Got an Xbox One S for Christmas?

I’ve seen a massive uptick on views of videos and posts mentioning Xbox’s in the last week or so, and I’m imagining that this has a lot to do with some of the stonking deals Microsoft had on it’s Xbox One S over the festive period.

The One S has been out a little over a year and it’s probably pound for pound the best value console on the market at the moment. For under £200 you can pick up a One S with a game or two, that will also play Blu Ray movies and the newer 4K/UHD Blu Ray movies that the PS4 can’t (this is rather embarrassing as Sony is actually on the standard setting body for Blu Ray).

Given that Microsoft now own Minecraft, it’s also a great console for playing Minecraft on, as our lad showed me last year:


Here are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your Xbox One S, happy gaming! View Full Post

EDF Energy Pretty Curious- encouraging girls into STEM

Our daughter Fifi is going to be 9 in January and she’s already got her mind set on being a vet. She watches vet TV shows and manhandles our long suffering cat constantly. We’re lucky, most girls get put off STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at an early age because it’s really pushed at boys. All the yuck experiment books are very much aimed at boys, all the circuit board sets have boys on the cover (and, oh, the older brother hogs the PS4, which is definitely “technology”!).

This is why campaigns like Pretty Curious from EDF Energy are so important. Girls generally perform better at school than boys (especially at primary level), and even though Fifi is a whizz at maths, I get the distinct feeling that the system won’t encourage her to pursue it, which is a shame.

Fortunately in popular culture things are starting to change, and Disney has helped drive this. With Rey in the new Star Wars trilogy (the Force Awakens and the Last Jedi, which was out this week), and Jyn in Rogue One, we have female leads in science fiction, showing girls that sci-fi and girls mix. So a tie up between Pretty Curious and the Last Jedi makes super sense and great fun for Fifi who got sent a Little Bits Droid kit to build:

I think it’s great Fifi had such fun building the Droid, especially as it’s a toy that it would be so easy to give a boy. In fact, in almost ten years of blogging, I’d have to say 99% of the time, I’d only get offered things like this to review for the boy. Fifi always gets short changed, and it’s exacerbated by the fact I often get boys stuff offered to me as I’m a dad, despite the fact I have a daughter as well!

There is also a 360 degree virtual reality tour of the best that STEM has to offer girls.

We can all do a bit to encourage our daughters to look more towards STEM careers and interests, so what are you waiting for? Jump in!

Win a family ticket to Nozstock the Hidden Valley 2018!

Nozstock The Hidden Valley – celebrating 20 years! 
Friday 20th – 22nd July 2018
@ Rowden Paddocks, Bromyard, Herefordshire, HR7 4LS
Tickets: From £115 for adults / From £95 teens / 12s and under free
www.nozstock.com / @Nozstock

Artists TBA January 2018

In July 2018 Nozstock The Hidden Valley will reach its 20th anniversary, entering a small group of festivals who have reached two decades of creating magic each summer. Starting from very humble beginnings its founding ethos remains part of the festival to the present, with Nozstock not only a genuine weekend of escapism far from the madding crowds, but also one which has kept the same flourishing spirit each and every summer; it’s a very family festival with abundant charm, integrity and authenticity at every turn, as well as amazing fun across the beautiful site set on a working farm in Bromyard, attracting one of the country’s most wonderfully diverse audiences whether newbies coming for the very first time or seasoned festival goers.

Curated by the father and daughter duo of Noz and Ella and a huge extended family who work across the entire festival, there’s a unique energy to Nozstock unlike anything else in the country. The festival features a huge range of entertainment, activities and inspiration for families and kids, with games, pop-up performances, and workshops at every turn.

It’s going to be an incredible weekend for everyone who comes Nozstock’s 20th anniversary!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Terms and conditions

Prize is non transferable, no cash alternative is offered, if the winner does not respond within 5 days of being chosen, an alternative winner will be picked.

You will have to provide your own transport to the festival and the competition is open to residents of the UK only

The prize is offered by Nozstock The Hidden Valley and the promoter, Daddacool, shall not be held responsible for their failure to supply the prize.

I’ve been threatened with legal action!

It came as a bit of surprise to me, a bolt out of the blue in fact. There I was simply minding my own business, reading my book and listening to some music when the sudden threat of immediate punishing legal action hit me.

 

BAM!

The five year old wasn’t happy that he had to have a bath, and wasn’t going to have any truck with my attempts to get him in to it:

“I’m calling my lawyer, you’re going to prison! You’ll regret making me have a bath!”

Stone me, I never thought it would come to this. Goodness knows where he’s got that from either, we’re not a litigious household. We once contacted a lawyer over a constructive dismissal case but were told that the employer would just stretch it out until the claim (which we had good grounds to win) was exceeded by the legal costs, so we didn’t bother. Other than that, it’s been house moves and wills and nothing else.

I managed to talk him down by promising to read his bed time story but it was a close thing. I need to be more careful next time!

Review: Super Lucky Tales on Xbox One/Xbox One X

Coinciding with the launch of the Xbox One X this week, MS Studios have a new 3D platformer out called Super Lucky Tales. Super Lucky Tales sees you controlling a cute fox, navigating a lush colourful 3D world putting gollums back together and collecting 4 leafed clovers (there are 99 to collect in total and I’m well in to double figures now!).

The game is described as follows by Microsoft:

“Super Lucky’s Tale” is a delightful, playground platformer for all ages that follows Lucky, the ever-optimistic, energetic and lovable hero, on his quest to find his inner strength and help his sister rescue the Book of Ages from Jinx. Jinx is the scheming and mysterious villain trying to reshape the world, but for what reason?

Along the way, encounter a hilarious supporting cast of friends and adversaries. Lucky must confront the nefarious Kitty Litter, Jinx’s mischievous kids – self-taught villains who might not be getting Jinx’s plans quite right. Lucky meets friends and allies along the way too. He meets misplaced Yetis, Kooky Spookies, a village of farming worms and other colourful friends inhabiting of Ages.”

I played Super Lucky Tales at the Xbox Loft the other week and found the two level demo great fun. It looked lovely in 4K on the Xbox One X, but since I don’t have one of those (yet!), I played the review copy Microsoft kindly provided me with on my Xbox One S. The game still looks lovely, although obviously not as lovely as it does in 4K! View Full Post

PlayStation family showcase

As we begin the wind up towards Christmas, one of the things that has struck me this year, with our kids being that bit older, is how what they’d like for Christmas has switched.

We’ve bemoaned the fact that it increasingly seems that toys are being designed to look good in adverts rather than to actually be particularly playable with. The kids tend to ask for a load of plastic tat at Christmas that remains in a box from mid January onwards (until it eventually makes it’s way to the charity shop). It’s frustrating as it’s i) expensive and ii) fills the house up with tat.

This year it’s looking like it will be a bit different though. Last Saturday we headed off to the Playstation Family 2017 event in a trendy part of London. In amongst the multi platform games like FIFA 18 and LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 (my most eagerly awaited game of the year!), they had a swathe of Playstation exclusive titles that the kids were glued to.

Yes, this year I think the kids might get some video games for Christmas. View Full Post

Xbox One X launching on 7 November!

7th of November is a date to remember. And not for gunpowder, treason and plot either, that’s two days earlier. The 7th of November sees Microsoft’s new Xbox One X console launched and it’s a bit of a doozy.

Earlier on this week Xbox invited me to their Xbox Loft, a swanky penthouse in central London, to play some games and have a chat about the Xbox One X.

The Xbox One X is unique in console launches. It’s a very powerful piece of kit, but it’s also completely compatible with all the existing Xbox One games. This means the usual launch process, which sees the machine launched with maybe five to ten games, and then a steady drip drip of titles, isn’t going to happen this time. Now, you can buy the new Microsoft console and have access to all your existing Xbox One games, and all the Xbox 360 games that already work via backwards compatibility. Oh, and if you’re dead old like me, there are even some original Xbox games available too!

Why would I want to play my existing games on my shiny new console I hear you cry. Well, a lot (there will be around 100 shortly after release) of the existing games are getting enhanced versions/updates for free if you own the original game. This means that some great looking Xbox One games will suddenly get a bump in resolution, framerate and special effects if you play them on your new Xbox One X. It also gives you both choice in what to play and some affordable slightly older games that will still get a makeover. 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

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…

 

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!