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?

An Android Upgrade 3: Part I - The End of the Nexus 6P

Previously, Leaving the iPhone, An Android Upgrade, An Android Upgrade 2: Part I and An Android Upgrade 2: Part II.

As night follows day, a new phone follows the old one. At present I still have my venerable Nexus 6P but it's days are most certainly numbered. I wish this wasn't the case too - the Nexus is one of the best phones I've ever used, nevermind owned, and I really love every single major aspect of it bar one significant one. So it' a shame to see it go down in fame as easily the mot annoying phone I've ever owned. It is a damn shame to see it's reign as my daily-driver come to a ignomious end, but that's the cut throat world of being my main power device, one on which all Monday Graveyard admin takes place, all photos of my kids are taken on, and the one that keeps me in contact with all my friends across all corners of the world.

And it has came down to the same reason that I got the 6P in the first place - the battery.

I re-read my Nexus 6P review with an eye to do a re-review, which doesn't really need to happen - I love everything about it but the battery - and the last line of one section stood out like a sore thumb.

Time will tell if the Nexus 6P is better than that – surely, it can’t be worse than the HTC…

Well I can confirm that the 6P was indeed worse than the HTC. At least the HTC just drained - the issue I have with the 6P is that it just runs out battery whenever it feels like it. It'll be fnie throughout the day and then, at somepoint, it'll decide, somewhere between 60% and 15% that it has had enough and it just switches off, as if it has ran out. Then when you turn it back on it'll start charging... from the place that it was last at.


This graph is taken from the battery management part of the settings and accurately shows a normal day. That first drop is probably jusy before bed. The lonig flat line is me asleep, and then waking with Etta or Joni. Then, once the hpone is being used for reading the news it just seeps away like sand through your fingers. Then, around 25% it switches off. Then there's a gap and then I start charging - but from above 50% some how. Then it drops off at the usual rate, before dying at around 40% this time. It is immediately put on the charger and then drops as per usual, with my over the night adding it to varius chargers to make sure that it at least keeps power.

I have fast charging which is great, but if you look at the rate of change the fast charging is barely faster than the rate at which it's drops off under normal use. The final little blip had it - seriously - switch off and say it was dead... whilst it was on the power charger. Unreal.

Anyway, that's why the phone is getting tossed. It's done for - useless beyond 12pm in th afternoon - and once, this week, at before 9am.

What is next? Well, we'll just have to see now, won't we?


The Undeserved Retaliation

Frank has been a member of our family since July 2012. He is five years old in a month's time and is a key member of the team - Joni loves playing with him and Etta is a big fan of grabbing his whiskers if he sits too close to her Exersaucer. It's fun to see him grow older and in theory wiser, but also we know that in recent months he's been at the bottom of the pile.

Getting him walked hasn't been the easiest, what with Etta's sleeping patterns being like a 26 sided die, and the weather simply being too poor. Plus, getting out for a "big" walk is a big task and only recently is getting easier, thanks to the weather of course, but also a big push from ourselves in the right direction.

This long preamble is to explain that Frank is rarely walked around our local area for any serious length of time. If he's walked, he'll be taken away with the team. Or, it'll be in the daylight with the girls up and along to the school. Nothing major - indeed, in recent weeks his paws have been burned up by the rough stones on our patio, and he hasn't been out as much as before.

So when someone smeared dogshit all over our car and left a threatening note regarding our lack of picking his mess up, it came as a shock.

Connie and find dogshit on the pavements and paths utterly abhorrent. It's a part of owning a dog in the 21st century that is so ingrained I can't believe anyone in their right mind would do it. If Frank even takes a dump 100ft into a forest's trees way from the path I am in pains to go and pick it up. I take bags out with me everywhere. Family members gift us bags monthly, because we use them all the time. To firstly be accused of not doing it is galling enough, but to be threatened is a different story.

I'm not going to post the picture I have of the dogshit. I'll spare you.

The thing that upsets us the most about it isn't the unfounded nature of it - people can be notoriously petty about things like this and the childish thing to do is write a note without any method of recourse. What is upsetting is the targeting of us, the wrong people. What I mean is that this has to be a build up of someone doing something wrong for months on end and finally the person snaps and decides to do something about it, albeit to the wrong people. That's the biggest problem really; we aren't doing anything wrong, and therefore can't enact change, meaning that the person will continue to do it at their leisure and as such, we might get targetting again for nothing having changed. It's a logical flaw that when I spoke to the Police about it they fully understood our concerns.

And the involvement of the Police should really be the end of it. I don't want there to be any further instalments in the shit-campaign.

However I also messaged the Parish Council here where we live. I thought it prudent to let them know there is a bad no-good person doing things like this, and they posted a thing on Facebook explaining what had happened. Rightly, they left out the details of who it was, but also left out the detail that it was a wrongly targeted attack. This, I should have foreseen to be honest. I should have also foreseen the responses.

There have been five comments on the post, not bad engagement and something I'd kill for for the Monday Graveyard.

HOLD ON A MINUTE. I thought you deleted your Facebook?
Yes, quite. Well, there is a large new pipeline going in across the street and I reactivated to have a chat with the Council, who use Facebook as their means of communication.
Fine, i'll let it slide.

The responses were mirthless. One said "next time it'll go through the letter box", which I found amusing considering the Police are involved and I could send that off to them. Another also bemoaned the local area's problems with dogshit (which there is a serious problem, one I despise and constant moan about to Con) and that this escalation was almost warranted.

Another said that the event was "unacceptable" but then said that the offender should have been approached, which I totally agree with. 

the most hilarious thing about those posts is the fact that the community has around 130 houses, and most are families or family linked house holds. Joni and Etta attend the area's children's groups. We know one of the persons who has commented about it. That was bound to happen. 

The Parish have now bought new dog bins and willbe making new inroads into enforcement. Ironically, as the weather gets better we are less likely to now use our local roads. Frank likes hills and water over concrete and tarmac.

The Unexpected Election

When we moved to Cumbria in the middle of 2015 there had just been a general election. I had noted at the time that living in England and having voted and supported the SNP was an odd mix, especially when they directly affected things that I might have been in favour of. This was to be last general election for five years we were constantly told, thanks to a bit of legislation.

In the truth of the matter it comes as no surprise that I hadn't really considered who I'd vote for if there was another one anytime soon. In the three elections since I have been of voting age (2005, aged 19, 2010 aged 24, and 2015 aged 29) I had voted in order Labour, Liberal Democrat, and then the SNP. My evolution of my voting intentions followed directly the maturation of my own personal politics, and in 2014 and then 2015 I supported the SNP. Laterly, I also still supported them in 2016 but didn't get to vote, because I lived in England. Interestingly, in 2011 I didn't vote - living in Texas - and in early 2012 I vote Green Party in the council elections.

So how the hell am I supposed to vote now, in England? I had only recently started looking into the election stuff for the May 4th stuff that is coming up, and now I have to totally sift my thought process away from the usual Westminster thoughts of Scotland and now, as part of the part of country that decides the next UK Prime Minister (that's because England gets more votes than Scotland, obviously) and Scotland has very rarely voted for the Tory governments that they have had.

The truth is I don't really know in all honesty. I have to dissaociate the Labour of England apart from the haphazard bullshittery of the Scottish Labour party, who are more inept than actually dangerous. It goes without saying there is no way I am voting Tory - you know, the Union suporting, Brexit wreaking, lying upperclass shysters that they are. I could vote Green, if there is a candidate. But the truth is that, for the first time, tactical voting has to be considered. If you think about the UK system, it is winner takes all, first past the post, and that means that if I want to stop the Tories I need to pick the next party that will probably get the most votes, and that's absolutely Labour, as the sitting MP is Labour.

This is a problem as there are lots of things about Labour I realy don't agree with. In fact, a lot. So what to do then? Vote to "Stop the Tories" or vote for the party I might agree with the most (which is possibly the Labour party, but also many others). It's a connundrum I never thought about before - knowing that your vote in Scotland is very unlikely to selecting the next Prime Minister (and, unlike many people would have you believe, not stopping someone rom winning, with the old truth that Labour need Scotland to win and that it cost them the election last time being untrue) it frees you a bit to truly choose who you might think does the best locally.

I really have to think about it.

As a side note, it is hard to understand why someone like Jeremy Corbyn voted for the early election - he could have said No, and then let May sweat it out or self-immolate in the Commons. Instead he voted to let them off the hook, for fear of looking like he was running from an election. The point of the law that the Tories enacted themselves was to stop this kind of stuff outright anyway. It's madness.

And as an another side note, it is impressive to see the media spinning up the narrative that any number of seats less than the current SNP total of 54 (56 won in 2015) will not only be a "lost election", but a setback in the terms of the IndyRef 2 they've already voted in the Scottish Parliament. I'm looking to see how that goes, but it already seems like the Tories will "win" with 18% of the seats that the SNP currently have. Watch that carefully.

The Long Absence

As I posted on the 20th March, I have been off work for quite some time with headaches. After tests and medication and trips to the doctors too many to count I am maybe getting it under control. It marks the longest I have been off work in my life for illness, and marks the longest time I have been home continuously since I was laid off after Wood Group.

I didn't want to be off work. I, infact, was just gathering momentum with a new role, one that energised me. Going back now is daunting and a little hard to deal with, what with the headaches still being sore and all, but I do have to do the job I am paid for at somepoint, and I have started slowly from home, catching up.

The biggest strange feeling in all this was the feeling I couldn't do anything. It wasn't a cold I could whisk away with a Lemsip, nor a bought of fatigue that could be magicked away with some rest - this was prolonged and near enough uncurable from my perspective.

The strangest thing is that being at home hasn't been the cake walk you'd imagine - I loved getting extra time with my kids and wife at home and not going to work was a gift, of course, and a nessecity, but also having them around was hard when I was literally screaming with pain at times. It's hard to explain to uyour toddler why you can't play with them when you're home.

In the gap though a few things have came into focus and in time they will end up on these pages; health, life and mindfulness are going to be big changes in the future, and along with Con and the girls (and Frank) we are going to move forward into 2017 with big strides now that the Absence is behind us, hopegfully.