Archive for June, 2013

Cycling Is Fun

As a teenager I rode a bike all the time. From the age of 13 I did a paper round (actually most of the time I did two) and I did them on my bike. For this purpose my parents got me a red “racer” with three gears. At weekends in the summer me and my friend David would ride our bikes up in to The Downs. Sometimes just as far as Devil’s Dyke to shoot our catapults but sometimes a 30 mile, hilly route all round the Sussex countryside and back again. Proper cycling. David provided the puncture repair kit and the knowledge of things like what to do if your chain fell off. I (mechanically inept) provided the company. I enjoyed it immensely.

Then I stopped doing the paper round. Not long after I was with David and attempting a right turn on a busy road when I was knocked off. I only got cuts and bruises but it was enough  to put me off and before I knew it I had stopped riding my bike. Up until six months ago the only other times I had ridden a bike were when I was at my mum’s place in France and I borrowed my step dad’s ‘sit up and beg’ bike to ride round the French countryside. Like a little English vicar.

But six months ago I* decided I needed to get a bit fitter and I* also decided the best way to do this would be to get a bike and start cycling again.

*my wife

*my wife again

I asked some advice of some cycling types on twitter and then mostly ignored it by buying a bike I liked the look of. I know. But for the last few months I have been the proud owner of a hybrid bike which I have ridden as often as I can and, frankly, loved. Quite a few things have changed since I was a teenager however.

To start with it seems that the act of riding a bike has somehow become political. That somehow just by getting on it and riding I’m sticking two fingers up to Jeremy Clarkson style motoring libertarianism. As someone who doesn’t enjoy driving at all I was always ambivalent in the ‘motorist v cyclist’ rows that would sometimes rear their heads in the pub or on message boards or twitter. Now I’m firmly in the cyclist’s corner. Whether this is selfish self interest or just seeing things from a particular point of view I’m not sure.

Then there’s the reputation of cyclists locally. This certainly wasn’t helped when a well liked local business man was killed by a single punch from a cyclist. And while there are plenty of responsible cyclists there are also people like the guy who, on dark winter mornings, cycles the wrong way up my road with no lights or hi viz.

Meanwhile the Green Party run local council are building more cycle lanes. While I should be in favour of this as a big user of them I wouldn’t want budget used on them that could be providing school places or collecting the rubbish. When I was cycling as a teenager there wasn’t a single cycle lane anywhere. In short, cycling can feel controversial.

However, here is the other thing that’s changed since then; thanks to the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendalton and particularly Wiggo cycling is also cool. In fact this picture of Bradley Wiggens may just be one of the coolest things ever. The cycle lanes that are there are being used more and more and even on quiet routes at odd times of the day I see plenty of fellow cyclists. This is a real Olympic legacy. People of all ages are out there, inspired to do something not because it may be good for them but because it is fun, available and part of the zeitgeist.

For me though, the best thing is how much I enjoy it. Much like when I was regularly playing football or cricket, cycling puts me ‘in the zone’. I don’t have to worry about office politics or making my connection at Gatwick Airport or who threw the weeble or why the carrots that were perfectly good for dinner last week are suddenly disgusting. It’s just me and the bike. Perfect.

Last night I asked twitter if I should go for a ride or start on the wine early but, really, I already knew the answer. As soon as Whirlwind was in bed I saddled up and went for a ride all round Brighton and Shoreham, observing families heading home from the beach and people heading out for a Saturday night on the town. One of the last parts of the route is along a road that runs between the beach and the harbour, near the houses with the private beaches where the slebs all live. It’s quiet at that time of evening and I let rip, pedalling as fast as I could. In no time at all I was overtaken with consummate ease by someone on a road bike who, frankly, left me for dead. I wonder if it was David?

P.S. I know you’re all thinking ‘but why the inane title’? I know I would be. Well it is, of course, a chance to post a link to this obscure song of the same name by Japanese pop band Shonen Knife. If Wiggo doesn’t inspire you to start riding this certainly won’t.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnQzyfYEs78

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My Father’s Day Wishlist

So Father’s Day is approaching. Adverts for power tools seem to be on every thirty seconds and MoonPig.com have found themselves a wonderful new male model so that, however good your parenting, you can still feel inadequate for a whole month leading up to your special day using the simple process of aging.

It’s a day that takes up the thoughts of fellow dad bloggers whether it’s Alex from Dadda Cool quite rightly bemoaning the commercialisation of it all or Hapless Dad’s less than serious present suggestions. As someone who has given up spirits (at least for now) and regards power tools with the same suspicion everyone else reserves for the wrong end of a Kalashnikov (I googled that to check the spelling and not to buy an AK47 by the way Mr Forensic Policeman) there is probably nothing typically blokey that you can buy me anyway. So my Father’s Day wish list is not so much a list of stuff I would like to add to the house that we will shortly be packing up anyway but more a list of stuff I’d like to happen…..

  1. I would like the toilet flushed by my son. People have commented on my twitter avi but it hasn’t been working recently. The last thing I want on my special day is to sneak upstairs for a half hour read of The Observer behind a locked door only to be greeted by a bowl of bangers and mash.
  2. I would like to wake up naturally after 7am. Whirlwind, please note that naturally does not include screaming at your brother, doing the Gangnam Style on your bed, yelling “I’VE DONE A POO”, bouncing on my head, bouncing on Mummy’s head, actually doing a poo or attempting to come downstairs and turn on CBeebies by yourself at the age of two, all at the sort of hour that would make your average postman wince.
  3. I would like not to see the MoonPig.com father’s day advert. Or that tit that advertises Cillit Bang from the tiny aeroplane.
  4. I would like to be confident enough in my spelling that I don’t have to google things like Kalashnikov (potentially putting me on an international terrorist watch list) or Cillit Bang (the first word of which is one typo away from getting my blog a whole different adult orientated audience).
  5. I would like something positive to happen at my football club and for England to win the cricket (yes I know we are in to the realms of fantasy now)
  6. I would like a never ending supply of pork belly that didn’t actually make me fat. Just for the day.
  7. I would like to be able to send the kids to ACAS when they fight.
  8. I would like not to be old enough to remember ACAS and to be clever enough to remember if they still exist by myself. Is there actually any call for them post Thatcher? Come to think of it the last newsreader I can remember mentioning them was Kenneth Kendall.
  9. I would like not to be old enough to remember Kenneth Kendall.
  10. I would like someone to make it possible for Alex and Sid from CBeebies to have an actual fight while introducing Cloud Babies.
  11. I would like to go a whole day without stepping on some Lego. If I could also go to bed that night without finding Pom Bears in the sheets that would be a bonus.
  12. Self ironing work clothes. Actually this should be number 1.

Surely this isn’t too much to ask? Happy Father’s Day!

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Respect, Education and the Far Right

Yesterday saw small protests by far right groups the EDL and BNP and counter demonstrations. The story is not very high up in the mainstream media but it dominated my twitter timeline. A chat about it all last night with @JimmyBHAFC set me thinking.

First let’s state the obvious. The EDL / BNP do not own paying respect to Drummer Rigby or any other fallen soldier for that matter. If you want to do that you can go to a memorial and leave a tribute any time you want. The far right tried to turn a fallen soldier in to a ‘Princess Diana’ issue. Back in the day it seemed you had to publicly outpour your grief for Princess Di (not to mention buy Candle in the Wind) or you were some kind of sick, uncaring bastard who wanted her dead. Now here’s the EDL trying to say that unless you were with them you were against Drummer Rigby. They failed massively and once again were outnumbered by both protesters and the police. Good.

However it also has to be said that while I think that peaceful counter demos are fine the UAF was in danger of scoring an own goal yesterday. They do not own ‘respect’ either. Stand by the side and mock by all means but even fascists have a right to lay wreaths at a memorial in this country. I think it would be a worse place if they didn’t.

So that’s the respect part dealt with but why think about education in all this? Because, for me, politics is starting to polarise as it so often does in times of forced austerity. As the credit crunch hit initially, here in Brighton people veered left, leaving the City with a Green MP and Green led council. (This gave the City an excellent MP and terrible, incompetent joke of a council from the same political party but that’s a whole other post). As further austerity has bitten, as benefit claimants continue to be demonised and as the Tory party obsesses over Europe again a significant portion of the rest of the country has veered right. UKIP support is probably at an all time high, at least in terms of poll ratings. And UKIP (or at least their spokesman) seemed quite happy yesterday to hop on the EDL bandwagon.

So we worried in our chat that this sort of ideology might become more and more attractive to the working classes. How do you stop people from making the two plus two equals five choice that you have to join the right of politics to show respect to those who fight for this country?

Education. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The EDL may stand for English Defence League but spend just a few minutes looking at their communications on Facebook and you will see that English is not their strong point. In fact most of them can barely spell simple words. Some of them seem to think that Brighton Pavillion is a mosque (should they know different? Of course. It used to be a Royal Palace and is therefore as much part of English history and culture as fish and chips or The Sun. Plus they could have Googled it.). In short we are talking about people whose education is appalling, You could call them thick and you’d be right but that’s not a good thing. As a society we’ve failed them.

But it isn’t enough just to teach children to spell and that two plus two equals four if you ask me. Teaching of respect is equally important and something I worry Michael Gove (yes him again) does not understand in his drive for grammar tests, OFSTED inspections and Free Schools a la Toby Young. Teach a child simply to read and write without thinking and they may not know what to do with it. Teach them to think for themselves and the spelling and reading will come because they will darn well want to express themselves.

I remember when Boy came home and told me about the various festivals they had been taught about (Eid, Diwali) and being once again proud of the school he is at. They do a Nativity too though. He has a couple of Muslim children in his class who were, nevertheless, part of the Christmas concert. This is what true multiculturalism means. Not terrorism or creeping Sharia but learning about one’s own culture whilst learning to respect other people’s. I worry how long they will be able to do this.

When I bang on about education it’s because that is one place where we really can start to make a difference. The UAF blocking the Cenotaph yesterday may have lost a few more to the far right who were heading that way anyway but surely the long game is to not have anyone heading that way in the first place. Not through indoctrination or forced political correctness but by giving everyone a fair chance to think for themselves and to discuss problems in a reasonable manner. This goes for Islamic extremism too. Islamic terrorists have been poorly educated. They are vulnerable people easily brainwashed by hate preachers. They need help to extricate themselves from hate just as much as the EDL.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just having plans to subject 7 year olds to high pressure grammar tests (to start SORTING THE FAILURES at 7), Mr Gove also came up with ways to prevent children, particularly from poor backgrounds, being led into worlds of crime, extremism and hopelessness?

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Butlins: Great For Kids But Stuck In The Past

I know some fellow Bloggers are Butlins Ambassadors. I am not but having just spent a week at Butlins Bognor Regis, in The Ocean Hotel, I thought I’d review it. After all, we did spend a fair amount of money on it.

 Accommodation

The rooms at the Ocean are spacious, modern and comfortable. The kaleidoscope lights are a cool feature and the kids loved their Wham! and Pow! Beds and stuff boxes. The bath and showers are excellent and the bed comfy (I slept very nicely for a whole week). The wi-fi is very simple to connect. So far so good. Even better were the Butlins Butlers. A team down on the lower ground floor who, as well as taking your luggage, will book anything from a restaurant, to an activity to make you a balloon animal (Whirlwind woke me up with hers the next morning but even so…). They are friendly, funny, efficient and great with the kids.

There are a few small peeves. The kid’s den doesn’t have a door. On the first night this meant Whirlwind kept getting up and running round the room after which OH and I decided we’d prefer if it did have a door. Also there are only two lifts. This would be ok if check outs and ins were spread out but as they all take place on the same day you can’t get in the lifts on those days – really annoying considering that everyone staying there has kids and / or elderly people in the party and a good deal of luggage. There are too many rooms for the cleaners to get round. We had gone four days before it got a ‘full’ service and even then they didn’t change the sheets. The loo was only properly cleaned once.

Overall though probably a 7.5/10.

Food

Certain things put me off when eating out. Among these are buffets, unseasoned meat, meanness and bad service. We got all of the above at one stage or another. Buffets fill me with dread, a cornucopia of food drying out, going cold and being sneezed on and the Ocean’s buffet didn’t disappoint. The breakfast was never less than lukewarm. At least on the first couple of days we could serve ourselves but after that we had to be served like prisoners causing longer queues and colder food. On two random breakfasts there are no tea spoons to stir your drinks. The butter and sugar keep moving. On the last day they run out of milk and someone is dispatched to the shop. One waiter tells us it will be 30 mins. Another 5. It was about 10. This put us off the buffet in the evenings and we tried a few places round the complex.

Of these Turner’s is the most ‘well heeled’ – which is to say expensive. The menu is by UKIP (£12 for Cottage Pie) and on the first visit the service by Basil Fawlty. The strap line should be “Turner’s – taking the ‘modern’ out of Modern British”. When we went on the Tuesday night we weren’t allowed in without using the hand sanitiser (the families either side were though) by a man who looked more like a roving manager than a waiter. He then forgot to give us a wine list or the butter that comes with the steak that was supposed to season it, leaving a bland hunk of unseasoned meat. We still go back for the last night blow out and it’s much better, the girl serving us giving the best food service of the week.

Papa John’s fresh pizzas were great but, once again, price very much encouraged you to have their buffet instead. Eat there all week and you’ll end up the size of Rick Waller.

The Beachcomber pub does standard chain pub food well (think a good Harvester) but when we try to get a voucher for it we’re told we need to give 24 hours notice. “No one mentioned that at check in” we point out to the butler. “That’s because the rule changed this week.”

Eventually it was explained to us that the hand sanitisers and being served by the staff were because of a suspected outbreak of a sickness bug. We met no one all week whose kid had this but plenty who’d thrown up once due to a treats, excitement and rides combo. The sanitising doesn’t work anyway. For the last three days Whirlwind gets a terrible flu bug and is confined to barracks. Possibly this is because, while you have to practically suit up to eat, everywhere else germy hands are being placed on rides and in to piles of 2p pieces.

The dining packages are a rip off unless you do stick to the hotel buffet. We spent a good deal on ‘overspends’ and yet never really got back our initial outlay either. I would love someone from Butlins to justify why the buffet is valued at £17.50 per adult yet the adult allowances on vouchers for other venues are only £13.50?

The overall impression is of penny pinching and box ticking. 4/10.

Kids and Entertainment

This is where Butlins should score highly and I’m pleased to report they did. There are large-ish queues for some shows and for the free ones you have to get there early but they’re well worth the wait if you have little ones. Both ours loved Barney and Thomas, gibbered happily about the puppet shows and boogied at the Tots Disco.

Sports were also really good (but see below). Boy did two football mornings, one a free for all and the other requiring booking and we also played family rounders. Both kids adored the pool. Whirlwind, before she got ill and despite being only 2 was on the water slides in the little pool and the bigger slide with Daddy while Boy loved the wave machine and also set a new personal best for the furthest he’s swam. The go-karts were a big Boy favourite but be careful, as they’re £5 a go for about 4 minutes.

The redcoats are amazing. So good with kids. In the first half of the week in particular we had two very happy children.

There is managerial stupidity even here though. Boy’s second soccer session is moved to an old Astroturf pitch covered in sand and water. The pro soccer coach (who’s excellent) and Ajax style drills are moved while a falconry display is held on the new state of the art soccer pitch. It’s immensely frustrating and drops the mark from 10/10 to 9/10

What else?

The negative part of this review might come as a surprise as I tweeted quite positively early on in the week. However the grinding application of petty rules wears on you, especially when you’re told it’s to protect your child and then they get sick anyway.

It has to be said the kids mostly enjoyed themselves and that’s what family holidays are about so we’d probably go back. We wouldn’t buy a meal package again however. Holidaying in the UK means no airport and flight stress, again great for the kids, but for half the week the weather was awful.

As an adult going to a Butlins Hotel you need to ignore the flashy marketing, blogger tie ups and Vine posts and set your expectations to mass check in, all you can eat and lager with everything. Until you can choose whatever days you want to holiday and until managers concentrate on giving the guests a good time instead of health and safety check lists Butlins will always live in the past.

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