Oct 272014

A portable cylindrical phone charger and cable.

If there’s one gripe I have with smartphones, it’s their short battery life, coupled with their infuriating propensity to run out just as you’ve thought of something downright hilarious to say on Twitter. Mine seems to take forever to charge via a socket these days too – I spent most of BritMums Live stood at the back of the main hall looking like a right Billy No Mates next to the charger table. Something had to be done and here’s the answer… the RavPower Luster Mini 3000mAh portable charger.

The pocket-sized charger – which, I’m reliably informed, is roughly the size of a lipstick – comes with a micro USB cable and user guide. Using it is dead simple; just plug the standard USB end of the wire into your laptop, the micro USB in the charger and press the on button to charge it. An LED light indicates the battery level – Green indicates 80-100%, blue 50-79% and red 20-49%. When the charge drops below 20%, the red LED blinks.

When your phone runs out of juice, reverse the cable, press the same button and hey presto. It charged my Samsung Galaxy S3 from almost dead to full charge in two hours – this is much faster than my standard charger manages – and worked a treat on Kate’s HTC Desire too. The charger is compatible with several Android and Apple devices – you can find a full list via the link at the bottom of the page.

It’s all very intuitive and I only needed to read the instructions to check a couple of facts for this review. It definitely ticks the ‘portable’ box too – weighing in at under 3oz and in a handy shape for any bag or coat pocket, I can’t see anyone having a problem taking it with them even if they’re travelling light. For the style conscious out there, it’s available in a number of colours. As you can see, I opted for black as it goes with everything. I know, I’m something of a fashion expert… anyway, I’m very happy to recommend it and will be taking it everywhere from now on.

The RavPower Luster Mini 3000mAh portable charger has an RRP of £34.99 but is currently available for a knockdown price of £6.99 on Amazon.

Oct 222014
Close-up image of a dart board with a dart in the bullseye

Yet another visual metaphor: yesterday

I had to come up with some objectives for the next quarter of the year at work recently. They’re a bit of a faff and always sound a little too strategic and impersonal for my liking, but I do see the point hidden behind all the business jargon and am well versed in outlining the achievements required of me and the KPIs – Key Performance Indicators, just in case you haven’t had the pleasure – that prove I’ve more or less done what I said I would.

It struck me that they’re a bit like the reward charts that all parents use with varying degrees of success, so decided to write some KPIs for kids. Why should us adults have all the fun, eh? My two have until the end of the year to nail this lot – otherwise the fat, jolly beardy chap will be getting a call!

Objective: Diversify strategy relating to sustenance at all key points in the working day.
KPI: Eat something other than fish fingers and tinned spaghetti.

Objective: Hone problem solving skills, avoiding the need for conflict resolution measures.
KPI: Stop fighting with your brother.

Objective: Demonstrate improved ability to work on your own initiative, particularly during antisocial hours.
KPI: Stay asleep in your own bed. Please!

Objective: Regularly liaise with key stakeholders and develop strong working relationships.
KPI: Play nicely with the other children at pre school.

Objective: Successfully deliver change management projects.
KPI: Get through the first term of school without a meltdown.

Objective: Become a brand champion and ensure that house style is adhered to.
KPI: Do what your mother and I tell you!

Objective: Observe the open-door policy in operation in the workplace.
KPI: Stop slamming the bloody doors!

Objective: Take a share of the responsibility for ensuring the workplace meets health and safety standards.
KPI: Tidy away your toys without needing to be asked 47 times and stop leaving them on the stairs!

Objective: Attend all team meetings and maintain punctuality.
KPI: Join the rest of the family at the dinner table – NOW!

Objective: Respect workplace dress code, ensuring you are appropriately attired at all times.
KPI: Stop undressing by the window.

What would your KPIs for your kids be?

Oct 142014

A game comprising a box, two decks of cards, a die and a timer.

I’ve always had a bit of a fascination for accents and, having a bit of a boring flat southern one myself, enjoy attempting to speak with a regional twang. My family are the same – as my dad is a linguist, we often find ourselves having conversations in different dialects. It passes the time now and then. If ever there were a game made for us, then, this is it. Accentuate is a simple after-dinner style offering that can easily be played around the table without need to tidy away the wine and cheese – bonus!

Thought up by Scousers, designed by Mancs, Made by the Cornish and promoted by Cockneys, Accentuate is a celebration of accents that should soon have everyone laughing. Inside the box are two sets of cards – one deck of quotations and another of the accents that players have to read them out in – as well as a die and timer.

One card with a quote and another displaying an accent.

Players need to start by rolling the die to discover their play options – swap, pass, play or all – before reading out a quotation in their own normal voice. They then have 30 seconds in which to repeat it as many times as they want in the given accent before their team – or everyone if ‘all’ has been rolled – guesses. You can play as many rounds as you like and the team with the most points at the end is the winner.

There are 30 regional and international accents – including Geordie, Cornish, Japanese and French – so there’s at least a few that everyone could make a passable effort at. Or end up feeling awkward and embarrassed. I’m acutely aware that I won’t get away with doing this review without making a video, so I’ll let you decide how I fared…

Accentuate has an RRP of £19.99 and you can order yours on the Accentuate website.

Oct 062014
A cat attacking a television as a football video game is being played.

One nil to the kitten…

It struck me the other day that I’ve posted a couple of pictures of the newest addition to our family on here but haven’t written about her yet. Very remiss of me, especially as I think she’s going to  inspire a number of posts with the shenanigans she gets up to – meet our new kitten, She-Ra!

She’s been with us for about a month now and life hasn’t been quite the same since. The things that Xander can’t reach to damage are now all in danger – the upper parts of the curtains in particular – it’s unwise to walk around barefoot and there is now a tray of poo in the corner.

Kate and I both grew up with cats and met while we were working for Cats Protection, so were always likely to get one at some point. We weren’t planning on adding a four-legged friend to the family quite yet though – that’s plans for you! Our neighbour’s cat had a litter of kittens and you can guess the rest. She’s named after the 1980s cartoon character – Kate and I thought it was funny while under the influence and it kind of stuck.

She’s settled in very well and is very tolerant of Dylan and Xander who are still very excited to have her living with us. It’s bringing out their caring sides – now and then – and that’s great to see. Kate is her favourite – well, she’s the one who feeds her most – and despite the fact that she’s showing some alarmingly early signs of becoming a crazy cat lady by insisting we’re her ‘Mummy and Daddy’, all is well. Well almost.

You see, She-Ra seems to have been sent to punish me. I’m not sure what for as I’m a kind and nurturing owner – note: owner, not father – and, having written so much about the subject at said charity, know loads about how to make cats feel welcome in new surroundings. I let her do her own thing when she wants to be left alone, I make a fuss of her when she’s seeking my attention and carefully stop her doing stupid things that would compromise some of the fabled nine lives. But she doesn’t let me enjoy my hobbies…

If I try to write blog posts, she walks all over the keyboard and attacks the mouse – I suppose I can’t blame her for the latter though. If I have the temerity to watch the football, she gets up in front of the telly and attacks any parts of the screen in which there’s movement. Then there’s the ultimate insult… my sacred Xbox time. I just got myself FIFA15 and was really looking forward to playing it. Thinking she’d go for it like the real football on the idiot box, I spent ages messing about with my line-up, tactics and transfers. She nodded off. Marvellous. I turned the volume right down and started my first match. Within 30 seconds, she was in her usual place, bopping the screen and causing me to fall to an embarrassing debut defeat to weaker opposition.

Let the battle of man Vs kitten commence!

Sep 262014

A pot of yoghurt with plain packaging

There’s something I’ve got to get off my chest. It’s very much a first world problem, but one that I think many other parents experience on a daily basis nonetheless. I’m sick of food packaging that has cartoon characters on. There’s a direct correlation between the presence of some fictional person/talking animal and an extended mealtime plus subsequent tears before bedtime. And, yes, the tears are often mine.

Now before I go on, I realise that there are plenty of foodstuffs that haven’t been plastered with cartoons, but the ones we get are usually on multi-buy discounts and we’re on a budget. Right, I’m free to continue venting my spleen… Yoghurts are the biggest culprits. My kids seem to base their choices on who is on the pot rather than the flavour inside and, of course, they always want the same one. It’s not as if the characters in question are at all representative of what they can expect to be eating – for example, Peppa Pig is strawberry when she should clearly be bacon.

Then there are the ones that come in tubes. Not only do they result in the grim situation where you have to help your child finish them and inevitably get a combination of spit and yoghurt dribbled on your hands, they’re also a complete lottery. There’s always a random number of each character in every box. They often come in odd numbers too – how is that helpful with two children? It’s almost as if the executives of these yoghurty empires were once sat in their offices and one of them said “You know what would really upset parents? An odd number and only one of the lead character in each pack. Bwa, ha, haaaa!”

Kate got the boys some boxes of raisins with Disney characters on them for their packed lunches recently. I really don’t like Disney, but they were cheaper than the other options so it was fair enough. Except for the fact that they won’t eat the ones with Minnie Mouse on – simply because she’s not either her fella or his dog. Now, every time I open the cupboard to get stuff for my packed lunch, I’m greeted with five or six copies of her stupid face looking at me. I’m seriously contemplating putting a mousetrap in there to see what happens. Again, there’s the issue of the product inside not having anything to do with the character on the front. Although raisins may look like rodent faeces, they’re actually grapes that could have gone to much better use.

To balance this out a bit, I’m going to concede that there’s at least one positive example of things for young children being festooned with images of their favourite cartoon characters. The nappies that Xander has at the moment have Dora the Explorer and Diego on them – and I can’t think of a better use for images of those two. Try saying that two ways, Dora!

Sep 152014
Lots of books

Some books: yesterday

I was tagged in this meme on Facebook recently by one of my good mates from university and, as I’ve hardly read any books since those days – which were more years ago than I care to remember now – thought I ought to write a post about it. Especially as my degree was in English Literature; I feel I owe the subject something having neglected to read much since those happy days. So here, without further ado, are ten books that have stayed with me…

Dogger by Shirley Hughes
It’s a shame that this book’s title has some rather different connotations now! It was my favourite story as a young lad and really captured the emotion of losing a much-loved toy and the joy of having it returned. I lost my favourite toy – also a dog, as it happens – on a couple of occasions and it really resonated with me.

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Everyone loves an underdog – or underfox – story and I was enchanted by this one. It’s a classic tale of the little man taking one back and, of course, has Roald Dahl’s trademark dark edge which I think is vitally important in children’s literature. They need to know that there’s danger out there – and that it’s okay to challenge the greed and corruption of supposed authority figures.

Nicobobinus  by Terry Jones
Another one from my childhood that I’m really looking forward to reading to Dylan and Xander. A captivating adventure with plenty of mild peril and fantastic characters. It’s written with great affection for the main protagonists and with the kind of humour you’d expect from one of the Monty Python team.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Yes, there’s probably something very wrong with me, but this is an amazing book about the brutality that mankind is sadly capable of and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a fascinating premise and I remember being intrigued by the way Golding’s initial description of the idyllic surroundings that form its backdrop hints at the horror that is to come.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I’m counting the entire trilogy of five as one here. They’re all brilliant books that are as much a celebration of whimsy as they are entertaining, laugh-out-loud stories. For me to persevere with a whole series of novels says a lot about it. The likes of Red Dwarf owe it a massive debt of gratitude too.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
I’m sure Orwell’s allegory would be on a lot of people’s lists, so no prizes for originality there, but I read this when I was very young and understood what he was getting at, which I think shows one of its great strengths. It helped years later when I was interviewing Alexei Sayle about being a cat owner. We deviated from the questions about felines into a much-more-interesting conversation about communism and what the cat in the story represents.

The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht
I don’t know whether plays count, but I’m choosing this because it’s brilliant. Three befuddled gods come to a cruel world looking for proof that good people exist. A tale of double identity ensues and the audience is confronted to make up their own minds as to whether what the gods are looking for is actually possible in the severe world they’ve created. Thought-provoking stuff!

Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal
I read this one at university and got a first for an essay about it, so it obviously made an impression on me! A quirky tale about adolescence, heroism and misuse of ticket office equipment played out against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. It’s simultaneously tragic and uplifting. A great read!

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss
After The League of Gentlemen and before penning numerous episodes of Dr Who and Sherlock, Mark Gatiss wrote a trilogy of stories about Lucifer Box – a loveable rogue and socialite who also happens to be Britain’s top spy. It’s packed with colourful characters, beautifully described and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. An entertaining romp.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
I loved this title because I’d read nothing like it before. Thursday Next is a literary detective who lives in an alternate universe in which the Crimean War is still raging and dodos are common pets. And someone has got into the original copy of Jane Eyre and kidnapped the eponymous heroine. It’s littered with wordplay and literary references that make you feel smugly satisfied for getting. I must get round to reading the remaining books in the series…

That’s quite enough from me. Which books would be in your top ten?

Sep 132014
A collage of photos of a dad with his newborn sons and them in the present day.

Then and now – time flies!

With Dylan starting school last week and Xander off to pre school for the first time yesterday, I’ve been scratching my head about where the time has gone. Of course, parents up and down the country are pondering the same question and Fairy has jumped on this, asking some of us parent blogging folk to write about how quickly the time has gone.

I remember people telling me to enjoy the early days when Dylan was born as they go so quickly. At the time, I thought they were off their rockers – that is to say, although I was naturally enjoying spending time with him, the sleepless nights seemed interminable! Once we got into an established routine, though, it has indeed flown by and now we somehow have two little lads who wander about the house doing their own thing and answering back. In what seems hardly time at all, they’ve gone through all the landmarks you look forward to as a new parent and become so independent. They grow up so fast!

In terms of favourite moments, there are too many to mention and I think most parents would say the same. I remember my sister – who had kids before we did – saying something to the effect that every stage is allowed to be your favourite and that makes a lot of sense. Holding both Dylan and Xander when they were born, of course, are moments that will stay with me forever as are catching them when their first attempts at walking didn’t quite work out!

Fairy is ‘encouraging mums to embrace every moment’ and ‘make the most of every special moment, by giving them an extra big cuddle today!’ Well, obviously, I’m not a mum but can attest to the fact that dads enjoy cuddling their children too and Dylan and Xander haven’t been short of hugs from me. In fact, I ran across the playground after Dylan on his first day when he neglected to give me a cuddle. So there!

Here’s the ad that Fairy has launched to ‘encourage mums to embrace the power of soft’ – you may even like it if you’re a dad!

Sep 122014
A happy boy ready for pre school

They don’t know what’s about to hit them…

It’s been a week of landmarks in our house – hot on the heels of Dylan’s first day at school, we welcomed our first family pet, She-Ra, to the fold. She’s been hot on everyone’s heels since then and I’m becoming used to being attacked by something furry and a fraction of my size. Yesterday, marked the fourth anniversary of the post that started off Diary of the Dad and, today, Xander is off to pre school for the first time.

He’s so ready for it! He’s watched from the confines of his pushchair as Dylan was dropped off and picked up, desperate to join in, and threw himself into the taster session with great gusto and no hesitation. An early walker and talker, he’s been striding around confidently for as long as I can remember and can hold some hilariously grown up conversations for his two and a half years. With Dylan having his new ‘thing’, Xander needs one of his own and pre school is going to tick all the boxes.

Naturally, I really hope he enjoys himself and makes a few friends like Dylan has. I’m sure he will – he’s a friendly, caring little lad, so he’ll get on fine with others. The other thing I hope he’ll get is tired! Amazing though he undoubtedly is, it has to be said that he’s a force of nature with boundless energy and an apparent drive to break things – a little like Quantum Leap in reverse.

He breaks something in the house pretty much every day and I’m beginning to think that there should be an insurance category called ‘Acts of Xander’. One of the sections on his reward chart is ‘Didn’t break anything today’. He has yet to earn a star in that line… Hopefully peer pressure and seeing that other adults have a word when he destroys things will spark a realisation – and make him sufficiently knackered to sleep through the night without waking us up too!

He’s already quite good at drawing, so hopefully the calming influence of other children his age will result in him putting some of that energy into nurturing his creative side… hopefully that doesn’t mean he’ll graffiti the walls, but it would still be a step in the right direction. Joking aside, I’m really pleased for him that he finally gets to go. He’s going to love it and it’ll suit him down to the ground.

Have a good day, little man!