Nozstock: the most family friendly festival becomes EVEN more family friendly!

We’ve been to the Nozstock festival in Herefordshire for a few years now and we all love it. It’s small enough that the kids don’t feel overwhelmed but big enough that they don’t get bored. Last year was a particular highlight as Ned accidentally learnt the words to the Dub Pistols Mucky Weekend (fortunately he doesn’t understand a word of it. If you want to pick up on our review of it, you can read it here.

  • Expanding and improving family camping to accommodate more tents and more space
  • Increasing the number of toilets on site by 25% and introducing child-friendly toilets in family camping
  • Supplies available for family campers including loo roll, wet wipes, sanitiser, sun cream, plasters, toothpaste and site maps. Whilst stocks last!
  • ‘Save your space’ scheme. Booked to use family camping but want to make sure you have enough space to camp together? A limited amount of 5m2 pitches are available to hire to save your space
  • Little Wonderful Kids Area expanded to include more activities aimed at older children and a dedicated breastfeeding space

As you can see from my review of this years festival, Nozstock is already really family friendly, so any improvement is going to be the icing on the cake.

So if you’re looking for a last minute Christmas pressie, you can buy tickets for the 2019 festival here.

A useful instructional for the parents of boys

I don’t often publish instructionals and this one is even more out there as it’s from the BBC’s comedy show The Daily Mash (itself spun out of the satirical website of the same name).

However given the press recently on all sorts of shenanigans on the internet from kids not believing that Madeleine McCann was actually a real person, to what’s known as “redpilling“, it’s probably more relevant now than ever that we keep an eye on what our kids are up to online. Let’s face it, you don’t want to get down the line and long for the nostalgic days when all you had to worry about was your kid googling for “boobies” on the internet. Whether it’s right wing/racist/fascist stuff on YouTube, or endless conspiracy theories that younger people find hard to differentiate from the truth from poppycock, the important thing is to talk to your kids about it.

Which brings us on to the whole “incel” subculture in the video. I was terrible with girls at school but that was due to shyness, I didn’t feel the need to construct an entire narrative or reality around the way human interaction works to justify my crapness, I just knew I was shy. The whole incel movement, “involuntarily celibate” boys who go to rather extreme lengths to convince themselves that the world is ganging up on them reminds me rather of an old episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer does the “worm do” joke from the 1,001 chat up lines book he has, and Lister tries to point out to him that women aren’t an unknown different species who have to be tricked into liking you.

That’s what I like about Rachel Parrish’s monologue above; although she rightly ridicules the whole movement, she doesn’t dismiss it and actually ends up with some (tongue in cheek) pointers to potential incels to stop them going down that crazy path.

Last night I got told off by my mum- I’m 43!

I’m used to be told off, it’s a part of life but it has been a number of years since my mum actually told me off. I’m well into my forties now and had thought that I’d passed that stage of my life. It appears that I haven’t.

I tend to have a weekly chat with my parents on the phone while I’m walking home from work. Although they’re only based 18 miles away, with three kids and lots of activities at the weekend, we only see them once every couple of months, so it’s good to keep in touch.

While I was chatting to mum yesterday, I mentioned that it’s great to be able to see what the boy has had for lunch- he’s newly started at secondary school and his school dinner money is done via biometrics- in this instance a thumb print. We can log on to an app and see what he’s spent and what he’s spent it on. Mum was impressed, I could tell. Mind you, a lot of technology impresses her generation, but even so, she said it was a shame that they didn’t have that sort of system when I was at school.

I was a creature of habit in my school days. Packed lunch containing:

  • two slices of Sainsbury wholemeal bread made into a Marmite sandwich (cut diagonally)
  • a bag of crisps (Ringos, Farmer Browns, Hula Hoops, Chipsticks)
  • a biscuit (orange/mint/fruit Club or a KitKat)
  • an apple
  • a carton of drink (5 Alive, Umbongo or something similar)

Blithely, I mentioned to mum I didn’t actually eat my packed lunch very often, instead I sold it to Mark Giltrow. Mark was on school dinners but didn’t like them and preferred a packed lunch, so I sold him mine for the equivalent of a school dinner, pocketing the money to fund my obsession with comics and computer games. Along with my 55p bus fare home I didn’t spend, choosing to walk instead, this added a huge £8.75 a week to my income. That was enough to buy a Megadrive game once a month!

There was silence on the other end of the phone. The silence extended and became awkward. Them mum replied, “You naughty boy, no wonder you were hungry when you got home, honestly Alex, I’m cross with you.”

I had to point out that we were talking about something that happened 30 years ago, and as a 43 year old parent of three I wasn’t about to take a telling off for something that happened so long ago but there was little I could say that would mollify her. I was in trouble!

Hoarding like a pro

It’s not getting any better. Whenever we have a big tidy up it seems like we’re just moving stuff about and relocating things rather than getting rid of stuff. Our house must weigh about twice as much as our neighbours because we’ve got so much darn stuff in it.

The kids don’t help the accumulation of detritus- attempt to get them to part with any old or broken toy they haven’t touched for years and they’ll wail and play with it incessantly until you leave the room and then revert to the scrumming wrestling game that is their preferred pastime. 

Still I’m no better, I keep on finding stuff in the house that I bought years ago and in some instances haven’t actually opened. Take this for example:

Dreamcast VMU

The Dreamcast was Sega’s last (and ill-fated) console. It was released in 1999 and discontinued in 2001. This is a sealed box VMU (memory card) for a Dreamcast that’s sat in a box in our loft for many many years.

Still, I did manage somewhat of a breakthrough. I took 17 boxes down from the loft that contained old video consoles, games and various cables and power supplies. I only returned 7 boxes, which I count as a win, but I’m still a little nervous about some of the PSUs I threw away.

I mean, just because I haven’t used them in the last 15 years, doesn’t mean they’re not vital. Right? Right???

Nozstock the Hidden Valley 2018 Review

This year Nozstock celebrated it’s 20th birthday, no mean feat given how the festival market has burgeoned in recent years. The secret to their success is threefold- Nozstock has refused to grow to the size of a mega festival, it has great music, and it’s just incredibly friendly.

This year the weather gods were kind to us,it was gloriously hot and sunny where it had been rather wet the previous year. The weather does make a big difference at a festival, even one where they deal with the mud really well, and I have to say combined with the lovely local cider and the musical line up, this was probably the best Nozstock yet.

We started off Friday with We Are Scientists, before moving on to the Selector for a bit of ska. Both were ace, but simply a warm up for Chase & Status a bit later in the evening, who did an awesome set. Day time is quite chilled at Nozstock, with a mixture of mellow acoustic, folk, and guitar based pop/rock. Things get really banging in the evenings. The kids did well on the first night, managing to stay up until gone midnight.

On day 2 we were joined by the rest of our posse (the Friday had been year six leavers party, so my wife, the eldest, and one of our friends and their eldest came up first thing Saturday morning). The last sets of the previous night only finished at around 2/3am, so the morning was quite chilled. I’d made the cardinal mistake of not filling up my water bottle so had to start the day with a gin in a tin to wet my whistle – why not start as you mean to carry on eh? 

Although the family camping has always been great at Nozstock (restricted to people with actual families and not groups of teenagers on their own like a few other festivals I could name), this year it really outdid itself with a bespoke adventure playground and some football goals.  This is a really great addition when you have kids that get up at 7am and the festival proper doesn’t open until 10!

Of course the bigger acts were reserved for the (late) evenings but with the likes of Electric Swing Circus on earlier, it really wasn’t the case of having to sit through a lot of rubbish just to make sure you got to see the likes of GrandMaster Flash or Goldfrapp.

The thing that sets Nozstock apart (aside from the music, the food, and well lots of other things really) is the atmosphere though. It is so friendly. We had “merry” lads and lasses coming up and asking the kids who their favourite artists were, complementing us on making the kids wear ear defenders, and just being genuinely nice. There was none of the argy bargy jostling and queue jumping you see at larger festivals, everybody is out to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Tickets are already available for Nozstock’s 21st Festival, and you can pick them up here at an early bird rate. Don’t forget that kids under 12 go free, so it really is an awesome opportunity to spend a long weekend chilling.

Navigating the maze of electricity use with British Gas and their smart meter maze game

Our house was built in the 1960s and one of the ways we get an insight every day to how different things are in 2018 to 1968 (Happy 50th Birthday house!) is the aggravation we inevitably have when it comes to plugging stuff in. Each room has at most two plug sockets, which in this day and age simply isn’t anywhere near enough. And boy do we have things plugged in- from computers to grills, to smart speakers, everything seems to come with a power brick and a plug today. Ironically, even the 1970s stereo we’ve recently inherited needs two plug sockets, which suggests that power strips were pretty common in the 70s too.

And it is true for us that almost every plug socket has a power strip on it, with various devices and chargers plugged in. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up in a cold sweat wondering how much electricity half our stuff uses on standby and whether cumulatively it would be enough to put one of our kids through university. Both our bigger tellies (50 and 60 inch respectively) don’t even have a physical on/off button; they’re either in standby or switched off at the wall and since the cables are tucked away from sight, turning them off at the wall every night is a bit of a chore, especially when one of the kids wakes you up at 6am because the TV doesn’t work.

British Gas have developed a game to let you see what uses electricity and how, with the idea that it creates an awareness of the things that use a lot of electricity. Much like a smart meter will let you see what is being used, and make you conscious of what needs turning off or using sparingly to save you money. I have a friend who was shocked to see the electricity usage of his big plasma TV after he got a smart meter fitted. He went away and looked up the actual power consumption and worked out that if he bought a similar size modern LCD TV the saving in electricity between the two would actually pay for his new telly before the warranty on it ran out.

The British Gas Smart Meter Maze game lets you get an idea of how much simple things like turning off lights or game consoles will save you, all wrapped up in a lovely retro pixel art style. I particularly like the way it shows the kids running around and turning everything on ALL THE TIME. It’s very realistic in that respect.

That’s the beauty of a smart meter really. It won’t magically save you energy on its own but there is something about seeing a £££ move that focuses the mind and makes you more energy conscious. I even did the experiment of setting our TV to ECO mode to see what difference it would make. Initially the screen looked a lot dimmer but since we mostly watch TV in the evening with the lights off, we soon adjusted as the saving, although small, was another step towards being more frugal with our energy usage.

And in case you’re wondering, I scored 23,000 on the Smart Meter Maze game. Try and beat that if you can!

 

This post is a promotional feature in association with British Gas® but all thoughts are my own

Owning my fears with AXA PPP healthcare

And so my journey to owning my fear of an early death is drawing to an end and also entering a new and exciting chapter. My six months of blog posts and support calls from Becky at AXA PPP healthcare are drawing to an end but the process of empowering myself to continue the journey is ongoing.

When I started my journey back in January I was more interested in tips, tricks and shortcuts to getting my health back on track; I was hoping AXA PPP healthcare and Becky would be able to give me the professional equivalent of those “one weird tip the experts don’t want you to know” adverts you see out there, but as I began to buy in to the process, I realised it was as much a change of attitude as it was in the record-able metrics of what I wanted to achieve: setting myself up to fail by designating a weight loss target as the goal wasn’t a great idea because it ignored the reason for it, and the reason (wanting to be there for my kids) was more important and required a change in thinking, not just in eating.

I’m going to sound like one of those old hippies but in this instance the journey was definitely more important than the destination. And I say this with some authority, as the man who once reviewed a Slendertone in a not entirely serious manner much to the irritation of everyone who found it on the front page of Google for several years.

Once I entered the mindset of owning my fear of a premature death, I was liberated in that I could face the elephant in the room and do more than a desultory attempt to address it because lets not forget, a fear pushed to the back of your mind and not properly acknowledged won’t be dealt with properly and will demotivate you all the way as you try to change things.

There are four key things in the Own your fears campaign that worked really well for me:

  1. Admitting to myself that I had a fear and it needed facing in the first place;
  2. Embracing the positivity that the admission created and using it to drive change;
  3. Having practical help in terms of support and guidance from Becky; and
  4. Having someone to be accountable to.

Going forwards, now that my series of coaching calls has finished, I can still manage one and two, three is okay as I’ve got the practical help sitting in my G Drive, but point four was always going to be the issue- just who do I find to hold myself accountable to?

In the end the answer was obvious and staring me in the face for the whole time. After all the reason I decided to own my fear in the first instance was for my children, and the two older children are of an age that they can hold me accountable but also encourage me. I may have had one two many enjoying the football on a sunny Friday afternoon recently- when I got back home, my two eldest told me off. The younger made me drink two pints of water and the elder did an impromptu quiz (what’s the weight of Saturn? Is diamond harder than titanium? You know, sensible questions) to ascertain how naughty I’d been. He even wrote down my results and rated me. That’s the kind of being held to account I need, although he’d have done better had he removed my dinner plate from me before I decided to have a quick nap.

The best thing about owning my fear is I feel light. Weight wise I haven’t lost as much as I hoped to but that’s not really what I’m talking about. It’s about the metaphorical weight that’s been taken off my shoulders.

Taking that first step is hard though, but with AXA PPP healthcare there to help, you don’t have to do it on your own. Go on, what are you waiting for? This could be the start of something special!

Blasters at the ready, we’re Lazer M.A.D!

On a baking hot Saturday a couple of weeks ago the boys and I drove down to Greenwich to sweat a lot in a concrete basement. I sweated so much I had to change every single item of clothing I was wearing. It turns out, having fun in the heat makes you sweat and we had so much fun playing Lazer M.A.D. that I must have lost a couple of pints of fluids.

Lazer M.A.D. is a blaster game that you can play in an underground bunker in Greenwich but you can also play at home, in your garden, or in the office (if your boss is understanding). I have to admit Ned’s enthusiasm and excitement as we headed to the event was probably matched by my scepticism- “toy” versions of almost everything tend to turn out to be rubbish, from low megapixel cameras, to drones that crash or fly off and get lost, the market doesn’t have a very good track record in making stuff that is good in anything other than an advert.

I have to say though that two weeks after the event, and two weeks playing quite a bit of Lazer M.A.D. at home with the kids, I’ve been proved pleasantly wrong.

Lets start with the equipment. In each pack of Lazer M.A.D. you get two blasters, with various modular attachments that affect the range and the rate of fire. you also get a little harness and a target (much like you would if you went to an actual Lazer Tag venue). The first thing that impressed me was the durability of the blasters and the add-ons. I could see that they had a bit of heft to them and didn’t look like they would break that easily. Build quality (and general style) is fairly similar to everyone’s favourite dart propelling blaster system and that’s no bad thing in my book. Each of the add-ons snicks on positively and after a few weeks of play haven’t i) been lost or ii) become loose.

Of course, like all these devices, the Lazer M.A.D. blasters aren’t really lasers, they use an IR transmitter that is pretty powerful and pretty focused. As a chap who has been on several 9/10 year old laser tag party teams, I really couldn’t tell the difference between the Lazer M.A.D. stuff and the “professional” gear.

Given that you can use the blaster in different modes, it’s great that you have to reload it (there is a pump action slider on the top, so you too can be Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 and do it one handed if you really want to be). The target also shows the number of lives you have left, which is handy too.

Although there are no real set rules, since you can set the blasters and targets to “friend” or “foe”, it’s possible to play team games and also, if you set everyone to the A team on the blaster but the B team on the target, you can also play last man standing, or Fortnite in real life as the kids termed it.

Even with the two player advanced battle ops set we played with (and bought home with us), which retails for £59.99, you can have a lot of fun, although if you’ve got a few friends with a set, the fun exponentially increases. The price isn’t prohibitive either if you do want to add more sets to your collection and join in with your kids.

Ned, our six year old, loved Lazer M.A.D. more than I can really articulate. It took him most of the drive home to calm down, and the next hour or so getting excited about playing on his very own set. I was surprised and impressed too. Have I mentioned how hot and sweaty I got playing Lazer M.A.D? Yes? Well that’s probably testament to how much fun we had playing!

Running just as fast as we can, Owning my Fears with AXA PPP healthcare

Last Sunday was the St Albans Half Marathon. I didn’t run the half marathon. I didn’t run in the 10K either but I did run with my kids in the 1.5 mile fun run, and that ladies and gentlemen is entirely down to AXA PPP healthcare helping me in owning my fear of decrepitude and channelling it into something positive!

Vangelis is blaring out; I’m running in slow motion, aiming for the 4(+6) minute mile and frankly I might as well be Roger Bannister. All five of us ran the fun run but the two older kids went off at blistering pace, and wifey followed to make sure they didn’t get lost in the throng at the end. That left we running with Ned, who is six. Ned is a natural at pretty much everything but his one weakness with running is not pacing himself. Fortunately, running with me he had no choice but to run a bit slower. Even so, we passed a lot of parents, kids, teenagers and sole runners, which was heartening.

I had a plan though, and it wasn’t entirely down to my fitness or Neds aged either. As we came into the home straight, with crowds down both sides of the course, I turned to Ned and said, “Do you think you can sprint as fast as you can to the finish?” and of course he could. He might as well be modelled on Dash from the Incredibles because when he started really running, I had to put everything into it to keep up with him. We must have overtaken 40 or 50 people on that stretch, me crying “Run Forrest Run!”, Ned weaving in and out of people and as we approached the finish line, being cheered on by the crowd, we held hands and crossed the line together!

I’ll tell you this, it might have been hard work getting even this far, but it felt damn satisfying to cross the finish line of a 14 minute run at full pelt, holding my six year olds hand.

My fear of dying prematurely and leaving my wife and kids on their own was crushing and it was holding me back in so many ways but I’ve owned it. Now you can too, you can submit your fears here on the AXA Own Your Fears website and start your journey too. Did you know that 60% fear dying early and leaving their children? I wasn’t alone and the chances are you aren’t either.

Just remember, pretending that everything is all right doesn’t make it so, and that anxiety will be sitting there at the back of your mind nagging away at you.

Aside from the culmination of the the fun run, this past month has seen me double down and concentrate on not stuffing up. For me apathy to change and general can’t be bothered-ness has always been a problem but having a target to aim for has helped tremendously.

Talking to Becky, my support from AXA PPP healthcare has given me some great tips for keeping going, focusing on the lifestyle I want to achieve, rather than just specific targets, like losing X kilos, or being able to run 10K. I’m never going to be the sort of bloke who appears in a shaving advert but I could easily be one of the people to appear in a popular lifestyle product advert if I put a bit more work in and that’s what its about in a daft way. It’s much easier to buy into a lifestyle than a set of dry specific targets and that piece of advice has really helped me a lot.

 

Chaps, did you realise you can get thrush too?

I like to think I’m a fairly typical bloke in many ways when it comes to health- I was three years late to having my 40+ medical check up for example- and I’m always happy to soldier on with a cold without making a martyr of myself but when Canesten® made me aware of their Talk Health campaign and that men could get thrush, and male thrush was actually a thing, I was a bit taken aback to be honest. So taken aback, I was actually motivated to find out more.

Thrush is a common yeast infection, experienced by both men and women, caused by an overgrowth of a yeast-
like fungus, Candida albicans. This fungus is naturally found on the skin of healthy people, however, when the natural balance of the skin flora is disturbed, the fungus can multiply excessively triggering the typical signs of the infection.

In men, thrush usually affects the head of the penis, with symptoms being similar to those of vaginal thrush:

  • First, the affected skin reddens. The inside of the foreskin can also swell
  • After a few days, itching can begin, often accompanied by a burning sensation which becomes stronger when passing urine or during sexual intercourse
  • Sometimes, a white discharge which looks like cottage cheese can be observed under the foreskin. There may also be an unpleasant smell in some cases
  • Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin is another frequent symptom

So yes gents, it basically hits you where it hurts and where you’d least like to get something like that and have to show a doctor. In fact since reading that men could get thrush, I went on to read up on thrush and found that if left untreated, in some instances it can prove fatal. Eeek! Fortunately it’s about as easy to treat as athlete’s foot and the biggest issue facing us chaps with thrush is an actual awareness that we can get it in the first place.

Canesten® itself is something I am aware of, it’s a popular treatment for thrush, I actually used it on the back on my leg to treat a fungal infection many many years ago (at the recommendation of my GP I hasten to add) but it’s one of those creams that’s found in the “scary aisle” at Boots, along with other stuff that no self respecting bury his head in the sand at all things medical chap would ever look at.

In fact it’s this general lack of awareness centred around male thrush has prompted Canesten, the top brand in women’s intimate health, to launch a ‘Let’s Talk Health’ campaign. This campaign focuses on improving conversation around the topic of thrush, and how it is important for everyone to understand common health conditions.

As I’ve already alluded to, us chaps are quite good at not talking about medical stuff in the first place, in the good old fashioned hope that it will simply “go away”, so it’s hats off to Canesten® for starting the conversation!

This post has been supported by Canesten®, but all thoughts are my own.