Menace of the Shopkins!

If I was an evil capitalist looking to come up with an evil scheme to brainwash children into becoming good little consumers then I could sit back with a sense of a job well done after inventing Shopkins.

In fact, they’re so evil that I can’t find a site (there’s no Wikipedia page) that explains what they are without trying to sell you some.

Non-parents – you will be astonished and appalled.

Parents – your children may already have been assimilated by the unstoppable Shopkins.

Amber Carter, youngest fruit of my loins – you will no doubt sing me the damn Shopkins theme song. Again.Shopkins

These are Shopkins: small collectable plastic figures, all based on things you can buy at the shops.

Think about that for a minute: children are flocking to the shops to spend their pocket money on replicas of things you can buy at the shops.

It’s so warped it boggles the mind!

Amber has been well and truly caught by them – hook, line and sinker. In the mornings she’ll watch YouTube unboxing videos, writing down all of the names and comment on the videos  (carefully supervised by me, of course!). She’s spending most of her pocket money on these things and is asking for some sort of display case thing which costs £50 (no, she’s not getting it).

Just to reiterate: she wants to buy plastic replicas of actual things that you can buy at the shops.

(holds head in hands and weeps)

Shy guy?

I used to think I was quite a shy person. This isn’t unusual – when questioned roughly half of all people consider themselves to be at least a little shy.

But the strange thing is, I enjoy talking to people: I’m not scared of standing on a stage making a fool of myself and am happy to step in and lead a venture if no-one else volunteers to.

shyness, shy guySo, why, I asked, am I so crap at meeting new people? Especially if I’m by myself. Put me in a room populated with people I’ve never met before and I’m crippled by shyness.

Seriously, it’s one of the main reasons I’m not a member of any clubs or anything. I went along to a British Science Fiction Association evening in a pub once – a place full of nice, smart people with similar interests. Hated it. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know who to speak to, and I just imagined they weren’t interested in speaking to stupid old me – this despite me being a reviewer for them and judging the Clarke Award that year, too!

I know, crazy, right?!

But I realised very recently (personal insights at the grand old age of 43 – imagine!) that when given an external reason to start speaking to people, say, a task to complete, I can talk to just about anyone, nae bother.

If it’s my job, I can do it.

If I’m in charge, I can do it.

If I have an audience of friends, I can do it.

So long as there’s an official reason to do it, I can. I’ve worked at enough different companies that I’ve become quite good at appearing polite, interested and sociable when I have to.

Plus, get me talking in the first place and you’ll probably have trouble shutting me up! Especially if you want to talk about something other than sport – which, for a man, is a real handicap – start talking about sport and macho nonsense and you can pretty much kiss goodbye to my conversation.

Maybe that’s why I often find it much easier to talk to the opposite sex…? Hmm.

So, my apologies if I seem rude or ignorant – or simply shy – when we meet; I’m not, it’s just my desperate strategies to avoid small talk. That’s why I’m self-diagnosing myself as crap at small talk – the art of striking up (and maintaining) a conversation with a complete stranger, rather than being properly “shy”.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and be charming and amusing in a meeting…

Millies are away, Ambers can play

Millie’s been away with the school for the first time, visiting a “field centre” called Sayers Croft with the rest of Year 5.

The Year 5 teachers undertook the heroic task of looking after 90 children for an entire weekend (90!), ensuring that 90 went away and 90 came back.

And came back they did – tired and muddy, but all of them with a smile on their face when they got off the coaches. They left on Friday morning (to tears from one or two mums, including the Lovely Melanie) and arrived back Sunday afternoon. In between there were stream walks and midnight feasts and walks in the woods and heaven only knows what else.

Whatever it was, it tired Millie out. She came home, had a bath, sat on the sofa and fell asleep, exhausted (of course, she then woke up again and couldn’t get back to sleep until gone 10 o’clock that night…)

While her sister was away, Amber revelled in being an only child for two and a half days (and, despite dire warnings, sneaking in to read her sister’s diary); but at times even she seemed a tiny bit lost without her sister. So we went to Surrey Docks Farm, a little inner-city farm in East London, next to the Thames. It was a toss-up between Nunhead Cemetery and the farm – both were having an open day – but the weather was too nice for mooching about catacombs so we went for the farm.

And we were so glad we did. It was much bigger than we were expecting, and just full of animals, most of which could be petted and stroked. Personally, I found the sheep-shearing demonstration absolutely fascinating (you can take the boy out of Wiltshire…), not least because the little OCD voice in my head couldn’t wait to see that messy fleece tidied and sorted… :-)

And there were goats and turkeys and ferrets and lambs and cows and pigs and chickens and donkeys and baby chicks.

Amber face paintingMillie, whose love of cute furry animals knows no bounds, would have wanted to live there; Amber, whose love of cute furry animals is quite minimal, mostly tolerated it.

Despite being the loud bolshie one in the family she’s a bit of a chicken when it comes to animals: visibly unnerved by the sheep shearing (which, to be fair, was very physical) and unable to bring herself to hold a baby chick, she nonetheless managed to stroke a lamb, declaring it not unpleasant.

There were demonstrations of baking delicious bread in a wood-fired outdoor oven. There was face-painting, too, which we queued half an hour for (but which was well worth the wait – those ladies had skillz!)

If you’re in London next May and find yourself with a hankering for the countryside, pay a visit to Surrey Docks Farm, you won’t regret it. :-)

On the ThamesAfterwards, we took a different route than planned back home, following the bank of the Thames westwards. It was a glorious day so seemed churlish not to follow Old Father Thames on his merry way.

But Old Father Thames didn’t have to walk it, and by the time we got to Rotherhithe station complaints were being raised by some members of the Carter family about their legs. But never underestimate the restorative powers of an ice cream on a warm day, and we were soon homeward bound.

As you can see in the picture, I managed to avoid my usual sunburnt bonce by using Amber’s hoodie as a hat. It’s only May and I’ve already been caught out like this twice, but not today! :-)

Broken weekend!

When even a trip to the hospital can’t quite spoil the fun you know it was a good weekend.

Our great old friends the May family came to visit from Swindon, just bursting with energy and excitement. Unfortunately, little Lily went home with a broken wrist and her arm in plaster and a sling, following a nasty fall on one of London (in-)famous red double-decker buses.

Our kids have been travelling on buses since they were born, so as we came down the stairs to get off the bus I simply didn’t think to warn Lily that there would be a little jerk as the bus came to a stop.

“Hold on with both hands,” I reminded her (as I always remind our two) but with that treacherous little jolt as the bus comes to a full stop she lost her grip and fell down the last four steps.

It was a horrible horrible moment. :-(

Lily was very brave, but deeply shocked, in real pain, and went alarmingly pale. We got her off the bus, hoping it was just a nasty knock, but she didn’t want to move her wrist at all.

Just in case, we took her to Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, who were absolutely wonderful. Friendly, efficient and professional. They quickly diagnosed a fractured wrist and put it in plaster and a sling – throughout all of which Lily was very brave!

We got back to Bexley after a record-breaking two hours, where Millie, Amber and Jack were all waiting at the end of the road to welcome Lily back. They’d even made her some get-well-soon cards, which was such a lovely gesture I had a lump in my throat. :-)

You might think the weekend would end there, but the Mays wouldn’t be down-hearted about it and still stayed the night, as planned. All of us enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by the Lovely Melanie and a few well-deserved glasses of wine.

wpid-wp-1431339838446.jpegThe next day, in the glorious sunshine, we went to the woods and the swings, where Lily understandably gave the death slide a miss but was on everything else with Jack, Millie and Amber.

Here’s are three of them on the pirate ship (Jack had run off to play football with some strangers at this point!)

At lunchtime, we all went to the pub in Bexley Village for a lovely roast, before the Mays had to head home to Swindon, no doubt to regale the locals with tales of stupid buses and wonderful NHS care.

I hope you’ll come and visit again, May Family – but perhaps next time we’ll stick to single-decker public transport!

Election 2015

wpid-wp-1431007233747.jpegIt’s election day here in the UK and we’ve already voted (Green Party, in case you hadn’t already guessed).

I didn’t want to vote after work (I don’t get home till 8pm as it is!) so the girls and I walked 15 minutes down the hill to our polling station after breakfast. Then we walked 15 minutes back up the hill to school – which is annoying because the girls’ school is also a polling station, and that’s just 90 seconds away.

The Lovely Melanie has written a letter to the council about this outrage.

I wanted the girls to see me voting (the Lovely Melanie is voting before she picks the girls up from after-school club tonight), so they would understand it’s an important thing to do. I let Millie post my completed ballot paper in the box, and on our way back we discussed why anyone would want to vote for the nasty Tory party.

I had to be honest and admit my ignorance, because I don’t understand why anyone would vote for them. It was a interesting conversation – far more so than the one we had going down the hill, about Millie buying a new pencil case. And maybe a little battery-powered sharpener. And some pens.

Gateway Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's Star WarsThis arrived yesterday.

It might seem like a bit of a silly novelty, but it’s extremely well done – the Star Wars (Episode IV) story told in Shakespearean style.

Ian Doescher, the writer, has had something of a genius idea for helping people understand Shakespeare, as I realised when Millie got home from school yesterday.

It was just Millie and I at home (Amber had gone to her friend, Izzy’s, for tea). So, knowing her love for Star Wars, I showed her the book and suggested we “perform” some of it.

I thought she’d soon get bored and maybe not be able to follow the language, but because she already knew the story well the language wasn’t really a problem. Sure, I had to help with some of the archaic words and explain what a “Chorus” was, but we stood in the kitchen and “performed” for a good 20 minutes.

Millie did a very good R2D2 and Rebel Captain, and I did my best switching between C3P0 and Darth Vader, and both of us laughed, which was lovely.

And I hope we can do it again when we have some free time. I think it’s a fantastic way to introduce Millie to Shakespeare. If she can become familiar with the way he writes by following a great story she already knows well, it’s a relatively small step to understand and enjoy his other works.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is “gateway” Shakespeare – an entrance point to more, harder Shakespeare.

I wish we’d had this when I was younger!

East London zombies

wpid-wp-1429514732410.jpegwpid-wp-1429514752539.jpegOn Sunday I popped out to be chased around East London by zombies, and this happened.

It’s not the kind of thing I expected to return to having escaped the dread hordes of screeching, clutching undead!

(it was all the more disconcerting because the girls look a bit zombie-like with all that stuff on their faces).

But never mind my continuing battles to raise feminist consciousness – what about the zombies??

My friends Si, Jo, Lutfah and I went to East London to take part in The Generation Of Z, a live action immersive theatre sort of thing: 60-odd minutes of being chased, scared, shouted at, shot at and threatened with imminent death by an enthusiastic collection of mad scientists, soldiers and – of course – blood-soaked zombies!

Herded into the basement of an abandoned department store in Whitechapel, a small group of desperate soldiers rescued us from a horde of “infected” before being overrun. We were forced to flee with them through the dark and bloody remains of a “rescue centre” to catch a transport to safety.

There were some nice set-pieces, the acting was mostly pretty good and you couldn’t help but flinch when zombies hammered on the door or popped up from behind some rubble. It was an hour of pretty ghoulishly good fun.

The hardest part was understanding my part in the drama: was I expected to do stuff? Would not participating affect the story? Could a zombie actually “get” me?

There was no introduction to explain this, and only after about 15 minutes (and being shouted at by a mad scientist for not paying attention and helping him!) did I get a sense of my role.

“Getting a sense of your role” when being chased by zombies sounds a bit silly, even to me, but everything became a lot more enjoyable once I understood what was expected of me.

You’re at a performance, obviously, but you’re on the stage, in the middle of it. It’s a cross between seeing a play and playing a first-person shooter computer game.

My only real criticism was the large size of the audience – much of the urgency and panic was lost as we moved between rooms/scenes. The soldiers did a good job shouting, screaming and opening fire on pursuing infected while we moved, but we still had to patiently queue behind 20-30 people to get through a doorway. More panic, more sense of pursuit and danger were needed.

My advice? Do smaller groups but do them faster.