I’m terrible at DIY.  And putting furniture together.  And “doing” the garden.  I can wire a plug but that’s about the limit of my practical skills.

2014-03-30 13.03.26So I tried to ignore the prospect of destroying and creating a bed for Millie at the weekend.  Especially the “destruction” part, because Millie’s bed was a struggle to put together – it weighs a bloody ton and almost defeated the efforts of myself and Simon (a carpenter for 25 years!) to put it together.

Sunday, I imagined, would be a day of sweat and backbreaking toil.  Fruitless bashing with a hammer, broken screws, and Sisyphean sawing at endless yards of indestructible MDF.

There would be blood. 😦

And did I mention that I was already tired and slightly hungover from a cocktail party the night before?

But the bed came apart easily with a screwdriver and a few knocks from a hammer, and it turns out MDF is actually pretty weak – heavy, but weak – and 14 stone of man landing upon it will snap almost any thickness!

And here are the girls safely ensconced in Millie’s new bed, where they spent most of the afternoon.  Millie gave it 10/10 for “nuffly-ness”, but Amber got a bit carried away and went for 100/10.

The book you can see in front of them is Millie And Amber (And Sparkle) And The Lobster King, their last Christmas book – Millie has been re-reading all of them, but particularly this one, which is extremely gratifying. 🙂

Even more gratifying (but a little inconvenient) is that she’s asked me to write her another one for her birthday, in two months.

Guess I’d better get to work, then!

Google dongle doesn’t disappoint!

I bought a Chromecast over the weekend – it wasn’t planned, but reviews elsewhere persuaded me it was worth the £30 pricetag.

And “reviews elsewhere” were right.

Chromecast dongleChromecast is a tiny little device from Google that plugs into the back of your TV (into an HDMI port, to be precise).  With it plugged in and switched on you can then view – or “cast” as Google calls it – videos, pictures, music and other content from your smartphone, tablet or PC on your TV.

That’s all it does.  And yeah, my first thought on reading this was, “Gosh, however have I survived without seeing Flappy Bird on my TV?”

We have an Internet connected Freeview box, so we can watch YouTube and BBC iPlayer on the TV already – and Netflix, too, if we wanted.  What does Chromecast offer that we don’t already have?

Well, quite a bit, as it turns out.

First of all, setting up the Chromecast was a doddle.  Plug it in, follow the idiot-proof instructions and within five minutes it’s ready to go – no baffling questions or technical hitches, just plug and go.  Two minutes later we also had the free Chromecast app installed on my phone and the tablet, and the Chromecast browser extension on the desktop PC.

Next, I open YouTube on my phone, choose a video and touch the icon to send it to the TV.  Voila – it almost instantly appears on the TV!

Millie opens up the app on the tablet and sends one of her favourite YouTube videos to the TV.  We spend the next half hour having a YouTube video battle on the TV. 🙂

It turns out, what makes Chromecast so much better than a smart TV is the speed and convenience.  Finding a video on the TV takes bloody ages, laboriously typing the name using the arrow keys on the remote to choose individual letters.  Finding a video takes longer than playing it, which just kills the whole experience.

YouTube and iPlayer on Android are fast and easy, you just press the “cast” icon to send it to the TV, and then you can use your phone to search for another video or do anything else – you don’t have to keep playing the video on your phone!  Send it to the TV and it keeps playing, even if it’s no longer playing on your phone!

Next, we tried the iPlayer app.  Again, we have iPlayer on our smart TV and, just like YouTube it works, but trying to find the programme you want is a long job.  Again, Chromecast made it fast and easy.

Then we tried Plex, a brilliant app for watching videos from your PC on your TV.  On the smart TV it can be a little unpredictable.  With Chromecast it was…you guessed it, smooth and easy!

We don’t have Netflix, but that also works with Chromecast, and I’m willing to bet it’s a lot easier than the version on your smart TV, too.

Last night, rather than watch the copy of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle I recorded it was actually quicker to get it on iPlayer using Chromecast!  And this morning I found Amber (aged six) lining up YouTube videos on the TV from the tablet (videos from Frozen, of course!)

Those two examples alone make Chromecast worth the £30 to me – and that’s without using it to stream music at parties, view photos from my mobile, or some of the possible gaming applications I’ve seen people discuss online.

If your house has a TV and a smartphone it also needs a Chromecast – and for just £30, that’s less than a month’s subscription to Sky!

A chip off the old blog

Welcome to the newest member of the Carter blogging family – Millie – who now has her very own blog, Marvellous Millie’s Magnificent Life.

She’s been nagging me to set up a blog for months now, and we finally got round to it tonight.

How long will it last?  Well, The Truth has been going for 13 years now, so who knows…

Giant Pancakes

2014-03-19 13.31.14Who’s the best dad ever?

Ah, yes, that would be me, with the help of these GIANT PANCAKES.

I’ve snatched Best Dad Ever award from some guy who saved for five years to take his sick son to Disneyworld.  Whatevs, dude.

Amber loves Scotch Pancakes, so buying these was a no-brainer when I saw them in the Co-Op today.

“Can I have a Scotch Pancake?” was her first question when we got home after school today.

I winked at her and said “They’re not just Scotch Pancakes, Amb.”

Cue hyperventilating and a little squeal when she realised, quickly followed by disappointment when she wasn’t allowed one until after dinner…

A weekend away

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve been out and about a lot: three consecutive nights spent boozing it up in London and Swindon.

Yeah, I know, right? At my age! (42!)

Thursday night was a long loooong journey across to West London, meeting Conny (my sister-in-law), Stu (her boyfriend – yeah, I know – weird, isn’t it?), her brother, Andreas, visiting from Germany, and her friend, John.

We had tickets to see Rodriguez at the Apollo, which was nice; the sound was a bit “off”, however, so by far the best part of the evening was just catching up and chatting.

I should probably be more annoyed at the sound, especially given the cost of the tickets, but Rodriguez is in his 70s and the gig was fine, so what the hell.  It’s only money.  I was more concerned at only just catching the very last train of the evening back home with barely two minutes to spare – the cost of a taxi ride would have been even more than the price of a Rodriguez ticket!

Friday, I met up with Conny, Stu and Andreas once again, this time in the quieter, nearer and cheaper environs of one of my favourite pubs, The Angel on the river at Rotherhithe.  A whole bunch of other friends came along, too, and we had a lovely evening.

Saturday, Amber and I went to Swindon for my brother’s housewarming party.  Well, not just his – his wife, Carla’s, too. 😛

We would all have gone but Millie had spent weeks looking forward to a sleepover at her friend Ione’s the same night, so someone (i.e., the Lovely Melanie) had to stay in London for that.  Amber got a sleepover at Nanny and Grampy’s with her cousin, Izzy, and I got to go to a great party and catch up with friends I haven’t seen for (in some cases) years!

Everyone was a winner.

It was actually something of a relief to split the girls up for a weekend, as they’ve been bloody arguing incessantly for the past week, to the point where even their own mother lost her temper with them.  The separation seems to have worked because Amber was a pleasure to to travel with – we had a lovely time on the 3 hour journey from our house to Swindon.

And again, on the way back, when both of us were very tired and it could have so easily gone very badly indeed, the whole journey was idyllic – just the two of us chatting and laughing, sleeping, snacking and reading.

It’s what being a Dad  is all about. 😀

And Millie was complimented on her manners and easy-going nature at the sleepover, which was something of a surprise to us, but maybe our girls aren’t quite as argumentative and difficult as we sometimes think…

Amber’s first school assembly

When the teacher asked who wanted a speaking part in their class assembly I can only imagine Amber sticking both arms straight up in the air, climbing on a stool balanced on top of a ladder shouting “MEEEEEEE!  MEEE!  MEEEE!”

Amber isn’t shy, isn’t quiet, and loves being at the centre of attention  (contrast this with Millie, who asked not to have a speaking part in the Christmas Play).

Well, today was the day of the assembly, and the girl done good.  She briefly forgot one small part of her lines, but was great with all the rest (especially when you remember she’s only six) speaking clearly and loudly enough to be heard, but not shouting.

The enunciation could have been a little more conversational, I thought, but that’s just me being picky. Well done, little Doob!

I’ve saved her stage debut for posterity on YouTube.