Unpicking the dementia tax argument and several red herrings

From the Telegraph:

Pensioners with care needs must stop regarding their homes as “an asset to give to their offspring”, the social care minister has said, as she revived the row over the Conservatives’ so-called “dementia tax”.

Jackie Doyle-Price said it was “unfair” for younger taxpayers to “prop up people to keep their property” when it could be sold to help pay for their own care needs.

I don’t read the Telegraph. I used to as a student but it’s not the newspaper it once was, and the rather hilarious adulation of Boris just makes it look silly. However someone commented on the above article on Facebook and brought it to my attention.

The comments were full of what I suspect are magenta hued baby boomers (closer to the 1946 vintage than the 1964 vintage mind), who were lambasting the government for penalising the hard working and frugality of their generation while  allowing those spendthrifts in council homes to get away scot free. Their comments on the youth of today were equally scathing too. Here is a montage of invective, with surnames blanked out as I am nice like that:

Click for larger

View Full Post

Ned, edging towards the lead as a reader

My last post was exactly one word short of 1,500 and it was about books. Books, and reading in general are a bone of contention in our house. The two older kids are reluctant readers, often preferring to do nothing and complain about being bored rather than simply reading a book.

While the surrounding distractions they have are undoubtedly greater than those or wifey had when we were growing up (we’re both avid readers), I think there is a danger that we look back on our youth with rose coloured spectacles and automatically condemn the amount of television and videogames available to us now as a reason why kids often don’t like reading as much. View Full Post

In which I change a best selling novel, albeit slightly

I’m 42 now and this year has seen one of the best things ever happen. I’m of course talking in the sense of literature, rather than general life, but literature has been and will continue to be an integral part of my life, and that’s something I can be proud of.

Back in 1989 I picked up a dense hardback book called “The Dragonbone Chair” by a chap called Tad Williams. It was high fantasy and wasn’t my first foray into that genre but it was by far and away the best thing I had read at the time.

When I was 7, a few years earlier, I tried to read the Hobbit after playing the adventure game on our home computer. It seemed very twee but I persevered. The Lord of the Rings wasn’t for me at that point though, it seemed too dusty and old fashioned, and it was a couple of years later in 1984 when I finally took the plunge and bought a proper fantasy novel as a direct result of finding a bundle of screwed up notes on the pavement.

£30 in 1984 was, to a nine year old, more of a fortune than you could possibly comprehend. The Beano was 12p, and a Mars Bar less than that. I trundled off to our local bookshop and purchased a copy of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, one of the better Dragonlance Chronicles books. Since this was ten years before the Net Book Agreement was dissolved, I had to pay the publisher set price on the back of the book, which was £2.25 (or 18 copies of the Beano!). View Full Post

Amazon Video: Comrade Detective

A real sense of mourning existed in our house on Sunday evening. We had finally finished watching all seven series of Parks & Recreation and we were at a loose end. My suggestion of re-watching it from the beginning was met with icy , so we had to look for something else. It took us around 3 months to work our way through the 125 episodes and it was a joy.

I happened to spot Nick Offerman’s name attached to another show, Comrade Detective, so thought we should give that a go. Nick Offerman played the rather awesome Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation, a personal favourite of mine (and probably most blokes if I’m to be honest), so it was a no brainer to give this show with him in a go.

So yes, we went into Comrade Detective with no prior knowledge or understanding of the show!

Comrade Detective is a comedy show that spoofs/satirises propaganda TV. It’s set in 80’s communist era Romania, shot in Romanian, using Romanian actors, and then over dubbed (badly) by American voice actors. This gives it the genuine feel of an 80’s TV show, where subtitles were considered weird and dubbing ruled the roost.

The script is terrible, in a knowing sort of way, giving some really great laughs in the first couple of episodes. Some of the propaganda messages are so hamfisted, it’s hard to imagine that they’re pretty spot on until you remember watching Red Dawn or any of the other 80’s anti communist movies.

In case you’re worried whether this is a one joke premise, the series doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, weighing in at 6 episodes. The story follows maverick detective, Anghel, who flouts his chefs direct orders and attempts a drug bust in which his partner is killed. Unravelling the murder leads to a plot by the Americans to destabilise Romanian with capitalism and religion. In typical 80’s buddy cop fashion, he’s paired with a partner who he clashes with (and also looks a lot like Borat), leading to various scrapes and the like.

It’s good fun and at six episodes doesn’t outstay it’s welcome or let the joke run on too long. Reading about the genesis of the show, the producers toyed with the idea of re-dubbing an actual existing Romanian show but decided against it as securing the rights would have been too tricky. So yes, it was initially disappointing to see (or rather not to see) that my new hero Nick Offerman didn’t appear in the flesh but over all it’s a blooming good laugh and worth a watch.

A dab and a slide

When I dropped Ned off at school this morning, a little girl in pig tails came up and said “Hello Ned“.

Ned looked at her, dabbed, and then ran off. He returned 30 seconds later, did a two metre knee slide across the astroturf and stopped just in front of her.

I’m not entirely sure where he gets this from. He seems to be very popular among the young ladies and it seems that this sort of approach is exceptionally popular with him. I’ve yet to see him engage one of his fan club in actual conversation, he usually resorts to physically showing off in front of them when I’m about (when he’s not plotting marriage proposals to one or another of them at any rate).

This little girl isn’t even a member of his fan club- at least she’s not one of the ones he mentions frequently…


Review: Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil

Codenames is a spy themed board game that the Board Game Club sent over for review. If I were pushed to describe it in one easy sentence, I’d say it’s a cross between Guess Who and something like Taboo, set in a world of spies and spymasters.

If that sounds intriguing, it is, and although initially it looked complicated to play, once we’d run through the rules once and had a dry run through of the game, it was actually really simple and, joy of joys, a game that you can play quickly, making it ideal for the quick game here and there when you’ve got a spare half an hour. The kids even enjoyed playing the 2 player version, which is co-operative, so there was no fighting over who “won”.

The game is designed to be played by 4 people as a minimum, so it’s something to pull out to play when you’ve got friends round (the 2 player version does work but it’s not as fun). You split into two teams, deal out 25 one word cards, nominate a spy master on each team, and set about trying to guess where your spies are.


How is this done? Well the spy master draws a card that shows a five by five grid, corresponding to the layout of the 25 cards that were put down. The cards that show where the agents are are rotatable, so you get 4 different layouts from each card, and a whole pack of them to boot, so you’re not really going to be able to memorise the layouts.

The spymaster gives out a one word clue, followed by a number, and his team have to guess which cards laid out in front of them correspond to the codenames of two agents. So for example, I might say, “Aquatic, 2”, intending to signal to my team that there are two words to do with the water. After conferring my team should answer “octopus and shark” for example. To make things more dramatic, there is an assassin card that if guessed by mistake automatically loses you the game.

And it’s great fun!

Having only one word clues makes it so much harder, and really gets team mates heatedly discussing possibilities. The game is short enough that you can rattle off a few consecutive rounds to really get the competitive juices flowing too.

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


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.

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