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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

After three days of celebrations, I think we can finally stop setting fire to bakery products...

I'm in my forties, Toby's a yearling, and we're all going to heaven. You can't ask for much more from a long weekend.

Toby spent his first birthday dressed as a bee and watching SpongeBob SquarePants...

But only until Amelie spotted him with the iPad. After that, it was back to the building blocks. He's actually wearing two of his presents there. The bee outfit came courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, while the running shoes came from Big Sis. They're a pair of Skidders, a curiously titled brand of footwear which is designed to do the exact opposite of what the name suggests. They look a bit like clown shoes there, but they're actually very nice.

In addition to clothes, toys, and the rockiest bear since Hofmeister, Toby received an array of cards, including this fine example from his parents...

It might look impressive there, but in reality it's the size of a postage stamp. Which makes sending it difficult. Lisa reverted back to the smallest option at, on the grounds that Toby barely knows what day of the week it is, and lives his life in a constant state of bewilderment, so the chances of him remembering our penny-pinching in later life, and holding it against us, are reassuringly slim. Which also explains our lack of presents.

But the good news is that whilst his parents made the minimum effort, his sister went the extra mile. When I picked up Amelie from nursery yesterday, one of the staff members came over to me and asked if it was Toby's birthday. I confirmed that it was, and she told me that Amelie had announced that fact to her classmates, and then insisted on making him a card. She then handed me this...

That's Toby crawling in his bee outfit, surrounded by hearts, kisses and flowers, while Amelie cheers him on. And inside, she's written this...

She might be a nightmare for about twelve hours a day, but she loves her baby brother. I'm going to bring out that card in a few years time when Toby says he hates her.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's Toby's first birthday!

Yes, this time last year, Lisa was punching a midwife and I was standing in a puddle of poo. We've got so many happy memories.

But enough about Toby. The important thing is that it was my 40th yesterday. And very nice it was too. If you're old, and don't yearn for excitement. I received a number of fine birthday cards, such as this one...

... this one...

... and this one...

... the last of which was surprisingly large. Lisa has a habit of selecting the smallest option at, but as she wrote inside this one, "Dear Phil, I love you so much I paid for the bigger sized card". It also meant that she didn't have to fold the concert tickets which were inside. She's bought me two seats (I can no longer stand for two hours) to see Deacon Blue at the Brighton Centre. It's not until December, so I've got plenty of time to decide who to take with me. And to forget the whole thing entirely.

The good news is that if my failing memory does hold out long enough for me to see a group of middle-aged musos churning out thirty-year-old hits, then I'll be able to enjoy it in comfort, as I also received some slippers. I'll be asking for a pipe next year. Amongst my other gifts were a few CDs, and I'm now in a position to sing 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' with complete conviction, as my brother gave me this book.

So having opened all my presents, Amelie and I headed out for my birthday treat: a trip to the cinema to see Monsters University. Lisa couldn't go, as her A-level results were disappointing and she had a baby to look after. The film turned out to be good, without being great, and it never really came close to matching the wit and invention of Monsters Inc. It definitely had its moments though, and Amelie sat through it without moaning, which is always a bonus. Personally I thought the highlight was The Blue Umbrella, which they showed beforehand. That had invention in spades. Although seven minutes was enough for Am.

After the cinema, we had twenty minutes on an inflatable slide at the marina, before trawling around the shops for nothing in particular. Which is precisely what we bought. My main aim was to allow Lisa to share in my birthday fun by keeping Amelie away from her for as long as possible. I was also secretly hoping that if I stayed out long enough, I'd come home to find my wife hiding inside a giant cake with tassels on her nipples.

As it transpired, I returned home to something even more surprising. It was a parcel containing this...

At the risk of offending everyone who's ever given me a gift, I think that's possibly the best birthday present I've ever had. The photo doesn't really do it justice, but it's actually an original collage made up of items which define me. Everything from the computer keys which make up my name, to the bloody fingerprint of Peter Marlin, the coffee-stained lyrics and the cheap, slightly broken, guitar is brilliantly and cleverly designed to highlight an aspect of my life, my career and me. Not only is it a work of art, but it's a work of bloody genius. And I love it.

It comes from the Milton Keynes art house of Jon Cheshire, a man with more talent in his little finger than most people have in their entire bodies. Although he does have big hands. He already fulfils two out of the three entry requirements for the YBA, and if Charles Saatchi doesn't start collecting his work forthwith, I might have to strangle him at a restaurant.

So thanks, Jon. And thanks to everyone who gave me a card, a present or a word of advice. I'll take them all, and I'll treasure them. Although whether I'll last another forty years is debatable.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My life has begun...

And thanks to a possible case of dyscalculia at the bakery, I've got a cake designed for a 4-year-old. As Amelie said when she saw it, "Only a child would like that cake, Daddy".

But fortunately I'm a big kid at heart, and I love it. Particularly the brown bits around the sides. So big thanks to my Mum for slaving away over a hot credit card in order to get it for me. It's fab. And it's also half-eaten. I've been up since seven.

Anyhoo, there's no better way to see out your thirties than with the people you love, so I spent yesterday hanging out with waiters, chefs, and anyone with access to food. But I also spent some quality time with my friends and family...

Lisa had hired a personal bodyguard to stand behind her all day in case of any unexpected attacks. She has a tendency to close her eyes in photos, so she wouldn't see it coming. And yes, that is a gun in his pocket. Although he was quite pleased to see us as well.

Yesterday was actually Toby's baptism, and as a god-fearing family with catholic tastes, it gave us an opportunity to dress up in our Sunday best and head down to church for a good old-fashioned knees up. And knees down. Frankly, I had no idea when I was supposed to stand, sit or kneel, and Lisa basically had to prod me in the ribs every time, but I somehow got through the service without offending an entire religion. I think.

We did have the odd moment of panic, such as when we proceeded gracefully down to the font of the back of the church, only to realise that we'd left Toby's shawl in the pew at the front. I was forced to run the entire length of the church like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code. I'm also slightly concerned that I've snuffed out Toby's everlasting life. The priest handed me a lit candle halfway through the ceremony, along with a speech about the eternal light of God never being extinguished. But I was worried about hot wax dripping onto my hand, so I blew it out.

Obviously if Toby relies on me, then we're all going to hell, but fortunately he's got some cracking godparents to call on...

With such an important role to fulfil, we selected them primarily on whether or not they'd agreed to adopt one of our kittens. But Marie's allergic to cats, so we let her in by default. The others are Stefan, Andrew and H (not from Steps). Lisa's sister is a godparent too, but she'd popped out to buy a loaf of bread, so she couldn't be in the photo.

My extended family were there too, but unfortunately you can't take them anywhere...

They're more happy-clappy than high church, and they're clearly leading me astray. I'm scared to enlarge that photo in case the priest is looking out of the window.

Anyhoo, unlike our wedding, the baptismal service went without a hitch, and we celebrated the removal of Toby's sin with a bit of gluttony in the church hall. Between us, we managed to get through one and a half cakes and three bottles of Shloer, which was enough to put a smile on Amelie's face...

She was also particularly pleased because Stefan and Andrew had just presented her with a ballerina music box from Pointes et Merveilles in France, which has instantly become her most treasured possession. Toby tried to touch it last night, which prompted her to shout "No, Toby! That's very precious to me!". She sounded like Gollum with a ring.

Fortunately, Toby received a few keepsakes of his own, most notably a ride-on rocking bear, which is the kind of item I wish they'd make for adults. We can do bare back riding, but it's not quite the same thing.

After a successful morning in church, our heavenly godparents departed en masse, and my family insisted on taking me out for a birthday lunch. It would have been rude to decline, and I'd only had two large pieces of cake, so I politely accepted, and we headed straight down to the marina for something a bit more healthy...

Unfortunately, with our birthdays only one day apart, I was forced to share the occasion with my son...

But today's a different matter. I'm doing exactly what *I* want to do. And I want to go and see 'Monsters University' at the cinema. Fortunately, Amelie's agreed to take me. That girl is selfless to the extreme.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I can't bear people who sit on the fence...

But fortunately Amelie's never been scared to voice an opinion. And it's usually the opposite of mine. Frankly I wish she'd shut up sometimes. Only yesterday she called me a kibble-brain and told me I've got no talent. And all because I sang in the car.

But I had good reason to express my high spirits through the medium of song, because we were on the way to see Big Sis. Toby's being wiped clean of his original sin at a Catholic baptism this morning, after which I turn forty and he turns one, so with a triple celebration on the cards, the various factions of the Gardner family army are descending on Sussex. It's a bit like the Battle of Hastings, but with cake. Big Sis and her boyfriend were driving to St Leonards from Wiltshire yesterday, so we arranged to meet them for lunch at Brighton Marina.

Unfortunately things never go according to plan. An accident involving a crane on the M25 delayed them by an hour, and after a couple of hasty phone calls and some impromptu Googling, we changed our venue to The Plough at Pyecombe, to save them driving into town. And I'm glad we did, because it was actually very nice.

That's a photo of it on the wall behind us. Although I don't think you could take a similar view of it today without standing on a petrol pump at the BP garage. Toby seems to have the face of an old man in that photo. Which is handy, as it distracts the eye from the fact that I'm using the back of a chair to support my rolls of fat.

Anyhoo, the menu at The Plough is longer than War & Peace, but the food is surprisingly good. They also have a large outdoor area complete with extensive canopies which simultaneously shade you from the sun, and protect you from unexpected downpours. Both of which we experienced. The meal gave Amelie the chance to fill in her aunt on the nitty-gritty of her recent break-up, which she insisted was quite upsetting (she's clearly more stoic than we realised), after which Big Sis kindly gave her a French plait. Which should help to make her kissing more authentic, and win her a new man.

Big Sis and beau had to dash off halfway through dessert, which is generally how I avoid paying, so I presume they had a lot of birthday presents to wrap. Lisa and I selflessly finished the banoffee pie, and then decided to head up to the nearby Ditchling Beacon. By the time we got there, Toby had fallen asleep in the car, so Lisa decided to do the same while Amelie and I took photos of each other with the scenery...

I told you she could express a strong view.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Toby and I might be the ones rocketing towards major birthday milestones, and the inevitable hair loss that follows, but Amelie seems to be the one getting all the cards. Last Sunday she received the one on the left from her Great Aunt, who's attempting to weasel her way into my daughter's affections by saying it with ferrets.

The card accompanied a small jewellery box, which contains the closest thing we have to a family heirloom. Up until now, the only gift that's been passed down to me through the generations is the fat gene, but thanks to my aunt, that personal history of disappointment has finally been broken. Although she's given it to Amelie, not me.

The top of the box says this:

... which is slightly spooky, as it was printed about thirty years before my Dad came on the scene and my Mum became a Gardner. The box was bought in 1933 from H.S. Gardiner of Caversham, who, much like myself, seamlessly combined eye care with bling. They also had the kind of phone number that even I can remember. According to the card (which I read when Amelie wasn't looking), the necklace inside was given to my Mum's cousin on 6th September 1933, when she was six years old and a bridesmaid at my grandparents' wedding.

Somehow, the necklace moved from my Mum's cousin to my aunt (possibly as a result of theft), and now she's handed it down to her great niece, Amelie. Who'll be putting it straight on eBay.

I'm joking, of course. It's far too good for eBay. I'm thinking Sotheby's or The Antiques Roadshow. My aunt insists it's not worth anything in monetary terms, but I suspect she's only saying that to stop us taking it down Cash Converters.

But while we're mentally spending our riches, Amelie has received another card in the post...

That one's come from the school she'll be starting at in September, and features photos of her new classroom, teachers and assistants. The computer monitors look older than the staff, but I'm loving the train in the playground. As for the words inside, well they convey a very sweet message, welcoming Amelie to her new school and telling her that they can't wait to meet her. An opinion which might change when they do. They also ask her to make her own 'treasure box' over the summer, decorate it in any way she likes, and then "fill it with 3 special things that you could show and talk about with your new friends". She has to take it with her on her first day. So we'll have lost that necklace by the first week in September.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Although her life revolves mainly around SpongeBob SquarePants on Netflix, Amelie also enjoys watching 'Milkshake' on Channel 5 every morning. It gives her the chance to see adverts, and then annoy us with endless requests for toys. For anyone on a dairy-free diet who might be unfamiliar with Milkshake, it's basically Richard Desmond's version of Cbeebies, and features Peppa Pig, presumably because pigs have more nipples.

Personally I'm a bit lactose-intolerant, and would rather digest the cheese of Aled Jones on Daybreak (which is saying something), but generally I don't get the choice. So we were watching Milkshake at half past six this morning, when they mentioned a competition to win a day out at Flamingo Land. Which is like Bird World, only more pink. To be in with a chance of winning this trip of a lifetime to Yorkshire, all you have to do is draw a picture of your favourite Milkshake character with an animal. Which is handy, as I wouldn't mind seeing The Little Princess mauled by a lion.

Needless to say, Amelie's not one to pass up a prize-winning opportunity, so by 6:35am she'd knocked up this little effort...

That's Ben & Holly running with a cheetah. Although I think it looks more like a buffalo with measles. Either way though, I'm actually very impressed. Particularly as she did it in less than five minutes. If she wasn't displaying signs of ADHD, she'd be producing genuine works of art.

In reality, Ben & Holly look like this...

So not only has she got the hats and hair right, but she's done some highly accurate eyelashes. The girl's a bloody genius.

Unfortunately, the reason they mentioned the competition this morning is because they're announcing the winner tomorrow. The closing date was weeks ago. So Amelie's got as much chance of going to Flamingo Land as I have of going to Mars. But I'll tell her this is the Channel 5 website, show her the picture tomorrow, and then take her out to feed the seagulls. She'll be none the wiser.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I entered the final week of my thirties yesterday, so by this time next week, my life should have truly begun. And about time too. Unfortunately, my options for a mid-life crisis are pretty limited as I can't afford a sports car and don't have the energy for an affair, so instead I've started French kissing my daughter.

As it happens, kissing is quite a big thing in this house. Only yesterday, Amelie threw a complete tantrum because I kissed Toby goodnight before she did. As a general rule, nobody's allowed to leave the flat or get in and out of bed without snogging the rest of the family, and Amelie always has to be first. The problem last night was that just before puckering up at bedtime, Toby had the ill manners to throw up, which put Amelie off kissing him. Fortunately I'm far less fussy. So I gave him a peck on the forehead as Lisa wiped his chops, and Amelie immediately kicked off.

I eventually quelled that rebellion by promising that she can kiss her brother twice tonight, but the other potential minefield is the delicate choice of wording at bedtime. Anyone who bids Toby goodnight with the same words as Amelie can expect to feel the sharp edge of her tongue. And not in a French kissing way. She generally says "Nighty-night Whoably Woo, I love you", which might not sound like the kind of phrase you'd want to copy, but if she catches even the slightest whiff of plagiarism (the words 'nighty-night' can be dangerous), you'll be in serious trouble. I've resorted to saying "See ya, son" just to avoid any problems.

The French kissing, though, is a new thing. I have to kiss all three members of my family before being allowed to leave for work in the morning (and then again if I come home for lunch), so in an attempt to spice up our lives with a bit of variety, I told Amelie yesterday morning that in France they kiss each other on both cheeks instead of just one, and then demonstrated by giving her a chat-show-style, showbiz luvvie greeting.

Unfortunately, the bit she remembered was the word 'France'. So when I was about to leave for work this morning, she shouted "Daddy! I want you to give me a French kiss again!". And she was standing by the wide-open balcony door at the time. It'll be all over the estate by nightfall. And she's probably told everyone at nursery this afternoon. So I'm all set to start my forties in a prison cell.

Monday, July 22, 2013

As Gok Wan will tell you, if you want to look cool and hot this summer, you just need to put on a pair of dark glasses and sit in the direct sun...

It's all about the confidence. At first glance, it might look like there was a half price sale on red cloth and denim at the RNIB day centre, but in reality we're just stylishly acquiring sunburn.

Sadly, Amelie wasn't permitted to be in that photo as she refused to adhere to the Gardner family dress code, but we did let her pose in this one...

I've always said that Lisa's face lights up a room, but frankly she's looking radioactive. As is our daughter. I've seen pregnant royals going through labour with less of a glow. You'd think they'd been on a weekend break to Chernobyl.

Anyhoo, as the photo above demonstrates, the radiant beauty of my family is keeping my mother firmly in the shade, but if you're wondering why there appears to be two of her, it's because the other one's my aunt. They have to wear different coloured skirts so that people can tell them apart. Especially as they both cooked my Sunday lunch. I didn't know which one to order a drink from.

My giddy aunt lives in the peat bogs of East Anglia, and hasn't been this far south since last August when Toby was a young-looking babe in my arms. As was Lisa. But she's currently staying at my parents' house for a few days, which is why we made the journey over there yesterday. The result was a relaxing Sunday spent sitting in my parents' garden, and wishing we had more than a bit of fake grass on a balcony. Although, as my Mum pointed out, hers takes a bit more work. Let's face it, it's not every lawn that requires less than two minutes a week with a Dustbuster.

On the plus side, the expanse of grass gave me a chance to compare my two children...

That's Amelie on the left, in June 2009, and on the right is Toby yesterday. There's clearly quite a difference in height. The grass on the left is much taller. But you can tell the pair share the same genes. Not to mention the same pudgy arms, and a hairstyle modelled on Hitler. It's just that Amelie got there sooner. She was less than 8½ months in that photo, whereas Toby's almost one. It's becoming clear that she'll always look down on him.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back in my day, a child was doing well if he could persuade a ZX81 to display his own name on a black & white screen before it crashed for no apparent reason. These days, Amelie can access the internet unaided, navigate to the Cbeebies website, find the Swashbuckle page, and then upload a family photo and turn herself into a pirate...

And all before she's five. By the time she's ten, she'll be running Wikileaks.

Anyhoo, the sun is shining and the sea is blue, so we're setting sail for St Leonards, where we plan to board the old folks' home and rob a few pensioners of their pieces of eight. Well, their After Eight mints. And their Werther's Originals. Lunch is at one-thirty, so it's time I wasn't here...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

They didn't mention this in the Ofsted report...

Personally I'd knock points off for the quality of their marker pens, but other than that, you've got to hand it to Amelie's nursery. It's not every pre-school that can turn out fully qualified superheroes. Prior to yesterday, Amelie was a lot more Barry Scott than Alan Scott, but after ninety minutes at the Sussex House training camp, she's now fully certified in all things heroic, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But only if she's attached to a bungee rope.

Amelie doesn't usually go to nursery on a Friday, but fortunately the superheroes who organised the event said that she could attend if Lisa went with her. So at 3:20pm yesterday afternoon, Lisa arrived at the nursery with Amelie in a bat suit and Toby in a buggy. Which was annoying, as I'd been looking out for them since three. By coincidence, I was working upstairs from the nursery all afternoon, with grandstand views of the training camp, and by the time Tardy Woman & Slow Coach rolled into town, I'd already wasted twenty minutes of my day.

It was worth the wait though. The nursery staff had thrown themselves headfirst into the spirit of the thing, and dressed up as superheroes themselves, which demonstrates why we nominated them for a Hospital Star Award. Anyone who's willing to go to work dressed as Wonder Woman deserves some kind of prize. Unfortunately, this year's winners were announced last week, and the pre-school ladies didn't win. Their category of 'Team of the Year' went to the Trevor Mann Baby Unit, which is staffed by a few superheroes too.

Anyhoo, Amelie had an enjoyable afternoon running around in the searing heat, dressed entirely in black, but as for today, we've split the childcare right down the middle, strictly along gender lines. Lisa's taken Amelie for the day, and I've got my son and heir. So while Lisa prepared to take her daughter into town this morning for some school plimsolls, I prepared Toby's breakfast, and then packed him into the car for a trip to Asda. He fell asleep halfway through the weekly shop, with his forehead resting on the handle of the trolley, which I was quite happy about, until he awoke at the checkout and sat up with a big red mark above his eyebrows. The assistant looked at me as though I'd whacked him in the face with a hammer.

Lisa's now taken Amelie swimming, and I've locked Toby in the bedroom. He seems quite happy about it, but not as happy as he is when we brush his teeth...

You should see him at the dentist. He's like Rustie Lee on nitrous oxide.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Samuel might think he can kick my daughter to the kerb, trample all over her feelings, and casually toss her into the gutter like a used tissue the moment some four-year-old floozy flutters her eyelashes at him over the plasticine table, but little does he know, there's a caped crusader in town, fighting for justice and hell-bent on revenge...

That joker won't know what's hit him.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Since Amelie was born, I've often wondered how she'll fare on the rocky road of romance, whether she'll find true love (like I did, before I met Lisa), and how she'll cope with her first break-up. I just didn't expect to find out when she's four.

Amelie came home from nursery yesterday, and informed us over an ice lolly that Samuel has broken up with her. Which was a shock for us, firstly because I didn't think any boy would have the nerve to dump my daughter, and secondly because we had no idea they were dating. I presume she must have been sneaking out of the house after dark, and meeting him by the swings. She went on to tell us that she's been Samuel's girlfriend for a while now, but that yesterday afternoon he told her he was leaving her for Lily. Who presumably has her own pad.

Obviously I'll be having strong words with Sammy Boy in due course, and demanding an explanation as to why he thinks he can toy with my daughter's emotions and break her heart. I'll also be spreading a few rumours about Lily. But the good news is that Amelie seems to be taking it all quite well. She didn't let it spoil her enjoyment of The Simpsons, or put her off her tea. She did appear to be comfort-eating sweets all evening, but to be honest, that's pretty normal.

So I think we've come through Amelie's first break-up relatively unscathed. I've told her there are plenty more fish in the sea, and in return she's reminded me that she doesn't like tuna. By a happy coincidence, she's just received an invitation to a boy's 4th birthday party at a farm, so give it a couple of weeks, and she'll be rolling in the hay with someone else.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Yes, if you thought the world's most successful pirates were all moored off the coast of Somalia, then you should check out our balcony. That's Amelie putting the kid back into Captain Kidd and the lass into cutlass by posing in her new pirate costume. It's designed for ages 7-9, which explains why it fits her like a glove and comes complete with a weapon. Albeit an unrealistic one. She was hoping for an AK-47.

Anyhoo, since the new series of 'Swashbuckle' started on Cbeebies last week, Amelie's become slightly obsessed with piracy, so it's only a matter of time before she's downloading torrents and burning DVDs. She's spent the past week looking for treasure and shaking her booty, and having reached the point where she'll no longer respond to her parents unless they start every sentence with "Ahoy!", Lisa decided to spend some of her school uniform budget on an eye patch. And the girl couldn't be more pleased. Sea-based robbery has never been so much fun. The moment she spots the Chandlers with that telescope, we'll be quids-in.

As for me, well I didn't leave the flat at all on Friday or Saturday, so I've probably wasted about 40% of this summer, but the good news is that I perked up sufficiently on Sunday morning to drive over to Polegate and carry out a bit of human trafficking at a service station. My Mum kindly dropped Amelie by the petrol pumps, halfway towards Brighton, and I collected her with my loyalty card points, and brought her home. We might not have a paddling pool, but we do have someone who's always very pleased to see her...

You're never too young to share a Nobbly Bobbly with a pirate.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I've been feeling a bit peaky for the past day or two (I expect it's heat exhaustion, or possibly medical shock at the unexpected arrival of summer), but while I've been stuck indoors, attempting to put the health back into health & safety, somebody far more reckless is definitely for the high jump...

I wouldn't mind, but they've modelled that paddling pool on a zebra crossing, so she should know better than to run.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I think our lawn needs hoovering...

And Amelie's top is just one big grass stain. But if you're wondering why she's got 'Pre School' on her shoulder instead of the usual chip, it's because she came home in an entirely different set of clothes yesterday. Which is something only murderers tend to do. For a moment, I thought I'd picked up the wrong child from nursery.

As it transpired, however, she'd merely gone overboard with a bit of water-play. Overboard being the operative word. Apparently, whilst playing pirates in the garden, she'd decided to sit down, fully clothed, in the paddling pool, before rolling around in the drink. As she put it herself, "They had to change all my clothes! Even my knickers!". The only thing dry was her eye patch.

But it's impossible to be cross with a child who gives us so much love. Only yesterday, she had the following conversation with Lisa:

Amelie: Mummy, what's an orphan?

Lisa: It's a child who doesn't have a Mummy or a Daddy any more.

Amelie: I think I'd like to be one of those.

[Thoughtful pause...]

And I'd like you to go first. And then Daddy.

That's because she needs me to get Lisa's biscuit tin down from the cupboard before I leave.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The delightful thing about children is that they're always willing to point out your faults. Obviously they're not always right - Amelie, for example, insists that my singing is "lame", which is clearly a grave error - but generally speaking, they're happy to tell you where you're going wrong.

Only yesterday, Amelie turned to Lisa and said "Mummy, I need to tell you something about Candy Crush". Lisa hoped she was about to reveal the secret to completing level 65, so she immediately asked her what. To which Amelie replied "You always lose". Now, I'm not sure if that's pointing out her faults or just stating the obvious, but either way, it's conversations like that which keep our self esteem firmly in the gutter.

Not that Amelie has that problem. If you ask her which member of the family she loves most, she always says herself. With Toby a close second. Lisa and I barely get a look in.

But on the subject of charming conversations and critical comments, I filmed a video two years ago of Amelie chatting about feline appreciation and then wiping Chloe's nose with all the tender loving care of a kidnapper. Being a jovial sort of fellow, I entitled the video 'How to Chloroform a Cat', and it's been up on YouTube since June 2011. Where it appears to be winding up potential cat killers.

A couple of months ago I had the following well-judged, constructive comment from a moderate and sensible viewer:

"you are a waste of life. please stop posting misleading people"

I think the only misleading person I've posted is Amelie, but that aside, I couldn't help feeling slightly hard done by, having my entire existence judged as worthless on the back of a light-hearted video title. But still, I consoled myself with the thought that it was probably a minority view.

Until yesterday, when someone else posted this:

"i came here to learn how to make my cat accept chloroform before dying.. thanks for wasting my time !"

Obviously I have no desire to waste the time of anyone who needs to urgently slaughter a cat, but is that even legal??? I'm not sure people are allowed to chloroform their own pets, are they? I'm all for flushing a sick goldfish down the toilet, but can I legally anaesthetise a cat? And if my cat's struggling to accept it, maybe it's not ready to die. It all smacks slightly of murder.

Anyhoo, the good news is that more than two thousand would-be animal killers have viewed that video, but it's had far more thumbs down than thumbs up, so I clearly need to try harder. Let's see how they react to this one...

She's come a long way in two years. Back in 2011, it was all snotty tissues and headlocks. Now she can soak a wart in a bucket whilst making up a song. They grow up so fast.

Monday, July 08, 2013

For an up-to-the-minute report on Amelie's behaviour today, let's cross live to her responsibility chart, where our special correspondent, Toby Gardner, is adjusting her reward tokens accordingly...

Things can only get better.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Who needs a garden when you can have Astro Turf on your balcony..?

Amelie's flaring her nostrils to demonstrate the main advantage of artificial grass. Namely, that it doesn't give you hayfever. And it smells pleasantly of rubber.

I bought that roll of prime turf months ago from Lidl for the bargain price of £6.99. I think they'd got a job lot from a bankruptcy sale at a snooker table factory. Either way, they were selling them off in the spring on the assumption that we'd get a summer. Which explains why it's been sitting in the hallway since March. It's taken until now to rid the balcony of icicles and mop up all the rainwater. A week ago I couldn't even see the balcony due to fog.

But finally, two weeks after the longest day, and with the nights drawing in as we edge closer to winter, the summer's finally arrived, and I've had a chance to do some gardening. Amelie and I spent this morning cleaning the windows and scrubbing the balcony, after which we tangled ourselves up in double-sided sticky tape and laid a bit of turf. Not only is it perfect for doing some drawing in your pyjamas, but once you're dressed, you can relax in sophisticated luxury with an iPad...

That's another victory for The Thumb Fairy. I can't believe Kayla's just sitting there.

Anyhoo, in addition to my landscape gardening on the balcony, I've spent a lot of today working indoors on the kind of mundane jobs that are barely worth mentioning. Toby got into the spirit of things this afternoon by watching the Wimbledon final whilst chewing on a strawberry, while Amelie spent some time playing the Cillit Bang Game, which basically involves her walking around the kitchen saying "Hi, I'm Barry Scott!" in a very loud voice.

After a few arguments with our daughter, who can be even more annoying when she's playing herself, we decided to take some advice from the latest McDonalds advert and prove that we all have a lot in common by getting some burgers from the nearest drive-thru. That soon patched things up, and before I knew it, I was sitting down with my daughter and making a ship in a bottle.

No, really. Back in March, a few days before I bought the artificial grass, Amelie was given an uncorked bottle by a woman in a pub. It's been sitting on a shelf ever since, waiting for me to help her stick a boat inside, but as a father-daughter craft project, I wasn't sure it would be plain sailing, and I didn't want the ship wrecked, so I've steered clear of it ever since.

In Southampton on Friday, however, I saw the maritime benefactor again, which reminded me that I still hadn't agreed to Amelie's boat-building requests. So when she asked me yet again today, I finally said yes. And what a nightmare it proved to be. The kit came complete with cotton thread rigging and printed paper flags. But quite honestly, by the time you've fiddled about for an hour with a couple of sails, some ridiculously thin wire, and some even smaller holes, you just want the bloody thing finished. So we abandoned the fancy embellishments, and went for the 'rowing boat in a jam jar' look.

I told Amelie to make the face that launched a thousand ships, and this is what I got...

Helen of Troy, eat your heart out.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

There used to be a time when the only concrete proof I ever had that I'd been somewhere, was a parking ticket and a restraining order. But these days, my every move seems to be certificated and signed off by a doctor...

Although if you're going to have someone keeping an eye on you, it might as well be an ophthalmologist. I'm just glad she was the only one to sign it. If Ambroise Paré had added his initials, I wouldn't have been able to show it to the children.

Anyhoo, as the quality azured certificate above indicates, I spent yesterday in Southampton, hobnobbing with the eye team. It was a long day, as the train between here and there stops at approximately three-hundred-and-fifty-two stations, each about twenty yards further on than the last. Which is handy, as if you sleep through your stop, you can get off three stations later, and walk back in about two minutes flat.

Southampton appears to be populated by taxis which are 'pre-book only', meaning that they're not licensed to pick up passengers on the street. As a result, if you walk up to one of them parked outside the station, they won't let you get in until you've phoned the number on the side of the car and spoken to an operator. At which point they instantly accept that as a 'booking', and let you climb aboard. It's a nice way of getting around the law.

The five minute drive to the hospital cost half as much as the two hour train ride from Brighton, but it meant I was there in time to down a cup of coffee in one gulp before the meeting began. Southampton General Hospital is a fascinating place. Entering the main building is a lot like walking into Legoland: not only is it huge, but all you can see are shops stretching out into the distance. It's like a cross between Bluewater and Heathrow. And you can only consult a doctor once you've walked past Burger King.

Lunch was included, so I was expecting a Whopper and fries, but as it transpired, we received a mouth-watering array of sandwiches and filled rolls, plus some afternoon cake to die for. Possibly from diabetes-related complications. Not that the food was my main reason for attending. I was mostly there for the freebies. And I'm pleased to say that I came away with four pens, two posters and a mouse mat.

I also took this photo...

That was the result of a close encounter with a young, female ophthalmologist, who took me into a dimly lit room, and then leaned in close and invited me to take a picture. So I snapped a microaneurysm in an OCT scan. It's the burning ring of fire, up, up, up from the mouse pointer.

The walk from the academic block to the eye department was a bit like hiking the Appalachian Trail, but without the extramarital affairs, and took in the mortuary viewing room (which looked dead good), and enough wrong turns to confound the most ardent of stalkers. It's a miracle the blind can ever find it.

But between there and the lecture theatre, I had an excellent day. I spoke to people from five different screening programmes, learnt some eye-opening facts, watched an intravitreal injection, and heard enough stories to fill a book. Which I'll probably have to write under a pseudonym to avoid being sued. It might have taken me three hours to get home (half of which was finding the way out of the hospital) but it was well worth making the trip.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Just look at that southern screamer...

Not the chick on the right, but the feathered friend on the left. That's a Southern Screamer, so called because... um... well, I don't really know. But presumably because it kicks up a fuss if you take it north of Watford.

And here's the photo Am was taking at the time...

It's like looking at birds through a net curtain. Which is something I know nothing about.

Anyhoo, publishing those holiday snaps yesterday reminded me that I hadn't looked at any of the photos Amelie took while we were away. I gave her my old camera to use, so she spent a lot of the holiday stalking us like a freelance paparazzo and taking pictures without our consent. She has a habit of holding the camera with her thumb on the lens, so I was expecting the memory card to have her fingerprints all over it, but when I checked first thing this morning, I discovered some pretty decent shots. So here's a selection from my daughter's recent portfolio...

Toby excited to be leaving our chalet:

And looking lovingly at his sister:

Self portrait of the artist:

Driving out of the holiday park to visit the zoo:

Are we there yet?

Daddy sprints towards the entrance with Lisa's arse on the right:

Disco Bear relaxes with a couple of relatives:

Toby lovin' it:

Daddy going down on one knee:

Hair done, scarf on, it's Mummy on the move:

Daddy belting up:

Toby still smiling:

Amelie still posing:

And finally, a photo Am took at home this week. I've been trying to document Toby's new teeth for ages, but the moment I get out my camera, he refuses to open his mouth. I should have just left it to his sister...

He's moved on from radish stabber to monster muncher.