How to not go bonkers during lock down

As I alluded to the other day,its tricky during lock down. The children are gradually driving me up the wall. In many ways they remind me of Boris Johnson in so much as they’re all about the getting and are bored when they’ve got the thing they were after. With Boris it was the premiership, with the kids it’s some item, game, point scoring thing over the other two that soon gets forgotten.

Take the paddling pool*, I’ve spent more time inflating that and filing it in the last four days than the kids have spent in it. They spend ages threatening each other to not play nicely in it, brinkmanship of the highest order. And then, eventually two of them get into it and three minutes later they get the hump with each other because someone splashed someone or someone wouldn’t do what the other demanded at that exact moment, oh and have I forgotten to mention that none of them will have a towel to hand and will demand nine showers during the course of their intermittent use of the pool? Do not get me started.

There is only one way to deal with this behaviour and it’s the cowards way out for me. I go out for a long walk during my lunch break, take my time tidying up after dinner, and then watch something entirely child unfriendly with my wife after dinner. We’re currently on to season 3 of the Strain. It’s not great but it’s unsuitable for the kids which makes it much better than it might be otherwise.

I think part of the problem is the kids have never really got the hang of entertaining themselves. Things were a bit different when we were little; three, then four channels of terrestrial TV, one rich kid in the class who’s parents got a Squarial for British Satellite Broadcasting satellite TV, and a home computer that would only be usable in the front room plugged into the telly, all of which had to be packed away in time for Blue Peter and after dinner you had no chance of stopping your parents from watching Wogan.

Our kids can do one of two things: play video games independently or require full on one to one supervision to do something trivial for five minutes. Drawing a picture? Nope, one of us needs to sit next to them and watch them doing it. It is ridiculous and a conditioning we need to break but at the moment we had situations like Sunday where I turned the 8 year old’s internet off at 2pm because he’d played enough games. He then lay in the middle of the sitting room floor, saying it was only a 5 hour wait until he could go to bed and please don’t disturb him thank you very much. The others are no better, following you around wanting to help but only by doing exactly what you’re doing with the things your using and bursting into tears if you suggest maybe they should do something independent for more than 8 seconds.

Still, I’m okay, I’ve remembered that the kids are bored with difficult and old fashioned video games. Despite helping me create a blog on the subject, Kids Do Retro, even the eldest isn’t interested.

On the one hand this is annoying as it’s nice to share a hobby but on the other hand, it means I can legitimately fire up my Raspberry Pi 4 with Retropie on it and the kids will lose interest and bugger off somewhere else for a while. I should count my blessings really shouldn’t I? When I was little I don’t think I ever really got bored. Aside from that small window on Sunday morning when I wasn’t allowed out because the Sunday roast would be ready at some point but the only thing on the telly was the Waltons (and not any of the spooky supernatural episodes either) and I’d already spent three hours reading my book, I was able to keep myself entertained all the time. Whether it was playing on our Spectrum, re-reading (endlessly) my comics or books, spending hours drawing Dennis the Menace or the Bash St Kids, or being out on my bike playing with my mates, I was never bored.

Oh well. I’m off to fire up Dungeon Master for a bit to keep the kids out of my hair. Stay sane in Covid Times people.

 

*please, take it, dear god, why won’t somebody take it?

Review: Huawei Band 3 Pro GPS fitness tracker

If you follow me on Twitter you might know this has been the year of getting fitter. Since the turn of the year I’ve lost over four stone and have dropped my BMI from 35 to 27 (so there is still someway to go but I am getting there). With the lockdown that we’ve lived under for almost two months at the time of writing, team participation activities and swimming have been out of the question so it’s been down to walking and cycling for my exercise.

I’ve been using a mixture of Runkeeper, and Google Fit with/without the GPS tracking enabled but to be honest as I’m what they might call a power user when it comes to smartphone use, it’s not been great as the GPS really hammers the battery on my phone. If I turn the GPS off and just use my phone as a step counter, it’s really inaccurate too- up to 20% off when it comes to total distance, which isn’t acceptable.

I’d spent a while looking online at GPS sports watches, ranging from the bottom end Garmins at around £150, right up to £400+ top end models but you know, I’m 45, overweight and in reality that’s overkill for most people, let alone me! After a lot of searching around, I saw that the previous generation Huawei Band, the Huawei Band 3 Pro to be precise, seemed to have pretty much all the features I wanted for £39.99. That’s about a tenner more than budget step counting bands, and half the price of a Samsung equivalent that doesn’t have GPS. I’ve had a couple of Huawei phones in the past and have been impressed with the build quality, so I decided to give the Band 3 Pro a punt.

Given the current American war on Huawei, it’s necessary to download the Android app directly from the Huawei website as it’s not on the Play Store but that’s not difficult and set up is pretty easy.  You get the choice of three watch faces, and the app allows you to fine tune the display, turn phone notifications on/off and when the screen turns on/off. Since my main goal was to stop the drain on my phone battery, I turned notifications off and set the screen to touch to wake to maximise the battery. Despite the price, the Huawei Band 3 Pro looks pretty nice:

If you’re wondering how I did 11km in 1100 steps, its mostly a bike ride, not a 10m stride!

Using it to track steps is automatic but if you swipe down on the screen, you can choose a specific workout that includes running, walking and cycling. Choosing one of these activates the GPS, which I’ve found takes comfortably under a minute to lock on the satellite signal and you’re good to go. You get vibration notifications when you hit certain distance markers, mine is set to KM, so I get notified every kilometre I hit. I’ve done the same walk about a dozen times now and the tracked distance is within a handful of metres, which is probably accounted for by me scurrying across the road to social distance from people.

Some people have had issues getting the data to sync with Google Fit (and then in my case on to MyFitnessPal), if you have an issue, this sorts it out for you. It wasn’t a problem for me.

Battery life is currently somewhere in the region of 3 days with 2-3 hours of GPS tracking a day when I’m out on my bike or walking, so I can’t complain about that. Obviously it’ll be less if you use the GPS more, or better if you don’t.

The Huawei Band 3 Pro is waterproof to 5ATM, which sort of means 50 metres but in reality means you’re okay to go swimming with it (when you move underwater, you increase the pressure which lowers the depth that something rated to 5ATM can safely operate at). Not that any of us are in the pool just yet of course.

Personally I think the Band 3 Pro at £39.99 is a bit of a no brainer if it fits your usage needs- GPS tracking, reasonable battery life, and a great price. It won’t handle music, so if you like to listen to music while you’re exercising you’ll need to either use your phone or a portable player for that but then something that does offer music playback, like the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, costs around £300, so it’s not much of a comparison really.

You can buy the Huawei Band 3 Pro from Amazon for £39.99.

Living through Corona Times

As we head towards two months of lockdown (and mercifully the half term break), I thought it would be good to have a look back on how it’s been for our little family. Surprisingly the hardest part hasn’t necessarily been making sure the technology is right for home working and home learning, nor has it been making sure everybody doesn’t kill each other.

The biggest challenge has been teaching the children. Both the primary school and secondary school have been great at setting work and home work but both have fallen short in supporting the learning. Teachers haven’t been available to explain tricky concepts or processes to the kids and that has been left entirely to us, and the majority of the primary school marking has been done by us from answer sheets that cause as many problems as they solve. We’re not alone, I’ve read plenty on twitter that parent assisted SPAG tests have thrown scores of 0/20 or similar but the thing that’s particularly bugged me is the lack of proof reading on both lessons and tests set. More than once I’ve had our 11 year old in tears because she’s done badly on a maths test and when she’s marked it herself can’t understand where she’s gone wrong. When I’ve checked the answers, the answers have been either plain wrong or the answer to an entirely different question.

This is a good example:

34 multiplied by anything over 1 simply has to be more than 34, so both the possible answers are wrong. Of course 3/4 multiplied by 1 1/5 is 9/10, so in this instance the question is wrong and the answers are right but try telling that to an 11 year old doing a timed test.

My rusty old chemistry A Level work needs brushing up but then I did sit chemistry in 1993 and only achieved a D grade for it. Yes, year 8 science is a bit harder than correcting the typos primary teachers are making but it is more rewarding. It’s simply challenging to get either of the boys to concentrate enough to do their work and if either of them are diligent enough to work hard and do it to the best of their ability, it is a rarity.

So schoolwork aside, the other challenges have been rather unique to our rather unique family. The kids have demanded to watch rather too many Adam Sandler movies in the evenings, which has driven me up the wall but since I restricted their access to YouTube they’ve also developed a bizarre obsession with the BBC’s Citizen Khan. Yes, you read that right, a sitcom about a larger than life Pakistani family. The mind boggles.

We initially had some problems with the 13 year old who decided that the new normal was staying up until 3am and getting up around lunch time. He got the hump when there was nobody around to watch movies with at 10pm onwards though so we managed to resolve that after a bit of a fight. Even now I do my best drill instructor impression at about 8 in the morning in an attempt to get him up. His cooking has leveled up inasmuch as he makes himself a really fully toasted wrap or fish finger sandwich for breakfast every morning. He’s now living his official best life and only the prospect of going back to the classroom before the end of the academic year has him worried (he refuses to believe that he won’t be going back, ever the pessimist!)

Personally after an initial wobble caused by the change in routine (I’m definitely a creature of habit), I’ve settled in nicely to working from home. The improvement in the weather has helped an awful lot and now I’m sat in the playroom looking out on the garden, which is a lot lighter than where I was sat initially. The work I do is particularly suited for remote working too, and since we’re using Zoom and MS Teams for communicating, it’s all working well now I’ve adapted to the change.

I’m even enjoying seeing more of my family, which I know for a lot of families isn’t necessarily a given!

 

Tech projects to stop your kids going stir crazy during coronavirus

With schools likely to close shortly for an extended Coronavirus inspired Easter break, and the possibility of offices closing as people are asked to work from home, I thought it might be an idea to pull together some tech related things you can get your kids doing over an extended lock down period. In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest most of the below are a decent antidote to the current situation with the news drip feeding through to kids and worrying them. The best way to take your mind of something is to do something else.

You may need to work, they definitely need entertaining but if they’re left to their own devices, the chances are they’ll just watch YouTube or binge Netflix for 18 hours a day, and that’s if they’re not playing Minecraft or Fortnite incessantly. Anything you can do to help develop computer and IT related skills is going to be helpful in the long run, and whilst I’d love my kids to sit there all day long reading books, I’ve got to be realistic about it. The list of activities below is of course something you should consider in addition to screen free time and not entirely at the expense of it.

Younger kids

Not so much a project but useful none the less, if you’ve got a PS4 or Xbox One in the house, something like Just Dance 2020 will ensure that your kids get some physical exercise when/if you’re not allowed to let them out. If you don’t have a console or don’t want to buy the game, YouTube is full of uploaded videos from the game that you can dance along to, it just won’t score you. This is of course as relevant for older kids but with your youngsters, it might just stop them completely destroying the house!

Lots of Year 2 and Year 3 parents will be familiar with Scratch, the visual programming language that uses building blocks to make programmes. It’s available on iPad, Android and home computers, and is worth getting.

In a similar vein is Bloxels. The games that Ned has made at coding club using Bloxels are very entertaining, and he absolutely loves playing them. There are two versions; the educator version, which you can use if your school has set you up, or the app, which you can find on your favourite app store.

Our kids have also enjoyed making their own stop motion videos in the past, something that just requires a minimal investment, and plenty of imagination. The end results can be spectacular, and I know our kids were very proud of their results.

Older kids

If you’ve got slightly older kids, and I’m really talking about year 5 upwards here, get them to make a movie. Seriously, they can script, storyboard, shoot and edit a 5-10 minute film, starring each other. They can even do special effects. The sky is the limit.

Pretty much any mobile phone will do for shooting, and if you have a PC at home, DaVinci Resolve is a FREE professional grade editing suite. The best thing is YouTube is packed full of tutorial videos and what self respecting kid doesn’t love YouTube?

If you don’t have access to a PC that your kids can use, there are plenty of inexpensive editing apps like KineMaster and PowerDirector Video Editor you can have them use instead.

Scratch is good fun for kids but the older kids might want something a little more expansive. Enter Pico-8, a “virtual” games console that lets you programme 8 bit games.

It runs on PC, Mac and Linux (Raspberry Pi!!!), and costs $15. Again, the online help and manuals are VERY extensive, so you shouldn’t find yourself having to get involved too much. Kids can load in existing games and fiddle with them to see how things work.

If you want something a little less basic (pun intended), then Dreams on PS4 is a powerful game creation tool. It’s more expensive than Pico-8 but easier to pick up.

Raspberry Pi 3b+ in a Retroflag Megadrive case running Retropie

If you haven’t set your kids up with a Raspberry Pi, now is the ideal time to do so. Pis are cheap micro computers, starting at under a tenner for the Pi Zero W, rising to £54 for the top end Pi 4. They run an operating system called Raspberian off a microSD card. Although they come without a case, you can build cases from LEGO or buy a cheap case to go with them- it’s all part of the DIY computer ethos they promote. You can hook up a Pi to a TV, monitor, even build one into a case with a touchscreen, or a retro arcade machine. If you don’t want to stretch to a kit like that, retropie is a great free alternative.

You might be thinking, so what? We’ve got a computer that the kids can use. The Pi is a little different though, it’s entirely designed to be tinkered with. Since the whole operating system is on a microSD card, if the kids break the system, you can just format the card and start over. There are also plenty of hardware projects that are inexpensive to try- how about a wildlife camera, or even a weather station?

Personally I’ve used Raspberry Pis to make a twitterbot, and a retro game console. Both of which were great fun to work through- if anyone wants to beat my 497,000 on Bubble Bobble, they’re welcome to try!

Of course kids creativity and willingness to do stuff will only run so long. Both the Playstation Store and the Xbox store have regular sales and subscription based services. Just make sure they don’t spend all day in front of a screen!

A cunning yet nefarious smarthome plan involving Samsung Smartthings

Being woken up at dawn by blood curdling screams isn’t the best way to wake up but when it’s something you’ve planned and it’s worked perhaps better than you had any right to hope for, well it’s a mixed feeling of success and chagrin!

Anybody that know’s me will know I love a gadget or a bit of tech. I’m often mistaken for someone working in IT* as I tend to obsess about that sort of stuff to an unhealthy degree. Consequently when I got a Samsung Smartthings hub last year on an Amazon Lightening Deal, I had more planned for it than the sensible.

The sensible in this instance was to set up a virtual thermostat in our summer house. Our summerhouse is a concrete and wood affair and has an under the counter freezer in it. It’s useful for pizza and ice lolly storage but it’s not a certified outdoor unit, so we have to ensure that the environment is kept within the tolerable operating limits. With my Smartthings hub, a wireless Xiaomi temperature sensor, and a smartplug, an oil filled radiator gets turned on when the ambient temperature inside the shed drops below 6 degrees. It’s only a 15 watt radiator, so it doesn’t get hot quickly or use endless electricity but it’s quite handy.

So that was the boring reason I decided to get a Smartthings hub but there is so much more you can do with them, and there is a lively community who integrate third party apps and sensors into Smartthings.

Being a tinkerer who has more imagination than ability, I set out to do something funny with my Smartthings hub that ended up in screams and me and my wife being woken up at just gone six in the morning. I think I’ve been forgiven but only time will tell.

As well as the temperature sensors, Xiaomi also make motion sensors. Battery operated stick up motion sensors to be precise. And they’re cheap. They’re a little bit fiddly to connect to the hub but once they have been connected, you can use a straight forward menu to trigger an action:

There were a few extra conditions I added. The routine was only live between 5am and 6:30am, the time that the kids would normally creep downstairs and start watching telly, even though they were under firm instructions to stay in their rooms until 7am and read a book if they couldn’t get back to sleep.

And so the morning after I’d set the routine up, the blood curdling screams occurred. You see, Fifi had sneaked down at 5:40am to watch some telly, only to trigger the Smartthings routine, which blared out Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells at her. You may know this better as the theme from The Exorcist .

The kids haven’t seen the Exorcist, I’d like to make that clear, but the music is probably the second most spooky bit of music I know after the main theme from Suspriria by Goblin. It must have taken about half an hour to calm Fifi down afterwards but at least the point was made about not going downstairs to watch TV before dawn!

If you fancy having a play with Smartthings, the hub is £59.99 from Amazon, and the Xiaomi sensors can also be had from Amazon (although if you’re willing to order them from China, they’re a lot cheaper, but will take a lot longer to deliver).

 

*that is until that somebody asks me for something particularly technical, then I tend to come unstuck and dispel the myth rather promptly. Although, like most of the IT professionals I know, Google is my friend.

The kids are now fully fledged thinking machines in their own right

WAR games, in more peaceful times

It’s funny when you realise your kids are completely able to be certifiably clever in their own right without taking the lead from you. It’s unsettling in some respects that they don’t need prompting but also liberating and makes you proud. Both the boys have done things this week that on their own merit a slap on the back but when you take them in the wider context of how they’re both growing up, make you think, gosh, they’re really ploughing their own furrow now.

Firstly the boy, now in year 8 and newly enthused to study and put the effort in after a near disaster in a maths test he didn’t prepare for properly prior the Christmas, did something in a science pop quiz that was quite brilliant. His team won the quiz, which in most situations would have been the achievement. Not this time though, because he named his team “Going to die old and alone”. When his team won, the teacher had to ask, “Who’s going to die old and alone?” to howls of laughter from the whole classroom, teacher included. Pure rank genius, and something I’d have been proud to achieve.

Ned (now a heady 8 years of age) managed to win a laser quest tournament at the local soft play with a score higher than his three nearest competitors added together because he’s the sort of cunning genius that will  probably crash international currency markets in 10 or 15 years time. All the other lads ran off at speed to hide and shoot each other, Ned ambled out slowly, then turned back and spent the ten minutes of that round shooting the targets on the three unused vests repeatedly, building up an unassailable lead whilst not getting shot himself. The bunch of dad’s on kids party duty were universally impressed with his cunning, and I was too.

How to Save Money on Your Next DIY Project

Whether you’re committed to redecorating your house, upgrading your kitchen or even renovating the entire home, without a bit of careful planning, things can very quickly spiral out of control budget-wise. 

On average in the UK, we spend over £7 billion every year on our DIY and decorating supplies, that’s a lot of money and it shows just how much us Brits love to take control of our own destinies when it comes to making changes around the home. 

With this can-do attitude in mind, this article will explore a few ways in which you can save some money on your next DIY project.

Make a DIY project budget

Budget doesn’t mean cheap, it means organised. If you plan ahead with a sensible project budget, then you’ll find yourself less likely to overspend while also being able to make sensible decisions on what can or cannot be achieved. Have a think about what you can afford or would like to spend on the entire project.

In the first instance, put together a spreadsheet of everything you think you’ll need to complete the project, including a bit extra for material wastage (on flooring, tiles, wallpaper etc). Don’t forget to add space to include quotes for any third party help you might engage or new tools you might need to buy and add in an extra 10% to account for any unexpected expenses or surprises.

Look out for special offers and online vouchers or coupons 

Patience is key when it comes to purchasing some of the bigger ticket items like kitchen appliances if you’re refitting your kitchen or spending on flooring or tiling materials and expensive tools. It can even pay to time your project to coincide with seasonal sales like Black Friday or the January sales. Shop around and take your time, and you might find some amazing deals that can save you heaps of cash against your budget. 

You might even find online vouchers or coupons for big DIY outlets. A B&Q discount code, for example, could have a dramatic impact on your overall spend and help to keep that project budget on track, perhaps allowing you to afford more than you originally planned for.

Renew, reuse, recycle

Not everything has to be new, and you can do some pretty amazing things with a very small budget if you’re prepared to mix frugality with a little creativity. For example, if your kitchen needs a facelift, then why not take a look at giving your existing doors a splash of paint and some new handles instead of investing in a budget-busting new kitchen? Perhaps your kitchen carcass in still in great shape and you just need to source some new doors to update the style? 

It’s very satisfying to hunt for bargains, or even freebies (check out Facebook groups and Freecycle for some great deals) and up-cycle them yourself into something far more exciting. Not only are you saving money, but you’re helping to save the environment too.

And so it begins…

The last month has gone a little something like this:

  • mad frenzy to get all work done before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy to wrap all remaining pressies up before Christmas;
  • mad frenzy of Christmas;
  • Boxing day, in a bit of a mad frenzy;
  • All the illness
  • New Years Party (ON DUDES!)
  • Littlest’s 8th Birthday
  • Back to work
  • Back to school

Of course the proper grind starts this week, I was back to work in the Phoney Work period last week- the roads were still unclogged by parents on the school run and commuters- so there were no classes or extra curricula lessons. I could come and go (almost) as I pleased. Today I had to drop the eldest off in the rain on my way in and have to rush back to feed them all before taking the two eldest to music lessons.

Come the weekend it will be almost like the ten day break had never happened. I’m still not very well, I managed quite a lot of sleep over the weekend, rather too much for someone who isn’t ill:

The next day I’ve got scheduled off work is mid/late February, so I think a few more nights like I had at the weekend are probably in order.

Almost everyone had the hump by the end of the break as nobody got to do much of what they wanted to do- I wanted a day out at the seaside but we were all too ill, wifey wanted to swap a couple of cabinets over but we were all too ill, we wanted to go and see the new Star Wars movie but, yes, we were all too ill, and so and and, cough cough cough.

New Year’s resolutions fell by the wayside in a helter skelter of illness but there is one thing I’m sure to be fit enough for, and that’s my first session in the Shape Up St Albans fitness campaign. No, this isn’t something I’ve blagged as a blogger, it’s a course run by Watford FC Sports & Education Trust for blokes of a certain age, weight and BMI. Sadly I smashed all the numbers for a place, and I’m looking to try and get myself going again. Last year was difficult for me in a number of ways, and a lot of sitting around and comfort eating occurred. Hopefully this will kick start me and mean that at some point in 2020 I can once again go back to weighing myself in stones rather than KGs (stones are too depressing at the moment). I like being fit and active but don’t so much like the process of getting from being unfit and lazy to being fit and active. Wish me luck!

The 20’s are coming and I think we need to look to the 1920s for inspiration

The 10’s started off well for us- Fifi turned one, Ned came along, I did some pretty cool stuff on the blog. They ended badly though- mum had a prolonged illness and passed away mid October, and since then we’ve had a series of firsts. First Christmas without mum, first grandchild’s birthday without mum, and so on. We’re interring the ashes on her birthday in February, so hopefully that will give me some of the closure I feel I’m missing. For someone who was terminally ill for most of the second half of the decade, mum went really quickly in the end. In typical mum fashion, her last communication to us all was “Sorry, I meant mortarboard” a realisation that saying to my wife she could just picture her graduating in her motorboat wasn’t quite what she meant. I’d have loved a note or a card left for me afterwards to remember her by but that wasn’t mum’s jam, so all I’ve got are the memories and as the time passes, the more recent memories where she was struggling and in pain are replaced by the bittersweet memories of my youth and earlier adulthood.

As we head into the 20’s on the back of an overwhelming Tory election victory, record food bank use and the prospect of a no deal WTO Brexit later this year (click here to see why no deal is likely), you’d be forgiven for thinking that we have little or nothing to look forward to. But for us the 20’s will be a decade where all our kids will turn 18, and we’ll both hit 50. As well as a decade of privation it’s going to be a decade of personal growth and exploration for us.

Much like the 1920’s, the Roaring 20’s as they were known, began with excitement (a post war boom in this instance), we can have our excitement and growth. I think the difference is, the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression of the end of the 20’s was somewhat unexpected. We can at least expect the worst and provision and provide as best we can for it.

Who knows, following on from a year when the eldest played in front of 3,500 at a local music festival, the 20’s could see our family put together a band that could play the modern equivalent of the gin joints and jazz clubs. I just hope that prohibition isn’t introduced at any point- I don’t think I could do without the odd jar and the idea of operating my own moonshine operation isn’t particularly appealing!

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!