Friday, 3 July 2015

Reading round-up

First this time comes The Amazing Human Body Detectives - facts, myths and quirks of the human body - by Maggie Li.

What is skin made of? What is inside a bogie? How do we grow? How do our eyes work? If these are the kind of questions you get asked then this book might just save your sanity as well as educate your offspring. The interactive visual guide to the human body for children aged 5+ is beautifully illustrated and packed-full of amazing facts about how our body works.

Next, a fun and engaging sci-fi adventure with strong themes about friendship and bullying. Danny Chaucer's Flying Saucer by Christopher Peter is a fantastic sci-fi adventure for children 7+ either for home or in the school.

Danny Chaucer is lonely. Life's boring since his best friend moved away. Nat Ford is the new girl in class and spends half her time trying to dodge the school bullies.

Nothing interesting ever happens in their dead-end village. Nothing that is until one still, starry night when something lands in the trees behind Danny's house. And then the sinister Captain Frost turns up, looking for something. There might be only one way to escape - and that's up...

With the holidays almost upon us and the possibility of trips to London in the offing, The London Activity Book by Esther Coombs - giving kids the chance to draw, doodle, colour in and cut out their own London adventure could well be a life- or harmony - saver.

What better way to interact with your environment on a trip to the Capital than by drawing it, (re)designing it, mapping it, spotting it and plotting it? And when you've finished, you can colour and send up to eight postcards telling all your friends about it!

Of course, no trip to London would be complete without a trip to London Zoo. But what if it rains? What if it's closed? What if you haven't the time or you simply hate the smell? Well, here's a wonderfully creative alternative - make your own. With Paper Zoo by Oscar Sabini (to be published in August) you can create a collage collection of your own zoo animals.

Finally, a book with a difference. Leap and the Lost Dinosaur in another interactive title from Leap Frog for use with the Leap Reader - especially useful if getting the weird and wonderful world of prehistoric names proves something of a tongue-twister? (How do you say Hypacrosaurus? And when was the Cretaceous period?)

Thanks to the Leap Reader this and a host of other fascinating facts will be at your little one's finger tips. And the words - long words, impressive words, Latin words - will be on the tips of their precocious little tongues.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Attention Digital Heroes!

TalkTalk awards £10,000 funding for small projects with big digital impact.

TalkTalk’s annual search to find Britain’s next Digital Heroes is back – and this year it’s bigger and better than ever.

The search for extraordinary people who harness technology to make life better starts today – and Britain’s next TalkTalk Digital Hero could be YOU.

The awards celebrate small-scale projects having a BIG impact on others thanks to the powerful combination of technology, hard work and passion. Digital Heroes are the inspirational individuals bringing people together, offering support to those around them and providing the tools that make the lives of us all that little bit easier with the help of technology.

Last year’s Digital Heroes included a university student who used Raspberry Pi chips to teach computer science to schoolchildren, the developer of an app that would donate to charity every time the user hit ‘snooze’ on their alarm and the carers and parents of kids with autism who made an online community to share their experiences.

TalkTalk needs YOUR help to find this year’s Digital Heroes. If you are or know someone making a big impact through technology and would benefit from more funding TalkTalk wants to help. You can nominate by simply visiting:

There are 10 TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards, including for the first time a new category for Internet Safety, in partnership with parenting advice platform Internet Matters.

The ten categories are:

If you know someone who is trying to get people back to work, go ahead and let them be known.

Healthy Living
Technology has got a bad reputation for getting people out of shape, so let’s give a hi-five to those using tech to kick Britain back into shape.

Silver surfer
Technology is for everyone and this hero loves to show the older generation how to get the most from tech - from email to new messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

Tutorials, workshops, one on one sessions, you name it, they do it. This hero believes that sharing is caring and won’t stop until their knowledge has been shared with everyone.

This hero helps harness tech for good but not just for the money. It’s because they just believe in helping others. Let’s give them the boost they need to keep on doing it!

Charities and fundraisers need all the help they can get; this hero uses technology to help them raise money through donations.

Next Generation
The next Facebook or Pinterest could be in the making right now, right next door to you. If you know a young internet self-starter with a great idea, let them be known!

Teachers and technology make the world go round, so how about the person who goes above and beyond to ensure no one is left behind.

The environment is under attack, and this hero believes that technology can help save our planet.

Internet Safety
The internet can be a dangerous place and this hero is dedicated to helping children and young people navigate new technology and the internet in safety.

TalkTalk’s Digital Heroes will receive £5,000 of funding to enhance their projects; the Next Generation winner will receive £4,000 and a MacBook Air to give them a further boost. The Digital Heroes are honoured at the House of Commons in the autumn, where the overall winner is announced and granted £10,000 prize money. The awards are celebrating their eighth year and TalkTalk has invested half a million pounds in 87 projects across the UK since they began.

The Digital Heroes are decided by public vote with one overall winner chosen by an expert-judging panel comprising of TalkTalk chairman Sir Charles Dunstone, founder Baroness Martha Lane-Fox and Daily and Sunday Mirror Editor-in-Chief Lloyd Embley.

Commenting on the awards, Dido Harding, Chief Executive of TalkTalk, said: “The internet is a huge force for good but there’s a long way to go, with over 10 million people in the UK still lacking basic digital skills. We’re passionate about the power of the internet to improve communities and want to find Digital Heroes that will inspire and support others through technology.”

Returning judge, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, who is also Chair of digital skills charity Go ON UK, adds: “It is fantastic to see that the Digital Heroes awards are back again this year. I love hearing about the inspiring individuals and organisations who are using digital to make a real difference to people’s lives. At Go ON UK we want everyone in the country to reach their digital potential, and it’s initiatives like Digital Heroes that will help make this a reality.”

Find out more information on the awards and how to enter at

Entries are welcome until midnight 24 July 2015.

Follow the awards on twitter #digitalheroes

Friday, 26 June 2015

Smart forfour lets families share the fun

Smart cars just got smarter, I suppose you could say. And although we all know you can't squeeze a quart into a pint pot, you can now comfortably fit a family quartet into Mercedes newest incarnation of the Smart car thanks to two new rear seats and - four doors!

Most cars that pretend to be family-friendly (while being a slightly larger version of a sporty little two-seater) neglect that most basic requirement. Kids can't climb into back seats (or rather they will, but they'll treat it more like a fun obstacle course than a serious attempt to get seated). So if you want to be taken seriously by the family, it has to be four doors. And the new Smart forfour is.

It's also a breeze to drive, turns (almost) on a sixpence and can be parked in the tightest spaces. It's not only economical but helps you help the environment (as well as your wallet) by scoring your 'eco' rating as a driver. I was delighted to get mine up above 70% during a week putting the car through its paces.

It's comfortable too. I'm 6'3" and found driving both short and long journeys easy on the back and most other anatomical areas, the single exception being my left foot. Because, when you've changed gear (and the five-speed gearbox is as smooth and as sporty as a serve by Roger Federer) there's nowhere to put it. Your foot, that is. It has nowhere to go and - furthermore - can get stuck behind the pedals. Or at least, my size elevens did.

A small point, perhaps. It's a small car, after all. But not a small car for small people or small numbers of people anymore. Just find me a place for my foot and I'll be perfectly happy.

Available in three models – passion, prime and proxy – plus a choice of 71hp or 90hp turbocharged petrol engines, the smart forfour is priced from £11,265 OTR. Fuel consumption (combined) up to 67.3 mpg, with CO2 emissions (combined) from 97 g/km.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Fifty Shades? Just wish I'd thought of it first!

I have a confession. I haven't read Fifty Shades of anything nor the most recent addition to the oeuvre, published on Wednesday. And I've no intention of doing so. Life's short enough already and the list of books I want to read but haven't is a long one. (Oo-er, missus!)

But... (not that kind, the one he (Grey) spanks or imagines spanking. Or so *ahem* I'm led to believe). No, the big but (one 'T') for me is the reaction to the book's success in the media. I'm both fascinated by and ever-so-slightly jealous of it myself. It's a literary phenomenon. It was a self-published phenomenon. And the reason? Is it all some clever PR ploy? Some mind-altering marketing plan? No. People - it seems - like reading the books. And so they buy them. Simple. 

When I say people, of course, I necessarily exclude the seried ranks of critics, columnists and polemicists who have with such alacrity dissected the latest E.L.James offering so scornfully, with such unremitting superiority and pomposity. There really is a feeding frenzy among (jealous?) critics. The Telegraph's Kat Brown was quick off the mark on Thursday morning with a piece entitled 'The Worst Lines from the new Fifty Shades book'. Next came an entire bandwagon of by-lines - Libby Purves in the Daily Mail ('dreary, pointless, nasty'); Jenny Colvin in the Guardian ('creepy beyond belief') and Bryony Gordon (Torygraph again) describes the book as 'badly written and about as arousing as the diary of a sex offender'.

These frantic attempts to rubbish the books are fascinating, as well as a little dangerous for their authors. Has anyone ever read a Libby Purves novel? Has Bryony Gordon ever written anything better than a snidy bit of journalism (and I include in that her 'Wrong Knickers' memoir of a lost decade of drink, drugs and promiscuity)? And has Jenny Colvin sold as many books, even counting those written under her many pseudonyms?

I doubt the combined readership of each columnist approaches the numbers reading - and buying - E.L.James. And I suspect Miss James isn't especially bothered, as she counts her cash, what the critics write.

But someone may be. Her millions of readers - who are even now finding their tastes ridiculed - might be a tad annoyed. Perhaps they'll be too busing reading - and enjoying - Grey to notice, but the nasty hatchet jobs prove how snobbish, jealous, and predatory the publishing industry can be. And in what contempt it holds that strange, overlooked commodity - the reader. 

And people are reading. Reading it all. These days, thanks to Amazon's Kindle and other eBook editions you can tell! (I only get Kindle loan payments if people borrow - and read 100% - of my books.) So people aren't buying Grey or the prequels to admire on their shelves (unlike that other great - and unexpected - bestseller, A Brief History of Time).

Yes, they're reading it. And they're enjoying it. They're reading it because they like the story (overlooking how it's written, maybe - and putting us precious 'authors' firmly in our place); they're reading it because they believe the characters (or can suspend their disbelief for long enough to enjoy them) and they're reading it because they want to know what happens.

It's that simple.

And I wish I'd thought of it first!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Dropping a Clanger!

They're back! Along with Thunderbirds, Paddington and a host of other children's classics, those funny little knitted creatures with swanny-whistle voices are set to return to our screens... today!

I can't wait. I've signed up (or been signed up) to some of the pre-publicity and was devastated not to be able to make the previews, or the studio tours. They sent a consolation prize (or was it punishment?) of stickers, swanny-whistles and... some knitting wool and a knitting pattern. Thanks, Clangers PR.

As if the kids weren't already in a state of high excitement (the DVD of the original series is a firm favourite of theirs... and mine) I've now had to resist the pressure to purchase knitting needles and start casting off with every fibre of my being. As well as enduring embryonic Clangerese for the last week.

Thankfully, Grandma is coming soon. She is good at knitting.

Watch this space!

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