The Haves and Have Nots

I don’t know if accused is exactly the right word but I’m going to use it. Last week I was accused of being rich. We live in a city that has a lot of wealth; a good number of my friends are on 6 figure salaries and earn two or three times what I do. I don’t feel rich, and neither does my wife. We have three kids, and once the monthly payments (mortgage, household bills and so on) have gone out, we have hundreds of pounds (not thousands) left to save up for our annual holiday, feed and clothe the kids and to try and put some away for a rainy day.

The funny thing is, the fact we’re house owners with a fairly large mortgage (although low interest rates mean we’re only paying a few quid more than we did on a mortgage half the size 15 years ago), appeared to count against me in the rich stakes. To be a homeowner in the south east makes you rich. Again I suppose it’s a perception thing- renting our house would almost certainly cost us two to three times what we pay in mortgage repayments because it’s a desirable place to live. We’d certainly be poorer if we weren’t homeowners and almost certainly wouldn’t be able to live where our kids have/are growing up but I don’t know if per se that makes us rich. View Full Post

Gardening with the kids

Ever since we got our own place 14 years ago now, we’ve been properly into gardening. In our first place it was a case of transforming the concrete and gravel monstrosity into something with plants and greenery but ever since we moved 10 years ago to our current home, and had kids, it’s been more about growing our own food and getting the kids involved in the whole process from planting the seeds to cooking/eating the end results.

About 5 years ago, when our eldest was 4, we gave our garden a huge makeover, moving the shed from the middle of the back fence in to the corner, turning it into a summer house and building some raised beds in front of it for some grow your own fun for the kids.

garden

Our garden, plenty of space for growing stuff!

Our kids range in age from 4 to 9. The nine year old is pretty competent at most things, even if that has lead to him eating all of my bacon recently, so we entrusted him with digging over the vegetable patch (under supervision) this year. The only perennials we have in there are the raspberry bushes, which are probably the best thing you can grow with/for kids because they’re almost like a weed and require very little help once they’re established, which meant he could give the soil a jolly good turn with the lady fork (not that he’s a lady, but technically a lady fork is quite a bit smaller than a standard one, so it’s more suited to his 9 year old frame).

View Full Post

The secret life of Dora and Mimi with Petplan!

Since Petplan are an official partner of the ace new movie The Secret Life of Pets, they thought it would be good fun if we were able to get an insight in to the secret life of our pets, so they provided us with a wireless motion activated camera with the ability to record on to SD card. We have our own cat Johnny but he’s not really up for behaving to camera, and we reckon he has a secret second family somewhere that feeds him.


The Secret Life of Pets © 2016 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved

Better, our friends asked us to look after their two kittens while they were on holiday for a week. We made the kittens a cosy little home in the room we rather grandly call the library- a sectioned off room at the back of our garage conversion/extension that has more books than you could possible ever need in it.

I’d fed the two cats and even played with one of them a few times but Dora was very elusive. She just wouldn’t come out to eat or even see what all the fuss was about when I was in the room.

Fortunately the night vision function on the camera worked brilliantly and I was able to capture Dora walking around as bold as brass in the middle of the night:

It was a relief to see Dora walking about and having a nose about because up to this point I was half convinced that Dora was actually an elaborate joke and didn’t actually exist!

The other kitten, Mimi, was much more playful though, and when she wasn’t sleeping, she was out and about having a right old prowl. I caught her on the camera coming out from behind the armchair, I reckon she must have been checking up on Dora!

While all this was happening, I’m fairly sure that we heard someone a few doors down call “Johnny”, which may explain while our actual cat is often nowhere to be seen!

This post has been possible thanks to Petplan, but all thoughts are my own.

Cycle plan and cycling safety

Learning to ride a bike was one of the high points of my life. I can remember when it happened too, quite vividly. We lived in Lowestoft for a few years and while we were there I had a bright yellow and blue tricycle. By the time we had moved to Hoddesdon in 1982 when I was 7, the trike was no more and I was riding my “Noddy” bike. Like most of the early bikes I had, the Noddy bike was a hand me down from my older cousins, and it wasn’t until I got my cherished Mk2 Grifter (and my brother his Striker) that I got a new bike of my own. The Noddy bike had very fat tyres, which made balancing on it much easier.

grifter

It was the Grifter though that became the bike that really got me in to cycling. I remember it’s three gears (a twist shift too!), and how I looked after it better than anything else ever. When I’d had it for a couple of years I was out in early January on it, and some old chap commented that I’d had a nice bike for Christmas, I’d looked after it that well!

View Full Post

Review: Asterix The Mansions of the Gods

asterix-mansion-of-the-gods

18 months after it’s original foreign language release, Asterix The Mansions of the Gods lands in UK cinemas with a strong English language voiceover cast and a good translation, and most importantly of all, the vast majority of it’s Asterix-ness heartily intact.

If you haven’t heard of Asterix, you must have had your head under a rock (menhir) for the last 50 years- the picture books, along with Tintin, were a staple of my childhood and are now a staple of my children’s too. Even from the trailer, the care in the translations of Albert Uderzo’s illustration to the modern 3D animated movie screen is readily apparent, something that carries on into the adaptation itself. View Full Post

What’s To Come for Car Technology In 2026?

Remember the Nintendo Wii or the PlayStation 3? Chances are they seem like a pretty long while ago now, given how many innovations we’ve benefited from since they first came on the market. Yet these games consoles were at the forefront of the technology of 2006, ten years ago.

The new technology that has come on board since 2006 has influenced far more than the video games we play and nowhere is this more evident than in the cars we drive. Bluetooth phone operation, in-built sat-nav systems and parking sensors are all pretty mainstream now and have had a big influence on the in-car experience.

So, what’s next? If we could fast forward another ten years, what might our vehicles look like?

Look to luxury brands

The first thing to note is that the mainstream car technology of tomorrow already exists in the luxury models of today. The Bluetooth, sat-nav and sensors mentioned above all existed a decade ago, just not in the sort of cars that most road users could afford to buy.

If you take a look in these expensive cars today, you’ll see a blurring of the lines between the car dashboard and smartphone or tablet screen. Top end cars now enjoy the benefits of an ‘infotainment’ system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto operating as the sort of platforms we are used to utilising on our smart devices. Mapping now uses real time traffic information and voice control for calls and apps is improving rapidly.

By 2026 it’s likely that such changes will be embedded in models right across the range of vehicles on the roads.

Driverless is key

The other thing you can already see in the pioneering cars of 2016 is the move towards autonomous driving. The technology available at the moment is only able to ‘assist’ the driver with things such as keeping in lane, braking, cruise control or parking.

It’s likely that this will not just spread throughout the motoring spectrum, but also increase in complexity as the decade wears on, tipping the balance from merely ‘assisting’ to actually taking over some of the driving functions we currently perform.

Digital Trends highlights manufacturers such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz believe that fully autonomous driving will be possible by 2026, while others predict that drivers will only be able to hand over to their car when on highways and will remain ‘hands on’ when travelling along local streets.

Change is constant

The race to perfect driverless technology is hotting up. That means change is likely to be particularly rapid over the next decade, as manufacturers vie for their position at the forefront of the autonomous revolution.

For the motorist it’s likely to be hard to keep up. The sort of features that you think are top of the range in your vehicle today are likely to be old hat fairly quickly. For people who like to stay ahead of the game, this means they are more likely to be shopping on the pages of Lease Car than peering through the windows of their local dealership – with this sort of arrangement allowing drivers to trade in their models for a newer set of wheels that possesses the latest innovations.

Rapid change, then, should be expected between now and 2026. Further developments in dashboard technology and in-car connectivity and the elements of autonomous driving will filter through to us all fairly soon. Brace yourself for the facilities of your current car to feel dated in the near future.

My old comics rediscovered by my 9 year old

At some point in the late 80’s Marvel obviously panicked and decided to release a huge slew of licensed tie in comics in the hope that a few titles would stick. Buoyed by actually owning issue 1 of Return of the Jedi from 1983 (sadly I lost my badge in the news agents under a big display unit), I obviously decided to buy a lot of the first issues and bung them in a folder for almost 30 years. View Full Post

Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

petes-dragon-2016-disney-movie-trailer-logo

Disney’s new live action Pete’s Dragon movie isn’t a remake as much of a re-imagining of the 1977 original. The first movie came out when I was two, and I remember it from my youth well. Coming from Disney’s “Bronze/modern age”, it was an enjoyable mixture of live action and animation that hasn’t particularly stood the test of time in my opinion. In other words, it was ripe for a remake, and that’s exactly what Disney has done. View Full Post

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