Sunday, 23 December 2012

No Tattoos in Bethleham


Jack has a glitter tattoo on his forearm that he adores. He got this tattoo a couple weeks ago at a friend's birthday party and it still looks almost brand new.

Jack came home from school today and told me that he wasn't going to wash off his tattoo, they wanted him to but he wasn't going to. Ever curious as to who 'they' is to a six year old I enquired further. Jack has a school Christmas play coming up in a couple days and was told by his teacher that he needed to remove the tattoo before then.
Because there weren't any tattoos in Bethlehem.

Now I have a long documented problem with situations just like this, this is one of my many flaws that I'm trying not to pass down. I would rather Jack learned to pick his battles, at the very least better than I tend to, rather than resist just for the sake of resisting. But I have a bit of a problem with this request, and more so the reason given. In this case I know what the reason is, and it's not a good reason, so it's being substituted for an incorrect reason.
There were tattoos in Bethlehem, as well as every other place in the world, and tattoos were at least a thousand years old by that point. So I quickly verified some facts and armed Jack with them, should the subject be brought up again. An educated stance is always on higher ground.

It's taken me most of my life to accept that a good reason is rarely the reason you get. But you should always demand a good reason, just not necessarily to your dying breath as I'm prone. As far as I'm concerned, an incorrect reason is an invalid reason. Either way I don't feel that Jack should have to get rid of his beloved tattoo because of how it might look with the rest of his mouse costume, certainly not without a good reason.

Now I'm not really trying to cause trouble here, we've enrolled Jack in a CoE school and thus, I'm expecting certain, shall we say, moral clashes from time to time. I don't expect this to come to anything, I don't expect to hear anything more about it at all. But there's a principal here that I feel strongly about and clearly it's important to Jack if he was already willing to make a stand. I want him to be prepared to take the strongest position he can and know that I'm with him.

I am pretty certain that they didn't have Darth Vader in Bethlehem.
But it the films do say it was a long long time ago.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Christmas Play

This morning we attended Jacks Christmas play.

It was interesting to see the evolution of the class. Last year the play was painfully stretched to 30 minutes, there were a few tonelessly sung tunes and a script read or shouted out a sentence at a time by the children. The dancing consisted of the kids walking around the stage and waving their arms. The costumes were mostly just variations of painted pillow cases.

This year the singing, while it was backed up with a tape of a children's choir, was much closer to pitch. The costumes were good, the stars looked like stars and the angels looked like angels. The three kings costumes were complete with sunglasses due to the luminescence of the star they had to follow. There were props, scenery and choreography and dare I say it, acting, from the inn-keepers wife especially.

The cast was made up of around 80 children from years 1 and 2 and each of them had a part to play. The play was Jesus's Christmas party, which was a slightly comical take on the nativity scene. Essentially a huge party gradually amasses in the stables under the noses of the surly innkeepers. There were a number of genuinely funny moments. My favourite of which is when Joseph sheepishly disturbs the innkeepers asking for another blanket, baby sized.

Jack was a mouse that got put to sleep by a bunch of angles very early on in the play. He came out and danced in a sleepy way, then lay on the floor for a few minutes, we were very proud. Jack took the roll quite seriously, he practiced the songs at home when he thought that we weren't listening and he warned us that mommy might cry during the last song, pretty much all of his teachers had cried at some point over the performances because of this particular song.

We were impressed, proud and still glad when it was over. Helen didn't cry.

Our mouse.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Santa's clause

Jack has seen Santa a few times already this year. He'll never pass up the opportunity, even though he knows that its not likely to be the real Santa, but they'll pass everything on. Also I think he just likes to talk to someone who's only interest is a list of what Jack wants.

About Santa Jack has it all figured out, he knows that Santa has a lot of PR work in December and can't possibly be everywhere at once, so he has helpers that do a lot of the visits for him. As for who these helpers are, I think he's going with some kind of clones, because they're obviously not elves.

On one visit Jack expressed to Santa the desire for an iPad, by which he means any iDevice that he can play Temple Run on, he's wanted one for quite a while but he's hell bent on getting one this year for Christmas. Apparently Santa assured him that if he was a good boy then he would get one. So now Jack is just the most well behaved boy that there ever there was. You can see him analysing his every move, trying to work out if its good boy behaviour. Jack is pretty sure that this was that real Santa.

It's a little annoying actually because I feel a little like now if we don't get him the device then all of this hard work will be for nothing, but these devices are expensive. Jack keeps going on about when he gets his iPad and so on. Santa, the giver of gifts, has made this deal and we're feeling bound to honour it. Curse these clones.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


Just some thoughts on Jack turning six.

My biggest problem with this birthday has been his change in age. For the last two years Jack's age has conjured up pictures of a little toddling boy wearing costumes and saying cute things. When people ask how old he is I just say four or five without any thought whatsoever and I get the "aw" response. But six is much more awkward to say, it doesn't project a barely coherent little boy anymore, six is a real age. "Aw" changes to other things like sentences and comparisons.

Six-year-olds can read, write and answer back with a degree of articulation and intelligence. They have choices, make decisions and have opinions. They're missing teeth and or have teeth of a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They can play games without supervision or assistance, they have tastes and a sense of humor. They're in real classes like first grade and year one. They're too grown up for the kiddie rides but not tall enough for the good rides. They get more expensive because not only do they want the bigger and more expensive things, all the child discounts and free entries disappear.

So for me, I'm not very happy about six. This year marks the beginning of a change in the role of father as well. Gradually from here on out my role will get less and less hands on and become more advisory. Until now there is nothing he has done that I have not done before but from here on out that changes, he will experience new things that I never did, or no longer can. His future is beginning to open up right in front of him and his parents have a smaller and smaller part in it.

I'm by no means just focussing on the negative here. I'm glad to see my boy growing up, I'm looking forward to seeing what he becomes and achieves. I'm just going to miss my little boy.

So with mixed feelings I wish my son a happy birthday.

Yay for being six

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Birthday Boy


Jacks birthday has come up rather quickly for everyone. Even for him.
Jack has been very excited over the last couple of weeks, he's been theorising about his presents and getting himself all worked up about it.

We tried to take it easy this year as out house is full of toys and the like that he doesn't touch, ever. We've run out of room. So we figured that from now on, before each birthday and Christmas we'd go through his toys and make a little room for the new arrivals. We also planned to get shop more precisely and try to keep the number of toys down.

This year we figured it would be pretty easy. Mainly his wish list consisted of three things, Moshis, Lego Star Wars and and video games.

When we gathered all the gifts together for the wrapping and got a good look at the total number and its turned out a little bit more than we'd hoped. His last minute interest in Lego Star Wars is the main culprit, but aside from that we're not sure how this has happened. Being that it was a school day we divided out his presents into before and after school piles, and then told him about neither. In the morning there was a spontaneous pile of small quiet gifts for him to open and enjoy before school, then after school another pile appeared with even better gifts.

After the unwrapping the presents don't look so numerous, we've obviously done better than we'd though.

Jack is happy with his gifts and so far has spent more time playing with them than we've come to expect in the past, less really is more.

Decorating his cakes for his party
Favourite presents are Sonic Colors DS. Which he's already about half way through and the Star Wars figures. The Moshis seem to have taken more of a collection role, he's happy that he can now say he has some these new ones, he finally has an Iggy and and Oddy, but he's not very interested in playing with them in any sense other than toting them around the house in their bag from time to time. He got a Lego Star was x-wing fighter which he's delighted with, as am I because it looks like he might be a Lego-head like I was when I was a kid, I've been hoping for the days when we could build Legos together.

All in all it was a good birthday for Jack. Tomorrow he's taking a few friends to the snow dome for a tubing party.

The end result

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Super Mario and Son

Jack has a nintendo 3ds but only has one game for it so far. Super Mario Bros DS.

Jack loves the game and will play it all day long if you let him. We generally try to limit his play time to something resembling an hour a day but somedays it's nice to just let him play.

I, along with many from my generation spent most of my time playing video games when I was growing up, and I still spend a lot of time playing them now. In fact it's the subject of my degree. I'm well aware of all the stigma that's attached to children playing video games and I can honestly say that it doesn't concern me. I'm not concerned particularly about the reported effects on his imagination or anything like that. Jack created an octopus on a pogo stick out of a few pieces of one of his building sets a few weeks back and he gets plenty of exercise and all that. Sure there's a lot of really violent games out there, but no more so than movies, or dare I say it, real life. So no I don't think there's any harm in Jack squashing the walking toadstools or winged tortoises, it's a game. I personally don't see how a child playing a video game today is any different to a child reading a book. But I digress.

I often muse as the prospect of Jack, aged fourteen, bringing friends over to play video games. I'm waiting for the day when I'm not allowed to play because they'd like to win for a change. I'm sure I wouldn't be allowed to play with him and his friends anyway, being that I have every intention of being the un-coolest dad ever, but I can dream.

When I was growing up the Mario games were some of my favorites so I know the answers to most of Jack's questions about the game, its plot and characters. Jack plays along and talks to me about it, sometimes I play the more difficult levels for him, or I help him with a difficult manoeuvre. Sometimes he just wants to watch while I play a few levels. It's something that we can share and do together and I hope that it will always be so. Some parents never find something like this that they can share with their children, I'm glad that I'm not one of them.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ear Infection Week

This week Jack has had an ear infection. Most people would agree with me that this is one of the worst ailments a person can experience. It's like having an ice-pick stuck into your head, it's excruciating and inescapable.

It started off on Sunday night after a swimming party with his friends. By Monday morning he was in so much pain that we kept him home from school and took him to the doctor for antibiotics and all that. He was up most of the night with the pain despite regular doses of calpol.

Jack spent most of Monday morning lying on the chair crying. The calpol that we'd given him hadn't made any difference and sadly with an ear infection there's not really much that can be done.

After seeing the doctor we were armed with antibiotics and permission to use a little bit more powerful pain relief. So we drugged him up and hoped for the best. The first antibiotics made him sick so we had to go get some other stuff, which made him less sick. By dinner time he'd been getting regular doses of a variety of medicines and had had enough. During the night the infection burst and a fluid started to leak from his ear. This is a good sign, sort of, it usually means that his ear drum has popped. But the infection drains and the pain goes away, it was the first step on the road to recovery.

Through Monday night didn't sleep much better than the night before. I stayed up with him this time and assured him that Id get him some more medicine as soon as I could. He moaned and groaned saying I don't want to be sick anymore, I just want to sleep, I... and then suddenly stopped and fell asleep.

In the morning Jack was much more like himself. My lectures weren't until the afternoon so he stayed home with me. We spent the morning watching TV and playing video games. At about 10am a pinkish green fluid dripped out of Jack's ear and onto his arm. It really grossed him out, you'd have sworn it was some kind of acid. I cleaned off his arm and his ear and Jack insisted that I find something to plug it with so to prevent something like this happening again, so I stuck a cotton ball in his ear. He also insisted that we have spare cotton balls, and an extra tissue. After an hour or so I noticed that the cotton ball was looking a little... green, so I decided that we'd replace it. I won't go into the details suffice to say that it was gross and colorful. Jack and I both were gagging at the sight and smell and we were glad when his ear was plugged again. Thankfully it got better pretty quickly, hourly changes became four hourly etc.

Wednesday he was back in school, still taking the antibiotics and still harbouring a cotton ball in his ear but otherwise he's all better. The only real problem now is that Jack is practically deaf with that cotton ball in his hear.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Too many hours


Jack and Helen went off on an over night mother and son excursion this weekend. I'd been looking forward to having time to myself, I'd got a lot of work to wrap up before I shift my focus exclusively to my studies. So the moment the plans were official I meticulously scheduled all sorts of things I could get done and hopefully even left some time for a movie.

Saturday came and at 3pm I hugged them and waved them off. The house went quiet, so after a few minutes relaxing and getting used to the stillness I set too with my schedule. I had a lot too do, three apps to finish up and submit and quite a bit of preliminary research to do for uni. I'd planned on it taking most the night so in order to leave myself some movie time I opted to start with the smaller thing and walk the dogs.

An hour later I sat down and got to work. I started with the uni stuff.
5:00 and I could do no more. I'd built up a lengthy reading list and got to a point where I was going to need lecturer input. Excellent didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. I hopped up and made myself some dinner and took care of some housework.
6:15 I finished my dinner and sat back down in front of my computer... Here we go... I hacked away at the computer in a programming trance and pounded through the apps. As I submitted the last of the work I sat back and looked at the clock. 7:00...
So now what? It's just gone Jack's bed time and I'd finished everything. 4 hours ahead of schedule.

Never in my life have I had such a hard time filling the time. I hadn't decided on what movie I would watch because I wasn't sure I'd have the time. I had such a hard time finding one to watch that I gave up twice, only to resume the search after 10 minutes of not being able to find anything else to do. I tried to play some WoW but with it being a very busy time for the game there was a queue well over an hour long. Of course now I can think of a list of things I could have done, but you know how it it, the bored have a hard time getting un-bored. It was a long night.

Children take so much more time than you realise, they take all your attention and sap all your strength. Normally with Jack in the house my night doesn't start until 7pm at the earliest, and that's if everything goes smoothly. At which point it's a race to get everything done with what energy you have left. By the time you start your focus is already waning. I sometimes try to get work done with him around but I'm slowed to such a pace that I might not as well not even bother. Even when it's just Helen and I at the end of the night I struggle to concentrate if I have some work to do, we talk and watch TV and it really slows the progress.

So it turns out that in a quiet setting I can get work done at a phenomenal pace. Maybe this is something I should arrange closer to the end of term.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Not even the soul can escape

Jack and I, from time to time, discuss astrophysics. It's something of a study hobby of mine and Jack finds it very interesting to think about. He goes through phases where he'll relentlessly ponder something we've discussed in the past until he feels he understands it fully. This morning he was in one of those phases. Whilst walking to school Jack started enquiring about the end of the world, then sun and how long we had until it burned out. I assured him that we had a long long, long long time before the sun burned out so he needn't worry about it.
Yeah we'll all be dead by then anyway.
Long dead.

We the moved on to the andromeda galaxy and the fact that it's on a collision course with the milky way. Again I assured him that it w a long way off.
We'll probably be even deader by then.
Yes probably.
Is there a black hole in anromega?
Yep, right in the middle, sucking everything up.
So when we crash together will we be sucked in?
Eventually everything will, there's a black hole in our galaxy as well.
And we could get sucked into that.
Eventually yes.
I don't want to get sucked into a black hole.
Yeah it would suck. *badum chi*
Because then you wouldn't get to go to heaven.
You wouldn't?
No you would be stuck in the black hole. Nothing can escape a black hole, not even light. Your ghost would just get sucked in and stay there in the black hole for ever and ever. You'd never be able to escape.

I thought about that for a minute... Could a soul escape a black hole? Religion and philosophy aside, if your soul exists, assuming it's made of energy, then it has mass, all mass is affected by gravity...
I think I need to get in touch with Professor Hawking.

Sunday, 30 September 2012


80 calories each
Imagine my delight when we came across Rocky Mountain Mega Marshmallows, and tootsie rolls as well, in our local supermarket the other day, and we were just about to go camping as well.

One of the most common questions I get ask when people find out I'm American is, What are s'mores. S'mores are considered something of a myth in the UK and I can see why. S'mores are regularly mentioned on television shows but rarely actually seen, if they are seen their appearance can vary from something resembling a gloppy brown sandwich to a marshmallow in a hotdog bun, one guy I spoke to reckoned it was a pie. The only consistent fact that the British can decipher without actually looking it up, and be honest why would they, is that it got roasted marshmallows in it. But we Americans seem to love the stuff as we're suggesting making them whenever we see or even discuss the possibility of an open flame.

I've come to accept that the answer to that question brings about both puzzlement and disappointment. The British have a very different approach of desserts than Americans, where Americans go for flavour  richness and generally sweetness, the British go more for texture, much richness and sweetness are generally not well received. So when I explain how one goes about making a s'more the response I typically get is, "so it's really sweet then?"

Due to a long series of poor preparation we found ourselves roasting our marshmallows over our gas hob in the kitchen. We spread nutella over a couple of graham crackers, though digestive biscuits would have done just fine, and then smashed the marshmallow between them. 

Just like my mama makes.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The classics

We put on DVDs for Jack when we travel. Whenever we're going camping to otherwise travelling For longer than around 90 minutes we have Jack pick a selection of DVDs to keep him entertained. The last few trips haven't seen much change in the DVD selection. There have been two DVDs in particular that have been travelling with us for a while now. One is a greatest of Roadrunner and the other is a greatest of looney tunes. Jack has watched them many times and always laughs himself silly throughout. 

Every now and then we get wrapped up in conversations about the shows, mostly around its plausibility. He seems a little puzzled about how all of these creatures can do all of these things in the show but their real life counterparts can't. Roadrunners aren't really that fast, a coyote couldn't really survive... that. Tasmanian devils are real, and mean, but they don't turn into whirlwinds.
I tell him about my favourites and why I loved them, and still love those cartoons, and Jack pretends to listen though I'm not sure he really understands why it is I love Foghorn Leghorn so much, he's always rooting for the chickenhawk.

So as he watches in the back I listen in the front and we both enjoy the old classic cartoon together.

Looney Tunes is still running on some of Jack's channels, some of the old ones, but more of the new ones. The new ones play more like a sitcom than the random zany episodes that they used to be. Jack and I watch it when it's on because it is funny, all of the personalities are there, they're just placed in a more real world scenario. For Jack to see the old versions of the characters he knows is important to me, I think something had been lost in the rediculous censorship laws of today. I'm just happy that he enjoys the old cartoons as much as I did, that little piece of cultural history lives on.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Time spent wishing

Walking up to the Eccleshall Festival Jack saw a dandelion perfect for scattering. He hurriedly grabbed it and set to blowing the seeds around the field. After he was finished he resumed trudging along behind us toward the entrance.

I didn't make a wish.
Why not?
Because they don't ever come true. Wishes don't come true.
Sometimes wishes come true.
No they don't. I did really make a wish and it's not come true.
Well you have to give it some time.
I'll tell you what I wished for, a teddy. I'm always wishing for teddies when I'm wishing for things.
We'll a teddy isn't just going to appear in your hands is it. And you have lots of teddies, you're getting new teddies all the time, so surely those teddies must be from the wishes.
No, we buyed them.
Well sometimes wishes come true in you being given an opportunity. Instead of an out right magical occurrence.

He wasn't having it, this wish he had just made would never come true. And opportunistic results apparently didn't count. No, wished for teddies needed to be the result of some cosmic chance, otherwise you were just plain cheating.

Practically as soon as we got into the festival grounds we came across a hook a duck game. Jack hooked a duck and was the presented with a choice of prizes, once of which was a tiny little teddy. I nudged Jack and said "See, sometimes wishes do come true." Jack accepted the teddy graciously and carted it around the festival with us. I was happy with having restored Jack's hope in wishing, and Jack was happy with his tiny teddy. Apparently the universe wasn't entirely satisfied.

As we were leaving the festival we were approached by a small group of people sporting a huge teddy. Guess the teddy's name and you win it. We settled on a name and put in our pound. A couple hours later we got a phone call saying we'd won the teddy, and a cushion that it came on, and a big chocolate olympic style medal, and a big bar of chocolate...

I think the universe is sending the wrong message to my son.

Meet Donut

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Back to school

It's been a very busy summer.

Camping has again been the theme of the summer. We camped with friends at Clarach Bay for a week, we camped at Longleat for four days, and in Essex for four days for Jack's cousin Thomas's birthday.

a crab we caught at Clarach Bay, poor thing had no pincers.
Clarach Bay was good. It's a sea side campsite down in Wales where there's beaches and rock pools and little amusements for kids. Aberystwyth is just a few minutes drive where we went for a wander. We also stopped by a little town called Borth where their annual carnival was on. The weather was unpredictable, but generally good and there were three other families with us. All in all it's one of the best camping trips we've been on.

wild seals at Cardigan Bay
A week or so later we headed down to Longleat for a four day stay. Longleat Safari and Adventure park was great. We got a two day pass and we still didn't manage to do everything on offer.

We went to a gymnastics birthday party in Essex. Now and strange a theme for a birthday party as it may sound it was actually a lot of fun. Basically they took all the kids into a fully equipped gym and let them loose. They had trampolines and balance beams and rings and poles and everything. But with all that around the best part of it turned out to be the chips. Big yellow foam block in a pit designed to catch those who fall off the rings an such. Most of the fun of the party was jumping in an out of them, and throwing others in.

Now summer is over and Jack and I are both headed back to school. Jack is moving into year 1 and I'm moving on to the top-up BSc award.
Jack was apprehensive about going back to school. He didn't think that there was going to be any fun in his new class. He's met his teacher and seen the classroom and despite that, and our constant reassurance, Jack is convinced that his days of having fun at school are over. There's no Mobilo, his favourite building set,  in Year 1, there's no Star of the Day, there's no fun to be had anywhere. On a much more unconscious level Jack is also concerned about the change in routine. He keeps a little itinerary in his head and anything that disrupts it is feared and avoided at all costs. The lack of information about the new classes minute by minute activities really stresses him out.
Often just broaching the subject would be enough to being tears to Jack's eyes and tension to his body. After all moving to year 1 means that he's growing up. Growing up means change, and Jack doesn't like change.

I'm less apprehensive. Through the use of my internet researching school and knowledge of the inner workings of the university's online reporting tool I've managed to have a look at some of my upcoming modules and it looks bleak. Each module is harder than the last, and my optional modules are worse. I'm sure it's not going to be as bad as it looks and I'm looking forward to it.

Here's a bunch of photos.

Jack got to hold a snake.

His new teddy bat

this bird was moving full at speed and straight at me.

Jack and I got to hold and emperor scorpion

Alton Towers' gardens. Jack wanted me to take a picture.

I'd never seen an ant eater before.

This lemur walked right up to us.

very noisy sea lions.

Ready for school

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Lost Toof

So there we were at Alton towers discussing the difficulty of eating apples with a loose tooth then I noticed something. I had Jack open his mouth and I confirmed my suspicion, Jack's loose tooth had a tide line, a little etch in the tooth where it used to be attached to the gum, I gave it a wiggle and it came right out.

Jack was horrified.
You took it out!
It came out.

His eyes welled up.
I knew it was going to come out.

Jack was upset for a number of reasons. Firstly his tongue doesn't seem to be able to leave the gap alone, and every time his tongue feels the gap it scares him.

He didn't want to lose it on the go

He misses the tooth

The tooth is lonely

He doesn't want to give it to the tooth fairy

It was his favourite

Lastly loosing his teeth is another sure sign that he's getting older and Jack is still convinced that one day he will wake up 30 and not be able to have fun anymore. This is just one step. Closer to that day

I bought him an ice cream that helped.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Lost and Found

For a short time this weekend, I lost Jack.

Whilst camping at Longleat Caravan Park Jack and I were washing the dishes. Jack wrapped up his lot and I moved in to start mine.

Am I done then?
You're done.
Do I have to stay here? Can I got back to the camper?

The problem was that whole I could actually see our camper out the window of the dish washing room there wasn't a direct route to it. The route we has was rather windy. All the buildings and caravans look the same and there are little roads going off in every direction.

Do you know the way back?

A total lapse in judgement in my part, but I was only going to be a couple minutes so I was likely to catch him up on my way back to the camper so. To be honest I didn't give it much thought at all. I said, sure head on back I'll be right there.

Off he trotted with the step in hand. As the seconds passed and I scrubbed through the dishes I began to become more and more certain that he was going to get lost. And he did. 5 minutes later I hustled back to the camper to find no sign of him.

At no time was I really worried. The campsite wasn't all that big. The people are all friendly and helpfull and the step was heavy. So he wasn't going to have gone very far and he wouldn't have been moving very fast. I had a good idea of where he would be from previous strolls through the caravan park. He had a tendency to always veer to the right at on particular junction. Also there's only one way put of the caravan park and there were security cameras. I could see the exit and may even have snapped a photo of the licence plate of the single vacating caravan... just in case. but what kind of crazy panicky parent would actually do that... If needs be I could have the whole place locked down and filled with police and search helicopters within minutes. I didn't even have to unlock my phone to make that call.

One thing that did worry me was what state he would be in when I found him. Jack doesnt like being on his own and there nothing that makes you feel more alone than being lost. I was convinced I'd find him sobbing and shaking and traumatised and never wanting to let go of my hand ever again as long as he lived.

I found Jack after about five minutes pretty much right where I'd expected him to be, as I searched I was flagged down by some kids who had noticed him wander by with the step in tow. I strode to where they pointed and found him wandering between a couple of caravans. He was quite calm, clearly a little stressed but otherwise ok. I took the step from him and we strolled back to the camper. He got a little tearful as he talked about it later, as he thought about the experience a little bit more but all in all I think he's alright.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Loose Toof

While drying Jack after his bath a few weeks ago Helen noticed that one of Jack's teeth is starting to come loose. We all had a look and confirmed that there was a slight amount of back and forth movement.

Jack is very excited because loose teeth means tooth-fairy and that means money and Jack looooves money. He's often talked about the fortune that he will eventually amount with his teeth. Apparently his teeth get more valuable as you lose them. So by the time you get to the last few, they're worth up to £20... I suppose we'll see.

Yesterday Helen inspected the aforementioned tooth again after Jack had complained that it was sore at dinner time. We'd been keeping track of the tooth's stability which had remained unchanged as yet. We had a look at found quite a bit more movement, movement in more than one dimension. We're attributing the additional looseness to Jack's recent 'football to face' incidents at football school...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Jack's playlist

Jack has quite a varied taste in music. He tends to favour rock and pop but really he just likes anything that's got a good groove.

When Jack is working or concentrating on something or he thinks no one is listening he quite often breaks into song. He'll sing out the one line he remembers over and over again until he remembers another part of the song or stumbles across a different song.

He tells me that at school they play music while the kids tidy up their activity stations. Apparently Glad You Came by The Wanted always slows down Jack's tidying on account of his inability to resist boogying down.

When he washes the dishes at home we put the radio on so he can have a little dance while he scrubs. He tries to sing along even though he very often hasn't heard the songs before. He says it's easy. You just have to follow the song.

I managed to make a recording of one of the singing sessions.

His favourite songs for summer 2012 are:

Clint Eastwood - the Gorillaz
Zombie Jamboree - Rockapella
Make me wanna die - The Pretty Reckless
TNT - AcDc
Glad You Came - The wanted
Monster - The Automatic
Been caught stealing - Jane's Addiction
Sexy and I know it - LMFAO
Oo de lally - Robin Hood Soundtrack
Even Flow - Pearl Jam

In case you're not familiar with some of these songs I've created a playlist for your perusal.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

I have a paper that says so.


It's official, I'm now just a little bit more educated as the average 18 year old American. Apparently the average American has graduated high school and done a little college/university. I've managed to jump both those hurdles at the same time. I've got a diploma from a university.

Today I received my diploma. I've officially been awarded a Higher National Diploma (with distinction) in Computer Games Programming. Aside from one subject I had near perfect marks.

The HND is basically higher education for those who couldn't quite make the mark. It was designed as a gateway to those who either didn't get quite good enough grades to get on a degree course, or those who left it too long and whose grades are no longer valid.

I, and others on the award, often referred to us as the slow group. Many of our subjects were spoon fed to us and, whether they realised it or not, many of the lectures treated us quite differently than they did the degree students. By that I mean, the workload was much lighter, the marking was a bit looser, the assignments were a little bit easier, and we quite literally took the same class three times over, just to make sure it all sunk in I guess. In one to one sessions the tutor would speak to us in a way that you might find you speak to someone who, it's all that stable and may bit you if provoked.

Other teachers however, swung the opposite way, they were aggressively positive about our abilities, or they just liked to make fun of our educational status as often as possible. It wasn't a problem, it was just something I noticed. In one of my first lectures, while we were getting out our safety scissors and circles of paper, the lecturer (whose quite known for this type of comment) stood in front of us and the first thing he said to us was "You're all here on a HND award correct? So it's safe then to say, that you already know something, quite a lot probably, about failure. And hopefully, but not hugely likely, a little something about how to avoid it."Yes he really talks like that. I always imagined that all of his dialogue was written as a narrative by Douglas Adams.

Every so often we'd get a boost of confidence when a degree student would see some of our work and be astonished as the difficulty. I'm still pretty proud that we came out having learned more Java than the degree web developers, and more programming languages that any of the other subjects, but that's more to the award being Games Programming than anything else. It swung the other way when the degree students would look at our math's work, or system development work and say "I can help you with that I did it in 6th Form... (7th-ish grade) for those of you in America.

But still. I can't fault the skills I've come away with. I now know 5 programming languages encompassing both OOP and procedural languages, basic AI techniques, basic physics programming, engine design, game design, systems design and development, and technically academic writing techniques, and have reasonably extensive experience in each.

From here I move on to a condensed final year of the BSc degree course known as a Top-up. From what I can tell it's effectively the last 2 years of the BSc hons award crammed into two semesters with third semester for our project stuck on the end. We're moving from the short bus to the hover bus, it should be fun.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

For every allergic action.

There's an equal and opposite allergic reaction according to Newton.

While camping at Wickstead park this weekend Jack had an allergic reaction. On Sunday morning he greeted us first thing in the morning with a swollen face that wasn't captured particularly well on camera.

The night before Jack had been asking what things he s allergic to, we proudly proclaimed that he had no known allergies, although he does have very sensitive skin, that's not really the same thing. Shows what we know I guess.

After a lengthy process of elimination we've narrowed it down to the hand soap in the washrooms, the derivative of some local plant, or an undetected bite of some sort. But the reality is that we really don't know what caused it.

The school sent him home on Tuesday, when I picked him up he looked like death, his skin was a weird color, his eyes were red and swollen. The rash had flared up again and he seemed to be lacking in modivation when it came to moving. So it was decided, now that the school was sending him home I figured I shoulda probably have a doctor look at him. When it comes to doctors I'm reluctant, especially when it comes to GPs. It's not so much that I dont have faith in their abilities, which I can't say that I do generally speaking, it's that the best I've come to expect is them confirming that it is exactly what I thought it was. We managed to get him to the doctor finally and he told us that it was exactly what we thought it was and to keep doing what we were doing...

So after a few days of the anti-histamines doing nothing for his rash we took him back to a different doctor. Now that we'd taken him to the doctor once we're mentally dependant on their opinions. Jack's super tough immune system has gotten us used to his almost never getting sick, when he is sick it's hard not to be a little bit panicky about it. That's the problem with having inherited a super-human immune system, only the toughest of the tough get through. This doctor, our official GP, said it was probably viral and that it would clear up on its own... So looks like he's got to fight this commando virus on his own.

So now we're a week on and Jack is looking better but still ill. He's a peculiar mix of anxious and exhausted and has broken out in spots on his face. He's got a sporadic fever, his eyes are still quite red and sore looking his appetite is all over the place and he's just generally not himself.

Get well soon kiddo.
As you can see from the Kung Fu pose, he doesn't look well.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Presenting my latest creation, Cleverlist.
This is a shopping list app that I wrote for my wife. She designed the interface and everything else and I developed it. This app learns your shopping habits and tries to predict what item in the store you're going to arrive at next. The more you use this app, the more accurate it becomes. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

33000 reads around the world


Jack's school are holding a read-a-thon in leiu of the queen's jubilee. They were calling it a reading passport, Jack came home very excited about it. He made sure that we found the passport in his bag and told us that if he read for enough minutes, he could be a diamond reader and get an award. He really wanted to be a diamond reader.

Helen and I reviewed the document and did the math, they had to be joking. The passport was a series of circles that lay out a trek around the world. Each circle represented 500 miles and ten minutes reading. There were 66 of these circles, the equivalent to 33,000 miles. They had until the end of the month.

Helen and I did the math and determined that in order for Jack to be a diamond reader he would have to read a minimum or twenty minutes a day. Getting Jack to watch one of his favorite movies for longer than twenty minutes is a challenge, getting him to read for any amount of time was nearly impossible, because he's not very good at it he gets discouraged and frustrated very easily. Thankfully the promise of honourable mention and an award is about the best motivator that I've ever seen for Jack. He was a boy on a mission.

So here we are, three days until the deadline and this morning Jack handed in a fully completed reading passport this morning. In a few days he will be awarded a diamond reader. Jack is very proud of himself.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Fathers day lunch

A couple weeks ago I was invited to Jack's school to have a father's day lunch with him. I eagerly sign up and counted down the days.

The lunch was good, particularly the pudding, which Jack insists was much better than they normally are. For £2.52 it was a decent meal.

At 12 o'clock the school lobby was filled with dads. I enjoy seeing the other dads. It's interesting to see whose dad has shown up. The fathers are a very diverse bunch, there were lots of tradesmen, many in coveralls clearly having come straight from a job. Some were in suits or business casual. Some were grandfathers.

Watching the kids file in was hilarious.

The year one class arrived in a nice orderly line behind a teacher. She quietly instructed the to locate their respective fathers and take them to the cafeteria. The students quietly obeyed and those whose fathers hadn't turned up yet quietly lined up against the wall by the teacher.

The reception burst through the door like a tribal army. The room was filled with three foot tall savages shouting and crying and killing each other. Jack found me a dragged me to the cafeteria.

While were eating Jack educated me on lunch room edicate, we filed through the very slow line, collected our trays and requested our food, one of the fathers compared it to prison, figures. We chose seats and sat down to eat while Jack talked me around the room.
Those are the lunch ladies and if you have a problem then raise your hand and they'll sort it out. And if you don't like something the they'll make a pile for you. And you can't eat your pudding until they say you can and thats where the hole is in the roof and that's another hole and that's where I stuck the yellow one to the roof. And when you're...
Wait what?
See the green one there, and the yellow one there. I stuck the yellow one there. He pointed to the ceiling where a two small items were stuck to the ceiling. It was quite a high ceiling.
What are they?
Dinosaur Sweets
You stuck it there?
... Why is it stuck to the ceiling?
I just threw it up, and it didn't come back down.
...who stuck the green one?
Finlay: I DID! (Finlay doesn't talk, he shouts as loud as he can)
Did you get told off?
No, the lunch ladies were over there.

The food was good. I've eaten lunch at the school before and found it to be very, very bland. But this meal was really quite nice. I had a chicken and vegetable pie with vegetables and a chocolate rice crispies cake with custard for pudding. The cake was very nice, Jack insists that the puddings are normally that nice, and that once he got mustard instead of custard, but I'm skeptical. After getting permission to eat our pudding we finished our lunches.

What do we do now?
Just follow my lead.

I followed his lead an took my tray to the collection station. The Jack lead me back into the lobby.
Now I go and play and you go home. I want a hug.

I hugged him, he ran off and I found myself alone, so I headed home.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The digital family

Lately much of our family time has looked a little something like this.

Jack has recently taken to playing games on the PSP, he's particularly fond of one called Locoroco. It used to be that I'd play the games while Jack supervised as he struggled to understand how to make the games play. Now a days I'm more of a Winston Wolf type presence, he calls me in when he's in a jam.

I have a number of games on my iPhone and iPad that Jack plays and several apps that he uses.  Aside from typical things like the pocket phonics app, we have Brushes, for instance, that we use to draw mazes for each other as well as pictures. From time to time he'll have me set up the drum machine on GarageBand so he can spend a few minutes playing funky beats.

Helen and Jack have a number of games they play together on her computer. They sit together and discuss one of the puzzles or shoot things while trying to avoid shooting the diarrhoea... Jack and I play Sonic Racing together regularly as well, he's getting really good at it. There are even plans in the works to get all three of us racing, which should be good.

When I decided to go to university I did it with Jack in mind. I even started writing apps with Jack as my eventual audience. Not just the obvious 'providing a better life' outcome but I hoped that being a game developer I could create games that he could/would play. Much of my school work already revolves around him in some way, wether I'm designing games starring him, or letting him help me design them he's always involved in the project somewhere. I'm pleased that we both share a love of technology, I hope that it become a strong connection between us.

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sports day

We were invited to take part in Sports Day at Jacks school. I've been somewhat dreading the invitation, I'm not a sports person or even much of an outside person so the thought of doing both at the same time along side all the other childrens' football mad fathers was a little daunting. Still the odds were that I would only be looking at a three-legged race and that would be ok.

Egg and Spoon

On the day the weather was great, the sun was beating down and the air was deathly still. One hundred or so parents took to the tiny field in wait for the children to appear. I'd worn my trainers in anticipation, otherwise I had dressed in light clothes as I'm prone to heat exhaustion but some of the other fathers were prepared for war. Some wearing tight fitting low friction, low drag shirts and shorts along with £200 trainers and drinking lucosade I felt I wasn't taking it seriously enough.

Bag Tossing

The kids eventually filed out of the classroom all wearing their team coloured shirts. For about an hour they moved from sector to sector performing the various activities for each sector. There was running, jumping, hopping, egg and spoon racing, football manoeuvring, hurdles, bouncing, relay running, bag tossing, and balancing. Each team was scored for each event, Jack's team won the frog jumps, and the inning teams were announced at the end. I don't know if there were prizes.

Lots of the parents were complaining about the apparent lack of competition in the events. It was a very "everybody wins" environment but all in all I think it was done pretty well. While I'm all for competition I do understand why many organisations now a days have opted for the non-comparative approach. Many kids don't like to lose and no one likes to see a child cry. In my experience it's not the kids it's the parents that ruined schoolyard competition, kids will cry for a bit but then get over it where I've seen all out fist fights break out over a father disagreeing with a loss.

Stepping in Hoops

So sports day ended, Jack's team won one event and we went home. To my relief there was no parent participation at all, which is just as well, the sun was blazing and I was starting to feel a little unwell. Jack had a good time.


Frog Jump
Sent from my iPhone... as if by magic

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Job as a Dishwasher


A week or so ago Jack rather unexpectedly said,

I'd like to do some things to help around the house. Maybe earn a little money.

We've put this down to a story that Jack likes where a boy saves and saves his money to buy a special toy. Jack has been trying to save his money for a little while but he has a hard time resisting things like Moshis that are always within his price range. It seems that his solution to this problem is to get more money.

This is something that Helen and I have been thinking about for a while. He's six this year and could really start doing some chores and should maybe get some sort of allowance.

So we thought up a quick plan.

We employed Jack to wash the plastic dishes, these are the dishes that are washed by hand every day because they are used every day, and the don't do well in the dishwasher. The terms of Jack's employment were laid out and agreed to by both parties. Jack would wash these dishes every day for a daily salary of 20p. Every Sunday he would be paid a lump sum, and if there are no incidents, such as complaining or having to be told more than once, then he would get a small bonus of 60p. Failure to complete the task will result in the loss of that day's wage, multiple failures will result in termination... Excellent performance will result in other positions being made available.

Jack has taken to his job with enthusiasm. He's been doing the job for a week now and we've not had any problems. He got paid in full on Sunday and got his bonus. He was very proud of himself. He says he's saving up for an Ultimate Optimus Prime but we'll see how well he can hold on to his cash with all those Moshis around.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

They're heeeere. Or at least they were.


They took him on all the rides, again and again and again
My parents (mother and step-father) came over from the states to visit for a week.

It's been more than two years since Jack has seen them in the flesh. We Skype almost every week when they read him bed time stories, but virtual hugs aren't as good as the real thing.

There were a few problems but nothing that wasn't to be expected with them being in unfamiliar territory, driving on he other side of the road and having been awake for over 24 hours.

Grandma set right to it with Jack telling him all the jokes that she'd been storing up.

She showed him her magic tricks.

She promised him a present every day of their visit.

Marc was something more of an opponent, which was nice for me, normally I'm the punching bag. The new weapons got tested out on Marc and he readily joined in all of Jack's games on the playgrounds.

Went to Lego Land, Warwick Castle and Twin Lakes. They got to spend a day with just the three of them at Hoo Farm. We played games, went to dinner, went shopping and even witnessed an good old fashion attempted mugging. It was non stop action.

I think a bond was forged.
C'mon Grandpa there's a slide.
Met the police force at LegoLand
Sunday there was an easter egg hunt. Jack knew about the hunt and was out of be spritely and headed downstairs where the eggs, and Grandma, were waiting.

Jack had the time of his life. By the time they left he'd concocted a plan about travelling back to America with them in their suitcase. He explained to them that he preferred America because there were more fun things to do there. In England there are only four fun things to do and in America there are lots and lots.
Doing a little time for their shenanigans.

Right after Easter lunch, we said goodbye and sent them on their way down to London. Jack missed them immediately. He set to planning our next trip over there trying to establish some sort of time scale, he's desperate to get over there before he turns six, we've explained to him that it's pretty unlikely but he still hopes.

The evening after they left Helen and I were lost about what to do. We'd become accustomed to the nightly games, both Marc and I are exploring some way we can have game nights across the sea, but it's slow going.

Jack still talks about the visit from time to time. He'll recall somewhere we visited or something we did and ask when we can do it again.