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The wrong turn, the right result

One of the things we’ve missed out in recent busy months is the random wandering across the countryside that you do in the interest of Sunday adventuring. Pick a place that sounds pretty, drive out, and have a walk! Such was the plan this Sunday, and, minor bits of Internet research complete, we headed out…

Of course, as Amanda knows the area pretty well, SatNav was kept in his box and we struck out confidently in roughly the right direction… and ended up turning off slightly too early on our route to scenic Kingsclere (our original destination), ending up in a tiny but beautiful village called Hannington. Discovering a map of local walks in the Lych-gate of the village church, we struck out on a cold and misty morning and had a lovely (short, and cold) walk, miles off the beaten path, meeting no-one other than two local villagers and their dogs out for the morning tramp around.

The pub, the Vine, is possibly one of the nicest country pubs I’ve been to in the area and the food was amazing – Emily even thought so, eating her way through a portion of pasta big enough for a 7-year-old. Wonderful.

Here’s to more countryside adventuring in the weeks to come…

Posted in Dadblogging, Observational.

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I don’t know if its just me, or every red-blooded man, but on the morning commute, driving to the station… if I have an inkling that one of my neighbours is driving the same route, I like to win.  Or at least, not to lose track of them on the drive in – whilst staying within the speed limits, obv.

I’m not a massively competitive person in general; it comes from a lifetime of not winning that many things (except with Amanda and Emily of course, best wins ever), but there’s something about that early morning drive that just makes me want to punch it on. There’s also the challenge of breaking the seven minute commute time – it used to be six, but then I changed car-parks. This somehow felt more significant when it was a cycle time, in my days of cycling into work when I lived in London.

Of course, the sensible thing would be to try to negotiate some kind of car-pool, but the practicalities of that (particularly the return trip) escape me. And of course, against one neighbour’s 350z I struggle to keep up…

Perhaps when the weather warms I’ll think about cycling in, like BIL… Much healthier competition.

Posted in Cars.

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The London Aquarium

Another fun Dad-centric experience this weekend was a tri-generational trip to the London Aquarium. Having been to the KL one with my Dad when Em was around 5 months old, it was exciting to repeat the trip to the London aquarium with a significantly more toddly toddler.

Emily *loved* it – huge excitement at seeing all sorts of creatures, from the immobile crocodile to the fast-swimming sharks. Glass was just a challenge for her, and she’d stand in the windows of all the exhibits tapping away to get their attention.

The London Aquarium hasn’t had as much recent investment as the KL aquarium but was still very well set up. You go through temperate zones through to more extreme ones, climate controlled to make the fish and animals happy. Em loved all of them, and particularly enjoyed sticking her fingers in the wall of ice in the arctic zones and patting the glass by the main big shark tank.

Few tips for getting the most out of the London aquarium:

  1. Pay the £3 premium for the priority ticket, and book online. We zipped past a queue of maybe 200 people to get to pole position in minutes, else would have been there for at least an hour before we got to the front desk.
  2. Dress light if you can – it’s mostly too warm in there, so we ended up trundling around armloads of coats AND Emily, which was a bit fiddly, even with the push-chair for support
  3. Expect crowds – whilst it wasn’t claustrophobically packed in there, it was cosy
  4. Expect photography to be hard – it’s quite dark the whole way through and flash photos aren’t permitted, so use whatever tricks you have to get those pics if you want them!
  5. Bring a brother-in-law if you’re travelling without your partner! Uncle James was a great help in looking after Em, alongside my parents, as well as getting the pram, loads of coats, and all of us through the exhibit.

We walked through quite quickly – and got through most of the exhibits (including the slightly disappointing Thames Path exhibit – ironically indoors five minutes from the real Thames Path) in around an hour. But you could easily spend twice that in there, if your toddler has the patience for it!

It was expensive though – £20 per adult – although the little ones are free until they’re three, so that’s a good thing!

Posted in Dadblogging.

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The soft play experience

playworld_thumb[1]We went to Jake’s Playworld this weekend. It’s a whole industry I didn’t really know existed before Emily was about six or seven months old when Amanda and Em introduced me to Gymtots in Basingstoke. These large, warehouse like constructs are filled with ball-pools, padded scaffolding, slides and hundreds of kids having all the fun in the world – and they are a fantastic innovation. Of course, parents have to supervise children, and so invariably end up having as much if not more fun making use of the slides etc.!

I don’t have much of a head for investments but I suspect that these sorts of set-ups, if run by people that know what they’re doing, are a good place to put money regardless of the macro-economic environment. On a Sunday afternoon, parents were handing over a fiver per child to let them have a go on the toys, AND paying a premium for sub-average but amusingly child-oriented portions of food.

Em had a wonderful time. As did we – that’s one heck of a slide!

Next time – we go to the bigger one with attached petting zoo!!

Posted in Dadblogging.

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Settling into the diet

So, I’ve made to week three of January and the diet is still in full swing. My slightly obsessive tendencies have kicked in and I’m logging every calorie consumed on Dailyburn, I’m back in my old jeans and I’m down the best part of 3kg. The pace of weight loss will slow dramatically now – and I’ll be lucky to lose 0.5kg a week. But that’s sustainable and all I’m hoping for, so with any luck by March I’ll be down to below the ‘overweight’ threshold on the BMI, and by June I’ll be close to my long-term target weight. But we will see!

Yesterday was apparently ‘blue Monday‘ – the most depressed day of the year – but I managed to get through it in reasonably good humour. Being busy at work, slightly ill, and very obsessive is definitely helping the process along. Hopefully when I get a bit further into the process, and the weather starts to improve, my willpower for running will return and I can get that programme going too – but for now, all the exercise I’m doing is the hundredpushups/twohundredsitups programmes, as dictated by my iPhone daily!

Posted in Diet.

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Eyeing the car upgrade

2010 BMW 5 Series Touring [F11]I blame Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocolfor having me pointlessly looking at cars again. The two hour advert for BMW got me thinking about what happens when we outgrow our current tourer (which can already barely cope with the amount of stuff we need for longer family trips).

So of course, I pointlessly configured a 5 series on the BMW website. And it came out at a ludicrous, ludicrous sum of money. On looking at the second hand options, a 3 year old equivalent is going for 25% of the cost. I don’t know why I allow myself to be stunned by the depreciation on cars, but it never fails to cause my jaw to drop.

This of course sparked me into looking into how much my car has depreciated since we bought it – and according to my Parkers iPhone app, we’ve lost about 45% of the value of the car in the year and a half that we’ve had it. So on track to lose 75% in three years. Other than initial capital outlay and absolute losses, the proportional depreciation of a new and second hand car may be more similar than I realised.

Of course, there are other factors coming in to play right now – like the fact the economy is in tatters, and replacement cars might not be the top priority on any/everyone’s shopping list… but still, somewhat surprised, as had always believed that new cars lost their value substantially more quickly than used cars. Of course, this is a one-off observation rather than an absolute trend… What’s the received wisdom here?

Sidebar: I’m not actually planning on upgrading anytime soon. In 2016, I may consider a 2013 model for an upgrade!

Posted in Cars.

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Illness and fitness

In the year before Emily was born, I was ill approximately zero times. I was in fairly rigorous training for the half marathon, running between 15 and 40 km per week for about 6 months of the year and I’d managed a reasonably healthy diet throughout the period as well.

In the 15 months since she’s arrived, the commute, working hours, and general apathy has seen all that fall to one side – I haven’t been on a run since June and my diet’s been all over the place. In the last six months or so, this has started to hit me from a cold/flu perspective, and whilst some of this is no doubt exposure to a Nursery-going toddler, I can’t help but think that there’s been a direct correlation between my fitness level and how often I’ve gotten ill.

With my recent NY resolutions, the diet (and some) fitness training has resumed, but I’ve already gotten ill  (not sure where from!) and am self-pityingly recovering from it now. At least I’ve maintained the diet (as it happens, the constant ingestion of strepsils makes most other food taste somewhat unappealing, so it actually helped!), but the 100 push-up / 200 sit-up programme may need to be restarted next week…

Hopefully a more determined, consistent fitness effort will see me steer clear of the sniffles in 2012!

Posted in Diet.

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Preparing for questions

vitruvian man leonardo da VinciEmily is on the cusp of full-blown speech. Her words, such as they are, aren’t yet fully formed, and tend to be restricted to the essentials (“more”, “blue-berry” (pronounced in the Danish fashion, Blaubaer), “Yes” (vigorous head nodding), “No” (vigorous head shaking), “bouncy bouncy” (ba ba ba whilst… you guessed it, bouncing) etc), but both Amanda and I sense a frustration that she can’t talk more and that she’s itching for conversation.

This has had me thinking – well, how will I respond to her first questions? And her follow up questions? And the follow-ups to the follow-ups? Basically preparing for the endless recursion of ‘but why, Daddy…?’ questions.

Now, my folks were always very good at taking the time to explain things to us but I’m sure I remember an occasion or two where the answer was “because I say so.” My parents, brilliant and accomplished as they both are, are neither of them natural scientists, and Google wasn’t even a glimmer in Sergei Brin and Larry Page’s collective eyes at that time.

Unfortunately for Emily, that part of my education lies ready for activation whenever anything triggers my curiosity. So I’ve been starting to think about some of the questions I might get from a rampaging toddler and mentally preparing answers, or at least the Google search strings I’ll need to type in to find out the answers! Questions such as…

  1. Why do some babies have so little hair?
  2. Why do I have to go to bed so early?
  3. Why do I need to eat vegetables?
  4. Why can’t I have more toys?
  5. Why do I have to share?

Etc., etc. The theory is that a detailed and accurate answer stemmed in the fact or philosophy of the thing will stymie further questions and hopefully stimulate some good thought. I’m sure I’ll have ‘because I say so’ moments, but I can’t deny that I’m massively, massively looking forward to this stage (even if I’m not wishing away a moment of the infinitely cute ‘ba ba ba’ stage!).

What other questions should I plan for, lovely parent-friends?

Postscript: Hrm, Randall at XKCD seems to be having parallel thoughts to me today (albeit with different conclusions!):

Posted in Dadblogging.

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A blueprint for family life

Blueprint Whilst we owned our last flat in London, it was a basement property with limited prospects for change, and we were never in a position to do any substantial work to it – the vast majority of the work we undertook was managed (and I use the term loosely here) by our eccentric but largely effective builder Kris, and involved decoration rather than renovation.

Now, with a proper home, and with the European investment market shot to hell, and the property market more than slightly wonky as well, we’re looking at the possibility of investing in our own place a bit – and have taken on the step of engaging with an architect rather than just charging a builder with adding a room onto the house.

We had a fascinating conversation with him the other day – about how living habits have changed, about the way mums are with kids in the house, about the many practical compromises we make around the house that we internalize and forget are compromises – such as going up and down a step and carrying the baby when you go to get the laundry, or ducking out of the kitchen every few minutes to check on the toddler’s rampage around the living and dining room. Do it long enough, it feels normal and you can forget there could be any other way.

It’ll be really interesting to see what he proposes (and what we can afford!), but it’ll be an exciting year in our house… if possibly a bit dusty!

Posted in Home improvement.

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Four months of reading, TV and film…

In the four months since I went dark on the blog I’ve been ploughing through all sorts of fiction.

On the literary front, I ploughed through the back-catalogue of Jack Campbell, reading through his militaristic space-opera. Readable, entertaining, and demolished at great pace, if not of any great literary merit. I read the Peter F Hamilton short story collection, Manhattan in Reverse (some great concepts in there), two Ben Aaronovitch PC Grant novels (great dark urban fantasy set in London, reminding me lots of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books), the latest Terry Pratchett (wonderful, wonderful – more sophisticated and engaging that some of his other recent Discworld books), and a book by a client’s wife, Death at the Chateau Bremont – a fun murder mystery set in the South of France. I’ve got through more of Brandon Sanderson’s back catalogue (including the fantasy/Western the Alloy of Law – great fun!), and now I have a stack of books to get through from Amazon’s 12 Days of Kindle (currently reading the End Specialist about a world in which death is cured (99p on Kindle!), and the final Eragon novel) and from various Christmas presents (including the new Holmes, and some exciting fantasy and SF from Arvind).

TV-wise, thanks to my brother I’ve gotten into Modern Family (funny ‘cos its true), Community (funny ‘cos its off the wall and geeky), and via other recommendations/my own recognizance, Transformers Prime (after the horror of Michael Bay, this was a true wonder of storytelling – absolutely brilliant), Young Justice, Batman: the Brave and the Bold (thanks Arvy, brilliant) and Fringe (trashy but entertaining). I’ve dipped into Terra Nova (meh, Outcasts with dinosaurs) and Parks and Recreation too (not sure yet). I’ve been enjoying the Christmas specials too – Doctor Who nearly made me cry, Eastenders had me on the edge of my seat, and the AbFab specials gave me pause to giggle. Our sole cinematic expedition was to Mission Impossible 4 (a great ad for BMW, and fun as you’d expect it to be), and we watched Kung Fu Panda 2 on DVD on the bank holiday Monday. The Inbetweeners Movie awaits me on DVD…

So I’ve not been idling from that perspective, at least! More recommendations / comments on my reading/viewing history appreciated!

Posted in Books, Film, Television.

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