Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Things to do with the Kids - Ball Pits!

During the rather wet, cold dark days of winter there is one place that is a must, at least once in a while, for kids to let off steam and go wild: an indoor playground. Or as we fondly refer to them "ball pits", as most of them have one.

There are plenty of pubs that have them these days and even one of our local McDonalds has one, but I have focussed on the purely unlicensed premises which have the children's play and entertainment as their main focus as I bring you my personal top 5 of our local centres!

(Please start singing the "pick of the pops" theme and doing your best Alan Freeman voiceover here...)

At number 5...

Heroes Soft Play Area at Cheadle Swimming Pool. A surprise entry this one. OK, it only has a tiny play area (and in fact - shock, horror - I don't think it even has a ball pit!) - but it is worth a mention as it potentially gives a sibling something to do while their brother or sister is swimming. And there is a little coffee area right next to it. There is also a tiny play area for babies/toddlers but to be honest there is next to nothing in it to play with. Hmmmm... moving on...

At number 4...

Rumble in the Jungle - A bit of a hidden gem, but not really big enough for over the age of 3-4 tops. Its modest size means the kids are never far away. And the food is good. The kids have always enjoyed Rumble in the Jungle more than I expect given its size. As well as the main play area it also has a Car Zone with pushalongs and cars (obviously). Also a Baby Zone.

At number 3...

Funizuz - With two big rooms there is plenty of space and variety for kids to run wild. There is a very big main area and a good smaller area for under 4s. Not only that but also areas for toddlers and babies. The cafe is bright and airy and a couple of sectioned off areas are used for parties. But the big draw at Funizuz has to be the big slide. I defy you not to have a go on it... several times!

At number 2...

Run of the Mill - I think Run of the Mill has the largest continuous run of connected soft play equipment of all the local centres. There's no doubt the kids love it. It does good parties: Oliver had his 3rd birthday there and Lucy her 2nd. But it does have one big draw back for me: the seating is such that it is very easy to lose track of your child in the play area. Much of the time they are out of sight and when it is busy it is bedlam. (Of course there's nothing to stop you getting in there with them.)

And at number 1...

Anchors Away - This is pretty much unchanged in its layout from when it was "Whalearound". And that's a very good thing, because the kids are pretty much always visible in all the play areas wherever you are sitting. The food is good with some fruit always available and they do good parties. Oliver had his 4th birthday party there. It's definitely our most visited play-centre, mostly because of the layout and equipment (though it also helps that childminders get a slight discount during the week.) And the new owners have also given it a new injection of life.

So there's my top 5. Maybe I'll do something similar for the local parks when some summer sunshine finally arrives... I hope!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kids activities - football training

For the last couple of weeks Oliver has been going to football training for 3-5 year olds. (That's soccer by the way.) It's a great bit of exercise for him and I get to take part with him too.

It is predictably chaotic, given that there are now about 20 kids (all boys interestingly) charging around with footballs in a sports hall. But the half hour session is a nice mixture of fun games that get the kids to warm up and then practice their football skills before finishing with a game. There is also some etiquette, shaking hands with the opposition at the end of games and taking turns in "training". (So far the odd competitive Dad has been the low performer in this area!)

The "game" at the end is in fact never more than two-versus-two and many of the boys, including Oliver, either haven't really grasped or just aren't bothered with the concept of goals, goalposts or pretty much anything other than chasing the ball and kicking it. And who can blame them! That is after all the purest pleasure to be had in the game.

This week Oliver particularly enjoyed trapping the ball by putting his foot on top of it. His other favourite activity was placing the ball and taking an enormous run-up to kick it. (Not a prescribed exercise, just his favourite thing to do in the warm-up.) In my boyhood I seem to recall Peter Lorimer, no 7 for the then mighty Leeds United, had the hardest shot in football. Oliver took about the same amount of run-up.

At the end of every week, the leader picks out two boys as Player of the Week and awards them a little trophy (on loan to the winner for the week). This week, for his endeavours and most of all for "always playing with a smile on his face", one of the winners was Oliver. (I am absolutely certain it had nothing to do with persuading me to cough up the twenty-odd quid for the rest of the sessions. Heaven forbid.)

The whole experience is still a little daunting to Oliver who takes part enthusiastically but likes the fact I am close at hand. So I was delighted and proud to see him standing up and walking forward with a smile to accept his trophy and hold it high to receive everyone's cheers. I even got him to recreate it for posterity when we got home.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

BBC News - Fathers to be offered more help

BBC News - Fathers to be offered more help

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Things to do with the kids: Manchester Museum


Manchester Museum would probably be worth a visit anyway, but what makes it particularly attractive when you have young kids is the area on the top floor, apparently officially known as the "Play + Learn" area. (I'm so fond of this little hidey hole that part of me doesn't want to blog it, but hopefully if it is well used it might go on being funded or even expanded.)

It has low tables and chairs just right for the likes of Lucy to sit and draw and colour in the paper and pictures provided.


The tables also have animal reliefs on their surface so you can create rubbings. And there are exhibits in plastic cases that the staff will unlock for the kids to touch.

There are also sofas with boxes of children's books alongside. Lucy and I read several on our last trip. The previous time we visited she was only 9 weeks old and can be seen here (in this fuzzy photo) being fed her milk by Hayley.


Oliver had just turned two and enjoyed playing with the dinosaurs provided.


Adjacent the drawing tables is a Picnic area with tables for you to eat your own food.

And of course all of this is free!

I can definitely recommend this little hidden gem. It takes a little finding as the museum is split across two buildings with the main entrance in one and a walkway across to the one with this area, but it's worth searching out.

Just remember to save me one of the sofas for reading to my little girl please.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things to do with the kids: Museum of Science and Industry


Manchester has a great industrial heritage and a place in history as the one of the cradles of of the industrial revolution. So it is fitting that it is home to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Our trip there (one rainy day last November) only took in perhaps half of what there is to see. Here's what we managed.

The Air hall - old planes, motor bikes, helicopters, a Lancaster bomber and a state of the art Euro fighter simulator. (Oliver not quite tall enough yet, but next time...)

The 1830 wharehouse - with Victorian Sewer complete with smells.

The Power Hall - trains, generators, and a rather good demonstration of hydro-electric power generation. A hand-pump fills a tank with water. When it is sufficiently full, the water is released by a flushing mechanism allowing it to fall onto the water-wheel which spins turning a dynamo which lights some LED lights.

Later, snuggled up with Oliver as he was falling asleep, he asked about it and I found myself explaining electricity generation to him. Pump water, flush water, wheel turns, makes electricity (skimming over the tricky bit about coils in magnetic fields) and lights the light. To my amazement Oliver then asked me how it makes electricity when it turns the wheel. Avoiding repetition of the first year of my Electrical Engineering degree to a four year old, I told him it turns magnets like we have on the fridge and doing that makes electricity. A slightly mysterious and summary explanation. He seemed to accept it and hopefully it's been enough to spark his curiosity later.

There was also a large water wheel which held Lucy entranced. She of course also pumped the mini hydro-electric plant but was persuaded to let Daddy help (or we might still have been there now).

The kids also got to make paper rockets which were fired high into the air by compressed air.

It was a gret way to spend a couple of hours with some fantastic exhibits. I'm sure we'll be going back there again sometime and not just because it was all free.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ten Things

I've been tagged by Jessi over at Notes From A Scattered Mind to post ten things that make me happy. The temptation is great, especially as this is a blog about family life, to post ten things that entirely relate to my family. So I'll list ten things that entirely exclude my family... then list a separate ten just for them.

1. Indian food.
2. Riding my bike.
3. Writing songs.
4. The YouTube posts of Julia Nunes.
5. A pint of real ale.
6. A new book.
7. Chris Moyles and his crew on Radio 1 in the morning.
8. The Archers (or pretty much anything on BBC Radio 4).
9. Hearing a wonderful song for the first time (or the first time in ages).
10. Snow and riding across it (preferably by board or cross-country skis).

Ten for my family:
1. Hayley's chuckle.
2. Making Oliver laugh so much that we are both silently doubled up with laughter trying to catch our breath.
3. The feeling of Lucy's arms around my neck and her head upon my shoulder.
4. Oliver's thoughtfulness.
5. Lucy's cheekiness. (Well, mostly!)
6. A date with my wife (without the kids in tow).
7. Lucy's enthusiasm for helping.
8. Oliver's enthusiasm for super-heroes.
9. Hayley's enthusiasm at the prospect of a roast dinner.
10. Coming home to all three of them at the end of each day.

Yes, I know it's terribly soppy, but there it is. Plenty to be happy about I'd say.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's annual delurker day!

Please leave a comment or I will leave the blogosphere forever.

And this time I mean it.

No, really.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BBC News - Having a big bum, hips and thighs 'is healthy'

BBC News - Having a big bum, hips and thighs 'is healthy'

Worst luck, I put weight on my stomach.

Whereas my lovely, curvaceous wife...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BBC News - Healthy lunchboxes a rarity, study says

BBC News - Healthy lunchboxes a rarity, study says

It seems that the low figure of 1 in 100 is perhaps as much a reflection of the high standards of school dinners these days.

School dinners are not cheap so many parents have little choice but to provide packed lunches, some reporting on this mroning's Radio Five Live phone-in that their kids dismantle the sandwiches and eat only the elements they like.

Oliver's nursery don't do lunches so he ahs to have a packed lunch. The amount of food returning uneaten is encouraging most of the time. (Hopefully he's not giving it to someone else or hiding it in the sand-pit.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010



When I left work tonight at 6.45pm the temperature was -10C (+14F). It is like I have moved to a different country!

On leaving the house this morning, the low sunlight, the snow, muted sound and biting cold on my face reminded me only of getting up early in the Alps to be the first on the slopes. Riding through the park, the small hill looked like a well used piste and I found myself thinking "it could do with some fresh snow" (which is as applicable on the bike as on the snowboard it transpires).

On the down side, such low temperatures mean the grit applied to the roads doesn't work so well. Or possibly at all. Nonetheless I stayed upright on my bike all the way home this evening, not least because I avoided roads and took snowy paths wherever possible.

Tonight is threatening to be the coldest night of the winter so far. While I still love the beauty of the scenery at a time when taking down Christmas decorations usually leaves the world looking a much more drab place, I do feel for those who aren't loving it so much: the elderly, the frail, the homeless. And children, many of whom won't have the luxury of leaving heating on overnight as the double whammy of recession and high fuel prices hit parents' pockets.

Even Lucy complained of the cold today when she had to walk a few yards from the car, despite being very well wrapped up.

I'm still going to enjoy the cold weather as best I can, but perhaps I've been a bit selfishly carried away about this winter business up to now.

Properly Cold

As we got up this morning with the sun still below the horizon, the national news was reporting that just down the road from here in Woodford (where we got married in the summer sunshine last summer) the temperature was -17.6C (that's 0 degrees Fahrenheit).

I'm off to work now, having been to the shop for Hayley who has a house full of kids and won't be venturing out given the Met Office warning of ice. (I saw plenty just walking to the shop.)

I'll be on my bike... but we'll see how far I get!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!


We are experiencing a cold snap here in the north of England at present. We have had Siberian winds and snow since before Christmas with only a brief thaw between Christmas and New Year. It snowed again last night. This time a splendid 6 inches or more!

As you might gather I rather like this weather. I detest the drab and awful drizzle and temperatures of a few degrees above zero that we usually get. This is much better.

Of course the country has ground to a halt as we are perennially and woefully under-prepared. We are even running out of grit for the roads! Not that it has stopped me. Oh no, I cycled to work today.


The side roads and tracks were fantastic as I crunched through the fresh snow. Only the main roads were a touch tricky as cars wanted the clear tarmac tracks and I ended up a few times crossing into packed bumpy snow at the edges at an oblique angle which can be hairy.

But all in all I loved it and arrived at work with a smile on my face, much to the amazement of many. (Actually the place was half empty.) The section of my commute that follows the river was particularly beautiful.


Meanwhile, Hayley and the kids built a fantastic snowman outside our house. Isn't she a beauty!


And the weather forecasters say it is going to last another week. Woohoo!!!!

Monday, January 04, 2010

All is quiet on...


New Year's Day was a beautiful, crisp, clear, cold sunny day around these parts. We spent some of it happily playing in the park and some of cosily snuggled up indoors watching the original Superman movie.

What a contrast to the night before.

We went to bed early (yes, on New Year's Eve) and were briefly woken by fireworks at midnight. Then at around 1.30am I heard Lucy coughing and crying out a little. I went in to settle her. To my alarm, I found her with a very rattly chest and wheezing like I have never heard her before. I got her out of her cot and settled her upright on my shoulder but I didn't like the sound of her.

I took her in to Hayley and we started to try to look at her breathing to see whether it was from the stomach, indicating that she was struggling. While doing this she wheezed even more loudly and then cried out. I was now very worried that this was a first asthma attack. I've known asthmatics - including Hayley - and this sounded as bad as anything I had ever witnessed.

We called 999. (That's the UK equivalent of 911.)

I held Lucy on my shoulder and she stopped crying a little after a while. We were put on hold waiting for an operator for what seemed an age but was probably no more than a couple of minutes. Meanwhile we calmed Lucy whose breathing seemed better and found Oliver's ventolin inhaler.

At this point we gave up waiting on 999 and hung up. We tried to see whether she would have the inhaler. I showed her what to do, using Oliver's little mask, and asked her to do it. She said no. Not wanting to distress her we were about to ring the out of hours doctor when 999 rang back. We explained that the situation seemed to be more under control and they said don't hesitate to call back if necessary.

We quickly got through to the out of hours doctors service and they told us to bring her down. I de-iced the frozen car and Hayley took her down there. All the time she was improving and by the time the doctor saw her she was breathing well and the doctor confirmed her chest sounded OK. Her diagnosis was that her heavy cold had caused her to breathe in mucus.

Since then she has improved daily, sleeping better each night, though she did have a couple of nights in our bed with Hayley at first. So everything is back to normal now, but the memory of those few moments when I told Hayley to call 999 will almost certainly stay with me forever. I don't want to be melodramatic, but I don't think I have ever called 999 and I did so on New Year's Eve because I truly feared the possibility of the worst. Thank God my fears were unfounded, but it does remind me how lucky we are and that others have not been so lucky.

Oliver's first pantomime

We took Oliver to his first pantomime ("oh no you didn't"!) just before I had to return to work after the Christmas break. We saw Aladdin at the Opera House in Manchester.

We asked him who he wanted to take and he chose a girl from his nursery. It was packed when we arrived but we managed to get upstairs to our sets and also to buy light sabres for the kids. (Light sabres? For Aladdin?)

After a few minutes it got under way. Despite his friend deciding she wanted to go to the loo after 20 minutes and then that she wanted to go home, we all eventually got into the swing of it and enjoyed it. The obvious old jokes were there ("He's behind you!") and also plenty of adult jokes that went over the kids' heads. In fact if anything there was a bit too much of that.

One character was clearly played by a comedian and he had a spot towards the end interviewing three kids and answering for them in silly voices. Oliver said he liked that the best.

But the best moment for me was a few minutes into the show when a simple facade backdrop was lifted to reveal a much more impressive set behind. "Wooooowwwww!, gasped Oliver, "I wasn't expecting that big...." he found himself lost for words. Priceless.

Of course we had ice cream in the interval and a few other snacks too. All in all, a "must do" experience for kids of all ages.