This time of year

Although we had horrible hailstorms the other day, and I’ve woken up to a ground frost outside on more than one occasion this week, I can safely say from a personal perspective I like April/May quite a lot. It’s the profusion of bank holidays that does it for me; two and Easter and two book ending May. Coupled with the clocks going forwards, and more daylight anyway, it really seems that we’ve told winter to sod off and things are getting better.

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(No) Fear of the Dark

The Fates colluded yesterday to leave me the house to myself in the evening. The lady wife was off in Birmingham at an overnight course and the kids were having a sleepover as I had been invited to Amazon’s Summer BBQ. As the hailstones fall as I’m writing this, I’m smirking at the idea of a summer BBQ but it was good fun and it’s always nice to get out occasionally.

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Marvel’s Iron Fist a Netflix Originals

Whatever Iron Fist have have had in terms of reviews, I’m loving it. I didn’t get the opportunity to binge watch it when it came out last month as I was too busy with work and external commitments (and we were watching Sleepy Hollow but sshhh, don’t tell anyone). It’s more enjoyable than both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and, at the moment at least as much fun as Daredevil. Danny Rand is simply a nicer person than Matt Murdoch, which makes it easier to empathise with him. I love the fact that Danny is determined to be nice to everyone, despite their intentions for him, it’s unusual to see but I suppose reflect the Buddhist teachings that sit behind Kung Fu. View Full Post

The Overwatch challenge

As I blogged the other day, I’m struggling to transition my son from my PSN profile to a family sub account I’ve set up for him. The main reason for this struggle is he has played Overwatch a lot on my profile. He’s up to level 103(?), which shows a fairly heavy time investment as generally perceived wisdom reckons it takes an hour and a half of actual play to go up a level from level 30 onwards (actual play time will be longer as you wait for games to become available, and go through menus etc).

Considering I started playing on his profile on Saturday at level one and finished yesterday on level 9, I didn’t think I was doing too badly.

If you’ve never heard of Overwatch, let me fill you in. It’s what’s called a first person shooter (FPS). That means you see the world through the characters eyes (in first person), unlike a game like Tomb Raider, where you can see the character on screen (this is called third person, it’s a bit like an out of body experience). Lots of FPS are aimed at adults, are full of blood, swearing, and overt violence. Overwatch is primarily aimed at kids (it’s certified 12), has bright colourful graphics, no blood, dismemberment or bloody corpses. The only swearing is provided by the players over voice chat, which can be hilarious as plenty of sub tens appear to play and their idea of “big manning it” seems to be calling each other silly bums. View Full Post

Not going swimming

Despite my best efforts we didn’t manage to go swimming today. We did everything right, got up, dressed, put the swimming kit in the bag and go in the car and drove to the local school where the kids have their Sunday lessons.

Unfortunately our best intentions were just that; intentions. It turns out that the lessons don’t start until next week, something I hadn’t checked because I knew that they started this week and why did I need to check?

This is symptomatic of me really. I wish I was more organised and better clued in. I know exactly where last term bill is, it’s in my sock drawer on the right hand side, just next to my bow-tie (clip on, my tie up one got borrowed by my brother about ten years ago and I’ve not seen it since).

On it’s own this wouldn’t have been too bad but coupled with the fact we spent ages looking for number one son’s mobile phone, only to find it in my rucksack, where he put it for safe keeping when we went to Wrest Park last weekend.

I give up.

Sometimes you just have to put your hands up and say yes, I am bloody hopeless. There’s nothing else for it unfortunately.

Games consoles, Overwatch, kids accounts and a meltdown

Recently we were exceptionally decadent and added a second PS4 to our house. We did this through the accumulation of Nectar Points which we used to get a decent discount at Argos on a bundle that was already reduced. Go me!

Although it seems silly, there were a couple of good reasons behind the purchase. Firstly we had pretty much been driven from the living room where MY PS4 lives by kids incessantly playing games on it. Secondly, the high functioning child gets very valuable secondary socialisation from using it. Secondary socialisation is important for people on the spectrum; it involves chatting and interacting with people whilst doing something else. Put kids together in a situation where the sole purpose is to interact and they’ll have trouble, give them something to do that leads to interaction as a secondary benefit of whatever they’re doing, and it works much better. View Full Post

When you hurt the cause you champion

Oh for a rounded world view.

The problem with ideology is that it becomes a means to an end. In the Large Hadron Collider of Life, when ideology and social interaction are hurled together at a high percentage of the speed of light, it is often the case that individual ideologues involved get so caught up in their narrative that common sense has to take a back seat.

Whether this is manifest as the devout Christian spreading what he thinks is God’s word by shambling up and down the high street with a sinners repent sandwich board and a portable megaphone, the Gamer Gate “ethics in journalism” lot automatically assuming that any woman involved in video games is there because of sexual favours offered to men, or the feminist who’s default position is any man is a woman beater, the thing they all have in common is the damage they do to their cause by their actions and behaviour. View Full Post

The £70K question

Yesterday was full of hot takes on whether earning £70K makes you rich. The man with exciting eyebrows, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, was responsible for this, saying Labour would tax the rich more, with “the rich” being defined as those earning more than £70K.

I’ll say now I don’t earn £70K, so I’m not defending myself here. Plenty of my friends earn more than £70K, in some instances it’s multiples of that, and some of those can plead poverty in public without any sense of irony.

£70K is without a doubt a lot of money.

It’s four and a half times the salary I started on as a trainee accountant twenty years ago.

As a gross salary, it’s over two and a half times the national average of £27k (in terms of take home pay though, it’s only just over twice as much due to tax thresholds and allowances).

However in plenty of family situations, with a single wage earner and a stay at home parent, it’s only marginally better than both parents working for the national average. Two basic rate tax payers earning the average UK wage each between them will take home 91% of the amount one individual earning £70K will. And that’s before anything like working family tax credits or other benefits that are available to basic rate tax payers.

The unasked question is how many families chose to make the sacrifice in terms of one parent’s career to ensure the other parent maximises their earnings? 

There are of course other issues, such as the cost of childcare- for us to have all three in child care before and after school was, until recently high enough that a £50K salary would have been roughly the break even point to cover child care. This was a combination of where we live and the cost of child care for three children. Once they were all in full time education the cost would have dropped to a little over £8,500 from taxed income for breakfast and after school club during term time and many thousands more to cover the 14 weeks of school holidays. That’s a lot. View Full Post

A great evocation of childhood in an unexpected place

Plenty of fiction gets the representation of kids wrong. Even fiction written for kids isn’t brilliant so when you read, or in this case I suppose re-read after around 30 years, something that seems to get the whole essence of being a kid nailed spot on, it’s something that is worth celebrating. This is especially the case when it’s done in a book that you’d probably not consider a fertile breeding ground for this sort of thing.

What book am I talking about? Well I’ll put you out of your misery, it’s Stephen King’s It. Yes, the one with the clown and the typical King supernatural firework display at the end that can’t help be slightly disappointing after such fine work before. I don’t think I realised at the time that Bill, Ritchie, Bev, Mike and co were so well written but that was mostly because I was almost a contemporary of the childhood incarnation of those characters when I read the book. I can’t have been more than 12 or 13 when I read It; the library’s hardback wasn’t too shabby when I booked it out and I was a terribly precocious reader. If pushed to comment, I might have suggested that the idea of the characters 27 years on was the one thing I’d have struggled with- what 12 year old can empathise with people almost 40, that’s positively ancient.

I’ve not seen the Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown mini-series from the 1990 miniseries and I probably shan’t watch the cinematic duology that is on it’s way and in part prompted me to reread the book. I may watch the proposed “supercut” of the two movies though, as that sounds interesting. The first film, due out this year, focuses on the characters as kids, told in flashback in the novel, with the second film dealing with their return as adults to face the evil they thought they had destroyed. A supercut of both films matching the chronology of the book would be brilliant if done properly. View Full Post

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp by Olaf Falafel

Our five year old Ned has discovered flatulence in a big way. And by that I mean both the act of partaking in it’s creation and also the act of laughing hysterically at it. The joys of being five.

I am to blame for Ned’s infatuation with flatulence a little because I introduced him to the whole “pull my finger” thing. You live and learn.

So when wifey was offered the chance to review Old MacDonald Heard a Parp, a farty interpretation of the old nursery rhyme, I thought I better pick the book up and do my own review with Ned. We’re more tuned in to the themes of the book really.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s framed around the nursery rhyme with old MacDonald attempting to guess which of his animals made the parp in the first instance. I won’t give away the final pay off but I will say it’s enormously satisfying. The art work reminds me of Axel Scheffler (sort of Super Worm era), which is no bad thing and it’s also tucked full of great little touches that make it bearable for an adult too- for example the horse has a Jurassic Pork poster and another poster that’s a spoof on Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover up in his stall).

Of course the proof in the pudding comes from the kids and honestly, Ned was a complete hysterical mess after our first read through. The book even has instructional bits on how to make raspberry sounds, which added to the tears in the eyes, snotty laughing and out of breath mess he became.

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp is out now to buy, and is published by Harper Collins with an RRP of £6.99.