PEW! PEW! Those are the familiar and feeble sounds I’ve made down the years as I’ve shaped my hands into a sci-fi blaster and pointed them in the direction of various unsuspecting targets; school friends, my long-suffering folks, my now long-suffering wife, my embarrassed kids and even the poor dog who might have inadvertently walked through the middle of a galactic space battle (the decking in the garden). But as convincing as I think my pathetic ‘pew pews’ are, in all honesty I’m not holding out much hope of a phone call from Lucas Film’s sound effects team without a lot more practice…
So, when Edie and I were invited to Lazer M.A.D.’s launch event at Bunker 51 in London, not only did I immediately know it would be an amazing opportunity to hone said pathetic sounds effects (you’ve got my number Lucas Films), but it would also be amazing fun… so we obviously jumped at the chance.
Edie and I arrived in South East London, dressed ready for combat; t-shirt, shorts and trainers – my camouflaged army gear might have been a little OTT against a bunch of primary-aged kids. We were then guided by our Squadron Leader (let’s call her Lucy, because that was her name) into the Mission Control Room before we were advised to boost our energy with supplies (squash and crisps) before being briefed on our dangerous assignments. Briefing over and it was time to get kitted up.
Our blasters wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Millennium Falcon or from the top of the old apple tree from where I used to take aim at my parents:
· The Lazer M.A.D blasters are completely wireless for unrestricted play
· They’re customisable – accessories can be added for increased accuracy and range (up to 50 metres)
· There are different modes available (training and battle) with no limit on the number of players
· The devices work using state of the art technology in the form of IR emitters and receivers, set in the targets
· Targets can be strapped to the opponents clothing or other moving objects and include an LED indicator to show when a player has been shot
· Realistic re-load and a trigger button for the ultimate battle experience
Blasters ready, we moved into the bunker area; a dark, damp space littered with barriers, hide-outs and an old truck, perfect for Edie and me to pick off unsuspecting waist high foes.
As the games went on, we both grew in confidence, Edie especially as she launched repeated kamikaze missions into the enemy’s base (it was either confidence or just sheer madness).
We played for two hours and during that time it was great to see Edie’s face light up with sheer joy - am I raising the next Rambo? I’m guessing not, but I’m definitely raising a young girl who loves to try new things, mix it with the boys and older children, and throw everything she has at challenges.
The games were fun and varied, with enough fantasy thrown into avoid any reality; the kids knew this was simply a fun game which tested accuracy, team work, and fitness (it definitely tested my fitness). You don’t need an underground bunker to have as much fun as Edie and I did, these would be perfect in the garden, and you can buy the blaster set from Smyths Toys here:
Mention stresses and struggles with babies and young children and you’ll hear the same old ones; getting them to sleep through, getting them to feed or eat well, and finally, getting them to use a potty rather than be content sitting in a dirty nappy for 26 episodes straight of Peppa Pig (it’s ok to allow our children to watch this many episodes, right? Asking for a friend).
But there’s another one, that we tend to forget, and perhaps that’s because it doesn’t necessarily affect all families, but it’s definitely been a huge stress in our household, and that’s washing the kids’ hair.
Ok, so my daughter, Edie, is five, almost six, so she’s fine nowadays, but she used to scream the house (scrap that, the entire street) down when it came to hair washing night, but said hair washing hatred has unfortunately continued with my son, Arlo, who’s two.
If I’m being totally honest, in the past we’ve often skipped his hair washing night because it’s been such an ordeal. On top of the screaming, his hair is so thick it would often be difficult to brush if left unwashed for a few days – thus prompting even more apparent agony at having to remove any knots. But, after attending the last Johnson’s ambassador event where we met with Rebecca Bennett from Johnson’s, who presented on hair types, variations in structure, manageability and growth over the years, I now know a lot more about varying hair and the importance of keeping hair and the scalp healthy.
We were taught the difference between hair from around the world; for example, hair in Asia is commonly dark, the hair fibres are often parallel, and the hair has a natural shine and softness due to the natural oils being well distributed to the fibres, but in Europe, the colour can differ hugely and so can the structure and manageability.
What caught my attention during this more localised part of the presentation was the talk of how fibre thickness can often vary with the possibility of straight to curly hair. Now, if you’ve seen Arlo, you’d know about his curls from when he was younger – it was like an ‘80s perm many a German footballer of that era would have been proud of. Two years on, and with his hair a lot thicker but a lot shorter, it’s now straighter than it once was but still retains some curl, so matches up to a lot of European points detailed by Rebecca:
• Hair fibres are not so mixed, but may still be difficult to comb. CHECK
• Natural shine of the hair is related to the amount of curls and hair colour. CHECK
• Many potential hair colours. CHECK
• Frizz may be a problem. CHECK
Check, check, check, check. That’s basically Arlo’s hair in a nutshell.
So, to keep on top of Arlo’s thick hair and to also ensure his scalp remains healthy, I quickly realised after the Johnson’s event that we’d need to up our hair washing game. Since the event we’ve tried our best to make hair washing less stressful for all concerned. Using a specially formulated baby shampoo such as Johnson’s No More Tears, we’ve ensured Arlo doesn’t fear his hair being washed by bringing in an element of fun. We sing songs, we wildly celebrate his ‘bravery’, encourage his older and wiser sister to get involved, and we have taken to bringing in some of his action figures to have their (very solid and plastic) hair washed too – Superman never looked so good. After the wash, we now also use Johnson’s No More Tangles Conditioner Spray to help remove any knots when brushing.
And there you have it, one of the stresses of having young children is removed thanks to a couple of simple changes. Next up, potty training – wish me luck!
That look when you've conquered hair washing, but have just been told potty training is about to start
‘Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes’, goes the famous saying, but I’d throw another certainty into that inevitability ring, and that’s the lack of sleep when you have kids.
We all know about the nights that seemingly never end with new-borns, sound-tracked by News 24’s jingle at 3am, but it doesn’t stop when babies turn to toddlers or toddlers grow to become small children. In my experience, if anything, it gets worse. With babies you know it’s going to happen. You know each night is going to be long, stressful and exhausting, but because you know it’s coming, you can plan for it by going to bed early (6pm was considered a late night in our house), take it in turns to do night feeds, change nappies etc or slowly replace the blood in your system with copious amounts of coffee. But with toddlers and children, when they have a bad night it’s like getting punched in the face with ‘ha ha’ tattooed across the knuckles. These kids can talk, so when they demand you sleep on their floor, you darn well sleep on their floor. When they wake you up two minutes after you’ve finally drifted off, to tell you there’s a dragon eating custard from their unicorn slippers in their bedroom, you go up and help settle them again (and just ensure there are no dragons – can never be too sure). The problem with such disruptions to sleep, is that they come when you least expect them. Finally, after a few nights of uninterrupted rest, you let your guard down and revert back to a more reasonable 20 cups of coffee a day, but are then rudely awaken and your body can’t quite cope with the shock, thus ensuring the day is a blur of semi-consciousness.
So, with two kids who get us up at least two or three times per week, I’ll take any help I can get. Our bed has always been one of my favourite places in our home – not like that, did you not just read how knackered I am? After a day on my knees playing with train tracks and being used as a moving climbing frame, I just want to get horizontal! But to be honest, our bed hasn’t actually ever been that comfortable. We actually accepted a brand new mattress from a neighbour a couple of years who had somehow ended up with one he didn’t need. Me being me, I looked it up online, saw it was pretty pricey and assumed it would be more comfortable than our old one. It wasn’t. But with our previous one long gone, we were stuck with it.
So, when I was recently offered the opportunity to receive a new Simba Sleep Hybrid mattress, I jumped (not literally, remember I’m knackered) at the opportunity. It was delivered in a waist-high box that threw me a little, surely it was too small? Nope. Brilliantly, the mattress was compressed (the mind boggles), so there were no Chuckle Brother ‘to me, to you’ moments that would have knocked over the hallway lamp and probably squashed a cat. Out of the box and freed from its packaging, the mattress laid there on our bed, smelling of freshness whilst slowly expanding to its full dimensions. And then, the moment of truth; fresh sheets and an early night. Oh my god it was good. No, not in that way you – jeez, what is it with you? This was comfort I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time, and with the mattress containing 2500 conical pocket springs and memory foam, it would only get better. Now we just needed a hand from the sleep Gods to ensure the kids slept through – and what do you know? They did! Ok, my son woke us up the next night, but at least when I returned to my blissful bed at 4am, I was back in the land of nod quicker than you can say ‘affiliate scheme’.
For any parents, and non-parents (we all dodgy nights, can’t we?), you can’t really go wrong with one of these mattresses. If you’re thinking about changing yours, you can get £50 off by following this link http://bit.ly/2yiksql and because I’m part of their affiliate scheme (now, you get the line above), I can earn a little pocket money too – I've got my eye on a lovely set of earplugs.
I don’t know about you, but try as I might, I always feel I could do more when it comes to recycling. I guess a lot of us feel like that. Despite our streets being lined with over-flowing recycling bins evidencing that as a nation, we’re making good progress, I believe there’s the general consensus that more can be done. We’re repeatedly reminded in the media of the damage we’re causing our planet, especially the plastics filling our oceans, but for the last few years, despite said overflowing recycling bins and local refuse centres coping with more traffic than the M25, I think it’s obvious further steps are required to ensure our struggling oceans, filthy rivers and stained land can recover.
As a family, we try our best; we recycle everything that’s obviously recyclable – certain plastics, tins, cans, glass and cardboard, and we do our utmost to figure out if those annoying anomalies (namely, other plastics – what’s the big deal with black plastic trays everyone?!) can be recycled or not. But as I said, we try our best; there’s so much confusion around certain items that I’m sure some waste wrongly heads for the recycling centre, whilst others will unfortunately end up in landfill when they could have gone on to have a much fuller life (I’m thinking the dull existence of an anti-bac spray that then becomes a cherished children’s toy – there’s a film in there somewhere… Hollywood, I’m waiting by the phone).
I’ve always felt that one of the reasons recycling isn’t at a level it needs to be, is because of lack of information and guidance from the top – governments, councils and the large corporations who are producing the plastic-wasting products. Governments could be stricter and impose tighter regulations on product design and packaging guidelines, plus set local authorities attractive recycling targets. Borough councils could invest more and recycle more often. Our recycling for example gets collected bi-weekly, so by that point the recycling bin is full, the bag we use in the house has been filled and emptied multiple times and there just isn’t the space for any more items. As a family we’re incredibly conscious about our recycling, so I take any extras to the local recycling point myself, but I’m sure numerous families will resort to sticking additional items straight in the bin. Finally, and I should state I’m no expert when it comes to plastic production, packaging and freight considerations, but surely the firms producing the waste could use more sustainable materials, make recycling instructions clearer and provide more incentives for people to re-use items. I’d also happily pay a little extra for an item if it was wrapped in a recyclable material, and I’m sure I’m not alone given the change in consciousness towards our environment now.
In our household, we try and go a little further to help the environment whilst also teaching our children some valuable lessons. Given the information we have, as much waste as possible is recycled in a traditional way, but we also try and go a little further to ensure items don’t become single use. To encourage the children to be more aware of recycling and understand that not everything needs to be chucked after it’s been used, they’ll often plant seeds in old yogurt pots, thus demonstrating to them that items bound for landfill can be used in different way. We also encourage them to get creative with cardboard, plastic bottles and anything else they can get their hands on to create extravagant rockets or impenetrable suits of armour. We also keep a box in the boot of the car for recycling on-the-go (as lots of towns centres and attractions only offer simply conventional bins), and the kids are aware to keep hold of their bottles until they can be dumped in the boot. So, we’re doing our best, but as I said, I’d love to do more.
Given that only 58% of plastic bottles in the UK are recycled, there’s insufficient levels of recycled plastics (rPET) in our system, which in turn makes it difficult for these companies to produce bottles made from higher proportions of recycled materials. Coca-Cola currently has 25% rPET and has committed to achieving 50% by 2020. By simply recycling one extra bottle per week, we could make huge differences to the current system, thus allowing producers such as Coca-Cola to increase the amount of usable recycled plastic in their products. If a brand the size of Coca-Cola is committing to such targets then hopefully, other corporations will quickly follow suit.
Coca-Cola recently challenged me to make recycling more fun for the family. As I mentioned, we already plant seeds and make extravagant costumes, but in truth, whilst it’s a fun thing to do, sometimes we might just be prolonging the items ending up in waste, rather than actually recycling them. So, with that in mind, I set about creating a new activity.
My children love a challenge and love competition. Despite a three-year age gap, my 2-year-old son, Arlo gives as good as he gets when it comes to taking on his 5-year-old sister, Edie and it often becomes very evenly matched. Whether it’s a running race, the first to brush their teeth or what is seemingly their favourite activity; wrestling, they’re fiercely competitive. Arlo’s at a stage where he’s repeatedly telling us he’s a big boy, perhaps it’s a desperate attempt to be allowed more freedom or it could be to simply keep up with his sister. His height and his age seem increasingly important to him of late, and he loves to be measured against the wall every few days (like, literally every few days – we’re running out of space to mark exactly the same spot on the wall). So, with all this in mind, I could have simply told them to collect as many plastic bottles as possible and the winner would get, I don’t know, an extra dollop of ice cream, but that wouldn’t keep them interested for long. Instead, I set them the challenge to collect as many bottles as possible over a week, and not just at home, whilst we were out and about too. When laid out, if their bottles matched or exceeded their height, they received a prize – in this case, a fun and reusable drinks bottle of their choice so they wouldn’t constantly need to buy bottles on-the-go.
As you can see the competition was a great success! Both children were always on the lookout for bottles and even encouraging me and my wife, Georgia, to finish the sparkling water bottles unnecessarily quickly after working out just a few of them would see the height of their collections soar! After a week of collecting plastic bottles, both children succeeded in the challenge, despite Edie being at a disadvantage for being taller (thankfully she didn’t pick up on the fact she required more bottles!). Arlo won, but because of Edie’s disadvantage, I thought it was only fair that both were rewarded for their brilliant recycling.
It’s great to see brands with the power of Coca-Cola leading the charge to change our recycling habits and their own production methods. With more instruction, encouragement and fun initiatives from the top, families, including ourselves, can do so much more. Together, we can make a change.
I’m delighted to announce the launch of Man Talk, the podcast tackling men’s mental health and hoping to normalise the conversation.
The podcast, which is available on iTunes, sees me visiting a host of men who have experienced varying mental health issues. For some, this is the first time they’ve spoken openly about their struggles.
Through speaking in a very normal setting; the guest’s house, a park or a pub, the conversation, which is obviously very sensitive and at times emotional, remains as ‘normal’ as possible and hopefully demonstrates to other men out there, that such conversations are possible.
Men should be able to speak about their feelings, emotions and mental health freely, but we still live in a society that’s constrained by stigmas. With time, I hope shows like Man Talk, coupled with the power of social media, those constraints can be removed for good.
Man Talk does not offer any medical advice, my guests and I simply chat openly about our experiences with mental health (see my post here for more on my own struggles or listen to episode 1) and the hope is that such conversations will resonate with a listener, but above all, show that men are now willing to open up.
If Man Talk can help even one person take the first steps to reach out, whether that’s to a friend, a family member, a doctor or a charity such a CALM, then I’d consider the show a huge success.
You can find episodes on the Man Talk page of A Day In The Life Dad, but please subscribe on iTunes (and leave a lovely review, yeah?!) to ensure you catch all the latest episodes.
But I’ve had enough of not speaking up as much as I should, I’ve moved on and feel strong enough to share my struggles in the hope that it might make more men speak up and seek help if they need it.
So, let’s go all the way back to the start. No, not the moment I entered the world in a gooey mess, but back to my earliest memories of my mental state…
I grew up in the countryside with my mum and dad, plus two sisters. We enjoyed a lovely lifestyle, with dogs, cats and rolling corn fields being my lasting image. It was a happy childhood, it really was, but when I think a little harder about my mental state, I do recall being incredibly nervous a lot of the time. I wouldn’t leave my mum’s side at a very young age, and then as I got older, the nerves continued as I started spending most of my time with my father playing football – I played to a good standard but remember always being a nervous wreck. This all led to me being quite awkward as I moved into my teen years, and felt unsure and uneducated about life, puberty and the emotional changes suddenly being thrust upon me. I never opened up to my mum or dad about anything. Moving into secondary school I experienced some harsh bullying, purely down to the fact my surname, ‘Day’, rhymes with ‘gay’. Five years of name calling and threats of violence followed and I couldn’t wait to leave my teenage years behind. My parents also split when I was around 17, so when I met a girl in my late teens, I pinned everything on that relationship. On reflection, it was probably because I was seeking some security after a difficult few years.
A few years on, my mood deteriorated, and real signs of mental health issues were becoming apparent when I suspected she was cheating on me. I was on a downward spiral and I took an even bigger fall as my suspicions rung true. I was incredibly depressed. I was prescribed antidepressants, I started seeing a counsellor and I had to visit mental health clinics. By this point, my mind was a wreck. One night, I decided to try and end it all.
A real, real low.
The years after that were peppered with huge bouts of depression, reckless partying and irresponsible behaviour. When I was 28 I decided I needed a clean break from the surroundings that had been the backdrop for my mental health issues. Within a week, I’d rented my house out, packed my bags and headed to London.
London might not be the first place you’d think of if your mind is already on the wobble, but I wanted to experience the buzz, the vibrancy and the endless things to do – I basically wanted to busy my mind with new things. I started hanging out in places that wouldn’t last a week in my hometown, I met lots of new people, I spent weekends at food markets, I walked for hours round Victoria Park with my dogs and sought new threads down Brick Lane as I threw myself into the East London lifestyle. The change suited me and within weeks, I stopped taking my medication and for the first time in years, I felt happy.
Five months after moving to London, I met my wife, Georgia. We enjoyed a whirlwind first few months and quickly moved in together. I was head over heels in love and I felt my mental health issues were a thing of the past.
Regrettably, I never told George about my mental state. I thought those dark times had passed and I didn’t want her to think any less of me. As time passed, I thought about telling her, but it just got harder and harder to say something. But then about four years into our relationship, my depression started creeping up in me again. It soon became obvious my moods were changing and one evening I had to tell her. I broke down as I told her everything from start to finish and her response was incredible. She was, and still is, so supportive. I should have told her a lot earlier, and I’d caused myself years of unnecessary torment by keeping it locked away inside.
For the next couple of years after that, I was up and down. I took medication again which steadied the ship, but I always felt fragile. Then about two years ago, I started to really struggle again.
A difficult situation in my life instigated months of deep, deep depression, huge anxiety, hopelessness, sleepless nights and debilitating panic attacks. It was a truly awful time and one that really took it out of me. My biggest regret of this period was the impact it had on my daughter, who, in turn started displaying signs of anxiety.
Thankfully, in the last few months I’ve started to find my feet again. I’m on a high dosage of antidepressants, I work for myself doing things that I love and I’m away from the negativity that was having such a demoralising effect on me. That’s not to say I’m cured, because I doubt I ever will be, but, because I now talk openly to family and friends, I don’t think my mental health will get the better of me again. Sure, it’s always there, lingering in the background ready to pounce, and it will strike me down regularly, but at least I can talk about it now and that always seems to be the first step to making me feel happier.
Click the image below to listen to my men's mental health podcast, Man Talk
When I first started thinking about launching my podcast, Man Talk, knew I wanted to support CALM, a charity who do so much to help with men's mental health.
I met up with the guys from CALM a few months ago in London and had an inspiring meeting that left me in awe of the work they do.
I'm incredibly proud to support CALM with my podcast and am thankful to them for the guidance they offered me when I first met them.
Below is some information about CALM if you're not familiar with them, and also some alarming stats about men and suicide, which really hammers home just how much we need to raise awareness of men's mental health.
If you are struggling, please reach out to someone who can help. You can call CALM between 5-midnight on their free-line number which is 0800 58 58 58.
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand or have been on the moon for the last few days, you can’t have failed to have noticed the glorious early summer weather. And whilst said glorious weather, might make us grown-ups want to drag the spider-infested BBQ out of the garage, my kids instead wanted the bikes and all the paraphernalia that goes with them (personalised bike number plate, anyone – kids today!).
So late on Bank Holiday Monday, with the scorching sun a little less scorchio, and having somehow avoided cleaning the BBQ, I promised the kids a quick bike ride around our village to end a brilliant long weekend.
Now, Edie, my eldest at 5-years-old isn’t exactly Bradley Wiggins on her bike yet, but she gives it her best shot, and can get a few yards before adding to her 200 knee grazes, but my son, Arlo, at 2-years-old is still very much in that stage where he’s carried about like some kind of lazy royal - do royals still get carried around? Probably not, but you get the point; he needs a bike seat.
We actually did have a bike seat which was used when our Bradley Wiggins wannabe was younger, but the usual wear and tear has meant the feet straps have snapped and it was just showing its age, so has been used for a while. So, in the low evening sun, with the promise of a bike ride with dad to fulfil, I set about constructing and attaching a brand-new bike seat myself. To all those Handy Andys out there, this might not seem like much of a task to you, but our last seat was fitted by the shop we bought it from, and although I like to think I’m a bit nifty with the odd Swedish flat pack, here we’re talking about the safety of my son out on the roads, so I was conscious it had to be done right.
Upon unpacking my Urban Iki from OGK bike seat, I was immediately struck by its cool design. Dutch creativity with Japanese roots, the moody dark grey tones (other colours available) and its slick and minimal design help remove any unnecessary bulk. The Urban Iki website details how their cycling accessories incorporate good design, high quality, guaranteed safety, smart technology and all at an affordable price, which on first glance, our seat matched up well to those values.
As I began to follow the instructions putting together the seat and it’s accompanying bracket, I could immediately see how simple the design was – that’s not a bad thing, certainly not, it’s definitely a good thing, because as I said, the sun was beating down on me, my children were starting to be a little irate, so time was of the essence. All in all, I spent about half an hour fitting the seat, but maybe 15 minutes of that was removing the old bracket that was still on my bike, and that’s important to note here; the screws on the Urban Iki are conveniently positioned to take on and off, whereas our old model meant way too much faffing about with an Allen key whilst the rear tyre and break cables were in the way.
With my bike good to go, we hit the warm, sticky tarmac and headed for the metropolis of the village green. As we hit top speeds of 3 mph (Edie bless her, make that 201 knee grazes), Arlo felt safe and secure, he was comfortable and loved his evening being transported around like the lazy royalty he is. A quick break to pick some daisys and fail miserably at making some chains, we headed home. The bike seat living up to expectations, the kids were happy and so I gave myself a little pat on the back for my excellent Bank Holiday dad skills - job done, or so I thought. My wife then told me we were having a BBQ for dinner. God damn it, I thought I’d got away with cleaning it…