Subscribe: Subscribe to me on YouTube

Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Snow White & the Seven Month Old Dwarf!

Technically he won't be seven months until February 30th, but we can't wait until then, so we're celebrating the milestone today. He's been in turns Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Dopey and Bashful, and he's currently got a cold, so he's constantly Sneezy and requires a Doc. Although we're making do with Calpol.

As for Amelie, she's the fairest of them all. As long as she gets her own way. Otherwise she becomes quite unreasonable.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

With hindsight, if you clean the entire kitchen on Saturday, it's probably not a good idea to put up three shelves on the Sunday. By teatime, the room was so covered in brick dust that I had to clean the whole place again.

But despite spending the first part of Sunday afternoon studying the effects of sub-zero temperatures on the human body, by a quarter to four, I'd turned up the heat on my DIY endeavours, and successfully fitted my shelves...

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that clock's about two inches too far to the left. But that's where you're wrong. That clock is dead centre. It's the cupboards which are in the wrong place.

When I moved in, the cupboard on the right was already there, and I put the clock directly above the sink. Unfortunately I then fitted the new cupboard on the left, which was a slightly different width, and made the clock look out of place. Obviously I could move it, but that would require a small amount of effort on my part, and I can't be bothered. So I'm fighting the demons of OCD by leaving it where it is. Although it looks even worse now the shelf's up.

I should also point out that despite Amelie's constant assertion that the new shelves are pink, they're actually Warm Terracotta, and contrary to first impressions, we're not living in Barbara Cartland's old gaff.

Anyhoo, as previously stated, my main aim with these shelves is to test the flame-retardant properties of Dulux by positioning a prime piece of firewood above the gas cooker. And here it is, in all its warm (soon to be smoking) terracotta glory...

Lisa likes to broil sausages at a high heat, so there's every chance a fat-fuelled flame could shoot out of that grill at any moment and ignite the whole kitchen. Fortunately the shelf's designed to hold 25kg, so I could keep three buckets of water up there. Or use it as a naughty step for Amelie.

On the downside, there's every chance I've weakened the structure of the entire building. Anyone with the eagle eyes of a property surveyor will notice that the wall above the shelf appears to have been attacked by a vicious new strain of concrete worm which has left it with the structure of Swiss cheese. In reality, however, the worm that turned that wailing wall holier than thou was none other than me.

There are certain parts of this flat which have always proved impossible to drill into. Which explains why our curtain rails are always falling down. I'd previously thought it was only the external walls which are inlaid with diamond-studded kryptonite, but it seems that the upper wall of our larder is also made of reinforced steel. Which is reassuring, as it means that in the event of a bomb blast, our croissants should be safe.

I'd already drilled the lower hole for my shelf bracket at the desired height with no problems whatsoever, but when it came to drilling the corresponding top hole, I hit a brick wall. Only harder. Despite having the bit between my teeth (which is probably a bit unsafe), the drill wouldn't go more than a centimetre in. So I went a bit lower. And a bit lower still. And then down, and down again. By the time I'd cleared the solid granite, I had four redundant holes, and a shelf that was practically in the grill pan.

But still, what's the worst that could happen? I might have made the building structurally unsound, but we're all going up in flames anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Phil, with the weather turning arctic, temperatures below zero, a wind chill of minus ten and a very real risk of both hypothermia and frostbite for anyone foolish enough to venture outside, where's the best place in Brighton for a picnic?"

Well it's funny you should ask. Personally, I like to wait for a light snow flurry, and then head a few hundred yards along the road in a biting north wind, before sitting down at a rusty metal table next to an empty can of Tennent's Super to enjoy some Marmite sandwiches in the shadow of a council tower block...

That's not a smile, it's a grimace of pain. And my face was frozen like that for an hour. Frankly the only thing balmy about me in that photo are the smudges of 'Warm Terracotta' paint on my hands.

Having dried my pine shelves overnight, I let Amelie loose on them first thing yesterday morning. I needed to touch up the edges and paint the brackets, and she's the most promising artist in the family. She can also spot a mini roller from twenty paces, and refused to let me do it alone. So having carefully explained to her how to paint wooden furniture without getting any on her clothes, we completed the job, and I put her pyjamas into soak before Lisa got back from church and saw the streaks of emulsion down her sleeves.

While we waited for everything to dry (including the laundry), I told Amelie I'd get our lunch and then take her to the park. Which was the first of my many mistakes. Having heard the words 'lunch' and 'park', she insisted we combine the two and have a picnic. I did explain to her that I could see snow through the iced-up windows, and that not even Eskimos would eat out in this weather, but the thing about Amelie is that she rarely listens to a word I say. And when she does, she generally decides I'm wrong.

In addition to that, the clinical photographer who bumped into me and Amelie in Asda after work last Wednesday, and found us carrying two pints of milk and a boxed set of Snakes & Ladders, will testify to the fact that I'm a soft touch, and give in to my daughter far too readily.

As a result, I found myself wrapping sandwiches in foil yesterday lunchtime. Although I felt more inclined to wrap myself in it as a form of impromptu space blanket. To say it was cold out would be like describing Death Valley as a bit mild. But undeterred, Amelie and I made it down the road to the bleak wasteland of the park, which was (oddly, in Amelie's opinion) completely deserted for the entirety of our stay, allowing us to enjoy our picnic in the peace and quiet of a Siberian crosswind as the first flakes of snow began to fall.

Despite losing the use of at least eight fingers due to frostbite, we followed our meal with a bit of after-dinner activity in an effort to restore some circulation. Amelie asked me to film her speeding downhill towards the open road on her scooter, so I considered her request and said yes. I was hoping to shoot something like this...

... but I struggled to keep up with my subject, and ultimately the lack of a Christ the Redeemer statue as a backdrop let down the production values, and I ended up with this...

I was hoping she'd hit a mogul at the bottom and vault over both the fence and the passing car like Evel Knievel in a bobble hat, but tragically she just ploughed into the grass and fell off. Not that I'd have filmed it if she had. I was so far behind, I'd have missed the whole thing. To me, stunt videos are a lot like DIY: best left to someone else.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

You meet a lot of cowboys in this line of work...

Some of whom are wearing spotty pyjamas under their red plaid and cowhide. You probably think I've cropped the gun from her left hand out of repsect for Oscar Pistorius, but in reality she was merely waving across our one-horse town in a slightly camp manner towards Boss Hogg and Daisy from The Dukes of Hazzard...

To be honest, I'm considering hiding my camera when I go to work. I think it just tempts Lisa to dress up the children in ever more ridiculous ways. Both those photos were taken on Friday, shortly after the postman arrived with the cowgirl outfit that Lisa had bought online for a fiver without telling me. By the time I got home, Amelie had learnt to say "Yee-ha!" and was trying to lasso me as I walked down the hallway.

Anyhoo, the trouble with weekends is that they're far more exhausting than work. Since 5pm on Friday, I've barely paused for breath. I hadn't even changed out of my work clothes when I found myself trapped in the kitchen, being forced to make Princess Butterfly Cakes with Amelie...

We made ten in total. Six of which had been eaten by the time I turned on my camera. The other four were gone before the flash recharged.

Having cooked up a storm on Friday, I spent Saturday repairing the storm damage. The kitchen hasn't had a thorough clean since Toby was born (he's not as helpful around the house as I anticipated), and we're rapidly running out of storage space (again), so while Lisa caught up on some lost sleep, I attempted to make the oven clean enough to eat your dinner off.

I paused halfway through to join a modern art collective, and contribute at least 50% of the creative input that went into this original masterwork...

We produced two others on a similar theme, but in comparison they were disappointing. The ears went a bit wrong, and they didn't have flower tattoos.

With the kitchen scrubbed from top to bottom (excluding the ceiling and floor), I took some sage advice from Lisa and threw out all our expired herbs, after which Lisa took Amelie swimming, while I escorted Toby to B&Q for some shelving. It seemed like the more manly thing to do with my son. We bought five pine shelves, then drove to the swimming pool to meet the girls. Toby found his sister's water-based exploits quite amusing, which is not altogether surprising. The girl swims like a fish. And then sinks like a tin of tuna.

From the pool, we drove straight to Asda to do the weekly shop while Amelie went wild in the aisles and did her best to get us thrown out. By the time we got home, it was bedtime for the under-fives and breakdown time for the rest of us. But like a legless man with a burglar, I don't know when to stop. So having put the shopping away, I dug out the leftover paint that we used to decorate the kitchen, and painted three of my new pine shelves. They'll be going up this afternoon. Possibly in smoke, as I'm hoping to put one above the cooker.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The problem with strapping Toby into his new highchair is that it turns him into a sitting duck. And sooner or later, ducks get shot. If not with guns, then with cameras...

I came home from Burgess Hill yesterday to find that photo on my memory card. The glasses belong to my mother-in-law, the photography's by Lisa, but I'm sensing that the styling was all down to Amelie. He looks like Edna Mode from The Incredibles.

Or he will do once his sister gets her hands on a wig.

Anyhoo, Burgess Hill is fast becoming my favourite place to do a clinic. Which is a shame, as I'm only working there one more time before December. I enjoyed another thrifty lunchtime special at the Jacob's Post pub yesterday, whilst chatting to the people's favourite for election to the town council in 2015. He offered me the chance to interview Chas from Chas & Dave for the BHU website (he's got far bigger fish to fry himself), but having considered the offer, I felt I lacked both the shorthand skills and the necessary bugging equipment, and besides, I'm holding out for Renée from Renée & Renato.

Unfortunately, while I was breezing through the day with a spring in my step, a song in my heart, and some cheap chicken tikka masala in my stomach (I'm back on the diet tomorrow), it seems I was being observed from afar with the kind of bare-faced ageism I thought had died with Jimmy Savile.

Word reached me this afternoon that a patient at Burgess Hill had told my colleague who was there today that it was nice to see a young man doing the job. When he replied that he's not really that young, she told him she'd been at the health centre for another reason yesterday, and there was a "much older man" doing it then.

The sad thing is that we're supposed to be saving sight, but she's clearly as blind as a bat.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Just to prove what I said about clothing, here's a photo of me in my dressing gown...

Amelie took that yesterday morning. Toby was slapping the table in the hope of summoning a waitress, and I was posing next to the new highchair I'd just spent twenty minutes trying to assemble. I think her composition was an attempt to avoid the issue of red-eye.

The chair itself is actually very low, but it attaches to any standard seat, stool or misericord via the use of some supposedly adjustable straps which take about ten minutes to tighten. We did have a dedicated highchair when Amelie was little...

... but they don't make plastic like they used to, and it was already secondhand when we got it, so by the time Amelie had eaten her way through toddlerhood, it was only good for the bin.

So we've invested in the new piece of kit above, which arrived in the post on Tuesday. I've been teaching Amelie to use my old camera recently, and aside from lowering it too quickly after pressing the button and cutting off people's foreheads, she's doing remarkably well. Here she is capturing the momentous occasion of Toby's first breakfast in his highchair...

And here's the resulting photo...

With multiple cameras going off at once, the next stage is to turn these shots into bullet time. We should have The Matrix 4 completed by the end of the week.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eagle-eyed observers with a fine attention to detail may have noticed that in the family portrait I published yesterday, all four of us were dressed. That's a surprisingly rare occurrence in this house. At any given time, there are usually at least two of us in romper suits and pyjamas. And sometimes we don't get the kids dressed either. I'd like to claim that the reason for our mutual garb-fest was to pose for a nice photo, but in reality it takes a lot more than that to get us clothed at the weekend.

We were actually waiting for a visit from these characters...

That's my sister-in-law being closely watched by Big Brother. It's like 1984. They're both wearing leg-warmers under the table.

My brother and his family are currently holidaying in the party capital of the south: Etchingham. According to Wikipedia, it's famous for having the second largest series of misericords in the county. Which is impressive until you find out what a misericord is, and then realise I said county, not country. With that kind of holiday destination, the first thing you want to do is leave, and sure enough, they decided to spend the second day of their stay with us here in Brighton.

Amelie had been looking forward to the visit all week, not because she likes her aunt and uncle, but because she idolises her cousin. In the days leading up to Sunday, Lisa and I were treated to an ongoing series of announcements regarding all the things she was going to do when her cousin came to visit, including drawing, dancing and playing Cowgirls. Which is basically Gangnam Style without music. I haven't seen anyone so excited to meet a 13-year-old girl since Jimmy Savile died.

Unfortunately, the reality was a bit different...

Amelie talks the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, she sits down on the sofa with her iPad. It was a good hour before she stopped giving her cousin the cold shoulder.

Fortunately her brother's a lot more engaging...

Although it's a fine line between engaging and intimidating. His kind of eye contact is verging on a poke.

Anyhoo, seeing my brother and his family is a lot like Christmas coming early. Or a couple of months late. When we saw them at my parents' house in December, they claimed they had bought us gifts, but they'd conveniently left them at home. I think it was just a ploy to allow them to go shopping in the sales, but fortunately good things come to those who wait, and sooner or later, Amelie will get her hands on a chocolate Gruffalo...

You can see the Gruffalo's "terrible teeth" there, which are caused by severe tooth decay from all the sugar.

In addition to that, Amelie received a Snow White costume, which allows us to complete the fairytale we started last July with the arrival of Grumpy the Dwarf. As for me and Lisa, we received a 'Segway Experience Day', which lets you spend an hour being Lembit Opik, plus a Taylor Swift CD and a Supernanny book. It's a hardback, so it should come in useful. We can use it to hit Amelie.

With the present-opening completed, we headed out to Sunday lunch down at the marina. Lisa and I had £20 worth of Prezzo vouchers, but the wait for a table was 40 minutes and we're even more impatient than we are cheap. So having checked out the waiting time at Zizzi's (45 minutes, if you're wondering), we ended up at the Coast to Coast American Restaurant & Bar. It occupies the premises that used to house Strada until that one closed down, and the owners are clearly doing their best to ensure they make enough money to avoid the same fate. Frankly the only thing supersized about their American food is the prices.

Well ok, that's not strictly true. They do manage to fit quite a lot into one bun...

I'd expect a good sized meal for the money though. That 'Pulled Pork Burger' cost me fifteen quid. Well, it cost my brother fifteen quid. I told him I'd settle up later. Preferably out of court, and for a smaller amount.

It was very nice though, as was my (small-ish) milkshake for £4.25, and my warm chocolate brownie, which was served with honeycomb ice cream and an air of mystery...

We were informed at the bar that Coast to Coast operates a "verbal menu" for dessert, by which they mean they commit nothing to paper, and won't tell you the prices. It's a bit like playing The Generation Game. You basically have to sit there while Brucie reels off a list of items, then attempt to memorise them long enough to place an order. By the time it arrives, you don't know what you've got, or how much it costs. It's only when you get the bill that you find out your ice creams were six quid each.

Ultimately though, a good time was had by all, especially those of us who didn't pay much, and by the time we strolled back out onto the boardwalk, relations had thawed and Amelie had warmed to her cousin...

Although they'd left Toby out in the cold.

Monday, February 18, 2013

We had a request from Amelie's nursery last week for us to provide them with a photo of our family. At the time I assumed it was for them to put up in the office on their pinboard of known troublemakers, but as it transpires, it's for a display they're making of people who are important to each child. I was tempted to submit a picture of SpongeBob with Charlie & Lola, but having discussed it with Lisa, we decided that whilst Amelie clearly prefers them to us, and their influence on her is far greater, we're probably still obliged to be in the photo.

So we took some time out yesterday morning to pose for an up-to-date family portrait...

Clearly some of us are posing more than others. But at least we've all got our eyes open.

To be honest, it took about twelve attempts to get that one. We might look like we're posing with the calm serenity of seasoned supermodels, but in reality, when you have ten seconds to set the self-timer on your camera and get to the rear of the portrait without knocking your daughter off her stool, you're more likely to end up with this...

I don't know why Toby's looking so disapproving. I'd like to see him sprint across the living room and hurdle a four-year-old in eight seconds flat.

Anyhoo, we actually had a long, busy, but above all, enjoyable day yesterday, which has left me far too tired to write about it. It also gave Amelie nightmares. Or at least something did. She woke up last night saying that she'd had a bad dream in which she'd seen a man having a shower on top of a tall building, and there was tuna coming out of the shower. No, really. The man was clearly piscine in the wind.

That might not sound like the most disturbing of visions, but to Amelie, tuna is the stuff of nightmares. She once ate it in a sandwich at nursery, thinking it was spready cheese, and never quite got over the shock. In addition, her love of SpongeBob SquarePants means that she values plankton above all human life, and is naturally averse to eating sea creatures. So the thought of being sprayed with fish flakes in an outdoor bathroom is a constant source of terror.

Fortunately, however, I've identified the trigger for her nightmares. She's had quite a few bad dreams recently, and having looked at all the possible causes, I've narrowed it down to just one...

It's that Lisa keeps dressing like Freddy Krueger.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

As mentioned last Monday, on those rare occasions when I have a bit of me-time at the weekend, I like to sit down, relax and unwind by writing an eleven-hundred-word history of retinal screening in Brighton. Unfortunately, having done so last Saturday, and re-read it on Sunday, I decided it was probably a bit too long and contained too many jokes. So despite being reluctant to tone down the swashbuckling nature of the story, I spent the week canvassing opinions from a hand-picked expert judging panel comprising a programme manager, senior administrator, consultant diabetologist, retinal screener, failsafe officer and two pre-diabetic pensioners. They were kind enough to give me some frank and honest advice, so having taken on board all their comments, I rewrote the article yesterday.

It's now 1250 words. And has a few more jokes. I'm not quite sure what happened there.

But on the subject of my overwhelming professionalism, Amelie was playing with her dolls house yesterday, and was busy acting out a story with the occupants, when she was heard to say, "Time for another hideous day at work..."

Lisa claimed it was her father's influence rubbing off on her, but as I pointed out to my wife, I'm a happy-go-lucky, positive person with a lust for life and complete job satisfaction. And I always make sure Amelie's out of earshot before I say things like that. I don't think she believed me. But fortunately I have access to the internet, and the internet has access to everything, so having entered the phrase into Google, I discovered it's a line from SpongeBob SquarePants. That show has a lot to answer for.

Anyhoo, in addition to acting out scenes of professional despair, Amelie spent most of yesterday with her brother. As the dawn broke over Brighton, this was the scene in our bedroom...

That's my side of the bed they're on. Which explains why I was up so early. It does, however, demonstrate the advantages of modern technology. If they were looking at a book instead of the iPad, it would have been too dark to take a photo.

They'd soon moved on from the bed to the bath...

... and by mid-afternoon we were ready to go out. I took Amelie and Toby for a walk in the early spring sunshine - a walk that inevitably led to a playground. But on the way, we passed a house I've never noticed before. And here it is...

I pointed it out to Amelie, and said "Look at those funny shaped windows". She stopped, inspected them for a moment, and then, to my complete surprise, said "Yes, Daddy, they're hexagons".

Bearing in mind that Lisa's knowledge of geometry extends about as far as playing the triangle in primary school, and I'm generally too busy doing my hideous job to teach her any maths, Amelie's sudden display of erudition stunned me into silence. For about two seconds. After which I asked her how she knew that.

She replied, "I learnt it from an iPad game".

I always knew an Apple a day would be good for her. I'll let her carry on showing it to Toby.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The big breaking news from around here is that according to both Lisa and Amelie, Toby spoke his first word yesterday. Apparently, while I was out fulfilling the traditional hunter-gatherer role by eating chocolates at the NHS's expense, Toby said "Dada". I don't think he knows who I am, but he does like a bit of avant-garde art. I'm trying to teach him to say 'Cubism'.

In the meantime, anyone concerned by my intermittent blogging this week will be pleased to know that there is an explanation. Back in August last year when I was on paternity leave, I took some additional leave of my senses, and signed up for a Clinical Problem Solving course on Coursera. Lisa's always wanted a house, and I thought this might be a step in the right direction. It was due to start in January, and despite being sleep-deprived and exhausted when I signed up, I knew that by the new year I'd be relaxed, well-rested and have time on my hands.

The start of the course was delayed (probably due to undiagnosed illness), but it finally got underway on Monday of this week, with the first assignment due tomorrow. Unfortunately that's not the reason I haven't blogged. To be honest, I've just spent too much time on I haven't even watched the first lecture. Much as I'd love to solve my own hypochondria in six weeks, by the evening I'm generally far too knackered to be bothered. Which is a shame, because if I did the course, I'd probably find out why.

As for Thursday evening, I successfully romanced Lisa with a love-gift of pizza. She'd given me this delightful (if surprisingly small) card...

... so I decided to sweep her off her feet by making her too fat to leave the sofa. We'd both eaten out at lunchtime, so it seemed only right to eat in that night by ordering a pizza. And making ourselves sick. By the end of the evening, I was so full, I could barely eat the expensive Montezuma's chocolate that Lisa had bought me. But I felt it would be rude not to.

As for my lunch date, that went well, although having covered a number of weighty topics such as local politics, police commissioning and the benefits system, my dining companion mentioned in passing that my voice sounds like Alan Carr. I nearly choked on my horse lasagne. As I said to him at the time, I sound a lot more like Charlton Heston, and I'll shoot anyone who disagrees.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I deliberately didn't write anything yesterday so that people would think I've given up blogging for lent. In reality, of course, the only thing I'm likely to give up in the next forty days is the will to live. But fortunately there's love in the air to sustain me (plus 21% oxygen), as today is Valentine's Day!

And I'm already seeing another woman. Namely Dawn, at whose crack I awoke this morning in order to prepare Lisa's vast array of priceless (some would say worthless) gifts of love. Here's just a small selection...

The photo on the right was taken by Amelie a couple of weeks ago, and features me and Lisa poking our tongues out in an attempt to set a good example for our children. I've put it inside a love-heart snow globe in the hope of obscuring our faces.

In addition to the gifts above, Amelie's bought Lisa a heart-shaped paperweight to stop all her nursery drawings blowing off the table and into the bin (which happens on a daily basis - I've no idea how), plus some chocolate coins to prove that money can't buy you love, but it can make you fat. I've also learnt from bitter experience that to leave Amelie out of any present-giving is the first step on the rocky road to heartbreak and misery (mostly for me and Lisa), so I've bought Amelie a gift too. She's getting a headband featuring purple hearts to commemorate the number of times she's been wounded in action. Mostly scooter-related.

Toby's not going to be left out either. He's getting a firm handshake, and the name of a good dentist. His first tooth has come through in the past few days, and he's liable to take your hand off if you go within six inches of his face. He's also started to ogle Chloe in a slightly concerning way. Every time she walks past, he starts poking his tongue out and getting a crazed look in his eyes. This was him last night, five seconds after Chloe jumped up on the sofa next to me...

He's got a look of Benny Hill about him. The moment he starts crawling, he'll be chasing her around the room at double speed.

Anyhoo, it's currently six-thirty and none of my family are awake yet (although some of them were in the night), but it's important to make an effort on Valentine's Day, and I'm pleased to say that both Lisa and I have managed to clear some space in our busy schedules to meet up for lunch today. Unfortunately we're not meeting each other. Lisa's got a table booked in Havana (which seems like a long way to go), and will be sharing some gourmet food and non-alcoholic cocktails with our good friend Lorraine, while I'm meeting the future mayor of Burgess Hill for a cheap lasagne. Probably with horse. And they say the art of romance is dead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I had a patient this afternoon who was two weeks short of his eightieth birthday, and arrived at the clinic on a mobility scooter, wearing a hearing aid, a flat cap and exactly the same coat as me. Not this coat, but this one. It's from the Marks & Spencer Collezione range, and like a lot of my clothes, clearly appeals to the very elderly. Mine came from a charity shop, so I've always assumed it was an unwanted gift, but now the truth is beginning to dawn: the previous owner must have died of old age.

Fortunately my children have no idea that I dress like a pensioner. To them, I'm just a big tosser...

I'd like to state for the record that it was a chocolate pancake, and therefore nowhere near as burnt as it looked. I was also slightly put off by my front-of-house staff who, whilst enthusiastic to a fault, lacked the class and finesse required to earn this place a Michelin star, and basically left me to do all the work. Frankly that girl was flipping useless. I might have to give up pancakes for Lent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

There's no doubting the influence of television on the impressionable young minds of small children. Not only has Amelie taken on the mannerisms of Homer Simpson, but having recently become obsessed with SpongeBob SquarePants, she's now started questioning her parents' actions with the words "What in tarnation?". Which is a phrase used by Sandy Cheeks the squirrel. Or so I'm informed.

Mind you, Amelie's no stranger to saying ridiculous things. Only this morning she turned to Lisa and exclaimed "Take off your glasses and call me Roger!", and we've no idea where she got that from. Lisa doesn't even wear glasses. Although she does have glaucoma in the family.

Yesterday, however, the situation reached a whole new level with the unexpected televisual trauma of Toby. Lisa had gone to church (I think she had a lot to confess), so I spent the morning diligently caring for Toby in the only way I know how: from the safety of another room. I was actually changing the sheets on our bed, so I left my son in the living room, strapped into his bouncy chair and positioned in front of CBeebies.

Five minutes later, I was busy wrestling with a duvet cover in the next room when I heard Toby's happy gurgles turn into a cry of pure terror. I assumed he must have stabbed himself in the eye with the terrible claws of a Gruffalo, so I turned as white as the sheet I was changing, and ran into the living room expecting to see blood on the carpet. What I found was this...

That's Squiglet, star of the CBeebies show 'Get Squiggling', a programme which teaches toddlers how to draw. Opinion is divided over its gender. Amelie and I think it's female, while Lisa and my Mum insist that it's male. I've come to the conclusion that it's some kind of he-she intersex creation designed to teach children about art in an all-inclusive non gender-specific kind of a way. It's basically Tony Hart for a new generation.

Unfortunately, to a small child, it's terrifying. I found Toby sitting in his chair, transfixed by the sight of a dancing Squiglet, screaming his head off and shaking with fear. Even when I picked him up and calmed him down, he continued quivering, open-mouthed, as he stared at the screen. The trouble is, if you're terrified of CBeebies, there's not really anywhere left to go. Your non-threatening viewing options are going to be somewhat limited unless the BBC brings back the test card. And even then, that clown doll was pretty creepy.

Anyhoo, if there's one thing I've learnt, it's that the best way to get over a traumatic experience is to stuff yourself with food. So having assured Toby that the nasty Squiglet's not going to get him, I packed the boy into his car seat, picked up Lisa from church, and drove the pair of them over to my parents' house for lunch. Amelie had gone on ahead of us, partly to get first dibs on the roast potatoes, but mainly to give me enough time to write an eleven-hundred word history of retinal screening in Brighton, which I completed on Saturday afternoon. It would have been a thousand words, but I added a few jokes.

So with that done, we joined her yesterday lunchtime for a slap-up feed and a demonstration of her new Space Hopper. Which is now called a 'Funny Face Hopper' due to the closure of the space shuttle programme. Lunch was finished by two-thirty, despite my three helpings of dessert, but we ended up staying until the evening. With torrential rain all day, it was the perfect chance to test my brand new, extra grippy tyres, so we decided to wait until the roads were properly flooded. And suffice it to say, I wasn't disappointed. Except by the absence of a rudder. Frankly I've been on shallower boating lakes. We made it home in one piece, but I kept expecting to be pulled over by the coastguard or boarded by pirates. If only we'd taken Chloe, we could have filmed the sequel to 'Life of Pi'.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

I like to think I maintain a proud tradition of freebies on this blog. Not giving them out, obviously, but receiving them. Over the years, I've accepted a number of gifts from people I've never met, including money, food and baby blankets, whilst being taken for a mug and surviving on care packages from a bovine sugar daddy.

So when I received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from offering to send me an iPad cover, it was an open and shut case. In brown leather, with a flip stand and pen holder. The Snugg's motto is "We don't do cheap, we do quality", which is exactly what I want to hear when I'm getting something for free, and a few days ago they were kind enough to send me not one, but two iPad cases to review.

The first was the Snugg iPad 1 Case Cover and Flip Stand in Brown Leather, pictured here in the hands of an accomplished supermodel...

It retails for $29.99 on the American site, and £29.99 here in the UK, which represents an exchange rate I'm not familiar with. But frankly it's worth every penny. Which is easy to say when you didn't pay for it.

For a first impression, I'll hand you over to my co-reviewer...

I'm concerned that at four years old, she's already learnt to slap her forehead and say "D'oh!" like Homer Simpson. I should also apologise for the background noise, which was the sound of Toby galloping through a Findus lasagne in his bouncy baby chair. But that aside, Amelie speaks for us both. The Snugg case is indeed "good", and makes our battered old iPad look like a brand new machine.

The interior of the case is created from Nubuck fibres, giving it the soft, strokeable feel of a week-old hamster, and the iPad is secured neatly inside with a sturdy velcro tab. The cover closes nicely using a magnetic fastening, which is not only more stylish than the stiff metal popper on our previous case, but also easier for Amelie to handle. Which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how much you want to keep your daughter away from your apps.

Fortunately, in this house, Amelie has claimed ownership of the iPad, so while she got on with some rigorous quality control testing, I checked out the Snugg iPad 4 Case Cover and Stand in Distressed Brown Leather. It's the updated version of the case above, designed specifically for the latest iPad, and comes with a few extra features. The most useful of which is this one:

It has an elasticated strap on the back of the inside cover which allows you to hold the iPad in the palm of your hand. Admittedly, that only leaves you one hand to type with, but for a lot of applications, it's a godsend. Other than that, the differences in the cases are subtle. The iPad 4 case has a hole for the built-in camera, and a slimmer fit to house the thinner tablet. I found I could still fit my iPad 1 inside, but it gave a whole new meaning to the word Snugg.

Those additional features will cost you an extra five dollars in the US and five pounds in the UK, meaning that the baby above will set you back thirty-five quid. It's quite a lot to pay, but there's no doubting the quality, and if you can afford the next generation iPad, you're either rich or willing to go into debt, so either way it's not a problem.

Personally I love my Snugg cases. Although I'm biased having got them for free. They're definitely well-made, stylish and functional though, which is pretty much all you can ask for. Better still, they appear to have launched me on the road to a movie career. Having watched me receive a free gift in the post from a mysterious woman online, Amelie started following me about with a camera...

I think she's busy filming Catfish 2.

Friday, February 08, 2013

My contribution to the enquiry...

People who work at Findus and like Horses

I'd start the investigation with those three.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Just look at those sweet, impressionable young children...

You'd never believe they were helping to spread Islam throughout West Africa.

Yes, at first glance, Amelie and Toby might appear to be doing nothing more than sitting on a sofa with a pair of pink fluffy earmuffs, but in reality they're striving in the way of Allah, and raising money to build mosques. Which is what happens when I take a morning off work.

When I had my car serviced just after Christmas, they informed me that the tyres were almost as bald as I am, and advised me to get them replaced within the next couple of months. Naturally I like to tread carefully when it comes to the grip on my tyres, and I don't want to end up in hospital when I'm driving to a clinic, so I booked half a day's annual leave this morning to get them fitted. Kwikly. At the branch in Lewes Road.

I'd booked in my car online, and chosen a set of Italian nitrogen-filled Marangoni tyres which are specially reinforced for carrying fat people like myself. They were about two hundred pounds. As, indeed, am I. So with the sun shining, and the wind freezing my face off, I took Amelie out for the morning to sample the delights of a Kwik Fit tyre centre.

She wasn't that impressed. Although she did like the hydraulic lift which raises your car up to head height. She'd have liked it even better if we could have stayed in the car. So rather than hang around for an hour while the mechanics did their job, the two of us headed along Lewes Road to look around the shops.

Which is how we became embroiled in an Islamic uprising in West Africa. It transpires that there's now a charity shop in Brighton which aims to Strive in the Way of Allah by supporting good causes in Sierra Leone. And what's more, they sell ear muffs. Ordinarily you'd have to go to Timbuktu to find a good pair of pink ear-warmers, but today I was able to buy some from an African Muslim. And she only charged me a pound. Although with the exchange rate the way it is, that should fill a school with Korans.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I wasn't planning to write anything tonight due to work-related tiredness and life-related apathy, but I've been inundated with literally one request to publish a painting that Amelie did at nursery yesterday...

Apparently that's Lisa at Peppa Pig World. In reality, she's never been, but given that it sprang entirely from Am's imagination, it's a strikingly accurate portrait. The blue dots are the tears she's shedding at the sight of the ticket prices.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Valentine's Day has come early in the Gardner household...

Yes, it's not just her bottom she shows to the camera, it's the bottom of her heart. She might spend most of her time looking like a marketing ad for Ritalin, but she's capable of some genuinely touching moments. Admittedly, she's managed to spell her name as 'Ameile', but it took Lisa's Mum at least two years to get it right, so you can't criticise the girl for trying.

On the downside, that note wasn't aimed at me. It's actually a by-product of the aviation industry. Amelie had asked me to make her a paper aeroplane, and having done so (and flown a few missions in the hallway), she asked me what else we could make out of paper. My repertoire is sadly lacking, and consists mainly of aircraft and litter, so I headed straight for the internet, where I soon found myself at

It's important to know your own limitations, so I immediately clicked on the 'Simple Origami' section, where it gave us a choice of sixty different objects, from a Bishop's Mitre and a Cowboy Hat to a Fox Puppet and a Helicopter. I asked Amelie which one she'd like to make, and having scrolled up and down the list, and examined all the pictures, she eventually chose the Envelope. There's no accounting for taste. I can sense a future career in admin.

Most people choose to write a letter and then look for an envelope to put it in, but Amelie's something of an innovator, not to mention a bit backward, so having helped me conjure up an envelope out of thin air using nothing but a piece of paper, she decided she needed something to go inside. I suggested a letter to Churchill Insurance asking where our cheque is, but in the end she opted for a love letter to Lisa. Which is probably the only one she'll be getting this month.

To be honest, I was quite impressed. Amelie asked me to draw the heart, but the words were all her own work. She didn't even ask me to spell 'Amelie'. Which was probably her biggest mistake. Admittedly, her 'You' looks like 'Too', and she's been a bit anti-capitalist on the 'i', but for a four-year-old with no formal education, the girl done good.

Monday, February 04, 2013

When you're bringing up children, you see a lot of changes in the space of four years...

Well ok, maybe not that many changes. Stefan's still got the same shirt, and Toby looks a lot like his sister. The Arab Spring seems to have dried up though.

Anyhoo, the photo on the left was taken in September 2009, and the one on the right was yesterday. I think Stefan's got a portrait of himself in the attic. Frankly he's aged even less than that shirt. He is, however, living with a couple of characters who are looking much older than they did a few months ago.

Here's one...

... and here's her sister...

In May of last year, we called that second cat 'Big Kitten'. Frankly we didn't know the meaning of the word. Big, I mean, not kitten. She's now so large that she wouldn't look out of place on a plinth in Trafalgar Square, and she might have to be renamed Fatima. As for her sister, she's the cat formerly known as 'Good Walker'. Which is ironic as she's always lying down.

Obviously our main motivation for visiting Stefan & Andrew yesterday afternoon was to check on the progress of Shimmy's kittens, but once there, we thought we might as well chat to their owners. Stefan and I had an in-depth discussion about serious corneal injuries and their appropriate treatment, which could have formed part of a City & Guilds diploma, but in reality was just an anecdote about the time he got hit in the eye with a zip whilst emptying the washing machine.

Andrew, meanwhile, showed off their new KitchenAid food mixer, the effectiveness of which I refused to take on trust, insisting instead on trying two slices of home-made chocolate banana cake in an effort to convince myself of its powers. In the end, I had to admit that it's worth every penny, but offered to carry out more research if required.

One of the joys of visiting Stefan & Andrew is that they basically live in a converted novelty shop. While other people fill their homes with dull, practical necessities, Andrew prefers to put the fun back into functional. No sooner do you sit down on the leopard print sofa than you're drinking fruit juice through a straw with a built-in moustache...

So while Stefan got to know his future godson...

... I helped Amelie to open her late Christmas present from the boys. It turned out to be a set of stainless steel children's cutlery, engraved with cute animals. Not only was it gorgeous quality and just what Amelie needed, but it made a refreshing change to leave someone's home with a set of cutlery without having to hide it in Lisa's handbag.

Having allowed our hosts time to discuss their mutual love of SpongeBob SquarePants with Amelie, there was just time for me to look sophisticated with a cool, refreshing drink...

... before it was time to pose for the obligatory group photo. Quick, before the wind changed. With our daughter in a somewhat difficult mood, it took six attempts to get this one...

It's only when you've had half a dozen goes, that you realise with a sinking heart that the one where Amelie shows her bottom is the best you're likely to get.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

I think these eBay promotional shots are getting a bit too flamboyant...

We've actually decided not to sell that dress at the moment. Having watched Amelie jump onto a stool and do her high-energy version of Gangnam Style for five minutes, we came to the conclusion that maybe it's not too tight for her after all. When she bursts a button doing the Macarena, we'll reconsider.

To be honest, we still haven't got as far as listing any more items on eBay. Back in November, we met the Mr Big of online auctions, who used his stature (and figure) as a modern day Buddha to impart unto us a valuable piece of wisdom. Namely that no mortal man can find the time to write a blog and sell stuff on eBay. Unless he's long-term unemployed, or hurts his back lifting a printer.

At the time we assumed he was talking rubbish, but as it transpires, the man was right. Lisa's dug out a load of old clothes, but between the children and this blog, we can barely find the time to turn on the caps lock and start typing a description. Something's got to give. And I think it should be the children.

But going back to yesterday, I feel I should document a strange phenomenon that appears to be occurring in my life. When I appeared in court last October, I served on two juries, the second one featuring two or three people who were on the first, meaning that I meted out justice in conjunction with about twenty different people. Those individuals came from various locations across central Sussex, including Horsham, Haywards Heath and Rottingdean, so they don't all live locally.

But a couple of weeks ago I popped into town and met one of them in Primark. Which was embarrassing as I like to give the impression that I shop in Next. At the time I thought it was pretty coincidental, because I lead the kind of life which means I'm generally housebound and do all my shopping online, so to find me in a shop invariably means that I'm desperate. Either to buy something, or to get away from the kids.

But that coincidence was taken to a whole new level yesterday, when I met another of my fellow jurors at Monkey Bizness. And what's more, I couldn't keep away from her. Despite being in a building with a few hundred people, and barely moving from our table, she must have walked right past us about a dozen times.

According to Wikipedia, the combined population of Brighton & Hove, plus the districts of Mid Sussex, Horsham and Lewes is about 642,000. And yet I've bumped into two jurors out of twenty in the space of a few weeks. At this rate, I'll have met them all by the end of the year. At which point the defendants will have been released, and I'll start bumping into them. I'm tempted to go into hiding.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The novelist André Berthiaume once made this wise observation:

"We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin."

I know exactly what he means...

That elastic was so tight, I lost three layers of epidermis just getting the hat off. And don't get me started on the nose hairs. One tug on that cardboard moustache, and I looked like Daniella Westbrook at the British Soap Awards.

Anyhoo, as a survivor of one of Amelie's dressing-up games (she's like Gok Wan crossed with a Nazi), I decided to aid my mental and physical recovery by getting out of the house for a few hours today. Unfortunately the rest of my family insisted on coming with me. And telling me where to go. So at 11:30 this morning, Lisa, Amelie, Toby and I found ourselves at the Monkey Bizness indoor play centre in Lewes. Queuing outside in the cold.

We've been there a few times in the past year, and Amelie's often had the place to herself. Even when we started climbing the walls on a bank holiday, it wasn't unbearably crowded. But today it was packed. Not only did we have to stand in line outside, but they restricted our session to two hours.

Obviously the news that we couldn't spend all day in a giant warehouse surrounded by screaming kids wasn't greeted with sorrow by every member of the family, but Amelie was a bit disappointed. Fortunately she made the most of her time. Not by climbing on the equipment or going down the slide, but by counselling groups of three-year-olds in her private office...

That's Amelie on the right. The boys on the left are undergoing a mixture of group therapy and hero-worship. I don't know where she gets it from. Both Lisa and I were fairly shy, quiet children, but Amelie's the kind of girl who can walk into a room the size of an aircraft hangar, see scores of kids she doesn't know, and promptly march up to them and start talking. By the end of our session, she'd held court in that corner with about eight different boys. I'm not sure if she's sociable or just easy.

Friday, February 01, 2013

It's a well documented fact that the creation of Toby took about two years longer than anticipated, and involved a lot of trauma, persistence and expense. Not to mention physical exhaustion from yours truly. The unexpected delay means that the age gap between Toby and Amelie is a bit larger than we hoped for, and our dreams of them both leaving home at the same time and never darkening our door again, are in serious jeopardy. Unless we can persuade Am to adopt her brother when we kick her out at sixteen.

As it transpires, however, a gap of four years has its advantages. In addition to making Toby laugh, dabbing his vomit, and rocking him to within an inch of his life on a daily basis, Amelie has now started reading to him...

We didn't even put her up to it. She just fetched a small bag of baby books, sat down beside him, and started reading her brother a story. And what's more, he loved it...

The photos are a little bit blurry, but that's because they were taken by Lisa, and she was still shaking with excitement from her first eBay sale. Amelie's LOVELY green dress eventually sold last night for £4.35, which exceeded all (well, most of) our expectations. Amelie's four now, which means we have a load of age 5-6 clothes she's growing out of, and a steady supply of products for the Gardner rag trade.

When we first found out that Toby was a boy, Lisa was disappointed that we wouldn't get any more use out of Amelie's LOVELY old outfits, but in reality we're sitting on a goldmine. Lisa's spent the afternoon sifting through drawers of Amelie's old dresses, and quite honestly we've got a lot that are nicer than the green one. Although our opinion might be skewed by the fact that we're now viewing each of them as a five pound note.

As for our first ever customer, we had a shock when the auction ended and we received her details. She's got the exact same name as a friend of ours in Bexhill, who happens to read this blog. For a moment we thought the auction had been won by a pity bid, and the German advance was just a phony war. But in reality it's pure coincidence. Unless our friend has moved to Sutton Coldfield and married another man. Which is possible, as I never get around to e-mailing her.