Wednesday, 3 July 2013

First day at school

Do you remember your first day at primary school? I'm not sure that I do, I can sort of imagine it but I don't know if that is a real memory or an illusion created in my imagination. But that said, i am pretty sure I was nervous. I'm sure I was scared to be leaving my Mum, that I was shy in front of all the other children, that the classroom seemed big and scary. My eldest son is starting primary school in September. Honestly I don't think he is going to feel any of those emotions. He is about the most confident person I have ever met. Honestly he amazes me. We took him for an orientation day at the new school last week. no-one else from his nursery is going to the same primary school so he didn't know anyone. He was taken to take a look at the current reception class full of children. He didn't hesitate, he strolled in, sat down with a group of kids and proclaimed 'Hi Guys, I'm Roman. We can play trains' He immediately made friends and was playing so happily that the teacher let him stay until the end of the school day instead of going home after an hour like he was supposed to. What a wonderful way to go through life. People being cruel to him, not liking him or anything of that nature simply does not exist in his world. He does no see it. Truly every stranger is a friend and every game is there to be joined. I am so proud of my boy and I just pray that the harsh realities of life never break through his happiness and put a dent in that amazing confidence.

Monday, 24 June 2013

What is the point of TK Maxx?

Now, My wife loves TK Maxx. I quite like it myself in the past year or so I have bought very reasonably priced work shoes, hiking boots, jogging bottoms and a few small electrical items. What I don;t like is the lying they do. You see, TK Maxx 10-15 years ago was a very different shop. They only had a handful of stores and the central promise was that they sold branded clothing at prices way below what you would expect. They did this by clever buying. The sourced catalogue return stock, end of line items, bankrupt stock and manufacturer surplus. They bought these things at such low prices that they could sell them at 80% discount and still make a 100% mark up for themselves. Anyone interested at those types of margins should look at where you can buy perfect quality catalogue return clothing from about 7% retail prices (in wholesale quantities unfortunately). Now back then, with this clever purchasing TK Maxx was brilliant. You could go in and find a pair of CK jeans that where selling in the shop next door for £120 priced at just £10 But then TK Maxx got successful. From a handful of stores they now have 240 in the UK and others across Europe. At that size it is little wonder that they can no longer source enough genuine bargain items. Today they are one of the biggest clothing manufacturers in the country. They are more likely to sell their returns and and of line items off to other retailers than purchase them any more. So what do they do? Well, like any huge clothing chain store they manufacture their own clothing. Only they are devious about it. You might see the huge posters in store saying things like "we partner with top brands" Unfortunately what this means is: The approach a premium brand known for quality, they order 100,000 pairs of jeans in Primark quality but ask the brand to stick the high quality logo on them. Then they pluck a RRP out of the air. I need to emphasis that point. The RRP that they claim a you get a percentage saving against - They make it up themselves. RRP means nothing. It has no legal basis. All it means is that TK Maxx has asked the brand they work with to put price tags saying £120 on these cheap jeans. So then TK Maxx get the jeans in their 240 stores. and put a sticker on them saying "RRP £120 OUR PRICE £15" You won't find these jeans for sale in any other store. Never in the history of the world have these jeans been sold anywhere for £120. Now, £15 isn't bad for a pair of jeans. Primark does great business in selling jeans that price - but they are honest and you know what you are getting. If you are shopping in TK Maxx ignore all the lies about RRP - they are cynically exploiting the fact that most people don't realise RRP is utterly meaningless to make you think you are getting a better deal. Have a look at the jeans, feel the quality and decide if you think they are worth the money - don't make the decision based on these fake 'savings' I bought some Karimor hiking boots from TK Maxx recently. They were £20 and pretty good quality. That is a great price and I am very pleased. What I don't like though is the lie on the label that said they should have been priced at £89. That is outright bollocks. See Sports Direct also stock the same boots for £20, I found a dozen stores online selling them for £20. What I didn't find was anywhere that at any time had ever sold them for £89. This is my call: TK Maxx - Get rid of these bogus RRPs. Treat your customers with some respect.

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Well, Britmums is just around the corner. I haven't blogged as much as I hoped but I am pleased to be back in the saddle. My biggest aim now will be to just continue the momentum and keep blogging. There is something incredibly cathartic about getting things down on paper and even more so knowing that people actually read it. I am lookign forward to meeting the authors of the blogs I follow on the weekend.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Healthy start vouchers

It's been a busy few days here.

Yesterday I saw something I still can't quite believe.

I was in Iceland (alas the shop not the country) and there was a pregnant woman arguing violently after being told she couldn't use her government healthy start fresh food vouchers to buy frozen pizzas.

The lady seemed to be of the impression that allowing the government provided free food voucher designed to encourage women to eat healthily during pregnacy to only be redeemed against healthy food amounted to a 'police state' and was prepared to have a stand up row about it.

The crown jewel in her argument against Iceland limiting redemption of the vouchers to fresh vegetables was thus:

"you are talking fucking bullshit you twat, at Morrison's I can use them to pay for my cigarettes"

Lucky unborn child.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A lovely summer afternoon

This afternoon I took the kids to watch the fog swimming in a river that runs through a nearby meadow.

It was so hot and the water looked too nice to resist and we all ended up going for a paddle. Bliss

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Sunday Soapbox Lord Adonis: The Great Cnut

Everyone remembers learning about Cnut the great at school because all the sniggering that occurred every time his name was mentioned. If there is one legend you remember about King Canute it is that he tried to stop the advancing tide and ended up with egg on his face and seaweed in his pants.

On Radio 4's Any Questions today I found myself listening to the most absurd political debate about pornography and the internet. What was so absurd was the long queue of people eagerly and forcefully making statements about something they clearly had absolutely no understanding of.

There was a very worthy panel. But it was Lord Adonis who sticks in my mind, mostly because he will most likely have a hand in whatever policy they push through.

The Question was: Shouldn't we do something to stop child pornography online with sub questions should all online pornography be controlled or monitored and how do we protect children from accessing pornography online.

It is a really important question and that is why I can't believe the ignorance around the issue at the heart of government.

Lord Adonis made the following recommendation.

ISPs should block all pornographic content (legal and illegal) and people that want to access pornography should have to apply, their details would be recorded and this should deter them from being tempted to access illegal types of pornography.

It seems like a great simple solution right? Almost the entire board and most of the audience agreed with him. No-one there seemed to have any understanding of the internet so unfortunately no-one stood up to tell him is would just be making a big Cnut of himself.

A little while back, after a lot of hard work and debate all British ISPs were forced to block the file sharing site because it was frequently used to illegally share copyright material.

 This was a watershed moment in the evolution of the internet. After this landmark decision the internet will never be the same again...apart from....well.....erm...... if you want to access Piratebay you can just go here  or to any one of of 10,000 mirror sites that appeared online within hours of the power being cut. If you look on that link you can even download some software that allows you to make your own pirate bay mirror site - that is a site that goes to, copies ALL of the information word for word in real time and presents it identically under a different web address.

I am not particularly tech savvy but if somehow the found a way to block these proxy sites as they appeared then here are just a few other ways you might access Piratebay. I am sharing this information freely because it is well known by everyone, except it appears by Lord Adonis and co.

VPN - Virtual Private Network. You can get a VPN service for free online and use it instantly. In basic terms a VPN creates a tunnel that goes from your computer, through your ISP and to a third party server that can be operated anywhere in the world. Your ISP (or anyone, hackers, the government, the police, interpol, included) cannot access the information inside of this tunnel. Your ISP has absolutely no way of ever knowing what site you are accessing or what information you are sharing and neither does any other third party.  With a VPN even the websites you visit don't every know who you are. I use a VPN every day on my work laptop. It allows me to log into the intranet system at my head office and access private company information while keeping it private from hackers.

A Proxy Server - very simple basically a website within a website. Go to a proxy server site then from the brower inside your browser you can completely anonymously surf the web. 

a Tor Network - another type of private network, a small piece of software you download onto your computer that allows you to surf the web entirely anonymously by using direct peer to peer encrypted file sharing. If you want to know how secure a Tor network is then google 'The Silk Road" The silk road is a ebay type site that operates on Tor. It sells everything - drugs, weapons, illegal information. There are hundred of UK sellers on there and advertising and sell drugs or illegal items completely anonymously (payment by untrackable bitcoins) The police can see all this activity, they are fully aware of it but there is absolutely nothing they can do because they cannot track any of the people on there. 

Encrypted peer to peer  - If you had an internet friend in a country where Piratebay is not blocked you could ask them to download the information you want and email to you in an encrypted form that your ISP couldn't read.

Foreign ISP You could by a sim card from France telecom and use it in your phone to access piratebay

There - I am not internet savvy but I have listed 6 instant ways around an ISP block. I have no doubt that my kids are going to be 10x smarter with the internet than I am.

So Lord Adonis, suggesting that you could somehow control access to internet pornography by blocking it at ISP shows a frankly startling level of ignorance and arrogance that you felt yourself informed enough to comment at all.

Your suggestion makes about as much sense of this: Trying to stop spiders entering your home by putting a police search roadblock on your driveway.

The reason this really annoys me is because we have a very very serious problem. Child pornography and Children being exposed to pornography are horrific things. We need to take this threat very very seriously. This means pumping massive amounts of money into developing technologies that could actually address this problem.

Instead what we have is out of touch digital philistines spending far too long talking a lot of hot air basically just trying to come up with something that sounds about right to keep the Daily Mail reading voters happy that something is being done.

That creates a really dangerous situation. It would be like telling car owners you have put some new technology in their car that makes it impossible for them to crash. Self important buffoons with no understanding of the internal combustion engine can make long pompous speeches about how they are fixing the problem of car crashes.   In one sweep you suddenly car drivers stop taking personal responsibility for their driving, they stop being aware of the dangers and acting to minimize them. Seat belts get undone, eyes are taken off the road. You can imagine the consequences.

Pass a law putting an ISP block on pornography and  the internet will have created 100,000 work around before the ink is dry.

Where does that leave us? Parents anxious to protect our children from inappropriate online content? It doesn't take much to imagine suddenly hearing parents casually saying "I don't need to check anything that my kids do online now because the ISPs block it all now don't they" Suddenly Laptops are allowed in bedroom with closed doors again. Internet histories stop getting checked, Software that you can install, configure and monitor to safeguard your children stops being used.

And while we sit in blissful ignorance our children become victims of the vile things you can find online.

Boys club

Eliza is off to Cypher today in London. Her car is out of action and I didn't want to be stranded in our middle of no-where home without mine so I agreed to drop her at the station.

At 6am this morning we were dragging sleeping children from their beds, putting overcoats on and taking Mummy to the station. Roman was very excited and kept telling me he has never been out in his jim-jams before (he clearly has a very short memory but it was cute anyway)

So now we have a boys day. Me my two sons and the dog.

It is the first day of July, the sun is shining, I have just been paid, the world is our oyster. I have been planning adventures and things to do all week. Trying to work out the best fun we can have.

Well so far all my good plans have come to nothing. We are all in our pants (apart from the dog), we are snuggled under a duvet on the sofa (including the dog), we are eating cream cheese on toast and are reading a stack of books from Top That Publishing that we have collected over the years.

I really don't want to waste the weather and feel a bit guilty but this is lovely. We don't get the chance to do this much and I ma really enjoying it. I am just hoping now that the boys fall asleep so I can have a nap! 6am is too early for a Saturday.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Britmums Part 2


Name: Alex
Twitter ID: @offgridalex
Height: 5ft 7.5 (I spent years telling people I was 5ft 9 It was a lie)
Hair: Yes. 
Eyes: Yes
Is this your first blogging conference?
Are you attending both days?
What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2013?
Learning to give more expressive and multi-syllabic  answers to meme questions....No seriously I am looking forward to meeting my wife's virtual friends and to getting some good ideas on improving my personal and professional online presence
What are you wearing?
Erm....a stained vest and pants with a hole in them.....oh wait to Britmums? Ok, I want to look smart and professional. Probably a dark suit with a bright tie - I might surreptitiously remove the tie if it makes me look like a knob on the day. 
What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2013?
I would like to meet some real people to make twitter feel a bit more personal. Mostly I am really looking forward to sucking up information in the workshops. Oh and a night in a hotel with my wife and NO KIDS!
Tell us one thing about you that not everyone knows
I used to be a high profile men's lifestyle coach. I was featured in most of the national newspapers (under a slightly different name, I will tell you it if you ask me at Britmums!)


I have had this blog for about a year.

Blogger tells me I have had over 4500 page views! which is very encouraging

It also gives me the embarrassing news that I have only made 18 posts. About one for every three weeks. That is not very encouraging.

The truth is, I love the idea of blogging. I love reading blogs, I love talking at people. I love being able to share my ideas, opinions, my hopes and my fears with a group of people outside of my local friends.

But here is the truth. I have commitment issues.

I don't know where they stem from. I can't remember a time when I was hurt by another blog and I am pretty sure it is impossible to get a blog pregnant.

I seem to approach the same way i do a lot of thins I have never stuck to in my life. Massive enthusiasm at the start, probably a couple of blog posts a day, a note book full of ideas to blog about....well that lasts for a about a week and then I just forget.

It's the same with Twitter.

My wife Mommatwo 'gets it'.

She blogs everyday, she won't come to bed some nights because she is tweeting.

I want to 'get it'

So I am going to make a promise, some actions that will become habit forming. I figure if I can blog and tweet regularly for a month it will become part of my life.

I have been lucky to pick up a surplus ticket to Britmums, I am looking forward to going for all sorts of reasons and really feel that it will help me develop my blog, my online presence and cement my commitment.

Conveniently BritMums is about a month away.

So here I go, and I want you, yes you, to hold me to this.

I will post at least three new blog posts per week. Every week between now and Britmums.

That is 12 new blog  posts (not much but it would increase my total by 45%)

If I do that hopefully I will find my rhythm again and with he inspiration and information I get at Britmums I will be in a great position to keep the momentum and turn this blog into something.

Are you going to Britmums?

Do me a favour. If you see me. Ask me how many posts I did. and don't let me off the hook. If I haven't done what I said I would make me squirm. Make me feel shame. Make this too painful for me to fail.

Oh and If I tell you I exceeded my 4 post a week quota  please feel free to buy me a drink to congratulate me!


Sunday, 3 February 2013

I took Duke to a poultry auction today but for must have got my dates wrong so we decided to make to most of the journey and headed to a near-by place of interest: The Cerne Abbas Giant  
Dorset is famous for various images cut into the chalk on hillsides. Most of them are of animals, The Cerne Abbas Giant is the only one I am aware of that features a man with a huge erection. 
I love this place, I think it have one of the shortest average visitor duration of almost anywhere. If you sit in the car park for a few minutes at almost anytime you will see the following. Cars pull in, stop for about 15 seconds to have a look and drive away. I think this is because you spot the giant from the road, feel like you should take a look but very quickly become aware that you are basically looking at a child's drawing of a man with a big willy - it usually only take a few embarrassing awkward seconds for everyone to realise they have seen enough.

A few brave souls do venture out of the car to look at the 'information' board. It says basically the following: We don't know who made the giant, why, how or when and we don't know who it is meant to be. In a beautifully gentle National Trust kind of way the board avoids all mention of the monstrous engorged member towering over the reader. 

 I took Duke for a hike to see if we could view the Giant from any other angles - The answer is no. The Giantis fenced off so the only place you can view it is the car park a few miles away

 I noticed that there is a human sized hole in the protective fencing around the giant which indicates that perhaps some couples really do sneak through to have sex on the end of his end. Unfortunately we didn't see anyone doing that today. 
There is a tiny dot right at the top of this picture that is my car in the car park. From up here I could just about hear the sniggers from a school minibus full of oily teenagers that had stopped for a look

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Duke vs Other Dogs

Duke had the most fun ever at the park yesterday. Whenever we see other dogs Duke always goes mad, pulling on his lead, barking, jumping.....he is pretty big and I have never been sure what his intentions are so until now I try to keep him away from other dogs. Yesterday though we were joined in the park by a bouncy playful barkless 7 month old Labrador called Lilly. I talk to Lilly's owners a bit and she is a bout the same size as Duke so I decided to see what would happen if I let him off the lead.

Well, he loved it, they had brilliant fun, running around, jumping, chasing each other a little bit of wrestling, no biting, barking or growling. I had worried that Duke might be aggressive but he is absolutely not, he just really wants to play. A couple of times Lilly had him pinned on the floor and once she nipped him and he yelped away but not a hint of any aggression from Duke. An older Labradoodle came to join in the fun and a couple of old Jack Russels - all of the dogs played brilliantly together. I was so proud of Duke and relieved that he appears to be so sociable and dog friendly.

I am going to be a lot more relaxed with him off lead now, even though his recall is still a bit hit and miss, knowing that he will not be aggressive with other dogs and he is great with strange people although he does occasionally jump up still.

I'm back....

As usual my mind wondered onto things other than blogging and I chased a few white rabbits...anyway. I'm back. Not much has changed apart from our family now contains a wonderful new member. A German Shepherd puppy called Duke. We got him at 8 weeks and have had all sorts of adventures, he is now nearly 5 months old. I'm just going to jump in and start posting as if you know all about him.

 Duke, a few days after we brought him home weighing just 3.8kg at 8 weeks old
Majestic superdog two months later, 4 months old, 16.6kg about 50% grown