Hoarding like a pro

It’s not getting any better. Whenever we have a big tidy up it seems like we’re just moving stuff about and relocating things rather than getting rid of stuff. Our house must weigh about twice as much as our neighbours because we’ve got so much darn stuff in it.

The kids don’t help the accumulation of detritus- attempt to get them to part with any old or broken toy they haven’t touched for years and they’ll wail and play with it incessantly until you leave the room and then revert to the scrumming wrestling game that is their preferred pastime. 

Still I’m no better, I keep on finding stuff in the house that I bought years ago and in some instances haven’t actually opened. Take this for example:

Dreamcast VMU

The Dreamcast was Sega’s last (and ill-fated) console. It was released in 1999 and discontinued in 2001. This is a sealed box VMU (memory card) for a Dreamcast that’s sat in a box in our loft for many many years.

Still, I did manage somewhat of a breakthrough. I took 17 boxes down from the loft that contained old video consoles, games and various cables and power supplies. I only returned 7 boxes, which I count as a win, but I’m still a little nervous about some of the PSUs I threw away.

I mean, just because I haven’t used them in the last 15 years, doesn’t mean they’re not vital. Right? Right???

Nozstock the Hidden Valley 2018 Review

This year Nozstock celebrated it’s 20th birthday, no mean feat given how the festival market has burgeoned in recent years. The secret to their success is threefold- Nozstock has refused to grow to the size of a mega festival, it has great music, and it’s just incredibly friendly.

This year the weather gods were kind to us,it was gloriously hot and sunny where it had been rather wet the previous year. The weather does make a big difference at a festival, even one where they deal with the mud really well, and I have to say combined with the lovely local cider and the musical line up, this was probably the best Nozstock yet.

We started off Friday with We Are Scientists, before moving on to the Selector for a bit of ska. Both were ace, but simply a warm up for Chase & Status a bit later in the evening, who did an awesome set. Day time is quite chilled at Nozstock, with a mixture of mellow acoustic, folk, and guitar based pop/rock. Things get really banging in the evenings. The kids did well on the first night, managing to stay up until gone midnight.

On day 2 we were joined by the rest of our posse (the Friday had been year six leavers party, so my wife, the eldest, and one of our friends and their eldest came up first thing Saturday morning). The last sets of the previous night only finished at around 2/3am, so the morning was quite chilled. I’d made the cardinal mistake of not filling up my water bottle so had to start the day with a gin in a tin to wet my whistle – why not start as you mean to carry on eh? 

Although the family camping has always been great at Nozstock (restricted to people with actual families and not groups of teenagers on their own like a few other festivals I could name), this year it really outdid itself with a bespoke adventure playground and some football goals.  This is a really great addition when you have kids that get up at 7am and the festival proper doesn’t open until 10!

Of course the bigger acts were reserved for the (late) evenings but with the likes of Electric Swing Circus on earlier, it really wasn’t the case of having to sit through a lot of rubbish just to make sure you got to see the likes of GrandMaster Flash or Goldfrapp.

The thing that sets Nozstock apart (aside from the music, the food, and well lots of other things really) is the atmosphere though. It is so friendly. We had “merry” lads and lasses coming up and asking the kids who their favourite artists were, complementing us on making the kids wear ear defenders, and just being genuinely nice. There was none of the argy bargy jostling and queue jumping you see at larger festivals, everybody is out to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Tickets are already available for Nozstock’s 21st Festival, and you can pick them up here at an early bird rate. Don’t forget that kids under 12 go free, so it really is an awesome opportunity to spend a long weekend chilling.

How to Shave Years off the Way You Look and Feel

Everybody reaches a certain point in life where they begin to feel an urge to shave as many years off as possible, both in the way they look and in the way they feel. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do this, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with acting on these desires.

To act on them, you have to be proactive and you have to resolve to put some work in — if you don’t, you’ll barely shave a day off. To see what needs to be done exactly to make yourself look and feel younger, take heed of the advice that follows.

Frames of youth

If your eyesight just isn’t what it used to be, then it might be time to get yourself a pair of glasses. Don’t see that as being necessarily a bad thing, because it can benefit you in regards to the way you look and feel.

For starters, having an eye test is the single best way to detect any underlying health problems that you may have, and it is one of the most proficient ways of examining the condition of your brain without going through a CAT scan. So, if you want to stop the onset of ageing plights before they take a hold of you, get yourself booked in for an eye test. As well as that, a trendy pair of Mister Spex men’s glasses has the potential to provide you with the frames of youth through the way they can camouflage creases and highlight the bone structure of your face.

Embrace a new diet

Shaving years off of your look isn’t just about directly changing things about yourself, it’s also about changing the way you live — more to the point, it’s about changing your diet.

Ketogenic diets — plans that consist of high fat, low carb eating — are proven to have an impact on any physique, no matter the age of he or she who embraces it, so that is certainly one that could benefit you if you embrace and then stick to it. A diet that could prove to be even more beneficial for you is veganism — studies have shown that such diets provide a healthy amount of fibre and antioxidants through their plant compounds, and that they are far richer in vitamins A, C and E than normal diets are, and this only ever has a positive impact on the skin.

If you or anybody you know suffers from arthritis, then you should know that going vegan helps to reduce the pain of that, too. The probiotic-rich, raw food diet found in most areas of veganism has been proven to improve common arthritis pain, like joint swelling and stiffness in the morning. This is because these types of vegan diets are what are known as anti-inflammatory diets, being made up mainly of foods rich in whole grain.

You have every right to shave years off of the way you look and feel if you want to, and don’t let society tell you otherwise!

Beneficial Birthday Presents

If you ever find yourself stuck when it comes to buying birthday presents, fear not because you’re not alone. Don’t be worried if you regularly find yourself struggling at it, either, because it’s a tough job at the best of times, and it’s made even harder when it’s a milestone celebration that you’re buying for or your particularly picky other half.

To combat the stress of buying birthday presents as well as to waste as little time, effort and money on doing so as possible, from now on, only ever buy gifts that are beneficial to the receiver. Some of the best and most generally useful gift ideas can be found below.

Driving lessons for non-drivers

The most beneficial birthday presents are those that actually benefit the receiver’s life through the things that they teach them, one such educational present being the gift of driving lessons. If you know somebody that hasn’t yet learned to drive, the reason for them not doing so, whether they admit it or not, may be because they haven’t pushed themselves to do it — you gifting them with their first few lessons will see them get the push they need to get over any hurdles that they have previously failed to navigate.

When it comes to choosing the perfect driving education package, you should choose one that offers intensive driving lessons for all learners as that will see your gift receiver get the support they need for the level that they are at, be them a complete novice or someone with a little bit of previous driving experience. When they are passed and on the roads, they can return the gift by giving you lifts!

Stuff for the kitchen

Most of the time, homeowners only ever tend to treat themselves to things that will boost the kerb appeal of their home or make the inside decor of it look nicer. This means, more often than not, the kitchen, quite sadly, gets ignored.

It’s time to stop ignoring the kitchen, seeing as though it is one of, if not the most, important rooms in your friend’s home, by gifting them with presents that can be practically used within it. Whether it’s an organiser to keep all of their knives and forks in place, a sturdy cheese board, an apron that will hide stains or even a bed for their kitchen sponge, if you feel that your friend’s kitchen needs some TLC in a particular area, then make sure you’re the one to provide it with it. Your friend might not be too enthused by the gift at first, but they’ll be more than thankful in the long run!

Money

You may feel like handing your friend money for their birthday is like admitting defeat, but this is just about as sensible and beneficial a present as there is. When you hand your friend a wad of cash in their birthday card, you give them free rein to get whatever it is they want, meaning they are likely to end up getting something that does, in fact, benefit their life. Is there anything more beneficial than that?

The next time you are tasked with getting a birthday present for somebody, make sure to try and find one that is as beneficial as possible.

3 Fun Ways to Keep Your Family Healthy

Having a family of your own is likely an experience like none you’ve had before. It’s a chance for you to pass on family traditions, create some of your own, and raise kids with values that you hold dear. One objective that many parents hope to achieve for their family is instilling healthy habits when it comes to food and fitness. It can be challenging considering the number of outside influences such as sweets and junk food, but it’s definitely possible. One of the most practical ways that you can achieve it is by making healthy living a lifestyle. On that note, you’re going to find three fun ways of keeping your family healthy below.

Set Fitness Goals

When attempting to keep your family healthy, one of the first places that you should start is in the area of goal setting. Look at your health presently and think about what you’d like to achieve in terms of healthy living. This could be having more energy, managing a condition better, or losing weight. In terms of the latter, there are several ways to lose weight which include trying shakes, creating a diet plan, clean eating, and exercise. This will more apply to you as parents than it will your kids but seeing as though you should lead by example when it comes to healthy living; it’s equally important. Overall, you should try and set goals that will help improve your health as a family and that are both realistic and attainable.

Have Family Fitness Days

When looking for fun ways to keep your family healthy, you should definitely think about having family fitness days. This could include physical activities such as riding your bikes around the neighbourhood on the weekend, having a dance competition at home for an hour or two, or watching a family-friendly work-out routine together. You can also try other fitness activities at home such as exercise games, yoga, store-cupboard fitness, as well as running. To make it inclusive and give everyone something to look forward to, try asking everyone what their favourite activities are and take turns doing them.

Create Meal Plans Together

Meal planning is another fun way to keep your family healthy as food is a significant aspect of your daily lives. Also, health has a lot to do with what you eat, so healthy eating is key. You should, therefore, think about meal planning as a family and finding healthy alternatives to some of your favourite foods. In case you need ideas for healthy food swaps, you can swap whole milk for semi-skimmed, white bread and rice for wholegrain varieties, unhealthy snacks with nutrient-filled ones, and swap the frying pan for the grill when cooking meat.

Healthy living can be less of a chore and more of an adventure if you take the right approach. This is why making it exciting, providing rewards and incentives, as well as setting goals, so you have something to look forward to is key. By doing these things, you could increase the likeliness of keeping your family healthy and having loads of fun in the process.

Teaching Your Kids About the World of Motoring

Every parent will want to encourage their children to learn to drive as it will provide them with so much freedom and independence (plus it also means that you no longer have to taxi them around!). Every parent will also be very cautious as driving is a huge responsibility and can be very dangerous. With this in mind, there are a few things that it is worth teaching your kids about motoring before they reach the age where they can get behind the wheel.

Road Safety

The most important thing to teach them from a young age is road safety as the roads can be highly dangerous for both motorists and pedestrians. They should be taught how to be safe when walking and crossing the road from a young age, but it is also important to teach them how to use the roads safely so that they will be an intelligent and aware driver in the future. You can do this by explaining exactly what you are doing and why when you are driving. In addition to this, it can also be a valuable experience to cycle with them on the roads so that they can begin to get confidence on the road and understand the rules.

Vehicle Maintenance

It is also important to teach a youngster about how to properly look after an automobile. Vehicle maintenance is crucial for making sure that the car runs properly and stays in a good condition for years to come. It is worth teaching them how to inflate the tyres, change the tyres, change the oil, clean the car and other similar maintenance jobs. They should also be taught about following the service schedule, taking the car in for an MOT and how to get repairs at a garage.

Buying a Vehicle

Teaching them how to buy a used car is also a smart move as this is something that many adults struggle with and it could end up costing them. This can be done whilst purchasing their first car and you should show them how to research for cars online at places like AA Cars, how to speak to a dealer, how to examine the vehicle and what to look for on a test drive. You can then teach them about negotiating, the important paperwork involved, how to find the right insurance policy and other options like extended warranties, GAP insurance etc.

The world of driving can be fantastic and the majority of youngsters will want to learn how to drive when they are old enough. This should be encouraged as a parent, but there are many aspects that they should be taught from a young age so that they can start to learn with a decent amount of knowledge of how to be a safe and responsible driver.

Navigating the maze of electricity use with British Gas and their smart meter maze game

Our house was built in the 1960s and one of the ways we get an insight every day to how different things are in 2018 to 1968 (Happy 50th Birthday house!) is the aggravation we inevitably have when it comes to plugging stuff in. Each room has at most two plug sockets, which in this day and age simply isn’t anywhere near enough. And boy do we have things plugged in- from computers to grills, to smart speakers, everything seems to come with a power brick and a plug today. Ironically, even the 1970s stereo we’ve recently inherited needs two plug sockets, which suggests that power strips were pretty common in the 70s too.

And it is true for us that almost every plug socket has a power strip on it, with various devices and chargers plugged in. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up in a cold sweat wondering how much electricity half our stuff uses on standby and whether cumulatively it would be enough to put one of our kids through university. Both our bigger tellies (50 and 60 inch respectively) don’t even have a physical on/off button; they’re either in standby or switched off at the wall and since the cables are tucked away from sight, turning them off at the wall every night is a bit of a chore, especially when one of the kids wakes you up at 6am because the TV doesn’t work.

British Gas have developed a game to let you see what uses electricity and how, with the idea that it creates an awareness of the things that use a lot of electricity. Much like a smart meter will let you see what is being used, and make you conscious of what needs turning off or using sparingly to save you money. I have a friend who was shocked to see the electricity usage of his big plasma TV after he got a smart meter fitted. He went away and looked up the actual power consumption and worked out that if he bought a similar size modern LCD TV the saving in electricity between the two would actually pay for his new telly before the warranty on it ran out.

The British Gas Smart Meter Maze game lets you get an idea of how much simple things like turning off lights or game consoles will save you, all wrapped up in a lovely retro pixel art style. I particularly like the way it shows the kids running around and turning everything on ALL THE TIME. It’s very realistic in that respect.

That’s the beauty of a smart meter really. It won’t magically save you energy on its own but there is something about seeing a £££ move that focuses the mind and makes you more energy conscious. I even did the experiment of setting our TV to ECO mode to see what difference it would make. Initially the screen looked a lot dimmer but since we mostly watch TV in the evening with the lights off, we soon adjusted as the saving, although small, was another step towards being more frugal with our energy usage.

And in case you’re wondering, I scored 23,000 on the Smart Meter Maze game. Try and beat that if you can!

 

This post is a promotional feature in association with British Gas® but all thoughts are my own

Owning my fears with AXA PPP healthcare

And so my journey to owning my fear of an early death is drawing to an end and also entering a new and exciting chapter. My six months of blog posts and support calls from Becky at AXA PPP healthcare are drawing to an end but the process of empowering myself to continue the journey is ongoing.

When I started my journey back in January I was more interested in tips, tricks and shortcuts to getting my health back on track; I was hoping AXA PPP healthcare and Becky would be able to give me the professional equivalent of those “one weird tip the experts don’t want you to know” adverts you see out there, but as I began to buy in to the process, I realised it was as much a change of attitude as it was in the record-able metrics of what I wanted to achieve: setting myself up to fail by designating a weight loss target as the goal wasn’t a great idea because it ignored the reason for it, and the reason (wanting to be there for my kids) was more important and required a change in thinking, not just in eating.

I’m going to sound like one of those old hippies but in this instance the journey was definitely more important than the destination. And I say this with some authority, as the man who once reviewed a Slendertone in a not entirely serious manner much to the irritation of everyone who found it on the front page of Google for several years.

Once I entered the mindset of owning my fear of a premature death, I was liberated in that I could face the elephant in the room and do more than a desultory attempt to address it because lets not forget, a fear pushed to the back of your mind and not properly acknowledged won’t be dealt with properly and will demotivate you all the way as you try to change things.

There are four key things in the Own your fears campaign that worked really well for me:

  1. Admitting to myself that I had a fear and it needed facing in the first place;
  2. Embracing the positivity that the admission created and using it to drive change;
  3. Having practical help in terms of support and guidance from Becky; and
  4. Having someone to be accountable to.

Going forwards, now that my series of coaching calls has finished, I can still manage one and two, three is okay as I’ve got the practical help sitting in my G Drive, but point four was always going to be the issue- just who do I find to hold myself accountable to?

In the end the answer was obvious and staring me in the face for the whole time. After all the reason I decided to own my fear in the first instance was for my children, and the two older children are of an age that they can hold me accountable but also encourage me. I may have had one two many enjoying the football on a sunny Friday afternoon recently- when I got back home, my two eldest told me off. The younger made me drink two pints of water and the elder did an impromptu quiz (what’s the weight of Saturn? Is diamond harder than titanium? You know, sensible questions) to ascertain how naughty I’d been. He even wrote down my results and rated me. That’s the kind of being held to account I need, although he’d have done better had he removed my dinner plate from me before I decided to have a quick nap.

The best thing about owning my fear is I feel light. Weight wise I haven’t lost as much as I hoped to but that’s not really what I’m talking about. It’s about the metaphorical weight that’s been taken off my shoulders.

Taking that first step is hard though, but with AXA PPP healthcare there to help, you don’t have to do it on your own. Go on, what are you waiting for? This could be the start of something special!

Let there be light!

 

With a summer (so far) filled with wall to wall sunshine, thinking about lighting is probably the furthest thing from most peoples minds. We however are not most people and have just had some rather nice shutters installed in our bow window (a bow window is similar to a bay window but has more equally sized panes in case you were wondering). This has led us to reconsider the lighting we have in the dining room and sitting room because the amount of natural light has changed and we’ve also been lazy, having effectively the light fittings that were in place when we moved in 12 years ago. I’ve done a lot of DIY since we moved in- last week I was sanding and re-varnishing the parquet flooring that’s been hidden under carpet for a decade- but the lights are the one thing we’ve not really looked at.

We’ve decided to get a modern pendant style light to hang over the dining room table, preferably with height adjustment, so we’ve been looking on various websites like Lights to see what we can get for a reasonable price that is still stylish (hey, those shutters weren’t cheap you know!).

The problem is, once you start looking at lights, it’s quite difficult to stop looking at them, it’s really a case of going down the rabbit hole. Yes, we started off looking at light fittings for the sitting room and dining room but soon enough we were looking at something for the hallway and the landing.

In no time at all the techy in me was pouring over the smart lighting too- it’s seldom that you see a website that deals with traditional lighting AND smart lighting well, it’s usually one or the other in my experience.

I think we’re often in danger of spending too much time thinking about redecoration in terms of wallpaper, wall colours, carpet and furniture, without remembering that lighting is the one thing that can make a massive difference, and doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The only worry I have is the six year old swinging on the lamp like Tarzan, which if you knew him you’d sympathise with me!

 

Five must-see sets at Warner Bros Studio Tours

Five must-see sets at Warner Bros Studio Tours

If you or someone in your house is a self-confessed Potterhead, you will probably already be considering a Warner Bros Studio Tour, but proper planning is key!

Offering a huge variety of attractions, interactive exhibits and a shop that will see money magically flying out of your pocket, the tours are something else, but it’s the sets that are truly spectacular. Around every corner, something recognisable from the films is waiting to be explored, but to get the very best from your day be sure not to miss our top five must-see sets.

The Great Hall. Do you remember how in awe of the Great Hall all the first-year Hogwarts students were in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Well, prepare to feel exactly the same way when you first lay eyes on the immense set!

We won’t give anything away, but needless to say, once you are in the Great Hall, everything will demand your attention, from the immaculate student place settings through to the fireplaces and costumes of beloved teachers. The hall is usually decorated to be seasonally appropriate, so you might like to consider a Christmas visit. Don’t forget to get some snaps of the House Points Counter, too – it’s a work of art!

The Forbidden Forest. Sinister, spooky and seriously intriguing, the Forbidden Forest set has fast become a real favourite with adult and child Potterheads alike.

Filled to the brim with enormous trees, ethereal lighting and curious mists, the forest also plays home to some wonderful magical creatures that you’ll definitely want to get pictures with. Keep your eyes peeled for Aragog, as he tends to pop out when you least expect it, among other mystical beings, but whatever you do, don’t forget to bow if you find Buckbeak! You remember what he did to Draco Malfoy, right?

Platform 9 ¾. The place where Harry’s Hogwarts journey really began, the platform is an immersive set that allows you to feel as though you’re on your way to the premier school for witches and wizards.

You’ll be able gird your courage and run at the platform wall, with a trolley, for the ultimate photo opportunity, before boarding the train to take a look at the carriages that your favourite characters have sat in. To complete the experience, you can pop into the platform shop to ‘take the lot’ in terms of sweet treats, just like Harry did when he first met Ron on their inaugural Hogwarts Express journey.

Diagon Alley. If you remember the joy of shopping for new school stationery ahead of every September, you’ll understand how thrilling a walk down Diagon Alley will be! It’s even more special, thanks to the atmospheric lighting and the inherent sense of anticipation.

Lined with all of the most memorable shops from the franchise, including Ollivanders wand emporium, Gringotts Bank and Mulpepper’s Apothecary, you’ll feel as though you’re stocking up on all your back-to-school supplies, but with a magical twist. If only Hagrid would strut around the corner, clutching an owl that he’s bought for you, as that really would be the dream!

Potions Classroom. Finally, to get a feel for just how detailed and imaginative the film sets were, the Potions Classroom is a must-see exhibit.

Yes, there are the self-stirring cauldrons that make children squeal and adults ponder on how useful they would be in real life, but it’s the sheer volume of aged bottles and decanters, not to mention parchment papers and creepy ingredients that really bring the set to life. It’s impossible not to imagine being yelled at by Professor Snape or attempting to whip up a batch of Polyjuice Potion in this moody and atmospheric set.

Of course, there are numerous other, smaller, sets to immerse yourself in too, such as Dolores Umbridge’s office, complete with kitten wall plates, a section of the Ministry of Magic, the cupboard under the stairs and Harry’s Gryffindor dorm room. You can definitely see it all in one day, but you’ll no doubt fancy a second visit, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything the first time around!

If one or more of these set descriptions has sparked an undeniable urge to see them in real life and you’re sick to death of waiting for your owl to deliver an official Hogwarts invitation, take matters into your own hands and reserve your tickets today. Just make sure that your camera is fully charged and ready to go, because you’re going to love zooming in and discovering props and details that you may have overlooked in person.