Oooh, we’re moving now

Last year we explored the possibility of having an enormo extension. It would have been a sight to behold, the aim of which was to give Ned a bigger (wider) bedroom and us an en-suite. At any time either of us want to go to the loo, their appears to be a child skidding the bowl.

As it turned out, we encountered a classic Catch-22 situation in so far as we could either afford the extension or the moving out for the six months that the build would last but not both. It was a blow for me because I was firmly of the opinion that an extension made better financial sense than paying solicitors fees, estate agents fees, and stamp duty to only find that the new place isn’t quite right and needs redecorating, a new bathroom, boiler and kitchen.

Still necessity is the mother of invention and we’re now looking at moving again but this time we’re not solely looking at houses, we’re also looking at the land that they’re sitting on. With plenty of reports in the news about issues with new build houses, the idea of knocking down a perfectly suitable house and building your own might seem odd but it isn’t really. Quality issues stem from the build ’em quick, build ’em cheap mass builders and a lot of older homes aren’t necessarily configured to suit a 21st century style of living. Starting again from scratch isn’t proportionately more expensive than building an extension either.

One of the things that stops being self building is the fear of something going wrong but if you have proper home warranty insurance from someone like CRL, you’ll be covered if the thing falls in or the cellar collapses or something.

In terms of self builds (the name is a bit misleading as I’m certainly not going to be running a line of bricks any time soon), as well as tapping people up for reputable local builders, we’re also looking into the prefab stuff. We’re lucky that I happen to know someone who works at BRE who has pointed us at some cool companies like Huf Haus.

Whichever route we go though, we’re now definitely looking at shifting the family to pastures new as we’ve just had an offer on the place which is pretty close to our asking price. Exciting times!

My next DIY project is likely to be a little more involved

Of course in an ideal world I’d be doing something like the inimitable Colin Furze and building a secret bunker in my garden. But since my greatest achievement to date has involved getting the toy cars lined up on my littlest’s wallpaper, I know not to push it too far. My skills lie elsewhere. I’ve been told. Presumably by someone who knows.

Anyway, I have managed a few fairly major tasks- I’ve refitted and tiled a bathroom, rebuilt a summer house from an old concrete shed, done my own DIY security camera project and even fitted an IKEA kitchen. Yes, the majority of this was all done before I had dodgy knees and three small children getting underfoot but in principle, I’m still up for a bit of a challenge.

We’re at that stage where we’re looking to either move and take on a project or do something fairly radical internally. Either way, it’s going to involve the removal of some non load bearing walls. Our entire top floor is pretty much non load bearing in terms of the internal walls- the roof is supported on the external brick walls, with some obvious gaps between the rafters and the internal walls at the top once you prod the plaster away. We’ve been looking at turning the box room into an ensuite & bathroom and moving it (the fourth bedroom) to the current bathroom. I’ll need an upgrade on my 5lb lump hammer and also a pair of sturdy comfortable safety shoes to stop brick and breeze block clobbering my delicate toes. The lump hammer I can get most anywhere but the chap we had in the office to do our PAT testing recently pointed me towards Engelbert- Strauss for the safety shoes. I’m a size 12 so it’s hard enough to get normal shows  in store in my size, let alone specialised footwear. The idea of being able to buy them online is appealing.

We’re fortunate enough that in St Albans we have the first two pilot Bunnings stores in the country. Bunnings are the brand that bought out the ailing Homebase and are turning them into proper DIY sheds- when I re-felted our sheds roof the other day I had about 5 different types of roof felt to choose from, which is something even the huge B&Q in Stevenage can’t boast.

I’m fortunate as our next door neighbour has already done roughly what we anticipate doing, so I can learn from what he’s done and even ask him if there is anything he would have done differently. Apparently there is some structural steel in a very inopportune place that’s caused him a bit of a headache, so I’ll have the benefit of not being surprised by that if we do stay put.

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp by Olaf Falafel

Our five year old Ned has discovered flatulence in a big way. And by that I mean both the act of partaking in it’s creation and also the act of laughing hysterically at it. The joys of being five.

I am to blame for Ned’s infatuation with flatulence a little because I introduced him to the whole “pull my finger” thing. You live and learn.

So when wifey was offered the chance to review Old MacDonald Heard a Parp, a farty interpretation of the old nursery rhyme, I thought I better pick the book up and do my own review with Ned. We’re more tuned in to the themes of the book really.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s framed around the nursery rhyme with old MacDonald attempting to guess which of his animals made the parp in the first instance. I won’t give away the final pay off but I will say it’s enormously satisfying. The art work reminds me of Axel Scheffler (sort of Super Worm era), which is no bad thing and it’s also tucked full of great little touches that make it bearable for an adult too- for example the horse has a Jurassic Pork poster and another poster that’s a spoof on Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover up in his stall).

Of course the proof in the pudding comes from the kids and honestly, Ned was a complete hysterical mess after our first read through. The book even has instructional bits on how to make raspberry sounds, which added to the tears in the eyes, snotty laughing and out of breath mess he became.

Old MacDonald Heard a Parp is out now to buy, and is published by Harper Collins with an RRP of £6.99.

Why I’d love to become a VW Trailblazer

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles have celebrated the launch of their 2017 Amarok pick-up in a truly genius way, launching the official #VWTrailblazers challenge. It’s been a long time since anyone has personally referred to me as a trail blazer, but I’m certainly envious of anyone who got to give this thrilling ride a go.

Set in the depths of the Lake District, two lucky teams were recently invited to experience an off-road adventure like no other. There’s Chris and his father-in-law Piers, alongside couple Neil and Katie. With set challenges that aim to test the power, precision, navigation and technical ability of the Amarok, even as a viewer I can’t help but get pulled in by the action and have ended up longing to take the truck for a spin myself.

I’m in no position to put down a large sum of money on a car that is purely for enjoyment, but what draws me most towards the Amarok is its potential to be so much more than just an off-road vehicle. Sure, it has the power and size needed to rip through difficult terrain with ease, but it would no doubt look pretty good cruising down the M25, too.

The magic for me is that the Amarok makes being a trail blazer accessible to all, wherever in the world you are. It’s a smart looking vehicle that radiates a sense of speed and strength, yet features such as the large, in-car screen and the impressive sound system are sure to make it a hit with the whole family. It would certainly turn heads being driven down quiet country roads, but surely the very definition of a trail blazer is not being afraid to stand out from the crowd?

What do you think of the 2017 Amarok? Will you be taking it for a spin?

Tips to Get Your Garden Ready for Summer

Now summer is fast approaching, it’s time to start preparing your garden for playing and long afternoons relaxing and entertaining friends. Winter can be harsh on your garden, leaving your furniture in poor condition, lawn dull and lifeless, and plants in need of some love and attention. If you’ve got children, your garden is sure to get a lot of use over the coming months. So, this is the perfect time to make sure it looks great and is safe for the whole family to enjoy. If your garden is in poor condition and the task seems overwhelming, find a tradesmen who can help with some of the bigger jobs.

Tidy

Start off by giving it a good tidy. Take up any plants that can’t be salvaged, remove any rubbish or unwanted items, and make sure any furniture is where you want it. Doing this first allows you to see what needs doing and make a plan.

Clean

Next, give everything a good clean. Consider hiring a jet wash or some other equipment to help with any hard to clean areas like the patio. Clean your fences and furniture, too. Sand them down if they need it. Winter often leads to a build-up of weeds, lichen, and excess moisture, which not only looks unsightly it can also be full of germs and bacteria so giving everything a thorough clean, is essential.

Repair

Assess any damage. Some of your fencing and furniture might need repairing or replacing. You should also service and clean your barbeque if you have one, so you’re not disappointed when it comes time to use it.

Plant

Now you’ve removed any dead plants, it’s time to start looking after what’s left and planting new flowers. Bright colours look fantastic in spring and often have a pleasing gentle aroma. If you’ve got children running around you might want to go for flowers and plants that are easy to look after and can withstand a lot of damage.

Lawn

After a long winter, full of wind and rain, your lawn is going to need some TLC. Start feeding and looking after it as soon as you can. If it’s in reasonable condition, one feed a week should get it back to its best. In other cases, a more intensive treatment plan might be needed.

Paint and Protect

Painting your fencing and furniture is a great way to make it look new without the large expense. Why not be bold and go for a different colour? Whatever you decide, be sure to protect and weatherproof it when you’re done.

Have Fun

Gardens are meant to be fun. Get the whole family out there cleaning and gardening together. Make it a fun adventure. Kids love getting dirty and will enjoy feeling involved. Try to include some outdoor toys and activities in your finished garden. Perhaps a kid’s zone if you want to keep a relaxing space for yourself. Don’t worry about spending lots of money on expensive equipment as they quickly outgrow it anyway. Children love the responsibility of growing things themselves, so give them a mini garden and watch as they enjoy the rewards of seeing their plants and flowers grow and change.

Try to get the kids involved as much as you can too. They’ll love helping you make decisions and getting dirty.

Classic summer looks to take you from pool to dinner

With less layering to consider and warmer temperatures to contend with, summer style can be a challenge for some of us at the best of times. Luckily, there are a fair few go-to looks that are as timeless as they are comfortable – well worth considering for your next big break or family escape.

As store shelves begin to heave with the promise of thinner fabrics and brighter hues, it’s clear that the onset of summer is upon us. Whatever your plans may be, you’re going to want to keep your trademark style while you’re at it, from the summer suit to the comfy threads you’re kicking back under the sun in. Take a few of our pointers on board as you decide how best to make that happen.

Light and airy

This is probably the first image that springs to mind when you think of any male summer style. The pale blue or crisp white short-sleeved shirt, the light chinos and the comfortable shoes have stayed on everyone’s radar for a reason. It’s simple, it’s a clean fit for your physique and it’s versatile enough that you can pair it with your classic brown leather bag, your statement belt or a dapper hat.

That said, you’re going to find that summer colours for gents during 2017 factor in some more vibrant hues. Stark plum purples, rich reds and dazzling yellows have already made their presence known on runway shows by leading global fashion houses.

 

Bohemian brilliance

You might think of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s style as pretty smart, particularly given he won his role in Inception on the basis of his natural fondness for waistcoats. But he’s definitely onto something, especially as far as a good summer look is concerned. You might only pair your waistcoat with your formal wear, but you’re only getting half the story if you do.

With a breezy shirt – pattern optional – and a laidback attitude to buttoning it up, the waistcoat can become a gateway to a bohemian look that doesn’t lean too hard on the hippie or tortured artist sides. Pair with a scarf of a light fabric, a dark fedora hat or, of course, over a horizontally striped tee for a timeless, evocative look.

Island life

Maritime cues are looking to make something of a comeback this year. Of course, that means stripes are as much a part of male fashion as ever, yet it can go a little further beyond anchor motifs and neckerchiefs.

That Californian surfer look is always a charmer. Styles are easy to mix and match so you can be as downtempo or as daring as you like. Team a classic straw fedora with a pair of men’s swim shorts to complete the look in a more contemporary way – there are a pair of vibrant blue ones from the Tu swim shop this year that have really caught my eye.

The wildcard

If you’re really looking to make a statement, 2017 is going to make that nice and easy. We already touched on how vibrant colours are coming into style, and you might have twigged that 90’s influences are running under a lot of what lead designers around the world are putting out.

However, if you’re really looking to turn heads, get some punkish flair going in your wardrobe. The look is notably swinging back into vogue and its influence is going to be felt across the board. How far into this particular Pandora’s Box you choose to delve is, of course, a matter of personal preference, but there’s some surprising versatility to be had. Brash plaid shirts flecked with button-badges, muscle shirts accented with zips and those classic Americana Converse-style trainers are all ways you can bring some edge to your ensemble.
What’s your view on the most timeless go-to summer menswear? How do you distinguish your look when the heat is on?

The ultimate summer holiday bucket list: UK edition

Those six weeks of the summer holiday can be daunting when you’re facing down an empty calendar. When you’ve got three kids with three very different personalities, finding an activity that suits the whole family can be even more of a feat. Luckily the UK is bursting with activities fit for kids, ones that’ll get them outdoors, learning or just having a bit of unadulterated fun.

To make sure you don’t miss any of the UK’s best family-friendly activities, I’ve whipped up the ultimate summer holiday bucket list that you and the kids will want to get cracking on right away.

Go Ape

Anything that gets the family outdoors and playing in nature, has my interest. Go Ape is celebrating its 15th birthday this year, which means they must be doing something right – there are more than 30 Go Ape locations spread across the UK, too. Depending on which one you visit, there’s everything from off-roading Segways to ziplines and high-flying rope courses – the likes of which will enable you to set your inner primate free.

Harry Potter Studios

Set off on a Warner Bros Studio Tour and you’re entering Harry Potter-palooza, where magic comes to life. There’s the chance to spot original props and sets like Diagon Alley and mini mock-ups of Hogwarts straight from the films, all in one massive warehouse. This summer, Warner Bros even has a new exhibit featuring Wizarding Wardrobes, where you can see robes, cloaks and more made famous by The Boy Who Lived and his wizarding pals.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre

The LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Manchester is part museum, part theme park and part creative, set-your-mind-free studio. You get the picture. There’s even a 4D cinema and a new Ninjago exhibit, where the kids can pick up a few tips on how to polish their ninja skills.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle is the perfect place to disguise a history lesson with fun activities. The medieval castle is choc-a-bloc with historical activities, including a Horrible Histories Maze that takes you backwards and forwards through time. Enjoy jousting tournaments and animal shows, while they’re even adding a War of the Roses live show to the ranks this summer.

The Natural History Museum

London’s Natural History Museum isn’t your average museum – it’s more like a kids’ dream. Between the dinosaurs and the tropical butterfly house, there’s also a science discovery centre where kids can get behind the microscope and do a little hands-on science for themselves. If you really want to be Dad of the Year, you can even book a sleepover in the gallery for kids aged 7 to 11.

Bewilderwood

Bewilderwood isn’t your average theme park, and that’s why I love it. The magical forest here is where families can climb up to treehouses and take the zipline back down, take a boat ride through the marshy swamps or listen to a bit of storytelling. It’s set in the Norfolk Broads, too, which is a beautiful landscape in its own rite, so two birds, one stone, I say.

Shrek’s Adventure

This one’s brand new to London and based on the family-fun Shrek films that are just as much fun for parents as they are for kids. Shrek’s Adventure is a totally new adventure experience, as far as I can tell. You board a ‘DreamWorks Tours’ bus and embark on a 4D ride through 10 live shows straight from the Shrek universe, accompanied by the wise-cracking Donkey, of course.

Chester Zoo

To close out my UK summer bucket list, I had to include what’s widely recognised as the best zoo in England. Chester Zoo is not only massive, but it’s also a place where the animals have room to roam. There are gorillas and giraffes, elephants and sloths and everything in between. Beginning this summer, Chester Zoo will also have added on its Islands experience, where visitors can explore six tropical environments and learn about conservation.

On your marks, get set, tick away! What’s on your summer holiday bucket list?

 

Learning to Invest Online – a Winner for Your Finances and Your Family

Everyone wants to boost their income, whether it is for short-term spending like holidays or for long-term revenue such as retirement. There are plenty of options when it comes to increasing your wealth. However, it is crucial to look not only at the risks and rewards but also at the level of time-commitment involved. This can be particularly important for parents, as while growing money is essential for financial security, it should not come at the cost of sacrificing time with your family. Here we will take a look at some of the most popular ways to boost income and how they stack up in terms of initial cost and time-commitment.

 

Investing in property

A perennial investment option is property. Although there continues to be caution in the market following the global economic crisis, bricks and mortar remain a reliable method of growing money. Common property investment types include buying to let and renovation projects with the objective of resale. Unfortunately, property investment requires a lump sum of cash up front, mortgage eligibility and time. For buy-to-let investments, money has to be reinvested for upkeep and time is needed for the administrative aspects of being a landlord. There may also be periods without income between tenancies. You’ll need to be available to answer tenants’ queries, arrange maintenance and vet new tenants. Although letting agents remove much of this time-commitment, their costs eat into your profits. With renovation projects, thorough research is necessary to ensure returns are viable. You’ll need to investigate local property prices not only within the region of potential properties but also in the particular streets on which vacant houses lie. Cash and time are essential components as you will need money for the property purchase and the renovations upfront. Even with the most stringent planning, renovation projects frequently exceed costings and scheduled timescales. Due to the outlay and time constraints of property investment, it might not be a savvy way to boost income when you have a family.

 

Running a small business

People with entrepreneurial drive have the potential to grow their money by running a small business. Selling wares or services is a great way to utilise personal talents alongside a full-time job. There are numerous options for the type of small business you could run. You could sell products online or at physical outlets. Products could be items you have made yourself or those which you have purchased for less than retail price. A small business selling wares is a good choice if you’re competent at sales and marketing and have a bit of spare space in your home or garage for storing stock. If you have a trade background you could run a business offering services like plumbing or provide more generalised help as a handyman. For those with an interest in sport or fitness, becoming a personal trainer could be an option. If you’ve got corporate experience you could sell your services in fields such as accountancy, business management or even life coaching. Sadly, there’s no escaping the huge time-commitment a small business demands. A successful enterprise can be established on a relatively frugal initial budget, but the time and dedication needed will likely infringe on family life too much to make it a satisfactory option.

 

Learning to invest online

Learning to invest online has become a popular way of boosting income without sacrificing family-time. If you are unfamiliar with terminology and how it works, investing in the financial markets may seem like a daunting way of growing money. However, it is really easy to learn and this type of investment can provide the highest returns in the shortest amount of time. You don’t need to invest a lot and some forms of online trading, like spread betting, are even tax-free. Assuming that investing online is not your only source of income, the profits you make through spread betting are exempt from Capital Gains Tax, Stamp Duty and commissions. There are lots of resources on the Internet which can teach you the basics, and the best places to learn how to invest online are the financial dealers themselves. These companies facilitate online trading and are fully regulated. As such they offer some of the best learning resources, getting you familiar with all the terminology and different ways to invest. For example, CMC Markets has guides to walk you through areas like spread bet

ting, CFD trading and forex trading and offers a free demo account so you can practice what you’ve learned with virtual funds. Once you have learned how to invest online, you are able to manage the process from your computer or mobile phone, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice time with your family.

Review: Honda Civic Tourer 1.6 DTEC

I’ve had my Civic Tourer three months now, so when I read this review in the Guardian was a highly entertaining read! The Guardian is, in my humble opinion, almost completely wrong in it’s assessment of the car. Although I’m writing a review of the Civic Tourer, I’d like to make it clear that this isn’t facilitated in any way by Honda, they’re involvement only went as far as building the thing.

Our old family car was given a few months to live. It was a 53 plate 1.6 Vauxhall Zafira that we bought with 31,000 miles on the clock, added a further 67,000 miles to and were told that the crankshaft needed replacing, which given the age of the car, probably wasn’t worthwhile. View Full Post

Fun ways to teach your kids DIY

Part of the pleasure of having kids is seeing them learn and grow, and the bags of fun that they have along the way. Spending time with your kids to experience this is an essential part of parenthood, and there is no reason why you can’t combine seeing your kids learn and develop with the mundane household tasks that need to be regularly carried out.

Teaching your kids how to do DIY while you go about your job of taking care of the family home is an excellent way of educating your children. Many life skills are contained in DIY tasks, and kids can learn about a great number of topics, ranging from counting and measuring to the important safety precautions that adults take without thinking twice.

These are some of the DIY tasks that you can use to teach your kids.

Painting a room

An easy task and an enjoyable one, this could be a good place to start teaching kids the value of taking a DIY approach to home improvement. Leave your kids to fill in the large areas needing painting while you concentrate on the delicate finishing. The pleasure of seeing a fresh and complete new room should help your kids to develop a desire for DIY.

Using a bubble level

This is a fun device to use, and it’s safe to play with even for young children. You can teach your kids how to make surfaces level and straighten artwork easily by means of a bubble level, while also giving them a casual physics lesson if you feel up to the task.

Pulling weeds

An unkempt and overgrown garden is unattractive, so teaching your kids how to take care of a garden is an excellent life lesson. Instead of simply pulling off the tops of weeds, show your kids how weeds should be removed by the roots. If they are old enough, you can also show them how to apply weed killer in areas where plants are not supposed to grow.

Hammering and removing nails

Every homeowner needs to fix something to the wall every now and again, and the earlier that your kids learn to do so, the better. Teach them how to carefully and patiently remove existing nails appropriately with the back end of a hammer, and if they are strong enough, help them to tap in a nail safely and patiently.

Holding a ladder

DIY safety is very important, and correctly using a ladder is a key point here. When completing tasks that involve the use of a ladder, you should show your kids how a ladder is correctly and safely positioned. Asking them to hold it in place can help them to feel that they are contributing to the success of the task.

 

Installing window shutters

 

For a lesson in planning a project, show your kids all the steps involved in buying and installing wooden window shutters. Kids can learn how to measure the space where something is due to be installed, how to purchase items of the correct size, and how to drill holes correctly to fix items in their desired places.

 

Wiring a plug

This is another common DIY task that is simple but needs to be taken on with great care. Teaching your kids to wire a plug correctly from an early age will make sure that they never get it wrong as an adult. It will also teach them a sense of respect for the dangers of electricity, which to young minds can be an invisible force.

Building a PC

If you’re good with technology, you might want to show your kids how to build a computer from scratch so that they get a good idea of how the individual components of a computer fit together. It will also teach them how to handle delicate equipment safely and how to make sure that all the necessary elements for a finished project is in place.

Clearly, you can bring your kids along for the experience while you complete your DIY tasks. Another excellent way of engaging younger children is to buy child-size tools. Though they may not serve any practical purpose, these toy tools are great fun and can make your kids feel more comfortable handling the real tools when they are older. Remember that part of the reason for getting your kids involved in DIY from a young age is to ensure that they are as good, or even better than you, at keeping their future homes in excellent shape.