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Monday, April 28, 2014

I read a statistic today which claimed that about 10% of all the photos ever taken were shot in the past 12 months. I think about 50% of those were taken by me, and feature Amelie and Toby.

So just for a change, here's the view from our balcony, taken at six-thirty this morning...

Of course, if I'd known that ninety minutes later, someone was going to break down in the middle of the roadworks on the A23, causing five miles of tailbacks, and resulting in me taking an hour and a half to get to Crawley, I might have stopped faffing about on the balcony with my camera, and left a bit earlier for work. But them's the breaks.

On the plus side, despite my eyes (and camera) being trained permanently skywards, I did notice that Amelie's seeds have started growing. Although I was treading on them at the time, so I'm not sure that's still the case.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

As a traditionalist educator in the mould of Michael Gove or Wackford Squeers, I believe it's important for children to spend time on their tables...

Although it clearly does nothing for their behaviour. I've always wanted a centrepiece for the drawing room table, but that wasn't quite what I had in mind.

Anyhoo, that was Amelie and Toby reaching a frenzied high of creative excitement at 8 o'clock this morning. Lisa was in bed at the time. She wasn't asleep; she was trying to smother herself with a pillow.

What's really impressive is that despite being full of hyperactive beans before most of the country are awake, they're still achieving that same peak level of uncontrollable mania eleven hours later when they're supposed to be winding down for bed. It's a miracle Lisa and I are still alive. In fact, sometimes I'm not sure we are.

But our ability to battle our way through entire weekends with the children, without resorting to violence, neglect or illegal drugs, is not without its rewards. Firstly, we get to feast our eyes on collaborative art efforts such as this one...

It features two bees as a kind of Catchphrase 'say-what-you-see' type of clue for those who can't read. I think.

And secondly, we get impromptu hand-made greetings cards to point out the obvious, and stop us slashing our wrists...

She's missed the 'Li' out of 'brilliant' because we can do it without Lithium.

Although some would be useful for the kids.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Two weeks ago, when Amelie first came home with a tadpole in a white plastic cup and suggested that we do our bit for amphibian fostering by raising it to adulthood, I felt the whole plan might be slightly crazy. But actually, I think this idea's got legs...

Two of them, in fact. I'm now keeping it in a Jacob's 'Biscuits for Cheese' box, partly because that tadpole's grown up with plastic, and it's the only thing which makes him feel at home, but mainly because Lisa thinks I'm crackers. She asks me on a daily basis when I'm taking it back to the park. Which shows how much her attitude has softened, as she's no longer talking about flushing it down the toilet. I think she secretly loves that tadpole.

Anyhoo, the answer to Lisa's question is that the tadpole can find his own way back to the park once he's big enough to jump out of the box. It's every parent's goal to raise a child who can stand on his own two feet, and we're definitely getting there with this one. I've taken the advice of an expert, and started letting him suck blood out of dead meat, which is pleasing Lisa no end, particularly as I bought some which was reduced at Asda due to being close to its use-by date, which means it's now festering at the back of the fridge. One tadpole doesn't get through half a pound of meat as quickly as you might think.

So despite the fact that our flower garden hasn't yet germinated, I think we're doing pretty well on the life-preserving front. And I include my own life in that statement. I've not been feeling too well for the past couple of days (men's problems - don't ask), but having honed her caring skills on a frog larva, Amelie's shown a remarkable level of compassion.

I left work a bit early yesterday, and let Amelie use the computer while I did my best to avoid death on the sofa. She was beavering away on her own, playing (I thought) a game on the CBeebies website, at which point she asked me if I'd turn on the printer without looking at the screen. Naturally I thought she printing out hardcore porn from the internet, but when she added that she was doing something for me, I decided to take a chance and do it.

Thirty seconds later, the printer was whirring into action, and Amelie was rooting around in my stationery drawer for an envelope. Having found one, she asked me if she could go outside on her own, before adding "I won't go down the stairs or in the lift".

Frankly I wouldn't mind if she did, but I agreed to her conditions, and before long she was unlocking the front door and removing the chain. Which is a skill that always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. She then shoved her secret envelope through the letterbox from the outside, and ran into the flat to tell me there was some post for me.

When I opened the envelope I found this...

She did that all by herself on the computer, which is not only impressive and heartwarming, but suggests that she knows more about desktop publishing than I do. It's also good news for our bank balance, as graphic designers can earn a fortune. On the down side, however, she's likely to lose all her money to burglars. We discovered at 11pm last night that she'd left the front door unlocked.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Amelie's 6!

I don't mean she is 6, I mean she owns that number. It's actually a candle. She forced me to buy it from Sainsbury's on the offchance that I might let her live long enough to see her next birthday.

It was handy though, as it enabled us to complete Amelie's holiday homework by taking another photo of her with a number. She returned to school today after a two-and-a-half week break, so having printed out that photo, I walked her up the hill this morning while Lisa stayed at home, thanking her lucky stars and weeping tears of exhaustion, joy and relief. It'll take time for the post-traumatic stress to clear up, but she should be fine by half-term.

When Amelie returned home this afternoon, she brought with her a new lesson plan for the summer term, which included this interesting little development...

She was asked to dance in March, and had a thumbs-up in April. Now it looks like they'll be dating by the end of May.

Monday, April 21, 2014

To be honest, when I told Lisa I'd look after the kids for the morning, this wasn't part of my plan...

Before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, yes, that is chocolate. And whilst it might be slightly upsetting to see it caked all over his right hand and smeared across his cheeky-toothed chops, the more disturbing sight is that of his left hand, palm-down on the dry-clean-only sofa covers. There should be a washable armrest cover there, but he removed it prior to wiping molten Easter egg across the upholstery. He's making his mark in more ways than one.

Anyhoo, the official 2014 Gardner Family Easter Egg Hunt took place yesterday, but unfortunately, by the time you've organised five of them at your daughter's request, it's hard to remember where they're all hidden. I discovered one behind the living room curtain when I got up this morning, and another in my trainer when I went to put them on, but the undisputed master of lost egg locating is Toby, who spent the morning unearthing chocolate eggs that we didn't even know were missing. They should get him down to the Indian Ocean. He'd find MH370 in no time.

So I enjoyed a few hours of quality time with my children this morning, playing Playstation with Amelie and trying to stop Toby looking like he was filming the latrine scene from Slumdog Millionaire. Lisa returned from her safe place in time to get the kids lunch, after which I decided that what with it being a bank holiday, and me being an undisputed man's man, I really should go to B&Q.

Unfortunately, I went with my five-year-old daughter and bought flowers, so I let myself down a bit there. But on the plus side, I did buy some new hinges for a manly DIY project. The doors have come off Amelie's pink doll's house.

Anyhoo, they don't call us Gardeners for nothing (or at all, in fact) so having bought some seed trays and compost, the children and I headed out onto the balcony this afternoon to plant some flowers...

It's not the first time we've attempted to sustain plant life on the second floor balcony, but our previous efforts have generally met with famine, pestilence and wind damage, so we've never actually produced anything with petals. This time, however, I'm confident of success. We've sown pansies, cornflowers and Californian poppies, and whilst I've always had Amelie to do my watering, this time I had Toby standing at the side, attempting to invoke Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest, by holding his arms in the air and shouting "Need!". Which is one of the few words he knows.

Oh, and he's still wearing the same pyjamas. What's a bit of mud, when you're already covered in chocolate..?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's Easter Sunday! Christ might be risen, but frankly I'd prefer not to be woken up at the crack of dawn by Amelie jumping on my head and asking for chocolate.

As things stand right now, I've already taken part in five Easter Egg hunts, been out twice in the pouring rain, and eaten enough buns to raise the national rate of diabetes by about three percentage points. Amelie has declared the living room to be 'World of Porridge' after Toby chucked his breakfast across the floor, and I've discovered that if you let your toddler eat chocolate all morning, he's unlikely to want his lunch. I've cleared that up off the carpet too.

But in the midst of it all, we've achieved one reasonable family photo...

It beats this one anyway...

It says a lot about the general chaos of our family life, that the hyperactive toddler with violent tendencies, who can scream in your ear like a banshee as he slaps you in the face and throws Megablocks at his sister, appears to be the peaceful centre of calm in that picture.

Of course, if you leave it to Amelie to direct the photo shoot, he can look like an angel too...

Or a girl, depending on your point of view.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

If I'm honest, I should probably spend less time laughing at my kids, and more time saving them from accidents...

But when they're forming the kind of comedy double-act rarely seen since Laurel & Hardy, it's sometimes hard to intervene. At this rate, I could get them booked onto the Royal Variety Show.

Lisa's only question after viewing that video was to ask why I mentioned Diana Ross. Which was a relief, as I thought she might ask why I let Toby get attacked by a dog, tangled in a net and trodden on by his sister. So for the benefit of anyone with only hazy memories of the 1994 World Cup, the reason is here. It was a supreme effort, but sadly there ain't no mountain high enough that she could hit it with a ball from twelve yards.

Anyhoo, if you thought the selfie at the Oscars was good, get a load of this...

You can't see Liza Minnelli in that one either. But you can see my family living the A-lister lifestyle at East Brighton Park. It shares the first four letters of Easter, so we thought it would be a great place to go on Good Friday.

On the downside, yesterday afternoon's picnic in the park did suggest that Lisa and I might be slightly deluded. Despite having spent more than five years living with Amelie, and almost two of those with Toby, we actually thought we might get the chance to relax for a while in the spring sunshine, gently stroking each other's hair (or what's left of it) in a lovey-dovey manner, and taking a well-earned, peaceful, break while our children played quietly at a distance. Which, when you stop and think about it, is ridiculous.

In reality, we spent two hours with the kids screaming in our ears, kicking a football in our faces, and whipping our backsides with a skipping rope, whilst being chased by dogs, scared by insects, and trying to stop Toby running towards the nearest road. Both Lisa and I had taken a book to read. I don't know what we were thinking. Mainly because we couldn't hear ourselves doing it.

But despite that, we had a nice time. Lisa did her best to blend into the surroundings by wearing camouflage gear, and ended up looking like a terrorist trying to abduct small children in a bio-hazard suit...

... but they didn't let it bother them...

In fact, Amelie and Toby had a lot of fun. It's just a shame they wouldn't do it further away from us. They had the entire expanse of East Brighton Park to explore, but insisted on staying close to the picnic blanket. Which is probably what responsible parents would hope for, but wasn't what we had in mind.

On the plus side, Amelie's making it easier for us to check for nits by taking her own selfies...

... and the oily fish in her diet is working wonders on those joints...

She's a fast runner too. In an effort to get her out of her mother's hair for five minutes, I challenged her to a race up the hill to a bench overlooking the park. It was a challenge which almost killed me (and I didn't even win), but it did enable me to take this photo of the view, looking west towards the hospital...

That photo features our flat, my car, and the building where both kids were born. You can see the window where I first held my daughter, the door where I left with my son, and the Skoda where they both drive me insane.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It's Good Friday! The one day of the year when I wouldn't want to encourage Amelie to follow her school's Golden Rule about trying to be more like Jesus. Although if she wants to wear sandals, I'm right behind her.

As it happens, she's currently showing scant regard for the barbaric execution methods of past millennia, and is far more interested in chocolate. Although I'm forcing her to clear her palate between courses with a bit of melon...

It being a bank holiday, I decided to put the good into Good Friday by looking after the kids this morning so that Lisa could have a lie-in. And what better way to keep them clean and tidy than by chopping up a giant water melon and forgetting Toby's bib...

Those pyjamas needed a wash anyway. And let's face it, if I'm going to prove to Lisa that I'm a capable, responsible parent, then it's far better to stain the kids' clothes with fruit than with chocolate.

Anyhoo, in addition to being Good Friday, it's also my brother's birthday today, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him. Being a devoted sibling with the mind (and body) of an elephant, I remembered to order him a card a few days ago, and asked for it to be posted first thing yesterday morning. Unfortunately I forgot it was a bank holiday today and the postmen wouldn't be working. I could crucify Royal Mail.

But still, it's the thought that counts. Which is why Amelie's taken it upon herself to make a card. Not for my brother, obviously, but for Lisa...

That says "To Mummy, I love you a lot, and Daddy too, love Amelie and Daddy". She said I could add some words of my own, so I decided to make it a bit more inclusive. Toby was still gnawing on his water melon at the time, but he was with us in spirit, so I thought he deserved to get a mention.

By the time Lisa got up, they'd both drawn her pictures too. This is Toby's modern, abstract effort...

... while Amelie took a more traditional, homespun route with a hand-decorated Easter egg...

I'm actually quite impressed with that. Admittedly, the Easter Bunny looks more like a seasick cat, but she did the whole thing in twenty minutes while I was doing the washing-up, and then walked into the kitchen, got the sharp scissors out of the drawer by herself, and cut out her egg without asking. She came dangerously close to stigmata, so it's what Jesus would have wanted. Happy Easter, everyone.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The tadpole lives!

You can't really see it there, but it's in the bottom left hand corner, amongst the rotting cabbage. And trust me, it's alive. As is my daughter, who returned to us today from her holiday home in St Leonards. I asked her if she had a nice time, and she said that she did, but that she wanted to come home yesterday. When I asked her why, she said "Because I was missing Mummy and my tadpole".

I'm used to coming third behind Toby, but I've now been bumped down the most-loved list by a half-dead amphibian. I wish I'd taken Lisa's advice and flushed it down the toilet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

If you thought the sight of a glamorous young model draped across a shiny red car was the preserve of the 1980s game show, then think again...

I like big butts and I cannot lie. And Amelie's got a massive one there. It's a beautiful shade of green too.

Anyhoo, in reality I'd like to think that Amelie's more likely to end up as a contestant on Mastermind than a hostess on The Price is Right, but either way, she's going to need to know her numbers. And her Easter holiday homework from school is to have herself photographed with some. I'm not entirely sure why, but it's a Catholic school, so it's probably something to do with the fourth book of the Bible.

Obviously the best way to achieve that task is to have Amelie arrested and ask the police for a copy of her mug shot, but while we're busy planning the details of her crime spree, we thought we'd get a picture of her with the getaway car. Ironically, I've had to remove the numbers from that photo, just in case someone with an unusual name thinks it's a personalised numberplate and tries to steal it. The car itself is a Hyundai i10, so there's no risk of theft with that.

Getting my family into a Hyundai would be a bit like fitting four elephants into a Mini, so needless to say, that's my parents' car. Amelie's currently staying with them for a couple of days to give me a chance to bond with her tadpole. She's named it Wriggly, which is a concern, as it sounds like she's advertising chewing gum, and if it dies on me, we might have to rename it Stiffy. But that aside, it's all good.

Admittedly, Lisa's currently terrified that it's going to grow legs overnight and leap onto her face while she's sleeping, but I've assured her that our only genuine concern is whether or not Toby eats it. If we can avoid that until Amelie gets home, then our job will be done, and we can flush it down the toilet and tell Amelie it's gone to heaven.

At the moment though, I'm doing a good job of keeping that tadpole alive. I've put it in Amelie's old Sea Monkey tank, which has been used very little as they all died within a week. She's been keeping hair bands in it for the past six months. I've watched a video on YouTube and taken some advice from a small boy who seemed to know what he was talking about, and am currently attempting to feed Wriggly with a bit of boiled cabbage. As things stand right now, he's still living up to his name, but our record with small creatures and pot plants isn't great, so in reality he's probably on death row.

In the meantime, Amelie's blissfully unaware of my efforts with amphibians, and is currently living it up in St Leonards, where my Dad is recording high definition video productions of her bike-riding exploits...

I think he was practising his Oscar acceptance speech at the beginning. But I can't see what he's doing either.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I don't know what I've done to be blessed with such attractive kids...

... but it probably involves broken mirrors, unseen ladders, and possibly a gypsy curse. The moment Toby inherits my male pattern baldness, he's going to look a lot like Homer Simpson.

Anyhoo, I'm slightly distracted at the moment, as Amelie has just come home from the park with a tadpole in a white plastic cup, and asked me to look after it for her. Darwin's probably turning in his grave, as any creature which allows itself to be captured by Amelie using nothing more than a second-hand disposable cup, is clearly one that deserves not to have its DNA perpetuated, but I've foolishly said I will. It's currently sitting beside me on a shelf, in mortal danger of being knocked over by Toby. It clearly needs a larger tank than a small plastic cup though, so I might have to upgrade it to a latte glass.

The park where this act of animal liberation took place was this one...

I think the other two kids have just drunk what they thought was a nice cup of squash.

Anyhoo, it's been a busy few days. We might have given Grease the elbow, but we seem to have had plenty of other stuff to keep us occupied. I did a couple of hours overtime on Friday, before rushing home to take Amelie to her weekly swimming lesson. Unfortunately, we arrived to find the pool in darkness, and the swimming centre closed, which came as something of a surprise, as Lisa hadn't read the e-mail they'd sent her two days earlier, informing us that they were moving to the Brighton College pool for the Easter holidays. She only discovered that today, when she sat down to write them a letter of complaint.

Fortunately our time wasn't wasted, as Amelie and I walked to the Lidl bakery instead, and bought pretzels the size of footballs for 39p, but it was slightly annoying at the time.

On Saturday I popped back into work for three hours, before taking my family out for the afternoon to Portslade, where three of us got our hair done, and the fourth paid for all the shopping. That left Saturday evening for the housework, before I arose early on Sunday morning, popped back into work for an hour, and then took the kids down to the marina while Lisa rode into church on a donkey. Or sat on her ass. I forget which.

Amelie and I played a bit of al fresco ping-pong, while Toby chased a football towards the sea, then we popped into Asda for a birthday card, picked up Lisa, and headed to the garden centre to look at some fish. Lisa likes them with chips, but Amelie enjoys watching the aquariums and asking if we'll buy her a jellyfish. So I think I got off lightly with the tadpole.

From there we returned home and forced Toby into his cot for an hour, before heading back out to visit his godparents...

I think they make a lovely family. I told Stefan today that if Lisa and I are ever mown down in a road traffic accident, he and Andrew should raise our kids. In fact, we don't need to wait for the accident. They're welcome to have them now.

To be honest, I don't know why they keep inviting us round. Toby spent the afternoon throwing their stuff across the living room, stomping on their crockery, and eating all their cake. And when he starts looking embarrassed, you know your daughter's not on her best behaviour either...

But if you think Amelie's got the silliest grin in that photo, check out SpongeBob on the table. That was our birthday present to Stefan. It would be wrong of me to reveal his age in public, but our gift should ensure that plenty of people ask him how old he is. In a slightly condescending manner.

Mind you, the rest of us aren't exactly mature...

Shortly after that photo was taken, Stefan showed me a nude photo of our old boss, so if you think I look startled there, you should have seen me two minutes later. Frankly I needed to sit down, and they were kind enough to offer me a chair. Which I accepted, and brought home in the boot of the car. I'm now using it at the computer. Hopefully it'll last longer than the chocolate cake with peanut butter icing, which I'm currently carrying around my midriff. It was the easiest way of smuggling it out.

Anyhoo, amidst all of that weekend activity, I also managed to find time to exchange a few e-mails with some American stockmarket investors who misinterpreted my recent shark presentation as a major international news leak, and thought I was about to make them millions. Which is not a sentence I ever thought I'd write. Fortunately, I was able to set them straight. When they e-mailed and asked me what I knew, I just typed "Nothing" and clicked on 'Send'. I did the same when they asked me what I was paid.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I think my daughter's being hounded by the paparazzi...

She's the one that they want. Oooh, oooh, oooh.

Yes, as one who's never content to lurk in the shadows with the other children...

... Amelie burst into the spotlight yesterday afternoon to take part in a children's production of 'Grease'...

According to Wikipedia, "The show tackles such social issues as teenage pregnancy and gang violence; its themes include love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and, to some extent, class consciousness/class conflict", so it seemed like the perfect holiday activity for our five-year-old. And it took place in a church, so it came with God's blessing too.

Amelie spent four afternoons this week in the St George's Church crypt (so they really should have done 'Dracula') rehearsing an entire show from scratch with a group of twenty 4-to-12-year-olds, before performing it to the parents yesterday afternoon. Due to a slight miscommunication between me and my wife, I'd booked the whole day off work to attend, when I could have just left half an hour early, but given that they'd had a total of fifteen hours to prepare, I assumed they'd be putting on the entire two-and-a-half-hour musical, complete with twenty songs and intricate dance routines, and I'd need plenty of time to queue up for the ice creams.

As it transpired, the show was done and dusted in twenty-five minutes, but I have to admit it was very good. Particularly my daughter, who, to be honest, was the only one I was watching. Here's a five minute medley of her highlights...

Bearing in mind that the only entry requirement was a willingness to withstand the Grease financial crisis that resulted from paying the fees, and that it was a group of mixed ability kids with a wide age range who were thrown together for a few afternoons in an attempt to put on a show, I thought they did remarkably well. It was a bit like 'The Young Ones' but without the attempted kidnapping. Or Rik Mayall.

Amelie had two lines, one being "Hi Frenchie" and the other "There ain't no such thing", which was her character's opinion on love. I completely missed them both with the camera, but she delivered them with all the confidence and timing of a young Meryl Streep. And the hair of Toni Basil. Admittedly she sometimes got her right arm mixed up with her left arm during the dance routines, but the fact that she managed to remember a four-minute sequence of moves when she can barely remember to shut the bathroom door to stop Toby chucking stuff down the toilet, was a source of great pride for us.

She was as pretty as a picture too..

She looks just like me there. Although I haven't worn a dress since my hair fell out.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I have terrible, terrible news. Amelie and I have discovered the all-new Lidl bakery...

This is potentially the most damaging bread-related development since George Bush choked on a pretzel. We're both going to be twenty stone by June. We only popped in there briefly last night, on our way back from taking Lisa's Mum home, but it was like a retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Two young, easily-led individuals stumbling across a building full of German-made cakes. Frankly we didn't stand a chance.

As I said to Amelie in the car park, with my mouth full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, "This biscuit might be bigger than my head, and cheaper than a lettuce, but it's bad news for this family". She responded by looking at her empty bag of pink iced doughnuts, and the Danish pastry we'd vowed to take home for Lisa, but which we both felt tempted to eat, and said "Daddy, maybe we should never go down that aisle again".

She's right, of course. Although in reality, we both know we'll be back there tonight.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

He's suited, he's booted, and he's heading out for the evening...

You wouldn't think it was an hour past his bedtime.

That was Toby at 8pm on Monday, still on a high after a night out on the tiles. Not only was he full of beans, he was full of chips, fish fingers and chocolate ice cream.

Yesterday was my niece's 15th birthday, and to my slight (if not great) surprise, I had a text message early on Monday morning from my brother, asking if we were free to celebrate the occasion with an impromptu family meal out that evening. Luckily, I have the social diary of an agoraphobic, and haven't been otherwise engaged since September 2010, so the only thing I needed to establish was who was paying, and having confirmed that it wasn't me, I said a resounding yes. I even decided to invite Lisa.

I was in Horsham all day, and Amelie was in Grease, but having rounded up my family from the four corners of western Europe, we headed down to the marina after work, where we met my brother's family and a couple of hangers-on, in the form of my Mum and Dad. I'd come straight from work, Amelie had come straight from the 1950s, and Lisa had come across a smart linen jacket in a bag of old toddler clothes we'd been given by Lorraine on Sunday. So with Toby looking more sophisticated than the rest of us put together, we hit the city's fine dining establishments, and were soon pulling up a high chair in Frankie & Benny's.

Obviously it's wise to book ahead, otherwise you might find that they can't accommodate your party of nine, and will have to seat you in two booths, either side of the gangway, but if that does happen, there's every chance you won't have to sit with your daughter, which can only be a good thing. Personally I was in the mature (some would say aged) booth with my parents and Lisa, where it was left to me and Toby to bring down both the average age and the standard of table manners.

The meal itself was very nice, and featured a surprise rendition of Happy Birthday, which was played to my niece over the restaurant's loudspeaker system, accompanied by a few party poppers and a free scoop of ice cream with a candle. Unfortunately Lisa had taken Amelie to the toilet at the time, so they missed the whole thing. They returned two minutes later, and wondered why Toby had bits of streamer in his hair. I told them he'd shredded a napkin.

Toby was in his element, and spent most of the evening putting his hands in the air and shouting "NEED!!!" every time the waitress walked past with a tray of food. It's something he's learnt from me. As for Amelie, she cleared her plate like a true Gardner, and then grassed me up to Lisa when I ate some of Toby's chips.

Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, as was a lot of good food. I didn't see much of my niece, but she's fifteen, so she was on her smartphone quite a lot, and I doubt she'd have wanted to talk to an old loser like her lame Uncle Foul. Although she hasn't called me that since she was four...

...teen, so I probably seem a lot cooler now.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Well, a teensy bit more luck would have been nice, but the good thing about the Grand National is that the horses have such long odds, you only need a couple of them to be placed, and you can still make a tidy profit...

'6TBP' is the cautious gambler's market, for people with the backbone of a jellyfish, where you get paid if your horse finishes anywhere in the first six. Which is handy when you've backed Alvarado and Chance du Roy, and they come in 4th and 6th. Even after subtracting my losses from the 'win' market, I still made an overall profit of £22. Thereby justifying my decision to stay at home and watch the horse racing instead of going into work for an hour's overtime.

Lisa and I actually had a very nice weekend. In a moment of extreme madness, which possibly indicates an imminent nervous breakdown, our friend Lorraine offered to have Amelie for a sleepover on Saturday night, which gave us twenty-four peaceful and precious hours without our daughter. We still had Toby, but he can't pick the lock on the coal shed door, so he's easier to keep under control.

Being the type of person who really should be on Time Magazine's 'Man of the Year' short-list, I took it upon myself to wrangle Toby while Lisa had a bit of a rest, and by Sunday afternoon I'd successfully taught him how to load the washing machine, empty the tumble dryer and pass me the onions when I'm cooking. He did put my tinned tomatoes in the doll's house, but Rome wasn't built in a day, and he probably thought it was a greenhouse.

By the end of the twenty-four hours, Lisa looked a lot more human, the flat looked a lot more tidy, and I was able to drive us all over to Hove to pick up Amelie without being killed in an horrific pile-up. We were turning right at a junction with full right-of-way, when a car coming in the opposite direction elected to drive straight through a red light and almost ploughed right into us. I was too busy slamming on the brakes to pay much attention to the young girl at the wheel, but Lisa, who can swear like a trooper and lip-read the language of a navvy, informed me that the lady thought it was my fault. Possibly for having been born.

Anyway, we arrived at Lorraine's house in one piece, looking just as pale as she did (but for different reasons), and reclaimed our wayward daughter. Apparently she'd been no trouble, which is hard to believe, and suggests that Lorraine's a compulsive liar. We only had another hour and a half until bedtime, but it was long enough for Amelie to drive us to distraction more effectively than the girl racer who almost killed us.

The good news is that Lisa's getting a break every afternoon this week, as Amelie's booked into a 'Grease Workshop' for the Easter holidays, which sounds like a nit prevention session, but is actually a song and dance class for children. They'll be performing a show on Thursday, and whilst I'm not sure which part Amelie will be selected for, she's already very familiar with the role of Sandy. Unfortunately it's Sandy Cheeks from SpongeBob, but I'm sure a lot of the same lines apply.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

With just four months to go until Toby's birthday, Amelie's made him a card...

She wants us to send that in to Cbeebies, so that he can have his name read out on Birthday Time. It features all his favourite TV characters: Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and the Tombliboos, plus Tree Fu Tom in the sky, and a nod to Shakin' Stevens on the left. The green door lifts up to reveal a photo of Toby. Or it will do, once Amelie finds out where I keep my photo paper.

Anyhoo, it's a good job someone in this family is organised. Amelie's never had a card featured on Cbeebies due to her parents leaving it far too late every year, and failing to get it in before the deadline, so I'm pleased that we can hand over full responsibility for Toby to his sister. I've given her a stamp, and she knows the way to the post box, so I just need to get another key cut for the front door, and we're laughing.

Yesterday was officially the first day of the Easter holidays, as Amelie had an inset day. Wikipedia claims that they're also known as Baker Days, but I suspect that edit was made by Kenneth himself. It meant that Lisa had the pleasure of spending all day with both our children, so by the time I got home from work, she was barricaded into the airing cupboard with a laptop, trying to book herself a one way ticket to Dignitas.

I'm joking of course. Toby's broken our laptop, so Lisa's going nowhere.

Fortunately I was able to give her a break by taking Amelie straight out to her weekly swimming lesson, where they handed me this certificate...

I think the extra 'A' is for effort. And she didn't mean to do a forward somersault, she just slipped on the soap in the shower.

Anyhoo, on the subject of sporting achievement, it's about time I did my bit to end world poverty by predicting the result of the Grand National. So for the benefit of anyone who could do with a few quid, here are the guaranteed winners of this afternoon's race...

1st. Prince de Beauchene at 25-1

2nd. Alvarado at 40-1

3rd. Chance du Roy at 40-1

4th. Burton Port at 20-1

5th. Big Shu at 20-1

I've also had two quid on Vintage Star at 100-1, so with just the teensiest bit of luck (which, to be honest, I probably won't need) I'm confident I can top my 2012 record.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Obviously the most valuable work I could have undertaken today would have been to analyse the form and pick the winner of tomorrow's Grand National, but as it happens I've had bigger fish to fry...

That's the shark presentation I've been putting together over the past month, mostly during Amelie's swimming lessons. The title prompted my boss to ask if it was an April Fool's joke before I'd even started, but by the end, I'd managed to hold onto both my job and the audience's attention, and got out of there without being heckled.

In addition to appearing in person at an MDT meeting near you, I'm also currently being read by dedicated and enthusiastic diabetes specialists across Britain...

It's just a shame there aren't more of them.

I mentioned back in February that I'd been asked to rewrite an article for Diabetes UK at ridiculously short notice, so if you want to see what it's possible to cobble together in between patients during a day at Crawley Hospital, you can download the 'Essential' PDF from the Spring 2014 edition of 'Diabetes Update'. Or alternatively, find it in your nearest hospital staff room. Where it's likely to be pristine and unopened.

But if that's not enough, you can always download issue 2 of the 'Diabetic Eye Journal', which has come dangerously close to featuring a page 3 model by putting a photo of me on page 4. That came as something of a shock, partly because it wasn't in the draft copy that I was asked to proof-read a couple of months ago, and secondly because I didn't know that photo existed. Those damn paparazzi get everywhere.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

When you're doing a bit of stand-up in front of a tough crowd, it's always nice to get a thumbs-up from the audience...

That's Amelie receiving her third Silver Award at this morning's school assembly. The thumb belongs to the boy who asked her to dance four weeks ago. You can't see his other hand in the photo, but he's carrying a torch for our daughter.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lisa and I have had our first Easter card...

I think there's a bit of bird poo on the egg, but the message inside is quite touching...

That girl will do anything for chocolate. Back in the old days, of course, she'd vocalise her feelings whilst crawling across the table in her rain coat with a tub of Vaseline...

But she's a lot more subtle these days. A written reminder about Easter is more her style. Although she's also quite willing to hand us shopping lists.

Anyhoo, yesterday was the first of April, a day when I fully expect to get prank phone calls first thing in the morning. And sure enough, I had a message at 7:40am asking me to rush over to Hove to cover a clinic at short notice. Naturally I entered into the spirit of things and played along, with the expectation that when I got there, someone would jump out at me and shout "April Fool!", but as it transpired, the only people I found there were patients. Although I hadn't had time to shower, so the joke was on them.

The good news is that it gave me the opportunity to advise a gentleman who wanted to know whether hot cross buns would give him retinopathy. I told him they might cause a microbuneurysm, but I think I'd lost him by that point.

I finished the day with a bit of overtime, the proceeds of which I immediately blew on this...

I've wanted one for ages. It's actually a Lalaloopsy, which Wikipedia describes as a "plastic rag doll". That's the 21st century for you.

In addition to an outstanding report at last week's parents' evening, Amelie has also earned another Silver Award this week for being consistently fabulous and resistant to nits (or something). It's her third one since September, which is the maximum possible, and means she's now in line for a Gold Award and beatification at a future school assembly.

So with that in mind, we decided we ought to reward the girl for her efforts by giving her some plastic tat. And the current tat of choice is Lalaloopsy. According to the packaging, it's suitable "For ages 4 to 104", although in reality I think it's aimed purely at those two extremes. You'd either have to be child-like or senile.