Nacoa, doing great work for kids with alcoholic parents


Choosing which charities you support is often daunting, in recent years we’ve involved the children to help choose which charities will benefit from what little we can afford to donate. Nacoa aren’t a large or glamorous charity, they don’t benefit from a dedicated PR team that can do blogger outreach but Nacoa do very important work and they’re a charity I’m happy to support.

I came across Nacoa via a friend at my old book group who was volunteering for them at the time, rather than being directly affected by the issue they deal with but once I knew about what they did and the support they give kids and families, it was difficult not to feel moved. I’m sure you’ve probably never heard of Nacoa either, and I’m hear to educate you. The charity kindly offered to do a Q&A with me to explain what they do and how they do it.

Who are Nacoa UK?

Nacoa (the National Association for Children of Alcoholics) is a charity founded in 1990 to address the needs of children growing up in families where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism or a similar addictive problem. As well as conducting research and raising awareness, we operate a free confidential helpline that is open to people of all ages, from all walks of life, to offer support and advice to anybody affected.

How big a problem is alcoholism in parents?

Parental alcoholism is a huge problem. Research consistently shows that approximately 1 in 5 children in the UK are currently living in a household where one or more parent is dealing with alcoholism. Social Services report that alcohol is a factor in 74% of child mistreatment cases and 40% of domestic violence incidents. In the majority of those cases, nothing is ever done to address the alcoholism.

For children of alcoholics, the associated instability in home-life leads to long-term problems: children living with parental alcoholism are 5 times more likely to develop an eating problem, 3 times more likely to consider suicide, and 4 times as likely to develop alcoholism or other addictions themselves. View Full Post

Playstation Kids and Parents Showcase

img_20161008_122421.jpgThe semi regular Playstation Kids and Parents Showcase happened a couple of Saturdays ago and we were invited along to play some carefully curated family friendly games that are out now to buy.

There was no PSVR (boo!) but loads of games and it was nice to catch up with erstwhile Eurogamer writer Ellie Gibson who was on hand to provide a professional gamer parents perspective on things. Ellie has also written a parents guide to Playstation, which you can view here.

I have to admit when I think PS4, I think triple AAA big budget shooty games like Call of Modern Battlefields and Grand Theft Gears of War, alongside FIFA Football and the LEGO games. Now that I think of it, there aren’t a great number of racing games, or fighting games on either of the big home consoles, two genres that I’ve always loved. Anyway, I’m digressing, as this was a showcase aimed specifically at addressing the deficit in family friendly gaming in my gaming collection, and I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to play some games and have some fun. View Full Post

Review: Netgear’s Orbi WiFi System

orbi wifi system

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Netgear to come and have a look at their new Orbi WiFi System in the flesh. I left full of optimism and with a test unit tucked under my arm. If you want to skip the whole part where I explain what Orbi is and how it works, you can go straight to where I plug the thing in and set it up by clicking here.

Orbi and home WiFi networking 101

A while a go I borrowed a Netgear Nighthawk R8500 router for a month. For the uninitiated, the Nighthawk is roughly the same size as a small desktop computer and is a beast in terms of performance. It also has a manual that harks back to the halcyon days of computer games on the Amiga or Atari ST- it was the size of a brick. It was a bit of a revelation as far as speed and WiFi penetration went, something that is becoming more and more relevant as we connect more and more devices to our internet connection.

At last count, we had almost 30 connected devices, with the vast majority being over WiFi rather than Ethernet- hard wiring up large sections of your house tends to make a mess and require some serious hardware in the first instance (SDS drill, a drill bit the size of your forearm and, if you’re going to do it properly, a crimping device). View Full Post

Review: STM Velocity Swift laptop shoulder bag

img_20161002_155500.jpgMy man bag of choice for the last three years has been the awesome STM Linear. Although marketed as an iPad sized bag, it’s taken my ASUS Transformer Pad, and various other bits and bobs with ease. It’s rugged but smart (so usable for work). But things change, and now I’m rocking a Microsoft Surface 3, it’s not quite big enough. Fortunately the nice people at STM averted the disaster and offered me the STM Velocity Swift to review.

The STM Velocity Swift shares all the traits I loved out the Linear; it’s tough but stylish and smart, and it’s brilliantly well padded. My Linear is three years old and I’ve used it a lot but it’s still pretty much as good as new. A couple of months in with the Velocity Swift and its a similar story. It still looks as good as new, despite the hard use it has.

In case you’re wondering how big the capacity is, the inside of the STM Velocity Swift is just smaller than A4. This means you need to fold any foolscap paper to get it in but the increase in size over the Linear means I can get my Surface 3, a PS Vita, my Nvidia Shield tablet and, at a push, my Bamboo Spark. If I ditch the Spark, I can also get either a mains charger or a battery pack in too with no difficulty.

However unlike a lot of cheaper generic laptop bags that are designed for budget 15/15.6 inch laptops, this is designed for smaller devices, so they fit, are protected and don’t rattle around. On top if that it’s also pretty stylish too. Rather than clipping shut, the Velocity Swift has compartments that (dual) zip shut, with the exception of the rear back pocket, which doesn’t close.

Internally there are a couple of non removable dividers to kept your tech separate, the largest of which takes either an oversized tablet or an ultra portable (nettop, MacBook Air, Surface 3 sort of size).

The STM Velocity Swift comes in 3 sizes, 11, 13 and 15 inch. There isn’t a great deal in price between the three (RRP is £50) but that old adage of you get what you pay for definitely rings true here, and given the bags heritage, I’ve no doubt I’ll be using it as long as I have used my STM Linear.

Tyga curry meal kits


National Curry week is fast approaching and we love curries in our house, so when Tyga contacted me with an offer of one of their spice packs and some Kingfishers, I wasn’t exactly going to say no. In recent times I’ve been trying to cook more of our own, not only because it’s cheaper, but also because a review of the food hygiene ratings for our city shows some of the curry houses we’ve frequented need more than a little improvement! View Full Post

Unrealistic negotiations, tantrums and Deadpool

deadpoolI’m not entirely sure when it happened but at some point all three of my kids, from the 9 year old to the 4 year old, have learnt how to drive an insanely hard bargain. It’s now next to impossible to ensure that the eldest actually puts his socks on when he gets dressed without entering into some sort of prolonged and tortuous negotiation process.

Of all the three, he is definitely the hardest to deal with in this respect. For example, a trip to the dentist saw all 3 children rewarded with a small Beanie Boo soft toy for not throwing a tantrum. His starting point was the LEGO Star Wars Death Star, a retired set, that goes for £400 on ebay at the moment, and he wasn’t happy when I told him that having his teeth checked over didn’t warrant that sort of investment.

Currently we have sporadic wheedling over the Deadpool movie. My view on 15 certificate movies is much like my view on 15 & 18 certificate videogames, and that’s an outright no. Further though, there are a broad range across certifications, so there are 12s that are closer to the PG end of the rating and there are 12s that you scratch your head in puzzlement as to why they didn’t get an 15 rating. View Full Post

Nevermind at 25- prepare to have your mind blown!


There have been a few articles recently about the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. We’ve also had the slightly less heralded 25th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. View Full Post

We’re possibly the parents of a musical savant

Rocksmith 2014 The Trooper

Iron Maiden’s The Trooper

When the boy got 93% on his first drumming exam I was surprised to say the least. He refused to practice for almost a month before the actual exam, froze in the practice room before the exam itself, and didn’t say a word for an hour and a half afterwards. We spent the 3 weeks between the exam and the results arriving on our doormat prepping him for failure, telling him that we were proud of him for even doing it (we never thought he’d manage to go to an unfamiliar exam centre and follow an unfamiliar examiner) but we were blown away. 20/20 on two of the three composition pieces, 18/20 on the third, 6/10 on the listening test, and one other mark dropped in the rest, it was nothing short of incredible and his teacher was blown away too. View Full Post

Misery: the playlist

We have a fairly robust approach to the general sobbing and misery that the kids tend to exhibit. Unless it’s something that we feel they have a genuine right to be upset about, the tears get short shrift with us. For example, tears are acceptable if one of your friends has been mean to you and won’t play with you, but rather less so if I’ve put a tiny bit too much milk on your breakfast cereal. Tears are okay if you can’t find your favourite teddy at bedtime but rather less so if you’re sobbing because I won’t pass you your teddy when it’s under 20cm away.

You get the general idea. View Full Post

Up next, the walls will probably start bleeding


I think we may have inadvertently relocated to the town of Amity, and purchased a certain haunted house. You know that bit in all good haunted house movies where it goes dark at midday? There’s an ominous bit of music playing in the background, and the light gradually dims, and the characters understandably freak out? That sort of happened to us the other day. View Full Post

Review: Bamboo Spark smart notebook

spark-gadget-pocketThere is a big disconnect between the very modern digital world we live in and our kids are growing up in and something as simple as drawing and for me that is the bridge that the Wacom Bamboo Spark builds so well. Although ostensibly marketed as a smart note book, and the handwriting recognition is pretty good (at least on par with Android’s built in handwriting recognition), for me the review unit that Wacom kindly provided was a chance to check out how easy it is to digitise the kids drawings.

My kids are at home on tablets and touchscreen computers, as well as being fairly keyboard and mouse proficient but when it comes to drawing, they still dig out their felt tipped pens and pencils. Ironically I have plenty of devices with a stylus- my Surface 3 I’m writing this on has a snazzy one, my Nvidia Shield tablet has one too and we tried (cheaper) capacitive styli. They all work to varying degrees but none of them are the same as writing on paper with a pen and that’s where the problem comes for kids.

I was recently at an evening with Dave Gibbons, the rather famous British comic illustrator who has drawn, amongst other things, Dan Dare, Harlem Heroes, Ro-Busters and Rogue Trooper, Green Lantern, and the legendary Watchmen. He said that he now draws entirely digitally but it took a lot of time and effort to translate his style on to a graphics tablet, something I’m fairly sure our 7 and 9 year olds wouldn’t be able to stomach.

Before you ask, yes it is possible to scan drawings using a multi function printer or a dedicated scanner but to be completely honest, I’ve never found the results brilliant and pretty much everything has been pixelated. The benefit of a system like this is that it’s designed for exactly what you want to use it for.

The Bamboo Spark comprises a folio cover and a smart pen. Although it comes with a pad of paper, you can put your own in as the clever tech is nothing to do with the paper, it’s to do with the electromagnetic resonance technology in the back cover that interacts with the pen. Turning the folio on is easy, there is a slider at the bottom, and telling it that you’re about to start drawing is simply a case of pushing the big friendly circular button, it’ll flash and show you it’s okay to write.

The results are pretty cool:


Because you’re drawing normally with the Bamboo Spark, the digital image you end up with is exactly the same as the one on the page, there is no dithering, odd sizing or anything. It’s so simple, even a child can use it.

The Bamboo Spark retails for £120 but you can pick it up for £80 (from Amazon). When you finish the pad of paper, it’s simply a case of replacing it with one of your own. Ink refills are inexpensive, so there is no real additional cost after purchase but a device that will serve you well for quite some considerable time.