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.

 

A non smokers view on Vaping

Every time I’m out and about and I see someone vaping, I do a slight double take as half the vaping gear out there looks pretty much identical to Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver– which sonic screwdriver? Well take your pick there have been plenty in the last 50 odd years, enough to go with the the variety of vaping gear.

My views on vaping though are coloured by three things. Firstly I don’t smoke and never really have. Secondly my parents both spent my childhood puffing away in the manner that only people in the late 70’s and 80’s really could. And thirdly, I’m a parent with kids. View Full Post

Review: Nest Smart Thermostat 3rd Generation

The Nest Smart Thermostat is one of those Internet of Things (IoT), things it’s a thermostat that you can control via it’s simple interface but also one you can control via your smartphone or web browser. There are several competing devices and there and in fact the Nest replaced one of them, the British Gas Smart Thermostat that we’ve had for a few years now. Nest is however owned by Google (well, Alphabet, Googles new parent company but you get the drift), a company that has an awful lot experience in designing user interfaces and making complicated things work in an easy to understand fashion.

If you’ve ever programmed an old fashioned central heating timer, you’ll know how incredibly fiddly and complicated it can be. Think of it as similar to programming the VCR back in 1985 before any of that onscreen stuff came along to make it easier.

wp-1467455147862.jpgNow Nest is something that you can install yourself, there is an installation guide in the box and plenty of really useful YouTube videos but it’s not necessary because a lot of retailers sell it bundled with professional installation. Hurrah! The thermostat controller itself can be wall mounted where your old conventional controller used to be or it can simply sit on the side next to your phone. Me being me, it’s sitting next to our phone, SONOS bridge, and  Panasonic smart alarm hub. Yes, I am that person.

Setting up the thermostat was something that the installer talked us through but since I decided to change our wireless router to a Netgear monster the following day, I went through the process myself. The controller works as a dial which you turn to select the different options and you press the whole thing to select. To connect the Nest to your wifi, it’s simply a case of selecting which wifi network you want to connect to and using an alphabetic scroll wheel to pick out your password. It’s obviously not quite as quick as typing it on your phone or keyboard but it’s not cumbersome by any stretch of the imagination.

Once the Nest controller is connected, in theory you don’t need to touch it again as the app has everything you need. One clever feature the app has over others I’ve used is the ability to set one device as your “home” device- Nest will automatically sense when that smartphone is either away from or at home and adjust accordingly. So if you leave in the morning without turning the heating down or have overridden your schedule, you don’t have to remember to adjust it.How clever is that?!

In terms of using the app generally, it’s quite simply, allowing you to alter the temperature or set up a schedule. As you can see from our schedule, as it’s summer, we don’t have it set very high:

So as expected from Google, the app is really simple to use. It works equally well on Android and IOS, which is a big step up from Hive- for several months the app for our British Gas thermostat had stopped working on Android. The IOS version had been upgraded to work with Hive but the Android version hadn’t, which meant my wife could use it with her iPhone 4 but I couldn’t with my Android phone. Needless to say Google is too big a player to let something like this happen with Nest, and we’ve had no issue with the app on any platform!

Away from the app, unlike some other smart devices, the Nest thermostat works well without using your smartphone. The thermostat itself is really well designed; it doesn’t look like a piece of technology that you’d want to hide behind a potted plant. It has a proximity sensor that means the display only lights up when it senses movement in it’s direct line of sight. For something so obviously high tech, the Nest thermostat is remarkably easy for technophobes to adjust- my mum managed to successfully raise the temperature to the 23 degrees she’s more used to at her home without any guidance from me, which is a glowing endorsement.

For me though, the best part of a smart thermostat is keeping the temperature low when we’re out of the house, and using the app to turn the heating on when get a couple of miles from home in the evening, it’s an efficient (and therefore cheaper!) way of controlling the heating!

Nest retails for a recommended price of £199, although if you shop around you can get it installed for that price. It’s a worthy investment and from experience, it trumps other smart systems out there. Given it’s owned by Google, it’s not likely to switch it’s servers off tomorrow either.

 

Best ways to build your nest egg

It’s amazing how, even as adults, we subconsciously associate planning for things like pensions and retirement as something to worry about in the future. A problem for old people, if you like. But the sobering reality is that many young adults and those in their 30s in the UK are headed for severe financial problems later in life. In fact, a recent report suggests that in today’s terms, we each need a pension pot in excess of £600,000, but the average 35-year old has saved just £14,000. And even though the state pension comes in handy, it is not a sufficient amount of money to live off in isolation.

True, as parents, our gut instinct is to invest in our children and family as much as possible. But it’s so important to leave a bit behind for your golden years. Otherwise, perversely, you could end up being a drain on the very people you’re trying to help – your children.

Of course, the key is to build your nest egg in the best possible way. Or ways. It turns out there are actually many ways to skin a cat…

Pensions

For those mums who are in work, auto-enrolment into a pension will become a legal requirement for any employer in the next 18 months or so. You as the employee will have the ability to opt out, but really, there are unlikely to be too many occasions where this is a sensible option. That’s because pensions have two significant benefits. Firstly, the employer has to match your contribution up to a set percentage – which essentially amounts to free money. Secondly, your pension contributions are deducted before tax, meaning the taxable amount on your salary is reduced.

There are different types of pension too, but the good news is that a change in regulations last year means that you’ll have access to your pension from the age of 55, and be able to draw the first 25 per cent tax free. Thereafter, you can take an income from the remainder at your marginal rate of tax.

ISAs

The downside to pensions is that they really are sometimes hideously complex to understand. Not so with Cash ISAs though. Like a savings account, you put your money into the account and let the interest do the rest. Of course, these days that doesn’t amount to very much in the way of a return. Added to that, there is no benefit of an employer contribution, nor a tax efficiency on your salary (although you don’t get charged on interest earned).

However, that will become less of a problem when the new Lifetime ISA goes live next year. This new type of account will let you save into it and receive a bonus of 25 per cent for every penny put away – up to a maximum bonus of £1,000. It will be available to those who are 18 years or older (up to the age of 40), and the savings bonus will apply until you turn 50. That means ‘free money’ to the tune of £32,000 could be earned – if you are young enough!

Either way, it’s an attractive option, especially when you consider that withdrawals will be free after you turn 60. Just be careful of withdrawing from your Lifetime ISA early, as charges will apply (unless you are taking the money out for a first-time home, or treatment of a terminal illness).

P2P lending

One option which is growing in popularity is peer-to-peer lending (P2P), which involves lending your savings directly to consumer borrowers via an online platform. Because there is no middleman like a bank, you as a lender can benefit from returns of up to 6 per cent if you’re willing to lend for five years.

There is of course the risk that the borrower doesn’t pay you back, although the platforms typically have pretty robust ways of dealing with risk. Nevertheless, while you probably wouldn’t want to put all your savings into it, P2P lending looks to be a good way to generate a retirement income for yourself at some point, given that you can usually take the repayments from borrowers direct to your bank account each month.

Setting yourself up

It can be a bit daunting to have to learn all the nuances involved, especially if you’re brave enough to look towards the stock market or other forms of investments. But retirement is something that’s worth taking the time to put some careful thought into. We humans are living longer, yet financial support from Government is slowly decreasing. Rather take matters into your own hands, and ensure that you can look forward to your golden years safe in the knowledge that you’re well prepared. It’s the least that you and your partner deserve.

Review: Fitbit Blaze

fitbit blazeSince the weather has taken a turn for the better, it’s sudden less of a chore to be outside again, and thoughts once more turn to getting fitter. I’ve cancelled my gym membership as the logistics of actually going to the gym have been much complicated by the addition of Brownies and drumming lessons. I should make it clear at this point that I act as a taxi service for both; I am neither a Brownie myself, nor a drummer and as such have no desire to die in a bizarre gardening accident*. View Full Post

Do I need planning permission for my loft conversion project?

A loft conversion is an excellent way of adding value to your home (by up to 20% in fact), as well as more space for your family to enjoy. But do you need planning permission for such a project?

If we take a look at the Government’s Planning Portal website, it confirms that permission is only required if you are altering or extending the roof space in a way that exceeds ‘specified limits and conditions’.

Therefore, if you are simply installing Velux windows from Ken’s Yard, you won’t need to seek out the appropriate permission before the fitters come round but if you are including a balcony or veranda along with your newly fitted skylights you will need a thumbs up from your local authority.

Planning permission will also be required if:

  • The extension is higher than the highest part of your property’s roof.
  • The materials used are not similar in appearance to the rest of the house.
  • The roof enlargement overhangs the wall of the original house.

As well as planning permission, there are other important aspects of a loft conversion to consider such as the presence of protected species in your attic space. Bats, for example, may be lodging in the roof, and these are protected so if you find some while checking the space you will need to apply for a wildlife license before any work can begin. This ensures the safe removal of any protected animals from their habitat and that work in their environment can be carried out.

Fire safety is also important, so this needs to be taken into careful consideration when designing a loft conversion and the provisions for escape accounted for. Fire resisting doors are a new necessary feature for loft conversions, because escaping from a window is too dangerous so the integrity of the stairs to the lower floor must be protected.

A buildings regulation approval will also be required when converting a loft into a liveable space, even if planning permission is not. This ensures the structural strength of the floor is sufficient, there is a safe escape from a fire and the stairs have been safely designed; sound insulation is also required between the loft and rooms below and the existing roof structure will need to be checked to ensure the new design will not endanger its stability.

When it comes to obtaining or checking if you need planning permission for your loft conversion it’s best to do this as early as possible, it’s safe to say it’s not a quick process! Use a professional to put together your drawings and perhaps work with a solicitor to submit the application to the local council. This will cost money but it’s a guaranteed way of ensuring you have everything you need when making your application.

A loft conversion can also have implications when it comes to home insurance, so ensure you’ve done everything by the book to be able to class this space as another room and get it covered with the rest of the house!

Review: Philips PowerPro Aqua Vacuum and Mop

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the PHILIPS FC9920/69 ultimate bagless vacuum cleaner. I think it’ the best vacuum we’ve used, finally suprassing our Karcher yellow peril. Philips also sent us their PowerPro Aqua Vacuum and Mop for testing too. This is a cordless affair, powered by an 18V Lithium battery. It’s a different beast to the FC9920/69, being designed for whipping out for those spills and messes that kids generate all too easily.

Rather than being a cleaner for giving your house a full once over, the AquaPro is designed for trouble shooting- those bits of cleaning that can’t wait.

It works as a conventional cordless vacuum cleaner:


And it also works as an electric mop:

In practice, in a much smaller and more child infested house, I was pleasantly surprised at how the AquaPro worked. We’ve had experience with various cordless vacuums over the years. The AquaPro is less cumbersome than most- the Bissell I reviewed back in November was heavier and didn’t suck as well as this does. The AquaPro comes with the added bonus of it’s clever mop attachment. I’ve given it an outing on our kitchen floor which as per usual is covered in a mixture of split drinks, grass from the garden and grated cheese (don’t judge me, the kids are fully capable of helping themselves to food at any time day or night.

I’ve done a quick Vine to show it in action:

The mopping was a lot more impressive than I thought it was going to be. Rather than just getting the floor a bit wet, the AquaPro properly cleaned the stains and lifted up the water to boot. A nice trick in addition to being a pretty nifty cordless vacuum cleaner.

The Philips AquaPro has a RRP of £260, which for a cleaner with the dual purpose of a vacuum and mop, is good value.

Review: Smite the Wooden Outdoor Game

Spot of Smite!

You may have read our post about wild camping- we went to a great camp site over the Mayday bank holiday, where there were literally no amenities save a large fire pit and a composting toilet. We had to make our own entertainment. For the adults this involved fire and alcohol (responsibly taken- honestly) and for the kids it mostly involved running around like lunatics.

We did also take the outdoor game Smite with us though, something I’d been offered to review the previous week and something that seemed tailor made for a camping weekend. View Full Post

Review: LEGO Angry Birds King Pig Castle set 75826

IMG_0212

 

 

 

So thepig Angry Birds movie is out today- hurrah! and you can read our thoughts on it here– and there are of course a plethora of tie ins relating to it, not least of all an extensive range of LEGO sets, the entirety of which you can see here.

The boy got lucky, and was extraordinarily pleased, as you can see, when those nice chaps at LEGO sent him the King Pig Castle set to review. This is probably one of the first sets we’ve owned that doesn’t have a conventional mini-figure in it, so let’s see how the set went down… View Full Post