Monday, October 31, 2011

Lest we Forget

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, and to celebrate, they’re calling for the nation to join them in standing shoulder to shoulder with all those who serve, and support them by wearing a poppy.
The Shoulder to Shoulder website enables visitors to upload a photo of themselves (or themselves and their kids, a loved one etc), add a poppy to it and then a message of support to our Armed Forces. Once submitted, the image will then join the Shoulder to Shoulder virtual wall with thousands of others. The wall is open to the public, and allows anyone to hover over it and read all of the messages of support.
It’s a great way of visually interesting children in the Poppy Appeal and giving them a greater understanding of the kinds of sacrifices the Armed Forces have made.
It’s only a small thing to do, just a tiny way to show our support for the brave men and women who have kept us safe in the past and continue to do so now.  So please go visit the website at and add your message of support.
The Royal British Legion provides practical care, advice and support to Armed Forces personnel, ex-Service men and women of all ages and their families.
The charity runs recovery centres for injured personnel; provides advice and support for bereaved families; helps with financial and careers advice; offers life-long companionship, healthcare and practical support to the Service community and their families; and has 2500 branches worldwide offering comradeship and support.
The Royal British Legion is also the nation's custodian of Remembrance; organises the Poppy Appeal; campaigns on issues affecting Service personnel and runs one of the UK's largest membership organisations. For more information visit

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bonfire of the Banalities

It seems to have become tradition in the blogging world, around this time of year, to suggest who you would like to replace Guy Fawkes on the bonfire come 5th November.  I’ve decided to join in with the imaginary bonfire this year, mainly because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about.  It is also partly because, since some strong suggestions from the Mrs, the neighbours and the remaining rabbit Spencer (RIP Mark), I’m not allowed to light real ones in the garden anymore.

I started to write a list of people that I would like to be rid of, all with justifiable (if not homicidal) reasons, but as I started the list when the Mrs was watching Strictly Crap Dancing and then X Fucktor, it started to get out of control.  I was never going to be able to limit my choice to one person anyway, so I’ve decided to have a host of categories and pick one for each.
To get the fire started I would obviously use copies of the Daily Mail, can you really think of any other use for it, with auto-biographies written by anyone under fifty also thrown on for good measure.
Politics – Lembit Opik nearly run away with this one but I guess he no longer fits in this category as he’s now an unemployed bum.  Dianne Abbot would be another but I get the feeling that’s she one of those ‘all publicity is good publicity’ types, so I won’t feed that particular bonfire of the vanities.  So it will have to be the back-stabbing Cain of politics – Ed Milliband.  Not only has he got nothing of any interest to say, he insists on saying it with that annoying nasal twang.
Sports – The rat faced twonk that is Ashley Cole nearly got thrown on, but I was worried I might catch something by even touching him in my imagination.  The winner by a country mile though, is the cud-chewing, bulbous nosed, Beckham bullying Scot – Alex Ferguson.  He also comes with the added bonus of being so full of expensive red wine, he’s bound to give off a lovely looking flame.
Music – It has to be Jedward doesn’t it, two people whose only discernable talent is the ability to jump out of time with each other.  Unfortunately the Health and Safety Executive have refused to let me add them due to the flammable nature of their hair and suits.  So in that case it has to be the band with as much talent, personality and taste as a can of Lynx – One Direction.  Every time the lead singer, with his hair do made from the collected cuttings of the Chelsea team’s manscaping, opens his mouth, I want to put pencils in my ears and press firmly. 
Z Listers – This is a tough one because firstly there are so many of them and secondly, they are so insignificantly famous, I don’t know their names.  Anyone who’s ever been on Big Brother would be an obvious choice, as would anyone that’s slept with Big Bouncer (Jordan).  But my final choice has to be that bloke from whatchyamacallit, you know the one, the one with the face like a slapped arse, goes out with that orange girl. Yep, him, that’s the one.
Real life – I wanted to throw on everyone that says to me “I don’t do twitter, who wants to know what everyone’s had for breakfast.”  A cliché so old, even moaning about it has become a cliché.  Instead I shall choose the mean spirited Restaurateur that has padlocked his car park to stop everyone parking their cars for 10 minutes when doing the school drop off.  We weren’t hurting anyone, you’re not even open at 8.30am so what’s the problem?  Now all you’ve done is pissed off a load of parents who were, or could have been, good customers.  Now we’re parking and eating elsewhere and you’re trying to flog discounted food - great decision mate.
Stranger - The bloke who picks someone up in my road every day and never says thank you whenever I pull into a gap to let him pass.  Never, not even once, not even a nod or a smile.  I am half thinking of buying some old clunker and running him off the road with it, but failing that I may just block him in the cul-de-sac next time I’m not in a rush.
Actor – Meryl Streep, one film, two words, Mama Mia.  Enough said.
Figure from history – Guy Fawkes, not for attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament – but for failing.
Inanimate object – Michael McIntyre’s hair – every time I see it my blood pressure rises.  I’m sure he’s a funny guy, but whenever I see him on TV I have to change channels.  So until he gets his own radio show, his comic stylings are going to pass me by.
So there it is, these are the people that are going to sit atop of my bonfire, punished for the sins of making my blood boil or my stomach churn.  Hopefully I’ve now got the grumpy old man out of my system, but I somehow doubt it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Turn left at the Iron Man

You know you are in a special place when your enquiry as to where the toilets are is answered with a “Go up past the Incredible Hulk and turn left at the Iron man” and this weekend found me at such a special place – Disney’s London Headquarters.  They had kindly invited me and the family to visit them to see their new AppMATes Mobile application toys and who am I to turn down an offer like that.
I didn’t tell the kids about the trip until the morning of the event as who wants to hear an “Are we there yet?” type convo for a week - it was bad enough I had to hear it for the hour it took us to get there.  I would like to describe to you how the building looks like the massive fairy tale castle you see at the start of the Disney films, but I have been sworn to secrecy.  It’s also the reason I can’t tell you that as soon as I passed over the threshold and into the HQ itself, the hands on my watch magically turned into Mickey Mouse hands.
As the kids entered the room where they were holding the demos of the toys their eyes went as wide as saucers, but both for different reasons.  Kaede saw the toys and was instantly sold, Nate saw the buffet table and was instantly hungry.  I kid you not, the boy ate four croissants, three pan au chocolats, six fruit spikes and a fistful of sweets.  At one stage, the only way to find him was to follow the croissant crumbs.
Kaede and I went straight for the AppMATes, basically they are tiny cars (based on the Cars film) that you use in conjunction with an iPad and the Cars 2 app (which is free to download from iTunes).  You then use the cars on the iPad to control the play as you explore Radiator Springs.  There are tons of things to unlock and explore and each character has some of its own unique content as well.  Here’s a link to a video clip as I don’t seem to be able to do it justice in words
I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a lot of fun playing it and Kaede certainly did.  They even managed to coax Nate away from the food to have a go, no mean feat indeed.  It seems quite easy for the little’uns to use, very responsive to their movements and it doesn’t hurt your iPad.  The packs are available as a single Lightening McQueen (£12.99), or as double packs including loads of the new characters (£19.99).
After we finished having a good play with all the toys, we went into their private cinema and watched Cars 2, which of course was awesome.  I’ve always been a fan of the Disney/Pixar stuff and this certainly didn’t let me down.  I loved the innocence of the first movie but I think the second one has just edged it in terms of fun and excitement and a couple of jokes that were definitely aimed at the Dads in the audience.
Thanks to Disney and Eulogy PR for the invite and for the bag of goodies they gave the kids on the way out.  Apparently I am now officially the coolest dad in the world for arranging this trip, result.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is this Gooner a Goner?

I’ve been a Gooner (an Arsenal fan to the uninitiated, who will stop reading right about….now) since I was seven.  My Dad was a rugby fan with no ties to any particular football team, so whilst I played football morning, noon and night, I didn’t support any one team.  I admired the Liverpool team of the seventies, who didn’t, but it didn’t even occur to me to become a glory hunter and start supporting them.  My granddad collected the football cards that came in his packet of smokes and gave them to me – and I collected my Panini football stickers with more allegiance to filling empty spaces in my sticker book than to the teams they represented.
I was born in Barking which is a mere pass, dribble and shoot away from Upton Park, the home of West Ham United.  But even at seven I knew they called themselves ‘the Irons’ and I also knew that Iron in Cockney meant poof, so that was a non-starter.  So I just carried along in my own merry little way, playing football for the school, the street, the gang - whoever would let me to be honest (and when that was no-one then it was me versus the wall).
Then came the day that would change my life forever, for better or worse I know not, just changed.  That day was Saturday 6th May 1978 - FA Cup Final day – Ipswich v Arsenal.
We had gone to a Cup Final party at friends of my Mums, I remember they lived in Upminster and that they had a daughter called Sarah but I remember nothing more unless it was footy related.  The whole house seemed to be supporting Ipswich, I guess that’s because they were considered the underdog at the time and me being the contrary bugger that I was back then (and possibly still am), I decided I would get behind the Arsenal.
I couldn’t tell you too much about the game – I remember being spell bound by Liam Brady running down the wing and when they substituted him mid way through the second half, I swore I saw tears in his eyes and that was it - I was officially a Gooner.  Incidentally I met him years later in the hospitality lounge at the 2003 Cup Final and as I nervously collected his autograph like the seven year old I had become, I rather gushingly told him he was the reason I had become an Arsenal fan.
Anyway, I digress, Arsenal ended up losing that game 1-0, but that didn’t matter - I was hooked and I was a Gooner, and nothing was ever going to change that.
I got lucky as a fan, many have to wait years to see their team lift any silverware but I had to wait precisely a year and six days, for on 12th May 1979 Arsenal were back at Wembley, this time against a team that would become a thorn in my backside – Man Utd (further referred to as “Manure”).  I don’t know if it’s the romanticism of looking back through age tinted glasses, but that was probably the greatest Cup Final I have ever seen.  The sun was shining, we were two up by half time, but with ten minutes to go we were starting to look very tired.  Then came the Manure fight back and within five minutes and with less than five to go, they had brought it back to 2-2.  Even I could see that there was no way our boys would last another 30 minutes of extra time, we were doomed.
Luckily for me, Brady thought otherwise.  In the final minute he shrugged off two challenges and passed outside to Graham Rix.  Rix crosses over and up pops Alan Sunderland to head in the winner.  I went mad and ran around the front room screaming my head off (even writing this now has given me goose bumps). 
After that it was slim pickings for a while, a Cup Final defeat to West Ham the following year, a League Cup win against Liverpool in ’87 (thanks to Charlie ‘Champagne’ Nicholas), but it was mostly a lot of dour football.  I had started going to the matches with my mates by then, part of the North Bank faithful and by now Arsenal had become my religion.
I was lucky enough to have seen some of the great Arsenal legends – Henry, O’Leary, Rocastle, Wright, Vierra, Bergkamp and Adams (AKA God).  I’ve also been lucky enough to watch players who would bleed red and white, players like Groves, Parlour (AKA the Romford Pele), Davis, Keown, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn.  Neither of those lists is exhaustive, but I could go on for hours without even getting to Limpar, Ljungberg and Lukic.  The trouble is, that’s all in the past - if you cut our current crop of players they will bleed pound notes and then sue you for breach of contract.
I think my love affair with all things Arsenal is coming to an end.
I think it all started with Cashley Hole (AKA Mr Cheryl Cole) and his “I nearly swerved off the road” comment re his proposed wage increase to a mere £55K a WEEK, five grand less than he wanted, and it’s all gone downhill since then.  Sure we are playing some of the best football I have ever seen (well we were ‘till this season) and we are always there or thereabouts when it comes to the League title, but I’m used to investing time and loyalty to these players but they don’t seem to want to pay it back anymore.
Sure, maybe it’s because I’m getting older and more cynical now - I’m thirty-ten now and not as naïve as I once was – and maybe I haven’t got as much time to spare watching football, the kids want to go out and play it after all, but surely we as fans deserve some degree of loyalty from these overpaid mercenaries?
It was only when my 17 year old daughter texted me Sunday afternoon to check on the score because she was nowhere near a TV, that I realised that instead of watching the game I was out in the garage cleaning up (jeez you may as well pass me the pipe and slippers).  I haven’t watched a whole game this season and come to think of it, I can’t really recall watching many at all this year.  It looks like I’ve been a Gooner in name only for a while and I’m not sure how much that bothers me?
Would the Gooner in me today be able to write this piece here again ?  I somehow doubt it, the passion has gone, but do I blame the team or my age?  I want to be a hard-core fan again but what’s the point when the players leave as soon as some rich club show them a flash of knickers and a garter belt stuffed with cash?  I’ve realised that as you get older, the amount of hurt in your life increases exponentially and I’m not sure that I want to add the pain of losing games, or players to it.
So I don’t know where that leaves me.
When I started writing this piece, I had come to think of myself as someone who, from now on, would just keep an eye on the results with a smile or a frown.  But the writing of this and the watching of old goals on YouTube has made me somehow doubt that that would be possible.  I still shed a tear when I watch old clips of Rocastle play and I guess that will never change.
Arsenal, I’m giving you one more chance.  One more chance to inspire me, to make me shout, to make me sing, to make me cry.  One more chance I tell you.
But who am I kidding?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


This is a sponsored post brought to you by the makers of Rio.  Not Rio the place as that would be God (or Darwin, I get confused), but Rio the animated film (you know, those Ice Age Creators). 
Last week Kaede and I were lucky enough to be invited to a screening of Rio at London Zoo.  Even luckier was the fact that the event was held in a function room within the Zoo and not the monkey enclosure, where the Mrs rather cruelly implied I would be more at home.
They had provided food (which Kaede had four plates of), drink (of which Kaede consumed three toilet stops worth) and cuddly toy characters (of which Kaede snagged two somehow).  After the screening one of the zoo keepers brought out a real Macaw, which created such a huddle of excited kids that I’m surprised they managed to get out alive.

Kaede absolutely loved the film and even though she had already seen it at the cinema, she still sat there riveted, only moving to dance along with great samba soundtrack.  From an adults point of view it was a fun watch, which is a good job as I’m sure this will be one that the kids make me watch over and over.
All this was to launch the release of the Rio DVD and Blu-Ray on the 24th October.  It comes with more extras than you can shake a stick at, including bonus Angry Bird levels.  Angry Birds is the app that Kaede is always nicking my phone or tablet to play, so some extra levels to keep her quiet on the trains are more than welcome.

Whilst I haven’t got any copies of the DVD to give away, I do have some links to some cool free stuff:
For some computer cursors (I’m currently using Luis) click here
For a Birds v Monkeys game click here

For a Rio In-a-Row game click here
So if you’re anything like me and the thought of the kids home for the half-term week is filling you with dread, you can’t go far wrong with a copy of Rio and maybe a bag of popcorn to keep them occupied.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making Meccano

Quite often as you start to approach middling life, you look back with fondness at how much better things were in days of yore.  The music, the sense of society, the dress sense of teenagers and the size of a curly wurly.  But one thing that has improved with age is Meccano.  I have vague recollections of yellow bits of metal that could be bolted together to make something, that whilst looked harmless, made an excellent weapon for smacking my brother over the head with, but that is nothing compared to what they’re making now.
A few weeks ago, the lovely people at Meccano sent me a couple of their new kits for me and my six year old to try out and boy was I shocked.  Pack one was a Space Chaos DarkPirates Spaceship, all bells and whistles with light and sound effects.  Pack two was a Turbo Radio Control car and this was the one I was looking forward to making the most. 

Both packs were aimed at the 7-14 year old age groups and although Kaede is only 6, I figured something that really made her think would last a lot longer than something she could put together in 10 minutes (plus it would mean that she would need my help, whoop whoop).
The two boxes sat on my kitchen table for two frustrating weeks due to weekend activities, illnesses and sheer bad timing.  Meccano had always seemed like a rainy day toy and unfortunately we were having a crazy Indian summer with temps up to 29C.  Every time I walked past the boxes I could hear an ethereal voice calling “Come to me…play with me…don’t wait for the kids”.  Eventually I had to ask the wife to hide them away lest I succumb to temptation like an Essex girl outside Lakeside.
Eventually I snapped and one sunny Sunday afternoon, Kaede and I sat down and opened up the spaceship pack.  One look at all the parts and nuts and bolts, and Kaede was hooked.  As I read through the instruction manual, Kaede organised all the parts into their own separate places (a lesson she learnt from watching me attempt to put together all things IKEA).  The instructions were in a simple step by step guide, with every step listing what pieces were needed for that particular moment. Kaede took responsibility for gathering the pieces together before each step, each time with the furrowed brow of someone bearing the great responsibility of a major engineering project.  A really clever idea is that the front of the booklet had a printed ruler, so that when it said a 5.4mm bolt was needed, it was easy for her to pick out the right one. 

With heads buried deep into our project, we ignored the world and only paused to sup from our worker drinks (lager for me, a weak shandy for her).  You really started to feel the sense of excitement coming from her as the spaceship started to take shape and I was pleasantly surprised that she stuck with it from beginning to end.  Our Kaede is a bit of a feral one and not well known for sitting in one place for too long, but the Meccano had really grabbed and drawn her in.
With a flurry of activity and a gasp of relief (or disbelief) we finished and Kaede proudly held up the finished article.  Not only did it not fall to bits when she did that, but it also started making sound effects and the engines started to glow red.  Kaede then spent the next hour running around the garden with it, dive bombing her brother from behind - I guess some sibling things never change.

That night the spaceship had pride of place in her bed and it has slept there ever since.  The weather report said it will be raining next weekend and there’s a long winter ahead of us, so it looks like my, I mean her, radio controlled car will be next on the agenda.  I’m not sure who’s looking forward to it more.
Many thanks to the good people at Meccano for not only making the stuff, but for sending me the free samples as well.  The Space Chaos spaceship retails at £24.99 and the Turbo RC Racing car at £29.99