Tips for buying a new second hand car

With three small children, we had a very long period where money was tight and the idea of a nice shiny new car was just that; an idea. We went through a slew of used cars, ranging from SEATs to a Ford Focus and then a Vauxhall Zafira. You can’t be too precious with small kids and have to assume that your car will take a bit of a battering, so this makes it all the more important to know what you’re after, do your research properly and make sure you check any specific models for potential issues.

Take our Zafira for example. We knew we wanted a 7 seater with a large boot and research had shown that the 1.6 petrol was cheap as punters thought it was under powered. I’d read people on car forums genuinely suggesting that pulling onto a motorway in a 1.6 Zafira would see you taking your life into your hands if there was even a slight incline as the car was so under-powered. People are stupid though; a car weighing 1,403kg outputting 113bhp isn’t massively different than my old SEAT Ibiza Sport, which weighed a little over a ton and had 100bhp and that was a hot hatch back in it’s day! The power to weight ratio was definitely better than plenty of cars of the same age but we live in a world where Jeremy Clarkson shouts “MORE power!” at the top of his voice and derides sports cars that only have 500bhp as being anaemic, so I suppose we’re to blame for listening to him and his ilk.

The first Zafira we looked at from a dealer in Luton depressed us. It was expensive and the dealer had been using it to transport his 5 a side football team around it. A dog had also taken a bite out of the dashboard! But we persevered and found a well rated independent dealer about an hours drive away who specialised in selling ex mobility vehicles that tended to be low mileage and well looked after. This taught us the lesson that the dealership is almost as important as the car itself!

Now the kids are a bit older we’ve replaced the Zafira and when it came to looking for things to replace it with, it was definitely time to update my knowledge a bit. Interestingly the MPV is pretty much dead now, a lot of manufacturers have either dropped them or morphed them into SUVs- take the Peugeot 5008- 1st model was an MPV, the current model is a BIG SUV. Leg and headroom still aren’t the biggest issue for us, we’re looking at width (stop that sniggering in the back!) because with 3 kids, one of whom is still in a booster, the amount of elbowing that goes on is an issue. One of the models we’ve been looking at is Nissan’s Qashqai, we did look at the Juke but that’s really too small. It turns out the Qashqai was a very popular car among company car users, so there are plenty of well looked after second hand models around, you can even book a Nissan Qashqai Acenta with just a few clicks from KAP Motors if you want a test drive today.

When it comes to looking at a second hand car after you’ve decided on the model you want, there are a few specifics I also do:

  1. read up on sites like Parkers or Honest John. They both have extensive used car review sections that might highlight issues with your particular choice and give you things to look out for on potential purchases when you test drive them.
  2. if you organise a test drive, ask the dealership in advance for a cold start- that way if there is an issue starting it you’ll see it. Most garages will warm the engine up before hand if you’re not careful
  3. if you’re buying from an independent or privately, make sure you do a finance check to ensure that there are no outstanding debts on the car. The same goes for accident checks– the AA and RAC both provide a checking service
  4. Be open to finance deals, although the biggest savings are on new cars, you can get mad savings on used approved cars. My dad recently saved £1,750 on a Volvo by taking out 3 years 0% finance- that doesn’t make sense!
  5. a number of small dents in an older car are inevitable wear and tear but make sure the dents i) don’t break the paint exposing metal and ii) aren’t an indication of more serious damage- checking the door alignment is fairly easy, and uneven gaps in trim are a good indicator of something more serious.

Most of all though, stick with it- if a guide tells you a decent guide price for a particular car, don’t be afraid to walk away from something that’s overpriced!

6 Ways to Help Your Children Grow Their Self Confidence

There are lots of useful skills that children learn through schedules, routines and programs, and even more that they are able to learn through structured lessons in school. However, there are some life skills which children can’t just be taught, as they have to be given the opportunity to learn them for themselves. Self confidence is something which children have to develop in their own time, but that doesn’t mean that, as their parent, there aren’t things that you can do to help them along the way. So, with that in mind, here are six ways that you can help your children in their journey towards becoming more self-confident. 

Avoid over-praising

It may seem like the easiest way to boost your child’s self esteem would be to keep on praising them all of the time, but this can actually become counterproductive if you overdo it. In order to start feeling more confident within themselves, your children must learn to develop self efficacy and the ability to self affirm. That means giving them the space to provide themselves with praise and appreciation, rather than constantly seeking it from other people. 

Allow them to take risks

Children have to try and fail in order to learn new things, whether that means trying to climb a tree and scraping their knees, or trying a new hobby and finding that they aren’t as good at it as they would have liked. 

However, when children are overprotected, they often lose their ability to explore their curiosity and approach the world with the fearlessness that they need to discover new skills and abilities. Over time, this can often lead to anxiety and a lack of self esteem, so it is important that you allow your children to take reasonable risks every now and then.

Practice what you preach

In order for your children to understand self confidence, they need to be provided with a clear model of what it means to be confident within yourself, and the best person to provide that example is a parent or caregiver. If you want your children to develop good self esteem, then it is important to find ways to develop your own too. If you are someone who isn’t naturally self confident, then there are a number of things that you can do to improve on your self perception. 

For instance, you might decide to start doing more active hobbies that you enjoy, start pursuing more independent activities, or make some changes to your lifestyle or appearance that will help you feel happier within yourself. For example, if you are uncomfortable with your hair, you might decide to get a new hairstyle, or consider potential cosmetic procedures, such as by looking into trusted hair transplant reviews

Offer praise when appropriate

Although praise can often be misused or overused, when it is used in an appropriate manner it is very important for building self esteem. For example, if your child has accomplished something especially impressive, or if they are having a particularly bad day, then you can help to reaffirm their self confidence by pointing out their achievements, or by telling them something good to counteract some of the bad so that it doesn’t knock their confidence as much. 

Let them make their own way

As a parent, it can be tempting to want to protect your children from ever feeling or experiencing anything negative in their lives, but sometimes they have to go through their own battles in order to learn their own lessons and grow in confidence. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t still be there for them, but you have to accept you can’t always be the one to step in and fix everything for them. 

You can also help your children to learn on the go by giving them more responsibilities, as this will not only show that you trust them, but it will also give them a sense of accomplishment and show them what they are capable of achieving on their own. 

Support their dreams and goals

All parents want their children to be successful, which is absolutely understandable. However, this is unfortunately why a lot of children are told to pursue different careers to the things that they really want to do, as their parents are worried that their ideal careers might be impractical. 

If you want your children to be more confident in their abilities, it is important to be supportive of their dreams and goals, even if it is just as a hobby. 

Mourning the death of musical literacy

This week has seen a couple of depressing things happen. Firstly the musician Billie Eilish admitted she had no idea who Van Halen were. Secondly people got cross at her for not knowing who Van Halen were. And thirdly, people got cross at the people who were cross with Billie for not knowing who Van Halen were because Van Halen aren’t culturally relevant today.

In short: a lot of people are cross for a lot of different reasons, some to do with Billie Eilish, some to do with Van Halen and some just because they enjoy being cross.

Of course the comments condemning and mocking Eilish for not having an indepth knowledge of Van Halen are wrong. When Gareth Bale recently admitted he didn’t know who the British Prime Minister was but could name the 10 ten ranked golfers in the world, we rolled our eyes and wrote him off as another disconnected thick footballer. The fact Eilish is a woman undoubtedly saw her receive much more grief for her confession that a bloke would have but that’s not what I’m really interested in to be honest.

I’m not expecting every person who either likes listening to music or works in the music industry to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 70 years of popular music but much like movie making is informed by what has gone before it, so too is music. An appreciation for other genres and time periods can only ever be a boon surely?

I’ve watched Billie in concert on the BBC’s Glasto coverage and although she’s not my cup of tea, I can see that she gave an extraordinary performance that should be applauded. There are plenty of forms of music I don’t like, I’m not a fan of grime, R&B, Nu metal, an a lot of modern pop but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about them. Considering I’m an old school rock fan (think Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath the Who, Pink Floyd, old Fleetwood Mac, branching out into 80s metal), I still love a bit of 60s psychedelia, 50s rock and roll, the new folk revival and some good old fashioned country. In the 90s I got into ambient and dance, good music is good music, pass me another Chemical Brothers album. Oh, and the best gig I’ve seen in the last couple of years was Grandmaster Flash- he was phenomenal.

So I’m sad.

I’m sad that Billie hasn’t heard of the original drummer turned guitarist (waaaay before Dave Grohl made it popular), and popularised the two handed tapping technique in the 1978 song Eruption (Guitarist magazine readers voted it the second best guitar solo of all time once). I’m sad that people think they can lay into her for it but I’m equally sad that others think the best way to stick up for her is to say Van Halen have no relevance today.

In a world where Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to skip songs on an album by an artist you love, the chances of people listening to stuff they don’t know or have any real interest in seems staggeringly remote. That also makes me sad.

I tend to find new music (or rather, music that’s new to me) from a huge variety of sources. Some of it is down to Spotify suggestions, but mostly it’s long involved tangential investigations into more or less entirely unrelated subjects on Wikipedia or Google that lead me down some very esoteric paths.

For example last month I listened to the KLF’s Chill Out album a few times and eventually thought, I wonder what actual throat singing sounds like outside of the sampled world of the KLF, so I did some digging and ended up listening to Achai by the Alash Ensemble, a traditional Tuvan Throat singing group. I’ve been mesmerised and it’s probably my most listened to album of the last few months.

I’ve also recently discovered the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and they’re great. There are a couple of tracks that you’ll probably have heard at some point on the telly in an advert or somewhere- Jollity Farm, the Urban Spaceman and Canyons of Your Mind are pretty well known. It can be something as simple as wondering where an ad on the TV sourced it’s music from.

I tend to drive the kids up the wall with the sort of music that gets put on in the car but they do get exposure to a very wide variety of music as a result. I’ve never felt prouder than the moment when we were in the car driving to Cambridge and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus came on the radio, the kids all sang along word for word. They hadn’t even heard the Depeche Mode original, rather they’d heard Johnny Cash’s cover version on the only CD in the car on endless repeat whenever we went out of decent radio reception.

The power money can have on relationships

Shepherds Friendly recently got in touch with me over some interesting research it’s done into the influence that money can have in relationships. It’s interesting to see how the dynamic is slowly changing with regard to money between partners. In my parents era it was more accepted that the woman would eventually become a mother (and perhaps even unspoken that job was really something to just tide you over until you found your man) and would stay at home to look after the kids until they were old enough to be left at home.

Today I can say this dynamic is changing but the fact we’re now past the date where women effectively work for free compared to men doing exactly the same job shows how far we still have to go. In our relationship we try to be very even and very fair- we have a joint account which all our money goes into and everything else goes out of that. Yes, it makes buying surprise gifts a bit tricky but at the end of the day I don’t see that the money aspect is important because we’re a team and as long as we both work our best for the family, that’s all that matters, not who brings in what. I know plenty of people who keep separate accounts and pay into a joint account for household expenses and while I can see the pros and cons of that, it’s just not for us!

Looking at the infographic that Shepherds Friendly has produced, it is also interesting to see where views diverge on a gender basis- there are some things like how much of a part money plays in a potential partner being attractive for example that have quite a wide gap (translation: men are shallow and go on looks but women are planning for the future) but others like sharing information about salaries where the genders pretty much agree that sharing is indeed caring.

Why don’t you click on over to the infographic yourself and have a look to see whether your approach fits in with the majority, you might find one or two things that could change your mind or approach for the better!

How To Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy

We all want happy, bright smiles for our family, but keeping those smiles healthy can sometimes be a little bit of a challenge, especially when trying to get younger ones on board. Family dental health is absolutely essential, especially when you’re trying to avoid the stress and hassle of an unwanted dentist’s trips with a painful toothache or worse.

 

So how can you keep your family’s teeth nice and clean? Here are some simple tips to keep everyone’s smiles in top shape.

Start dental care early

 

You should start thinking about dental hygiene as soon as those first cute little teeth begin to pop out – this means around six months, when milk teeth first start to show. 

 

Starting early means that you can prevent any dental issues from developing, and it also sets a positive habit in place. Create a routine of cleaning your baby’s teeth for two minutes twice a day, and make sure that you use a special children’s toothpaste, which contains less fluoride.

Enjoy a healthy diet

 

The health of your family’s teeth starts in the kitchen, especially the snack cupboard, and the food that you eat can help encourage stronger, healthier gums and teeth overall. Try and keep sugary snacks and drinks to a minimum, especially avoiding fizzy drinks, sweets and breakfast cereals that are high in added sugars. While you don’t need to cut them out completely, cutting them down to one or two servings a day can help improve you whole family’s diet.

Drink plenty of water

 

We all know that we should be drinking more water, and adding extra hydration is a great way of keeping your whole family’s health in good shape. Unlike sweet drinks, tea or coffee, water is a simple and effective way of keeping your teeth clean. Encourage drinking more water by giving everyone their own reusable special water bottle that they can fill up easily by themselves.

Start flossing early on

 

It’s a good idea to start flossing as soon as your children’s teeth start to touch each other, as food and plaque can easily start to build up here.

 

Make sure that your kids learn proper technique and practice to understand how to clean between teeth properly, and keep your bathroom cabinet well stocked with floss. Keep the information of a handy dental suppliers to hand so that you can find everything you need for your family online, without a fuss.

 

Stay on top of dental visits

 

Regular dental visits for everyone in the family are a must. As well as keeping on top of any teeth or gum issues, going regularly also means you’re less likely to develop the dreaded dental fear, as children learn that a trip to the dentist is a safe and pleasant trip.

 

Taking care of your family’s dental health means looking after your own too, so don’t neglect your own visits to make sure that your own smile is in great shape.

 

Form an orderly queue

As the nights draw in and it’s dark pretty much all day, apart from that hour or so that the brick wall outside my office window is bathed in sunlight, everyone is getting tetchy. Against the odds, despite it being dark from around 3pm, it is now completely impossible to get the children to bed. Or rather get them to stay in bed. Last night I tucked the younger two in at about 7:30pm and went to hide in the sanctuary* for a bit of peace and quiet. In the five minutes I was in there, I must have heard four or five extra-bedroom excursions from the two I’d put to bed, along with one from the oldest, who came out purely to see what the commotion was about. This happens at the end of the day, at the start of the day we often have Ned come in at around 6ish to ask whether he can have crisps for breakfast. When we say no, it turns out it was much like a retrospective planning application in that he’s already eaten half a tube of Pringles that we thought we’d hidden well enough to be safe.

It’s unrelenting but we normally get a small window of peace when we get home from work. The older two are old enough now to come home from school on their own, so it’s only Ned that goes to after school club. He normally disappears off to put a onesie on as soon as he gets home, on the off chance we’ll ask him to go out again.

Now though, it’s like some feudal nightmare in the early evenings. The peasantry line up impatiently to petition their king and queen with lists of grievances and demands for things that must be met or there will the the slamming of the doors and the stomping up the stairs. Recently I’ve not even managed to shut the front door before the litany of complaints has begun.

It’s all so wearing and I know I’ll miss it when they’ve grown up!

 

*it’s called the sanctuary as it has a lock on the door. And if you shout “I’m doing a poo!” at the top of your voice when people try to talk to you or get into the room, they tend to leave you alone for a bit.

Blue Monday

Mum went to sleep a month ago today and didn’t wake up. This proved to be the end of her long and arduous battle with cancer- multiple myloma. It was the way she wanted to go, at home and in her own bed.

The news came as both a surprise and not a surprise. I was surprised that mum made it past Christmas, and we had been planning for this Christmas, so in that sense it was a surprise but the last few times I saw her she had been very weak. The gruelling treatment for her cancer had unearthed a latent heart problem, and other things were starting to not work properly too. Time was definitely not on mum’s side but when time runs out it is always a shock.

The past month has gone by somewhat in a blur. There is a degree of unreality to it all if I’m honest. Over the last 18 months, as the cancer’s progression and the treatment had become increasingly gruelling, I’ve found despair all too often and upset myself quite a lot. I’ve shed a few tears since October 14 but nowhere near as many as I feel I should. I don’t think it’s sunk in properly if I’m honest. Perhaps it will be the situations like Christmas, or when dad does something stupid and I think, wait til I tell mum about what he’s done now, that I’ll realise.

The kids have been upset by it. To them, their Nanny was someone who used to make great trifles and lasagnes, gave them sweeties and a little bit of pocket money and generally made a fuss about them. She was ever so proud of her grandchildren and their appearance gave her a real second wind when it came to retirement.

Everyone loses their parents eventually, and if they don’t that’s the real tragedy I suppose. But it’s not easy is it?

Monday night is a rush- here’s my chilli recipe

Monday’s need to be carried off with military precision. Ned now goes swimming with a friend’s family after school on Monday, so we don’t have to pick him up from after school club but I have a 75 minute window to get home from work, cook and eat dinner and then leave to take Fifi and the boy to their respective drumming and piano lessons.

I’m pathologically against the idea of a jar of pesto over some hastily cooked pasta, or chucking chips and fish fingers in the oven, so I’ve been devising a range of quick to cook meals for Mondays (occasionally we go for jacket spud in the slow cooker but this generally meets with howls of disapproval, so it’s a worst case dinner) that can not only be cooked in under an hour but cooked and eaten in under an hour too.

First on my list is the patented Alex & Harry Lancaster university chilli from 1995. Or rather a modern variant on it.

There are two ways to cook this, both start with a 500g packet of mince (lamb or beef, we’re easy). The first method is the more straight forward in that it uses all 500g of mince. The second sees the mince split 60/40, with 40% used in chilli and the rest kept for another night to go into a spag bol or cottage/shepherds pie (there is a difference: cottage= beef, shepherds=lamb!). The reason for the unequal split comes down to the chilli having more additional ingredients in the sauce; kidney beans, black-eyed beans and maybe if you’re in the mood for it, some sweetcorn.

The key to this recipe is to make sure you don’t turn the hob up too high. It’s always a temptation when you’re in a hurry but you’ll end up with dry meat that’s hard and won’t absorb the sauce. If you let it brown gently, and then let the final chilli simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, you should have a luxuriant sauce that’s still taken you under half an hour to cook.

On a Monday I always tend to cheat with the rice and use the microwavable sachets that take 2 minutes to cook. I’m generally a bit rubbish at cooking rice anyway, and I’ve been meaning to get myself a rice cooker for ages.

If you do choose to use all 500g of mince, there will be a fairly high chance that you’ll have some leftover chilli- we tend to and that’s with 5 of us scoffing it. Chilli is one of those dishes that defies logic and actually tastes better once it’s been frozen, defrosted and cooked again, so never despair when you’ve got leftovers.

This is a meal that tends to sort the kids out prior to music but does leave them with an orange sauce-moustache if I’m not careful!

Just a normal nights dinner- homemade onion rings recipe

Last night I got home a little later than usual, as did the boy (auditions for the school play!). As Ned had Beavers and Fifi had a school opening evening visit planned (can’t believe she is in the last year of primary school- madness!), the two youngest and wifey had eaten, leaving me to fend for the boy and me. I had a forty minute window between getting back from dropping Ned off at Beavers and having to go and pick Ned up from Beavers. Not so much of a window, as a chink of light creeping in from between the curtains really.

So rather than going for the typical egg & chips that had been suggested, I had a spring onion and cheese omelette with a side of hastily home made onion rings, and the boy had home made onion rings and chips.

Onion rings aren’t difficult to make, and home made ones are so much nicer than the manky frozen ones you bung in the oven.

The thing it’s easy to forget (or not know in the first place I suppose) is by the time the oven is up to temperature to cook frozen pre-prepared food, it’s entirely possible to cook something much nice yourself on the hob. In this case, there were even some onion rings left over for Ned when I picked him up from Beavers. This is the sort of stuff I wouldn’t have in the freezer compartment even if there was room, which there isn’t, as we’ve got about 6 bags of frozen pineapple chunks in there at the moment for some reason or other I’ve never fully understood.

Where does encouragement stop and pushy parenting begin?

We’re at dilemma point with Ned (who is 8 in January) over his guitar playing. Like most of our children, practice is seen as a chore to him. In the past we’ve dropped the boy’s guitar, and Fifi’s guitar because they didn’t practice enough (the boy doesn’t practice his drumming as much as he should but is still heading towards grade 3 with speed, and Fifi is just about doing enough piano practice to justify continued lessons). The problem is, Ned doesn’t play anything else, so it’s not as if he is doing something badly while doing something else better.

We’ve talked about it with his teacher, who is great, and is also MY guitar teacher (I got a guitar for my 40th and am slowly but surely learning to play it), and he says Ned would regret stopping because he’s learnt a lot but there is no point in him continuing if he’s not going to put some effort in. As Ned and I have consecutive lessons on a Saturday morning, I thought this would mean that we could practice together. Well, I spent most of last nights masterclass by Arsenal (I don’t get to write that very often any more) learning how to play Wish You Were Here:

with Ned sat next to me, resolutely failing to practice Chasing Cars from the Grade 1 Rockschool book. He didn’t even do five minutes and while I wasn’t quite into Bryan Adams “played it til my fingers bled, was the summer of ’69” territory, my fingers were sore by the end of it.

And so we reach the conundrum. Ned will regret giving up and it will take forever to get him onto a waiting list and back into lessons if he changes his mind (and almost certainly not the lesson next to mine) but, and it’s a big but, the lessons, even his 20 minute a week lesson, aren’t cheap, especially if there isn’t any practice going on. At the moment I sort of feel like he’s trapped in that vicious circle of not practising as he’s not developed the finger tip callouses that practice gives you that means your fingers don’t constantly hurt but can’t break out of it. He knows all the major chords, can do some power chords, and is even getting better with his pinkie movement but there is only so much 20 minutes a week can do for you.

I’m the biggest lover of music in our house but I’m also the most unmusical when it comes to innate talent. It’s going to be such a shame if I end up being one of the best musical instrument players just because I’ve put the time in.

We’re still not sure whether to push Ned to keep it up or just let him give it in. I’m secretly hoping I can convince him to practice in the next week or two as we need to make a decision to give a half terms notice by 25th October…