Things to consider when you’re going on holiday with the kids

IMG_7265

I’ll never forget the first family holiday we had with our first kid. We went from having not very much at all in the car- a couple of holdalls and some spare boots- to everything short of the kitchen sink. In fact we took a baby bath with us as a proxy sink. We completely filled up the boot of our car, a Rav4, which was no mean feat.

9 years and two additional kids later, we’re much better at planning holidays but there are a lot of things you have to consider in advance, right up to the initial booking you make.

For example, when our two eldest were 5 and 3 respectively, we took them to and Italian water park for a week. A little more research would have told me that our caravan didn’t have a TV and that they closed the pools if it rained but didn’t put on alternative entertainment. Fortunately I had my laptop and a couple of DVDs with me but they didn’t have get watched. A lot.

3G checkerNow days we look in detail at the facilities available, and always try to ensure that their is wireless if we’re at a hotel or abroad, or at worst a decent mobile coverage if we’re in the UK. OFCOM have a handy tool to check this, which you can find here. I can personally vouch it was pretty darn accurate, based on experience and the map below- right down the bottom of the hotel garden we stopped at for drinks, I could get data reception, but the nearer the road, the worse the signal got.

Mobile reception and/or WiFi are both really useful on a Uk holiday as they not only allow the odd bit of Netflix when the kids are playing up but you can also sort out a Tesco or Sainsbury delivery if you’re self catering or camping. Yes, both will actually deliver to camp sites, which is great if you want to cook but don’t want to have to try and refrigerate fresh meat. We’ve also used our internet connection for Amazon Prime next day deliveries while on holiday once or twice and that’s got us out of a sticky situation on occasion.

Booking a food delivery also negates the one big problem- packing! We’ve often gone self catering in the UK, and given the UK weather, it’s always been a case that we’ve had to pack for all eventualities. Half the clothes probably never get worn, the other half get worn and washed two or three times over.

Packing a car is a skill in itself though, and it’s a good job I used to be good at Tetris back in the day. My top tip for packing the boot is to put everything that won’t be needed on your day of travel at the bottom, and everything that you might need on the day (medicine box, change or shoes, drinks etc) on the top. This will enable you to stop off en-route without having to rummage through the boot too much when you park up. Our kids all have their own rucksacks, each of which has their snacks and drinks packed, so we don’t have the fight of who gets what.

When it comes to the kids soft toys, we have a very rigorous policy- they can only bring two or three each, and each one is counted out as we leave home, and counted in when we come back. That means no repeat of the situation where we turned a holiday cottage upside down once checking for the 6th bunny that was sitting on the lads bed at home. We actually take this a bit further with Ned, our youngest, and attach a teddy to him via a lanyard if he wants to go out with it. This was as a direct result of our eldest leaving his bunny on a bench in an Italian medieval city on the shores of Lake Garda a few years back- once bitten, twice shy you might say…

Of course a lot of these problems can be avoided if you go on a cruise, although as this guide to cruise holidays with young kids and babies shows, there are somethings to bear in mind even then.

The closest either of us have ever been to cruising was when my wife went Greek Island hopping pre kids. Having said that, we’ve been on ferries and seal watching boats with the kids, so it’s probably something we may consider in the future. Someone at work recently took his family on a cruise round the Med and they all had a fantastic time; plenty to do on the ship and some fabulous day trips when they were in dock. As our kids get older, it gets harder to entertain them with the prospect of “another day on the beach”, something with a holiday club and days out becomes all the more enticing.

Review: Asterix The Mansions of the Gods

asterix-mansion-of-the-gods

18 months after it’s original foreign language release, Asterix The Mansions of the Gods lands in UK cinemas with a strong English language voiceover cast and a good translation, and most importantly of all, the vast majority of it’s Asterix-ness heartily intact.

If you haven’t heard of Asterix, you must have had your head under a rock (menhir) for the last 50 years- the picture books, along with Tintin, were a staple of my childhood and are now a staple of my children’s too. Even from the trailer, the care in the translations of Albert Uderzo’s illustration to the modern 3D animated movie screen is readily apparent, something that carries on into the adaptation itself. View Full Post

Are social media pressures leaving men too scared to purchase engagement rings in secret?

Look at your newsfeed. If you’re around the age of 25 then it’s more than likely filled with engagement announcements, baby scan photos and even full on wedding pictures. Your friends are growing up and if you feel like your partner isn’t picking up the slack by not giving you a ring it’s time to take a step back.

Imagine the immense pressure men must feel when they know that their proposal location and the ring they pick out in that local diamond store will be snapped immediately and shared with everyone you know. In this world of selfies and social media we can’t help ourselves when it comes to special moments and announcing them to the world. ‘But I’m sharing it with my friends and family!’ you might protest – but just think about how the person giving you the ring feels.

 

Social media pressures are having a real effect on men and purchasing engagement rings. With so many options it’s easy to go wrong and there are women out there who are fussy enough to insist they choose their own ring, ignoring the sentimental value behind the jewellery itself.

The Telegraph recently reported that more and more men are picking up pretty ‘holding rings’ which are then swapped for something those receiving the ring prefer. Alternatively, couples are simply coming and picking out engagement rings together with no element of surprise.

Men refraining from buying the engagement ring in secret is spoiling the tradition of a proposal. There is no surprise, no fun elaborate plan to encourage their partner to meet them somewhere special, it’s suddenly turned into a competition for women on who has the biggest, most expensive ring to show off in an Instagram post with a recent manicure.

Let’s go back to the good old days when men fretted for months over the ring and women happily accepted whatever they chose as a symbol of their love and loyalty. Forget about social media, enjoy that special moment, share it in person with your friends and family and then perhaps later snap a picture to post to the rest of the world – aka that girl from secondary school you still dislike but keep on Facebook to show off to…

How to Move On From the Stress of a Break In

Dealing with a burglary or break-in can be extremely stressful and a very emotional time for all involved. Even if nothing has been taken, mentally, the feeling that your home has been violated by a stranger can make it hard to ever feel safe. So much so that according to The Mirror, a recent survey revealed that 60% of burglary victims never feel secure in their homes again.

If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to experience a burglary or break-in at your home, below are six ways that will help you deal with it and learn to move on:

Get away from it all
Whether you want to take a short break abroad, leave town for a few days or stay with a close friend/family member, sometimes getting away from it all can help clear your mind and help you come to terms with what has happened.

Step up the security
Do all that you can to make your home feel secure so you can feel comfortable moving back in. Whether that’s upgrading the locks, replacing the doors with Security Direct or installing a monitored security system, it will help put your mind at ease and deter future intruders.

Give your house a good clean
After the police have collected all the evidence they need to, no doubt there will be the mess to contend with. Whilst this will be tough, use this as an opportunity to give the house a thorough clean. It will help psychologically and hopefully start the process of moving on. Some victims even find that redecorating can be an empowering step in moving on.

Take good care of yourself
According to the British Physiological Society, a recent survey revealed that one in four suffered anxiety or symptoms of depression after experiencing a burglary. It is important to take good care of yourself; eat well and exercise if you can, don’t let the fear control you. Don’t give a burglar the satisfaction of robbing you of your health and wellbeing.

Speak to friends, family and professionals
Don’t deal with everything alone. Reach out to friends and family for support, that’s what they are there for. If you really have trouble coping, seek the help of a professional who will be able to help with your feelings and offer advice about how to move forward.

Get back into a routine
It can be easy to lose your normal routine after a break-in. If you’ve had a couple of days off work or you’ve stopped doing something you love, get back into it as soon as possible and regain control. Have something to look forward to whether it’s making plans to go out with friends or hosting a dinner party at yours.

While it may be hard to believe, you will recover from the burglary. It’s just going to take time. The above ways will help to improve your safety and speed up the process of moving on so you can enjoy life again.

The Do’s and Dont’s of Bird Feeding

While some people believe that you should only feed birds in the winter months to lend them a helping hand while food supplies are scarce and temperatures are low, it’s actually perfectly safe to feed them all year round – as long as you’re doing so correctly. Here are the dos and don’ts you need to know if you’re going to help our feathered friends…

DO…
… offer seeds and nuts. Wild bird seed mix is the perfect combination of seeds and nuts, and is often pre-cut to the right size for birds. You’ll just need to make sure you have a good bird feeder installed in your garden to hold the food, so check out a supplier such as Wild Bird Feeders to see if you like the look of anything.

… clean your bird feeders regularly. In the same way that you clean your utensils, remember that bird feeders and dishes need cleaning too. You can buy special cleaning solutions to gently clean the apparatus birds are eating from, but just be sure to rinse everything thoroughly in clean water before using it again.

… chop peanuts into small pieces. Whole peanuts aren’t suitable for a number of species of birds as they can easily choke on them, so if you’re going to offer peanuts, make sure they’re cut smaller than the size of dried cat biscuits.

… leave suet blocks for birds to peck at. Birds enjoy suet, and pastry – cooked or uncooked. They’ll eat rice and potatoes too provided you’ve cooked it in unsalted water (as birds are unable to metabolise salt – it’s not a part of their regular diet).  

… feel free to give birds meat. Birds can eat the hard fat cut from unsalted meat, and they’ll enjoy eating fresh meat too if it’s been cut into strips to resemble worms.

DON’T…

… feed them too much bread. Offering bread in large quantities (i.e. four or five slices a day) can encourage too many birds to regularly crowd into one area. This has the result of increasing the likelihood of avian diseases being transmitted between birds, which will have a damaging effect on the wider ecosystem. It also doesn’t have much nutritional value, either.

… offer birds currants without soaking the currants first. Dried currants can swell in birds’ stomachs, so make sure you soak the currents overnight first. Birds can eat raisins and sultanas so long as the currants have had a chance to reabsorb water first.

… give birds mushy cereal. Your leftover Weetabix and porridge isn’t much good for birds as it’s too glutinous. They prefer dried breakfast cereal if you crush it up first, and will appreciate you taking care to position it near a bird bath as they’ll need some water afterwards.

… offer mouldy food. Most moulds are harmless to birds, but occasionally, mould can make one or two quite unwell. If you’ve noticed that the food you’re giving them is turning mouldy before they can eat it, offer them a smaller quantity of food until they’re eating enough of it to warrant you giving them more.

There’s plenty more you can give birds that is safe for them to eat. However, if you’re not sure what scraps you can give birds in your garden, check out the RSPB website for advice.

Review: LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens (Xbox One)

lego star wars the force awakens

A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of the latest LEGO video game, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They didn’t have to ask me twice as the kids absolutely love both LEGO & Star Wars, and the two most played games the kids own are LEGO Marvel Superheroes (300+ hours) and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (200+ hours).

Traveller Tales, the developers behind the LEGO video games, really know their stuff. Their games work for kids in as much as they aren’t incredibly difficult to complete the story mode but also work for adults as the humour is properly multi-layered and a lot of the unlockables are utterly fiendish to unlock, which means there is plenty of challenge for us older players.

Travellers Tales also know how to keep things fresh by constantly evolving the gameplay in successive LEGO games. The player might not notice this from game to game but if you were to fire up something like  the LEGO Indiana Jones Trilogy, you would definitely notice it is a lot more basic than the more recent games like LEGO Marvel Avengers or Jurassic World.

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens takes this development on a notch in several ways, the most notable is when you now break something up and get the jiggling bricks that indicate you have something to build, you now sometimes get a choice in what you build. One puzzle early on requires you to pick which of the three options you need to build first, then second and finally last in order to solve the puzzle. I must admit the first time I attempted it, I didn’t notice the new build mechanism and sat there flummoxed until the 9 year old put me right.

The first level actually happens during the events of Return of the Jedi, and right from the start you’re introduced to unlockable characters, in this instance Wicket the Ewok as you battle Stormtroopers on the forest moon of Endor. You soon end up with Han Solo, the kids favourite, in a Scout Walker, shooting at stuff, and everything is awesome (ahem).

From LEGO Batman 3 onwards, there have been arcade shooty bits in LEGO games, and this is no exception, the first one sees you piloting the Millennium Falcon on it’s run to destroy the Death Star at the end of the first level. It’s visually great to look at and as always it’s wonderful to see an iconic scene from a movie replayed in LEGO.

After this first level/prologue, we’re in to the Force Awakens proper. We found a few more enhancements to the gameplay in the first few levels, most notably the cover/shoot system that brings more traditional shooter elements that adults might recognise from games that are unsuitable for little ones. It didn’t take our 9 year to twig how it all worked though, so that will stand him in good stead for later on in (his gaming) life.

One of the fun parts of any LEGO game are the unlockable characters, and in keeping with the more recent games, The Force Awakens has loads- over 200 apparently. I say apparently because we’re nowhere near that yet but the kids are still playing it well after actually completing the main story mode. The characters range from Darth Maul, through to just about every possible Stormtrooper imaginable, Tuskan Raiders, tons of different Droids, several Wookies and, well you get the idea.

All the LEGO games we’ve played recently have been great fun, even Jurassic World was pretty good, but this brings the Star Wars franchise right up to date with the latest gameplay enhancements that Travellers Tales has implemented. It’s been over 5 years since LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars came out, and it’s high time that the series was given a sequel that built on the more modern LEGO video games and this is that game!

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens is available on PlayStation®4, PlayStation®3, PlayStation®Vita, Xbox One®, Xbox 360®, Wii™U, Nintendo 3DS™ and Windows PC

Gant glasses at Specsavers

When Specsavers kindly offered me a free pair of Gant specs from their new range, I did what any self respecting blogger would do and crowd sourced the decision making process on Facebook, picking my five favourite pairs and letting my friends decide which pair I’d end up with:

Gant specs from Specsavers

I had a lot of votes, and also a lot of people complaining that my gurning distracted them from picking their favourites but in the end one pair won through with a clear majority, so those were the frames I chose. View Full Post

Review: TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit

As far as mouthfuls go, the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is definitely up there with the best of them. I’m going to try to refer to them as the AV1200s from now on, otherwise my word count will treble and you’ll get lost in terminology!

Before I start talking about performance though, it’s best to talk about what the TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi Kit is actually for. The purpose is simple, the technology behind it complicated but basically devices like the AV1200s are part of the Powerline standard, that look to provide a wired network connection to parts of the house you either can’t cable up or that have really poor WiFi reception. Poor WiFi can have any number of reasons behind it- distance, the number of walls between where you are and the router, interference from neighbours WiFi networks, the number of devices you have connected over WiFi or even the type of WiFi network you have, or the quality of the router you are using.

TP-linkPowerline neatly bypasses this by using your electricity cabling as a wired network. The principle is simple, you plug one AV1200 in near your router, and another in the room/space that doesn’t already have a wired connection or a decent WiFi signal. There are numerous different designs from different manufacturers, some have WiFi, some don’t, some act as passthroughs so you don’t lose a plug socket, and some don’t. Powerline isn’t a new standard, it has been around for at least a decade now but over the last ten years, the speed has increased dramatically. The first Powerlines I bought were 100Mbps, the AV1200s are 1,200Mbps. Although I should say, it’s always been the case that these headline figures should be taken with a pinch of salt and that real world performance won’t be that high. A case in point is the AV500 Homeplugs that these TP-Link AV1200s replaced. Despite being called AV500 for 500Mbps, the devices had network ports only capable of 100Mbps because that was a much more realistic transfer speed for them to work at. View Full Post

Review: Swallows and Amazons (2016)

Swallows and Amazons

In a summer full of hyper-kinetic action movies, most of them either animated or so full of CGI they might as well be, and all aimed at kids, Swallows and Amazons is a true breath of fresh air. Swallows and Amazons has things like characters, a plot you can follow and tracking shots that last more than half a second.

It’s an old fashioned movie, set in 1935, and it’s all the better for it. There is no attempt to update the setting or throw knowing nods to the contemporary world in to it, the direction works well with the setting, and if Captain Flint is now a spy, rather than a travel writer writing his memoirs, the injection of mild peril that this gives the film doesn’t stray too far from the spirit of the original.

The story sees the Walker family, Mrs Walker, John, Susan, Tatty and Roger (and the baby), go on holiday to the Lake District. Mr Walker is at sea with the Royal Navy in the South China Sea. The kids can run wild in the country side, and they get special permission from father to going sailing on the lake (for those who have read the book, the wonderful telegram “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, won’t drown”, is in the film). They camp on the island, and have a run in with the Amazons- owners of another small sailing boat. The Amazons uncle, living in a houseboat, is stalked by a pair of Russian spies, a plot line in addition to the book, that adds a bit of movie style adventure to the story. View Full Post

Hot weather= BBQ, enter the Paladone Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ

Grill Sergeant BBQ

Paladone organised the Dad’s Play Date I did a couple of months ago, and recently they offered me a small portable BBQ called the Grill Sergeant to try out. Given how the weather has massively taken a turn for the better, it was the ideal time to give it a try!

The Gentlemen’s Club Grill Sergeant BBQ has a 12 inch grill, costs £29.99 and looks like an extra from South Park, in a good way. You can spend less on a BBQ but what your £29.99 gets you is a well made BBQ, with no sharp edges, a properly treated steel shell, and a pot for the charcoal briquets.

Firing up the Grill Sergeant BBQ, we found there was enough room for 10 chicken drumsticks, although there wasn’t an enormous amount of breathing space, it worked okay.

Chicken on the BBQ

Pretty soon all our chickeny needs were satisfied, job done and thank you Paladone. It’s pretty easy to pack up the Grill Sergeant BBQ and hoist it down to the park (if your park allows BBQs) or round to that mate who doesn’t own a BBQ, it’s pretty portable. The lid helpfully clips on too, so you’re not left juggling with  all the bits when you move it around. Although the legs are removable, you will need a screwdriver to do it, so I’ve just left them on for bumbling around with the Grill Sergeant.