Bad hair and no bacon

bed head

Today got off to a terrible start with the double whammy of a bad hair morning and no bacon. The no bacon part of it was really disappointing as I awoke to the gentle aroma of bacon wafting up from the kitchen. There are few better ways to wake up than to impromptu bacon (either in a bap or with eggs on a plate) but today was a let down as the boy had been cooking under supervision and decided to put all 5 rashes into a sandwich and eat it himself.

Vertical hair and a consolation bowl of Cheerios was the order of the day then. Not a disaster but so much less than the promise of mere minutes earlier.

I’ve always had terrible bed head, it’s a combination of two things, the way I sleep (on my front, with my head to the side) and the fact that the hair on the right hand side of my head grows funny. There’s a clear line along the side of my head where my hair points sideways. It doesn’t grow either out or down, it grows facing towards the back of my head, flush to my skull. It makes getting a haircut tricky as it takes the hairdresser/barber a few attempts to get any style looks vaguely reasonable as cutting the sides to the same length always makes the right hand side look half an inch shorter than the left. That’s why I’ve used a grand total of three barbers since I graduated from university about 20 years ago.

Still, I’ve now gone on about my hair past the point where I really should have stopped, and if you ever bump in to me in the real world, you won’t have any ability to stop yourself staring at my hair. I’m sorry I’ve driven you to that, entirely my fault!

Review: LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens (Xbox One)

lego star wars the force awakens

A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of the latest LEGO video game, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They didn’t have to ask me twice as the kids absolutely love both LEGO & Star Wars, and the two most played games the kids own are LEGO Marvel Superheroes (300+ hours) and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (200+ hours).

Traveller Tales, the developers behind the LEGO video games, really know their stuff. Their games work for kids in as much as they aren’t incredibly difficult to complete the story mode but also work for adults as the humour is properly multi-layered and a lot of the unlockables are utterly fiendish to unlock, which means there is plenty of challenge for us older players.

Travellers Tales also know how to keep things fresh by constantly evolving the gameplay in successive LEGO games. The player might not notice this from game to game but if you were to fire up something like  the LEGO Indiana Jones Trilogy, you would definitely notice it is a lot more basic than the more recent games like LEGO Marvel Avengers or Jurassic World.

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens takes this development on a notch in several ways, the most notable is when you now break something up and get the jiggling bricks that indicate you have something to build, you now sometimes get a choice in what you build. One puzzle early on requires you to pick which of the three options you need to build first, then second and finally last in order to solve the puzzle. I must admit the first time I attempted it, I didn’t notice the new build mechanism and sat there flummoxed until the 9 year old put me right.

The first level actually happens during the events of Return of the Jedi, and right from the start you’re introduced to unlockable characters, in this instance Wicket the Ewok as you battle Stormtroopers on the forest moon of Endor. You soon end up with Han Solo, the kids favourite, in a Scout Walker, shooting at stuff, and everything is awesome (ahem).

From LEGO Batman 3 onwards, there have been arcade shooty bits in LEGO games, and this is no exception, the first one sees you piloting the Millennium Falcon on it’s run to destroy the Death Star at the end of the first level. It’s visually great to look at and as always it’s wonderful to see an iconic scene from a movie replayed in LEGO.

After this first level/prologue, we’re in to the Force Awakens proper. We found a few more enhancements to the gameplay in the first few levels, most notably the cover/shoot system that brings more traditional shooter elements that adults might recognise from games that are unsuitable for little ones. It didn’t take our 9 year to twig how it all worked though, so that will stand him in good stead for later on in (his gaming) life.

One of the fun parts of any LEGO game are the unlockable characters, and in keeping with the more recent games, The Force Awakens has loads- over 200 apparently. I say apparently because we’re nowhere near that yet but the kids are still playing it well after actually completing the main story mode. The characters range from Darth Maul, through to just about every possible Stormtrooper imaginable, Tuskan Raiders, tons of different Droids, several Wookies and, well you get the idea.

All the LEGO games we’ve played recently have been great fun, even Jurassic World was pretty good, but this brings the Star Wars franchise right up to date with the latest gameplay enhancements that Travellers Tales has implemented. It’s been over 5 years since LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars came out, and it’s high time that the series was given a sequel that built on the more modern LEGO video games and this is that game!

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens is available on PlayStation®4, PlayStation®3, PlayStation®Vita, Xbox One®, Xbox 360®, Wii™U, Nintendo 3DS™ and Windows PC

Gant glasses at Specsavers

When Specsavers kindly offered me a free pair of Gant specs from their new range, I did what any self respecting blogger would do and crowd sourced the decision making process on Facebook, picking my five favourite pairs and letting my friends decide which pair I’d end up with:

Gant specs from Specsavers

I had a lot of votes, and also a lot of people complaining that my gurning distracted them from picking their favourites but in the end one pair won through with a clear majority, so those were the frames I chose. View Full Post

Review: TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit

As far as mouthfuls go, the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is definitely up there with the best of them. I’m going to try to refer to them as the AV1200s from now on, otherwise my word count will treble and you’ll get lost in terminology!

Before I start talking about performance though, it’s best to talk about what the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is actually for. The purpose is simple, the technology behind it complicated but basically devices like the AV1200s are part of the Powerline standard, that look to provide a wired network connection to parts of the house you either can’t cable up or that have really poor WiFi reception. Poor WiFi can have any number of reasons behind it- distance, the number of walls between where you are and the router, interference from neighbours WiFi networks, the number of devices you have connected over WiFi or even the type of WiFi network you have, or the quality of the router you are using.

TP-linkPowerline neatly bypasses this by using your electricity cabling as a wired network. The principle is simple, you plug one AV1200 in near your router, and another in the room/space that doesn’t already have a wired connection or a decent WiFi signal. There are numerous different designs from different manufacturers, some have WiFi, some don’t, some act as passthroughs so you don’t lose a plug socket, and some don’t. Powerline isn’t a new standard, it has been around for at least a decade now but over the last ten years, the speed has increased dramatically. The first Powerlines I bought were 100Mbps, the AV1200s are 1,200Mbps. Although I should say, it’s always been the case that these headline figures should be taken with a pinch of salt and that real world performance won’t be that high. A case in point is the AV500 Homeplugs that these TP-Link AV1200s replaced. Despite being called AV500 for 500Mbps, the devices had network ports only capable of 100Mbps because that was a much more realistic transfer speed for them to work at. View Full Post

Summing up Summer: The next Coleridge in the making

Although as a poet probably most famous for either The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge will always have a soft spot in my heart for a quote attributed to him about the typical British summer:

”Summer has set in with its usual severity.”

I don’t know the context, it was written in a letter in May 1826 to a friend called Charles Lamb but I like to think it was a rail against the weather pissing down on poor old Samuel from a great height. View Full Post

Review: NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK R8500

I’ve now been using the Netgear Nighthawk R8500 as my main router for two months (thanks Netgear for lending it to me for such a prolonged period), and this time has given me ample opportunity to assess it in different real life working conditions.

The Netgear Nighthawk R8500 usually retails for a rather hefty £399, but it is currently on a limited time special offer price of £299 at Amazon. That sure is a lot of money but if you think about the cost of all the devices you connect to your router, how much you pay for your internet and other subs, does it actually make sense to pay a lot less for something that doesn’t allow you to enjoy your stuff properly? That’s really the question I’m looking to answer for myself, as I look to replace the router function of my Superhub 2 on a more permanent basis.

If you haven’t read it, I wrote a post when I received the R8500 on the value of having something a step up from the usual integrated router than Virgin, BT or Sky build into their cable/ADSL modems. View Full Post

Review: Swallows and Amazons (2016)

Swallows and Amazons

In a summer full of hyper-kinetic action movies, most of them either animated or so full of CGI they might as well be, and all aimed at kids, Swallows and Amazons is a true breath of fresh air. Swallows and Amazons has things like characters, a plot you can follow and tracking shots that last more than half a second.

It’s an old fashioned movie, set in 1935, and it’s all the better for it. There is no attempt to update the setting or throw knowing nods to the contemporary world in to it, the direction works well with the setting, and if Captain Flint is now a spy, rather than a travel writer writing his memoirs, the injection of mild peril that this gives the film doesn’t stray too far from the spirit of the original.

The story sees the Walker family, Mrs Walker, John, Susan, Tatty and Roger (and the baby), go on holiday to the Lake District. Mr Walker is at sea with the Royal Navy in the South China Sea. The kids can run wild in the country side, and they get special permission from father to going sailing on the lake (for those who have read the book, the wonderful telegram “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, won’t drown”, is in the film). They camp on the island, and have a run in with the Amazons- owners of another small sailing boat. The Amazons uncle, living in a houseboat, is stalked by a pair of Russian spies, a plot line in addition to the book, that adds a bit of movie style adventure to the story. View Full Post

Argh! It’s an EXAM

The big irony in life for me is that I still have the occasional nightmare about exams. Missing an exam, turning the paper over at the end finding another question as the answers are being collected or even not being able to find the exam hall, I have had them all. It’s ironic because I’ve failed two exams in my life, my GCSE (extra curricular) Latin and my TC1 Tax paper (part of my ACA accountancy qualification). I’m usually pretty good at exams, and certainly have nothing to fear from them, so it is quite odd that I still get anxious over them while I’m asleep.

Fear of exams got elevated to a whole new level for me earlier this week though when I took our eldest to his first drumming exam over in Watford. When he started learning the drums about 18 months ago, neither of us expected him to be able to sit an exam because he doesn’t deal with strangers or new situations very well, so when his teacher talked him in to sitting it we were pleased. We also weren’t entirely confident that he would actually sit it but you never know…

Fast forward to this Wednesday just gone, and we’re sitting in the reception of the examination centre. It’s sweltering, and we’re just waiting for the practice room to become free so the lad can loosen up before his exam. It turns out we don’t have much loosening up, just a few tears of worry, and an examination of all the posters on the wall: Who are they? That’s the Who, the two on the left are dead; Who is that? That’s Kurt Cobain, he’s dead. Who’s that? Bob Marley, dead. Who are they? The Stereophonics. Are any of them dead? Not as far as I know.

Yes, it got a little bit morbid but soon enough the chap came through to take the lad through his paces. I had to wait outside and let me tell you, it was horrific. I can’t remember ever feeling so tense in my entire life. Doing exams, or the stress of waiting for the envelope to arrive with the results in, none of that held a candle to waiting outside while my offspring was doing his drumming exam. Goodness only knows how I’ll ever cope with GCSEs or anything. I’m still a wreck two days later.

Hot weather= BBQ, enter the Paladone Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ

Grill Sergeant BBQ

Paladone organised the Dad’s Play Date I did a couple of months ago, and recently they offered me a small portable BBQ called the Grill Sergeant to try out. Given how the weather has massively taken a turn for the better, it was the ideal time to give it a try!

The Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ has a 12 inch grill, costs £29.99 and looks like an extra from South Park, in a good way. You can spend less on a BBQ but what your £29.99 gets you is a well made BBQ, with no sharp edges, a properly treated steel shell, and a pot for the charcoal briquets.

Firing up the Grill Sergeant BBQ, we found there was enough room for 10 chicken drumsticks, although there wasn’t an enormous amount of breathing space, it worked okay.

Chicken on the BBQ

Pretty soon all our chickeny needs were satisfied, job done and thank you Paladone. It’s pretty easy to pack up the Grill Sergeant BBQ and hoist it down to the park (if your park allows BBQs) or round to that mate who doesn’t own a BBQ, it’s pretty portable. The lid helpfully clips on too, so you’re not left juggling with  all the bits when you move it around. Although the legs are removable, you will need a screwdriver to do it, so I’ve just left them on for bumbling around with the Grill Sergeant.

 

THE SCARECROWS’ WEDDING at the Leicester Square Theatre

The Scarecrows' Wedding (image from Edinburgh Festival 2015). Photo Steve Ullathorne [139546]

Hot from a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival, Scamp theatre’s adaptation of the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s wonderful children’s book The Scarecrow’s Wedding is now running at the Leicester Square Theatre until 4 September.

Suited to the intimate atmosphere of the Leicester Square Theatre, Scamp Theatre’s production’s strengths lie in it’s simplicity- three actors on stage for a little under an hour- and it’s songs, which are folksy magnificence that also tie in to the book really well.

It’s the songs that are the strength of the Scarecrow’s Wedding. Played by the cast on guitar, banjo, and fiddle they are beautiful, capturing the nature of book perfectly. Our kids have always loved Julia Donaldson books and (whisper it) we even like the books that Axel Scheffler illustrates without the involvement of Donaldson.

The two scarecrows are played by a lad and a lass with real brilliant good-natured goofiness. The farmer though is a really difficult role to play as he’s part narrator, part farmer, snail, toad, and outrageous French scarecrow. Michael Palmer is brilliant as the farmer and all the other roles, although some of his changes of role might confuse the very little children- for example we thought it was brilliant the way that Palmer became Toad, resplendent with a green space hopper, but it was only really Fifi and the boy (7 and 9) that followed this, it just left Ned (4) a bit confused.

Ned however was up and out of his seat at all the songs, clapping along to every single one. It was easy to do so, as the songs were very catchy.

At 55 minutes the play doesn’t outstay it’s welcome but maintains an air of utter charm throughout. If you’ve got kids and are planning a day out in London, it’s well worth booking some tickets. You’ll find yourself humming the tunes for days afterwards like we have!