Review: Fitbit Blaze

fitbit blazeSince the weather has taken a turn for the better, it’s sudden less of a chore to be outside again, and thoughts once more turn to getting fitter. I’ve cancelled my gym membership as the logistics of actually going to the gym have been much complicated by the addition of Brownies and drumming lessons. I should make it clear at this point that I act as a taxi service for both; I am neither a Brownie myself, nor a drummer and as such have no desire to die in a bizarre gardening accident*. View Full Post

Innovative ways to assess your child’s development

I’m not a big fan of tests. It’s not because I’m good at them, quite the contrary, I’m awesome at exams. I cope well under pressure, maintain a clear head and have been known to ACE various exams in my time. For example I still remember the GCSE maths paper 4 (the hard one) mock results being handed out in 1991. Mr Cole did his usual well done Andrea speech and she was looking very pleased with herself as she’d scored 95%.

I had to put my hand up and say, Excuse me Mr Cole, I got more than Andrea. More you say Walsh? Did I add your score up incorrectly? No sir, you wrote 97% on the front in red pen. The embarrassment that caused me was high but I was buggered if I was going to let Andrea take the credit again when I’d beaten her.

When it came to my finals for my degree, I thought it best to start my revision the day before the exams. My flat mate Loz convinced me to come out for a cheeky pint that evening to relax but I accidentally did a pub quiz, got into a fight about whether the answer was Pentathlon or Marathon to a particular question (pro tip- never argue when the other party has a microphone), had numerous pints and quite possibly a kebab and started the next day by flushing all my pens down the toilet as the bell to enter the exam hall rang. Still got a 2:1, which was the best my course work would let me achieve.

I could go on- I finished my accountancy case study with two hours and twenty minutes of the four hours left but still got a regional prize for it. Exams and I generally work quite well together.

That’s not to say I’m clever and know stuff, it just means I know how to do tests. And I know the difference between the two; it’s not subtle. View Full Post

Hello, Dubai Dreams

Lights, exotic places, heady smells,

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Re-inventing our kids as proto ethnomethodologists as they try to make sense and meaning out of an environment that is completely alien to them is a key part of what we do with our holidays. Whether it is making Wickermen in Cambridgeshire or attending apparent vintage but not actually vintage amusement rides on the Isle of Wight, our children explore like the great Victorian forefathers that they must have had.

Not all of our kids have been abroad though, and the two that have were only four and two at the time. Now they’re 4,7, and 9, so the idea of a family holiday to somewhere like Dubai is both intriguing and exciting for them.

This is my entry into the Tots100/Dubai Dreams Blogger challenge #DXBDreams

The children have contributed in a post modern fashion to this selection of places to attend on a trip to Dubai by picking songs I have reinterpreted into visitor attractions in Dubai, based on the correlation between how the songs make me feel and how the photos on the Visit Dubai tourist site make me feel. Causation is not correlation but the prospect of winning a holiday is something else entirely.

THERE IS A PHD IN THIS SOMEWHERE PEOPLE

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Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort.

This was inspired by our prodigy drummer, who picked Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory. My mind instinctively linked the fort to a song about cowboys in a subconscious and not entirely accurate manner. Geographically distant from the 19th century wild west, nevertheless a fort is a fort, is a fort. Metaphysical or what?

BUT

It was a good choice. Wherever we go as a family we ensure we find out about the culture and the peoples of that area. It is as important in Dubai as it is in Carlisle or on the Isle of Wight. Even Barrow in Furness owns a Museum, although that is not important right now.

Entrance is not free but not expensive either.

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Vertiginous is a word I like mightily. The Burj Khalifa is vertiginous and it was inspired by Fifi’s choice of the Saturday Night Live sketch with Peter Dinklage called Space Pants. The human mind works in mysterious ways: why should I associate the tallest building in the world at 555m with a dwarf more famous for playing a dwarf in the televisual adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire? Who knows. I suspect it was due to his wig.

HOWEVER

There are viewing decks on the Burj Khalifa that would provide an experience to be treasured a life time. While the viewing platforms are only 5.2% of the height necessary to see the curvature of the earth (a little over 10,000m is required for that), the view and perspective will put my childrens lives in to perspective and hopefully make them think twice about asking for ice lollies all the time day and night.

THE PERSPECTIVE WILL GIVE THEM

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But lo! There are free things to do in Dubai and consequently when Ned rocked out to Free’s All Right Now, I was put in mind of such a free attraction for our attention.

As mendicant travels through both time and space have done since the start of what we might refer to as touristic pursuits, we do like to see things without the necessary exchange of monetary tokens for the privilege.

Dubai Fountain Lakeride LHS_tcm186-81269

When we were in Rome, we enjoyed a visit to Trevor’s Fountain (translation copyright me, 2005) but in Dubai, there is the majestic Dubai Fountain which majestically squirts water high in the air in a majestic display of majesticism.

There is something inspiring about fountains, especially in desert countries, as we found when we holidayed in Morocco before we had children. I can imagine telling the offspring, “Behold! For there is water where no water used to be!” It is humbling as water is the basis for life and so very necessary. Living in a rain sodden country, oft times we forget this and need to be reminded of it’s precious nature.

So there kind reader! My top three places we would visit on a trip to Dubai. Not for us infinity swimming pools on the roofs of hotels but a mixture of culture and futuristic architecture to inspire and amaze. Life needs more inspiration and amazement if you ask me. And if you don’t ask me, life still needs more inspiration and amazement.

Have a look at the Visit Dubai website eat some vintage cheese just before bed and start your own Dubai Dreams today.

Tots100 and Dubai Tourism are giving away a SECOND family holiday to Dubai!

Once the Blogger Challenge winner has been selected, Dubai Tourism will be selecting the best reader comment on the winning challenge blog post – and the author will win their own family break to Dubai!

Top 5 tricks I’ve learnt as a Dad and you should learn too

Whilst I’m right on for a proper reconciliation between fatherhood and masculinity, I’m also willing to share some of the top tips* I’ve stumbled across as a father over three in my last 9 years in the role.

Tip 1: make use of your children when they are tiny for both brownie points and leisure activities

When you’re in possession of a new born, it’s a jolly good idea to let your partner have a rest in the evenings- some time baby free to either sleep or sob quietly to themselves. You can achieve this by putting the baby in a moses basket and playing FIFA on the Playstation while they’re asleep. It’s a win win situation as far as I’m concerned. I’ll tell you this, I was a ninja at FIFA 10 when it came out as I had to sit in one place and make sure a tiny baby was okay.

Tip 2: Perfect your regular, slow, deep breathing early on

This is a skill that has a multitude of uses. Now all our kids sleep through the night, it comes in handy when the cat wants to go out at 6am. I might get woken up but I reflexively manage to keep my breathing steady and level and more often than not pass for being asleep long enough to drop off back to sleep. It also helps when you wake up to find a child standing bedside staring at you in a very disconcerting manner. Eventually they will give up and go somewhere else.

Tip 3: Perfect replying to questions without explicitly answering them

Children’s priorities are very much different from adults generally, and me in particular. While I might think that 8pm is a super time to tuck them up in bed, my children might consider it the ideal time to discuss when they can theoretically watch Deadpool or something equally inappropriate. Learn to talk around a question, reply with a seemingly tangential anecdote or ask another unrelated question in return, and you’ll soon distract your children in to something entirely different that might make it easier to get them to bed or stop a major strop.

Tip 4: Pick your battles wisely

Some things are worth having an argument with your children over, some aren’t. There is little point in having you and your 8 year old screaming blue murder at each other over whether the broccoli is a fundamental part of dinner or in fact the nasal issuance of Satan himself. Likewise if the prospect of twenty minutes spent doing homework leads to two hours of rolling on the floor sobbing, with all the other children standing around as an audience offering awkward advice, just skip it and tell the school that you’d like your child to do it at lunch time if he must or not at all if that’s an option. Life is too short.

Likewise when a child demands to do something, rather than having a Mexican stand off, just agree with them but do nothing. They’ve not twigged how to deal with that and 9 out of 10 times it will flummox them.

Tip 5: Always remember you’re no longer a 12 year old

I was reading an interview that quoted one of the producers of Clarkson era Top Gear. He said, “I tell people I’m a holiday organiser for 12-year-old men. Men in general don’t really get much more mature after the age of 12, they pretend they do if they have a real job, but in actual fact, we’re all 12-year-olds.” which hits the nail on the head pretty neatly for me. A woman will know that being knackered from being up all night doesn’t mean that the laundry doesn’t need to be done or the washing up will magically go away, but a man will often apply the 12 year old’s approach of ignoring it until someone else does it, or doing it so badly he’s never asked to do it again. Or even make an achievement out of having to drink tea out of the gravy boat because nobody has washed up the mugs. That was cool when you were a student and everyone wanted to be Gary out of Men Behaving Badly, but not so much so now you’re a Dad.

Gents, it’s time to put away those childish things and accept that sometimes you have to at the very least do your impression of a responsible adult, if not actually being one. If it means scrubbing your child’s shit off the toilet bowl before it sets like concrete instead of “unseeing” it, then so be it. Call it character building.

Obviously if you’re a teenage Dad who’s just become a father at the age of twelve and you’ve Googled parenting tips, you can ignore this one.

 

So there you go, my five top tips to parenting success for Dads. Feel free to add your own in the comments to valid me as a blogger. Cheers.

 

 

*if you’re not my wife, please ignore this footnote, otherwise read on. Hello! This is a light hearted post and more of a satire on the endless list posts that seem to proliferate in parent blogging at the moment. I particularly wouldn’t (if I were you) pay any attention to Tip 2, that’s dramatic license that is. Honest.

Starting out with the Netgear Nighthawk R8500

Netgear have lent me a  Nighthawk R8500, a tri-band quad stream WiFi router. At this point I don’t know what that means but it looks like something the Shadows from Babylon 5 might have made, so it’s all good.

The Nighthawk has an RRP of a whopping £399.99, so I can forgive Netgear not simply dropping one on me for nothing. However I’m really interested in seeing what a top end domestic router can do for our home.

We have an awful lot of connected devices, but I don’t think we’re exceptionally abnormal in today’s connected home environment:

  • 3 wireless security cameras;
  • 1 FireTV stick;
  • 1 Panasonic alarm system;
  • 2 smartphones
  • 5 tablets;
  • 3 laptops;
  • 3 SONOS streamers on their own private WiFi network;
  • 2 Smart TVs;
  • 4 consoles;
  • 1 Blu Ray player
  • 3 FireTVs;
  • 4 PCs; and
  • a Nest alarm and a Nest smart thermostat.

Basically, every telly has a FireTV on it, and most have a console or two by them- we don’t box stuff up and put it in the loft if there are still games we find fun and want to play. The sitting room has my gaming PC in it too. My wife and I have a laptop each, there’s an All in One Lenovo PC in the dining room for the kids to do homework/play Minecraft on, and a cheap laptop for whichever child isn’t on the PC to use (the only time a child wants to use the computer is when another child is using the computer. Obviously).

Our sitting room is wired to the router. Our study and bedroom our wired to the gigabit switch in the sitting room. Further, our bedroom has an ASUS WiFi router in access point mode, and the playroom has a wired connection via homeplug.

When everybody is using stuff at once, we do suffer both in terms of internet speed and also internal network speed. I’m not a networking expert by any stretch of the imagination, so it will be interesting to see how easy to set up the Nighthawk R8500 is and how much of a noticable difference it makes once I turn our VM Superhub into modem only mode!

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Reconciling masculinity and fatherhood

I’m not a very good blogger in some ways. I mean, I blog but I don’t sit there pouring over statistics, refusing to comment on other people’s blogs because their domain authority isn’t good enough, or any of the shenanigans that go on in the modern blogging world. My blogging is much like my enjoyment of Star Trek; I’m willing to watch it, read the odd article on it but you won’t find me fully immersed in it to the point where I’ll be attending conventions and practising my Klingon.

I don’t even Google myself very often- there’s a country singer with the same name as me and he’s more popular (so much for the omnipresent reach of parent bloggers eh?) and also a lithium prospector who made $264m the other year. Neither are me and for that I apologise. I did Google myself yesterday though and I was somewhat surprised with the results.

bookyRight there on the front page was a link to an academic publication by a professor from the University of Calgary’s sociology dept, entitled Fathering, Masculinity and the Embodiment of Care.

Interesting topic, and I studied sociology many years ago under another Canadian called Rob Shields at Lancaster university. I remember writing my third year dissertation which was entitled “Computer mediated conversation and the reinvention of the self”, and getting it back with “Woah!” written in red pen next to the rather pretentious title. Happy days.

Since the book is an academic tome, it’s not cheap and whilst the subject matter is interesting, it’s interesting in a I’ll pay a tenner to read that but not £54 for the ebook sort of way.

This is from the press release:

This is a book about fathers who are caring for babies and young children – fathers who are stepping up to do the work more often associated with mothers. Gillian Ranson analyses an innovative combination of data sources, notably observations of, and interviews with, caregiving fathers, as well as fathers’ memoirs and online blogs. From accounts of fathers in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia, she shows what happens to men, as fathers, as partners, and as men, when they take on this kind of direct, hands-on care of their children. The experience, for most men, is transformative. They become deeply attached to the children in their care, and committed to engaged involvement in family life over the long haul. They challenge many stereotypes about men and masculinity as they become competent in a new kind of embodied practice.

Fortunately Gillian Ranson seems to be a sensible sort, and she kindly emailed me the relevant parts after I dropped her a line. Rather cheekily I asked for an electronic copy of the book but I know from my day job that authors actually have to pay for copies of their work, and consequently I wasn’t really expecting anything, so thank you very much Gillian!

The bloggers that are cited in her study only form part of the overall narrative discourse but are an interesting element none the less, and it’s interesting to read that Gillian read at least a years worth of posts on each of the blogs she included.

The part I’m quoted on relates to the commercialisation of dad blogs, giving both the pros of commercialisation from John Adams, and the cons from me:

excerpt

I like the point that Gillian makes on generating income that can fit in with family responsibility and think as dads and dad bloggers in particular we need to constantly work to maintain the balance between providing care, providing an authentic experience of fatherhood that others might find both helpful and maybe in some instances inspiring and providing some additional income for our families.

I don’t doubt we still have a long way to go; it is after all only 6 years since I was told to man up otherwise my wife would leave me for a real man when I wrote about the heartbreak of going back to work after my paternity leave had ended. A change has started but we’re still on the slip road of the motorway that leads to a proper reconciliation of masculinity and fatherhood.

Quitting the gym

After a couple of years as a gym member, my attendance has declined from around 5 days a week at the peak, to once or twice a week if I’m lucky. Part of this is my fault, a lot of it is out of my control.

My best time for gymming it is directly after work. I used to go Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, augmented by Saturday morning and maybe Sunday or Thursday, depending on how stiff I was after football on a Wednesday. However as the kids get older and do more stuff, I’ve now had to scrub Monday and Tuesday from the list as Monday is drumming (don’t get back home and the kids to bed until around 8ish), Tuesday is Brownies (drop off at 6pm, pick up at 7:15pm) and getting up before swimming on a Sunday isn’t excessively practical if I want to let wifey have a run (she’s in training for a 10K). View Full Post

Mental Health Awareness Week: The Story Behind The Sword That Saves by Ambrose Merrell

sword that savesThis week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Last week I received a press release about a new Young Adult novel called The Sword that Saves. What struck me as much as the story, was the author. The release mentioned that he had written the book after suffering a nervous breakdown following the pressures of a successful job and busy family life. Mental health issues aren’t restricted to those who are at the bottom of a pit of despair, and it was brilliant to see someone willing to talk about their issues in such a positive way.  I spoke to the PR agency representing Ambrose and asked if he could write about his situation in a little more detail for Mental Health Awareness Week and I feel honoured that he did.

The Sword that Saves is out on 27 May from Hornet Books.

Below is the Ambrose Merrell’s story.

Friday 14th December 2001 was the day that really marked the beginning of my descent into the black pit of depression. Two phone calls within one hour of each other that literally left me reeling.

Running a business is stressful at the best of times. I had started probably the UK’s first web development company in December 1995. Within a few years I was turning down an offer of £3.5 million to buy the business.

Then the attacks of 9/11 happened. Not only did the attack take so many lives but it also rocked the world’s economy. Stock markets crashed and companies around the world prepared for a serious recession or even depression. Spending on web development simply stopped.

Two months after the 9/11 attack, I received two phone calls within an hour of each other that cancelled projects worth over £350k. I remember the room spinning as I received the second phone call. It left a hole so huge in our revenue that it threatened the survival of the business.

I struggled on for a few months, taking on personal debt for the first time to bank roll the business. Then reality really set in. I had a team of twelve and I only had work for six, at best. Everyone who worked with me I considered a dear friend. Now I was faced with the choice of who to make redundant. It was a dreadful experience for me: like deciding what friend to throw off a cliff.

I really began to struggle. I cried a lot. I learnt to cry in the shower in the morning, so that my wife would not see my tears. Then I would sit on the sofa with my son and watch Bear in the Big Blue House, dreading going to work. Eventually I’d get on my bike and cycle across the fields into Cambridge. Halfway I would stop and cry before collecting myself and continuing to work. At work I would go down into the basement and cry. Occasionally my wife would have to come and collect me because I was having such pain in my stomach.

I was having a nervous breakdown. But I didn’t admit it or even realise it, I think. I told no one. I just kept pushing on. I was a man and I had to be strong. My wife, my family, my team depended on me. I could not let them down.

It was a very bleak time. I had had to take on a lot of debt to sustain the business. Cash flow became a nightmare. Every month was a desperate struggle to scrape together enough money to pay the team. The stress was huge and relentless. I suffered serious insomnia. I cried all the time, though always in secret. Finally, despite our best efforts, the business failed in late 2005. It was a very cruel end to the business, but that’s another story. In many ways it was a blessed relief. The stress was over. But I was seriously damaged.

We decided to emigrate to Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada. It had long been a dream and I couldn’t wait to get out of England. But when we arrived in October 2006 it marked the beginning of the demise of my marriage. My mental health had been so seriously impacted. I was desperate to avoid anything remotely stressful and sought to build a life on Bowen to enable that. But my wife did not know of my mental health problems.

Prior to leaving England I had been training for eight years in a martial art called aikido. It is called the Art of Peace and seeks to give one the skills to protect oneself whilst doing as little harm as possible to one’s attacker. Through aikido I had encountered a master of aikido and Zen priest called Reverend Kensho Furuya who had a training hall, or “dojo”, in Los Angeles. He had written a book that I had read and he wrote daily messages on his website. I had emailed him and we had become friends. I dreamed of meeting him in LA and once we had moved to Bowen it would be relatively easy for me to visit his dojo, which we planned for April 2007. I also invited him to visit me which he said he very much wanted to do. I felt like I had met my true spiritual teacher, someone who would guide me not only in aikido but also in life. So it was a massive blow when I awoke on March 7th 2007 to discover that he had died suddenly the day before. Everything in my life seemed to be collapsing around me.

The dynamics of my relationship with my wife had shifted enormously, but she wasn’t aware of the depth of that change. I tried to communicate where I was but I didn’t do a very good job. Despite 8 months of intense counselling, I eventually said that I could no longer go on in our relationship, a relationship that had begun when I was seventeen years old.

She decided to go back to England with our three children. I supported her decision. Everything I had read said that if we were ok, the children would be ok. She would be most ok back in England with the support of her family. However, I knew there was no way I could go back. England loomed like Mordor to me, black and full of terrifying demons. So my children went to a place that I could not go.

Then began my plummet into the black pits of despair and depression. I could not be away from my children but I could not live in the country where they were. I was torn apart. So I fell into darkness, tumbling down until I eventually hit the bottom. But the bottom was thick, black mud that sucked me ever further down, swallowing me up. Some months after they left I had to move from our place. I had to go into their bedroom that was just as they had left it and I had to strip their beds. I could still smell them on their pillows. It was a pain that is far, far beyond my ability to describe.

I eventually reached a place where the future was utterly hopeless. Despair was absolute. The future only held the promise of more pain, more suffering. There was no way out. Every fibre of my being, every cell of my body longed for death. My body was craven. I would walk around hunched over and try to only leave the house at night, a hoody pulled over my face. If I did encounter people I put on a happy face, ashamed of the truth of how I felt. Sleep was my only solace.

My own mind was destroying me. I had a voice in my thoughts I called The Judge and it was relentless and pitiless in its destruction of me. Oddly enough it took on the voice of my now ex-mother-in-law, who had never liked me from the start. It pointed out all my failings, my weakness, how pathetic I was, how I was not even man enough to live in the same country as my children. It tore me down piece by piece. I was an idiot. A pathetic, useless, failure. It was utterly merciless in every waking moment.

Obviously I was suicidal. But I loved my children too much to leave them. They were my only light. I could not leave them, I loved them too much.

There is a mountain on Bowen Island which I began running up. I was almost always alone on the trail as it crossed streams and wound up through the forest. I would drag myself kicking and screaming out of the house. I vividly remember being curled up in a ball, crying on the kitchen floor. I just wanted death to take me, but instead I forced myself to get up, leave the house and run up the mountain.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, would spend weeks alone in the mountains of Japan. Stories were told of his training with mythical creatures deep in the forests. I didn’t see any mythical creatures but the communion with the mountain, the trees, the streams and waterfalls I believe sustained me. I would seek what Morihei Ueshiba sought, an end to the delusion that we are somehow separate from the world around us.

I eventually attempted to go back to work. I took a water taxi from Bowen to Vancouver. I’d sit outside alone and cry on the journey over. I lasted eight months before I had another nervous breakdown. This one was more clear cut than the previous one. My mind just stopped functioning properly. Perhaps it could be described as psychosis, I’m not sure. I do know that I was in a meeting with two other people and they were looking at me as if I was talking gibberish. It’s a very disturbing experience when you can no longer trust your own mind. That was eight years ago now and I still don’t fully trust it.

So I couldn’t go on living and I couldn’t die. I was trapped in the darkness. But in the darkness I found a gift, a jewel buried in the black mire. There was no way I could go on living as things were. But reality wasn’t going to change. So I realised that I had to. Morihei Ueshiba said, “I am the universe.” What did he mean by that? It wasn’t some arrogant claim. What was it that Kensho had found as an aikido master and Zen priest?

I began to look more deeply into who I was, what “I” was. I began to practice aikido again, albeit by myself. I reread a book that Kensho had recommended to me called, “From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment”. There was a section that really spoke to me:

“Or to offer a more modern-day example, a man’s business fails and then his wife falls ill. His child has a traffic accident, which causes a nervous breakdown. All his misfortunes seem to come at once, and in complete despair, he begins to struggle.

“However, since everything – in this case, even misfortune – is our life, what is essential especially in these circumstances is to meet adversity with an attitude of equanimity. If we fall into hell, then we need the resolve to see hell is our home. When we are being boiled in the demon’s cauldron, that is where we have to do zazen. When we are pursued up a mountain of needles, we should be willing to climb that mountain hand over hand even at the risk to our life. When we throw all our life energy into whatever we might encounter, no demon can help but retreat. What a way to live!”

Slowly I began to change. Slowly I began to drop things that I had always accepted as “truth”. Slowly I began to rise a little through the darkness. Until finally I found myself sitting alone and asking myself what it was that I wanted to do. Not what I “should” do, or “had” to do. But what wanted to be done through me. What arose naturally within me, like a spring of fresh water?

So I began to write a story that arose within me. A story that poured through me, 3,000 words a day. Within a few weeks I had written The Sword That Saves. I don’t know for sure where the story came from. I feel it came from Kensho. I feel like in the writing of this story I will finally find my way out of the black pit entirely and truly know what “I” is. I feel like my friend Kensho is leading me out of darkness as he tells me the story of Sam, Zoe and Sophie and their own journey out of Darkness.

Quick & easy individual chicken pies

IMG_20160514_183601I don’t often do the cooking at home- during the week I’m home too late and at weekends we usually go out, which means when we get back the last thing we need is me faffing around in the kitchen for hours. On Saturday though I had the chance to do something with some chicken breasts (oo-er missus) that had been lurking in the fridge for a while.

Rather than simply fry or bake them, I thought I’d dig out our ramekin dishes and put the chicken to better use in individual chicken pies. Wifey sometimes cooks a lovely chicken and mushroom pie but I fancied doing something a bit different, and thought that maybe individual pies would encourage the kids to actually eat their darn dinner for once.

By the time I’d pottered around doing other stuff, time was running out so I went down the quick and easy route. The following recipe shouldn’t take much more than 40 minutes, and for most of that you can sit in the lounge sipping an ice cold beer while the football results come through.

Quick & easy individual chicken pies- makes 4 mini pies

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

Handful of frozen sweetcorn

1 tin of condensed cream of chicken soup (Campbells in this instance)

Milk (100ml’ish)

Salt & pepper to season

Maybe a dash of chilli powder if your kids are amenable to it.

Roll of puff pastry

Method

Set the oven to 200 degrees (190 if it’s fan assisted)

Dice the chicken and fry it in a pan until it’s pretty much cooked. This should take about 5 minutes on a medium to high heat, depending on how small you’ve diced it.

Add the condensed soup and sweetcorn and mix in well.

Add some milk to make the pie filling more runny- the liquid will cook off in the oven.

Season as appropriate

Turn the heat down so it simmers gently while you prep the pastry lids.

Take the ramekin and place it on the rolled out puff pastry upside down. Press down to make an impression of the rim of the ramekin, then cut it out with a knife. Repeat per ramekin.

Turn hob off and spoon the filling equally between the ramekins. The mix should be fairly thick at this stage, otherwise it will make the pastry topper soggy.

Pop a pastry lid on each ramekin, brush with egg, and bake in the oven until the pastry lid is golden brown (20-25 minutes).

Serving suggestions

If you’re serving to kids, take the children’s pies out as soon as they’re brown and leave to cool for ten minutes before serving, the ramekins can be very hot! Turn the oven off and leave the adult pies in there- the oven will keep them toasty until you’re ready to dish up.

I served the chicken pies with mash potatoes and greens. If you want to do mash, peel the spuds and set them boiling while the pie mix is simmering, the time it takes for the pies to bake is enough time for the potatoes to cook and be ready for mashing.

 

 

Trains, Shakespeare and a problem with our car keys

Yesterday was an eventful day. It shouldn’t have been quite as eventful as it turned out to be but I suppose that’s the joy of having three kids.

After swimming lessons at about half ten, we got ready to head up into London for a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe Theatre on the Southbank. It couldn’t be easier to get to for us, 2 miles to my office to park, then a train straight from St Albans to Blackfriars, which is a five minute walk from the Globe.

Unfortunately the boy didn’t want to go. He had a cold, he wanted to have a Eurovision party the night before but couldn’t convince any of his friends to come and most of all, he had a proper grump on and didn’t want to go out. I ended up man-handling him into the car, throwing his shoes and him and strapping him in under protest. So far so good. When we got to my office car park, which is just down the road from the train station, I ended up having to put his shoes on for him because the protest was still ongoing. As I lent in the car, the central locking clicked as I must have squished the car keys in my pocket. I eventually wrangled his shoes on and hauled him out of the car, slamming the door shut in partly in frustration, I suddenly wondered where exactly the car keys were.

You know that sinking feeling you sometimes get when you don’t want to admit to the worst possible case scenario but deep down you know it’s going to happen regardless? Well, I had that. I patted and checked in every conceivable pocket to no avail. I looked in the car and saw the keys sitting in plain sight on the boys car seat.

Bugger.

Wifey and I had a brief discussion over what to do, I said we couldn’t really leave the keys there on display as someone would probably steal the car, she said she’d see if her friend and her daughter would like to come instead of me and the boy. I shouted rather loudly at the boy, and dragged him at full speed to the stations taxi rank. We got in a cab with a lovely taxi driver, unfortunately he turned out to be the only taxi driver in St Albans who drove sensibly within the rules of the road. It seemed like hours until we got back home (he kindly offered to drive us back for free too, which was lovely of him). Once we got home I was faced with the issue that neither wifey or I had seen the spare set of car keys for maybe a year or longer.

This made it trickier and I employed the black art of “if I were a car key where would I be?” to find them. I started off looking in every coat pocket we had. No joy, I then diverted to a couple of drawers, no joy either but finally I decided to go through every handbag/manbag we had and eventually found them in the bag that wifey’s birthday present from last year had replaced.

Hurrah!

Wifey’s friend had been unable to take up the offer of tickets, so the boy and I bundled into my car and drove at exactly the legal speed limit all the way to the station, got a train, and arrived a full 15 minutes before the show was due to start.

Phew!

The show itself was great, although I must admit at some point in my life I’d like to see a proper period Shakespeare production (this one had Hoxton Hipsters, some Beyonce and other modern stuff in it). It must have been engaging because even Ned, 4, kept still for the vast majority of it’s 3 hour run time, no mean feat for a lad of his tender years.

I think that’s the first time I’ve ever managed to lock a set of keys in a car, and it’s lesson learnt from me on that. I don’t intend to let it happen again- the stress was too much!