Not going swimming

Despite my best efforts we didn’t manage to go swimming today. We did everything right, got up, dressed, put the swimming kit in the bag and go in the car and drove to the local school where the kids have their Sunday lessons.

Unfortunately our best intentions were just that; intentions. It turns out that the lessons don’t start until next week, something I hadn’t checked because I knew that they started this week and why did I need to check?

This is symptomatic of me really. I wish I was more organised and better clued in. I know exactly where last term bill is, it’s in my sock drawer on the right hand side, just next to my bow-tie (clip on, my tie up one got borrowed by my brother about ten years ago and I’ve not seen it since).

On it’s own this wouldn’t have been too bad but coupled with the fact we spent ages looking for number one son’s mobile phone, only to find it in my rucksack, where he put it for safe keeping when we went to Wrest Park last weekend.

I give up.

Sometimes you just have to put your hands up and say yes, I am bloody hopeless. There’s nothing else for it unfortunately.

Games consoles, Overwatch, kids accounts and a meltdown

Recently we were exceptionally decadent and added a second PS4 to our house. We did this through the accumulation of Nectar Points which we used to get a decent discount at Argos on a bundle that was already reduced. Go me!

Although it seems silly, there were a couple of good reasons behind the purchase. Firstly we had pretty much been driven from the living room where MY PS4 lives by kids incessantly playing games on it. Secondly, the high functioning child gets very valuable secondary socialisation from using it. Secondary socialisation is important for people on the spectrum; it involves chatting and interacting with people whilst doing something else. Put kids together in a situation where the sole purpose is to interact and they’ll have trouble, give them something to do that leads to interaction as a secondary benefit of whatever they’re doing, and it works much better. View Full Post

Oooh, we’re moving now

Last year we explored the possibility of having an enormo extension. It would have been a sight to behold, the aim of which was to give Ned a bigger (wider) bedroom and us an en-suite. At any time either of us want to go to the loo, their appears to be a child skidding the bowl.

As it turned out, we encountered a classic Catch-22 situation in so far as we could either afford the extension or the moving out for the six months that the build would last but not both. It was a blow for me because I was firmly of the opinion that an extension made better financial sense than paying solicitors fees, estate agents fees, and stamp duty to only find that the new place isn’t quite right and needs redecorating, a new bathroom, boiler and kitchen.

Still necessity is the mother of invention and we’re now looking at moving again but this time we’re not solely looking at houses, we’re also looking at the land that they’re sitting on. With plenty of reports in the news about issues with new build houses, the idea of knocking down a perfectly suitable house and building your own might seem odd but it isn’t really. Quality issues stem from the build ’em quick, build ’em cheap mass builders and a lot of older homes aren’t necessarily configured to suit a 21st century style of living. Starting again from scratch isn’t proportionately more expensive than building an extension either.

One of the things that stops being self building is the fear of something going wrong but if you have proper home warranty insurance from someone like CRL, you’ll be covered if the thing falls in or the cellar collapses or something.

In terms of self builds (the name is a bit misleading as I’m certainly not going to be running a line of bricks any time soon), as well as tapping people up for reputable local builders, we’re also looking into the prefab stuff. We’re lucky that I happen to know someone who works at BRE who has pointed us at some cool companies like Huf Haus.

Whichever route we go though, we’re now definitely looking at shifting the family to pastures new as we’ve just had an offer on the place which is pretty close to our asking price. Exciting times!

When you hurt the cause you champion

Oh for a rounded world view.

The problem with ideology is that it becomes a means to an end. In the Large Hadron Collider of Life, when ideology and social interaction are hurled together at a high percentage of the speed of light, it is often the case that individual ideologues involved get so caught up in their narrative that common sense has to take a back seat.

Whether this is manifest as the devout Christian spreading what he thinks is God’s word by shambling up and down the high street with a sinners repent sandwich board and a portable megaphone, the Gamer Gate “ethics in journalism” lot automatically assuming that any woman involved in video games is there because of sexual favours offered to men, or the feminist who’s default position is any man is a woman beater, the thing they all have in common is the damage they do to their cause by their actions and behaviour. View Full Post

The £70K question

Yesterday was full of hot takes on whether earning £70K makes you rich. The man with exciting eyebrows, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, was responsible for this, saying Labour would tax the rich more, with “the rich” being defined as those earning more than £70K.

I’ll say now I don’t earn £70K, so I’m not defending myself here. Plenty of my friends earn more than £70K, in some instances it’s multiples of that, and some of those can plead poverty in public without any sense of irony.

£70K is without a doubt a lot of money.

It’s four and a half times the salary I started on as a trainee accountant twenty years ago.

As a gross salary, it’s over two and a half times the national average of £27k (in terms of take home pay though, it’s only just over twice as much due to tax thresholds and allowances).

However in plenty of family situations, with a single wage earner and a stay at home parent, it’s only marginally better than both parents working for the national average. Two basic rate tax payers earning the average UK wage each between them will take home 91% of the amount one individual earning £70K will. And that’s before anything like working family tax credits or other benefits that are available to basic rate tax payers.

The unasked question is how many families chose to make the sacrifice in terms of one parent’s career to ensure the other parent maximises their earnings? 

There are of course other issues, such as the cost of childcare- for us to have all three in child care before and after school was, until recently high enough that a £50K salary would have been roughly the break even point to cover child care. This was a combination of where we live and the cost of child care for three children. Once they were all in full time education the cost would have dropped to a little over £8,500 from taxed income for breakfast and after school club during term time and many thousands more to cover the 14 weeks of school holidays. That’s a lot. View Full Post

My next DIY project is likely to be a little more involved

Of course in an ideal world I’d be doing something like the inimitable Colin Furze and building a secret bunker in my garden. But since my greatest achievement to date has involved getting the toy cars lined up on my littlest’s wallpaper, I know not to push it too far. My skills lie elsewhere. I’ve been told. Presumably by someone who knows.

Anyway, I have managed a few fairly major tasks- I’ve refitted and tiled a bathroom, rebuilt a summer house from an old concrete shed, done my own DIY security camera project and even fitted an IKEA kitchen. Yes, the majority of this was all done before I had dodgy knees and three small children getting underfoot but in principle, I’m still up for a bit of a challenge.

We’re at that stage where we’re looking to either move and take on a project or do something fairly radical internally. Either way, it’s going to involve the removal of some non load bearing walls. Our entire top floor is pretty much non load bearing in terms of the internal walls- the roof is supported on the external brick walls, with some obvious gaps between the rafters and the internal walls at the top once you prod the plaster away. We’ve been looking at turning the box room into an ensuite & bathroom and moving it (the fourth bedroom) to the current bathroom. I’ll need an upgrade on my 5lb lump hammer and also a pair of sturdy comfortable safety shoes to stop brick and breeze block clobbering my delicate toes. The lump hammer I can get most anywhere but the chap we had in the office to do our PAT testing recently pointed me towards Engelbert- Strauss for the safety shoes. I’m a size 12 so it’s hard enough to get normal shows  in store in my size, let alone specialised footwear. The idea of being able to buy them online is appealing.

We’re fortunate enough that in St Albans we have the first two pilot Bunnings stores in the country. Bunnings are the brand that bought out the ailing Homebase and are turning them into proper DIY sheds- when I re-felted our sheds roof the other day I had about 5 different types of roof felt to choose from, which is something even the huge B&Q in Stevenage can’t boast.

I’m fortunate as our next door neighbour has already done roughly what we anticipate doing, so I can learn from what he’s done and even ask him if there is anything he would have done differently. Apparently there is some structural steel in a very inopportune place that’s caused him a bit of a headache, so I’ll have the benefit of not being surprised by that if we do stay put.

A great evocation of childhood in an unexpected place

Plenty of fiction gets the representation of kids wrong. Even fiction written for kids isn’t brilliant so when you read, or in this case I suppose re-read after around 30 years, something that seems to get the whole essence of being a kid nailed spot on, it’s something that is worth celebrating. This is especially the case when it’s done in a book that you’d probably not consider a fertile breeding ground for this sort of thing.

What book am I talking about? Well I’ll put you out of your misery, it’s Stephen King’s It. Yes, the one with the clown and the typical King supernatural firework display at the end that can’t help be slightly disappointing after such fine work before. I don’t think I realised at the time that Bill, Ritchie, Bev, Mike and co were so well written but that was mostly because I was almost a contemporary of the childhood incarnation of those characters when I read the book. I can’t have been more than 12 or 13 when I read It; the library’s hardback wasn’t too shabby when I booked it out and I was a terribly precocious reader. If pushed to comment, I might have suggested that the idea of the characters 27 years on was the one thing I’d have struggled with- what 12 year old can empathise with people almost 40, that’s positively ancient.

I’ve not seen the Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown mini-series from the 1990 miniseries and I probably shan’t watch the cinematic duology that is on it’s way and in part prompted me to reread the book. I may watch the proposed “supercut” of the two movies though, as that sounds interesting. The first film, due out this year, focuses on the characters as kids, told in flashback in the novel, with the second film dealing with their return as adults to face the evil they thought they had destroyed. A supercut of both films matching the chronology of the book would be brilliant if done properly. View Full Post

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp by Olaf Falafel

Our five year old Ned has discovered flatulence in a big way. And by that I mean both the act of partaking in it’s creation and also the act of laughing hysterically at it. The joys of being five.

I am to blame for Ned’s infatuation with flatulence a little because I introduced him to the whole “pull my finger” thing. You live and learn.

So when wifey was offered the chance to review Old MacDonald Heard a Parp, a farty interpretation of the old nursery rhyme, I thought I better pick the book up and do my own review with Ned. We’re more tuned in to the themes of the book really.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s framed around the nursery rhyme with old MacDonald attempting to guess which of his animals made the parp in the first instance. I won’t give away the final pay off but I will say it’s enormously satisfying. The art work reminds me of Axel Scheffler (sort of Super Worm era), which is no bad thing and it’s also tucked full of great little touches that make it bearable for an adult too- for example the horse has a Jurassic Pork poster and another poster that’s a spoof on Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover up in his stall).

Of course the proof in the pudding comes from the kids and honestly, Ned was a complete hysterical mess after our first read through. The book even has instructional bits on how to make raspberry sounds, which added to the tears in the eyes, snotty laughing and out of breath mess he became.

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp is out now to buy, and is published by Harper Collins with an RRP of £6.99.

Why I’d love to become a VW Trailblazer

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles have celebrated the launch of their 2017 Amarok pick-up in a truly genius way, launching the official #VWTrailblazers challenge. It’s been a long time since anyone has personally referred to me as a trail blazer, but I’m certainly envious of anyone who got to give this thrilling ride a go.

Set in the depths of the Lake District, two lucky teams were recently invited to experience an off-road adventure like no other. There’s Chris and his father-in-law Piers, alongside couple Neil and Katie. With set challenges that aim to test the power, precision, navigation and technical ability of the Amarok, even as a viewer I can’t help but get pulled in by the action and have ended up longing to take the truck for a spin myself.

I’m in no position to put down a large sum of money on a car that is purely for enjoyment, but what draws me most towards the Amarok is its potential to be so much more than just an off-road vehicle. Sure, it has the power and size needed to rip through difficult terrain with ease, but it would no doubt look pretty good cruising down the M25, too.

The magic for me is that the Amarok makes being a trail blazer accessible to all, wherever in the world you are. It’s a smart looking vehicle that radiates a sense of speed and strength, yet features such as the large, in-car screen and the impressive sound system are sure to make it a hit with the whole family. It would certainly turn heads being driven down quiet country roads, but surely the very definition of a trail blazer is not being afraid to stand out from the crowd?

What do you think of the 2017 Amarok? Will you be taking it for a spin?

Doggone fed up

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

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

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

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

A post shared by Alex Walsh (@daddacool) on

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