Friday, 19 February 2010

The importance of cutlery

I thought it was about time I put an update on here about the boys.

Ben's now two years and eight months old to be precise; Ciaran's ten months.

Ciaran cut another tooth last week, notching up the sixth fang in his ever-expanding set. Ben got his full set some time ago.

Poor Ciaran.

His cheeks are as red as the fiery furnaces of Hades half the time but, having such a benign temperament, he doesn't tend to grumble too much about it. He just puts his fingers in his mouth and sucks on them for a while or gnaws on a toy.

He's well into his baby-led weaning phase and has been eating solids with ease for months. He still takes a bottle, but that's more of a dietary supplement than a gastronomic necessity.

He's also well into the crawling phase.

He started properly about two months ago and it's the old familiar story. Nothing is safe in your living space, and I have to cordon off half our living room with cushions and pillows to stop him pulling over a CD rack or chewing on a plug lead.

Both boys started nursery last week as Ellen started her new four-day-a-week job.

For Ben, it's familiar territory.

In fact, it's the same nursery he went to before we had Ciaran. His old carer even met up with him on day 1 of his second stint to greet him and help him settle in.

He's still getting used to it and often sobs uncontrollably well before we've even left the house to go down there. He picks up on tell-tale early morning indicators, like Daddy packing the nursery bags with clothes and bottles or getting the coats ready.

However, crucially, he settles in quickly when he's down there and becomes perfectly happy in his surroundings. He certainly plays an active role in his class, as his clothes attest when we pick him up.

His language development is the other main thing on the surge at the moment.

He's picking up everything, and you can have meaningful little conversations with him now. On the debit side, his tantrums have taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last four weeks.

He is very insistent about what he wants now. For example, he refused to eat his dinner tonight unless he had a spoon the same size as Daddy's.

Choosing the right cutlery at dinner time has suddenly become an important task in our house. Daddy got him an identical spoon, and then he wanted the same bowl as Daddy's. And round and round we go.

So that's the position for now kiddies-wise.

Ellen and I both feel much more on top of things now than we have done for, erm, ages.

Out of control most of the time, still, but not out of mind.

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Throw the former British Winter Olympians in an ice bath

There is a debate raging in the British media about about the lack of financial support given to the British Winter Olympics Team.

It has been described by some as "next to useless".

Am I the only one that finds the timing of these grumblings just a tad frustrating?

It is perhaps telling that the bulk of these criticisms are coming from former British Winter Olympians and not the broader British public.

Naturally, the media are more than happy to give these complaints air and print time as it coincides with the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

But do the majority of the British public - or should I say, the majority of those who actually tune in to watch the games - really give a damn about how many medals Britain picks up in Vancouver?

If the media really had our winter athletes' sincerest wishes at heart, their sports editors and correspondents would have been having running back page stories on this months ago.

So, I'll set my stall out.

I believe the BOA has got the funding balance just right.

In fact, I am more than happy for the British Olympic Team to continue propping up the medals table for years to come if it means our sports men and women - and our paralympic athletes for that matter - have a realistic chance of building on their recent success in the Summer Olympic Games in the sports that the majority of us actually follow and participate in.

Ice hockey aside, the rest of the winter sports on display are at best pastimes - alpine skiing, snowboarding - and at worst, obscure hobbies that the world only hears of when they get an Olympic outing every four years - skeleton, speed-skating, luge, curling, and such like.

Let the athletes from Lichenstein, Slovenia, Norway, Austria and so on battle it out with their North American counterparts for the medals I say.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a snow sports killjoy.

The games are a fantastic spectacle and snowboarding, downhill skiing and ice hockey are just a few of the sports that I have found absolutely gripping to watch. I'm also more than partial to a bit of bob-sledding when time necessitates it.

But for the majority of us, that usually means heading down to the local park for a bit of fun with the kids, not picking up the yellow pages to find the nearest skeleton track.

The simple fact of the matter is the Winter Olympics is the poor cousin of the Summer Olympic Games and I can't see this changing anytime soon.

Nor do I think this needs to change.

Indeed, it would probably come with the fully-fledged blessing of our chariot-racing Greek forefathers who who probably never saw a flake of snow in their lives.

It's time for the former British Winter Olympians who are lampooning the BOA for their lack of financial support to an Olympic Team who will measure success as landing on 29 February at Heathrow airport with three medals in the bag - incidentally, which would mean it was Britain's best Winter Olympics performance for decades - to have a severe reality check here.

Maybe someone should throw them in an Alpine ice-bath.

That would certainly refresh their cognition and perhaps then they'd be more in tune with, and watch the Winter Olympics like, the rest of us.

For a laugh.

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Any chance of a heatwave?

Got a call today from a holiday rep at a caravan park we stayed at last summer.

It was a direct marketing call, not a call back.

He introduced himself and asked if it was convenient to talk. I said okay.

He proceeded to explain to me how the park (Coome Haven, Hastings - pictured above) had recently undergone some improvement works - ie. the swimming pool had been expanded, a new indoor kiddies slide had been installed and if we booked now for March and April, we could get 25% of the booking price.

We'd already booked to go elsewhere in March/April, but I didn't say that and decided to let the guy finish his spiel, as he sounded young - maybe no more than 21 years old - and nervous.

Having made nervous cold calls to customers in my banking days as a fresh-faced, beardless 21-year-old I felt for him a bit. So I tried to sound interested so he could relax a little and say his piece.

Now there's a piece of advice to would-be cold-callers out there. We customers are sick of hearing the same old telephone voices cold-calling us. Try sounding nervous and earn our pity. It will do wonders for your sales revenues.

Then, I thought, I'd try to get some more information out of the guy,

I asked him where the park had got all the money for these sudden improvements. He said last year's sales revenues were higher than expected.

I then asked him what were park bookings like for March/April. He said, at the moment, they were no more than 20% full on average.

I thanked him, said it was a decent offer and asked him to send me some more information in the post.

He hung up feeling a bit happier about himself and glad that he didn't get his head chewed off by another customer unhappy at being cold-called. I hung up knowing a little more about the world, if only a little.

However, it would appear that our coastal holiday resorts are at a rather low ebb. Most people have made their spring/summer holiday plans long before mid-February.

I read only last week that record numbers of 'Brits' were planning a British summer holiday this year. I know we are. We're piling the pounds into the people's republic of Yorkshire.

Still, the offer is tempting. We could have the newly-expanded pool to ourselves.

What's the odds for a March/April heatwave?

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

New Sky thinking

Supertelly has just arrived in our living room.

Ellen and I stayed loyal to Virgin Media, and its predecessor NTL, throughout all of our married lives. And before.

But that loyalty has now come to an end, certainly as far as TV is concerned. We've defected to Sky.

We'd stayed with Virgin Media throughout the infamous spat between Branson and Rupert that saw Virgin customers lose every single one of their Sky channels, while Branson found enough time and money to fly around the world in his hot air balloon and launch spacecraft.

It felt a little like dumping a girlfriend, as we picked up the phone to end our contract with Virgin.

In theory, they'd done nothing wrong.

Since the spat with Murdoch, Virgin had been a perfectly faithful partner. Dependable and not too costly on the pocket, it didn't talk back and always made us laugh.

It had even become an integral part of our family fabric, growing to become a dedicated grandparent to the kids, always available to entertain them during the day and even reading them a story at night before bedtime.

However, loyalty almost always has a price.

Sky's 'Supertelly' offer was simply too good to turn down.

They were offering to give all new customers a Sky+ HD box for free and install it for free too. By comparison, Virgin Media extorted £75 just to "set-up" their equivalent V+HD box.

I watched the Sky 'Engineer' carefully as he went about the "set-up" process.

This feat of 'engineering' took about 10 minutes.

The 'Engineer', erm, opened the box, put the HD box under the telly, plugged it in to the power supply, connected it to the phone socket and then got out his Sky blackberry that only Sky 'Engineers' are allowed to have, fiddled with a few buttons, presumably to send encryption/authorisation codes from our living room back to Sky HQ to activate the box and that was it.

How the heck can Virgin justify charging £75 for that?

It was still a tough decision to switch.

New Supertelly offer aside, there wasn't much between Sky and Virgin Media as far as price was concerned.

In terms of television bundles, they were both fairly evenly matched as far as I could see. Quantity was an entirely different matter. Sky surged into the lead with its abundance of digital channels - 264 compared to Virgin's 65 - and even further into the lead with it's superiority in the HD market.

At the moment, Sky gives you 37 HD channels. Virgin gives you 7.

However, Virgin Media hauled Sky back, almost level, with its amazing on-demand service.

This massive database lets you enjoy a week's worth of pre-recorded 'Catch-up' TV as well as storing hundreds of hours of great programmes and series of the past and present in all genres, alongwith a massive music database with old and contemporary music. All this for free. And...its gives a free karaoke facility and movies too.

It was a wrench giving up Virgin Media on-demand, and it simply dwarfs Sky's extremely limited 'Sky Anytime' on-demand service and sweeps Sky's other on-demand service - 'Sky Player' - aside with ease, which only allows you to watch on-demand tv on your, erm, PC.

If that's not a contradiction in terms, then it certainly is a step down in viewing experience.

Despite this, I'm more than willing to give Sky a go. That's why I agreed with Ellen's suggestion to swap. I'll happily kick off my slippers, sit back and see what 'Supertelly' has to offer.

But if Sky can get their on-demand service sorted, it'll be time for the Competition Commission to intervene surely.

In the meantime, there no chance of our new relationship hitting the rocks anytime soon.

We're tied into a 12 month contract.

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