This was put to the test when our coach got stuck in traffic and we had to walk from the Tate Modern to the London Eye. Although they were hungry and excitable, they were all brilliant and didn’t complain about the mile-long walk along the Southbank.
It was a long day and it’s fair to say that I enjoyed the experience more in hindsight than at the time.
In fact, the moment everyone was safely on the coach back home, I started to think what a good day it had been. Oldest agreed. “This is one of my best days ever, Dad,” he said.
It was great spending the day with him and his friends and I’ll definitely volunteer for a school trip again.
Have you ever helped out on school trips with your kids?
I’ve always loved LEGO and am delighted that the kids have got into it too. Perhaps inevitably with so much of the stuff and three children, it ends up everywhere. As a result, we’ve spent a lot of time recently finding missing pieces and reassembling sets.
I won’t lie; I really enjoy doing this. It’s a great way of spending time with the kids. Plus there’s a massive sense of triumph at locating elusive bricks and completing things once more. But the theory that you can’t have pleasure without some form of pain rings true.
Yes, I’m talking about LEGO injuries. It turns out that there are plenty of ways to hurt yourself with the iconic bricks.
Every parent knows the agony of finding even the smallest of bricks with your feet. We’ve had loads of the things scattered across the floor lately and, even when I’m wearing slippers, it smarts.
I’ve trodden on so many of the tiny but basically indestructible pieces lately that I’m ready to take part in a LEGO firewalk now.
Hard as nails
I wish the orange brick separators that are commonplace nowadays were a thing in the 1980s. I always had bent or smashed fingernails from trying to prise apart pieces that have apparently been welded together.
In fact, the same rings true now. Because we didn’t have said tools when I was a kid, they’re not in my muscle memories and I often neglect to use them.
My hips don’t lie
Our dining room table is simply too small for all the bricks we have so we sit on the floor. I think it’s nicer this way as it means we’re spending family time without a barrier between us. Oh, but my legs.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’m edging towards 40 or down to too much five-a-side, but sitting like this is excruciating. Every joint from the hips down aches. I’m still walking like a mini-figure days later.
One in the eye
I find staring into a huge pile of LEGO bricks while sifting through to find a specific piece to be very much like looking at a Where’s Wally? book.
I rarely find what I want, end up with eyestrain or a headache and end up feeling like said Wally.
How can these small, plastic bricks possibly cause damage to one’s hair, I hear you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. Within minutes of completing the most complex models, one of the kids will inevitably drop it.
Inevitably, this results in me tearing my hair out. I would say that I jump up and down on the spot too, but don’t want to risk stepping on any rogue bricks and doing myself further mischief.
Will all of these LEGO injuries stop me though? No chance. Now where’s that beige 1×2 plate with three teeth?
We love technology in our house and it’s amazing how much the kids already know. At just two years of age, Amelie is the youngest member of the family but is already making great strides.
Naturally, due to being a few years younger than her brothers, she’s not where they are yet, but age is the only barrier as far as I’m concerned. We treat all three children the same and often remind them that they can achieve anything they want in life.
Sadly, things aren’t so equal in the wider world. There are gender gaps in a number of places including the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector. As things stand, only 24% of STEM jobs in the UK are held by women.
I was therefore pleased to hear that Primo Toys is campaigning to bridge this gap. For starters, over 50% of its employees are female.
Furthermore, its Coding Girls campaign aims to show that girls can unlock their potential and change the world by doing so.
Obviously, I’m a keen supporter of this campaign. It’s wrong that the number of women in such roles is so disproportionate and I don’t want Amelie growing up in a world with needless obstructions to her progress.
I want her to have the same opportunities as her brothers. As a result, I believe in establishing STEM skills as a matter of course.
There are numerous ways to nurture a love of STEM subjects as the infographic above illustrates. As well as reading relevant stories to Amelie, we have recently introduced her to our Cubetto Playset.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it’s a brilliant educational toy that makes a potentially tricky subject easy to understand. It’s as a gender-neutral toy and it goes without saying that it’s a lot of fun too.
Although she’s a few months younger than the recommended age, Amelie clearly gets a lot out of playing with it and is off to a great start.
She already understands the cause and effect relationship between the board and the robot. I’m happy that she’s learning the basics of coding so early in life. It can only serve her well at school and, of course, way beyond.
As part of the Coding Girls campaign, the people at Primo are offering a six-week paid internship at their London HQ this summer.
The successful candidate will have the chance to work in all departments and on significant projects. What’s more, the internship could even lead to a permanent role.
It’s definitely the kind of thing I would encourage Amelie to pursue if she were old enough. You can find out more about this fantastic opportunity and apply here.
One of my favourite words used to be ‘filibustering’. This is simply because of the sound of the word – I don’t like what it stands for, of course. Far from it. I was witness to a fair few Tory councillors doing something similar earlier this week.
They spoke at great length without actually saying anything, limiting the opportunities of those speaking out against library closures as the clock ticked down.
It was behaviour worthy of young children, which takes me nicely to the main point of this post. You see, my kids are becoming experts at wasting time.
Here are their top tactics.
Waiting for the toddler to nod off so I can escape downstairs to eat. After a prolonged silence, she has just started singing Chas n Dave songs. FFS!
I love that my children love music so much. This can only be a good thing, right? Well, mostly. It’s not a good thing at bedtime, for example.
As you can see from the embedded tweet above, I was treated to a medley of tunes by an iconic Cockney duo the other night. By the time she had finished belting out Rabbit and bits of Ossie’s Dream, my dinner was cold.
The boys are particularly good at this. Toys and games that have otherwise been used to keep portions of shelves free of dust suddenly become the Holy Grail of entertainment.
The other morning, I sent them upstairs to clean their teeth and caught them reading the instructions of a solar-powered robot toy they had previously shown no interest in.
I want that one
This is another of youngest’s go-to filibustering tactics. Much like Andy in Little Britain, she’ll appear decisive in her choices, only to change her mind immediately afterwards.
This is a particular problem at breakfast time. As a result, I’ve come to think of yoghurts as little pots of evil that have been sent to test me.
There’s nothing quite like saving money to put a spring in your step. I reminded myself of this recently by switching energy suppliers and getting a better deal on my broadband. All on the same day, no less.
This has given me the impetus to look at how we can save money on other large bills. Aside from the mortgage which we can’t renegotiate for a while and council tax which is obviously non-negotiable, TV is the next big expense on the hit list.
This poses something of a problem as, between us, we watch rather a lot of TV shows and, indeed, channels. As a result, we have just about every category there is in our current package.
When the kids eventually go to sleep, Kate and I love watching telly together. We never miss The Walking Dead and watch a lot of series on Sky Atlantic and Sky Living too.
In addition, having access to football is an absolute must for me. At the age of 38 and with limited natural ability plus a dodgy knee and asthma, I’ve finally accepted that I’ll never play for Spurs. So it’s important that I get to live vicariously by watching as many live games as possible.
Of course, the kids account for a large chunk of our viewing as a family. It’s not a day ending in Y if the likes of CBeebies, Peppa Pig, Teen Titans Go! and Ninjago don’t appear in the corner of the living room. I have to confess that I love watching Teen Titans as much as the boys do!
We enjoy watching films as a family each weekend too. Well, we do when all three kids actually manage to agree on the same choice. This means we need access to a large variety of age-appropriate movies that we can all enjoy together.
With such a wide variety of channels in our current deal, we pay a considerable amount every month. And, unsurprisingly, this adds up to a huge sum each year. We need a solution that’s cheaper but which won’t mean missing out on any of our favourite shows or channels.
One such option is Now TV. Particularly as the people at Groupon have some great offers that make the flexibility it offers even more affordable. At the moment, for example, you can save up to 40% on movies or sports.
I, for one, am going to look into these deals as it seems like they could save us a decent amount – time to rehearse my victory dance, methinks!
Today was a sad day. We learned that, despite council tax increases, our local library – as well as six others in the county – is to close. For the last few months, I’ve been campaigning with a group of like-minded school parents to keep it open.
We’ve worked really hard petitioning, raising awareness and encouraging people to complete the council’s consultation. We were there for today’s debate and subsequent verdict too.
Members of the public including one of my fellow campaigners and a child from the local primary school spoke eloquently and persuasively.
The speeches by those seeking to close the libraries were brief and blustered. Their arguments were flimsy, repetitive and failed to fully acknowledge the views of those most affected by the cuts.
I said ‘subsequent verdict’ but, in reality, it feels like the decision was a foregone conclusion. Despite the council’s protestations to the contrary, the consultation document was very misleading.
It wasn’t written in plain English and was full of leading questions. Many of the people we spoke to during the consultation period didn’t understand it.
In addition, the decision could have gone to full council. Instead, it went to the council’s cabinet. This consists of seven Tories and nobody else. Given their obsession with cutting public resources, this didn’t seem very fair.
And, although today was officially decision time, a new council budget had already been approved – with funding for libraries removed. If that isn’t a foregone conclusion then I don’t know what is.
I’m angry and upset that the council has ignored so many people. Essentially, we may as well have addressed our views to a brick wall. The savings the council will make by closing our library and six others are negligible, but the negative impact on communities is immeasurable.
When prompted to give their decision, all of the cabinet members agreed without batting an eyelid. There was much self-congratulation throughout the three-hour meeting and the chair of the cabinet even gave us his attempt at a comical shrug when the verdict was delivered.
It was an ill-judged act of flippancy on his part, but I suppose it was consistent with the council’s handling of the entire process.
I always like to try and find a positive in everything, but this is hard. The only thing I can think of for now is those of us who campaigned – as well as everyone who showed their support throughout, of course – have done a good thing.
We have stood up for what we believe in. In doing so, we have taught our children a valuable lesson. Clearly, our efforts have been in vain but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved by leading the fight to save our library.
I really don’t know where we go from here. I’m not sure if there’s even anything we can do, but I still want to try. Maybe we’ll suffer defeat again, but I, for one, am not ready to give up the fight just yet.
Welcome to the latest instalment in my series for new bloggers. This time, I’m discussing how to earn money via blogging. It’s something I never imagined I’d end up doing when I wrote my first post, but here I am making a living out of it seven and a half years later.
Obviously, this isn’t something that will happen overnight. Similarly, I’m not suggesting that people quit their jobs and pin everything on their blogs, but blogging can be a great way of making a little extra money.
My blog became my vocation more by accident than design. My plan was to make a living as a freelance copywriter and supplement that with blog collaborations. They quickly took over though and that was that.
Here are the things you’ll need to do in preparation to earn money via blogging.
First things first, you need to own your site in order to monetise it. Morally, you can’t earn money via a web presence that isn’t your own and a number of PRs will be looking for sites with a decent domain authority – more on that shortly.
So, if you’re on a free platform, you will need to upgrade to a self-hosted presence. Select a hosting provider and migrate your existing content to your blog’s new home.
Create loads of content
The good thing about this item on the to-do list is that it’s something that should occur naturally if you’re enjoying blogging. Brands and PRs want to work with bloggers who produce quality content and plenty of it.
Write posts about topics you are interested in and be true to yourself. Never underestimate the importance of this as it will become an asset as well as the best approach.
Grow an engaged audience
As well as having great copy that PRs and brands will love, you need to have an engaged audience. After all, they need to be confident that you will help them reach more people.
Take time to build up a following that you enjoy engaging with. Reply to comments, comment on other people’s blogs and follow and chat with others on social media.
Build up your domain authority
A number of PRs will want to know your domain authority before working with you. In short, it’s a score that estimates how well sites rank in search engine results. Anyone can find out the DA of any site so you may not be explicitly asked. What you need to do is concentrate on increasing yours.
You can do this by creating quality content, optimising your posts for SEO, getting links to and from other sites, linking to your own pages and fixing or removing broken or spam links.
Put together a media kit
As well as adding a Work With Me page, consider a media kit. They’re a great way of showcasing who you are, what your blog is about and the kind of content that you produce. They make the process of picking who to work with much easier for PR folk.
Include information about you and your blog, topline stats, what you offer and, of course, contact details. Once you’ve got some posts under your belt, add examples of previous collaborations. If design isn’t your forte, you can buy a template or create a free one.
Keep an eye out
Once you’re established, PR people will approach you with opportunities but there’s no harm in being proactive – particularly early on. Join Facebook groups where opportunities are shared with bloggers.
Technically, you don’t need to register as self-employed until you’re paid for the first time. That said, it’s worth keeping this in mind. Even if you have a job and pay tax already, you still need to register so that you can pay tax on anything you earn out of blogging.
I won’t lie here; it’s a pain and tax returns are far from fun, but it’s the law so you have to! You can find out more on the HMRC website.
As far as I’m concerned, these are the most important things to prepare to earn money via blogging. Good luck – who knows where it could take you?
I think I’ve covered all the important considerations and tasks for starting a blog, so this series will continue under another guise. I’ll be back with another post next week!
Happy World Book Day! It struck me that parents – and dads in particular – don’t often feature in the books I read to my kids. With that in mind, I challenged myself to think of a few literary dads to write about.
Most of those in books I’ve read have left a bit to be desired. Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff is a git. Adrian Mole’s old man is a slob and Matilda’s dad is ignorant.
Here, then, are five literary dads I can relate to in some way.
Okay, so there’s no resemblance, but he’s a father of three for starters. All he wants to do is get back to the family tree, but he’s thwarted at every turn by people who literally use him.
This is much like the situation I found myself in before quitting my old job to become my own boss. Writing and editing copy for a quango is rather similar to being deployed as a mast for a flag.
He may be a fair bit older than me, but he also has three kids. In addition, he has a beard, gets a little bit annoyed with the weather and is gradually losing the plot.
If you ignore the facts that he’s royal, has a favourite child and is responsible for a level of carnage most soap operas would stop short of, we’re basically the same person.
Fantastic Mr Fox
I’ll say right now that I’ve never stolen chickens or caused acres of countryside to be dug up. I don’t consider myself fantastic or ‘a fox’ either, but we do have something in common.
Mr Fox wants to provide for his family and isn’t afraid to stick it to the proverbial man in order to do so.
Yes, he gets outwitted by a tiny rodent but, then again, I was once left flummoxed by the instructions on a pack of Oat So Simple, so I’m hardly one to criticise.
I’m hairy and, thanks to using Corsodyl for too long, once had a black tongue. The most important similarity though is that he’s protective of his kid. Who inevitably ignores him.
I’ll end with a bit of a leftfield contribution courtesy of the source material for The Walking Dead. Graphic novels count as books, okay? Rick has faced all kinds of challenges and is still standing. If you think about it, we all encounter zombies every time we go shopping.
After becoming a dad for the first time, I found myself walking away from a hospital and along deserted streets, much like he does in issue one. Plus I’ve always had a habit of answering bullies back when it’s wiser to stay quiet. We’re practically twins!
Which literary dads – and, of course, literary mums – can you relate to?
Yes, that is probably one of the geekiest blog post titles I’ve ever published, but I well and truly stand by it!
I love technology and am always keen to try out new devices and gadgets as soon as possible. As a result, smart home devices are beginning to take over our house. We now have three smart speakers, a smart thermostat, a smart meter and a smart home monitoring kit.
They all make life so much easier and I wouldn’t go back to any of the previous setups we had in place. The smart thermostat that we had installed along with a new boiler last year has been particularly useful in the recent cold weather.
We’ve always used heating on demand – as opposed to via set programs – in order to save ourselves money. Being able to switch on the heating by voice command – via any of our smart speakers – suits this approach perfectly.
Similarly, I can use a companion app on my phone to switch it on when we’re on our way home. We always keep an eye on the smart meter, so never spend beyond our means. This is also better for the environment, so it’s a win-win situation.
Of course, I use my smart speakers in their own right every day too. I always check the weather forecast before going on the school run and stream some music over breakfast. I also use the one in my office to fact check things I mention in blog posts and to help with the boys’ homework.
The smart home monitoring kit, meanwhile, provides peace of mind. Although there’s almost always someone at home, it’s good to know that we have cameras, door sensors and an alarm set up. Again, I can manage it all remotely from my phone which is incredibly useful.
So will that do me? No chance! I’m already planning to make our home even smarter! I have asthma and suffer a lot at various times of year. A smart air purifier is therefore high up on my wishlist. I’m also tempted to switch to smart lighting too.
If you’re looking to buy some smart home devices, Future Home Shop has plenty of options available, as well as free next day delivery. It’s well worth a look if you’re thinking of investing in some new tech.
A couple of months ago, I blogged about some of the ridiculous things that have sparked arguments between my sons.
Since then, we’ve had the Christmas holidays, several weekends and a half term for them to get on each others’ nerves.
And they have done so with great aplomb. So, further to my previous post, here are five more petty things my sons argue over.
Identical ball bearings
Oldest got a game that is similar to 80s classic Screwball Scramble for his birthday and both boys love playing it. It keeps them away from screens and is good fun too. So nothing’s wrong, right? Wrong!
While they’re good at taking turns now, whoever isn’t playing simply must have the spare ball bearing. Obviously, they’re identical and can’t be told apart. Obviously, I’m missing something. Somehow or other, they can differentiate between them. Or at least they claim they can and blazing rows are guaranteed.
I was only half awake for this particular altercation as it occurred at the crack of dawn one Saturday. From what I can gather, they were playing with a combination of toys and their imaginations. They both have cuddly rabbits they’ve had since they were small so I assume that they were key players.
Both of them had imaginary fridges full of food, but here’s the problem. Only one of them had carrots in it. Obviously capable of imagining a fridge but not one with said vegetable in it, one boy managed to somehow steal the imaginary carrots. In the ensuing existential confrontation, a very real theft occurred. That of our sleep.
One of the previous five petty things the boys argue about has come back to haunt me. Namely the cushions from the old sofa. Yes, we got rid of it due to a combination of permanent damage and boundary disputes but, like idiots, kept the cushions.
Our logic was that they were too good to send to the tip. Somehow, they ended up in the boys’ room. And somehow, it became the vogue to sandwich themselves in them while reading. And he who isn’t a sofa cushion sarnie is a very cross little lad indeed.
Oneupmanship is a common theme of sibling squabbles and the boys seem to take it upon themselves to score points off one another for the most trivial of things. The latest centred on two new jackets.
Were they happy to get new coats to keep them warm in the freezing weather? Well, one of them was. The one who found that his jacket has six pockets in it. The one whose coat has a paltry four, however, was temporarily inconsolable.
Toilet roll innards
To adults, the cardboard tubes you get in the middle of loo rolls are an annoyance. They’re so small and insignificant that it doesn’t feel like they warrant taking straight to the recycling box. If you leave them on the bathroom floor, however, there’s hell to pay.
You see, if one child beats another to them and is caught doing so, the dispute will rumble on for hours. Obviously, I’m missing something again as the boys treat them like bricks of gold. If cryptocurrencies fail to stand the test of time, buy a family pack of bog roll and you’re onto a winner. Apparently.