A great and unique gift idea you should check out!

As I get older (it happens, without much effort on my part), it gets increasingly difficult to think up new and exciting presents to get my wife. We started dating 16 years ago and have had many birthdays and anniversaries since. Every time it gets harder to find a present that’s thoughtful, affordable and great. I’ve fallen down once or twice too- last year with some earrings and a necklace that weren’t really right. We’re not a household that can’t drop hundreds of pounds on pressies for each other, so it’s very much the thought that counts.

Fortunately my chum Paul happened to RT something in to my Twitter time line that seemed absolutely ideal:

I clicked on Rachael’s link and had a shufty round her website. I liked what I saw, her art was bold, colourful and it of course helped that she’s drawn for Doctor Who comics (we’re big fans). I dropped Rachael an email to discuss potentially getting a family portrait of the five of us as an anniversary present for wifey.

Rachael’s rates for commissioned pieces are very good, especially considering you’re getting a unique piece of work, starting at £30 for an A4 single figure in black and white, right up to £150 for a full colour A3 comic page. Since Rachael does the colouring digitally, if you chose a coloured illustration, you get the final file digitally, with the original inked art in the post. That’s not a problem; places like Photobox will do you an A3 colour print for under a tenner.

After a brief email discussion on what I wanted, I sent Rachael far too many photos of our family, and a brief paragraph about each of us to give her an idea of our characters. A few days later (after payment, which I made via PayPal), Rachael dropped me a quick proof sketch, which I fed back on. I then had an inked version, and finally a coloured high res image:

process

L to R: sketch, inked and coloured

The whole process felt really collaborative and has resulted in something truly unique that is currently hanging on the wall in our sitting room!

Death by pubbling

The kids are having some no screen time right at the moment. The two eldest never really play with toys, they play physical games. Right now they’re playing “pubbling” each other. As far as I can ascertain this involves pummelling each other. They have made a concession to pain in as much as they’ve put cushions over the person being “pubbled” but as far as I can see, the pubbling goes on until either someone gets hurt or the pubbler gets worn out.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s come to this. Less than 24 hours ago they were all sitting on my mum’s sitting room floor doing jigsaws. I think it may be due to having to tidy up their own toys at home so it’s easier to entirely avoid the tidying up by avoiding playing with the toys in the first place.

It may also have something to do with their granddad’s very firm stance on jumping on the sofas…

I think Ned has been the only one of the three kids that’s ever really shown an interest in actually playing with his toys. The boy is fixated in collecting toys, Fifi likes her cuddlies but neither of them actually ever play with stuff. True, the boy likes building his Lego sets but once they’re built that’s usually as far as it goes.

Despite this the entire house is awash with toys, literally swamped with them. It’s baffling.

Now they’ve stopped pubbling each other and have gone back to playing Terraria. Despite me telling them not to. I suspect the next stage with be a joint pubbling attack on me when I confiscate the iPads because they won’t do what they’re told. If you don’t hear from me you’ll know why- death by pubbling.

Wish me luck, I’m going in.

Vox horribilis

As a blogger I would be some sort of super hypocrite if I wasn’t a proponent of free speech and open constructive discourse. A blogger is bound to have an opinion on everything. And as such I am a proponent of free speech and open constructive discourse. Hurrah! But I think we’re currently suffering a malaise of what I like to refer to as Vox Horribilis for several reasons.

A blog and by extension social media are the idea place to make your voice heard… within reason. I can use many words to describe my thoughts on this but I think Randall Munroe sums it up nicely with this comic:

free speech vs toxic opinion from xkcd

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Butlins- The Astonishing Family Science Weekend

Butlins Astonishing family science weekendWe were invited to Butlins Skegness to attend their The Astonishing Family Science Weekend a couple of weekends ago. It was a blast, and much more fun than we could have possibly imagined.

I’m quite bad at not reading up or planning ahead when we go places, and this was never more evident when we rocked in to Skegness Butlin’s fifteen minutes after the food stopped being served. Still, we did pretty good time for a Friday evening, so I couldn’t complain too much.

This was the first time we’d taken the kids to the Skegness resort, we’ve been to the Bognor Regis Butlins on numerous occasions in the past 7 years but never made it North. For me, this was a return visit after a gap of over 20 years. The place was pretty much unrecognisable. Butlins in Skegness covers a truly vast area, and despite seeing an awful lot of people walking about, it never felt over crowded, even in the swimming pool(s).

Butlins science weekendWe found out in the best possible way that when Butlins do a Science Weekend, they really do a science weekend. By the end of the weekend we were exhausted but we weren’t scienced out; we could have done more and were disappointed when we saw them taking the stuff down in the early Sunday evening. That’s a good indication of a top weekend in my book.

Probably the highlight of the weekend was the Brainiac Live show. This is based on the popular CBBC show, and was a brilliant mix of science based stunts (running through stuff, fire extinguisher powered chair spinning, that sort of stuff), with some great humour and decent science. The theatre was completely packed and it was definite the marquee event of the weekend. I almost wet myself laughing at a piece on misheard lyrics, which ended with this video being played:

I almost died I was laughing so much.

IMG_20160612_161941But it was ultimately about much more than simply passively watching stuff. We went to a Code Breaking session run by Bletchley Park, that saw the boy and me get to use an actual Enigma Machine to decode something. Not a replica, or a prop, an actual machine that was used in the war to encode secret messages. It may have also been used by Benedict Cumberbatch in some film about Alan Turing but that was as exciting.

We also watched an eyeball dissection and even got to hold the eyeball (yuck!), we got to play with a lot of vintage computers, make our own lie detector (the boy’s soldering skills are better than mine!), have our DNA taken, we all got to walk over custard (see the Vine video at the start) and get involved in an animation session from Aardman.

There was literally so much to do, that we ran out of time to do the things that we normally associate with Butlins like spending 9 hours in the swimming pool or so long on the rides I can’t stand up afterwards. It was in short utterly brilliant, and the best example of learning by stealth I can think of.

Butlins are running some more Astonishing Science weekends later on this year and you’d have to be bonkers not considering attending if you have kids between 6 and 14. They will get so much out of it, and there are still the usual Butlins facilities at your disposal too. You can find out more here on the Astonishing Science Weekend page.

 

52 Days of Dad

52days-twitter post

I was emailed about an exciting new campaign to celebrate young dads from under privileged backgrounds recently. For various reasons, mostly focused around i) me being useless and ii) rather a lot of actual work, I’ve sat on it longer than I should have. Working on the principle of “better late than never”, here we are.

The Family and Childcare Trust has a group called the Young Dad’s Collective who look to address the challenges facing young dads.

The Young Dads Collective (YDC) is launching the campaign #52DaysofDad to raise awareness of young dads, aged 25 and under, who are among the most isolated and economically deprived parenting groups in the UK.

The campaign will bring together high profile bloggers, personalities and supporter organisations to make dads visible and celebrate dads who love spending quality time with their children.

YDC will release 52 exciting free and fun activities to do with children, one for every week of the year. There will be prizes for those families who take part in a number of activities.

About the YDC

The Young Dads Collective (YDC) is an award-winning program that works to reduce the levels of isolation and poverty experienced by young fathers and at the same time develop their employability skills.

Research shows that young dads are amongst the most isolated and economically deprived parenting groups in the UK. Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are more likely to have been excluded from school, brought up in care or lived in poverty.

YDC works with young dads aged 25 and under recruiting, training and supporting them to be agents of change. As experts by experience, their team works to highlights the issues of a community often regarded as ‘hard to reach’. The YDC aims to affect change and raise awareness of the specific challenges that young dads face.

If you’re interested and would like to know more, you can follow the campaign here:

Cut the bickering with this Netflix show selection tool

Netflix accounts

I’m pleased to say I’ve been asked to join the Netflix Stream Team for 2016. WooHoo! Of course I’ve already written about Neflix  and streaming stuff before, and we’ve had a Netflix subscription now for three or four years. Our littlest marked his first night after moving from a cot to a bed by escaping downstairs while I was giving his older brother and sister a bedtime story and watching Peppa Pig on Netflix on my wife’s iPad.

Still, even with every single TV in the house capable of streaming Netflix (2 have the app built in, the other tellies have FireTVs attached), and a tablet per person, we still invariably have arguments over what we watch. The sitting room is seen as the prime real estate in our house, it has the comfiest sofas and a 65 inch telly. By contrast the playroom has our old 50 inch plasma (only in St Albans would it probably be classed as “normal” to have a TV that size in a playroom) and our bedroom has a 49 inch 4K telly, which is awesome for watching Daredevil in 4K. In our defence, two of those tellies were directly the result of blogging (one was a competition prize, the other something to do with promoting a competition), so I don’t feel excessively guilty over the number of enormous tellies we have.

Netflix fortune tellerBut yes, there are some fights about who watches what where, and that’s before the kids get into the battle to watch hyperactive cartoons on Pop either.

Netflix tasked us with producing a fortune teller (using their template) and filling it with family friendly programmes for 8 categories they selected for us. Although Netflix gave some examples for each categories, I thought it would be fun to let the kids see if they could do better.

This turned out to be an enormous mistake as they spent hours- certainly longer than it would have taken to watch almost everything we ended up picking- selecting the shows and movies. Still, our categories and sections were:

  1. Fantasy-Big Fish
  2. Adventure- The Road to El Dorado
  3. Literary favourites- Charlotte’s Web
  4. Educational- Horrible Histories
  5. 80s animated classics- Inspector Gadget
  6. Not very scary vampires- Hotel Transylvania
  7. Comedy- PeeWee’s Big Holiday
  8. Anime- Pokemon

Some of the choices were easy- Horrible Histories is awesome for kids of any age, and it’s even a show I’m happy to leave on in the background and let the kids learn by osmosis, others there were bitter feuds over. Pokemon particularly. Netflix gave some much better anime (Japanese animation) suggestions but the boy is currently in the middle of a Nintendo inspired Pokemon fixation. I plumped for Big Fish as it’s a film I’ve always meant to get round to watching, and lets face it, who couldn’t not Blah Blah Blah along with Hotel Transylvania?

Unfortunately in practice, using the fortune teller worked out as problematic as democracy (suggesting to me at least a theocracy is as problematic as a republic but that’s a blog post for another day), with the first choice not winning a majority of support, it became a “best out of three”, which lead on to threats (our kids are good at threats), and eventually saw wifey and me sneak upstairs to watch Hemlock Grove. When we came back down, the kids were all watching H20, one of those Mermaid shows that seem to be inexplicably popular at the moment.

Working on the principle that you can’t win them all, and should probably pick your fights carefully, I counted this as a success. The Netflix package we’re on that allows for 4K streaming also lets you watch on 4 devices concurrently for £8.99 a month, so we were only at 50% capacity anyway!

Still on the Vuelio Top 10 Dads List

I must admit I wasn’t going to write this post- as a Brit blowing your own trumpet isn’t something that comes naturally (and then only behind closed doors with the curtains drawn. No wait, not that) but since I’ve seen a few of the others on the list do the same, I thought a quick modest nod at my awesomeness was due.

I’m sitting at number 6 in the Vuelio Top Ten Dad Bloggers.

Vuelio (and more specifically the bits of it that used to be Cision) deal in media relations management software and databases. For bloggers like me, they maintain a database of influencers that brands and PR agencies can access in order to run campaigns. Some of the most exciting stuff I’ve done as a blogger has come via Cision/Vuelio, including the Network of Champions.

Top 10 Vuelio BadgeVuelio do some analysis of their database and regularly (every six to 12 months) update their top tens. I’ve now maintained my position on Vuelio’s Top Ten Dad Bloggers list since it’s inception, which is something I’m proud out. My blog pre-dates the list, so to be on it since it begun tells me I’m still as relevant as I always have been (you can read that in two ways of course!)- times change, people come and go, trends, erm, trend, but I’m still there like that awkward uncle that’s hard to shift at Christmas.

So hurrah for that awkward uncle then!

Using Epic Fantasy to deal with Children

I have long been know to use unorthodox methods for dealing with my three children. Unorthodox but entirely legal and safe, I should add.

game of thrones mummy bloggerNo, I’m not suggesting any parenting from the Cersei Lannister school of mothering, The Caitlin Stark approach or indeed pretty much anything from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire.

No, I’m going relatively old school with the bits of epic fantasy I’m gleaning my parenting skills from.

Since I’m 41 now, a lot of the epic fantasy I read in the 80’s was written before the current obsession with gritty violence. The movement itself has been coined Grimdark, and contains a fairly diverse bunch of authors, from Game of Thrones author Martin, to guys like Joe Abercrombie, who wrote the brilliant First Law novels (but does come across as a bit needy on social media).

So without further ado, I’m going to plunge into the epic fantasy of my youth for some parenting tips. I make no apology for the twee nature of some of the books mentioned, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a reading list! View Full Post

Challenge your children to make a Spotify playlist

Our kids have never really listened to lullaby CDs or music entirely written for and aimed at kids. I think they need to know proper music from an early age, and despite what various mum’s seem to think, pop music can be pretty damn cool.

Our eldest used to go off to sleep to various chilled out albums; some Cat Stephens, some Simon & Garfunkel, and the Cosmic Roughriders were his favourites. He didn’t get the choice to listen to Fluffy Sparkle the Bunny Goes on a Sleepy Sleep Adventure. Thank Goodness.

Still, since we have three SONOS’s (SONI?) dottted round the house, I thought it was time to get the kids to put together their own playlists.

Digital music has replaced that ability to go round someone’s house and judge them utterly on their record collection and that’s a shame. A playlist can reintroduce the chance to do that. Children prepare to be judged…

The boy

Hmmm. Both the kids seem to like Jon Cozart a lot. He’s a gimmick artist but actually they’re not that bad, quite cleverly worded and the a capella singing is quite good. Love the fact that Princess Amidala is also referred to a major cougar. Bonus points for that.

Hall of Fame is a fairly catchy pop tune, as is the novelty song What Does the Fox Say, so I’m happy there.

The boy is a huge Minecraft addict, hence the presence of several Minecraft songs. They’re a mixture of utterly bland Europop and pop but inoffensive. They’re also rip offs of existing songs. I didn’t realise until I got to Let it Glow which is obviously Let it Go from Frozen. I don’t know enough modern pop to recognise what the Atlanteans is but if you can’t recognise Hacker, you don’t deserve to own a pair of ears!

The rest are a mixture of movie sound track titles, with Shut Up & Dance and All the Small Things chucked in.

Overall, B minus, could have been much worse but forgot some of the stuff he really likes (Don’t Stop Believing being the most obvious omission; he loves that song!)

Fifi

More Jon Cozart. He’s actually quite funny. Progessive Christmas Carols is quite amusing.

The rest is a mixture of three things: Scooby Doo, Angry Birds and one pop song called Rude by some bunch called Magic!.

Bit disappointed by this list to be honest as Fifi probably listens to more music than the rest of the kids put together. I think she was so keen to do it that she rushed it. I may get her to revisit it but at the moment this is a square C from me.

Me

This isn’t a list of my favourite music. I’ll make that quite clear from the outset. This is a list that I put on for the kids when we have a Friday night disco. It’s stuff they can sing along to, has a good chorus and has a good rhythm. Yes, American’s Horse with No Name doesn’t fit but it has a horse in and Fifi loves horses.

 

Personally I’m currently listening to Barclay James Harvest and some Velvet Underground, but I don’t think the kids are really ready for that just yet…

Win £200 of Love2Shop vouchers with DFS #sofamoment

Whether it’s watching your favourite team on the big screen with your friends, having a romantic night in for two or piling on to the sofa with the whole family to watch your favourite movies, having a comfy sofa to relax on is essential to the home!
My personal favourite #SofaMoment is snuggling up on the sofa after we’ve put the kids to bed and working our way through all 5 seasons of Game of Thrones. I started reading the books in the mid 1990’s when good old George started writing them but didn’t start watching the series when it first came out. We’d just had our littlest at that point, Fifi wasn’t sleeping through the night and the boy didn’t want to go to bed.

watching GoTIt was the perfect storm and consequently we never managed to watch any television. It was only recently we started watching stuff again, binging on Vikings, Daredevil and then Penny Dreadful and Peaky Blinders before we started on Game of Thrones. The nudity is a bit much (I always get a bit embarrassed watching sex scenes with the wife for some reason) but it’s mostly a fairly faithful adaptation of the series and they’ve nailed a few of the characters perfectly- Peter Dinklage is Tyrion, Maisie Williams is perfect as Ayria and that bald fat bloke is great as Varys.

It does help when you’re watching it on a 65 inch Sony telly of course but we get so little time to ourselves without incessant child interference, that it’s nice to be able to watch something bloodthirsty and violent for a change.

But what I want to know is – what’s your favourite memorable #SofaMoment? Let me know your top moment below and my favourite will win £200 of Love2Shop vouchers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is brought to you by DFS. Visit the DFS website to find out more about their great range of DFS Sofas.