year, then I can highly recommend the flu. I've been ill for seven days now, and I've lost more than half a stone in weight. Admittedly I'd probably put on that much over the course of the festive season, but as Lisa said to me this morning, "You do look horribly gaunt". Which is something I've never achieved with Weight Watchers.

Surprisingly for someone with chronic prostatitis, osteoarthritis and plantar fasciitis, I've actually never taken more than two consecutive days off work. Not just in this job, but ever. Although to be honest, I haven't been employed much. Even when I was this ill with a stomach bug in September 2010...

... I still rose again on the third day and went back to work. I'm a lot like Jesus. But with shorter hair.

So having been off sick since Tuesday, I've already doubled my longest absence from work, and the tragedy is that it may not be over yet. I'd convinced myself on Friday evening that I was definitely feeling a bit better, and with two more days to recover, I'd be back at work on Monday. But despite sleeping well that night, I woke up yesterday morning feeling worse again. Not only was (and is) my throat more sore, but my head and neck are as achey as they were last Tuesday. When I wash my hair (well, flannel my head) in the shower, I realise how tender that whole area is, and immediately reach for the painkillers.

I haven't left the flat since I returned home on Thursday, but there's a good chance I'll be going out tomorrow. Barring a miraculous improvement today, I'll be phoning the doctor in the morning and heading down to the surgery. Unless it snows, of course.

In the meantime, I've missed another milestone in Amelie's social life. She went to a birthday party yesterday, thrown by the sheep standing next to her in this photo. At least we thought it was a sheep at the time. Until we got the party invitation, which stated that everyone should dress as something beginning with 'P'. At which point we decided it was a polar bear and they wanted to reuse the outfit.

Anyhoo, Amelie went as a Princess and Lisa went as a Parent. It was held at a restaurant in Hove, and was due to last for two and a half hours, so we assumed that Lisa could just drop her off and come home. That turned out not to be the case. She texted me from the venue to say that she was expected to stay for the whole party. I replied, pointing out that she wasn't dressed as something beginning with 'P'. To which she responded that she was looking quite Pissed off.

But fortunately Amelie had a good time. I received another text message ten minutes later to say that she was already up on stage, spinning plates, and was the first one to start dancing. Not only is she confident, however, she's also very enterprising. She turned to Lisa this week and said "Mummy, will you buy me a wishing well?". When Lisa asked her why, she said "Because I want to wish for a pony". She's clearly worked out that we'll never buy her one, so she's looking at other alternatives.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I know that Churchill is associated with V-signs, but to be honest, when you're paying them ninety quid a year for your home insurance, I expect them to be a bit more cooperative.

Having told us we need to pay the £100 excess upfront, Lisa phoned them on Thursday with my credit card details, only to be told that they couldn't accept the payment because she's not the card holder. So despite suffering from flu and a sore throat, I had to phone up myself. And give them the exact same details Lisa had given them. Frankly she could have just put on a deeper voice, it would have made no difference.

I spent last weekend cataloguing all our flood-damaged belongings (it's what I call 'water-logging') and taking photos of it all, since when we've spent hours on Amazon, looking up everything we don't have a receipt for, and compiling it all into a wish list as evidence of what it would cost to replace them. It already seemed like a lot of work for a comparatively low value claim, but yesterday morning we received an envelope in the post from Churchill Insurance.

And it wasn't a cheque. It was actually a letter containing a list of ten demands, followed by a warning that if we don't fulfil them all within 21 days, they're dismissing our claim. When we made the original claim over the phone eight days ago, Lisa asked them twice if we need to speak to the lady upstairs, and both times they said no, they would contact her themselves. Well they've clearly had second thoughts, and realised that the less they have to do, the better, because they're now asking us to find out her insurance details.

In addition, they want a written statement from us, giving our version of events, plus proof of what caused the flood, where the leaks occurred, an engineer's report confirming the cause of the damage, and details of any witnesses. I'm not sure if Amelie counts.

During that first phone call on January 4th, they asked Lisa if she or I have any criminal convictions (which we don't), but by the time you've read to the end of their ten demands, you feel like you're being asked to prove your innocence in court. I don't know if it's because we're dodgy council tenants, or if this is just standard practice, but they seem to be doubting us at every stage. I wouldn't mind if we were claiming for six Fabergé eggs and a Renoir, but we're only asking them to replace a few low-cost household goods.

Lisa went upstairs twice yesterday, and got no answer. I was tempted to go myself and give the woman flu, but if she's not opening the door, it wouldn't have made a lot of difference. So we wrote her a note and put it through her letterbox. Twenty-four hours later, she still hasn't got back to us, which is not surprising for someone who never even gave us a courtesy knock on the door after she flooded our flat.

So we turned our attention to the council. Lisa phoned them yesterday afternoon, asking for a written report from the plumber who assessed the damage. A simple request, you might think. They said they can't supply one, and that we need to ask Mears, the council contractor who employ him. So Lisa phoned Mears. They told her that they can't give out information direct, and that any request has to come from the council.

So Lisa phoned the council again. They told her it's not their department, and gave her another number. She phoned that number and was put on hold for ten minutes, after which the person she spoke to told her she should go direct to Mears.

At that point I screamed, while Lisa calmly told them that she'd already been through all that. The man replied that in that case he didn't know what to do, and would have to phone us back.

He never did. I'm beginning to think we must be the only council tenants in Brighton responsible enough to have taken out home contents insurance, because they clearly can't find anyone who knows how to deal with a simple request like this.

So as things stand right now, we can't get the information we need from our neighbour, or the report we need from the council, and without them, Churchill are threatening to close our claim. We're also a hundred pounds down. Not including all the phone calls, the cost of printing out numerous photos, and the hours of time we've already spent on all this.

But on the bright side, I've written a lovely 600-word account of the evening of January 2nd, which, as I failed to fully explain the events at the time, I'm tempted to publish as a blog post.

Friday, January 11, 2013

As it transpired, I did return home yesterday. And then regretted it shortly afterwards. I still felt pretty bad, but I felt worse about leaving Lisa at the mercy of the insurance sharks, and I missed her like the police missed their chance to get Savile, so having weighed up my options, I decided to ask my Mum for a lift home.

Before leaving, I wrung one last ounce of value out of Netflix by watching 'Primer', a film so intellectually and scientifically complex that there are entire websites dedicated to explaining what the bloody hell is going on. In fact, before watching it, I read a review from Esquire magazine which states that "Anybody who claims they fully understand what's going on in 'Primer' after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar".

Well I'm going to claim to be the former, because I actually thought I followed it all the way through. Unfortunately, having watched the film, I then read a lengthy breakdown of the plot and an essay explaining the film's concept of time travel, after which I realised that I hadn't really understood it at all. But that didn't stop me enjoying it. In fact, I loved it. It's also an inspiring piece of work, because Shane Carruth, the 30-year-old guy who directed it, also starred in it, wrote the script, and acted as producer, cinematographer and editor, as well as composing all the music. Which explains how he made the whole thing for $7,000. Frankly it's enough to get me out there with a camcorder.

Anyhoo, as a piece of science-heavy sci-fi, 'Primer' is like kryptonite to Lisa, which is why I made sure I watched it at my parents' house, but having done so, I was free to return home. When I made that decision, I thought I was feeling slightly better, but with hindsight that may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that I'd done nothing at all for two and a half days. The effort of gathering my things together and then stepping outside for the first time in 72 hours (I've no idea when I last stayed indoors for that long) seemed to set me back again, and by the time my Mum had transported me home, I was feeling quite rough.

And that was before I heard the latest on our insurance claim. Frankly we're having the battle of Britain with Churchill at the moment. And never in the field of home insurance has so much been owed to us by so many people who seem willing to do so little to help. But that saga will have to wait till tomorrow...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Someone said to me yesterday that doing a good job in retinal screening is like peeing your pants in dark trousers: you get a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices. They went on to point out that if I give my patients terminal flu, somebody probably would.

So I'm using that as my justification for still being in bed at my parents' house. To be honest, yesterday's a bit of a blur. I slept through most of it, which is either the effect of the flu, the effect of the Night Nurse capsules, or just my body's reaction to not having Amelie jabbering in my ear at all times. She's the only thing that keeps me awake some days.

My sore throat is gradually easing (thank you St Blaise) and my aches and pains haven't returned to the heights of Monday evening, but it's difficult to know if that's down to a significant improvement in my condition, or just the fact that I haven't been out all day trying to work. I was hoping to return home today, but having slept through yesterday, I had a bit of a bad night, and my headache's returned this morning, so the thought of facing two kids with their internal volume control on high is putting me off somewhat.

In the meantime, I've been doing my best to get our money's worth out of Lisa's Netflix subscription. I watched 'Insidious' on Tuesday, which was pretty good, and seems a lot scarier when you turn the lights out and watch it alone, late at night, whilst running a high temperature. It also helped that the demonically possessed boy in a coma looked a lot like me in my sick bed.

'Insidious' was completely trumped, however, by 'Hard Candy', a film I managed to watch yesterday evening, either side of a drug-induced nap. There are basically only two people in it, and one of them's Patrick Wilson, who starred in 'Insidious', a fact I didn't realise until I started watching it, and which made me feel slightly unsettled. It's like he's stalking me through the screen of a laptop.

Anyhoo, 'Hard Candy' is the kind of brilliantly written, superbly acted and intensely riveting (although not quite riveting enough to stop me falling asleep halfway through) film that really should have won a cartload of Oscars. It would make a great stage play too. I'm also beginning to think that Ellen Page is the world's greatest actress. I thought she was excellent in 'Juno', but frankly she was even better in this, and may well have sold her soul to the devil. I can think of no other explanation.

In other news, Lisa's had a call from Churchill Insurance this morning, demanding a hundred pounds before they'll process our claim. We knew there was a £100 excess, but we assumed (in our innocence) that they'd simply knock that off the eventual payout. Apparently not. We have to pay it up front. So as if it's not enough to lose our stuff in a flood which was somebody else's fault, they now expect us to hand over £100 we can't afford, before they'll look at what they owe us. It's enough to make you ill.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Despite publishing it later on, yesterday's blog post was actually written early in the morning. Which is just as well, because by the evening the only thing I was capable of writing was my last will and testament.

One thing I didn't mention on Sunday was that I'd paid another visit to Flu Camp on Saturday night to drop off some more shopping for Lisa's Mum. And it appears it was one visit too many. I noticed on Sunday that I was getting a bit of a sore throat, but it was only slight, so I ignored it on the grounds that I've only just finished an eight-week cold, couldn't possibly be getting something else already, and that with Lisa and Amelie now Catholics, I should be protected from any further troubles by St Blaise, the patron saint of sore throats.

Unfortunately, when I woke up yesterday morning I could barely swallow. The top of my throat was incredibly sore, but it wasn't affecting my vocal cords, so when I received a phone call at 6:35am asking if I could cover a clinic at Lewes Hospital, I was able to say yes in a crystal clear voice.

I was ok for most of the morning, but by lunchtime had developed a headache and the kind of shiver that most of my patients experience when they realise they've got me again this year. I stopped the rot with some paracetamol, but by mid afternoon was going downhill again, and when I finally reached the end of my clinic, I felt like going straight to Minor Injuries. In fact I was genuinely tempted, as I wasn't sure I felt fit to drive home.

In the end I drove straight to Asda for some emergency medication. The lady at the pharmacy sold me some Tyrozets, which is pretty much the only way to get antibiotics over the counter without catching chlamydia first, and I added to that some painkillers and cough medicine, plus a jar of Manuka honey and a Jif lemon.

I arrived home at 5:40pm and promptly burst into tears. Everything hurt, from the top of my head to my pretty little toes, and I understood what Lisa's Mum had meant when she told me she felt "bloody awful".

What really annoys me is that I've had the flu jab at work for the past couple of years and been fine, but I haven't had it this winter. Every single day when the Occupational Health department were holding flu clinics, I was doing a clinic of my own outside of Brighton. I didn't think it was important enough to rearrange all the work rotas, and assumed it wouldn't be the end of the world if I missed having the jab this year. Which is ironic, because by 7pm last night, it certainly felt like the end of the world. I haven't felt that ill since the Great Festive Plague of 2009.

The upshot of that is that we took unprecedented action. I felt so ill, so unable to cope with two children, and so scared of passing it on to them, that I decided to evacuate immediately. I was too unwell to drive, so my Mum came and picked me up, transported me straight to St Leonards, and quarantined me in her spare bedroom. My parents have both had the flu jab, so (touch wood) they should be fine.

I slept for twelve hours last night, woken only by horrendous sweats which left the double bed soaked, and forced me to change sides twice. From what I've read, that's a good sign, and is the body trying to expel the virus, but at the time it felt more like going to bed last Wednesday night.

So that's where I am now: dosed up to my eyeballs in medication, and sitting in a slightly damp bed in St Leonards while Lisa copes with the children alone. She'll be feeling rougher than me by the end of the day. On the plus side, not only is my appetite down, but it's too painful to swallow, so by the time we see each other again, she'll have the slim, healthy husband she's always dreamt of.

Monday, January 07, 2013

They say a fool and his money are soon parted, and sure enough, a lot of people spent their hard-earned cash on Amelie this Christmas. I presume they saw the Barnardos Christmas appeal, and decided that my children are at greater risk. Personally I limited my budget to anything under two quid from a charity shop, but a surprising number of people were kind enough to dig a little deeper, so if you're one of the generous individuals who sent us something for Amelie and Toby in December, I have two bits of good news.

The first is that I haven't taken it personally that you sent nothing for me. And the second is that your thank you letter is now on its way. Toby has failed to grasp the concept of literacy this year (although he'll grab a pen given half a chance), and whilst Amelie can write her own name, she likes it to take up half the page, and then fills the rest with impressionist paintings of flowers, before scribbling all over the envelope.

But as luck would have it, Lisa has the handwriting of a small child, so she's taken it upon herself to write the thank you cards this year. Unfortunately she's done it on the computer. Which is why it's taken until the 7th of January.

I think Boxing Day made her a little punch drunk, so having watched the children open all their presents, Lisa had a minor epiphany, and decided that 2013 should be the year that we let technology take the strain. Rather than spending upwards of half an hour writing out brief thank you cards by hand, Lisa realised that she could instead spend an entire week producing impersonal printed labels, which she could then stick inside the cards for that festive 'don't call us, we'll call you' feeling.

As modern parents, we're generally against the concept of labels, so we had to buy some in specially. They don't sell them in Lidl, so Lisa ordered some online, and having waited a few days for them to arrive, she then set about learning how to print on them. Fortunately she's a fast learner, so after a few hours of trial and error (both of those words are appropriate), during which I helpfully pointed out that she could have written them by hand in a quarter of the time, she eventually had the job done. At which point she realised that we didn't have any stamps.

The good news however, is that after a week of staring at the computer screen with a ruler in her hand, the cards are now ready. Although I did have to trim some of the labels with scissors during the sticking process. Lisa maintains that having learnt how to do it this year, next year will be a breeze, and she'll have the whole thing done in ten minutes. Which is about two minutes longer than Amelie, who'll have learnt to write by then.

The nice thing, however, is that rather than mass producing a load of identical labels (which, let's face it, would have been a lot quicker, and is the only sensible reason for using them in the first place), Lisa's tailored each individual message to the recipient, for that deeply personal touch. Although she's refused to take my advice on Marie's card, and has chosen not to mention that we kept her present under the Christmas tree for a month, right next to the radiator, and that all her crayons have melted. I'll save that news for her next visit.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Here's a random bit of information from

It seems that almost 10% of people who do an internet search for the phrase 'four days to go till the weekend' end up here. Frankly I'm knocking The Guardian into a cocked hat, but I'm being totally owned by Seb Coe. Thank god the Olympics are over.

One event in which I'm definitely medalling, however, is the challenging sport of childcare. It's been the annual Brighton AA Convention this weekend, which in previous years has meant Lisa and I putting on our glad-rags, partying through the night, and trashing a hotel room whilst off our heads on coke. The cola variety, that is.

Unfortunately things have changed a lot in the past couple of years. Not only do we now have two children, but people have got to know Amelie and refuse to babysit. So I haven't attended myself since 2010, and this time last year Lisa just went for an afternoon. Since Toby was born, however, things have become even more restrictive, and Lisa's opportunities to attend AA meetings have been about as numerous as my Christmas presents. Frankly the only way she can continue with the twelve steps is if they install an escalator.

So after our stressful week at the hands of the neighbour's washing machine, I considered the old adage 'If you love someone, set them free', and promptly shoved Lisa out of the door with her bus fare and a printout from Google Maps. Before locking it and putting the chain across, just in case she came back.

The result is that I've spent the weekend being a cross between Nicola Horlick and Clark Kent, taking sole charge of two children, one insurance claim and a cat, while Lisa has spent her time being entirely conventional at the Brighton Metropole. And I think it's done her a power of good. Not only has she been reinvigorated by seeing all her old friends from AA and hearing some life-affirming testimony, but she's also learnt that looking after two kids is essentially a piece of cake. Although in this case, we made shortbread.

In the time it took Lisa to attend two seminars and a Saturday lunch, I fed Toby two bottles of breast milk and two bowls of baby porridge, wrote a blog post while he napped, catalogued and photographed all our water-damaged belongings, cleared the hallway, made a beef casserole for tea, did all the washing up, and entertained Amelie by turning her into The Little Princess on the computer...

After which I got both children dressed, and took them out for a two hour outing to Asda to do the entire weekly shop.

When Lisa got home, she asked if I'd had my Mum round.

So to prove a point, when she returned to the conference this morning I changed all the bedding, did three loads of washing, two loads of washing up, sorted out all the rubbish, dehumidified the bedrooms, continued weaning Toby, made Katy's Shortbread with Amelie, then got us all lunch, changed Toby's clothes, and persuaded Amelie to let me watch what I wanted on TV.

When Lisa returned home, I was reclining on the bed with a chuckling baby and the second Hunger Games book, while Amelie played quietly on the living room floor in front of an episode of QI on the telly.

My Mum was climbing down a rope from the balcony at the time.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

I've always known that at some point Amelie and Toby would start fighting over toys, but I didn't expect it to be at the age of five months...

It's surprising, because they usually look so happy together...

Aside from the obvious joy they're experiencing by wearing those hats, and the fact that Toby's inherited his father's double chin and now looks like he's been inflated with a bicycle pump, the important things to note about that photo are the dark circles of illness under Amelie's eyes. It's possible she's applied them herself with the princess make-up set she got for Christmas, but either way, the good news is that she's now on the mend.

At least she should be. Whilst I was living the high life at the top of Burgess Hill on Thursday, Lisa took Amelie back to the doctor, and this time saw a different GP. It's not the first time we've seen her, but the previous occasions have all been as part of the Brighton Goes Gospel choir. This was the first time she hasn't burst into song.

And the good news is that when she's not swaying rhythmically and clapping her hands, she doles out some sound medical advice. She admitted that Amelie's non-specific illness shouldn't have lasted this long, so despite the fact that most doctors these days refuse to give out antibiotics until you're drowning in your own pus, she prescribed Amelie a five-day course of Amoxicillin. She's been having a dose of her own medicine three times a day ever since, and despite claiming that it tastes like funny bananas, she seems to be benefitting from it.

On the subject of improving situations, I had a lengthy discussion with two leading insurance experts yesterday. One has decades of experience gained during a high flying career with one of London's top insurers, and the other has suffered a lot of disasters. But they've both survived to tell the tale, and now work in the same office as me. So having taken some detailed advice from both sides of the fence, I was finally convinced (somewhat reluctantly) to make a claim on our home contents insurance.

I initially felt disinclined to do so, mainly because I couldn't face any further hassle, but also because I felt that most of our possessions were worth very little. It was pointed out to me, however, that even if the second-hand value might be low, I should be reimbursed with whatever it would cost to replace them. And a number of items were actually quite pricey when new.

So with a slight sense of reluctance, I retrieved our three sacks of waterlogged belongings from the rubbish area downstairs, and agreed to make a call to the insurance company. It was a call which lasted almost an hour. And it doesn't end there. We've only verbally documented about half the stuff, so we need to phone back with the rest, and provide proof of how much it's worth. We also need to take photos of some of it. It's a lengthy process which is already making my heart sink, as is the sight of our flood-damaged stuff cluttering up the entire hallway. We can barely move for water-stained bric-a-brac. It's like we're holding a car boot sale after a downpour. But if we get some cash for our stuff, I suppose it will all be worth it.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Having been flooded with insomnia on Wednesday night, I eventually dragged myself out of bed yesterday morning, padded across the moist carpets, inhaled the musty smell of damp, and then headed to Burgess Hill, where I was due to spend the morning with another woman. The only dry thing in our flat at the moment is Lisa's sense of humour, which is a miracle, as she could easily have turned to the Chardonnay, so despite being tempted to phone in sick, I decided to head for higher ground, and the dizzying heights of the Hill.

The mystery woman in question was actually a Diabetes Specialist Nurse who'd requested to sit in on a retinal screening clinic to find out what we get up to. Although I decided I'd better not show her that. She was actually very nice, and during the course of the morning she told me that she used to know someone who did retinal screening more than a decade ago in London, but that she hasn't seen him for years, and has no idea where he is now. She then mentioned his name.

So I told her I was on the floor with him in September...

... blew my nose over him in December, and that in 2010 he gave me an iPad. I'm not sure she believed me.

That aside, I basically just imparted all my knowledge (that was a long five minutes), and demonstrated my skills in a clinic setting, after which she asked me for a lesson on EMIS PCS (which is just a bad hand in Scrabble), and we went our separate ways.

I had a lunch date booked in town, so having finished the morning clinic, I walked to the Burgess Hill shopping precinct, which is a lot like the one in 'Dawn of the Dead', where I met up with the town's leading social media guru, webpreneur and IT innovator, the creative force behind Burgess Hill Uncovered, and the man who puts the app into Chappers. Yes, with 3,489 more likes than me on Facebook, it was none other than Peter Chapman.

The venue we chose (well, he chose) was the Jacob's Post pub, a "stupidly cheap" (his review) eatery, which allowed us both to enjoy a hot meal and a drink for eleven quid. I was hoping he'd tell them we were food critics from Burgess Hill Uncovered, and we'd get it all on the house, but sadly his integrity is beyond reproach. Which is a shame, as he has enough local power to extort money from anyone he wants. I need to find a way to corrupt him.

Anyhoo, my morning with another woman was good, but my lunch date with a younger man was even better. We spent an enjoyable hour discussing websites, women and welfare, while I ate a surprisingly nice lasagne, and wondered what the girl behind the bar was hoping to achieve with that top. It was either a bold feminist statement, or an audition for page 3. It was hard to tell which. Even after repeated viewings.

Ultimately though, another woman, a younger man and twenty-six patients just isn't enough socialising for one day, so having arrived home and spoken to Lisa's Mum on the phone, I decided to pop down to Asda last night to get her some medication. The woman's currently got flu, possibly because she chose not to have the flu jab, and has been holed up at the sheltered housing all week with the kind of cough that could crack a few ribs.

So we picked up some shopping, bought her a few drugs, and delivered it all to her door. Which she's currently sharing with death. It's the first time I've ever been invited inside by a lady in a nightie. And what's more, she fondled my nuts. Before saying "They're cashews. I won't eat them", and insisting I take some biscuits as well.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

I've always said that any disaster which is over in one evening can't be that bad. It's a rule which applies to most of my dating experiences, but it's also true of last night. By the time we made it to bed at 11pm, the dripping had stopped (including our tears), and everything salvageable had been cleaned, dried, and laid out to air on the floor.

In addition to a load of old videos and paperbacks, plus a couple of minor appliances (not of the surgical kind), the main victim of the flooding was a big plastic tub of toddler toys which used to belong to Amelie, and were being saved for Toby's future. It bore the brunt of the initial leak, and had filled with water to a depth of more than three inches before we even knew we had a problem. A lot of the semi-submerged toys were battery operated or easily spoiled, so a lot of it had to go, but the good news is that I managed to save the set of sparkly plastic balls we bought in Hamleys three and a half years ago. It was Lisa's 40th, our first ever night away from Amelie, and the only time I've ever treated my wife to a fancy ball in London. So they have sentimental value.

We did have a slightly dodgy moment at about 10pm when Amelie woke up crying, and we found her bedroom light was flickering despite being turned off, which is not something you want to see when you've recently watched 'Paranormal Activity 3' on DVD, and had water spouting out of the wall by the light switch.

But fortunately we all made it through the night without being electrocuted in a pool of water or burnt alive by a short-circuiting light fitting. Sadly we didn't manage much sleep though, as the adrenaline which had got us through the evening failed to leave our bodies until the early hours.

As for today, I spent this morning shut in a room with a pretty woman, had lunch with a talented young man, and spent the evening at the flat of a single lady who answered the door in her night clothes and then gave me thirty quid for my efforts. Unfortunately I'm too knackered to write about it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

If there's one thing I've learnt from my ten years of blogging (and I think there is only the one thing) it's that you don't always end up writing the blog post you planned to. This evening I'd intended to publish this photo of Toby wearing a plastic headband and a penguin sticker...

... and then write an essay about Amelie's role as the natural successor to Gok Wan.

But all that's changed in the past couple of hours. Today was my first day back at work after the Christmas break, and frankly my life's been a beach. Unfortunately the beach has been this one...

Not content with spending half the morning in the Diabetes Centre, I spent the whole afternoon in a jam-packed Sussex Eye Hospital, where I gave new meaning to the phrase 'intraocular pressure', and saw more patients than Jimmy Savile in the seventies.

So having collected Amelie from nursery, I returned home this evening, planning to do nothing more than vegetate on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate.

Unfortunately we needed all the spare mugs, saucepans and buckets we could lay our hands on shortly after 6pm when water started flooding through the ceiling in both bedrooms and the living room. Which I thought was bad until it began spouting horizontally out of the wall near a light switch.

To cut a long and very wet story short, the lady in the flat above started her washing machine going at teatime today, then promptly went out for the evening while it merrily exploded above us, and started pumping out water across her kitchen floor. With nowhere to go, and no carpets to absorb it (she lives for her laminate flooring), the water had no choice but to go down, finding its way into the electrical alcoves in the concrete ceiling, and then straight into our flat.

Within minutes we had power-showers in three rooms, my old video collection was ruined, Amelie's toy box was three inches deep in brown water, and I was running around with bowls, buckets and vases. In the three hours since, we've got to know a bloke from the council, an emergency plumber and a qualified electrician, all of whom (to be fair) have been great. We'll get to meet a surveyor soon too.

In the meantime, the ceiling's still dripping, so are my socks, and I've filled two black sacks with water-damaged property. And that doesn't include Amelie who was so traumatised by it all that she went as white as a sheet, burst into tears, and insisted on going to bed with no story. Which is about as upset as she gets.

But still, you have to laugh. And the funny thing is, I thought we had a damp problem before this. That'll teach me to complain.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

It's 2013!

And I think you can tell I haven't shaved since last year. I'm not even forty, and I've got the kind of stubble that makes me scared to go into the woods in case someone culls me for having TB. I was watching Hugh Bonneville on 'World's Most Dangerous Roads' the other night...

... yes, that Hugh Bonneville, and I asked Lisa if I should grow a distinguished grey beard to cover my double chin and give me an air of authority. She said "No, it'll just make you look old". She then paused, before adding "Even older, I mean".

In the end though, I couldn't be bothered to shave this morning (I could barely be bothered to shower), so it meant another afternoon of blending in with the grandparents at the Queens Park playground. If you're wondering why Toby's strapped to my chest, it's because we couldn't fit his buggy and Amelie's bike into the boot of the car, so one of them had to go without their wheels. And I didn't fancy carrying Am on my shoulders.

It was an afternoon of fun though...

Assuming you like hauling a Hello Kitty bike up a muddy hill with one hand while your son gets on your tits in a quite literal sense and the female members of your family tackle a death slide in designer wellies. And fortunately I do, so that was ok.

Anyhoo, with 2012 done and dusted, it means I've now completed a full decade of blogging. Assuming you count 88 posts as a full year. Which most people do. And besides, I actually started in 2002, but ended up deleting those early posts for quality control reasons. I was tempted to do the same for 2003. Frankly the crapometer was on overdrive that year.

But the good news is that I've successfully produced another twelve months of quantity over quality, by writing more posts than the year before. I'm still aiming to haul things back to the dizzy heights of 2004, but I might need to divorce Lisa first. I think the only way to increase output is to restrict my access to the kids. Or rather their access to me.

In the meantime, here's a video of Amelie riding majestically into the new year sunset at Queens Park this afternoon...

She's heading straight for the lake.