Friday, 24 April 2015

Fancy a chat?

I thought the name Letts - as in Quentin - had a familiar ring. He, you might recall, is the Daily Mail columnist I crossed swords with on the Jeremy Vine show some time ago.

That was about paternity leave, too. Well he's nothing if not consistent. Prince, pauper, commoner, or (next-in-line-to-be) King, they're all the same to him and now he's got Prince William in his sights for daring to take the full six weeks paternity leave. He seems to regard it a badge of manhood to want to spend as little time as possible near your own children. Well, here's my take on the whole thing, published on the Good Housekeeping blog today.

In other news a friend tells me of her brand-new online store selling hand-made jewellery. As someone constantly in need of inspiration when it comes to gift-buying I thought the least I could do is share it with you. There really are some very lovely pieces. Here's the link:

Finally, this Friday, another factoid (number two in the occasional series that began a couple of months ago with this post about the origin of the term Bluetooth). The more attentive of my two readers might recall my mentioning the fact that I'm currently writing a war book - that is, a book about The Great War or - more accurately - a book about the immediate aftermath. (Should you wish to have sneak peak, you can do so here.)

Anyway, in the course of my work I've been re-reading what is quite possibly the greatest book about The Great War ever - and certainly my favourite - Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy. But in the second volume I spotted (yes!) the tiniest of errors. Those who know it might recall Billy Prior (the fictional patient sharing a psychiatrist with - among others - Siegfried Sassoon in the first volume) going back to his home town, Salford, and walking empty streets where - before the war - women would be standing in doorways chatting to each other of an evening.

Except, they wouldn't. Well, they might have, but they wouldn't have called it that. Chats were the nicknames given to the lice that infested the uniforms of almost every soldier serving at the Front. There was no way to get rid of them (short of burning uniforms) but they could be kept at bay by running a candle flame or thumb nail along the seam of clothing, burning the lice and crushing their eggs. A sedentary and mindless activity, usually performed in company and accompanied by conversation - which soon became linked to the activity - chatting!

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Suited and booted

Choose a suit, they said. Test it to the limits. We've introduced a new range of performance suits with some clever innovations designed to keep you looking smart and feeling comfortable all day long.

Have you seen my commute, I asked them?  Turns out they hadn't, but it didn't matter. When M&S said 'test it to its limits' they meant it!

Cycle to work? No problem. The crease resistant fabric will ensure you arrive looking smart no matter what your commute. And the added stretch in the fabric will keep you feeling comfortable however fast you're pedalling.

Ok, so what if it rains? Well, they said, the Stormwear™water resistance will certainly ensure you don't get too wet.

All right, I said, you're on. What can possibly go wrong?

So I've been wearing the suit on my daily commute with the kids. I've worn it with a nice pair of Stretch Jeans with Stormwear™too for my equivalent of dress down Friday. And it certainly withstands the rigours of a cycle ride. Remarkably so. Add a smart non-iron pure cotton shirt with 2in longer sleeves and you don't even get that awful, bare-armed look as you hold the handlebars.

Verdict: comfortable (very) and incredibly smart. (Sorry about the cycle helmet!)

Ok, so it's bound to rain during the trial period, isn't it? I'm bound to get wet and have chance to test out that Stormwear™water resistant fabric. This is Britain, after all.

Well, it has rained since I was sent the suit to test. It rained a bit on Saturday. And on Sunday. But on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the sun has shone, the sky been a lovely shade of blue and the temperature a very pleasant 18 degrees.

So, sorry M&S. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I'm not about to do a rain dance. No. Enjoy the sunshine, that's what I say. Find yourself a nice spot in the garden after work - a hammock, say - and relax...

Just remember not to tell the kids!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sony MDR-1A Smartphone-capable Headphones review

In my continued efforts to avoid the saturation coverage of the General Election, a request from Sony to test-drive their latest smartphone-capable headphones is nothing if not timely. Combine that with music and downloads (and even FM radio) on a smart new Sony Walkman® High-Resolution Audio player (the NWZ-A15) and my aural isolation - and listening comfort - is complete.

For a start, with up to 30 hours of playtime the Walkman® High-Resolution Audio player isn't likely to leave the listener stranded without anything to listen to but election coverage. Second, combining it with the amazing MDR-1A headphones means not only comfort (they're billed as among the 'most comfortable' headphones on the market - a claim I'd certainly endorse) but quite stunningly authentic audio reproduction, delicately balanced and with a purity I've never before found in a pair of headphones, thanks to what Sony describes as High-Resolution audio - a collection of digital processes allowing the encoding and playback of music using higher sampling rates than those used in CDs.

I first tried these out while on holiday over Easter - staying in a caravan with my wife, her mother and our two children. It was a large, generously-proportioned caravan - spacious, comfortable and modern. But still, it was a caravan. With small children. And my mother-in-law. I thought that'd be about as good as it gets in terms of testing both the quality, fidelity and noise-insulating properties of the headphones/walkman combo - and I was right.

I downloaded music, transferred some albums (the NWZ-A15 supports LDAC high resolution codec downloads with a Mac) and even uploaded a few audio books - more than enough for the times when I needed to retreat into my own space but didn't have the (physical) space to do so.

Unfortunately, the amazing aural quality of the Hi-Res audio downloads through the Hi-Res headphones was so good that my isolation was occasionally too complete to meet with the approval of the rest of the family. There are only so many times you can be asked whether you'd like a cup of tea/mind getting up and dealing with the kids/take the rubbish out or wash the pots while smiling beatifically and waving your arm in time to the music before someone comes and lifts up one of the lovely, closed-back, soft leather ear-pads and shouts the question in your ear.

But even if they were to let the cup smack back against your head after getting your attention, it wouldn't hurt. Believe me. (It's not part of any trial spec. Sony would have set, but I have empirical experience to prove it!)

Of course, it's the audio quality that clinches the deal. There are any number of technical developments and innovations that escape my ears (and believe me, they are discerning). But the High-Res output from the NWZ-A15 Walkman® and the superb reproduction of the MDR-1A headphones is a winning combination.

Every dad should have one.

Especially if staying in a caravan.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A spring in our step

One from the archives this morning, inspired by having seen for the first time the new CBeebies Springtime theme - a charming medley of music and iconic images of the season - spring lambs, daffodils, darling buds of... April, actually. You know the kind of thing.

But no matter how good these CBeebies seasonal songs are (and they're always good) there'll never be one to compare to the 2009 version (in my opinion) - which featured tail-coated children conducting the music of the season on a spring hillside with a generous sampling of Vivaldi (Spring, of course, from - what else? - The Four Seasons) and a tiny little version of my son and eponymous star of this blog joining in.

They grow up fast, don't they?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Under pressure!

Regrets, I've had a few. I've had a few pressure washers in my time, too. And they've often been a source of regret.

First, the hose. No matter how hard I try, I can't keep it kink or tangle-free. Then there's the wire - too short, too long, too stiff, too much of a trip-hazard. And then there's the noise. My current machine sounds like a Eurofighter Typhoon being scrambled from one of the nearby RAF bases which wouldn't matter too much if the pressure (of the washer) matched the decibel level. But it doesn't. They seldom do.

Discretion (and fear of litigation) prevents me from naming and shaming the manufacturer but suffice to say it isn't Kärcher. Maybe that's where I've been going wrong. Until now.

Because to celebrate their fifteenth birthday this week Ideal World TV, Britain’s biggest home-grown TV shopping channel (Sky channel 654, Freeview 22, Virgin 747 and Freesat 812) has not only sent me a brand-spanking new Kärcher K4 to play with, they've sent the latest K4 Silent which boasts 50% noise reduction compared to standard while maintaining more-than-impressive (not to mention fully adjustable) washing pressure. Key features include:

·         130 bar of pressure
·         420 litres per/hr water flow
·         Powerful 1800w water cooled motor
·         50% noise reduction compared to standard Kärcher K4 pressure washers
·         6m anti-kink and anti-twist high pressure hose
·         An elastic hose strap for easy storage
·         Retractable trolley handle and wheels for convenient storage and easy mobility.

Having put it through its paces I can confirm it is very, very quiet. Think purring cats rather than barking dogs. And it can clean - boy, can it clean! What's more, the adjustable pressure settings mean it can clean more than might normally be pressure washable. I've used it to spruce up the rather grimy plastic roof of the decking as well (gently) on the wooden decking itself. The results are certainly sparkling.

And there's more! Because you too could be the proud owner of the Kärcher K4 Silent. It might be Ideal World TV's birthday but they're giving one away to one lucky Bringing up Charlie reader. All you do have to do to enter is choose one (or more) of the Rafflecopter options below and cross your fingers, while mentally compiling a list of all the cleaning you'll be doing once the Kärcher K4 comes your way.

The Karcher K4 Set costs £199.99 and is available from from Monday April 13th. The competition closes at midnight on Sunday April 19th. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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