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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When I picked up Amelie from nursery yesterday, they handed me the usual daily form to sign, which is basically a legal document recording the number of jam sandwiches she ate at teatime, but on this occasion they'd added some extra info at the bottom. The lady told me that as they never have any problems to report about her (I had to double-check they'd got the right girl), she'd decided to write down something Amelie had said during the course of the afternoon. Which was slightly concerning, as our daughter tends to veer towards the rude side of tactlessness, and has no problem telling fat people that they're massive.

So I read the report with some trepidation, only to find that it said this:

"When you're older, you have to marry someone you like the look of."

Apparently Amelie had made that announcement to her classmates over tea. So I need to have a word with her about speaking with her mouth full. The sentiment, however, was well timed. Today is actually mine and Lisa's 9 year anniversary, which means it's now officially a long time since I liked the look of her.

First liked the look of her, I mean.

Back in 2011, Big Sis congratulated us with the words "I know so many people who have broken up after seven years", but fortunately we still like the look of each other just enough not to have added to that statistic. And with two children to look after, neither of us have the energy to walk out.

My parents vowed that they'd stop celebrating this anniversary after we got married in 2010, but they've kindly sent us the card on the left, which I think is their subtle way of reminding us that despite our outward appearance as a rock-solid family unit, we're still forcing them to raise one of our children. It's only a matter of time before Shimmy drags us onto The Jeremy Kyle Show to blame her life of crime and debauchery on her childhood abandonment issues.

But feline neglect aside, it's a day for unbridled celebration and indulgence. Preferably on the cheap. I e-mailed Lisa from work this morning, declaring my undying love and offering to buy her anything she likes, as long as it's from Asda and costs less than a fiver. She sent me this response:

"Belgian bun and Monster Munch please. I plan to celebrate our anniversary by becoming fat and unattractive. xxxxx

PS: Refrain from sending the reply you want to."

That was easier said than done.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I rarely shop with Sainsbury's on account of the fact that I went to a comprehensive school, and am therefore more suited to Asda, but they're currently offering free delivery for online grocery orders (providing you spend a hundred pounds, which we can do without even trying), and they sent me a £10 e-voucher last week to celebrate the fact that it's donkey's years since I last put in an order. I also had a few Nectar points gathering dust in the corner. So all in all, they were virtually paying me for my custom and offering me a free online trolley dash.

As a result, we had our shopping delivered yesterday morning by a bloke who was impressed that our lift didn't smell. So I presume he had a cold. Our order included some croissants for Lisa, who's the human equivalent of kryptonite to Dr Atkins, but we're on a tight budget, and I refuse to eat cheap asparagus, so we went with the Sainsbury's Basics range. And when it arrived, it said this...

"More marg than butter". Mmm... sounds tempting. Lisa was tempted to throw them in the bin. I appreciate Sainsbury's honesty though. Apparently the Basics lasagne says "More horse than cow". Although I might have made that up.

Anyway, for someone like Lisa, they might as well have stuck a label on it saying "50% DOG FAT". It put her right off. If I hadn't given her a speech about the starving people in India who'd love a cheap margarine croissant in the hundred degree heat, she'd have binned them instantly. Although next time we're going for the 'Taste the Difference' range. Mainly to see if you can.

Anyhoo, the bank holiday weekend is almost over and I haven't been out yet. Although I'm thinking of going into work this afternoon. I have, however, completed a case study presentation about a rare eye condition that was only discovered in the 1880s (so I think Jack the Ripper had something to do with it), and which has been the subject of less than sixty publications worldwide. Making it all the more remarkable that I've got some photos of it. It's just a shame I didn't take them.

I did, however, take them off my colleague, and have now turned them into a poster, which (I hope) will be displayed alongside my other poster at this year's leading ophthalmological conference. Or failing that, a cheap shindig in Newcastle. I'm basically trying to wallpaper the foyer.

Unfortunately, having been focused on eyes all weekend, I've lost sight of my other obligations. I had an e-mail last Wednesday from a pupil at an independent prep school in Missouri, USA, who's studying my micro fiction and wants a bit of advice, so big apologies to him for the lack of response. I'll get back to you by the end of the day. Assuming Amelie leaves me alone.

And then there's Jim Kitson. He e-mailed me this morning to say that he'll be doing a summer season at The National Theatre this year by appearing in 'The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable'. It's what they call a "promenade production", which basically means they don't let you sit down, and ticket prices start at £39.50, which is enough to buy you 46 packs of croissants, so I'm not sure we'll be attending. I wish him well though. As he said to me in his e-mail:

"I will be playing a tawdry washed-up thespian still hanging on tragically to his inflated opinion of his own abilities in the forlorn hope that one day fame might rescue him from the painful charade of his miserable existence.

Who knows how these casting decisions are made."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's hard to believe that I could have anything better to do than write this blog, but as it happens, I'm actually quite busy. I also have a raging sore throat which I think I've caught from my son, and explains why he's been as miserable as sin for the past forty-eight hours...

Although it doesn't help that he's being held by Freddy Krueger.

So while I press on with the seventeen things I need to do this morning, here's a video of Amelie encouraging the public to throw flowers at her feet with an open-air show in St Leonards...

She's generally more bolshy than Bolshoi, but I think she's doing pretty well. Let's face it, it's not every ballerina who has to contend with a rotary clothes line.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Exactly ten years ago today, Chloe and I were sitting on the sofa in our spacious two-bedroom flat in Suffolk, eating a tuna bagel and quietly minding our own business, when I received an e-mail out of the blue from a woman called Lisa who claimed to live in Brighton. On a whim, I decided to reply. And a full decade on, we're still paying for that decision...

We might have a sofa and a two-bedroom flat, but we're now forced to share it with three mentals. And none of them like tuna. The only thing keeping Chloe here is the fact that she's got her claw stuck in the upholstery.

Anyhoo, if you want to read the five carefully chosen words that Lisa used to win my heart exactly ten years ago today, you can do so here. Although you might be disappointed. Fortunately her communication skills have improved a bit since then. She can now question my actions with nothing more than a look.

Officially, we've only been in a relationship for nine years, but in reality, Lisa's been the only woman in my life for the past ten. And there were precious few in the twenty-nine before that. Even if you include my mother. A decade ago today marked the biggest turning point in my life, when I had the choice of either replying to an e-mail, or ignoring a potential nutter. And I think I made the right decision. Although Chloe might disagree.

It was another ten months before we actually met, but in the words of one of my favourite Ben Folds Five songs at the time, "I loved you before I met you, and I met you just in time". I think we knew we were made for each other long before we ever breathed the same air and shared the same pizza. Although I never imagined that a decade down the line, we'd have a daughter who knows the word 'rhinoplasty'. I really need to rein in her TV viewing habits.

Anyhoo, Lisa has made me laugh more in the past ten years than anyone in the previous twenty-nine, and I look forward to her e-mails just as much today as I did in 2003. Although the one she sent me at work on Tuesday morning lacked a certain something:

"I've got bad news. I'm really ill. Have been sick and keep going hot and cold. Feel terrible."

So she's clearly not witty every time. Unfortunately, I was twenty-five miles away in Horsham, but I came close to abandoning my patients and rushing home to a more ill one. In the end, however, Lisa made it through to five-thirty without me, and by yesterday morning felt fine, so I think it was just a ploy to get me to come home and look after the kids.

On the downside, Lisa's miraculous recovery has coincided with her mother's descent into ill health. She's been complaining of breathlessness and an irregular heartbeat this week, so she went to see her GP first thing this morning, and was instantly referred to Hove Polyclinic for an ECG. I received an urgent e-mail from Lisa at 10:45am asking if I could give her Mum a lift over to Hove for some emergency medical tests.

Despite being at work, I dropped everything, and asked for permission to leave immediately on a medical mercy dash across the city. I managed to secure that permission in double quick time, after which I called Lisa and instructed her to phone her Mum and tell her I was on my way.

The whole process took a matter of minutes. But tragically I was too late.

She hadn't died, she'd gone out shopping. I had to go back to my team leader and tell her I wouldn't be leaving after all. My mother-in-law might have been close to a heart attack, but with the cardiac unit three miles away, she'd decided to pop down to Morrisons.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The good thing about attending a party at a dance studio is that all the walls are lined with mirrors...

It's a narcissist's paradise. Which must be why Louie Spence is so happy.

Sunday's pre-schooler shindig was the fourth birthday party of one of Amelie's nursery friends, who not only has close links to showbusiness (I presume), but also happens to live in Worthing. It meant that after Saturday's tardiness disaster, Lisa and I had a second bite at the pre-party shoe shop cherry (there's a phrase I never thought I'd write), and this time, having risen at seven in the morning and done nothing but prepare for departure, we made it to Clarks Kids on time. At just after 1pm.

As a result, Amelie's now the proud owner of the summer sandals on the left. Although she hasn't worn them yet as it's constantly raining and her feet are cold. They're called 'Rio Flower Rose Hip', and according to the Clarks website, they "capture a carnival feel", meaning that this is officially the closest she's come to Brazil since I offered her a chocolate-covered nut at Christmas. And that was a lot cheaper. These cost £32, so I think shoes are a bit like underwear: the less material they contain, the more expensive they are.

Having maxed-out the credit card in Clarks, we then journeyed on to Worthing for some free food and drink. And we weren't disappointed. The dance studio is conveniently situated on a small industrial estate, three doors down from a mosque, and the parents of the birthday girl had hacked into the stage school's electronic coffee machine and ordered it to vend hot drinks free of charge all afternoon, so Lisa was in her element, and I was knee-deep in hot chocolate. Somehow, they'd managed to get a full size bouncy castle upstairs to the main dance hall, so while the kids were distracted by that, I had free reign at the buffet in the next room.

Tragically I don't know my own limitations, and the indigestion I suffered on the way home was enough to put me off samosas for life, but at the time, my happiness was roughly equivalent to this photo of Amelie...

To be honest, Lisa and I had secretly hoped that we might be allowed to dump the girl and leave, but as it transpired, I was glad we stayed. And not just for the free food. We got chatting to the mother of the only one of Am's nursery friends who will be going to the same school as her in September, and it turns out that she's the modern day equivalent of Quincy. Which is probably House. Either way, she's listed on the IMDB for her work on true crime shows, so if Amelie comes home from school with any suspicious injuries, we should be able to unmask the culprit.

Having blown out the candles on the fairy castle cake, the afternoon was rounded off nicely with a game of pass-the-parcel, which highlighted the one drawback of modern parenting principles. The organisers had clearly decided that every child should win a prize, so not only did the parcel have about twenty layers, but they'd put a bag of sweets in each one. As a result, it was the size of a pillow and too heavy for a four-year-old to lift. It wasn't so much 'pass-the-parcel' as 'heave-the-sack-with-the-help-of-a-parent'. And by the time they'd all got a bag of sweets, the kids lost interest in the game, and just sat there munching.

But that aside, it was a complete success, and by the end of the afternoon, Amelie was on the kind of manic high rarely seen outside of a bad case of bipolar. Despite my buffet-related stomach cramps, I managed to drive everyone home while Amelie drove us all mental. At least I think it was my daughter. When I told her to calm down and behave, she informed me that her name was Amelie Pickles, and denied all knowledge of that Gardner girl. At which point she carried on misbehaving. I think it might be time to stop her watching Rugrats...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's a well known fact that Lisa and I are 24-hour party people (the party being Labour)(in more ways than one), and we're currently in the middle of a hard-drinking weekender filled with a heady mix of fizzy pop and cocktail sausages. I've never known so many three-year-olds turn four in the same week.

This afternoon we're heading over to Worthing for a birthday party held in a dance studio, which should give me the chance to find out what Louie Spence is like when he lets himself go, but yesterday I saddled up the family for a ride over to Hove, and the birthday party of Lorraine's son, Harrison. He's grown up a lot since he last went on a date with Amelie, and has now reached the grand old age of four.

Amelie chose to go as a cowgirl, which is interesting as it wasn't a fancy dress party, while Harrison remained true to his Star Wars roots by carrying a lightsaber wherever he went. Unfortunately he then dressed up as Superman. The party itself started at 2:30pm, but we decided to pop into Hove on the way to go to a shoe shop and try on some summer sandals for Amelie, so it was 3 o'clock by the time we got there. Which might have been excusable if we'd actually made it to the shops. In reality, we didn't have time to stop on the way, and we still got there half an hour late. It doesn't bode well for Amelie starting school in September. We should probably start getting her ready now.

Anyhoo, just over two years ago, we attended a party at Lorraine's house, and I shot this great video of her ass...

Well, a lot's changed since then. But interestingly, not Lorraine's clothes...

They must be starting to smell by now. It's no wonder Stanley was keeping his distance.

Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that there was only one party-pooper refusing to stand up and get involved in all the fun. Yes, that's Lisa in the background, having one of her usual chilled-out Saturdays, taking it easy with a cup of tea at the kitchen table. God, how I wished I was with her.

Fortunately we weren't stuck indoors all afternoon. By the time Amelie and I had swept through the buffet like a couple of overweight locusts, we had no reason to stay inside, so we headed out to the garden for a superhero challenge...

Annie Oakley beats Clark Kent every time. It's not every girl that can outrun Superman, but she was riding a horse, so I suppose she had an unfair advantage. Closer inspection of her technique shows that she also beat him in the flying department...

She's got some kind of Pegasus flappy-arms winged-horse thing going on there.

Anyhoo, a good time was had by all, particularly Amelie, who refused to stick to our rehashed plan of going to the shoe shop on the way home, and insisted on staying at the party until all the shops were shut. Which was a shame, as it meant we were still there at the end for the 'Chase the Dads' event. Of course, if you think that being pursued across someone's garden by a threatening gang of juveniles sounds like a nightmare, you haven't experienced Lorraine's methods of gentle encouragement. Having been shoved through the patio doors with a slap so hard it nearly knocked out my fillings, I turned around to threaten our host with a lawsuit, only to find myself being kicked up the backside with a pointy stiletto and the words "Get your arse out there, Phil".

I think I'm too old to party...

Friday, May 17, 2013

I e-mailed a friend at work today and got her out-of-office auto-reply, which stated that she'd be away from her desk until late March. I think it's her way of announcing the imminent birth of her baby. Which is surprising as I didn't even know she was pregnant. Although I had my suspicions...

Anyhoo, here's what she can expect in nine months time...

That's Toby heading out of the kitchen with the resigned look of someone who's just narrowly failed to corner Chloe by the tumble dryer. He's picking up speed every day though, so it's only a matter of time.

And as it happens, he's not the only one making good progress at the moment. We've received Amelie's 'Individual Monitoring Sheet' for this term from the nursery, which is basically a school report for the under-fives, and in addition to a detailed evaluation of her strengths and weaknesses (the latter being jam sandwiches), it includes this direct quote from the girl herself:

She always did make rubbish towers.

More worrying, however, is this...

Very open about her home life??? I find that slightly terrifying. It's a miracle we haven't had social services on our doorstep. Let's face it, the moment they saw Amelie's visual representation of our flat as some kind of crumbling hovel, and then heard about what goes on here, they must have been tempted to give her Esther Rantzen's phone number.

To be honest though, I think they have a lot of sympathy for us. Having spent seventeen months looking after Amelie for three afternoons a week at that nursery, her key-worker's final comment is this:

That smiley face speaks volumes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The leopard's finished...

I think that's a genuine artistic triumph. I wasn't here when Amelie did it, but anyone who's seen Lisa's attempts at colouring will know it wasn't done by her, and Toby refuses to hold anything he can't eat, so it's pretty clear it was all my daughter's own work.

The other good news is that in addition to being able to access the internet at will, and print off anything she likes, she also knows where the scissors are, so she helped herself to those and cut out her own picture. I can see no possible downside to this situation. Apart from her imminent arrest for cyber crimes and loss of all her fingers.

Fortunately, we should have the money to pay her legal costs. Let's face it, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant sold over five million copies, and he didn't even have flowers in his hair. By the time I start marketing Fudd the Patchwork Leopard, we should all be set for life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

They say a leopard never changes its spots...

But if it's drawn by Amelie, it can certainly have them in a different colour. That's my daughter's current artwork in progress, although I should point out that she didn't draw the outline. Her own attempts at cats look a lot more like this...

... which is impressive, but marginally less life-like. The colouring above, however, is all her own work. Having started with the spots, she informed me proudly that "I'm doing this leopard in the proper colours", before realising that she’d made a terrible error, abandoning that idea, and promptly adding a bit of blue.

The most impressive thing about that picture, however, is not Amelie's ability to colour neatly inside the lines (in the wrong shade), it's the fact that she single-handedly logged on to the CBeebies website, found the drawing of a leopard, then turned on the printer, clicked on 'print', and produced it all on her own. It's a bit like Toby's constant crawling: we're proud that he can do it, but terrified of the power it gives him. I'm now expecting to come home from work one day to find Amelie printing out some porn pictures and a copy of Mein Kampf.

Worse still is that she's discovered where we keep the Blu-tac, and for the past week has been merrily sticking up all her own pictures. The felt-tip's barely dry on the paper, and she's climbing onto the back of the sofa to reach my stationery drawer, pulling out the Blu-tac, and attaching her artwork to a random wall, three feet off the ground. It's like living with Banksy. And it's annoying, because it makes it harder for us to bin them without her noticing.

Anyhoo, on the subject of great artworks, I spent the whole of yesterday evening on the sofa with a laptop, attempting to form my carefully crafted words and pictures into a conference poster which can be eye-catching in more ways than one. Suffice it to say, it didn't go well. My main mistake was to assume that when a poster is 119cm tall and 85cm wide, I can pretty much write what I like without running out of space. That turned out not to be true. By 9pm I was having to cut things out left, right and centre. Not to mention at the top and bottom.

As things stand right now, I basically have two options for successful completion of my case study. Either I rescale all my photos to the size of a postage stamp and provide every conference delegate with a magnifying glass, or I leave out the conclusion and present it as a whodunit. I'm leaning towards the latter.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Over the course of this weekend, I've gradually come to the conclusion that some kind of almighty, all-seeing higher power (possibly Lisa) is watching over me and telling me to quit the rat race and start working from home.

Actually, on the subject of rats, Amelie was playing a game on Saturday in which she was pretending to be a mouse called Emily (she clearly went on a long mental journey before coming up with that name). Unfortunately, during the course of the game, Lisa upset her by refusing to give in to her seventeenth unreasonable demand of the day, which resulted in Amelie throwing a mini-tantrum, stamping her feet, and telling Lisa that she doesn't like her any more. After which she scowled at her mother and stormed off into the next room. But as she did so, she paused in the doorway for a moment, pouted, and said:

"I'm going back to my mouse hole!"

Maybe you had to be there, but it was actually very funny. Lisa and I couldn't stop laughing for a good five minutes. Which only annoyed Amelie even more. I don't think she liked either of us after that.

But problem children aside, I've spent the past couple of weeks trying - and failing - to find some time during the course of my working days to write some stuff for a case study I'm hoping to present in the form of a poster at an upcoming conference. Unfortunately I've made very little progress. Unlike the retinopathy of the patient I'm presenting. Yesterday, however, I had a full timetable of childcare, and yet managed to get my work done as well.

Lisa took Amelie to church in the morning, and then to swimming in the afternoon, so when you factor in the time it took them both to get ready, and the hours they spent arguing about which shoes Amelie should wear, it meant that I was basically looking after Toby all day. Which is harder now that you can't put him down somewhere and expect him to still be there when you get back.

But in a moment of unbridled optimism, I opened a blank Word document in the morning, pulled up three medical journals, and then went about my daily chores. By the evening I'd done three lots of dishes, four loads of washing (we don't wear that many clothes, but I changed the bedding for all four of us, then did the towels, Lisa's slippers and a cat), put away our grocery delivery from Asda, prepared Toby's meals, tried to teach him to cruise (we don't live far from Duke's Mound), judged an art competition for Amelie, and wiped up quite a lot of vomit. And yet, in the midst of it all, my blank Word document was transformed into an 800-word case study. I might have only written 80 words an hour, but by the end of the day it was done.

The question is, do I need to take over all the babycare and start working from home, or do I just need Amelie to go out more..?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Certain members of this family like to spend their weekends just hanging around in their socks...

But sadly that's a luxury I can't afford. I was up at six-thirty yesterday morning and donning the steel-capped boots for phase 2 of Operation Clearout. The new wardrobe I'd ordered arrived on Thursday in two giant flat-packs, neither of which I could lift. They were numbered '1' and '2', and the men who delivered them told Lisa that it was important they were opened and assembled in the correct order. So I opened box number one first, laid out all the pieces, read the instructions... and discovered that the first piece I needed was in box number two.

Fortunately I had enough space to open that one as well. In fact, before cracking open the flat-packs, I'd virtually cleared the children's bedroom...

That took me from 7am until 8am. Basically, the moment Amelie was out of bed, I had it up on its end, and was dragging Toby's cot through the door and into the living room. The place wasn't quite as empty as this, but it was as close as it's ever been. Unfortunately, the corner where I planned to put the wardrobe was a bit more difficult to clear...

... occupied, as it was, by the cat-faced girl from 'The Ring' wearing a pair of ballet shoes. Amelie's reaction when she walked in was to exclaim "Wow, it's all blank!", although the fact that she'd had to clamber over a chair, two guitar cases and a cot just to get in there, should have given her a clue as to what to expect.

Anyhoo, I started putting the wardrobe together at 8am, and having worked my way through two DVDs and three mugs of tea, I finally emerged at 1pm with this...

Not only is it the gateway to Narnia, but it's the solution to all our problems. By the time I've filled it with Amelie's few remaining toys, and Toby's growing collection of clothes, we'll have the clutter-free show-home I've always dreamt of.

That's if Amelie will let me. I attempted to put her plastic Pet Hospital in there this morning, at which point she told me not to, because she doesn't play with it any more. I replied that in that case, we can get rid of it. To which she responded "No, because I like to see it there in the living room". Apparently it's purely decorative, but still indispensable.

Until the next time she goes to my parents...

Friday, May 10, 2013

We had a letter today from the Contracts Compliance Manager of the Property & Investment Team in Brighton & Hove City Council's Housing & Social Inclusion Department, inviting us to "an initial consultation meeting" to discuss the proposed work they're planning to carry out on our block of flats. It was signed thusly...

Never mind the building works, I want to meet the council to discuss that signature. I've never seen anything like it. Amelie does entire drawings that require less effort. Not only does Ben cross out his own name in three different directions, but he then attempts to decorate it with a bit of shading. It's a bloody work of art. I'm just amazed he ever gets anything done. By the time he's signed a couple of letters, it must be time to go home.

Anyhoo, on the subject of good signs, current indications are that Amelie feels a bit better. Despite eating next to nothing yesterday, and complaining of constant tummy-ache, she slept like a log all night, and emerged looking a lot better this morning. Once she started eating again, she didn't stop, and as things stand right now, it's ten minutes before bedtime, and she's standing here with more make-up than a clown, dressed in a tutu, and performing a self-choreographed ballet show. So I think she's over the worst.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

One of my patients today was a famous former footballer. So famous, in fact, that I actually knew who he was. Although I was helped by the other patients in the waiting room who kept bothering him for an opinion on the next manager of Man United. Whoever they are. By the time I called him in, even I'd twigged that he must be some kind of expert.

Tragically, I was born without the bloke gene, so I steered away from football and beer, and talked about his eyes instead. Which isn't quite as gay as it sounds. Although he did have very nice ones. Anyway, we got on famously (him more than me), and he shook my hand at the end. Which was a bit of a relief, as I was worried he might ask to swap shirts.

Unfortunately, back in the non-celebrity world, things are far less peachy. And more pineappley. Amelie went down with sickness and diarrhoea overnight, and by the time I got up at 6am this morning, Lisa had changed her bedding twice, and installed a bucket in every room. Amelie's currently obsessed with tinned pineapple chunks, so living here is a bit like being at a 1970s dinner party, and at first we thought that was the explanation for her throwing up. She'd downed enough fruit yesterday to make the man from Del Monte say no.

But as her symptoms progressed, it soon became apparent that she had a genuine bug. Not apparent to me, obviously - I was blissfully asleep, and unaware of the trauma - but apparent to Lisa, who went without sleep to look after her. Amelie emerged from her bedroom at 7am this morning, and I've never seen such a sad little face. Mainly on Lisa, who was hoping she'd sleep a bit later, but also on Amelie, who wanted to know why her tummy hurt so much.

I left for work at seven-thirty, but word reached me at 10am that Am had been sick again, and by lunchtime she was back in bed. Which is where Lisa wanted to be. I popped to the nearest charity shop and bought a cuddly toy to cheer up my daughter, but what my wife needed was more sleep. So that's where she is now: getting some bed rest to recover from Amelie's illness. They say it's the parents who suffer more.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

I've just had this e-mail from the tax avoiders at Google...

I'm not sure I'd ever associate with someone who went to a Comprehensive, but I do like a nice chicken dharamsala, so I might add that bloke to my circles. He looks like he could use a few friends. As for John Richards, I'm sure we've got nothing in common. Apart from that person.

Anyhoo, I've spent the afternoon doing four hours of optical coherence tomography and fundus photography whilst simultaneously researching the role of severe hyperlipidaemia in the progression of proliferative retinopathy for a pictorial case study. But most people will probably be more interested in this...

He's heading in the right direction. Although let's face it, he started the day by rolling off the duvet and getting stuck down the side of the bedside cabinet while Lisa was trying to open the biscuit tin. So after that, the only way is up.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Another day, another swing...

I'm beginning to understand why people used to let their kids stay with Michael Jackson. It's easier than taking them to the park every day. And he probably had staff to push them on the swings.

I imagine the level of pest control at the Neverland Ranch was a lot better than it is here too. Which would have avoided the mini trauma we encountered yesterday. We'd not long been back from our swingers party in the park when Amelie headed into the bathroom to powder her nose (and apply various other bits of make-up). Within seconds, we heard a scream, and she emerged in floods of tears and close to a panic attack. I assumed she'd somehow had an accident, and asked her what she'd hurt, but as it transpired, it was only her feelings.

Through the panicky sobs, she told us that the bathroom contained "a big brown insect with lots of legs", which had terrified her to such an extent that she was on the verge of moving house. It turned out to be an inch-long centipede, which might not sound like much, but was enough to get Lisa packing her bags alongside her daughter. So I was forced to step in and take decisive action. Which basically involved picking it up on the bathroom mat, tipping it into the sink, and flushing it down the plughole. It clung on for a while with at least fifty of its hundred legs, but eventually I emerged victorious. After which Amelie demanded to know where it had come from, and sought assurances that I wouldn't let any more of them into the flat. I was forced to close the bathroom window for a start.

It was ironic, as an hour earlier, she'd been happily sitting on the grass with all manner of creepy-crawlies...

And I don't mean Toby. Although he is crawling quite well now (honestly). As a general rule though, they both prefer the car...

Bonnie & Clyde, eat your heart out.

Monday, May 06, 2013

They say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world...

Which explains why Amelie has ultimate power and we all have to do what she says. I didn't want to go to the park yesterday, but frankly resistance was futile.

Anyhoo, that's Toby on the nine-month-old's equivalent of a white-knuckle ride. It's so scary, he has to close his eyes and cling on for dear life. Or maybe he's just asleep. Either way, we successfully reunited our children yesterday by driving over to St Leonards to pick up Amelie from my parents' holding pen. I'd spent the morning finishing off my 24-hour Changing Rooms Special by shampooing all the carpets, which meant that by midday, the only thing left to do was to place this little item in a prominent position on the living room table...

That's my plea for clemency. And the ace up my sleeve. It occurred to me that if I was going to purge Amelie's room of all her junk, I might need something with which to distract her when she returned home to an empty flat. So whilst carrying out my dawn raid at Argos on Saturday, I bought her that make-up set.

Amelie might only be four-and-a-half, but she already loves make-up. My parents bought her some children's cosmetics for Christmas, and she's spent the past few months copying Lisa by applying blusher, lipstick and nail polish. Mostly to her own body, but occasionally to mine and Lisa's. She's proved surprisingly mature about it, and has virtually used up all her supplies, so despite the media's concerns about the sexualisation of children, and girls growing up too fast, I knew that the one thing which would make my pre-schooler happy was to buy her a range of cosmetics.

So I left that on the table where her toys used to be, and we drove over to St Leonards to show off Toby's advanced crawling skills to my parents...

He clearly needs a good reason to get off his backside. He's like his father in that respect.

Anyhoo, having volunteered to clear my parents' lunch table of food, I eventually succumbed to Amelie's request to take her to the local park, so while Lisa and my parents found better things to do, I took the kids out for half an hour. Which ended up taking two hours. It's not easy getting Amelie away from those swings.

Amelie was very keen to go; I definitely wasn't; and Toby was on the fence...

But ultimately we all had a good time. It might not have always looked like it...

But the fact is that Toby wasn't as terrified as he made out. In reality he had a whale of a time. He probably spent longer on those swings that his sister, and liked them so much, he even started licking them at one point. It was a fine line between whipping him into excitement and rocking him to sleep, but he spent a lot of the time laughing...

We eventually returned to my parents' house ninety minutes later than planned, which gave me just enough time (ie. 15 minutes) to wash my car, before speeding back to Brighton in time for our grocery delivery from Tescos. The driver kindly informed me that our shopping weighed 86.5 kilograms, which made me glad I didn't have to carry it in from the car, but he told me that some people's orders weigh in the hundreds. Apparently he tries to take annual leave when the mineral water's on special offer.

As for the cosmetics, they were spotted approximately thirty seconds after we got through the door. And they've proved a massive hit. Her toys might be heading for the nearest landfill site and charity shop, but that girl is as happy as Larry. Assuming Larry is a drag queen who applies his own make-up.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

As it transpires, the answer is "Quite hard, actually"...

You wouldn't believe I put almost an hour's work into that. Or maybe you would. It looks like a fat person wearing ill-fitting clothes. And it's not as comfortable as it looks. The back cushion's too big for the seat, so you end up perching on the edge like an oversized Ronnie Corbett.

So that photo was taken shortly before I took it all apart again. I've decided it looks better with a bit of bare wicker and a couple of scatter cushions. It's a case of less is more.

But my upholstering aside, it's been a successful day. I woke up this morning (or last night, depending on your point of view) at 4:30am, and having lain in bed for half an hour thinking about the 101 things I wanted to do today, I decided the best thing was to get up and start doing them.

By 9:15am, I'd already filled three bin bags with rubbish, and was standing in a branch of Argos, waiting for a bookcase, a DVD stand and a shower hose to come rolling down the conveyor belt. By lunchtime, I'd cleaned all the mould from the children's bedroom, sorted through all their belongings, rearranged half their furniture, and put together the bookcase and the DVD stand to house the scant few things I was letting them keep.

By 4pm, when I took my sixth sack of refuse down to the rubbish area, and hoovered the newly discovered floor in the bedroom, I felt exhausted, but had carried out the kind of transformation that Carol Smillie and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen would have been proud of. Although much like a lot of Laurence's work, it's likely to prove unpopular with the client.

The good news is that whilst I've been shut in the kids' bedroom like a slave on a gypsy site, Toby's been next door in the living room, mastering the art of crawling. He's come on in leaps and bounds today. Quite literally. I'd have filmed him if I hadn't been so busy.

As it transpires, however, he's not the only member of the family who's been showing off their skills today. Word reached us this afternoon that just five months after creating the lyrically ambiguous (and essentially tuneless) modern masterpiece that is 'Twinkling Stars', Amelie has come up with an entirely new, self-penned composition.

Not only did she sing it to me over the phone before going to bed, but she also laid down a demo on camera. So, thanks to the miracle of e-mail, and a swift bit of editing, it gives me great pleasure to present the world premiere of 'Singalong Popstar'...

Amelie's the one on the right. And it's great that she can make her own entertainment. It'll make it easier for her when she comes home to find all her toys gone.

Friday, May 03, 2013

What do you get if you cross The Wicker Man with Ronnie Corbett..?

That's Toby preparing for a weekend of house-clearance, decluttering and down-sizing. Yes, the good thing about Amelie being four-and-a-half is that she can't read my blog, and has no idea I'm about to chuck out all her stuff.

Since Amelie's room became Amelie & Toby's room, we've been under increasing pressure to create a bit of space, and with Toby now at an age where he's acquiring numerous toys of his own, we've reached the point where drastic action is required. Storage space is at a premium, so I've gone into debt and ordered a new wardrobe for the kids' bedroom, but to fit it in there, we first have to get rid of the armchair I bought three years ago.

The sofas have always lived in the living room, but the matching chair has been in the corner of the bedroom since we moved in, where it's been used for bedtime stories, late night cuddles, and the occasional bit of bouncing. Amelie loves it, but it takes up far too much space, and now that she stays up later than Toby, she rarely gets a story there anyway. So frankly it has to go.

Unfortunately, even if we wanted to give it to a good home, we couldn't get it out of the flat in one piece unless we knocked down a few walls and widened the front door. So my parents popped over yesterday with a power saw, and my Dad and I set about turning it into firewood. It took about an hour. Half of which was spent trying to work out how to get the cover off. We didn't notice the zips at the side.

The upshot of it all is that the armchair is now a footnote in history, and we have a space in the corner of the room. Which I'll soon be filling with bin bags of Amelie's toys. My parents have taken her back to St Leonards for two days to spare her feelings, so I have less than forty-eight hours to clear her room of clutter without scarring her for life.

Fortunately I have a master plan. I'm going to distract her from the heartbreaking lack of toys by giving her a new (and much smaller) chair. And that chair is the one above. It might look like the the breastfeeding chair I bought for Lisa when Toby was three days old, but that's because I haven't finished it yet. Let's face it, I haven't even started it.

I have, however, saved all the bits of foam, fabric, cushions and covers from the old armchair, and I'm combining them with a lot of unfounded optimism. So by the time Amelie returns on Sunday, I'll have transformed that small wicker seat into a luxurious state-of-the-art piece of furniture. I have no experience, knowledge or skills in upholstery, and I struggle to sew on a button, but let's face it, how hard can it be..?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The main problem with me filming Toby crawling forwards, aside from the fact that I'm at work all day, and he won't do it on demand, is that he's got a cold at the moment, and every video I shoot looks like Bill Murray doing the ectoplasm scene in Ghostbusters. I feel slightly guilty too, as he caught the cold from me, but whilst I've fought off the virus like a trooper (ie. with quite a lot of swearing) Toby's nose is still running faster than his sister at bedtime. So I'm holding off from filming him until the boy looks a bit more presentable. Which, if he takes after his father, could take about thirty years.

In the meantime, something else I've failed to capture on film is Amelie's evolution from a doodling pre-schooler to a bona fide street artist. When I picked her up from nursery yesterday, she was out in the garden, which is actually a large tarmacked yard at the back, with a slide and a wendy house. As I walked out there, I noticed that the ground was covered in chalk drawings of flowers, with row upon row of pretty coloured flora stretching as far as the eye could see. And there, on the other side of the yard, was Amelie, down on her hands and knees, holding a piece of chalk.

The flowers numbered in the dozens, if not scores, so I naturally assumed it had been some kind of group activity that afternoon. But apparently not. The young nursery assistant informed me that while the other children had been playing all around her, Amelie had taken it upon herself to live up to her surname and turn the nursery’s concrete jungle into a beautiful garden by drawing different coloured flowers on the ground.

By the time I arrived, she'd covered most of the yard with artwork, and transformed the place single-handed. I was just annoyed I didn't have my camera. And grateful she hadn't done it at home. I commented to the assistant that Amelie was a bit like Banksy – in fact her work looked a lot like this - but the woman had no idea what I meant. Frankly she was more Blanksy than Banksy. They clearly don't teach street art at childcare college.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

At the risk of making his life sound far more exciting than it is, my Dad is 74 years old, lives in Hastings, and drives a Hyundai. Which is like a car, only cheaper. So it's slightly disconcerting to get up on a Wednesday morning, turn on the computer, and read this on The Argus website...

I had to e-mail my Mum first thing this morning just to confirm that my Dad was still alive. I'd have phoned, but I didn't want to get caught up in a long conversation about my father's sudden and violent death, in case I was late for work.

Fortunately, it transpired that my Dad was still in bed, and the closest he'd come to a head-on collision with a tree was the moment his bald spot brushed against the headboard. So that was reassuring. On the downside, it appears that men of his age are now classified by The Argus as "elderly", so he might have to swap his Hyundai for a mobility scooter. Which will probably be more expensive.

Anyhoo, on the subject of mobility, the big news from around here is that Toby is finally getting off his backside, putting his best foot forward, and gaining enough momentum to move in the right direction. He's been confidently crawling backwards for the past few weeks, but without a rear view mirror it invariably results in him reversing into Amelie's dolls house, or under the nearest chair. He basically backs himself into a corner and quickly runs out of options.

In the past couple of days however, he's begun to achieve the kind of advanced levels of coordination rarely seen since Amelie learnt how to do Gangnam Style. He's still travelling backwards more often than not, but he's managing to mix it up a little by throwing in the odd stride forward. I don't think he's quite worked out the difference, so he's a bit like the woman in this video...

... but as things stand right now (and let's hope he doesn't quite yet), he's got about a 30% chance of going in the direction he wants to. He was nine months old yesterday, so he's still a way behind his sister, who was confidently raiding the tuck shop at the age of seven months, but quite honestly, if he ends up a little less active than Amelie, it will be a blessed relief.