Busy Going Nowhere


There is nothing interesting in this post.  It is purely about my domestic routine today and possibly a very dull post.

As all best laid plans do, when I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen next, today’s plans did not pan out exactly as I predicted and went completely in the other direction.

Yesterday the daughter was off school after we’d picked her up on Tuesday when she’d been complaining of breathing difficulties and a pain in her chest when she breathed in deep.  We tried her a few times with her inhaler which she hasn’t broke out for over a year, but even this made her cry because she said it caused pain.  We were still at the “play it by ear” stage of thinking as she was physically well apart from this and it was only when she went to give us a goodnight kiss that evening when we noticed her lips were cyanotic.

We had to battle with not wanting to be a knee jerk parent who rushes their child to A&E for an itchy foot against not wanting to be the parent who thinks the loss of an arm is manageable with a Band-Aid.  Luckily we have a few friends who work in nursing and we were able to phone them up to pick their brains on how they thought we should deal with this.  Frankly we are confident and competent parents, but at times like these it’s nice to have another voice just for reassurance.

In the end we opted for turning the baby monitor on and sporadically checking on the daughter throughout the night.  The most reassuring times during the night were when she coughed or took a drink from by her bed and we knew for that small period of time we didn’t need to go in and disturb her further.

Most of yesterday was spent making sure she was wrapped up and watching her TV shows on her tablet something we never did for our son, if he was of school we ensured he was bored when in “recovery mode” so it would never be a strong enough motivator for faking an illness ), eating small amounts, napping when she naturally fell asleep and keeping her topped up with magic calpol. It felt yesterday there was lots of running around getting nothing done, but as both the daughter and the wife weren’t doing so well the house getting messier over time no matter how hard I tried to stop that, was going to happen regardless.

I’d resigned myself to the fact that today was going to be one of those days again and I’d just have to work a little bit harder to keep the state of the house static. However, and this is one of those moments where I have to wonder if my daughter has any of my genes at all, we spent the very start of the morning being as quiet as possible so as not to wake the little girl. 8am came though and she’d got out of bed all ninja style her noises were not picked up on the monitor, which we’d still got the in her room, and was down stairs fully dressed and ready to go to school Sans breakfast.
What child does that? Sneaks around, puts on the charm offensive and begs to go to school, she really is a rare one indeed.  She did have her breakfast, we just went in a little later and let the teacher know how keen she had been but we were at home all day so could come at any point to collect her.

It felt good that I got to go home and be my default ‘Mr Domestic’ today.

I’m not a person to brag, in fact I suspect I usually default to humility, deference,  and self depreciating esteem as I feel were I to have too much confidence then ultimately just come across as an arrogant arse hole, but today I did very well.
Lots of financial paperwork for foster child was done that had been building up and needed the receipts scanning, logging and balancing.  I sorted the medications and tablets that over the Christmas period seemed to have been gathering in little pockets around the house, EBay sales were set rolling (as well as all the software to make this happen was downloaded and reinstated on the Mac) several rounds of laundry were complete, I cooked a full roast dinner with hassle back roast baby potatoes.  Whilst cooking the dinner I remembered I had a big tub of home-made white sauce that needed using in the fridge very soon after had prepped up 4 individual cauliflower cheese dishes for tea tomorrow and I’ve done all the pot washing, to then take my son to his guitar lesson, then back home to get the children bathed and into bed.  Followed up by catching up on two weeks worth of daily records for the foster child, which takes some time on it’s own, then more laundry and packing of all the school bags for tomorrow so there will be no rushing around in the morning.

I genuinely thought today was going to be a day where I only got the bare essentials completed in the house because I would have a little one to look after and entertain, but it turns out the girl’s defective gene changed those plans and I got to reset the house.

Some day’s it’s nice just to be domestic and reset the house to zero.  It’s nice to find a place for everything and restore a small level of equilibrium, regardless of how much you know this really isn’t going to last.  Though I’m not a believer in the practice of Feng Shui and the thought that arranging materialistic items into a certain pattern can channel ethereal energies more effectively around a home, it does feel calming to the mind and soul when all the home is clean and you sit down knowing in the back of your mind that there isn’t anything that needs cleaning, tidying, sorting or arranging at some point.

Today was one of those days.

Small society

So David Cameron’s big society failed, who’d have thought it.

It doesn’t take an astute person to predict a government synonymous for their elitism, out of touch views on the greater society, suppressing of paedophile rings, back slapping with big cooperation’s, an obvious ‘in bed’ affinity with the newspapers, a blatant disregard for a lot of basic human rights; the systematic dismantling of the services that make our country great, nursing, social services, teaching, law and even the strangling of the arts to name but a few of their abhorrent practices is not going to be a government that will successfully and to fruition implement changes and pathways of support for the underclass of the society.

As a side note, cutting the funding to arts and the strangling of education reminds me of a quote from one of my favourite films (I have many favourite films)

Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.

But I digress, the Guardian talks of the failure of this idea and the hypocrisy of the people who were Screenshot 2015-01-21 15.24.38supposedly going to champion it and now as a new election looms we recognise the fakery and total lack of gusto behind the previous proposed societal changes

I think however that this could eventually lead to the change and revolution we need.

And I’m not talking about the Russell Brand revolution, a revolution that smacks of modern day dramatisation of Animal Farm with Russell being Napoleon and his legion of fans the attack dogs. Seriously, who actually has any faith in anything Russell Brand says, for a short period of time his flame shone bright and he seemed like he was going to effect the change we need. Now he reminds me of the contestants that left the Big Brother house when it was at the height of it’s popularity. They would be told what the public liked about them and they would amp all the phrases they said or the mannerisms they portrayed ultimately becoming pantomime caricatures of themselves.   Russell seems nothing more than Pantomime Russell Brand who we love to boo, hiss and cheer though ultimately not take seriously.

The revolution I believe that could happen will be a very slow process but could carry the unstoppable weight of a creeping glacier. It won’t be an uprising where the populace take an action if the government brings in a change that is the final straw and the crucible to muster our anger to take to the streets, unfortunately we are too western to jeopardise our home comforts (me included) We will never suddenly or dramatically be the change we need.

As the government keep bombarding us with cuts and restrictions of civil liberties our society will find new ways to survive. Together we will find ways to be happy, to keep our family units strong and will draw closer to form the communities of support where we live that in no way could have ever been created by a policy or a motion in the house of lords.

Families will support families and friend will support friends and communities will build up as a response to the needs of the many. We will relearn to truly appreciate the people we have around us and what we can do for each other, to support ourselves through these times. Sometimes we need to recede and regroup to survive. Even at a biological level our bodies respond protect us in extreme weathers

Instinctively, the web of surface capillaries on your hands constrict, sending blood coursing away from your skin and deeper into your torso. Your body is allowing your fingers to chill in order to keep its vital organs warm.

During the miners strike in 1984, though I’m fully aware that I only talk only about my memories as a 12 year old boy without real political insight or greater understanding of what was happening at the time, I remember walking 2-3 miles into Mansfield town centre a few times a week just so I could get a meal from the soup kitchen. I remember parcels of food from all over Europe being delivered to our house just so my mum and dad could put something on the table for us to eat (I remember eating octopus and beans on toast for breakfast as no other family would accept it when it came in the food parcels from France). I remember the love and the closeness and the sense of being part of the community of support that the hardship brought us.

My mum went from living in a patriarchal home after a traditional upbringing where the women looked after the family and to becoming an important member of a local support group, helping with soup kitchens, going on marches, public speaking and being taken seriously and respect. As a result of that time, she is now a woman you wouldn’t want to mess with when she sets her mind to something, those times have made her strong.

So the faux big society was a front and the time of austerity is a god-awful unbalanced tool to throw the underclass further down the tunnel of desperation. But this means we will gather closer, this means we can love harder and value the people around us and the time we spend together looking away from the shiny shiny distractions

I firmly believe we are strong and we will have our big society, but it will be of our own creation.

Pickled people, or Peripheral Domestic Paraphernalia Part 2

When we moved to Wales 4 years ago we had a lot of free time on our hands for the first year.  We went from being a family where both adults worked,FB_IMG_1419589939681 juggled childcare and ran our hectic lives the best we could, to stay at home folk.  In selling the house, we chose to take the risk of not tying ourselves to a job straight away, or a house chain.  In doing so we opted for renting and therefore could look at living anywhere in the country.

As a result of this idea, we burned through the entirety of our equity from selling the house, in the space of that first year.  This has been the best decision we have ever made, it helped the transition to our new life and let us focus on getting to know the local area and adjusting to our new pattern of living.

One of the things we got into with all our free time was Pinterest, the website for bookmarking, sharing and remembering neat ideas that you’d like to try at one time or another.  We used it to group together ideas about cooking , crafting, places to visit, things for the home and random stuff (but obviously you can mix it up exactly how you like) so we could not only fill our time, but so we could change the look of our lives and our home.

An idea we saw, and ultimately liked was the recycling of glass jars for picture frames.  We went a little mad and filled our whole mantle piece with a variety of pictures in a variety of jars, and it worked a lot better than we planned.  I’m sure a few pockets of jars here and there would also look cool in their isolation or stylistically minimalist approach, but a mass of collected jars seems to have it’s own style too.

Obviously we could swap out the photo’s if we wanted to at any time (like any picture frame), but actually found when we went to do a refresh we actually still really liked each and every one we had picked.  We call this collection of pictures our pickled people.

Peripheral Domestic Paraphernalia

Looking around the house I happily realise that I have with the collusion of my family filled up the shelves, the picture rails, the mantle piece, the window sills and the walls with a lot of memories.  Though we never deliberately set out to make the crafting of our bubble so important to us, as our home evolved a shape of it’s own that no matter how often it is dismantled, packaged away and reconstructed to fit a new house (we have moved 3 times since coming to Wales, a downfall of renting properties) it now has a life and form making it distinguishable regardless of the house it is in .

I remember my Grandad having stock phrases, almost clichéd aphorisms that were purely his own verbal idiosyncrasies and never destined to be written in some fancy font on  a generic stock photo of a sunrise and sold by big corporations as a life motivational poster. They were phrases we rolled our eyes at after we heard them for the umpteenth time, where we could precognitively recognise the change in his posture or the inhalation he would take before he said them.  It was those words that form the strongest parts of my memories of him and now I find myself with my own rhythm of axioms that’s syllables form their own beat in my life and push my own personality through time to oxygenate who I am.

The one I’m thinking of today, though I have many more, is

a family does not just happen, it has to be crafted.

You have to give time and effort, thought and passion to the family to nurture it to be the best that it can be.  I have been lucky that life has offered me the space to stay at home and craft just a little bit more, something that is so important to me.

Don’t get me wrong, this crafting applies to personal happiness, friendships, new years resolutions, and every other aspect of anyone’s life that they feel is important and as long as you give it your attention and realise nothing will come passively but only as a direct result of making it happen, then treating it as a craft will help you become artisan.

Looking around the house this morning whilst the rest of the family sleeps, I thought I’d share just a corner that has a story or an idea to it, an area I feel is worth a share.

A few years ago my wife went out and bought a big silver alphabet letter, that came at the front 2015-01-18 04.55.36of her name.  She would have bought one for each member of the family but it was on sale and therefore her letter was the only one available.  We joked for a long time after this that no one else got representation with the letters and her purchase of the singluar S was a matriarchal move.
Then whilst looking around the internet she found a friend of hers painted letters as personalised gifts for people to buy for friends or relatives and as a result I got a P with the Caribbean logo of my favourite chilli sauce (Encoda, which I start to panic when we get below six bottles)

This soon grew into the purchase of one for the daughters birthday (The E) and a second letter was added. Now we had two it almost seemed remiss not to get more and for Christmas one was bought for our son C (the dark blue one in the picture) and our current foster child (an M, not in the picture)  Each letter2015-01-11 15.29.36 having something painted on it that represents the person it was intended for.  When we had our next foster child it wasn’t long after they first came to us we agreed that we would have them for the rest of their lives and the letter was a representation of that and something we purchased straight after the meeting we said yes in.  At the time, the young person had a habit of making duck noises almost constantly (the young person has either Autism or Global Development Delay, so a lot of sensory behaviours were present)  and they got the letter C with the duck on.

But that isn’t the end of that story.  When we recognised we had a tradition, we had to have the debate about what we would do with the letters when the children moved on.  Do we give them to the children to leave with, even though the stay may not be long and a lot of the foster children we cared for presented classic attachment disorder behaviours and had they a tendency to destroy property and items they owned. Or do we keep the letters to form the whole picture of our families life journey.  It was a toughie as an argument could be made for both.

Ultimately we chose to hang on to the letters, even when the foster children moved on and regardless of whether the placement had broke down aggressively or not, as the child was always loved by us for the period of time they could emotionally tolerate.  Our decision was to keep the letter with the letters, whilst the child was with us, but move it to another part of the room when they moved on.

Currently we only have one letter other in the house, apart from the ones pictured here, but I suspect this will grow over time and we will be able to pick each letter up and tell the story it comes with, even if at times it will be difficult to tell, and recount the time that letter was grouped with the rest of us.

After typing this I went to watch  “Stranger Than Fiction” with Will Ferrell (everyone should watch it) and the quote at the end seems to fit my blog post perfectly. It talks of all the small things in your life

And we must remember
that all these things
the nuances, the anomalies,
the subtleties
which we assume
only accessorize our days
are, in fact, here for a much larger
and nobler cause:
They are here to save our lives.
I know the idea seems strange.
But I also know that it is true

Staying in is the new staying in

I have never understood the lure of going out to pubs and clubs, drinking.  Sitting around a table smoking (I’ve never smoked), drinking and hanging out with the friends for several hours in the evening seems the worse kind of stretched out social torture I can think of.  Somehow the whole idea of paying a shocking amount of money for average beer, to stand around, unless there’s a table free, and squeeze out conversation over an insipid musical background, seems a waste of my time and effort.

I’m not unsociable and I love having friends around to my home to keep their company, to talk and to connect.  But the culture of getting together in a bar as a regular thing is antithetical to connection, feels forced and a distraction from the multitude of more fulfilling things I could be doing.

Equally I’m not the type of person who rallies so hard against this lifestyle choice I make a point of always telling people how much I don’t like it and don’t get it at every opportunity I’m given.  I’m fully aware there are enough people in the world who do this regular, enjoy the social aspect, craft strong friendships and even great relationships out of this circle of friends and that is fine.

I find it a distraction from everything else that is going off in the world and all that hard-earned money and precious time could be spent elsewhere rather than on finding an outfit, getting to the venue, paying for the drinks, making conversation and ultimately at some point sharing more personal information than you would initially plan on doing.  To me this feels like a diversionary behaviour to distract us from how day-to-day life can sometimes be difficult.

Again, making an argument against my case, every time I have said yes to an evening out I have enjoyed it, though I suspect this is because it is rare and therefore a novelty rather than a lifestyle choice.  I’ve never got too drunk and usually made it home just before closing time.

Like the joke

How can you tell if someone has competed in Tough Mudder?
They tell you with 5 minutes of meeting you.

I find people seem to feel the need to justify their nights out by telling you what time they came home and how it was nearly morning or even past morning when they staggered up their street or was rolled out of a taxi to crawl into bed and how they lost a few days ‘just recovering’.  I really can’t understand what this shows other than the need to quantify your actions by telling people you still have some stamina associated with youth, and why anyone would need to emulate youth once they make it into adulthood I have no idea.  Have you seen skins?  It’s populated my whiny fuckwits and angsty teens with no sense of reality failing to look in any way tolerable as human beings, whilst the adults run around trying to keep them safe as they pass through the abhorrent westernised materialistic, no sense of the real world, rite of passage they feel they need to go through during those post-school/pre-adult years.

I never understood it before I had a family, so this isn’t even a viewpoint of someone who has been there and done that.  This is the viewpoint of someone who has never liked doing that and felt like it’s a hopeless act of fakery and adult disconnection, trying to carve a false identity of fun until you actual find out who you are and refocus on genuine long-term happiness.

With two of my own children and my role as a foster carer I have learned how much there is to appreciate in simple domesticity.  With the growth in great quality drama and enthralling TV shows, my ever burgeoning boardgame collection, reading with the children, doing crafts, nurturing the family and spending time with my wife, I don’t see why I’d want to go out drinking as a getaway or as a break.  Anytime doing so would be eating into the time I genuinely love.

Off the top of my head I could name a dozen TV shows that are well written, dark, intriguing and phenomenally good viewing (Agents of shield, Boardwalk Empire, Constantine, Gotham, Outnumbered, Dexter, House, The Newsroom, West Wing) which keep conversations going and stimulate a lot more talking points than how drunk you got, how vulnerable you left yourself whilst you were out or how much of your income you spent in some big pub chain.

Then there’s boardgames, finally growing the interest that they deserve, so much so The Guardian has a whole section dedicated to the hobby and how it brings people together.  If you are going to sit around a table then why not challenge yourself, have a laugh and do something a little more stimulating.

Come back to the Original social network.  The table.

Staying in and being at home full-time has filled my soul more than a bowl of chicken soup or an anecdote about vomiting in an alley can and nearly having a one night stand with someone who you have no attraction with ever could.  Being in, when you work at it rather than experience it passively with no engagement or interaction, can fill you or emotional tank right back up and with a full heart the ennui life can sometimes feeds you is soon evaporated and the ability to perceive the most simple everyday nuanced joys is brought to the fore.

Why being board, rules

When I say Boardgames to you, what do you think of?

Maybe your thoughts go straight to Cluedo, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Mousetrap or Game of life.  Maybe you think of the dreaded post-Christmas, argument inducing, table flipping Monopoly, or Trivial Pursuit where the need for an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything is essential or there will be lots waiting for that one random question to come out so you can get another piece of the pie.  Do these associations make you want to go invest in one of these games and bring them out to play with the children?  I know when I think of them I think of far too many plastic pieces for so little fun that can only be had with lots of pretending when the children ask to play them. I know for me there is very little there I would want to endure with my child, unless they’ve been really naughty.

Did you know there’s actually are thousands upon thousands more games out there that are fun, short, engaging, inclusive and actually can be covertly educational, but only as a side effect and not because any designer has set out to make it that way.  When I say short I’m thinking 30-40 minutes, so a game can be long enough to keep most children involved right until the end and will not be the abhorrent marathon of pain and tears that Monopoly can be.

There are games where you actually work together, as a team, and have to talk to each other to work out the best way to beat the board.  There are games where you are encouraged to bluff and lie and think about the next moves as there may be a myriad of choices.  There are games where you build trains across a sprawling map of Europe trying to connect cities before your opponent does, or even games where you use your imagination to make up wild and fantastical stories to win the game.

These games are amazing for bringing the family together, dragging them away from the computers and the TV’s and getting them to interact on a totally new level.   These games will teach your children new ways of thinking, new ways of interacting whilst still having a lot of fun, and will not only be just as much fun for you to play with them or even with your own friends when the children are not around.

There is a resurgence going on with board games and though you may not know it, there’s an industry growing exponentially and as time goes on there are better and more interesting games coming out all the time, last year alone over one thousand new games were released.

There are cafes setting up around the world and now around the UK that not only provide a light snack and a drink but also provide a library of games to pull out, 6a010534a85cc1970b017d41b87777970csit down with your friends or family and play whilst you relax. In these places, all of the staff are also trained to teach you these games if there is something you like the look of but haven’t played before.

There are groups of adults and children meeting up weekly just to gather to play games and interact with each other.  Even the bigger retail book stores or stationary, toy shop chains are now starting to stock some of the easier to access games because they can see this is going to be big.  I have even heard Waterstones have begun to have sections of the store where you can just turn up and play games from a library of what they sell.

I intend to pick one out each week and tell you exactly why you should go out and buy it now, I’ll tell you where to look and why it’ll be a purchase you won’t regret.

Seeing as this is my first post though I’ll be generous and give you four games and a short synopsis for each one

Amazon, Gameslore


This type of game is becoming more popular simply because it breaks the mold of what traditional games are where everyone is working to complete the same objective and singularly be crowned the ultimate winner.  In games like Forbidden Island you all work together to try to find artifacts hidden around the board.  eng1

Everyone has a skill that only you can do and this skill will help you be an important member of the team trying to get off the Island.  Everyone is trying to get off the island together and if anyone doesn’t get off the Island, you don’t win the game.  A lot of the time you won’t win the game, it isn’t designed to be easy, but that is what makes this game great, the fun is trying to win and everyone going through the same drama as flood waters rise whilst you frantically try to gather hidden treasure and return to the dock to escape.nav1

This game is about talking to each other and working out what your best move is as the Island slowly sinks into the sea. As each turn goes forward the landscape, you are running around, changes and areas go underwater (there is a diver that can help with this) and your team choices have to change too.  Everyone can feel they’ve played a part in the game as it can’t be won by one person alone. Everyone gets their say and this is what also makes the game so special.

Amazon, Gameslore


This is an abstract game.

This means there’s no theme of ghosts and goblins or zombies or knights or cyberpunks.  In Indigo, you are presented with a hexagonal board where you have to gather jewels by placing pieces of a path to lead them back to your home base.  Or if you want you can try to steal the jewels that your opponents are guiding towards their home.

This a beautiful game with its ornate board and easy to follow rules that even my 5-year-old understands and can play a mean game.

Don’t be fooled though, there are enough tactics to make this interesting and strategic.  Everybody’s won jewels are hidden behind a board so you are never sure of who has scored what, also if you have 3 or more players then you will find you share spots with other players so as you guide your points in you have to work out who you want to be giving the points to as you don’t want to put somebody so far ahead you can’t catch up.1907932_683157728467388_3607201232519245625_n

Ultimately though, the game is different, fun and easy  enough to have you wanting to bring it out over and over again.  This game plays in 20 minutes and when you are done the board looks wonderful and different every time.  Your children will love making the patterns, sliding the jewels and snatching them away from you before you get to bring them home yourself.

Hey, that’s my Fish
Fantasy Flight Games
Amazon, Gameslore

Don’t be mistaken by the childish exterior of this game, when played amongst us adults it can be a cut throat and strategic game. But that is its beauty and the reason why I believe this is a game you need to invest in, to play with your children. Not only can it be played with very little tactical skills and greater move planning, it also is very visual and textile game with lovely penguin shaped pieces to move around the board trying to end up the most fish and every time you and your child move you will get a physical piece to hold onto until the end of the hands where you can then  count up the pieces to see who has won, so this is building on numeracy skills whilst they have fun.

In the gaming group I go to some of the hardened gamers will break this out as a ‘filler game’ (a little game to play in between the larger meatier ones) because they like how it scales well depending on the number of players and it’s a game they can play hard with each other or they can break it out with friends and relations children and know they will still have a great time playing it.

Story Time
Asmodee Games
Amazon, Gameslore

This is an amazing game once you get over the hurdle of making things up and using the imagination.  This is an aspect some children may feel a little nervous about, making stories up and talking out loud, but that is why this game is great as it gets easier and easier to play the more it is taken out and then you can let your imagination run wild.

Storytime is exactly what it says on the box, it’s about telling stories and making fantastical adventures up with silly plot lines and ridiculous characters, the more extravagant the story, the more fun you will have.  Be warned though, anything that is significant to the plot line has to be remembered as the story goes on, so if you name the main character Hurdle-burdle-bingbang-chafftank, then that is the name you need to use throughout.  Equally though it’s the name your opponents have to use throughout too so it might be worth throwing a daft place or person name out as you go.

In this game, everyone is dealt a hand of cards they need to play throughout the story and a moral they need to wrap up the story with.  1If you can guide the story to your happy ending and play all of your cards before you get there, then you win the game.  This is a lot harder than it sounds as your opponent may be taking the characters off to kill a dragon in some dangerous hills, yet you may need to save a true love from a well and when picking up the story from them as they head into the hills looking for a winged beast you will need to steer it back to your conclusion.

And that is the best bit.  You are all telling the same story, you don’t have separate plots but the same one, so if your turn comes up you need to keep the same story going and you are only able to discard a card by playing it from your hand as a significant and integral plot point.  Make a mistake or have the story taken off you (another player can play interrupt cards or if you mention something in the story that they have a card relating to they can discard that card and continue the story) and you have to pick another card up that you will need to weave into that story

4 4 3

I could be talking about taking my knight to a mountain retreat and I need to get him to a woodcutter’s house as that is one of the cards that I have.  So I say that on his journey to the dragon’s lair he hears about an enchanted axe that can cut through trees with a single blow and the hero thinks this will aid his quest so he goes into the deep forest to retrieve it.  As soon as I say Forest another player, if he has that card that says forest (like in the picture above), discards that card and takes over the story.

This game is silly, fun and is really a great game for getting the imagination of your children going.  Playing this can work on all levels and is just as much fun if you have a few friends around having beers and kicking back together and you fancy being a bit silly.

Just watch this video of Wil Wheaton (he played the main character Gordie in Stand By Me back in the 80’s and Wesley Crusher off Star Trek: The Next Generation) playing it on his Tabletop web show on YouTube

And these are just a few of the games that are on offer, and there many more

3 things, free things

After a busy two days, I get to relax a little today.

Obviously this only comes after the morning routine of motivating the children, taking my caffeine fix to make me chemically happy, driving the children to school, buying some mayonnaise so I can make some homemade coleslaw tonight, collecting more pain relief meds for the wife, cleaning the pots, putting on the laundry on, folding the drying and filling out the diary to be sure of what we have the next couple of days.  Also taking into account I have the daughter’s room to clean out later, tax forms to complete for the end of the financial year regarding fostering and a total income and expenditure plan for the family to fill in because the debt management team are calling on Friday to refresh my account details.

But this is a relaxing day.

When I sit down and write at the moment I feel inclined to write deep wordy prose contemplating the complexities of my life.  I’m not sure why this is, but I don’t want this blog to become so clogged with false pretension I can’t write the disposable guff as well.  So for this post let me suggest a few things you can go off and do with your time if you are so inclined.

Download and use Instaqoute

Instaquote is a little app for the Android operating system (it might be for IOS too but I have no idea and you can always use the internet to find that out) that lets you take pictures ‘ala Instagram’ and quotes to them.  I guess were you inclined you screen capture the sunrise and put something syrupy and clichéd on top to then add that to your Facebook stream, though I don’t recommend that because these Facebook posts are the second most annoying digital detritus that clog up an otherwise lovely stream of information on these sites (the first being game requests, don’t get me started on game requests)

What I’ve found these suit is when the daughter says something obtuse, like a 6 year old in genetically programmed to do, I try to take a picture to put the loony phrase next to it for posterity.  I know years ago when my first child was born somebody said I should write down all of these moments in a book to read back on in years to come, and in hindsight I wish I had.  Even though I’ve only done ten or so of these Instaquotes I rue the fact I haven’t documented these moments sooner.

I also like to take random phrases from Twitter and add images to them, Twitter can be a very funny place to pass the short pockets of time where you are waiting for prescriptions, or dinners to cook, or in a doctor’s waiting room, and there are some genuinely very funny people on there catering solely to the twitter crowd.

instaquote-23-11-2014-16-24-02 instaquote-05-11-2014-07-44-03
  instaquote-07-11-2014-08-57-23 instaquote-03-11-2014-12-01-41

Follow some funny people on Twitter.

Twitter is a wonderful platform populated by every social demographic you know and a whole host you don’t. Inbreds, racists, food lovers, bloggers, teens that don’t know how to write, spam bots and a thousand things you can’t think of.

This tapestry of awesome doesn’t occur naturally though, you can’t switch Twitter on and expect it to be wonderful, you have to interact with it, search it, curate the people you want to follow and see who the people you grow to like also follow to fine tune your reading more.

On the Twitter page (and many apps) you can create “lists” or follow lists created by someone else.  This is a great tool for sitting down and following only one stream of information.  I’ve made (or follow) foodie lists, news reporter lists, comedians, sexual health workers, fostering lists, autism lists and a few others. Then when I want to read up on something in particular I head to these lists.  They don’t appear in your main stream, unless you follow the users anyway.  They act as a separate place to put all the Tweeters you are interested in, but really don’t want to see daily.

There are just a few of the Tweets that I genuinely love.

Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.18.20  Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.18.26 Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.18.31 Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.18.14

Here is a quick list I made up of some of the funny people I follow.

Discover new music

The internet is an amazing source of new free music, and I don’t mean illegal downloads.  There are genuine up and coming bands, or people who just like performing, that want you to listen to their music.  Obviously they want to eat as well so they share a few songs on the off-chance that if you like it you will go off and buy more of their tunes.

I love this idea or the freemium model (release something for free that you are confident is of high quality and people will return to buy more) and I happily buy the albums of people I find by searching the internet and falling in love with the songs I hear.  It’s opened my ears to tunes I may have never heard before and anything new that I discover rather have it piped through the radio on a pre-chosen playlist, feels a little more personal and a lot more enjoyable to listen to.

There are many sites that can fulfil this niche but the one I like is called Jamendo and lets you search by type, mood, instruments played, what’s most played to a point where you could search with the most intensely fine tuned criteria.  Then you can download the tracks they share, for free.  The only caveat is if you put it up on the web or use it commercially you need to give the artist credit and if you’re really like it then go to the artist’s website and buy something off them.

These are just a few I fell in love with and who I have been and bought the albums of with no qualms about spending my money on them

The artists are

Josh Woodward

My Terrible Friend

Chris Bathgate

So there you have it. Three things to lose yourself on the internet over and not feel like you’ve wasted your time.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

I got my first Christmas present today for my family for this year, only 345 days to go.

Each year I try to get all of my presents done as soon as I can, though I usually forget by mid-February at stop actively thinking of people as I walk around the shops.  Then I slot right back in with the atypical folk of leaving the shopping until the last 3 months, sometimes 3 weeks.

A few years ago I got into home crafting such as making my own soap, blueberry vodka, jams, chutneys, biscuits, cakes and such forth.  The wife and I spent the run up to Christmas, many months before, personalising gifts, hand stitching bags with our friends children’s names on and making items fit in.  It was a great idea and something I loved sinking myself into, even if it probably worked out we spent a little more on everyone and the time dedicated to making it all look nice was longer than we would have done scrolling through the Not in the High street, Etsy, Amazon and such like.  I even did a few videos of the soaps I made because it was all still a novelty.

This was tarnished however by one or two people ripping open our gifts and tossing them to the side because they didn’t understand them, like them or recognised they weren’t bought from a shop.  This total ingratitude and deviation from what Christmas should be put us back a little and next year we just didn’t have the drive to make the effort.

It’s been about 3 years since we gave that a go so this year I’m back on the horse, although there’ll be a two-pronged approach so as to not have all the joy sucked from us from the Bah humbug killjoys.  The people we know who want an item from a retailer that is new, shiny and needs to come from a shop will get just that, we’ll still put thought into it and endeavour to make sure it will be something they like and use, whilst the majority of our friends will get the a more personal gift.

This year I’m thinking of hampers with soaps, chutneys, jams, framed pictures, a few simple print and play games and a selection of soaps.  The real task will be finding the boxes to present them in, the packaging for the boxes, and how to lay it all out.  I have a year to work this out so I’m not too panicked.

I’m also thinking of doing a big batch of blueberry vodka in nice bottles, but I can’t guarantee I’ll send that to anyone.


In today’s Guardian Tim Lot talks about how the doom of technology and how an electronic apocolypse is imminent 

I can’t see it myself, I love my gadgets and not because I’m a fetishistic technophile who has to have the latest thing regardless of whether the old shiny object has out lived it’s stay.  I love what my gadgets do for me on a practicle day to day basis and though I would survive if they all were disabled in some evil machiavellian plot where an electro magnetic pulse ala James Bond’s Goldeneye turned them all off, I don’t think I would have a problem readjusting.  Partly this is due to by extensive board game collection.

My phone is my daily hub that I use do much I carry two spare batteries most of the time.  I have all my podcasts downloaded to it, The Guardian news feeds into it each day, my kindle is on, my audio books, I have a world newsreader for articles I like to read from across the globe, my twitter links to an app that will draw in and format all the news stories I hit that I want to read. It connects me to brief interjections of conversation I have for 5 minutes on Facebook whilst waiting out side out the school for my daughter and it’s the tool I use to navigate now GPS and open forum SatNav technology has took off so well.

Ten years ago when texts reached their tipping point and it became socially comfortable, rather than a novelty, for everyone to use them, they helped my wife and her sister keep up short but very important communications at a point in their lves when a private event they could have easily have moved them apart and knocked away the family bond.  One hundred and sixty character texts of polite conversation, and the smaller pleasantries that keep a family engine moving in atypical day to day life saved that. At that point the tech of text was enough to keep a dialogue going and in my opinion prevented them from being a family torn apart.

Technology isn’t pulling at us or tearing our societal skills leaving some empty bashful husks behind, I find it’s reinforcing our ability to interact with the greater world and giving us a much needed digital  exoskeleton  if we are willing to climb in. antisocial-train-passengersTechnophobic articles like this are anathema to the progress and beauty to be found in technology and saying “I don’t get it” whilst trying to toll the bells of doom is disparate to the to our social evolution.  We should be supporting each other to understand how tailorable to each individual it can be.

When used correctly these technologies are tools to bring people together, connect communities and bridge personal divides that would have otherwise fell into the ever flowing river that is our lives to be washed away with time and cloudy memories.

A few years back my first girlfriend contacted me on Facebook (not totally out of the blue but after she’d seen me on a TV show where I got my willy out and didn’t say nice things about her…. which is a long story in it’s self) which initially seemed strange.  After a few brief messages back and forth catching up on what each other was doing with our lives and how we’d grown up a lot since those naive youthful times, we fell into the natural Facebook friends rhythm that doesn’t require constant interaction.  She slotted into my stream of daily updates of flowing chatter and minor contacts with family pictures, moans about work, frustrations, revelations, celebrations and the minute.

Being friends again was a fitting detail in my life that was like the completing of a circle that is rarely reconnected in a person’s lifetime and was not something I could have predicted, pretechnology.  Social media in all it’s guises is the perfect platform to foster all the good karma in our souls we are designed to hand out and so rarely get to do. Share posts and likes and comment on the mundanity of everyday events and you soon realise that life can move on without bridges being burned or pasts being buried.

Just a generation ago if a relationship ended then the couple would split up and the jarring emotions of that time would be put in a state of stasis never being allowed to dissolve over time or be given the opportunity to be examined with our maturing precepts. The easiest way to move would be without resolution or closure.  Anger would always remain anger if that was the last feeling experienced and though time may blur that for us, it still leaves a stain on the conscious and gives and imbalance to the schemata by which future choices are made.  With the iteration of social networks it is easy enough to have pockets of contact with everyone in your groups and to look into the lives of where these past flames are. In doing so you realise that time does change many things and the safety of that little screen in your pocket can allow you to happy for the other person.

I find these connections just as important as I do my close friends, my work friends and people I’ve added through some real life social networking.  It helps build a rounded soul and compliments the fact that we are always striving to pass this skill onto our children. It can be a wonderful, warm and nourishing skill the next generation can only benefit from and we need to set an example for them to follow when technology inevitably evolves further.

People who don’t see the benefits of the technology are just people that don’t understand it and this is in no way meant as a condescending throw away phrase.  I personally don’t understand the furor and passion people have for football or how anyone could get joy from going out to the local pub just to get drink and hang out with friends in a loud, noisy bar.  Yet these are all valid past times that fit the demographic of the population who take part in them and I’m pretty sure if someone sat down and explained football to me and why it means so much to them and why they ride the storms with their clubs, then maybe I would give it more of my time and more of my attention.  This is how we should be with the people who struggle with what technology can be.

Cory Doctor, a science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist had this to say back in 2010

Criticising the “banality” of Facebook conversation is as trite and ignorant as criticising people who talk about the weather. There’s a reason we say “Did you sleep well?” at breakfast and “How was your weekend?” when we turn up to the office on Monday (and it’s not that we care about the weekend or the rest).

Yes, people sometimes say consequential things on social media. The Twitter tag #whatTwitterdidforme has lots of sterling examples. But these are rare events that are not Twitter’s raison d’etre. People don’t join Twitter because they hope that someday they’ll be sprung from jail, land a job, or reunite with a long-lost friend. These are bonuses.

The real value of Twitter et al is to keep the invisible lines of connection between us alive.

Cory Doctorow – How to say stupid things about social media

The best part of all this giving and reconnection is that if you find the friend, old school mate, or someone you vaguely met turn out to be a horrific numpty whose timeline appals you and rather than make you feel the world is being drawn together with your other connections, you block them.  There’s no social protocol yet to follow, you don’t need to apologise for reaching out and finding it didnt fit and unless a person is really observant they won’t notice, and if they do, meh it isn’t the end of the world.

Tim Lot writes

“The educator Neil Postman suggested in 1985 that with the domination of TV screens we were “amusing ourselves to death”. At least TV was a collective activity. Now perhaps we are – paradoxically, on our solitary screens – connecting ourselves to death.”

But that doesn’t seem evident to me.  I see movements of people being bought up and carried forward on the wave of social media and the technology that enables that.  Personal stories of uprisings in Egypt were fed back to the western press when media outlets were shut down, corporations and thriving companies succeed immensely or crash and burn in glorious full colours in public thanks to great social communication or an utter lack of knowledge how it works.

When I moved to Wales with the family we chose not to have a TV until we had a foster child who wanted to watch one, as we didn’t want to deny a child something that might have been it’s only comfort.  When the London riots took place I followed several news lists on twitter and sat up to the early hours in bed refreshing my feed, following the events as they occur. This filtering of news and tactile interaction with the screen made the moments more engaging as I sat in darkness scrolling through the different news outlets or people that had been credited as great sources of information relaying what was happening on the ground as it happened. I found I was clicking through links to audio clips and video clips of events, more than an hour before the main press got hold of them.

Once a week I join twitter to follow on going organised hashtag conversations on a topic a lot of people are interested across the world and for one hour we talk about our shared passion, boardgames and all the surrounding pieces that go with our hobby. This idea could be replicated for, lets say for example, new parents who need to wind down after the children have gone to bed, or any other subject for that matter. There’s even a Web programme called Nurph that will pick up the hash tags and turn it all into a chat window so you could join the same conversation from your PC as well.

Teenagers understand this, teenagers are more than likely ahead of the loop on all that I have said and probably bored already with the old hat Twitter conversations and have moved onto something that we as adults don’t yet understand and if you give the techophobes a few months we’ll have a few crow barred reasons into why the next big thing is what will be the doom of all society.

Did you know know that they tried to ban writing the peasants tried to learn, then reading was suppressed as the populace became educated.  The radio was the work of family destroying evil when it begun to turn mainstream, TV is only just recovering from the perception it’s eroding families and now it’s Internet. It is yet to bring the world down and as history has proven these will bring us closer together. It has the potential to weave us back within the tapestry our past, steer us like ancients maritime sailors to our starry unknown futures, but keep our hearts and souls anchored firmly in the present.

If all else fails, Douglas Adams had a very plausible theory

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Anyway.  I’m off to watch porn.  That’s what the internet is for isn’t it

Predawn rumblings

It’s 630am on a Sunday and I’m wide awake.

After just over 3-4 months of being the only person to get up for the school routines and when the children wake up at weekends , my body is getting into it’s rhythm. Equally I had two small beers yesterday and for some reason when I have a few beers in the evening my body wakes up pretty much hangover free and silly early the next morning. I have no idea why this is but even when I’ve been a little excessive with the beer (and that isn’t a euphemism for so shit faced I find patches of vomit about the house, my wife isn’t talking to me in the morning and one of the children asks through chary eyes why I was so scary the night before, it really means 4 cans when 3 is usually enough to round my evening of watching sci-fi) I can be up at 5 am feeling cotton wool headed but still like I’ve drank several red bulls and in need of channeling that energy. It’s not unusual to find me shifting around the house downstairs with the sweeping brush getting the dust into corners for when the house is awake I can hoover it up, or going out into the utility room outside to get the laundry sorted.

Today I’ve already googled beef recipes, I’m never 100% confident to do it toally off the hoof, I like something to reference when I’m cook. I’ve already done the laundry, the pots, sorted out all of my lands in the god sim app I have for my phone, cleaned all the surfaces, prepped the veg and had two cups of coffee, so I’m fully committed to this being awake lark now.

Though I love my children being at home and spending time being a father, there’s also a mental calm that comes with them being at school and having the time and space to put the house in order completing the daily chores.  As a foster carer I’m very lucky that I don’t need to go out to work and have the space and time to be at home during the day. Not only can I keep the house in a reasonable state, but I also have the time to go above and beyond and get tasks done that would otherwise have to be left until the evenings or weekends, eating into family interaction time.

I know when I say this it’s sounds hackneyed and clichéd but I genuinely think homes and families have to be crafted.  They don’t flourish of their own accord but with effort, time and the ability to evolve can do so insurmountably.  Just as if I was working the craft of wood carving or fine glass blowing, a family needs to be worked on and polished.  Families do function with very small amounts of input, and I’ve found from fostering that families can survive, or at least exist, with no input and even negative care or interaction, but I they can flourish if you take your time to nurture them.  They shouldn’t be left to amble forward under there own momentum

I love my house because we have time to give it more attention and think of the little idiocies and touches that make a secure home for children to grow up in.  I am not naive to the fact I am very lucky to have this time, I know lots of families don’t and this no judgement on them as they probably work a lot harder that I do balancing both a difficult job as well as the home life, whilst my efforts are spread over larger periods of time.

Families are precious and need to be crafted.  It is a skill that needs to be passed not only down to our children but to our friends and we need to be receptive to great ideas in our friends when we see them.  When I look to some of my friends, the families they have and the time they spend with their children, it impresses the hell out of me.  In my perpetual striving to be the better father I’m not conceited enough to take the credit for my view on families, there are several friends I will always try to emulate and when I feel I have achieved an approximation how I see them I feel I’ve done well.