Recurring dreams

Last night we went on a secondary school open evening. The boy is in year 6 now. Somehow he has changed from a small boy looking belligerently at us to an almost secondary school aged boy who still manages to look belligerently at us. Time passes for us all.

The opening even was interesting. It was full of portents and omens for a start. As we sat down for the heads speech, the music department and choir did a rendition of Shine on You Crazy Diamond from Wish You Were Here, my favourite album. They even did a pretty good job of it too. Auspicious indeed.

Going round all the departments, it was clear that while the fabric of the building didn’t seem fundamentally any newer than the school I left in 1993 (that’s 24 years ago now), the overall approach certainly was. My class at Broxbourne School was so ill behaved, we never progressed past the recorder in 3 years of music lessons and the opportunities afforded us in basic education don’t seem as expansive as they do today for our kids, even in a climate of swingeing cuts and austerity. View Full Post

Staycation away from home with Original Cottages this October half term

The summer holidays are only just over but we’ve already booked next summers (they book up early you know!) and are now looking to see if we can get away for a few days over the October half term holidays. This particular term always fills me with dread; after the late August bank holiday, the next official day off work for me is Christmas Day, so we always try to do something over half term, even if it’s only for a day or two, just so that we have something to look forward to.

While company’s like Original Cottages offer unique locations to stay around the UK, the weather is something that can’t be escaped towards the backend of the year, so what can family’s do when the sun has gone and Autumn has set in with it’s usual severity? After a disappointing staycation last October half term, we came up with the idea of a staycation at a holiday cottage. That sounds barmy doesn’t it but hear me out, it will, I promise make sense.

One of the things we tried to do on our actual stay at home staycation last year was hold our own mini music festival (we’d missed out on our favourite one, Nozstock, due to ill health), so we set a day, intending to have a BBQ, music, some bunting making sessions and everything. Intentions were one thing but what we actually ended up doing was spending half the day tidying up and doing chores, then doing a supermarket shop, and finally firing up the BBQ at about 6pm, with a bit of music on. Even that was a failure as the kids were properly browned off by then and I couldn’t blame them. Staycationing at home doesn’t work because all the stuff you need to do at home still needs to be done, be it chores, DIY or all the other things you escape from when you’re on holiday.

This is where the idea of a holiday cottage staycation comes into it’s own. You take your board games, your video game console (current, or like us a retro game console), a bluetooth speaker and you spend some time reconnecting as a family, away from the routine and the routine distractions of home. You don’t even need to go out exploring if they weather is duff, you can simple stay in and chill together.

We’ve recently started playing board games as a family (Ned, who is five goes on a “team” with one of the older kids) and took one away with us the other week- Codenames (a Golden Geek Best Family Board Game Winner!), and we had great fun playing it one evening without all the usual distractions of tablets, Netflix and routine.

Almost every cottage we’ve stayed in over the last 3 or 4 years has had a TV with a HDMI port. This comes in to it’s own with my secret weapon, our RetroPie retrogaming set up. Modelled like a Commodore 64 cassette deck, it lets us play old Super Nintendo, Megadrive and arcade games in a package thats only marginally bigger than two packs of playing cards stacked atop each other. The kids can’t wander off into their bedrooms and do their own thing, they’re stuck in a perpetual round of family time that there is no escaping from, and you know what? It is strangely comforting despite the initial reservations they have. I’m a big fan of secondary communication when it comes to finding out how our kids are getting on. If you just sit them down and ask them how they’re feeling, they don’t open up much. Work your way through 100 levels of Bubble Bobble with them, using a credit each in turn, and they volunteer all sorts of information that you can use to help them through life with.

Finally, have you ever come back from a holiday and been asked how your break was by a friend or work colleague and answered, “It was brilliant but I need a holiday to recover from my holiday!“? That’s a response I frequently give because we tend to pack our holidays- last week alone we visited 5 castles, a wool mill, went on 4 long hikes AND still spent half the day on the beach body boarding every single day. On top of a six hour drive each way, a staycation a couple of hours drive away would be the perfect antidote!

Signs your 5 year old is playing too many video games

Checkpoint!

Freshly back from our summer holiday in sunny Pembrokeshire, I’m really convinced I need to cut our littlest’s time playing on the Xbox One down a bit.

I’m not one of these parents who thinks “video games, oh noes!” because I think gaming promotes many good attributes: problem solving, co-ordination, team work, patience and competitiveness. However I do believe in moderation and a few things happened on holiday that made me think that Ned needs to learn a little bit of moderation…

We reached a gate on the walk we were on. Ned gleeful climbed up the gate, sat on the top and shouted “checkpoint!” at the top of his voice. This is not normal.

One day we walked down to a beach from the car-park of a wool mill. It was a pleasant walk on a sunny day, and when we finally got there we were rewarded with a tiny pebbly beach in a beautiful little cove. It was a nice place to stop for lunch so we did. After lunch we piled up some larger rocks and had a game of seeing who could knock them over. Ned not only managed to get the “high score”, he also “levelled up” too. This too is not normal.

I think the real give away though was his obsession with getting a new high score on Crossy Road. Yes, that was the giveaway now that I think about it.

5 Good Reasons You Should Send Your Child to Nursery

It isn’t uncommon for parents to feel guilty about leaving their children at a nursery school while they go off to work. Giving up on a career after childbirth is not always an option for multiple reasons and the good news is that you actually have no reason to feel guilty either. As it turns out, studies show that children benefit significantly from attending day nurseries. In fact, a lot of experts recommend that all children should attend some form of pre-school during their early years for faster development and for ensuring that they are prepared for real school. On that note, let’s now take a closer look at the top five reasons why we should all consider sending our children to nursery.

Preparation for School

Nurseries help young kids get used to the feel of being with a number of other children for a long period of time without the presence of their parents. The earlier you get rid of their separation anxiety, the better they will be able to cope in school and make positive social connections.

Children Need to Play

We all have busy lives and in most families nowadays, children spend most of their free time watching TV or staring at some other form of screen. While visual media can also help children to learn new things, play time is very important as well. Staff in a quality nursery makes sure that the children get enough play time, instead of just sitting around all day. It helps with muscle development, cognitive development, and social skill development.

Potty Training

Potty training is no easy task for parents, but good nurseries mostly take care of that for you. Children who go to nurseries often develop such basic skills faster than others in their age group.

Making Friends

Learning to make friends is a socio-structural part of life at school. It largely determines what kind of a social experience the child will have later in school, and perhaps throughout his/her life. A nursery is so important in this respect because, after just a few months, your child will already know how to make friends and will find it quite easy to make friends after he/she starts school.

Ahead of the Class

A child who has not had any pre-school training will find himself/herself overwhelmed by everything that school brings with it. Even if you leave the previously discussed aspects of social interaction aside, the educational aspect alone may overwhelm an unprepared young mind. On the other hand, children who have a had a year or more of training from experienced nursery school teachers and staff regarding every challenge the new school might present, will naturally find things much easier, giving them an instant advantage over the others. In light of these benefits, and a few others, it is recommended that parents enroll their children in a local independent nursey for at least a few months before school begins.

Now that you know how beneficial pre-school can be for children, you can rest assured that the hours your little one stays away from you are probably some of the most educationally enriching hours of the day for him/her.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition Their Mortal Remains at the V&A Museum

On Saturday morning I found myself sitting on a train on my way to the V&A for an exhibition entitled Their Mortal Remains. It isthe first significant retrospective of Pink Floyd and their work that a museum has undertaken and as a die in the wool fan for over twenty years, I would have kicked myself if I’d missed it.

As I rode the Thameslink service into Blackfriars I listened to Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here on my headphones, filled with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholia. I still listen to both albums regularly; probably more than anything else I’ve heard in the years since I weighed up spending my hard earned cash on an album with only 5 songs on it. View Full Post

That’s numberwang!

Kicking back with a buddy a couple of weeks ago with a few ales and my good friend Alexa, we devised a new game called ‘30 something‘. It’s not a complicated game but in our defence, it was about half past midnight and we had progressed to the 7% beer (at the beginning of the evening, we arranged the bottles in order of increasing strength). Basically you pick a famous child actor or actress and say, “Alexa, how old is this person?” and whoever gets closest to 35 wins that round.

Things went well until my chum progressed to being so drunk that Alexa could no longer recognise his voice and just simply ignored him. In that sense I figured AI had actually become more impressive than I realised- here was a female voiced AI basically ignoring a drunkards attempts at conversation. Good show Alexa.

Meanwhile, in a bit of non sequitur, I managed to tweet this:

 

Just think of it as a Mitchell & Webb tribute tweet.

Review: Ticket to Ride Europe

For my first foray into the Board Game Club, we’ve been playing Ticket to Ride Europe. This is a sequel to Ticket to Ride, which I hadn’t heard of either. Part of the reason I took up the offer to join the board game club was my board gaming sort of exists in a 1980’s milieu of Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk. And, if I’m going to be brutally honest, a few MB kids games like Frustration and Ludo. I’ve not moved on and as we’re trying to cut down on the amount of telly we watch, it seemed like a great idea.

Ticket to Ride impresses from the off- it’s a very sturdy (and heavy) box, and the board itself is enormous, taking up a large chunk of the table.

Setting up the game involves giving each player 45(!!!) train carriages, some stations and cards. There are a few nice touches with regard to the pieces; the carriages are made from a “nice” plastic, and I didn’t have to pop them out of a sheet or anything (a bugbear of the more recent kids games I’ve played). There is also a little bag with a couple of spares for each of the players in case any get lost. These are nice little touches which add to the impression of quality.

For those of you, like me, who haven’t played any of the Ticket to Ride series before, you play the game something like this:

Players choose tickets that show 2 cities that they need to connect with train routes. On their turn, players can take one of three actions:

  1. Collect train cards, either from the draw pile or from a set of five cards laid face up beside the board. Players do this to collect sets of cards of the same colour.
  2. Claim a route by discarding a set of cards which match the colour & length of the route. A grey route can be claimed by a set of any colour. This is how players build their routes to complete tickets. Players also score points for doing this and the longer the route is, the more points you score for that route.
  3. Draw tickets; you have to keep at least one of the tickets drawn each turn. Ticket scoring is done at the end of the game.
  4. Build a station on any city. Players have 3 stations to use during the game if they wish. Building stations costs tickets but the trade off can be beneficial as stations allow you to use a single route of an opponent as if it were your own for the purposes of completing tickets. However if you don’t use your stations then they are worth 4 points each at the end of the game.

 

It sounds a lot more complicated than it is- I think the biggest problem I had during our time playing it was lining up my 40 odd carriages in an aesthetically pleasing manner. For me, the biggest issue with any new board game is fathoming the rules out and with Ticket to Ride Europe it wasn’t too difficult to get stuck in playing.

Apparently Ticket To Ride has been around in various forms since 2004. Ticket to Ride Europe has been out since 2009, and refines some of the rules (ferries and tunnels have been introduced along with stations). It plays like a mature game that knows what it’s doing and it’s a great introduction to the Esdevium Blogger Board Game Club for us. The games we’re playing have and will be provided for free, based on a survey I did to give an indication of what we might like. So far so good!

Ticket to Ride Europe has an RRP of £37.99 but can typically be picked up for about a tenner less.

The BT TV Summer activity pack is here to help

“Summer has set in with its usual severity”, is one of my favourite quotes. It’s by this chap called Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a 19th Century poet who is famous for Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Iron Maiden based a song on it) and Kubla Khan (you know, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree”). He might have popped his clogs a considerable while ago but sadly it seems he knew a thing or two about summer.

With the school holidays now upon us, it seems a long time since the gloriously sunny 30 degree heatwave we had in the south of England. It’s currently 18 degrees out, we’re on holiday and the beach is beckoning once we have waterproof trousers, coats and jumpers on.

Our kids are a hardy bunch, which is fortunate when the weather’s like this but the big issue we have is on our travels (self catering in Norfolk this time), none of the cottages or holiday homes we stay in have more than the bog standard freeview channels. The kids can barely cope with this in the rain. If the weather was better, they’d be out in the garden doing a reasonable approximation of a Victorian pickpocket gang fighting a turf war but when it’s wet, and all their wet stuff from a day out is dripping over the tiled kitchen floor, they end up sitting around and complaining rather than reading books, or losing the pieces to the one jigsaw puzzle the cottage owners have put in a cupboard in concession to children staying in the place.
Fortunately, BT have the answer with their BT TV kids offering. BT TV Kids offers a mix of nine channels including Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Ranging from Peppa Pig (my favourite) to PAW Patrol (Ned’s favourite) there are over 2,000 episodes of kids entertainment on demand in the BT Player. Older kids (and again me) are catered for with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars Rebels, Ultimate Spider- Man, and Marvel’s Avengers Assemble.

While the rain gently attempts to break the double glazing and the main TV has Flog It! on while we drink a cup of tea, the kids are huddled around the iPad watching Alvin and the Chipmunks. Disaster is averted and we can all dry out before venturing to the artisan fish ‘n’ chip emporium for fish served with chips in a mini shopping trolley.


We firmly believe in all things in moderation (except chocolate because that’s a weakness), so it does help that BT TV Kids has also provided a handy downloadable activity booklet that you can print out and take with you on holiday too. There are games, colouring, puzzles, join the dots and even bunting to make. We tend to use things like this in a couple of different ways- firstly to stop the fights over who watches what, and secondly for competitions- who can do the best colouring, whose bunting looks the most summer fete like, that sort of thing. When you’re on holiday, it’s important you have a rest as well as doing fun stuff, so we always try to ensure the kids have plenty to keep themselves occupied while mum and dad have a nice cup of tea to recover from the traumatic trip to a wild life centre or something.

BT TV has also launched a competition that challenges children to put pen to paper this summer and create their own PAW Patrol pup design. Click here to enter or visit www.bt.com/drawpatrol to find out more.

This is an #ad in conjunction with BT TV. Words, images, and children are all my own. Anybody want to borrow a five year old?

Disney Store’s Spider-Man costume in action!

Spider-Man (the hyphen is important you know!) is one of the most important super heroes for kids. He’s wholesome and little more than a kids himself. And he also has the coolest costume, which is why when Disney Store offered our 5 year old Ned the new Spider-Man costume and the Nerf shooter to go with it, he literally hit the ceiling with excitement. He spends a lot of time running around pretending to be super heroes as it is. Spider-Man is one of those heroes that has a strong moral code and would never really hurt someone, which is a lesson we always remind Ned about!

The new Spider-Man costume is a little darker than the older ones, and the mask is an improvement too. It is defintely more Spider-Man than dressing up Spider-Man and Ned absolutely loved it as you can see from the video below:

The Nerf shooter is wrist operated, and thankfully he hasn’t quite got the hang of the aim just yet, otherwise I’d be in trouble! I particularly like the little web bits under the armpits, which are a great detail that’s true to the actual costume. Ned loves it, and I do too. It’s just a shame that they don’t do it in my size!

The costume has an RRP of £30.99, the Nerf Shooter £24.99. Being Spider-Man itself is priceless! If your little one wants to be Spider-Man you can head on over to the Disney Store and have a look at their Spider-Man page.

Top Dad Gifts for Every Budget

It’s a time-old saying that Dads are hard to buy for, but I generally disagree. There are normal socks, novelty socks, house socks– the list is endless. But, apparently we need to be a little more creative with our prezzie ideas. That’s easier said than done and, frankly, we don’t always have time for it. Luckily for you, I’ve come up with some ideas here for every occasion and budget. Whether someone wants to make it rain for a special birthday or keep it simple on Father’s Day, we’ve got every eventuality covered.

High Flyer

If your friends and family happen to be feeling particularly flush, there are a couple of obvious gifts that few dads would turn down.

Noise-cancelling headphones: The idea of being able to switch on your headphones and blissfully tune out all of the distractions in life (read: kids) is a pretty magical one. There are a number of great options on the market, with brands like Bose leading the pack in their mastery of technology and general style.

A fancy watch: Ah, the classic timepiece. It’s a man’s equivalent of wearing a diamond necklace. Although you might think that a Rolex or Bvlgari are completely out of your financial league, just remember there are still great deals to be found using online marketplaces, such as Chrono24. Whether it’s a classic mechanical number or a trendy smartwatch, that exaggerated flick of the wrist as you check the time has never felt so good.

Mid-Range Market

Impressive, but not breaking the bank. These options are the perfect addition to any man’s lifestyle.

A nice grooming kit: We’ve all got to stay trim somehow (on the head, of course – don’t ask about the stomach!). Some guys swear by a wet shave, whilst others opt for the electric razor. There are all the usual brands out there, but for ultimate gift status something like a Parker set would do nicely.

Manly multi-tools: You can never have enough tools in your tool box or gadgets on the shelf, right? Well, combine the two and you’ve really hit the jackpot. A classic Leatherman of any kind is always a winner.

On a Budget

We’re all trying to watch our pennies, so these options are for those who go for sentiment over statement.

Audiobook or subscription: Know a book or TV program that always gets your Dad chuckling? Get him it on audiobook so he can listen to it on-the-go or while doing some housework. Alternatively, a subscription to Spotify or Netflix will keep him busy for a while!

Quality time: It sounds clichéd, but every Dad just wants to spend more time with his family. Of course, if you really feel like you need to go the extra mile then something homemade is almost always welcome.