Monday, 13 May 2013

Dad's Nursery’s first book review!

The lovely folk at My Little Big Town Publishing contacted me a while back to ask if I would review some books for them and I was very happy to assist, although I must apologise for the length of time it’s taken me to finally get this post finished!

Miss D (aged 5) and Little Dude (aged 3) both love books. Mrs D and I have been reading to them both since they were bumps. At first it was a slightly strange experience to be reading a Mr Men book to a little person you hadn’t met yet, but very rewarding to see Mrs D’s tummy moving around as ‘bump’ enjoyed the story!

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. We were kind enough to receive four books for review: Anisha’s Adventures in Bangladesh written by Moinul Islam and Illustrated by Calvin Innes, and three titles written and illustrated by Calvin Innes – Pale Henry, Jenny, and Stuart the Bug Eating Man.

Anisha’s Adventures in Bangladesh:

Ideally suited to my daughter’s age group, the book tells the story of Anisha’s birthday party and her magical adventures around Bangladesh with her pet pony, Chloe. The book is colourfully illustrated throughout and quite Dora the Explorer-esque in terms of the look so would certainly appeal to those fans. In terms of content, I won’t spoil the story but in our case it certainly had all the necessary elements to keep a 5 year old girl interested  – ponies, puppies, parties, pretty dresses, magic and adventure!

As well as entertaining, the book is educational. Within the main story it cleverly gives a snapshot of Bangladesh on subjects as diverse as wildlife, architecture and sport. My daughter found this element very interesting and at those points it was nice to feel like I was discussing the book with her rather than just reading it.

It was refreshing to read a book that introduces children to another country’s culture in such an entertaining way and I hope this is the start of many more adventures. My daughter keeps asking me where Anisha will go next!

Pale Henry:

A short story about Henry, a boy who spends all of his time in his family’s loft, too scared to go out and mix with other children and preferring the company of spiders and moths! When, after much deliberation he eventually summons up the courage to venture outside he finally realises just how much he has been missing out on!
Featuring some nice illustrations by the author, the book is written in verse and this aspect certainly helped keep my son’s interest (being a huge Dr Seuss fan). An enjoyable story with a definite message for shy kids, namely get out there and enjoy yourselves! Of the three books from Calvin Innes, this was my daughter’s favourite.


The tale of Jenny, an 8-year old werewolf hunter! As with Pale Henry, very entertaining cartoon style illustrations from the author and a book that Miss D and Little Dude enjoyed very much. For me, it was nice to meet a character that isn’t obsessed with ponies and princesses, and certainly one that I think could be developed further for more adventures!

Stuart the Bug Eating Man:

The title pretty much gives this one away! Stuart is middle-aged, unemployed, a burden on his family and a disgusting one at that – he loves eating bugs. While the rest of the family are sitting around the breakfast table with toast, he’s tucking into a bowl of dragonflies and washing it down with a glass of slug juice!

Hassled by his wife to get a job, Stuart finally realises his true calling in life – a pest control man! Fame and fortune follow but despite his new found wealth, Stuart can’t kick the habit and still enjoys his bug diet.
A fun read with a few ‘yuk’ moments and a few laugh-out-loud ones too!

Many thanks to My Little Big Town, they advertise themselves as “a company who specialise in creating books and comics that children WANT to read. Exciting, gross, silly and entertaining books”. They have certainly delivered on that promise with the selection that Family D have been reading!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A less than Co-operative attitude.

I like convenience food. It’s as the name suggests – convenient. As a stay-at-home dad of two, there are days when I just don’t get the time to prepare something from scratch and therefore resort to the ‘easy’ option of chucking something in the oven, or, occasionally, getting ‘Chef Mike’ to nuke it for me.

However, I do enjoy cooking. I’m from a large Italian family where dinner time was (and still is) an important event, a social gathering. I’d rather spend a leisurely couple of hours sitting around the table with my family and a glass of wine (or two) enjoying some great home-cooked food instead of sitting in front of the tv with a tray of bland, re-heated mush.

So far, one of my proudest moments as a dad was when Miss D was starting to eat solids and I cooked her some pasta with my own ‘signature’ tomato sauce. To my delight, she really enjoyed it and now that Miss D and Little Dude are old enough to vocalise their opinion on whatever gets put in front of them, it’s always a pleasure to be told that something I have created from scratch is ‘yummy’.

If anything, being at home has improved my cooking skills immeasurably. If Mrs D fancies something new for dinner, or if I see something interesting on a cooking show, I’m able to spend a bit of time checking out the recipe and getting a consensus on the ingredients and cooking method. Mrs D does get concerned with the amount of cupboard space that my ever increasing herb and spice collection takes up, but as I like to remind her, we have used all of them at one point or another.

Nowadays, with the popularity of male tv chefs and ‘blokey’ cooking shows, it’s pretty clear that the tired old stereotypical opinion that ‘men can’t cook/wont cook’ is dead and buried. Well, I thought it was until I saw this sarcastic tv advert from The Co-op (for any overseas folk reading this, they’re a popular UK supermarket chain).

 “Half price crispy chicken and lightly spiced potato wedges. Ideal for when it’s dad’s turn to cook.”

Really? You mean dad can pre-heat an oven to the correct temperature, open a couple of packets, place the desired quantity of food onto a baking tray, put it in the oven for 15-20 minutes whilst at the same time being able to adjust the cooking time for fan-assisted ovens? What a hero.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I have a Lightly Spiced Potato Wedge on my shoulder because of what I do. I certainly know several chaps that don’t like cooking and freely admit that they aren’t very good at it, but I also know a few more that do enjoy getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. This is just lazy advertising. Imagine the uproar that would be caused if an advert dared to suggest that a mum was incapable of making a fresh home-cooked dinner for her kids?

What’s next Co-op? A delightful advert campaign telling women how much they will enjoy your home cleaning products and rubber gloves? I know you’ve been around since 1933 but your attitude towards modern living doesn’t have to stay there.

(Video clip filmed using my camera phone - apologies for the poor quality!)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Hasta la vista, Dora.

It’s 06:00am, the kids are up early and are sitting in bed with us while Mrs D and I snooze the alarm clock for one last time. Miss D is chatting to Little Dude. ‘Why is she talking like that?’ I think in my half-conscious state. She’s speaking loudly, with an over-enthusiastic upwards inflection on almost every word. It sounds bizarre, it’s quite annoying, and somehow strangely familiar. Then it hits me…
‘She’s talking like Dora the Explorer’.
‘Oh no…’

I like to think I’m fairly tolerant when it comes to kids tv although I don’t understand the appeal of a lot of it. If I knew the secret formula that made programs like ‘In the Night Garden’ so popular I’m sure I’d be a pretty rich man. I’ve never used the tv as a babysitter, but they both have favourite shows and while they’re engrossed in them I can usually get a few chores done. To use a tired ‘management speak’ phrase, it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

Program writing has definitely come a long way since I was young, along with the ever expanding choice of channels, and the shows themselves are a lot more educational than I ever remember. This is a good thing, and I’m pleased my kids can actually learn something from them. However, after being at home for nearly four year and in that time, having been exposed to pretty much every kids show in existence, there are a few things that irritate the heck out of me:

1) The out of tune singing on ‘Bubble Guppies’
2) Baby Jake’s stupid ‘Goggi Gi Ya’ catchphrase – how is this teaching children to speak properly?
3) The creepy weirdness of ‘Balamory’ and ‘Dirt Girl World’
4) The ‘Three Special Steps’ song from ‘Special Agent Oso’
5) The awful American to English voice dubbing on ‘Team Umizoomi’
6) ‘Pete’ from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – What an asshole.

But, in terms of irritations, our amigo Dora gets her very own list:

1) I know repetition is a good tool for helping young children to learn but after hearing ‘The Map’ song for the first time I never wanted to hear it again.
2) The ‘Backpack’ song (for the same reason).
3) If my satnav repeated directions as many times as Dora, it would be thrown out the car window.
4) The ‘grumpy old troll’ clearly needs help, I’d suggest counselling.
5) The ‘Swiper, no swiping’ phrase sounds like ‘Swiper, nose wiping’. Indeed, my niece thought that was the case for several months.
6) Given a little time, my kids are perfectly able to find things in a picture without needing a huge flashing arrow to help them.
7) I wish Boots would stop complaining.
8) Swiper – What an asshole.

I know it’s supposed to be another educational show, teaching children about problem solving and introducing them to another language but, when every word of every sentence is shouted with a completely unnatural over-enthusiastic tone and upwards inflection, and ESPECIALLY when I hear my daughter talking like this, then I’m afraid it’s time for us to part company.

Dora, you are henceforth banned from our house with immediate effect.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

DadsNursery’s first toy review - Meccano!

Following my last blog post in which I mentioned that Miss D and I enjoy building things, I was delighted to be contacted by Meccano UK and asked if I would like to review a product for them. Needless to say I was happy to accept! The product in question was the ‘Build & Play’ Formula 1 car – a kit comprising of 110 parts, a spanner, screwdriver and instructions for making 5 different models including a helicopter and a crane (it wouldn’t be Meccano if you couldn’t make a crane would it?!).

Miss D turns 4 in February so she’s a little younger than the recommended age group of 5-8 years, however, Meccano were still keen for my feedback and I knew that she would enjoy making (or at least helping to make) the toy.

On opening the box, my first impressions were good. The pieces are much larger and more colourful than the older, traditional Meccano sets that I remember from my childhood, plus the fact that all the parts are now plastic rather than metal. I liked the addition of a few ‘flexible’ pieces of plastic to give the models a more tactile feel and there were also a few ‘easy building’ nuts & bolts which simply snap together and pull apart.

So, on to the build. I asked Miss D which model she would like to make and she chose the racing car. We read the instructions together and she took charge of finding the parts for each step of the build, a task that she managed well. The pieces are clearly identifiable and easy to match up with the instructions so this meant the build could progress fairly quickly and there was little chance of getting bored! I shared the construction steps with her; I’d attach something on one side of the car and would then watch/help while she made the other side.

Miss D used the screwdriver and spanner to good effect (of course, with the occasional reminder of which direction to turn them) but there were a few steps in the construction that proved too tricky for her – bending some of the flexible pieces into position whilst at the same time trying to thread a bolt through as many as 4 different parts AND putting a nut on the end of the bolt was quite a complex task for small hands, even I found it a bit fiddly but that’s probably more to do with my fat fingers than anything else! I’d say the target age of 5-8 is aimed correctly, but may benefit from a bit of adult supervision (or another pair of hands) on the more complicated bits.

The finished model is great and Miss D is very proud of it. From my point of view I like the chunky wheels and the sturdy feel of the car. The eye stickers are a nice touch and add that extra bit of character. My only reservation would be the ‘easy building’ nuts & bolts, there have been several occasions (both while making the model, and since playing with it) where a couple of them have unfastened of their own accord so I’d worry a little about their longevity given that we’d like to get plenty of use out of the kit, both with my daughter, and my son when he’s old enough.

However, I shall leave the last words of the review to my daughter:

Me: What did you like best about making the car?
Miss D: I liked finding all the pieces.
Me: What’s your favourite thing about the car?
Miss D: It has funny eyes and it goes really fast!
Me: Shall we make something else?
Miss D: No, I really like my car!

It’s a thumbs-up from us, thank you Meccano!

Meccano's UK website for further info:

Friday, 23 September 2011

Teaching an old dog new tricks.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh on myself but then again, thinking about it, in dog years a human 30-something would be pretty ancient.

One of the nice things about being a parent and having a 3.5 year old with a 30 second attention span is that you’re continually bombarded with requests to do new things. ‘Daddy, build me a tower, draw Mickey Mouse, draw a dinosaur, make a paper aeroplane, juggle!’ etc etc…

This works pretty well for me. As a child I enjoyed drawing cartoons and so making a few recognisable shapes with the crayons is not a problem. Although for some reason, despite Miss D being more than happy with my efforts, I just can’t get Mickey Mouse looking perfect - I would post a picture to illustrate my point but I fear I’d be sued for breach of copyright by the ever litigious Disney Corporation so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Building stuff is great fun too. Being a past user of Lego and Meccano, coupled with the fact that my dad taught me bricklaying at the tender age of 11, I’m pretty happy with my recent construction projects involving the Duplo bricks and Early Learning Centre’s ‘Build-It’ kits.

However, every once in a while, life throws you a curve ball. At a recent day out to meet Peppa Pig, one of the entertainers gave Miss D a balloon animal dog which she immediately fell in love with. He was red and she named him ‘Woofy’. I stress ‘was’, he lasted well considering he was played with all weekend but eventually he started to fade. Then the inevitable happened:

‘Daddy, can you fix Woofy’s legs?’
‘Um, okay, I’ll try’
* POP *

Despite my best efforts, this was one toy that daddy just couldn’t fix. Miss D’s genuine sadness at Woofy’s passing meant that within a few minutes of consoling her I was Googling ‘balloon animal kits’.

The kit arrived today, along with a large bag of back-up balloons. Thankfully, included is an instruction book with a ton of step-by-step pictures of things to make. I’ll have to put in some practice before Miss D gets ‘Woofy II’ but this will be another random skill I’m looking forward to acquiring!

Friday, 13 May 2011

A rant about tailgaters.

A lot of things have been annoying me lately. The rise in energy prices, petrol prices, food prices, the Special Agent Oso ‘Three special steps’ song, the shiny Irish bloke that presents Channel 5’s ‘Milkshake’ in the morning, I could go on… And on… Perhaps my shortened temper and general lack of tolerance is due to the absence of sleep – Little Dude is teething, teething heavily and has been very vocal on the subject, usually at around 03:00am every morning.

Currently at the top of the list, the thing that ‘grinds my gears’ most is tailgaters. Yes, that old chestnut. The pet hate of every motorist, a pretty obvious thing to get annoyed about and probably in most people's top 3 of things that piss them off whilst driving.

I don’t have a placard in the rear window of my car exclaiming ‘Baby on board’, ‘Little person on board’, ‘Teething nightmare on board’, ‘Disney obsessed 3 year old on board’ or any other variations of the theme. I’ve never liked the idea, they would obscure my view and in my opinion, they shouldn’t be bloody necessary as the two large car seats are clearly visible to anyone who gets anywhere near the back of my car.

Last Monday’s incident was a far too common occurrence. We’re in a line of fairly slow moving traffic with a learner driver up front (which doesn’t bother me, we all had to learn sometime), I’m a few cars back and what do I see looming up in my rear view mirror quicker than a cheetah with a bum full of dynamite? A white van. Cue heavy sigh and a quiet muttering to myself of ‘Great, here we go again’…
The aforementioned pillock sat on my rear bumper for a while until I managed to pull over and let him pass (and taking the below photo – registration number changed for comedy effect), he then carried on bullying other motorists in front of me before disappearing into a side street in a cloud of tyresmoke and diesel fumes…

My early driving days included a spell doing a lot of courier work around London and Essex so yes, in the past I have been at the business end of some pretty gnarly, poor, inconsiderate driving. However, time has mellowed the man and now my primary concern is simply getting my children from point A to point B safely and comfortably. It’s a shame that these days, my slightly more chilled out driving style somehow seems to attract every moron who happens to be in a hurry. Maybe it’s payback for the ‘courier’ days, I don’t know, I just wish they wouldn’t do it when the kids are in the car.

Thinking about it, perhaps I will get a placard for the rear window:

‘Sleep deprived short-tempered dad on board – Don’t even try it’

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A kids clothing rant.

I’ve never been a fashion-lead sort of a person. Designer labels don’t mean much to me. Personally, I couldn’t give a toss if your new shirt cost £100, good for you, well done, good luck with it, I hope it wins you favour with a lady friend.
This isn’t a rant against people that dress their babies up in designer gear either, perhaps it should be, I don’t know. All I know is my 1 year old son (who isn’t quite walking yet) couldn’t care less if he’s wearing £2.99 plimsolls or £29.99 designer trainers. Dressing your baby in designer gear doesn’t impress me, it makes me think you’re doing it for your own benefit and are just showing off. And no, it’s not sour grapes because I can’t afford to do it, I just really don’t see the point. Forget that ‘adorable’ Ralph Lauren Polo dress, buy something from Peacocks and put the money you’ve just saved in their piggy bank.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the value of decent clothing, especially when it comes to something as important for toddlers as shoes. As soon as Miss D started walking we took her to Clarks, got her feet measured and spent a not-inconsiderable amount on her first pair of proper, sturdy, well made shoes which she promptly grew out of (cue another trip to Clarks…) and when Little Dude is ready we’ll approach things in exactly the same way.

So we’ve established I don’t ‘do’ designer labels, and yes, I like a bargain, however, there are times when it’s nice to treat them to something a bit different and dare I say extravagant. A case in point being Miss D’s birthday. Mrs D took her to see Disney’s ‘Tangled’ which she adored, and on her next trip to the Disney Store she was treated to her very own glittery Rapunzel dress. Lovely! Or so we thought…

Giving in to the frequent (almost daily) request of ‘Daddy, can I dress up like Rapunzel?’ has meant that the dress has had lot of use and to be fair, a lot of enjoyment from Miss D. BUT… (and to steal a line from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson) ‘And it’s a big, round, full-bodied but..’ The ‘glittery organza flourishes’ on the dress shed EVERYWHERE! It’s like Miss D leaves a little trail of purple glitter wherever she goes (and especially where she sits). Yes darling, of course you can dress up like Rapunzel, but daddy is going to have to follow you around with the vacuum cleaner.

It’s not just this item of clothing where the ‘build quality’ has been a bit shoddy. The print on Miss D’s official Disney Store ‘Little Mermaid’ t-shirt has cracked and faded after only a few washes (I’ve got band t-shirts that are 15 years old and in much better condition) her smart new sequined t-shirt from Next loses sequins all over the place and as a result I’m scared to put it in the washing machine, and there are a few other items of ‘premium brand’ clothing that have ended up in the bin for one reason or another.

The old saying goes ‘You get what you pay for’. Yes, I agree, you should. So if I’m spending two or three times my usual amount on a dress or a t-shirt or whatever, I expect that to be reflected in the quality and longevity of the item. I have to admit I’m not really seeing it. Ah well, back to Primark…