Archive for 2012

Dark Chocolate Cornflake Cakes

Today was Emz' birthday and we threw her a kids birthday party because we're cool and do things like that. As part of her present I made her some chocolate cornflake cakes and I thought I'd share the recipe here (but I cannot for the life of me remember where I got it, it's been stored away in the back of my brain for a long time though!).

Makes lots.

Ingredients:
200g dark chocolate
100g butter
8 tablespoons golden syrup
140g cornflakes
mini marshmallows

Method:
Melt everything except the cornflakes and marshmallows in a pan on a very very low heat.
Throw in the cornflakes and mix well.
Using a 1/2 cup measure, make small shaped piles of the mix on a buttered buttered baking sheet.



Place a mini marshmallow atop each cornflake cake.
Put in the fridge to set.
Enjoy with either a cup of coffee or a pint (or half pint) of Guinness (this I haven't actually tried but I know that eating chocolate whilst drinking Guinness is very very tasty).



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Crafty Crafting

Being male means that I should be into football, beer and fighting. At least that's what my facebook timeline and so called targeted ads would indicate. Unfortunately it seems that most of the males in my friends list appear to be Neanderthals but there is nothing I can do about this. Well, other than delete them all.

My Facebook Friends (not really)
Unfortunately that is not the kind of person I am. I'm really quite a friendly peaceful type who loves nature and everything in it (except horrible humans) and as a peaceful type something I thought I would enjoy was crafting.

I've done a type of 'crafting' before. For many years I loved wild camping, just me, a hammock, tarp and nature. Of course being human meant this had to be categorised and it is now affectionately known as 'Bushcrafting' - a name popularised by the near god like idol of the bushcrafting world, Ray Mears.

Ray Mears' Bushcraft
Ray Mears' Bushcraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That was then though, back in the days when sleeping out on a cold night wouldn't render me incapacitated for the next week. Don't get me wrong, I still love camping and jump at the chance to go out for a weekend under canvas but I do like some home comforts nowadays (seems getting married has softened me up somewhat).

Now that I have a small person to look after I have a few hours in my week that could be filled doing something useful to keep my brain ticking over (like housework, a baby and a degree isn't enough to fill my time!) so I decided to look into craftfing.

crafts
crafts (Photo credit: Margarida Sardo)
My not so extensive research brought up a few resources but none of them looked like the kind of thing I would be very good at, so off I went to the Shangri La of crafting (well, to the lay person it is) Hobbycraft.

Me and the Munchkin spent a good few hours walking the gilded aisles of  Hobbycraft looking for something that would jump out at us and shout 'Hey you, I'm the craft for you'. Unfortunately none of them did, mostly because it's all just out of my budget (no really, my budget is so tight that I can't spare a few quid to keep us both quiet for an hour a day!).

Then it struck me. Years ago I'd looked into jewellery making, mostly because it seemed like a good way to make a few quid but I hadn't known where to start and I didn't have free access to the internet - oh those heady days of the 90's when we had to make our own fun!

So I eventually ended up buying a few small bits to start making jewellery with, went home and promptly forgot about it for a few days. It wasn't until I stumbled across an image of a nice jewellery design that I actually got my purchases out to play with.

Suffice to say my first attempt wouldn't have looked out of place at Honest Johns Scrapyard. I persevered though and within an hour I'd knocked up the following:

 
My first earrings!
Not a bad effort I thought. It would seem that earrings were the things I was good at so over the course of the next few days, whenever I had a spare moment to run into the study, I made 6 pairs of earrings.



Unfortunately I don't wear earrings and although Emz liked them she doesn't wear earrings unless they are hypo-allergenic so I've put them on ebay. I will keep making them though as it gives me something to do and I actually find it quite relaxing. Oh and our neighbour has asked me to make her some too! 

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Happy Birthday Blog

English: A birthday cake
English: A birthday cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A year ago today I picked up my laptop and typed out the post Introduction Time. At the time the Munchkin was 5 weeks old and staring at me from her cot, something I remember reasonable well considering how bad my memory is.

The Munchkin is now 1 year and 5 weeks old and no longer sleeps in her Moses basket in the lounge. She now sleeps upstairs in her own room and generally allows me and Emz to have relatively peaceful evenings.

The last year has certainly been an adventure and I've learned much, but mostly about parenting and not about Conservation Biology (for those that don't know that's what I'm studying at university). The Munchkin and myself have had a few adventures whilst Emz has been working and we've also had a few trying moments - that I've mostly not blogged about - like yesterday when I needed to call the Dr because she wasn't a happy Munchkin.

Also in the last year I've made a few online friends via this blog and twitter. The 'Blogs I read' list is constantly changing and I highly recommend most, if not all, of those blogs as they are written by some amazing people who are vastly more talented than me.

With that I say thank you for reading so far, thanks also for commenting if you have and I will do my best to improve my blogging over the next year.

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Android Zombies

In a departure from Silent Sunday I thought I'd share the following strip of images which I've shamelessly stolen from www.tourbar.info. Just for clarification this is actually true as I just tried it in a scientific way on my own Android phone.

Enjoy.


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Mobiles for Meals

Waiting in my inbox today was the monthly email from netmums bloggers network which I had a quick scan through as always. This month something caught my eye and that something was the astounding statistic that one million children within the UK don't know where their next meal is coming from. Think about that for a moment.

In the news there are always stories about children in third world countries that are starving but I feel that we've grown numb and tend to be able to block them out. However when you learn that in this country, a supposed first world country, there are starving children it does come as a bit of a shock. The shock is even greater when you learn that there has been an increase in British children turning to charities to be fed. That increase is 233%.

In order to do something you would normally need to put your hand into your pocket and find some loose change or donate with your credit/debit card. Fortunately this time this isn't the case.

Netmums have teamed up with the charity Kids Company and created the Mobiles for Meals campaign. This is a simple campaign that means you can find any old mobile and take it to your nearest T-Mobile or Orange shop where you can hand it in so it can be converted to cash that goes straight to the charity.

Five Mobile Systems
(Photo credit: carnero.cc)
Simple yet effective. So simple in fact that I have a mobile that is sitting in a box doing nothing that I am going to take to my nearest shop to hand in, you should do the same. Click the picture below to find out more.

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The Olympic Post

I may change the title of this blog post depending on a few things.

  • How many more businesses get asked to stop using the word ‘Olympic’ (Little Chef have been selling the ‘Olympic Breakfast’ since before Stonehenge was built. Fact.) as the last thing I need is a lawsuit.
  • The subject matter may change as I write (I once went off on a 3 week tangent.Fact.).
  • If there are any complaints about the facts used in this post (some may be made up).

Today the Olympic flame comes to Northampton and we are expected to ‘Line the streets’. Well, thanks for the offer buy I’ll give that demand a miss thank you, I’ve got better things to be doing.

torch

I have nothing against the Olympic Games themselves, they are an idealistic way of trying to bring about friendly competition, harmony and world peace in a nice two week slot every four years. Ironic when you think that they were originally to show off the strength and might of warriors.

first-olympic-8

Actually that is still pretty much what it’s about, just on a more friendly level. Nowadays a nation doesn’t watch the games and think ‘oooh those Russians have some good shot putters, best not invade them’ or ‘Well, so much for the plans to invade China, their table tennis players definitely put a stop to that idea’. These days it is more an individual thing.

Those athletes didn’t spend years training to be the best at their sports so that they can show the world that their country is the best. No, those athletes trained for years to try to become the best because it makes them look good and proves to them that they can be better. If they win they will probably also make a lot of money out of it too.

coke paralympics

Money is another reason I hate the Olympics. I’m not making money from the games so I should hate them, but also the companies that are making lots of money from the games are not doing so because they support sport or want to help people become better at sport (come on, McDonalds and Coke Cola for gods sakes!!!) but because it makes them money and lots of it.

McDonalds_logo_with_London_2012.gif

Then again I doubt very much that the people that wanted the Olympics in London did it just because they felt the East End of London would be a spot on place to gather the world. I have a sneaky suspicion that they knew there would be jobs in it for them and lots of cash would be passed their way too. All except for David Beckham.

As much as I hate football and despise the amounts players are paid I actually feel for Becks this time. Poor witless fool was doing it for the love of sport and to get funding to get the kids into sports and he was repaid by being allowed to play with the fire for a bit then shuffled off so that Great British people like Will.I.Am could wave the flame around whilst tweeting (He tweeted – “Its nuts here in taurton”. Fact. So he knows Taunton well then!).

Will.I.Am-carries-the-Oly-009

So will I be watching the games themselves? Maybe. It’s not often they have sports such as archery, shooting and sailing on the telly. This is one of the good things that comes out of the Olympics, the large variety of sports shown and made available to us normal people.

Which reminds me, funding.

I’ve noticed over the last few years that funding for sports has been increased and increased to a point of sillyness (for example, the college I studied at recently is an agricultural college and yet the entire place appears to be set up for sports and sports academies.). I’m now wondering what is going to happen after the games. I can see the government pulling as much sport funding as they can, to recoup losses elsewhere, which will leave us with a country full of sports facilities and schools positively overflowing with P.E. teachers.

Not to worry, the government can sell those sports facilities to the highest bidder (probably O2) to turn into the latest music venue. Oh and premiership football does not, in my opinion, constitute ‘local community’ so why is the Olympic stadium going to be used for that?

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Changes

I'm going to be making some changes to the blog layout and template over the next week so please bear with me.

A post will be made soon too.

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Kidsworld Bedford

As the Munchkin is getting to the age where she is very active I’ve been looking around for more and more interesting things to do with her, after all there’s only so much sitting in a pushchair one kid can take.

Todays expedition was to Kidsworld in Bedford, as is given away by the title of this blog post. Why there? The soft play I was going to take her to was closed today so I spent about an hour online this morning trying to find somewhere else and this one jumped out at me as having the facilities I was after for a 1 year old.

But before we set off I needed to find out if it was any good so I sent my cousin a message asking about the place as she lives down that way. She replied quickly with a positive message so off we went.

You may notice the complete lack of photos in this post, that is because Kidsworld have a policy of not allowing photos to be taken within their building. A fair enough policy that is a sad indication of the times we live in.

First impressions weren’t too good for me as I put their postcode into my satnav and could not find the right number so I selected the building next door. This got me to the right place but unfortunately the car park and entrance are around the back, which I had to guess as this is not mentioned on their professional looking website.

Once parked up and in the door it was a pleasant experience, the lady on the front desk was very helpful explaining everything I needed to know, including that the restaurant didn’t accept cards (whereas the front desk did) but there was a cash machine in reception. I’m not sure if Kidsworld take a cut or not (probably not) but there was a large charge to use the cash machine. It said £1.55 on the machine but then the machine actually charges £1.85. A case of updated software but not hardware I should imagine.

I took the Munchkin through to the young child area, called ‘Playtown’, where I took off my shoes and set her down to start playing. The first thing that struck me was that other than the large play frame in the corner there were not that many things for the toddlers to do. There were a few ride on toys, some soft obstacles to climb over, a large ball pool that was severely lacking in balls, and lots of playhouses that had clearly had the repo men in. Maybe it’s a common theme in play barns that there isn’t much for toddlers to do as it is the same in our local one.

Lunchtime came round quickly and I’d already noticed the big signs all around stating that only food bought on the premises could be consumed. No problem, there should be some good choices available as on the website it says about helthy kids. What I didn’t spot was the ‘affordable’ clause. This is something that always bugs me as it nearly always means lower quality and today was no exeption. The one photo I managed to snap was on my mobile phone and it was of the dish I chose for the Munchkin.

Now before I subject you to the photo I should point out that the Munchkin ate quite a bit of what was on the plate and there were other things on the menu. Granted the other things on the menu were also of the deep fried variety, except the beans. Possibly.

2012-06-18 12.30.15-2

So to say the menu was limited and not the best would be a bit of an understatement. The adult menu, on the other hand, was a little better and the coffee was cheap and quite drinkable.

After lunch it was nappy changing time so we wandered off to find the facilities, which I knew were in the toilets. Well, I thought they were. The gents toilet was bereft of baby changing facilities. I poked my head in the ladies (just slightly through the door and it was all in the name of nappy changing!) and could see there was a changing mat and one of those drop down changing tables. I ended up changing the Munchkin in the disabled toilet where there was a nice large worktop with a changing mat. I thought I’d mention this oversight to the helpful lady on the front desk and she was wonderful about it. They are refurbishing in the very near future and she assured me that she would highlight it at the next staff meeting. It also made me think more about seeing how much can be done to change business’ views when it comes to dads. No doubt I’ll blog more about this in the future.

Our last hour was spent playing in the main room that has the large play frame. This frame is in 3 distinct sections that are joined by high bridges. I know the Munchkin had fun going down the slides by the look on her face at the bottom, she also loved the ball pool which had more balls in it than in the ‘playtown’ one. I also had fun clambering around the various levels whilst helping munchkin along. This is what these play barns are all about, ideal for youngsters to run around, climb and have masses of fun whilst interacting with each other.

It seems to me that these places forget that some kids have younger siblings that need somewhere to play too. Kidsworld makes an effort with this extra place but, unfortunately for me and the Munchkin, focuses too much on the main play area.

This isn’t a sponsored post and I have gained nothing from posting about Kidsworld.

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Indifferent Customer Service

I decided that I needed a new mobile phone, mostly because I have a Blackberry and the only thing that it is useful for is BBM (Blackberry messenger) as it is free and I can message Emz. She is getting a new phone herself soon.

Off I toddled this morning to the local shopping center to have a poke around the various phone shops and see what deals I could get.

First up was Carphone Warehouse who were doing some good deals online. They lived up to my expectations and told me about a contract, an upgrade from the PAYG I have, that is only £12. With the Blackberry I am paying £15 a month for the privilege of using a free messenger, something I can get for free on an Android phone, and not much else. The deal meant a new phone – an HTC Wildfire S – lots of free minutes and texts with unlimited data.

Now, being a bit frugal (ie. skint) I decided to shop around so my next stop was the O2 store. Bear in mind I’m already on O2 PAYG I was expecting them to want to keep my custom.

Me – Hi, I’m on PAYG on your network but would like to upgrade to a contract and a different phone. What deals can you offer me?

O2 – What phone did you have in mind?

Me – Err, HTC wildfire (I wanted to see if O2 could beat what I had been offered).

O2 – *tapatappatap* ok, we can do 50 minutes, 50 texts and 100Mb of data for £15.50.

Me – As I’m a customer can you beat this deal I’ve been offered: 200 minutes, 200 texts and unlimited data?

O2 – No, sorry.

Me – Ok, I guess I’ll take my custom elsewhere then?

O2 – Ok, goodbye.

 

Needless to say I went back to Carphone Warehouse.

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PM Forgets Kid

The Prime Minister appeared to have forgotten one of his kids when they had a family meal out at the pub. I’m sure everyone knows the details and in spectacular fashion the PM blamed the other party, never seen that happen before!

Originally I thought we should give the guy a chance, after all what parent hasn’t forgotten something? I do it all the time. Not a day goes by when I leave the house then have to return as I’ve forgotten the Munchkins changing bag or my keys.

But yesterday Jeremy Vine had a phone-in on his show about this and not one person said they had never left their kids somewhere. I was listening dumbstruck. What kind of a country do we live in when everyone is leaving their kids places? It would appear you can’t move in some pubs/restaurants without tripping over kids that have been left behind.

I know I’ve had a rant before about irresponsible parenting but come on, this is ridiculous. How on earth is it possible that the majority of parents have left their own children behind? I know at all times what the Munchkin is doing and where she is, there is no way I would leave her anywhere.

So we shouldn’t give the PM a break for his indiscretion, we should be all over this and not only questioning his ability to run the country but also questioning why this country appears to be full of parents that don’t remember their own kids.

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Boats, Birthday and Jam

Myself and the Munchkin have had a busy few days. First off there was the Village Festival at the weekend, although we only went along for Saturday as we had friends visiting Sunday.
Monday was a special day for me – at least it would’ve been if I was younger – it was my birthday and for a special treat I took the Munchkin for a walk and a spot of geocaching. We’d not been out walking for a while so it was only going to be a short stroll, just 4 or so miles, along the Grand Union Canal south from Whilton.
SANY0947
We both enjoy walking along the canal; Me as it gives me a chance to look at boats and enjoy the peacefulness of everything: The Munchkin because it gives her a chance to shout ‘dggg’ at everything that moves – except ducks which she rightly shouts ‘du’ at.
SANY0943
The peacefulness that I enjoy so much isn’t always easy to find along the canal. This stretch just so happens to have the M1 on one side and a mainline railway the other side. Still it was a lovely walk.

There is another reason I choose this area to walk. We are making plans to move onto a boat to live and at Whilton there is a good boat brokerage and two chandleries that I could poke around. More about the change of lifestyle in a future post.

Yesterday was shopping day. This meant me and the Munchkin went off to the local Mothercare to get some supplies and then the supermarket to get the weeks shopping.
I truly despise shopping at the supermarket. Some of you may remember my parking rant and this is one of the reasons I hate shopping. This weeks episode saw no less than 3 cars parking in ‘parent and child spaces’ who clearly did not have children. Just had a thought, I’m going to email the supermarket and see what they have to say about it.

Last week whilst shopping I came out of the supermarket and watched a guy get out of his car, lock it, stand next to my car and then drop some litter. I helpfully pointed out that he had dropped something but he just sneered at me and walked off. He was parked in a parent and child space too!
Anyway, I digressed. Today we’ve been making jam. I say we but I actually mean me. I’ve been to the allotment a few times in the last week (update on that blog coming soon!) and we’ve had lots of rhubarb. Last week we had lots of rhubarb crumble at home and I thought I’d try my hand at making jam.
SANY0950
It turned out lovely, so lovely in fact that I had to collect some more rhubarb from the allotment last night and make some more jam today.
SANY0949
I must say, I’m looking forward to sampling this batch Smile

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Morris!

The village is having its annual festival this weekend so this means the air is filled with the sound of folk music and morris bells.

Morris01

 

The Munchkin hadn’t been born last year when the festival was on so it was only fair that I took her for a wander around the village and introduce her to the festival.

The festival itself is a strange affair. The village has a park at its heart, which would be a natural place to hold most events. The problem is the park is one side of the small valley the village is built around and so is very steep.

So in order to get around this the village have the start of the festival, things like crowning the May Queen, in the park. After this there is a procession around the village.

You’d think the procession would take in all of the village in one go but it doesn’t. What actually happens is they make it as far as the first pub and everyone gathers around to watch some morris dancing.

PICT1471

After this the May Queen and her attendants get back into the Maycart and the procession starts again – Until it reaches the village center (and another pub) where everyone gathers round again for more morris dancing.

PICT1492

It was at this stage in the proceedings that I wandered off to look around the ‘pop-up’ art gallery in the car repair garage, had a quick chat with some people I knew and then wandered around the small park and it’s really really bad stalls.

As you enter the small park there is a candy floss stand, not a bad start I guess. This is then followed by a hook a duck stall and one of those ‘kick-the-ball-through-the-hole-that-it-only-just-fits-through’ stalls. For a small village festival it’s not looking too bad. I’ll not bother describing the sweet stalls or the WI stall selling cake. Instead I want to skip to the stall that was selling fitted kitchens and solar panels. I thought that a bit odd.

Having had my daily fix of looking at fitted kitchen brochures me and the Munchkin wandered back to the morris dancing and arrived in time for the announcement that the Maycart would be moving on again. The next stop would be the pub at the far end of the village!

PICT1500

Off we went to yet another pub to watch more morris dancing.

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All the time the Munchkin was loving watching the men jumping around with bells on them whilst waving sticks or hankies, among other things!

PICT1486

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This is where we left the fun. The morris dancing carried on at the pub then about 4pm they all wandered to the local park where there was more morris dancing followed by much drinking and even more morris dancing.

Of course the festival went on until the early hours, I know this because the festival marquee is just two fields away from our back door. This doesn’t bother us at all though.

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We bought a zoo - Book review

More months ago than I care to remember, back when I had a bit of spare time, I was offered the chance to do a short review on the Waterstones website for 'We bought a zoo', which I leapt at. If I'm honest it was a bit of a crap review so I thought, what with all the media hubbub over the upcoming film, I'd do the book some justice and write a proper review on it.


What I'd like to do first is say that I'm surprised that said upcoming fillm is a hollywoodised version with Matt Damon. Whilst I've got nothing against Mr Damon I really really feel that the story (a real life one) told in the book is a strong enough story to have not been shipped over to the States and repackaged as theirs.

My opinion is that the film will do well but could've done so much better if non americanised as at the moment the UK is receiving a lot of love from world audiences when it comes to films about Brits - The Kings Speech, Iron Lady, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the list goes on.

As it is I don't feel the 'zoo' at the center of the story is going to receive the  attention that it could, simply because people will not know where the story originated. Had the film makers stuck with the original story then people would realise that the zoo is a real place that needs all the support it can get. But hey, what do I know about the film industry?

For those of you that haven't seen the trailer or even heard about it here's a brief synopsis of the book:

Benjamin Mee is a journalist living with his wife, two kids and lots of pets in a converted barn in France. A barn I should add that they took the time to renovate themselves. Benjamins family get in touch with him about an investment opportunity, if that's the right phrase, in the UK - A lovely big house on Darmoor. There is one drawback, it is part of a zoo and the zoo comes with the property. Meanwhile Benjamins wife, Katherine, is diagnosed with and has to fight Cancer.

The story unfolds around the purchase of the zoo and bringing it back into working order to make it ready for it's public reopening. All from a journalist with no experience of wild animals.

The book starts a little slowly, such is the way with life stories, but it is a good introduction to the main 'players' in the story. There is a lovely account of the village in France where the Mees live and this helps the reader understand the writer and some of his morals.

There were points in the book where I was in tears, brought about from laughing or crying, and the
parallel story of Katherine that runs throughout the book always brings the reader back down to earth with a heavy thump - at least it did with me.

The story really picks up in the zoo itself with the accounts of the animals, their houses and their keepers which highlights the need for visitors - to help fund the projects they are involved in worldwide.

I must admit that although I'm big into conservation I'm not really a 'big cat' fan, in that I feel we should be worrying about our own fragile habitats before helping overseas conservation. However, the way this book is written it really brings you close to the animals and I really started to get to like the bigger animals - especially their intelligence when being moved!

All in all, go out and read this book. If you see the film that is a bonus, hopefully some proceeds will go towards the zoo, and if you read the book then go visit the zoo - well you've gone one better than me, although I do plan on trying to visit when The Munchkin is big enough to understand the animals a bit better.

http://www.dartmoorzoo.org/

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