Car Seats

When I was younger there was very few bigger thrills than getting to sit in the front passenger seat. I remember the thrill of getting to be up front, and be right at the drivers area, and loved seeing all the buttons. One of my pet loves was the hazard lights for some reason, and regularly I'd pop them on even when the car was parked in a car park, much to annoyance of my Mum and Dad.

One of the perks of being four years older than my sister was that when we drove to Blackpool or Alton Towers for a few family holidays I remember gettting upgraded to front-seat passenger status, with my Mum accompanying Lynn in the back. These memories are as strong as these early childhood memories get.

They cannot happen today with my children however. The rules on car seats and safety in-car has totally changed, and a child in the front passenger seat is just simply not the normal state of affairs in the UK, and is entirely frowned upon in Canada. This shift in in-car sfatey has saved so many lives across the world, from adult drivers and seat belts, to the car seats we now spend hundreds of pounds on everytime you have a child.

It is impossible to begrudge the cost of these car seats as they are nessecary - driving is the least safe mode of transport for any journey and putting the most precisou cargo in the world in your eyes into a metal box drving 50mph towards other metal boxes. My Dad said, just before Joni was born, that there would be no more focused drive than the one where you bring your new born child home from the hospital, and he was absolutely right - I've never drove that intently and only once since, with Etta's home journey, which was on a back road in the middle of November at 9pm at night in the rain. A nervy drive.

The car seats that Connie and I use are both Maxi-Cost models; the CabrioFix for Etta and for Joni the 2wayPearl, both with their respective bases. In total, the cost of both has been near to £700 all-in, and they are absolutely great bar a few foibles with Joni's newer one. The interesting thing is that going to Canada brings into sharp contrast just how good these car seats are.

If you've never driven your children in North America (and if you don't have kids) then you won't have came across the difficult to navigate issue out of EU car seats and travelling. In Canada we are lucky that our family have access to older used car seats, but the thing that Connie and I forget is the disparity in the perceived quality of the car seats.

In North America the seats still have the bolted anchor points - known as IsoFix points - in the cars but the car seats attach them differently. Instead of solid bars that ratchet onto them, it uses straps and seat belt fixings to attach securly to the car. In the case of Joni's, an additional top-tether is used. Unlike the EU seats, there are no front bars that attach to the floor. This means that we are having to deal with seats that we are unsure of.

There are a few other changes - the belt buckles are different too, with the EU ones aeasier to click together and also to remove if there is an emergency. In North America a chest buckle clicks together the two shoulder straps, which is pretty damn uncomfortable for Joni and Etta, and required some relearning from myself when putting them into the seats. The chest buckle is the oddest part of the difference in the car seats in reality.

The thing is that it only serves to give Connie and I pause - we prefer the EU car seats, as they feel easier to fit securely and more sturdy - a great example is that the official advice for the car seat in Canada is to put a towe underneath it to provide a better "titl" for Etta, which is hard to believe is safe - but we can't complain, as the car seats are still officially safe.



Rollercoaster Legacy

Joni turns three years old in a few weeks.

Ever since my slight obsession with Rollercoasters started in 1999 I have been forcing friends to come along to ride them with me. As a teenager I arranged for a bus day trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach with five other friends that coralled two friends who didn't like rollercoasters to come along, and managed to convince a friend's father to pick us all up at 5am, an ungodly time of the day for a teenager. Later, Colin then I drove from Glasgow to Alton Towers and back with friends to go and ride the rides, two trips that sit as easily the most memorable moments of my teenage-hood. On the trip back when I was driving we came across a massive car accident on the M74 around Junction 15 that killed four people and gives me shivers every single time I drive past that point.

What I am trying to paint is that over time I've forced friends to come with me in my pursuit of rollercoaster fun. I regret not forcing friends to go to Magic Mountain in LA back in 2011, but I think that would have been a stretch too far. Ever since I became a father though I've eyed a holiday to a theme park as a goal that would later become a place to ride rides with my brood. Connie has various positions on rollercoasters; she used to ride them, but is unsure if she'd enjoy the rides as an adult, and that I can respect - even I had to pause when Colin and I went to Blackpool a few years back and I saw the height of the Big One from the rational mind that I now have as an adult.

Joni is now three basically and we went to a small family theme park in Bracebridge towards the end of the holiday called Santa's Village, themed around the fact it's Santa's summer home and southern branch office - and who wouldn't want to holiday is the Muskoka Lakes? The park is aimed squarely at the 3 to 10 demographic, the tallest and most thrilling rides being a 30ft ferris wheel themed to christmas baubles and a brand new spinning rollercoaster called the Peppermint Penguim Coaster that probably reaches a max speed of around 30mph.

My fear was that Joni wouldn't enjoy it at all - Connie had been there a few weeks earlier and said Joni had had a blast, but had postponed Joni's first rollercoaster ride until I was there, a gesture of sheer love and affection for my obessions that only my wife can truly understand and only I will truly understand how it made me feel. I was nervous that introducing Joni to a "big" ride, and worried it would put her off for life if it scared her shitless. Luckily, she actually, like her old man, loves being scared shitless. She's a wee adrenaline junkie and had no fear on any of the rides. The spinning rollercoaster was the only ride who had a minimum height restriction due to the over the shoulder restraints (OTSRs in technical lingo) and she was pissed off that she couldn't ride it - and despite it's diminutive size it packed a punch.

My memories of rollercoasters as a kid are great - I remember the Zipper Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, now known as Blue Streak in the Nickelodeonland area, a part of the park Joni would love. I also distincly remember, aged 9, refusing to go on Nemesis the year it opened at Alton Towers, and then again refusing in 1997 when they were building Oblivion, my dad going alone on the ride as we all waited. I remember going on the Big Dipper for the first time and realising how even the smaller rides can kick your arse (a fact I neglected to remember when I implored Colin and I to ride in the back row on our first ride at the park a few years ago, and it gave me a fright). I also remember going to Pac Asterix and riding the horrendous head banging mess that was the seven-looping Goudrix with my dad, who just shook his head afterwards, before we found the incredible Tonnerre de Zeus (still ym favourite rollercoaster of all time, actually) and rode it as the last thing before we left the park.

The fact that Joni and Etta, and Connie too, might join me on these rides in the future excites me - not just for bonding and the fun we might have, but the possible future of travelling in the North East of the US and Canada to places that have rides that are truly terrifiying, rides that I might not go on if it were just me - I realised that Cedar Point, home to some of the most famous rides on the planet, is only seven hours drive from Connie's home town whilst writing this post. If I'm to keep up appearances to my daughter or daughters, I will have no choice but to grin and bear the huge drops and racing speeds.

That's the kind of legacy I want.

Hearing Again

I've written a few times about my hearing in the past, mostly from the bemused side of the story that really was just a vocalisation of the self-pity I am unusually able to apply to myself. The last time I wrote about it was the first time the NHS had been involved as most of the time the loss had been managed by the company private doctor through the yearly Oil and Gas medicals.

The NHS, in it's wisdom, actually took it a little more seriously. Not surprising thinking back though - the Oil and Gas medical was worried about the loss of hearing at work, not the loss of hearing I've always had. The NHS made a decision to check me a little more thoroughly and then asked me if I'd thought about a hearing aid. I hadn't seriously thought about it, so I said I was interested.

A few months later and this past Thursday I went to the hospital and within 20 minutes was fitted out with my very first hearing aid and I'll tell you something right away - why didn't I ask about this sooner?

The key difference I've noticed is that my brain is struggling to recalibrate the difference in the sound. The quality of the hearing aid is pretty poor from a fidelity side - I'd imagine HD 24bit audio isn't really needed when the other side of it is zero hearing anyway. But what surprised me the most was the feeling of a slight delay behind the sound, like when you have a microphone transmitting to a speaker in the same room (like a baby monitor) - it is milliseconds, but the brain notices and is slowly working out how to correct for it.

But the magic thing is that within 48 hours I'd discovered I'd become so used to it taking it out at night before going to bed was like filling my left ear back up with gum. The dull and far away sounds that I got from the non-aid-filled ear was startling, and that the effect that the hearing aid has on my hearing is quite something. A friend "jumped" me at the local shop car park jovially only to discover the reason I almost karate chopped his head off in fright was that he'd used the amplified side to sneak on. The car makes new rumbling noises - Frank's barking is louder too. And the road we live beside is suddenly a bit of a nusiance rather than a little dull rumble in the background.

The Doctor applying the hearing aid asked if I was "ready" to wear one; Connie too had asked me as well, to see if there were any reservations with adding one to my ear. I hadn't thought about it really, but the fact remained that I'd always assumed that I'd need one, just not maybe when I was 31 years old. I guess it is like glasses - the idea of wearing them is fine until you actually realise that you have to wear them all the time. At least with glassess in most cases contacts can replace the glasses, and in severe cases laser treatment can fix your sight for a good chunk of time.

The hearing loss is not like that - there is a surgical procedure that the NHS used to carry out, but compared to the hearing aid it's incredibly high risk (you can lose all hearing entirely) and obviously far more expensive. So the realisation is that this isn't temporary, or a choice that I'll just put on going to work; this is a permanent change to my life and one that needed to have improved life benefits to make worthwhile. I'm not going to chop and change my hearing aid on a hourly basis to just suit my life - I'm wedded to it like I am to my very own body now, and looking back I slightly regret not going sooner and speaking to them about it. That being said, even though there is a permanency to this all, I am not worried about the rest of my life with one (or two, knowing how bad my right ear is now and the projected path that it will take).

Friends and family won't quite realise the importance of this, nor will the lay person, but for me this might be one of the most significant things to have happened in my life. Finally, after years, I might be able to hear properly (or at least better) and it can only get better over time as my brain adjusts and I get more used to it.

It's nice to be able to hear again. Or maybe, hear for the first time?

The Numbers or the Right Method

A lesson I learned from my English tutor was one that I could have done with at the start of my adolescent exam career was this - they don't really care about the answer, but mostly about the demonstration of the method. I was told, for example, if a question had six marks for it five of them were for the working, and one for the right answer. If you know how to do it, show that, or show as much as you can, and then move on.

Note: this might not be the case anymore; I'm 20 years out of doing exams like that, so don't take this as advice - I am not liable for getting fails on your current exams.

Note 2: Joni and Etta will not be getting this advice.

This later bred into me a contempt for the memorising of the formulas that was needed for many exams. Later on, they would give us the formulas, but not the method, and that made more sense to me. This pervasive idea carried through to the University exams I hated with every single breath. Getting the "wrong" answer was way down in the priority list, and instead was the idea that you knew what to do and you'd at least payed a modicum of attention to the class.

This might have been my downfall in my only open book exam, where most of the year failed, but that's just me make excuses for the worst exam mark in my history.

I am reminded of this when hearing of the recent gaffes by Labour politicians. They get the numbers wrong - endless streams of numbers too, some dealt with more accuracy than others - and the spotlight the media then plays on these apparently disastrous mistakes. You can't remember how much money something's going to cost? Then let's set fire to you and your entire policy, never mind the fact that the alternative is a mortar launched at the heart of the welfare state.

It makes headlines and creates column inches/pixels and today that might all be that counts, but at the heart of the Election is a weird media in two minds about how to report it.

I am constantly reminded of the advice of my tutor; if there are three marks, split your answer into three separate sections, even if you think you can only answer two. Then, maybe, the marker will see the three ideas separate even if you're just rephrasing the same idea. This methodology probably got me my B in English, an upgrade from the fail I'd got in the prelim a few months earlier. When I hear answers that feature soundbites and manifesto waffle, I think that's what they are doing - I'll speak for a bit, maybe say some words, and then that's yer lot. On the recent debate, a questioner asked what is going to happen to the £350 million from the NHS we were promised - May's answer was that it was just a basic campaign bit and who cares, but it was structured like a real answer, and the questioner thought it was a good answer - the moderator was astonished.

I loved to manage to "cheat" - my favourite example being the realisation that in a maths exam the "simplified" form would always give the same answer as the long form of the same equation, meaning I could work out which one was the right multiple choice answer without doing any of the work - welcome to the 2017 General Election, where the Numbers are apparently more important than the Method.

Children's Television Part I - The Thunderbirds Blueprint

A while back I wrote about how we were trying to keep Joni away from using television. That was a good idea, and still to this day we feel that a reduction in television is a good idea, but any one who is the parent of a toddler, or a parent of two or more kids, knows that TV is a necessary evil to get stuff done. And, additionally, Joni does enoy it, and it has sparked her imagination in quite a few ways. Obviously, there are limits, but sometimes there are days where you can do nothing but let her watch a bit of TV.

Whilst watching TV a few realisations come to mind, all of which are thought provoking. One trend in Children's TV I have noticed is the trend to make almost all shows about a group of characters doing things to save other characters - I call this The Thunderbirds Blueprint.

Of course, this idea of a group of characters saving people wasn't invented by Gerry Anderson and his puppet, nay marination, style of television show. In fact, it is the tenant of all major TV shows for kids; Mutant Hero Turtles, Transformers and Thundercats, mainstays of the 80s child's nostalgia (though, oddly, not really mine) are all of the same design. But look at almost every show these days, it is hard to not see the parallels with Thunderbirds, or for that matter, Captain Scarlet, or even Stingray.

The blueprint is simple; a few characters (four is the minimum, it seems) are based on a type of home, and have missions dolled out to them by a wiser and older mentor. This applies to PAW Patrol, Octonauts, Go Jetters... even the more modern reboot of Postman Pat, where he works as a Special Delivery team member. The other major component is the need for a range of vehicles - the trucks in PAW Patrol, the GUP-(x) machines in Octonauts, and Pat's endless array of helicopters, hovercrafts, turcks and jeeps getting his parcels to the apparently rich as hell residents of Greendale.

The other part of the shows that match is the repeatability; the pups rattle off the same catchphrases each time, as is the copy and paste presentation of the run-out of the Lookout, in the same way that each Thunderbird had their own launching mechanism, or that each Captain colour had his own little vignette explaining who they were. It means that a chunk of the running time can be padded, but also that children are drilled into the phrases and they will want to act them all out.

The reason for this is quite simple; it is easily marketed as toys; the Lookout might as well be the Tracy Island of my childhood, one my mum made for my from Paper Mache, incredibly. The toys are endless, as were the Thunderbirds toys - I had 1, 2 3 and 4, just not 5 (who wants a Space Station anyway). Joni has a Marshall and Rocky truck, and a Skye figurine, but doesn't yet want the rest of the troupe, which is lucky.

Even the shows that have lasted over time have evolved into it; Thomas the Tank Engine, now known as Thomas and Friends, has something called the Steam Team, who are basically the Thunderbirds of the Island of Sodor. Fireman Sam too has eveolved into a ghaslty CGI abomination, but it has shades of the same influences.

This isn't a criticism either - the format allows for bite sized lessons on being good and helping out people, and defeating the bad guy. Some do this better; Paw Patrol and Octonauts get away without needing a real villain (at least until PAW Patrol introduced Mayor Humdinger and the Catastrophe Kitties as doppelgangers), whilst Go Jetters manage to make their Dr Robotnik style villain essentially pointless when they both randomly turn up at the same international landmarks without so much as an explanation for the coincidence. Octonauts teaches stuff about sealife, and Go Jetters geography, so the framing works.

If you've read all this and you've never seen any of these shows, good for you. Well done. Either you've had kids and you're stronger than we are, or you've yet to have kids and boy - you've got a lot to look forward to.


The Screaming Car Crash

I've not had the unfortunate experience of a major car accident in my adult life - only once, when I was very young - and I hope to goodness it never does happen. I do imagine though that when in one you probably scream, swear, or maybe make a noise not heard before. You'll make the noise anyway, right? Involuntary response to peril and or disaster.

I feel like blogging about the General Election is like that - a loud long scream that has nothing to do with what is about to happen and will make no difference to the end of the event. I can scream louder and harder, but the car will always already be crashing, and here I can write hundreds and thousands of words but there will still be a majority Conservative government at the end of the election.

It is fucking depressing.

The Tories are gutting the NHS in England and by consequence also doing it in Scotland. They then spin it as an NHS in Crisis, not an NHS Underfunded.

The Tories are cutting free school lunches, essentially removing one meal from kids a day, under the impression it's "up to the parents". That's demonstrably bullshit and can only hurt the children who need or even want those meals, under the guise of "parents taking control of their children's eating".

They're reducing spending on Disability and essentially killing people whilst doing it.

They've reduced Corporation Tax to ridiculous levels for some reason.

They are refusing to raise tax rates on people who can easily afford a rise.

They want to kill migration entirely, which will destroy any economical boost and growth.

They are going ahead with the hardest of heard Brexits because... they can? Who knows.

And if you vote Tory your a person I don't want to know. I can't talk to you. I can't see eye to eye with you. I don't understand how you want the country to work. If you want the NHS to end, I wish the worst of all illnesses on you. If you want children to starve and food banks to become the norm, I hate you.

And if you can't see that the country is destroying its self, I can't help you.

I am not saying Labour is the way to vote, nor Lib Dem. I don't have a clue how to vote - all parties in my local area are against things I am for, even the ones I have policies I do like (Labour's ruling out a Scottish Independence Referendum is a sticking point on an otherwise pretty interesting proposal).

So I am screaming - at the TV, at Twitter, at friends - and there is nothing that can be done. The UK is a shadow of the progressive country I thought it once was, a frightened scared inward looking retreating power, scared of a world it has been told not to understand by a media who just doesn't care.

It's horrible. I hate it. Do these airbags even work?