Happy Birthday Will

Our youngest is five today. He’s been insanely excited about his birthday for months now and I’ve been concerned it couldn’t live up to his expectations. But his expectations aren’t anything other than the excitement of a day all about him – and he’s been giddy with joy all morning before heading to school.

It has been an interesting year for Will and us as it is his first year at school. He’s a bright, funny and outgoing boy but he’s also in many ways not a million miles away from the toddler he was. And when starting school I was nervous about his academic prospects – not because of any doubts regarding his abilities – but merely because he’s nearly a year younger than others in the reception class. After all, just three months before starting school he’d still been three.

I needn’t have worried. While he may be small and sometimes too trusting of his friends the one thing that hasn’t been a problem this year has been learning at school. He is a boy that’s always loved finding out new things – especially about dinosaurs, Star Wars and volcanoes. He has taken to learning to read with real enthusiasm and has really impressed us with his progress. We needn’t have worried – his reading ability at the end of his first year of school is as good as any in his school year.

I wanted to post today to mark the date, a date so special for our little boy. And it’s special to us too because it celebrates this bonkers bundle of cuteness and energy that is our baby boy. The little monkey has lit up my life. Happy Birthday William.

A Response to Mumsnet, On Grief

I read a lot of rubbish on the internet. That’s part of my job. I’ve also developed something of a thick skin, I can even read YouTube comments without eating my own knees off.

But sometimes you come across something so idiotic, so fueled by stupidity and hate you have to comment. And in this case it was a Mumsnet thread about someone moving on and finding love again after being bereaved. I don’t know if my response in the thread will remain, so I post it below.

I’ve read some nasty, vindictive, unloving rubbish in my time, but some of the stuff in this thread is unbelievable.

“Men often do this, they are selfish and weak” and the like. How men don’t grieve for long How they can’t possibly look after children for themselves and need someone else to help them. How they need to get someone on the rebound.

Perhaps I am lucky. Lucky that my late wife didn’t have a single friend like some of you. Lucky that her friends were so full of love for her and her children (the twins who were born the day before she died) that they were delighted when I met someone else. Delighted that we are about to celebrate five years of happy marriage with our own gorgeous three year old along with our older twins. Lucky that my late wife’s family also gave their blessing.

Lucky that people understood these things happen. That you can love again. Truly love. Not just get someone on the rebound. Not just cynically find someone to look after your children because men are pathetic weak creatures, so pathetic and weak we need a whole website section about what useless wretches we are.

Perhaps in some of the deepest dungeons of this world there is physical and emotional pain deeper, more savage and destructive than having your beloved torn from you the day after they make your dreams come true. I doubt it. I doubt there is any pain in this universe that I could feel that would ever be worse. I doubt I will ever be free of the echoes of that pain. It will be with me forever.

But for heaven’s sake some of you. You selfish posters who would rather talk about how weak men are than appreciate the love within them.

Pardon me if I met someone when I wasn’t even looking. Pardon me if we genuinely fell in love for the two people were were and not the storm of pain going on around me. Perhaps I should have ran away from that love when it came because the happiness of shallow, selfish, idiotic, no nothing, fake friends who think they are more important that the matters of one’s own heart.

Pardon me if I fulfilled the promise my late wife made me swore, that if anything happened to her I shouldn’t avoid falling in love again. That I should embrace love again if it found me.

Much of this thread is an insult. An insult to my late wife, to me, my wife and to the many of us who have suffered so greatly but found happiness again. I’m sorry we can’t fulfil your wish to be miserable in our pain forever. How very thoughtless of us.

And thank you to many of you kind people in this thread, those who see that people can love again. They can form meaningful and happy relationships even under the strangest and hardest of circumstances. You give me hope for the human race.

I think perhaps my days as a Mumsnet blogger may be numbered.

Lazy Town Fit Fruits & Super Squash Review

Don’t worry, I’ve not become a mummy blagger – I’ve not sold my soul for some Duplo or a free holiday. But I have been given a ton of free drinks to experiment on my children with and tell you if they survived, went mental for a bit, or were merely hydrated in a fruity manner.

The Gerber juice company has launched a range of fruit drinks and squashes with Lazy Town branding. Lazy Town, but that’s not on CBeebies these days? Well perhaps it’s on one of those channels that the lower orders use to babysit their children while having a fag, I suppose it breaks up the monotony of Ben10 episodes and adverts for cheap plastic tat.

Some of you may be wondering what Lazy Town is? It’s an Icelandic blend of puppets, preaching, homo eroticism, jail bait and thinly veiled propaganda for the fruit production industry.

But are the drinks any good?

We were sent two different products. Fit fruits are sold in packs of three 200ml cartons. They are available in three flavours; apple and blackcurrant, lemon and lime and orange and peach. These are 75 percent juice drinks rather than pure juice, but we’re told this means they are in lower in sugar than just juice. Is that a good thing, are we scared of fruit sugars? I’m undecided on that. But at least the products seem based on natural ingredients with no added sugars, sweeteners or preservatives.

Our five year old twins thought Christmas had come early as we let them take a carton to school each day for a week rather than their usual bottle of water. Our daughter – who normally wouldn’t touch anything with lemon in – even enjoyed the lemon and lime flavour. Our three year old liked the apple and blackcurrant one best, and told us that “me liked dems” and “dems is yummy in my tummy”. So you can’t argue with that can you?

So far it’s pretty standard stuff. More interest though was the Super Squash we were also sent. These apple and raspberry, pink lemonade and orange and peach squashes do not contain any stabilisers or preservatives. The squashes will be sold in a 1.5 litre carton which should be refrigerated after opening and kept for just 21 days.

Once diluted with some water these squashes also contain 75 percent fruit juice giving a “portion of fruit” per 250ml glass. The children were less keen on these but I think that was purely down to the lack of carton/straw based excitement. If you want to excite a three year old with a drink you’d better give it to them in a bottle with a top like Fort Knox.

So what did we think of the products? The drinks themselves did seem to be of high quality and were tasty, relying on their flavour from real fruits. We were less keen on the packaging and marketing. We think the Lazy Town branding and art design makes the Fit Fruits and Super Squashes look cheap and nasty.

As my wife said, if she’d seen them on the store shelf and not known what was in them she’d never picked them up at all. TV/movie tie-in branding is generally rather naff and often the preserve of shit shovellers like McDonalds. Sticking Sportacus’ grinning boat-race on a box of squash doesn’t exactly make one want to give it a good suck really. Contrast this artwork to the more tasteful approach of Innocent1 for example.

I’m also not very impressed with the reliance on the “part of your five a day” malarky on the packaging. Obviously eating fruit and vegetables is important in a healthy balanced diet, but the whole “five a day” campaign has been debunked as unscientific marketing nonsense.

Any road up, if you are looking for genuinely fruit-based drinks for your children it’s worth giving the Lazy Town gloop a look. The Fit Fruits are already available at Asda, Sainsbury’s and oddly at Amazon. The Super Squashes will be coming soon. You may find though that there are equally fruity cheaper alternatives available thanks to not needing to pay Magnús “Sportacus” Scheving for his mustachioed mug.

So in conclusion, nice drinks, the children really liked them – but the marketing/artwork is very much geared to the Asda crowd2.

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity3.


1Who could be selling us industrial bleach, crack and dog turds for all I know, but the marketing is so wonderfully middle class.
2Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean, snooty posh MILFs.
3Neither was I felated, nor given a ride in a Lamborghini, more’s the pity. Companies, at least try to break my journalistic integrity, such as it is.

Children & Violent Videogames

Do you ever just read something and hold your head in your hands in despair? I did when I just read some online debates among tens of parents on whether they let their children play games rated for adults. Seemingly intelligent and well educated people can be seen trying to justify allowing their children to view the most violent of content. These people know how violent the content is, they can’t even plead ignorance of that. Yet out of some misplaced pride in their child’s ability to function as an adult or perhaps a typically modern and lazy approach to let their little darling have whatever he wants they would attempt to justify their reckless stupidity.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Many years ago – before I began a career writing about videogames – worked in a videogames store. We would often have parents walking up to the counter with a violent game intended for their child next to them. In such cases we would point out the nature of the content. In many cases – thankfully – the parent would be shocked and it would be clear the child had lied about what was in that game case. In all too many cases though – especially among the educationally bereft – the parent would reply that they didn’t give a toss (or something stronger). And in those cases we wouldn’t sell them the game either.

Some experiences are for adults, some for children. We have rules on movies, alcohol and tobacco that most intelligent adults seem to understand and respect. But why don’t they do so with videogames? Perhaps it’s still the widespread mistaken belief that videogames are meant merely for children. And that whatever their content, there is an expected child audience. So Call of Duty is for over tens, Mario for children younger than that.

I am dismayed when I walk into my local Game and see the number of what we might call “yummy mummies” buying violent games for their children. Amazing really. You might expect it of the thick and feckless, but not those who outwardly at least seem to show some respect for society and having had an education. And amazing the shops will let this happen. As I said, back in the 90s we’d just refuse the sale if we thought the item was for a child, just as a shop would with alcohol or tobacco.

It all comes down to being lazy parents. You see folks trying to justify their stupid decisions – oh yes we had a long family talk about the second world war and little Oscar (half of middle class kids are called Oscar) knows the difference between right and wrong. But the truth is they are just giving into peer pressure and their own wish for an easy life. Those of you who are happy to let their children play games that have a VERY CLEAR age rating well above their child’s age – do you do the same with movies?

Do you ever say “no” to your little darlings? “Awww mum, Sebastian’s mum lets him take a bottle of vodka to school, why can’t I?” Since when is peer pressure on your child by other children pressure on you? Show some backbone. Say no to your child, tell them their friends’ parents are wrong if you think they are. Don’t be such a coward. You are the parent. You might think giving in gives you an easy life, but that’s short term, and you’ll end up with much harder parental work later.

Any of you that have bought Call of Duty for your 12 year olds, will you be letting them watch The Human Centipede too, or perhaps The Exorcist. Will your 12 year old be able to down a few beers while he enjoys his violent game? Perhaps you’ll allow him to smoke a few cigarettes to help cope with the pressures of the modern warfare he is embroiled in. Perhaps he could wind down with some porn.

No?

Didn’t think so. You’re all lazy, delusional idiots.

You may get the idea that I’m anti-games. I’m certainly not. I’ve worked as a professional games writer/editor for over ten years. I love a good shoot ’em up (BTW Call of Duty isn’t a good one) and have plenty of violent games in my collection. But I’m over 18 and I deemed capable of understanding the issues surrounding such content.

Your child isn’t capable of making those decisions. Unfortunately many parents don’t seem to be able or willing to make those decisions either. That’s why we have legally binding age ratings on games. The 18 rating says that a store cannot sell the item to a child – nor should it sell it to someone buying it for a child. Do you know why? Because we have laws. We have laws because some people are too stupid and selfish to make the right decision, so we have to have a judicial system to do it for them.

Yet it seems no matter how obvious, how big and bright we make these age ratings, some people will completely ignore them due to some delusional misplaced pride in your child’s ability to absorb and intellectually process the horrific violence in front of them. Oh we don’t let your darling son play violent videogames in his room – he plays them in the lounge. Well thank heavens for that, that altitude, longitude and latitude shift of ten feet really will make a huge difference to the way his immature and easily influenced brain copes with the violent images it is being forced to process. Well done many of you. Parents of the year.

I’ll say it again. You are lazy, delusional idiots.

Oh and before I go a quick plea to those of you who do let their kids play 18 rated games. At least keep the kids offline. Stupid whiny kids are ruining online gaming for those adults who would like to enjoy it with our peers. I really don’t expect to go down to the pub at 10pm and have twelve year olds running around calling everyone a “dirty jew” or a “fag” in their stupid breaking voices. But you’re quite happy to let your kids to that in online games intended for adults. Thanks a bunch for sharing your bigoted idiotic offspring with us.

Where You Can Stuff Your Pandas

There are plenty of new shows on BBC’s pre-school channel Cbeebies that are worthy of praise. Show Me Show Me for example is clearly designed by people who love to entertain children and it’s no wonder our three little ones love it. Mr Bloom’s Nursery is another recent arrival that seeks to entertain, with only gentle nudges of education. The children learn, but without being talked down to.

However the channel features some really poor shows that lay on the education – preaching even – so thick there seems no room to actually entertain the audience. Chief among these is Same Smile – a box ticking programme of such banality and evangelical self importance that it’s bound to get some producer fast-tracked for greatness at the Beeb.

Same Smile aims to teach children that although we are all different we all have the same smile. You know, racially harmony, cultural diversity and all that. Except unless you bring your kids up in a KKK household they’ll have realised this already. You don’t have to tell a four year old that people are different, that some families go to different kinds of church/temples, or that people live in different houses.

But Same Smile and its three shitty little pandas are used every episode to teach kids the absolute bleeding obvious. The format is simple, the annoying smug presenter visits a school and patronises the children for a while. Then three children are chosen to take a panda each and show them their home, culture, crack den – whatever. And supposedly by doing this we all learn to sing in perfect harmony or something.

It’s a load of old festering bollocks is what it is.

This programme is so dull and worthy with no attempt to either (a) entertain, or (b) talk to children as if they have a brain – that our children tend to wander off not long after the show starts. Someone has clearly decided that preaching some obvious (to almost all young children I expect) lesson about being different is vastly more important than keeping them entertained. Maybe it ticks a box on a quota somewhere at Broadcasting House that means the corporation doesn’t have to clutter up BBC1 with intelligent programming, instead offloading it on small children.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not remotely against our children learning good lessons about life, other cultures etc. But really, Same Smile is so worthy it would even make Bono vomit (as long as he wasn’t too busy avoiding paying his taxes). In contrast there’s a show on CBeebies called Something Special,. Primarily aimed at children with physical and mental disabilities it sees talented and genuinely caring presenter Justin Fletcher entertain children with the help of his clown-like alter-ego Mr Tumble. Our children love the show and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is hugely popular with many families.

But is Something Special preachy? Not for one second. Mr Tumble entertains the children whether they have special needs or not. There’s probably a much more subtle yet easily absorbed message here about the universality of childhood joy and laughter whatever your situation. It’s light years ahead of Same Smile.

Unfortunately Something Special is in a minority, with preachy none-entertaining programme gaining traction on Cbeebies. Mighty Mites encourages children to play, as thought they don’t seem capable of working out how to do that already. To make matters worse it’s presented by Sarah Jane Honeywell channeling the voice Satan would use if he was a doctor’s receptionist with a helium addiction.

Then there’s The Green Balloon Club – the religious wing of the Animal Liberation Front. This turd of a programme is a cross between Why Don’t You (in that it’s poorly presented by amateurish kids with regulation regional accents), The Really Wild Show (no bad thing) and the sort of Sunday morning religious kids shows broadcast in the 1980s. Seriously, the songs and monologues about nature and animals in this show come across as hymns and sermons more than anything else I’ve seen in children’s’ programming. It really is nauseating stuff. On the bright side they got rid of the grinning Pink Windmill squatting drama school eldest presenter after the first series, so it’s only now as annoying as chopping off both of your legs with an axe, rather than all your limbs. Bill Oddie can often be seen slumming it on this show, looking like any minute he might kill himself using the annoying green puppet called Jelly.

Look, I do want my children to use their TV time to learn something. That’s why they watch CBeebies rather than some channel full of Ben10 and other ADHD crap designed for low aspiration families. But I’d like them to be entertained too, in fact I’d like them to entertained and educated in that order. Programming that treats them like idiots and patronises them holds no interest and they won’t watch it. Cbeebies needs to take the lesson of Something Special onboard to see how entertaining children is the best way of educating them. And if they’ve any sense they’ll get Nurse Gladys Emmanuel out of retirement for a new series of Come Outside.

But please, ditch the shitty little Pandas, their preachy pimp and the awful Green Balloon Club.