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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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I'm particularly keen to hear your suggestions of 50 uses for Charlie Bigham's ceramic pie containers. Should this be my next blog?!

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.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

What to Expect as a Volunteer Helping Refugees in Calais - Day One.

If I'm being honest, I'm not a very political person at all and it's quite unusual for me to do anything like this, and whatever your political stance on this, the truth is, we are in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

I really didn't know what to expect when my wife and I went to volunteer. I wondered how I would feel if I was fleeing from a country ravaged by war, and it wasn't difficult to come to the conclusion that it's an abysmal situation to be in. It would be all too easy for me to sit there with my relatively nice life, adorable son, no shortage of food, sunny holidays every year and a house over my head.

I wanted to feel like I was contributing in some way. Even if I could just make a tiny positive difference to someone's life, I would feel like the trip was worth it.

But I didn't have a clue what would happen when we got there. The plan was to get to Calais and then find the 'Jungle', the camp on the outskirts of Calais where around 5,500 people of up to 70 nationalities live in terrible conditions, . I hoped it would happen without any hiccups and that once we got there that someone would explain how we could be put to use.

The other thing in the back of my mind was that I hoped we could avoid getting into any difficult or dangerous situations. Safety was important, mainly for the sake of our child, and the media has presented quite a lopsided view of this whole situation so it had definitely planted a seed of doubt in my mind.

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Here's what happened. 

We randomly met a German girl the night before at the place we were staying, and luckily she was an experienced volunteer who had helped out for many years, so we asked to follow her to the camp the next day. I had read all sorts of horror stories about Police being overbearing and causing problems for volunteers, stopping them on the way and so on. I wondered if our food would be confiscated and I was anxious about this.

So, I was surprised when we arrived at a gigantic warehouse complex run by L'Auberge des Migrants [bit about the charity here]. It was organised, civilised and had various people, mainly British, but also German, French, Belgian and American, going about their business with a sense of purpose and pride in what they were doing. I understand it was 10 minutes away from the camp, and I felt perfectly safe the whole time I was there.

This is the distribution hub where clothing, food and grocery donations arrive and are sorted to then be sent out in aid packages to the camp. It also has kitchens where food for the migrants and refugees is prepared, and many dedicated volunteers even live there, in caravans dotted around the site.

Picture of the inside of the L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse in Calais
Part of the warehouse, where clothes & toiletries are sorted by volunteers
If you are considering volunteering in Calais, it's highly likely you will start off in a complex like this. You may get the choice to go to one of the refugee camps on various errands or deliveries, but there's no pressure about it. If you've found this blog because you're worried that your children or friends are putting themselves in a dangerous position, hopefully that myth is now busted.

I quickly found out that when you give your time up to organisations like L'Auberge Des Migrants,  volunteering in Calais can be perfectly safe, and you'll be able to make a very real impact in a short space of time. Also, despite it being a French charity, there's a high proportion of British volunteers.

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Here is what you can expect if you volunteer in Calais.

There was an entertaining warm up, a group meeting where various things like health and safety was discussed, and jobs were allocated for the day depending on our different skills. All in, there were maybe about 50 new volunteers at the briefing, and I later found out that's a lot lower than usual. The weekends are busiest, and this was a Saturday.

Volunteer briefing at L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse in Calais
The volunteers' morning meeting

I was quickly assigned a job, and after a 30 second induction to my role, I was off! Packing bags of vital food supplies for families of five, I was to follow this list and load the bag on a cart when it was full.

List of non perishable foods that are useful in a refugee camp
'Shopping' list - food to be packed for a family of five.
From the very start, my wife and I were packing food we had brought with us from England into the bags, so we were thrilled with that. I'd never expected that as a volunteer I could be contributing so quickly to the refugees' welfare. 

I enjoyed this job and got quite efficient at it - before long I was instructing new arrivals to the team on how to do it. I apologise now to the American girl who had to listen to my one minute induction about the merits of choosing a strong bag, and packing two at the same time for speed.

Bag of food aid for refugees in the Calais Jungle
A fully packed bag with supplies for five people
The whole time there was a great sense of camaraderie in the warehouse, and people being respectful to one another. Everyone was there for the same reasons: to try and do something, rather than sit at home in apathy.

There were also little details here and there throughout the warehouse that summed up the positive energy and high spirits of all the volunteers:

Rice supplies for refugees in Calais & Dunkirk

Don't get me wrong though, it wasn't all positive, and most people were openly glad when the thumping techno music got turned off in favour of The Kinks. There's good techno and bad techno, and this was absolutely abrasive techno. Although I'll admit, it did make me work faster.

There were only a few of us, but we worked well together. Once our team had packed 100 bags of food aid (supplies for five people), these were moved to a pallet outside as they were now ready for distribution.

Food bags on pallets, ready for distribution
I helped lift them into a van along with 75 bags (for 2 people). In the end, that van contained groceries for 100 families (500 people) plus another 150 people.

100 bags of groceries packed inside a van

The van left for the Jungle camp shortly after.

I never expected that I could have this much of an impact, so quickly on my first day. The reason I'm writing this is because even if just five more people volunteer as a result of reading this, then you have no idea how much you can achieve. Seriously.

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My experience of taking food aid
It was hard to know what to bring, the wishlists are constantly being updated in the Facebook groups (links below). 

We had a budget of £150, so I hit Asda hard in search of non perishable food, especially tinned fish. I spent about £90 on tuna, £20 on tomatoes and £40 on chocolate. Yes, I got loads of funny looks.

They were selling big bars of 'smart price' chocolate for 30p each. I felt that if that could give even one person a lift then it was worth it. I'm glad I stuck to my guns because there was barely any chocolate in the warehouse when we arrived, and all of the tuna and chocolate disappeared into food bags in a morning's work.

In the course of the day, I saw maybe about 15-20 other deliveries from charities and kind individuals arriving at the warehouse. But the rate we were going through tinned fish, and the amount of people there are to feed, I'll just say quickly that you can make a serious difference here and it's never too late, especially with 4,500 people to feed, and that's just in Calais.

The L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse also distributes to the new camps in the area, like Dunkirk - Dunkerque, to the locals.

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What food should you donate to Calais?

 It was great to hear that the feedback from the community leaders is a key part of the process in deciding how aid is distributed. This is grassroots collaboration, and not a case of a charity deciding what's best for the refugees.

• The consensus from the community is please do not donate pasta. People want rice. Not brown rice, but white/plain rice. It's in short supply
• Protein - tinned fish is always in high demand, along with chickpeas, lentils and red kidney beans. Prioritise this, along with rice. I saw first hand how quickly our supplies were dwindling, particularly tinned fish.
• Stock cubes and spices help to make meals taste less bland.
• Biscuits / chocolate - how would you feel if you were a refugee and you opened a bag of aid to find something nice in there? It might make you feel marginally less shit for a couple of minutes.
• Tinned fruit / rice pudding etc - it looked like this was in short supply and so I'm sure would be welcomed.
• Bottled water.

The camps are becoming organised with shared cooking facilities and gas hobs. Have a look again at that shopping list picture above. I understand that while the needs change, these are staple items that are popular with the vast majority of people living in Calais, Dunkirk and the surrounding areas.

Check this website too because there are non food items like tools, blankets, waterproof clothing, boots, wet wipes, nappies and sanitary towels, but I didn't have enough time to understand these needs in depth. One thing I did find out is do not donate tampons. Sanitary towels are preferred.
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What food shouldn't you donate to Calais?


I can tell you that the Thousand Island Dressing I observed was looking pretty lonely and stupid on the shelf, as if wondering what salad it would be adorning next. As volunteers we have to be careful that bags are packed equally, to prevent conflicts inside the camps, so the list above should serve as a useful guide.

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Final thoughts from the first day

It's no great secret that the French authorities haven't exactly made friends with refugees and have bulldozed a great swathe of the camp, forcing different communities of migrants into close quarters and potential conflict.

I can't even get my head around how tough that must be for someone. Many are fleeing their countries from war, they've seen friends and family die back at home and even along their perilous journeys. Just when there's some semblance of peace and something mildly resembling a comfort being restored (food, shelter) then the fucking authorities trash your home that keeps the rain from hitting you in the face when you sleep. 

What the hell are you supposed to do in that situation? Well let me give you an example. As they entered the camp to continue supervising its destruction, riot police were greeted by children holding white roses. 

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In my next blog, I will talk about my second day as a volunteer. It could not have been more different from the first day if it tried, but was just as rewarding!
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I implore anyone reading this to volunteer if you give even half a shit about human rights and helping people to eat and clothe and shelter themselves adequately against the elements. Even in just one weekend you can achieve so much, and the ferry from Dover to Calais is so quick.

Other useful links: 

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

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)

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.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Ten of the Best T Shirts for Toddlers and Boys for Spring / Summer 2016.

My son is almost three now, and he's very style-conscious. With his birthday and summer coming up I thought I would have a look at the coolest T shirts you can buy as a present for a toddler in the UK right now.

These tees are guaranteed to turn heads and get comments. Most of them come in sizes from two years up to five or six years old. Daddy's wallet is going to take a beating, for sure.


Top 10 Kids' T Shirts for SS'16. Here we go:-

'Regulators' T Shirt. £16* by Saturday Morning Pancakes
A hip hop / RnB T shirt homage to Warren G? Shut up and take my money. I also love the fact they've put in a tricycle - best dressed kid on the block.
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'Animals' T shirt - £6.99 at Zara
Zara always do good stuff. Easily one of my favourite kids' brands. This one has zebras, gorillas, elephants and more. Quirky and eye catching.

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'Lion' T shirt. £2.99 from H&M 
Simple, strong, minimalistic. I like this a lot, and it's so cheap you might as well buy several sizes. This one will never go out of style!
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'Gorilla' T shirt.  £16.02 plus shipping, by Gnome Enterprises
Handprinted in Brooklyn, NY. This is basically a toddler, AKA King Kong, trashing an aeroplane. Perfect. Available on their Etsy store.
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'Dino Vs Robot' T shirt - £16.02 + shipping, by Gnome Enterprises
Smashed it out of the park again. I really like this brand and I can see myself buying these for my son's birthday.
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'The Winner', designed by Balasz Solti. $20 from Threadless.
If you're unfamiliar with Threadless, it's an American company and all the T shirts are designed by very talented individuals who submit their creations to the community to vote on. The best ones then get put into production. Delivery to the UK is pretty quick, it's a really good service I've used before.
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'New York Dinosaur' T shirt - £4 at Matalan 
I like the watercolour style print, a T-Rex on a bicycle rampaging through the city streets. Matalan is well worth keeping tabs on, they often come out with a banger like this. Always on trend.
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'Ewok' T Shirt - £14.40 from Tostadora
This is so cute. I'd never seen this brand before but it seems to be a similar type of company to Threadless with crowdsourced designs. It's a Spanish company and they promise free 48 hour delivery if you buy three items. Worth checking out as they had some other good Star Wars tees as well.
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'Time Out' T Shirt - £8.99 at Gap Kids
I laughed out loud when I saw this because these are the magic words in my house. He wouldn't get the joke because he can't read yet, but I would chuckle to myself every time. There's loads of decent stuff on their site at the moment so well worth having a look.
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'Cheetah' T Shirt. £16 from Kite Clothing 
I'd never heard of Kite, but they are based in Dorset and make good quality, organic, ethical clothing. I like the design with the spots being the star of the show. It's simple, and cheetahs are a rare sight on kids' clothes so that's a thumbs up from me.
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Well there you are. Instant cool, guaranteed.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Life With a Toddler, in 9 Seconds.

It looks like I shot this video with a potato, but if you can get over that, this happened today and basically sums up what living with a toddler is like.

When I tucked him in tonight I quietly said, "You know that thing you did earlier, can you please not do that again?"

I've really noticed that his sense of humour is developing at such a rate recently, he is hilarious when we do comedy roleplays and it's amazing how much he takes in. He mimics things I've said weeks ago, with precise detail.

Just before he closed his eyes to go to sleep I could see him smirking to himself. I wonder what tomorrow has in store..

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Baking Banana & Quinoa Protein Rich Energy Bars (Flapjacks) With The Crazy Toddler - Our First Vlog!


Having eaten quinoa energy bars when I was in Peru last year, I was keen to try and make some myself. My son loves baking and making a mess in the kitchen, and flapjacks are so easy to make, so I thought why the hell not try it with quinoa instead of taking the easy option with oats.

Baking with a toddler is a fantastic activity for them, it's educational and full of sensory play, and they get a tangible reward at the end. We were both excited about trying this quinoa energy bar experiment out and I hope you enjoy the video blog.


Here are some quinoa facts:
  • Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat.
  • It contains almost twice as much fibre as most other grains. 
  • It contains useful minerals, iron, lysine, magnesium, manganese and Riboflavin (B2)
  • It contains all nine essential amino acids
  • It was a staple diet of the Incas.
  • Incas are absolutely badass 

I digress: here's a statue of an Inca warrior I found on my travels, in a little town called Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Inca statue in Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu in Peru
"I eat quinoa for breakfast... and you as well"


Anyway, I found a recipe by Tess Ward and so we loosely followed that. If you have honey in your cupboard then this is a sugar free recipe - surprisingly sweet! You can even make a vegan version by substituting the butter with coconut oil. Note: we had to destroy her healthy recipe with a few dollops of golden syrup, which makes a more decadent tasting version.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats
  • 1 large, mashed banana
  • 6 table spoons of golden syrup
  • 1 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup stoned dates or raisins
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. To cook the quinoa: put a pan on the stove and add the quinoa and 1 cup water. Bring to the boil and simmer, lid on, for 15 minutes (alternately cook the quinoa according to packet instruction)
  3. Add banana to a bowl and mash into a pulp. Pour in the butter and golden syrup, oats, cooked quinoa, cinnamon, and raisins or whatever fruit you're using and mix it all together.
  4. Pour the mixture into a tray lined with baking parchment.
  5. Flatten and smooth it down so it's a uniform shape that you will then be able to cut into segments easily.
  6. Bake it in the oven for about 35 minutes or more, until it is golden and crunchy on top.
  7. Leave to cool slightly before slicing and serving.
  8. Eat it, dummy.

For best results get your kid to help. I really enjoy bonding with him when we do activities like this.

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

13 reasons why my child is disturbingly middle class

I came to the alarming realisation today that the toddler is actually quite posh. So I made a list of all the things he likes that prove he's a future Guardian reader. 


1. HE LIVES IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
We moved out of Bristol into Somerset. We just wanted a 'better life' for him, and to let him be closer to nature. What middle class wankers!



2. HE DEMANDS TO WEAR RED CORDUROY TROUSERS.


I would never be seen dead in these, but somehow they have ingrained themselves permanently into his wardrobe. He has two pairs of red trousers and will always choose to wear them by brute force if necessary. I think I should submit him to the Look at my Fucking Red Trousers website.


3. HE LOVES TRACTORS, ESPECIALLY TRACTOR TED.
See above image. Not only is he wearing a check shirt, but it has the Tractor Ted logo. Need I explain that this is his favourite shirt? What a middle class sod, watching tv programmes about tractors. I'm the same, I love it, it's deeply relaxing after a hard day of a child screaming to just chill out watching a combine harvester go to town on a field. Deeply relaxing. See, I even write like a middle class twat. This is worrying and I haven't even got half way through writing this. Have I created this monster myself?


4. HE KEEPS PUTTING BEAR NIBBLES PURE FRUIT YO YOS IN MY SHOPPING BASKET.


How could I possibly refuse him when he shoves it in the basket, his little blue eyes imploring me as if to say, "There's no sulphites or stabilisers in these, dad. No added sugars. They handpick their farmers for crying out loud! Don't you f$%$ing dare deny me my five a day. "


5. HE WEARS CHECKED MOCCASIN SLIPPERS FROM THE LITTLE WHITE COMPANY.


Ok. Granted, these are pretty nice. As soon as we saw them we knew our little Prince must have them. Ugh. I hate myself. £22 for some slippers, but they're totes yolo swag for the discerning child with cold feet, right? But even the name of them, 'checked moccasin slippers' is giving me the creeps now.


6. WHENEVER WE GO FOR A COFFEE, HE INSISTS ON HAVING A BABYCCINO. 


And then he will sip it with a smug look on his face. If you're uninitiated with babyccinos, it's a dirty middle class thing. You are desperate for coffee all the time, and the chilled out life you once lived, sitting in blissful silence reading the Guardian and letting the pressures of the week slide away. So what you do is 'sell' a trip to a cafe to your child by bribing them with cake and a babyccino. Only you don't get to read the paper any more because they are screaming about something, and throwing cake at you. Don't even get me started on how 90% of places don't know how to make a good babyccino and how they will present your child with a scalding hot, gigantic mug of milk with no foam, while you wordlessly mouth "nooo" as your toddler starts drinking it.

If you're a barista wondering how to make a good babyccino? Well for one, it shouldn't burn my kid's mouth. I think it should be at least half foam, so a lot like a capuccino, and have a sprinkling of chocolate powder, and come in a toddler sized mug to avoid it being dropped by tired hands.


7. HE HAS PUKKA HERBS ORGANIC ELDERBERRY SYRUP FOR HIS LITTLE AILMENTS.


My son is so disgustingly bourgeois I actually heard him say, "Want my herbs," recently.

'Prevention is better than cure' they say, and this syrup contains elderberry juice, ginger, thyme, manuka honey 14+, trikatu and supports seasonal health, it's good in winter for keeping the immune system up. And it will stain the living shit out of anything it touches. Especially when you use a spoon and your psychotic toddler flails his arm at you because he's ill.

Once you learn how to avoid spilling it, this is a decent product. It's worth noting it is vegetarian, wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, and has no soya or added sugar and I have noticed a benefit to his health when we've used it. It's good for coughs and colds and most illnesses that come in winter.


8. HE HAS LUCY BEE EXTRA VIRGIN ORGANIC RAW COCONUT OIL IN HIS MORNING PORRIDGE.
I know, it shames me to write this all down. But click that link if you're interested in the benefits of cooking with pure coconut oil. This particular product is natural and has had no refinement, bleaching or deodorising whatsoever, and this sort of information is of course like crack to any vaguely hippy or earth loving middle class folk who live in the countryside,
Apparently people use it in their hair, give it to their pets and also use it to unstick a zip, grease the garden shears, ease a lock, and Lucy Bee even state that their local health food store unjammed the photocopier with their coconut oil! How delightfully middle class of them.


9. HE LIKES HAPPY MANDARIN BUBBLE BATH BY EARTH FRIENDLY BABY
 This checklist is like porn for the middle classes.
  • Dermatologically approved for baby sensitive skin
  • Free from any nasties like SLS or parabens and no artificial fragrances or colours
  • 99.2% Natural
  • 50.4% Organic
  • Certified organic cosmetic by Ecocert Greenlife
  • Eco friendly packaging
  • Made in the UK
  • No animal testing


10. HE LOVES NAKD BARS BY NATURAL BALANCE FOODS
 

The cocoa orange ones are the best. Many a time has this hungry, tired dad taken one of these from the kitchen cupboard or begged him to share his Nakd Bar with me.
The official description on the site says they are made from just raw fruits and nuts lovingly 'smooshed' together. Containing 100% natural ingredients with no added sugars or syrups, these bars are also wheat, dairy and gluten free, and bursting with yummy goodness. There, they've bolded the wheat and gluten free bit, because that sort of thing is important to health conscious middle class people.


11. HE LIKES DR KARG CRISPBREAD. 



The posh git will smear it with Whole Earth Organic Peanut Butter (naturally, it had to be organic, and is suitable for vegans) and then lick it off, leaving the crispbread half finished and I then get to have the sloppy seconds. If you want to know an amazing life hack for when you're really tired, hungry, and can't be arsed to make a proper meal, these are ideal for a snack. They're healthy, satisfying and you can put any middle class organic spread of your choosing on them. Or French cheese. Whatever. Go wild! These ones are spelt, and have three types of seed but they also do a nice Emmental cheese and pumpkin seed variant. Organic, wholegrain, and so on. I like them because they have a funky name, and they have a satisfying crunch to them, I actually find them quite filling. It looks like they now do a chia seed and oat version, although I've never seen these in the shops.


12. He HAS A PROBIOTIC. SYNBIOTIC CHILDREN'S POWDER, BY VIRIDIAN


Now I won't confess to knowing a lot about this stuff, but it more links back to the idea that preventing illness is better than curing it. Sounds stupid, but it is a widely believed in many different cultures around the world. Even the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement is starting to recognise it.

According to the Viridian website, this is an expert formulation comprising good gut bacteria (commonly known as probiotics) with added ‘prebiotics’. It contains 'good gut' bacteria, Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Then it all becomes a bit of a mouthful - the unique Prebiotic FS2-60 offers full-spectrum prebiotic oligosaccharide and plant-derived inulin. FS2-60 is not digested but is utilised by the friendly flora to increase colonisation of Lactobacilli and the Bifidobacteria whilst reducing the foothold of unfriendly species. It also contains Vitamin C and because it's a powder, it can be stirred into drinks or mixed into his food. How awfully posh of him.

This is useful for fending off bugs, and bouts of diarrhoea.


13. AND FINALLY, HIS FAVOURITE FRUIT IS BLUEBERRIES.
It''s a superfood, innit. It's an obvious choice for his middle class tastes and comes with the added bonus of staining everything in sight.


IN CONCLUSION...
My son is a posh little sod, and it's all my fault.


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