When did you last really properly just listen to music?

King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King

I love music. Properly love it. I’ve always had a wide and varied interest in different genres of music, as you may have read about already. I’ve been itching to get on the vinyl revival that’s been going on for a few years now but the cost has put me off. I don’t think splashing out £100 on an all in one turntable would make economic sense, so that brings us to separates. I’d want some upgrade path so I’d be looking at a couple of hundred pounds for a decent but budget amp (Pioneer or Marantz) and probably as much again for a turntable. So that’s £500 before I start looking at speakers and cabling, which is too much for a hobby purchase when we’ve got three children and a cat. My Amazon wishlist of HiFi parts is so old, the manufacturers have stopped making half the things on it. View Full Post

It’s time to reclaim World Book Day

Not great for dressing up inspiration

Sitting next to me on my desk is a multi-coloured fluffy monstrosity. It’s in a bag fortunately, for if it wasn’t I fear my both my sight and sanity. It is Fifi’s reward for reading an entire chapter book over half term. We love reading and try to encourage our kids to grow their love of it by bribery.

And yet as World Book Day approaches, my Twitter timeline is full of retailers hawking Disney Princess costumes, Darth Vader suits and comic book superhero costumes for the inevitable “school dressing up day” that seems to be what World Book Day has become. View Full Post

Review: LEGO Batman the Movie 70905 The Batmobile

The LEGO Batman Movie is out soon and the related LEGO sets have now hit the shelves. We loved the LEGO Movie, and I even went as far as to say it was a remake of the Matrix. But lets get real here, we all love Batman, have played the LEGO Batman videogames, already have tons of superhero LEGO and can’t blimmin’ wait for him to have his own movie!

Set 70905 isn’t our first Batmobile, the Jokerland set (76035) has one and we reviewed that a while ago. This Batmobile is a different beast though, it’s much larger and more of an involved build.

Fifi was tasked building the Batmobile while her older brother got to work on the larger and more complex Scuttler.

She found the build fun and liked the figures that were included with it although I admit the baddies will probably make more sense once we’ve seen the film (which is out on 10 Feb).

The end result is pretty awesome as Fifi can show you:

 

LEGO Batmobile

The LEGO Batmobile is available now from all good retailers, including Amazon, for an RRP of £54.99.

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

When authors return to a much loved setting many years later it can be as much a cause for alarm as celebration but Tad Williams is doing just that, 24 years after the hardback release of To Green Angel Tower, the final volume in his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. The Heart of What Was Lost is Tad Williams long awaited return to the world of Ostern Ard, and I’ve been itching to get my hands on the book since it was announced.

I can still remember reading the original series for the first time. Born in 1975, I turned 18 when To Green Angel Tower came out and remember feeling exceptionally excited for a multitude of reasons, not least just how young Tad Williams was- 36 at the time of publication in 1993- with a whole life time to write wonderful books ahead of him.

Although I have the entire Otherworld series in hardback (a mainstay of Christmas’ and birthdays from ’96 onwards) and absolutely adore The War of the Flowers, it was always the lack of any more Osten Ard that disappointed me slightly. I remember at the time Williams said if he did return to his fictional world, it would probably be for a collection of short stories but that never came about. View Full Post

The last twelve* books I read

As a new year starts, I see lots of people vowing to read plenty of books in 2017. I love reading but I always struggle with finding the time, so with that in mind, I’ve decided to list the last dozen I read in an attempt to motivate me to the next 12. That’s only one a month after all. There are a couple of series in there, so I’ve classed those as one each.

TitleComment
Leviathan Wakes by J CoreyThe first in a long series of near future science fiction, recently adapted for TV and it's great!
Night Without Stars by Peter F HamiltonThe final book in Hamilton's 2 parter that finishes off his Commonwealth books. Satisfactory ending.
The Gentleman Bastard sequence by Scott LynchThese are great, real sense of adventure and brilliant humour. Suffer a little if read back to back as a tad formulaic.
The Psychopath Test by John RonsonOne of two non fiction titles here, brilliantly funny but also great empathy from Ronson as he examines what a psychopath is.
The World of Ice and FireWell, GRRM isn't actually going to get a physical novel out any time soon is he?
Dancer's Lament Ian EsslemontAnother of the legion of Malazan spin off books, can't believe they're so well written given how many there are.
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad WilliamsIn my opinion, the best fantasy series ever, and I reread it as a new series is coming. WooHoo!
The Thing Explainer by Randall MunroeRandall Munroe, of xkcd.com fame, uses an incredibly limited vocab to explain very complicated stuff. It's great

*  the astute among you might currently be railing at how that list isn’t 12 books long. It contains some series. You can even debate how long one of them is- it was 3 books in hardback, 4 in paperback.

 

Got a PS4 for Christmas? Pick up some bargain games!

If you were lucky enough to get a Playstation 4 for your kids or have one bought for you this Christmas, you’re in for a treat! Console gaming is probably at a peak at the moment, in terms of value and the quality of games.

There is currently a sale online at the Playstation Store, with some real bargains. You can view that here but if you prefer physical copies of games (you can always trade them in later, which is a bonus), I’ve collated a few bargains below. I’ve included the Metacritic scores but if you’re in doubt, don’t forget most games have a demo you can download to try before you but. These are current as of the day of publication but I can’t vouch for how long they’ll stay at these prices!

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Review: Philips ADR810 dashcam

Dashcams are never far from being in the press, even if it is by association. Just google “crash for cash” and you’ll see how depressing prevalent this new cottage industry is. I’ve even heard from a friend of an instance he was involved in where a car reversed into him in traffic and then claimed he drove in to the back of him. All in the name of a whiplash claim.

This is where dashcams generally and in this instance, specifically the Philips ADR810, come in handy. They plug in to the lighter for battery and fix on to the windscreen to record a wide angled (think GoPro style) record of whats going on in front of your car. Anyone trying anything unfair will be captured on camera. Philips kindly sent me one to review and keep afterwards. If you’ve read my view on reviews, you’ll know as a hobby blogger I tend to be very picky on what I choose to review as my time is finite, so anything that I do tend to review is usually pretty good as I will have done my homework before saying yesView Full Post

LEGO and stroke recovery

A while ago I wrote a couple of posts about things you could do with Lego that defied the normal building convention. I didn’t anticipate at the time that there would be an important additional use that I’d be writing about from a rather closer to home point of view.

Earlier this year my friend Mat had a stroke. He’s only in his mid 30’s and although I don’t think he’d be cross if I said the only athelete he particularly resembled would be a mid 80’s era soviet female shot putter (especially now he has a beard), he is full of energy and enthusiasm and a genuinely nice bloke to hang out with and talk geek to.

Mat loves his comics, superhero movies and sci-fi. When I was invited to an advance screening of Ant-Man with Fifi, I managed to bag an extra ticket for Mat and he more fun than every single other person in that cinema.

Mat was sent home from the GP with symptoms that should have demanded immediate attention, and if you want to know more about what to look for, there is a great list of what to look for HERE. Mat spent a long time in hospital and even longer having physio. In fact he is only now beginning a phased reintroduction to work.

Mat had one of the classic stroke effects in that he lost the feeling and mobility/dexterity in his left arm. If you watch Andrew Marr on the television on a Sunday morning, you may notice that he picks up and moves his left arm around a lot, he has limited mobility in it after a massive stroke a few years ago.

Mat’s stroke wasn’t as severe as Marr’s but he had literally no feeling in his left arm in the immediate aftermath of his stroke and it’s only recently begun coming back. Imagine you’ve had the worst nights sleep ever and you’ve slept on your arm and got pins and needles. Imagine that goes on for months. It’s not pleasant is it?

A lot of Mat’s physio has been based around learning how to use his arm and hand again and building up the dexterity and strength in it. Lego is uniquely suited for this as it requires hand to eye coordination as well as concentration. I am on the Lego blogger panel and while our kids (and me) absolutely love building Lego, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help someone who genuinely needed it, so I contacted Lego and explained the situation and theraputic use of Lego. They kindly sent Mat a set to use in his recovery:

The photo is a bit wobbly; Mat has just had a stroke!

Mat is now back at work and although he’s not back to his old self, he is on the (long) road to recovery.

Cheers Lego, and well done Mat, it’s been a humbling experience seeing how well you’ve coped, I know I wouldn’t have been anywhere as brave as you!

Overthinking about breathing

I was half awake in the middle of the night the other day when I started down a train of thought that I haven’t had in many years. It was of course a big mistake.

Breathing.

Initially I as I sucked air in through my nose, I thought, “Eh.This isn’t right. My nose feels like it’s sucking air in and out but it’s just a passage.”

I then had a moments blind panic about how I actually breathe. I was so asleep I couldn’t remember how the mechanism works. As panic woke me up a bit I remembered something about the diaphragm and other muscles and I calmed down a bit.

I was properly awake now though and as I lay there, I decided to concentrate really hard and see if I could feel my intercostal muscles tensing and relaxing to enable me to breathe. Nope, all I could feel was the air whistling in and out of my nose.

I briefly panicked again.

What if my whole breathing mechanism was broken? What if my nose was the only thing keeping me alive by somehow sucking air in and out? As I tried to focus on where the breathing was happening, it seemed like the only part of me that was vaguely interested was my nose. Oh God, I’m going to die, I thought glumly.

Always one to share such thoughts I asked Claire if she was awake. “Mmmm?” was her emphatic reply. Undaunted, I continued. “You known when you think about breathing, but you can’t actually feel the muscles that are doing it? Weird isn’t it?” I tentatively asked.

Big mistake.

Five minutes later we were both lying there in bed, overthinking our breathing. Was I breathing too shallow now, hang on am I hyperventilating now? How long long should I hold a breath before I release it? Am I feeling light headed from oxygen deprivation or am I just tired?

Breathing is one of those things that you just do and it doesn’t work as well if you consciously think about what you’re doing.

A rainy dark drive at night

On Friday night I was driving over to the cinema in Welwyn Garden City to see Allied with my father in law. (Great film by the way!) It was a dark and wet evening and thanks to the Bluetooth audio in my new car, I was listening to Use Your Illusion I by Guns ‘n’ Roses via Spotify. It’s funny, I didn’t buy any of the later Guns ‘n’ Roses albums, the pair of Use Your Illusion albums were my last GnR purchases. I’ve bought Slash’s Snake Pitt, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds and various other post GnR output but for me the Use Your Illusion albums were the end of the road. View Full Post