Dec 182014
 

A collage of gift ideas, including clothes, gadgets and games.

There’s a week to go until we’re surrounded by mountains of discarded wrapping paper and jealously-guarded piles of new possessions but, if you’re anything like me, there’s still some shopping to do. And it has to be said that us dads are irritating to buy for. So, just in case it helps anyone out there, here are a few Christmas gift ideas for dads that I’ve been happy to receive during the last year. I’m afraid I can offer no guarantee on availability or delivery times, but hopefully they’ll give you some ideas…

Converse
Who doesn’t like Converse, eh? I love them! And my friends at ExtremePie.com have a massive range of the iconic footwear. According to their site, pre-Christmas delivery is still available, so hot-foot it over there pronto!

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RavPower portable charger
A great little stocking filler this – it charges several different models quickly and has saved me from the first world problem of being incommunicado several times since I got it.

Visit site
Read my review

Philosophy Football T-shirts
There’s a reason I’ve been buying shirts from these guys since they launched 20 years ago. Perfect for the armchair philosopher and football fan in your life.

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Read my review

Remington Vacuum Beard & Grooming Kit
Although it hasn’t had much use in the last couple of months due to Movember and Decembeard, this shaver is the best one I’ve used by a country mile – and it reduces mess too. Magic!

Visit site
Read my review (Please note, the competition on this page has now closed)

100 Ideas for Dads Who Love Their Kids… but Find Them Exhausting!
Another great stocking filler that will help dads spend quality time with their kids even when they’re completely knackered!

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Read my review

Accentuate
If you like accents and don’t mind being laughed at, you’re bound to enjoy this game. I’ll definitely be getting my copy out after Christmas dinner!

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Read my review

90:10 hoodie
A recent addition to my wardrobe and my new second skin. I love this hoodie and can’t recommend it enough.

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Read my review

Corkcicle One
The perfect gadget for wine lovers everywhere. It cools and aerates your vino quickly and makes for a smooth pouring action too. Cheers!

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Read my review (Please note, the competition on this page has now closed)

Don’t forget the batteries!
According to Duracell, 71% of parents admit to forgetting to buy the all-important batteries at Christmas. They kindly sent me a couple of packs to save me the trouble. A Furby is en route too and I’ll be combining these gifts as a subliminal way of getting Dylan and Xander to behave. It might work!

Visit site

Dec 152014
 

A blue hoodie

I’m not an expert when it comes to fashion – far from it – but I know what I like and when I was offered this ‘Signature’ embroidered pullover hoodie for review by 90:10 it definitely fell into the ‘massive yes please, I’d love one of those’ category.

To provide a little bit of background before I try and sound like the style section of a men’s lifestyle magazine, 90:10 is a new brand for blokes who consider themselves 90% grown up and 10% not. Something that the vast majority of us with Y chromosomes will identify with, I’m sure you’ll agree. The launch of 90:10 represents a major change in career for creator, Dan Glatman, who has traded music management for this new venture which, like most of the good ideas in life, was born in a pub. He describes his vision as being to marry humorous and innovative branding to stylish and great quality clothing delivered to the customer at the right price in an environmentally responsible way. And I think he’s achieved that with aplomb.

A man wearing a hoodie

The same hoodie being worn by an average-looking model

The hoodie looks great – even on me, if I do say so myself – and is really soft and comfortable, which is especially welcome at this time of year. It’s made out of 100% organic cotton and available in five colours including the navy blue option you see here. I love it and am really not looking forward to having to surrender it to the washing machine

On a separate note, I was really impressed with how quickly it was delivered – it arrived the day after I confirmed my choice. This is especially good bearing in mind the infamous Christmas post, so Dan and his team have definitely got the 90% grown up side of things in order – I’m sure they’re taking the 10% not grown up element seriously too though.

This 90:10 hoodie retails at £42 including free delivery but, if you like what you see here, you can get 20% off when you quote “BLOG” at www.9010man.com.

Dec 132014
 
The beard of a handsome man.

My beard: yesterday

I’ve been a little slow out of the blocks to mention this but, as it’s for such an important cause, it’s never too late… I’m taking part in Decembeard. Hot on the heels of Movember, the principle is the same – grow facial fuzz in the fight against cancer.

Decembeard and Beards for Bowels were thought up by Craig, a web and applications developer from just outside Birmingham. The campaign doesn’t benefit from funding and Craig juggles it with family life and his full-time job. “Beards for Bowels came from our aim to raise awareness of bowel cancer by growing beards all year round, but mainly campaigning each December… ‘Decembeard’ if you will,” he explains.

“Decembeard originally was mentioned on the radio by Chris Evans a few years ago shortly after Movember. Back then, I set up our social media profile, but the campaign was only driven during December. Therefore, I created Beards for Bowels (with a friend, Matthew) so we could help raise support and awareness all year round.”

I was surprised to discover that bowel cancer is the third most common cause of death in the world. It affects both men and women and, every year, over 40,000 people are diagnosed and more than 16,000 die of the disease. If caught early enough, it can be successfully treated so you can see why Decembeard is so important for raising awareness.

It’s a worthy cause, I’m sure you’ll agree. Having taken part in Decembeard completely by accident for the last couple of years – I tend to have a month off shaving after the constant razor burn of Movember – I’m doing so officially this time. It’s a much better excuse for my laziness and I’m more than happy to suffer itchiness in the name of charity. If a beard’s good enough for the fat bloke who somehow gets down chimneys, then it’s good enough for me too.

I’m primarily taking part to raise awareness, but if you wish to donate to the cause, you can do so on the Decembeard site.

Dec 072014
 
A bag of coal

This is what I’ll be getting for Christmas…

Elf on the shelf
What better way to scare the living shit out of your children than by telling them that the creepy looking interloper on the mantelpiece is spying on them and reporting back to Santa every night? I really can’t see the attraction – they look sinister and are the kind of insidious thing that crop up in Dr Who. Hang on a minute, Santa is an anagram of Satan. Hmm…

Christmas jumpers
Not to knock fundraising events for worthy causes that are based on wearing them to work but, to me, these are the embodiment of tacky. I really can’t understand why people get so excited about wearing them. I’ll be making a generous donation on Friday, but will be wearing my normal work clothes, thank you!

Shopping
I know I’ve written about this recently, but the conduct of people in shopping malls during what’s supposed to be the season of goodwill drives me round the bend. Manners are left at the door and it ends up like a rugby match, which reminds me of traumatic PE lessons.

Secret Santa
As if Christmas shopping isn’t stressful enough, we now have to buy a gift for a randomly drawn colleague. Inevitably, it’s someone you don’t know that well and you’re faced with the agony of getting them the right thing without causing upset. Because you know that they’ll work out that that thoughtfully-selected copy of Pets with Tourette’s was from you…

Putting up the tree
A new entry this year as I’ve enjoyed it until now. But we have a kitten who wants to kill it. If you’ve got the same problem, save yourself time with lemons, orange peel, citronella, vinegar and foil. None of them work!

Sending cards
Another political minefield that ends up as a dangerous game of chicken that’s at the mercy of Royal Mail. Do you send cards to everyone you know, or do you wait to see who sends them first then return the compliment and try to convince yourself that they’ll believe they crossed in the post? Argh!

Christmas specials
What’s worse than wall-to-wall Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig? Interminable feature-length episodes of the most irritating characters known to mankind and formulaic tales of mild peril in which the festivities almost end up being cancelled, but sadly still take place.

Adverts
These short films about capitalism start in September and, by November, they take up more airtime than the shows they punctuate. They brainwash even the least demanding of children and get stuck in the heads of the most non-persuasive adults (Robo Fish! Ro-bo Fish!) If I get asked for that fucking chocolate coin maker one more time…

More adverts
This kind of links to the last one, but I think it’s worthy of it’s own place. Why do people get so excited about the launch of adverts? Despite the sentiment that they convey, they’re still ultimately about making rich people richer and nothing more. The little boy with the possessed penguin toy is all very nice, but is it really worth losing your shit over?

The Queen
I’ve got nothing against HRH and she seems to put up with a lot. She’s a good egg. But why do we need to hear the musings of an old lady who, in all likelihood, is sick of recording these messages? Give the poor old girl some time off instead next year!

Dec 012014
 
A Christmas gift

A Christmas gift: yesterday

I’m not a big fan of doing things early with regards the large celebration at the end of the year but, as we’re now in December, I suppose it’s just about okay to mention it by name. We did a fair chunk of our Christmas shopping yesterday.

It’s no secret that I hate shopping at any time of year. There’s something about retail centres that brings out the worst in people and the pressure of buying everyone the right Christmas gifts seems to amplify the bad behaviour of grown adults. George A Romero set Dawn of the Dead in a shopping mall, using the zombies as metaphors for the ugly nature of consumerism and he had a point – all manners and sense of direction go out the window to the point that the collective IQ in any given shopping centre is suddenly lower than that of the hungry hordes in his iconic film.

However much you do online, there are always a few things you have to buy in person – either because they’re out of stock after Black Friday or because it’s December and Royal Mail are inevitably doing a fine impression of Postman Pat’s Special Delivery Service and losing your precious items while completing a farcical errand completely unrelated to work. So it was that we nervously ventured into our local Arndale Centre yesterday. It was hell.

I have a cold – sorry, man flu – at the moment and had an awful start to the day with Dylan and Xander deciding that 6am was an acceptable time to demand breakfast. At least this meant that we got there early so it wasn’t as busy as it could have been. Not that this stopped my little cherubs acting up the moment they saw another little boy with a biscuit. Negotiation didn’t work, so I had to resort to bribery to keep my blood pressure at an acceptable level.

We then went to a shop with escalators in it. Both boys decided they wanted to go on it. Until the last minute when Dylan decided he didn’t fancy it after all. I picked him up just as Xander put his foot on the top step without moving his other. He ended up in a kung fu pose over two steps – as did I – while one of his shoes got to the bottom early. We got to the ground floor unscathed, but were still doing badly on the Christmas shopping front.

Thank goodness, then, for places like The Works. It always has a plethora of ideas for everyone and yesterday was no exception – Dylan, Xander and their cousin, Jack, are well into Marvel and we were spoilt for choice. My niece, Ella, is mildly obsessed with Frozen and there were several things to choose from for her as well. There were loads of options for the adults I was buying for too but, as they form the bulk of my readership, I’m not going to say what I got! Going back to zombies, they’ve got a fair few things from The Walking Dead that I wouldn’t object to owning… just saying. It’s quite possible that The Works has saved both Christmas and my own sanity.

This is a sponsored post. I’ve bought loads of Christmas gifts from The Works this year though and am happy to recommend it!

Nov 252014
 

A happy little boy holding his new book.

Dylan and Xander both love books and are well into letters – especially those in their own names – so are very good at spotting them, which makes these personalised books from Wonderous Ink the perfect gifts. Designed to show little ones why they’re unique in the world, the stories are based on the adventures of a child who, without wanting to sound too much like a film trailer, goes on a journey of discovery.

A colourful children's book.

On their way, the child encounters plenty of colourful characters and literally uses the letters from their own name to help their new friends solve problems. I really like how inventive the stories are as well as the alliterative nature of the characters and personal qualities they tell the child they possess. By the time they reach the end of the book, the child has collected all of the letters from their name and can see what makes them different and special.

A close-up of a little boy reading his book.

I was very impressed with how quickly the previews of the books were generated on the website too – it took seconds to create and I was able to look at every page. Another impressive technological feature is the opportunity for children to continue the adventure online. At the end of the story, they’re presented with a unique code that unlocks a bonus story and quiz.

Dylan and Xander were both gripped by their stories and keep asking to have them read at bedtime, which is always a mark of a good book – most things we get from the library get read once or twice, so we’re onto a winner with these. We heartily recommend them.

Wonderous World books are aimed at children up to the age of eight and retail at £19.99 including P&P. You can instantly preview your child’s story on the Wonderous Ink site.

Nov 172014
 

A collage of my ideal kitchen. It includes a forcefield, a pizza oven and a fridge bigger than most sheds.

What would be in your dream family kitchen? As we’d like to move house next year, it’s something that Kate and I often talk about. Beko got in touch with me recently to ask if I’d be interested in creating a mood board on Pinterest showing what would go in mine. Happy to oblige!

The explanations for what I’ve chosen go anti clockwise from the main image:

I’ve always wanted a kitchen with an island in it and I really liked this design – especially as it has a secret stairway down to a wine cellar/panic room for if there’s a zombie apocalypse. I know the latter is more likely than me ever being able to afford a kitchen like this, but this is a dream kitchen after all…

If there is a zombie apocalypse, we’ll have to lie low for a while so my wine cellar would have to be very well stocked. One of those ladders on wheels that they have in libraries would be essential.

Back in the kitchen, I’d have an arrogantly large fridge that can accommodate a ridiculous amount of beer and, I suppose, food too.

My dream kitchen would also be big enough to house a table for family meals away from the television and this one is ideal – it doubles as a pool table!

Every parent knows that coffee is essential so it’s important to take it seriously and this does the job perfectly – a built-in coffee station. Now I know that these exist, it would be rude not to have one in my dream kitchen.

I’m conscious of the fact that I haven’t really covered food yet, so this should redress the balance. The next thing on the wishlist would be a wood-burning pizza oven. We’d quite happily live on the stuff and it would go very nicely with the wine and beer!

That would, of course, create plenty of washing up and I’d be loathe to do that myself. This dishwasher from the Beko built-in range would be perfect. It has a large capacity, is energy efficient and has the cutlery tray at the top which would save my poor old back.

The final thing on my list would be a forcefield to keep the kids and kitten out of the kitchen. If there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s them getting under my feet when I’m making their breakfast, so this would do nicely. I’d let them in at mealtimes and in the event of the aforementioned zombie apocalypse, of course, but I wouldn’t want them getting near all my nice stuff putting themselves in danger.

So there you go – my dream kitchen. It’s capacious, packed with built-in appliances to make my life easier and completely inaccessible to anyone I don’t want joining me in there. If only I could afford it…

I created this mood board in association with Beko who are kindly giving me a shopping voucher in return for putting this post together.

Nov 122014
 
The bottom half of a swan emerging from the water.

A visual metaphor gone wrong: yesterday

I really enjoyed Blogfest at the weekend. It was a great opportunity to meet up with friends new and old and to listen to some great keynotes by some inspirational people. One of the topics that kept cropping up was about voice and there were some really interesting points raised both by the panellists on stage and the attendees via the massive screen behind them. What I’m going to write about here probably removes the illusory fourth wall and gives away some behind-the-scenes stuff, but, well… sod it.

I was especially interested in the concept of how much of ourselves we share on our blogs and social media and also how we go about it. One question I found particularly fascinating concerns whether we blog truly as ourselves. There are those that the cliché ‘what you see is what you get’ firmly applies to, but I have a feeling that most bloggers write as slightly different versions of themselves. I know I do!

The Tom I project on here is definitely still me, albeit an edited one. He’s a lot more confident and capable at the whole parenting lark than I am and is a bit wittier given the extra time he gets to ponder his thoughts before blurting them out. In truth, I keep a lot to myself for fear of presenting any shrinks who land on my blog with a field day. Sure, I openly admit to winging it and sometimes even write about my feelings, but you should see the stuff that goes through my head and doesn’t make the cut! Think about the bit of the swan you don’t see as it seems to effortlessly glide across water and you get the idea.

Another thing that resonated with me was the idea of piloting content before writing it. I was glad to hear that others do this as it’s something I do all the time! You can almost guarantee that, if I tweet about something funny that Dylan or Xander have said or done and it gets a good reaction, it’ll show up again a week or so later in a blog post. Again, not the truest reflection of myself as it’s based on research of sorts.

Finally, I was interested to hear how others approach publishing a new post. A fair few seemed uncomfortable with the idea of writing something and publishing it in one go. I’m not quite sure what I think of this one as I rarely get the chance – I write most of my posts on my phone on the way to work – but would probably prefer to leave a post overnight before publishing it. Yet again, allowing time before sharing a bit of myself online.

Just to well and truly eliminate any strange notions of swan-like style and grace in the creation of this post, I wrote most of it while stood on a crowded train with a stranger who reeked of cigarettes in my personal space. So there!

Other bloggers: how do you approach your posts?

Nov 062014
 
A very small desert island surrounded by a calm sea.

An island: yesterday

“No man is an island” wrote the metaphysical poet John Donne once upon a time, but the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that I’ll feel like one on Saturday where I’ll be one of a select few men in a relative sea of women. Being a male parent blogger, I’m used to being outnumbered both online and in real life at conferences. It’s just as well then, as I’m off to Mumsnet’s Blogfest and only know of two other dads who are going!

I’m nervous about it, but only because it’s an event I haven’t been to before. Even so, I’m very much looking forward to seeing friends I’ve made at other conferences and also to the keynotes and roundtables, so it promises to be a great day. I know I’m going to be asked the following question at least half a dozen times though, so thought I’d answer it now: what’s it like being a man in a community dominated by women?

It’s certainly strange on the face of it, but I wonder whether that’s because I’m inadvertently reminded of the fact that I’m a little different so often. Having been to BritMums Live three times and on the radio on a handful of occasions too – I have a face for it, you see – it’s something I’ve come to expect to crop up in conversation. Of course it’s unusual being in the minority, but it’s not a bad thing and I certainly don’t feel out of place or unwelcome. I was the only boy in the ward when I was born and one of just three in my class at primary school, so I think that set out the stall – I’ve never really been one of the lads and my stag do was one of the tamest nights out I’ve ever been on!

So I’m happy with things in the parent blogging community – it’s friendly and I’m treated as an equal – but what about outside it? As I can’t help but look at parenting from a male point of view, one of my pet peeves is the way that dads aren’t treated as such elsewhere. Shortly after I became a dad for the first time, for example, I was asked to leave the hospital as it was outside visiting hours. Apparently, my desire to support my wife after a long and painful birth and to bond with my son didn’t count for anything. I was just a ‘visitor’.

Then there are the numerous marketing campaigns from brands that seem to think that dads are either second-class parents or don’t have an interest in taking care of their children at all. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen baby and toddler products aimed solely at mums – which, of course, doesn’t do either gender any favour – and the few men you do see on such adverts are feckless figures of fun who are capable of little more than being outwitted by the most basic of tasks. And don’t even get me started on Daddy Pig…

At least it’s nothing like that in this community of like-minded people who both have children and write blogs. I’ve found a place I’m happy in, so that’ll do me. Going back to the original metaphor, I stick by the suggestion that no man is an island. There’s no doubt that there are some unpredictable waters out there, but I’d contest that the parent blogging community is an enlightened island which defiantly rises above them.