Thursday, 14 April 2016

Chucky VS Toddler

It turns out that a toddler has a whole lot of things in common with Chucky, from Child's Play.

Chucky child's play funny toddler, hide and seek

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Here's Chucky!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Leonardo diCaprio VS Toddler

I love Leo, and I started thinking about what might happen if he ever has a child. He would discover they have loads in common, especially when his baby becomes a toddler. And no I'm not just talking about genetics.


Leonardo di Caprio VS toddler - a comparison of things they have in common

P.S. You can also see my toddler go head to head against SKELETOR. Ooooh.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

10 unusual birthday present ideas for toddlers and young children

With my son's third birthday coming up I've been struggling to work out what gifts to get him. I scoured the net for cool ideas, and here are my top ten picks to suit all budgets for anyone else with a three or four year old.

Plenty of unique gifts to choose from here. Hope it helps!



Pepe dime algo chicken and egg print by Tostadora

A cool framed print from Tostadora - from £39.99
This one is my favourite, but they have loads of good ones on the site. Something like this could end up on a kid's wall for a long time as they grow up. "Pepe dime algo" is Spanish for "Pepe, tell me something!" Awesome!
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Magic Fairy Door by Knot Toys on Notonthehighstreet.com

Magic Fairy Door by Knot Toys, notonthehighstreet.com
There are loads of doors to choose from here but this is my favourite. I like the rustic simplicity of it. The truth is, one of these doors can be whatever you want it to be. Goblins? Elves? Fairies? What a great idea! It's a lovely way to make memories and feed a child's imagination - Santa only comes once a year, but every day can be magic now.
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Natural wooden boxkart by Kiddimoto

Natural Boxkart by Kiddimoto - from £89.99
A go kart is timeless and loads of fun for kids of all ages, including dads! If you can't make one yourself and want to cheat, this is a decent price for a wooden one and you can then customise it together - either with stickers or a new paint-job.
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The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read artwork old man in supermarket

The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read - hardcover book.
I've seen it on Amazon for about £10 including delivery. This classic book was first published in 1968. The artwork is amazing, so it's a guaranteed winner of a present. The story goes that the little old man is frustrated that he can't read, and so when his wife returns from a trip away he asks her to teach him.
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Big Yellow Cement Mixer Truck Bed for children

Cement Mixer Truck Bed from The Little Bedroom Company - £109.99.
My son has this bed and he adores it. It would be a lovely 2nd birthday present or starter bed for a toddler that's threatening to climb out of their cot. He thinks it's the next best thing to owning a real digger. The quality and vibrancy of it is amazing!

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Hot Air Balloons by Authentic Models for childrens bedroom

Hot Air Balloon, by Authentic Models. Prices from £30.
We received one of these from friends as a baby shower gift and it had genuine wow factor. It's a lovely item for any child's bedroom and will be there for years to come. You can hang them so it looks like they are floating in the air and they come in many different colours and sizes.
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Scandinavian or Russian style art - Bear Print by Bobby Rabbit

Bear Print, by Bobby Rabbit - £8
Total bargain. You can buy A3 frames very cheaply so it's an affordable way to create a stunning gift for a child. Initially I thought it looks very Scandinavian, but it turns out it's by a Russian artist, Ekaterina Trukhan.
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The bogeyman A to Z, bogeyman reads to his son at night

Fungus the Bogeyman book, by Raymond Briggs
A controversial choice maybe, you could argue it's suitable for older children but I've bought this for my son's 3rd birthday because I know he will love it. What he likes to do with the Father Christmas book is read the story to me through his own interpretation of the pictures. It's insanely cute, and the story changes a bit every time with every detail he picks up from it.
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Cool T Shirt for kids by zara.com with different animals on

A cool T shirt
Why not take some inspiration from my other blog, where I picked out my top 10 kids' tees for spring/summer 2016. It's such a simple gift but if you choose the right one it's a guaranteed winner.
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Kidkraft adjustable wooden easel

Adjustable Wooden Easel, by KidKraft
I think it's natural as a parent to hope that your sprog can unleash their inner Picasso just like Kieron Williamson - his watercolours have been likened to Monet, and he has now raked in over £2 million!

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I hope this has given you some much needed inspiration for a cool surprise gift, but if you have any other ideas, let me know and I can include them in a future blog.

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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Skeletor VS Toddler

One of my favourite cartoons as a kid was He-Man. But it suddenly occurred to me that my son is basically Skeletor in disguise. So I dusted off my rusty MS Paint skills and compared them. The similarities are spooky.

Skeletor Vs Toddler comparison, both will never capture castle grayskull

Who do you think wins?!

All of the original He-Man episodes can be found on YouTube now. If you watch it back as an adult, it's the most ridiculous show, the voice acting is so over the top, and every episode features a corny moral 'message' at the end. Well worth taking a look! They just don't make TV like that any more.

I also love @GrumpySkeletor on Twitter. He's so on the money with his clever captions, and constantly sums up how stupid He-Man and Prince Adam are. A very funny tweeter, that one.



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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Nostalgia

Boys chasing each other and playing tag

Something happened today at a birthday party that I've never seen him do before, and it reminded me what it's like to be a kid.

Him and his little buddies were chasing each other around the hall, and everyone was having a blast. Boys being boys, rugby tackling each other and saying, "I'm gonna get you."

With his third birthday fast approaching I was wondering if it would be weird with it being held in a school sports hall. It had been a struggle to find the right venue.

It never occurred to me until today but now I understand. A sports hall is an amazing place to hold a birthday party for toddlers. For the children who come along, it might just be the biggest room they've ever been in. I'll have to make sure I play my Pied Piper role to perfection.

Speaking of sports halls, I saw these amazing reclaimed floorboards at the new Lounge Bar we visited in Keynsham. I doubt they make them like these any more. It was a day full of weird little moments like this that made me feel nostalgic for my own childhood.

Reclaimed floorboards at Lounge Bar in Keynsham

That day, we put a question to him. "What do we do that makes you happy?"

"You make me laugh."

I was interested to hear what he'd say when we asked him what he does to make us happy.

"I put my clothes back in the drawers when I've taken them all out."

"And I make you laugh!"

"Yes! You do make us laugh!" We said.

"...And when I do a hot one you laugh." He added.

Guilty as charged. That's his slang for poo. He's a charmer, that one.

Monday, 28 March 2016

My Hatred of my Son's Trunki Suitcase is Irrational, but it Burns Brightly.

Blue Trunki Ride-On suitcase funny
Aaargh!

I hate journeys, most of the time. We often go down to Cornwall for a weekend and if we take my wife's Ford Fiesta my heart sinks. I know that hell is ahead. It's a gargantuan struggle squeezing everything into the car, especially when you're 10 minutes down the road and then remember you've left the stroller at home.

God only knows how we would cope if we had a dog - I think it would need to be strapped to the roof. My knees are usually pressed against the glove-box and a familiar burning pain begins to throb in my lower back.

We aren't a conventional family riddled with OCD's and things packed neatly into suitcases. Oh no, this ain't the Waltons here. On top of the suitcases, every journey includes three or four plastic bags filled with an assortment of items that could not be any more random if they tried. I can always rely on a collection of annoying loose things like the ones in this blog.

Half of the contents of a week away
Aside from that, there's hair straighteners threatening to fall out, contact lenses, my boots, a shirt, a bottle of milk, and a cup full of my own tears, all forced into bags in a hurry because there's a small child screaming and we need to somehow remember to feed the cat before we leave.

Exhibit A. The kitchen cupboard of a dysfunctional family.
You should take a look at our kitchen cupboards, which make me die inwardly every time I unload the dishwasher and wonder where the hell to stack plates, but we are both in an unspoken stand off where neither of us can be bothered to 'fix' this problem. This has been going on for years. I think we now accept that this is just the way it is, and it has never been spoken about. The collection of Charlie Bigham's ceramic pie containers grows more impressive with every autumn that passes.

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Sorry, I digressed.

I realised this week that I have a long standing hatred of my son's Trunki suitcase.

If you're unfamilar with them, Trunki is a lovely brand and a nice company that makes colourful 'Ride-On' suitcases for children. Clever products, like a rucksack that converts into a car booster seat.

And when I say lovely, I've even been in their offices a few years ago on business and I came out feeling impressed and all gooey inside. They have a slide in there for Christ's sake. It takes grown adults from the top floor down to the bottom for their brand strategy meetings. They even have these delightful pictures of all the staff on the wall, and what they looked like as children. They're a company with proper heart and soul!

But despite it being an amazing product in many ways I hate his Trunki Ride-On suitcase with every fibre of my being. It's always the last thing when I'm packing the car.

This is the face of pure evil.

The suitcase is hard plastic, so it can't be squished into a corner. It just sits there, bright blue and taunting me with its silly ears and eyes. The worst thing is I know there's nothing in there apart from Big Ted and maybe a few nappies and some pyjamas.

This is Big Ted's suitcase and woe betide anyone who messes with his preferred mode of transport. It would be an unthinkable act to leave the Trunki at home, so it must come with us everywhere we go.

I finally got it into the Fiesta, along with two other proper suitcases, my weekend bag, the plastic bags, the stroller, and what felt like 50 other loose items, including the balance bike. Yes, that's another logistical nightmare in its own right, and no I don't want to talk about it.

The straw that broke my back

When we arrived there, what happened? I heard a little voice complaining about something. Laden with plastic bags, and several suitcases I turned around. There he was, tugging his little Trunki through thick grass. The evil bastard of a suitcase had got stuck, and he couldn't move it.

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Friday, 25 March 2016

What to Expect as a Volunteer Helping Refugees in Dunkirk - Day Two.

Following on from my first day as a volunteer in Calais, day two of my volunteering experience could not have been any more different if it tried.

We arrived at the L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse in Calais for the second day of volunteering on Sunday at 9am.

At the group meeting, volunteers were quickly assigned jobs for the day based on their skills. As soon as the leader asked, "Who's handy with a hammer and nails?", my arm shot up.

Four of us were picked and among us were an Englishman, a former plumber, plus two friendly Spanish people who now live in Bristol. I think I remember them saying they were both engineers once.

It turned out that we were off to one of the new camps in Dunkirk (Dunkerque as it's known in France) and without really knowing what to expect, other than I needed to quickly grab some gloves from the warehouse, off we went.

Because of all the media attention focusing on the Calais Jungle, it's easy to assume that's where the needs are, but the truth is that there are many refugee camps in the area outside of Calais.

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Arriving at the Dunkirk refugee camp

Upon arriving I was struck by how peaceful, spacious and well organised the camp seemed. There was a portacabin with lockable shower cubicles near the main entrance, and I could see rows of wooden huts in the distance. I understand that this particular community at Dunkirk is predominantly Kurdish people - from Syria and Iraq.

One of the first things I saw in the Dunkirk refugee camp - a child, and a pram.

Wooden shelters at the Dunkirk refugee camp, and scrap wood

We had a briefing that the day's work would involve making preparations for an upcoming building and fire safety inspection (by the government, I assume). Specifically, we were to remove tarpaulin awnings in front of the houses and replace them with proper rooves and timber panels instead of plastic sheeting. Among us were many Germans, some Belgians, French people and a few Brits. Off we went.

The first job: removing tarpaulin and replacing with wood

On my first job of the day, I was offered coffee and cigarettes by a friendly family who lived in the hut we were working on. They had a one year old son and a two year old daughter and as I have a son of my own this resonated heavily with me so I really wanted to do a really good job for them. I was pleased to see that they had a gas burning stove inside the hut providing some comfort. While this isn't necessarily the safest place for that, I can understand why it was there - the morning air was chilling me, despite several layers of clothing. 

The huts, or shelters they were living in were impressive given that a lot of them have been built by volunteers. They were spartan, and simple, and looked like they were made of chipboard but as the sun came out the rows of them created the feeling they were almost like little neighbourhoods. Families looking out for each other and they created a feeling of order and calm in the camp. I'm sure it's a different story when rain is bucketing down and the wind is tearing into them, but at least on that day, the camp looked amazing.

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Next thing I knew, I was babysitting a toddler.

For an hour or so, we fixed up the wall while another child about the same age as my own son pottered around us. He was incredibly cute, spent the entire time smiling and was the proud owner of an impressive mullet. When I say owner, he really owned that thing like an international footballer in a 1980s Panini sticker.

He was an absolute charmer, because to top it off, he had his face painted in white and pink, like a cat. I later found out that this had been done yesterday, so no doubt he must have spent the night being extremely careful to avoid smearing it - he was clearly very proud of his appearance.

I just couldn't get over how he was a toddler the same age as my son, but so different. Fearlessly independent, walking around with the confidence of a child twice his age, and I wondered where his mother was, or indeed if he even had one. I don't think I ever saw her and that still troubles me because there are hundreds of orphans inside these refugee camps.

Anyway, it was quite a job keeping him away from the various objects of interest, the hammer, saw, nails, and power screwdriver. After a close shave with him cheerfully swinging a piece of wood roughly the size of a baseball bat, with three oversized nails poking out of it, and it nearly smashing into my German colleague's skull, we were making good progress with the job.

I was then called away to help with putting a roof on another awning.

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This is when I met Super Hans.

Hans, a long term volunteer at Dunkirk, from Belgium

Hans was a lovely guy, a tireless soul full of heart for what he was doing. A perfectionist and a really patient teacher when instructing on some of the trickier jobs, he was well respected among the volunteers and I could instantly see why. I found out he had been here since January and his home was in Belgium.

His other life was as a groundskeeper and handyman but it was clear that this was where he felt a duty and a sense of purpose to help people. I was to have many interactions with him over the course of the day and I regret not saying to him what an amazing job he had done at the camp. Hans, if you're reading this somehow, you are a legend.

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On to the next job

My next job was removing a massive tarpaulin that covered the front of two huts, for fire safety reasons as I mentioned before. The families involved were understandably quite hesitant and anxious about this as it basically involved removing part of their outdoor kitchen area and exposing it to the elements. We reassured them it was for the best - and they could see that some of their neighbours' shelters had already been done and looked great, so it made sense and they agreed to let us work.

Removing a tarpaulin with a new friend
It was here I met X, I think he had been a professional footballer back in Iraq and he was helping me work on his hut with great enthusiasm. His next door neighbour winked at me, and in a mixture of Kurdish and broken English, she explained that he was a bit of a nutter. Although to be fair, I already gathered that - because it was a job making sure the old roof of the awning didn't fall on my head while he sawed through it and smashed it with a crowbar with a maniacal glint in his eye. He was a character, that was for sure!

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Then I played tennis.

I was looking for one of the volunteers and couldn't believe my eyes because there was a makeshift tennis court with nets, and kids crowded around it. 'X' was also there having a great time looking like he was up to more mischief, and this is where I also met Steve Verkouter, a Belgian guy who runs his own TennisDreams charit,y and had previously been doing it in Africa for two years. It was quickly apparent with all the kids running around that Steve was a popular and well known figure in the camp, and the children clearly enjoyed his improvised game of hitting balls high in the air while they jostled to catch them in their containers.

Steve Verkouter of TennisDreams

Kids enjoying an improvised catching game with Steve Verkouter / TennisDreams

I've now found out that Steve is struggling for funds to keep going, so do have a look at his Facebook page to see the work he does and support him if you can.
It wasn't long before I was invited to play a game of doubles on the makeshift tennis court and as a fan of the sport this was an offer I couldn't refuse. Not easy when the ball bounces sideways off a rock, but we enjoyed it and I imagine it gave our opponents ten minutes of fun in the mid March sunshine and a reminder of happier times at home. One of them was pretty good in fact, and we had a couple of nice rallies, topspin fizzing, with the ball coming back faster every time until he fell foul of the cursed rocks. We all laughed at his misfortune.

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An afternoon's work

Then it was back to work, and I was now to secure wood panels against a frame that had been put up that morning to support a roof, and try to make them airtight. This is a satisfying job, and a lot of fun when you get it right so I found the time passed quickly. I was grateful for the DeWalt cordless screwdriver that made the job easy.

Screwing in wall panels to the frame of an awning

The job nearly finished. It was satisfying work.

The whole time, the people in the vicinity were warm to me, and had quite a distracting sense of humour and mischief with one another. I invited them to help me screw in the panels and they were delighted to. After all, these were their homes - and I'm not a qualified builder, so why should it only fall on my hands? Many hands made light work, and it was soon 5pm.

There was a Kurdish festival that evening so various interesting things were going on. Kids were clambering up a steep slope and sliding down it and had built a beacon - I think this was going to be set on fire later as part of the celebrations.

Kids playing with spare wood from around camp - making a beacon

I grabbed a lift back to Calais with a French guy, Denis. A great guy and if you're reading this, Denis, thanks for putting up with my terrible efforts at speaking French. He told me that he had been here two weeks. He worked for the first week in the kitchens of the L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse, preparing food for the different camps. But now he was on construction duty, which he loved. His reason for being there was simple, he wanted to contribute to a better France.

So that was it, my time as a volunteer was up. It was nothing like what I had imagined, I'd been left to my own devices for several hours in the Dunkirk camp and never felt uneasy about that because of the warmth the people gave me, despite their lives being completely upside down. I really came away feeling like I had made a meaningful difference on both days.

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Final thoughts

If you live in England, particularly in the London or south east, I would highly recommend you go over and help out, because it's easy for you to get there, and you'd be able to make a big impact even over just a weekend. If you want to know how to volunteer in Dunkirk or Calais, there are some links for you below with more information.

It was said by many volunteers that with parts of the Jungle camp being demolished by authorities, it's assumed now that there's no longer a need for volunteers. Far from it. New refugees are arriving every day, new camps like the Dunkirk one are being set up, and the situation in the Jungle is still grim.

You can still make a very meaningful difference by taking a warehouse job, so you don't have to be a builder - there's endless sorting and packing of donations to do, and these are then sent out often on the same day, you can read about this in my previous post.

For example, my wife was busy in the warehouse preparing boxes of clothing and other essentials for men. She said she really enjoyed it and got really into the selection process - being really careful to put together items and outfits that would work well together and hopefully surprise the recipients.

After our experience of volunteering for the weekend, it's safe to say we would love to go back.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this was a useful guide.

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Useful links

Calaidipedia - news on the Dunkirk camp and things they need. For example, anyone with construction skills is particularly useful because there are many more shelters that need to be built.

Utopia  - a French charity responsible for a lot of the work and aid that happens in the Dunkirk camp. Access to it is quite limited by French authorities, but organisations like L'Auberge des Migrants (who I volunteered with) have a long established relationship with Utopia, and supply it with a great deal of food, tools and workers. The L'Auberge warehouse is a key distribution point for the aid that comes in.

L'Auberge des Migrants Facebook page - English version - so you can subscribe to news of the aid requirements and news relating to the charity, and the various refugee camps in France)

Calaidipedia - a huge source of information about the refugee situation in Calais, including how to donate to L'Auberge des Migrants.

Volunteer Group to Calais Facebook page - a very active community where people offer and share lifts from the UK to Calais and vice versa, and post about their experiences.

Dunkirk Refugee Solidarity Facebook page - Much like the above, a community hub of information, lift shares, and news particularly relating to volunteering in Dunkirk.