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.

Doggone fed up

I recently got into a bit of a fight with a work colleague on Facebook over dog mess. On holiday we had what should have been a lovely day at the beach, followed by a trip to an iron age hill fort. In both instances dog owners pretty much spoiled it for all of us.

On the beach at Charmouth, as we settled down to have our picnic after a morning of fossil hunting, 7 different dogs that weren’t under control came and nosed around our food. We hadn’t even stopped for very long, ten minutes maybe. As we walked back along the beach later, we spotted several of the owners eating their own lunch. With their dogs on leads so they couldn’t snuffle around their sandwiches.

At Blackberry Camp (the iron age hill fort). I couldn’t properly take in the splendour of the place as almost every 5 paces there was a pile of dog crap. On the one occasion I did look up, I could see several bags of it that were hanging from high branches in some of the trees. With three kids to show round, this became an unnecessarily stressful trip as I didn’t want the mess trodden into my car.

I can’t understand the mentality required to go to all the trouble of bagging up a turd only to throw it a few meters up a tree. What if it hadn’t snagged on something? Did it take more than one attempt to get it to stay up? The mind boggles.

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The argument I got into on Facebook involved children being just as badly controlled as dogs. Fortunately I don’t know anybody who lets their children steal from other peoples picnics or indeed simply poo in the woods. Perhaps it’s because we’re from St Albans? (I doubt that’s the reason.)

When did you last really properly just listen to music?

King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King

I love music. Properly love it. I’ve always had a wide and varied interest in different genres of music, as you may have read about already. I’ve been itching to get on the vinyl revival that’s been going on for a few years now but the cost has put me off. I don’t think splashing out £100 on an all in one turntable would make economic sense, so that brings us to separates. I’d want some upgrade path so I’d be looking at a couple of hundred pounds for a decent but budget amp (Pioneer or Marantz) and probably as much again for a turntable. So that’s £500 before I start looking at speakers and cabling, which is too much for a hobby purchase when we’ve got three children and a cat. My Amazon wishlist of HiFi parts is so old, the manufacturers have stopped making half the things on it. View Full Post

Wax on, wax off, starting out with karate

When the boy was four or five, I signed him up to karate lessons at a local school. They were after school on a Thursday and were an unmitigated disaster. We went for a month or so of Thursdays and all the boy did was cling to my leg for half an hour. He tried all the moves out at home but wouldn’t join in while we were there. At the time I thought it was a terrible waste of potential as he had such good coordination and core strength compared to every single other child there. Bless the karate school for not charging us for the lessons, they said they couldn’t in all honesty take the money from us for what we got out of it.

Fast forward 5 years and the boy is now back on the karate thing. On Sunday he had his blue belt grading, which went well, imbuing him with a bit more confidence. I suspected that he would find karate easy because it plays to his strengths; he has exceptional pattern recall abilities (he uses this to coast his way through his drumming and guitar), good core strength and very very good coordination.

All the skills he brings to karate mean I probably won’t have to get him to wash the car or paint the fence, which is a shame!

Parents evening

Last night was parents evening and whilst it offered three very different meetings to discuss three very different children, what shone through was a united desire to make us proud of their efforts.

Whether it was the boy and his unbelievably (high) Gothic take on writing an imagined diary for Lady Macbeth, or Fifi’s determination to show us every “well done!” written in all her books (for the record this is the 5th year on the trot that her teacher has told us she is a joy to teach and genuinely delightful), or Ned’s pride at how his handwriting is developing, it did show that they’re all engaged enough in the education system to want our approval. With that as motivation, all the drudge of not wanting to go to school gets put in to a little context I suppose. View Full Post