Out of the Games Cupboard

A random assortment of reflections, musings and a running commentary on life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Milestones & Transitions

It is a great pleasure watching Ellie grow, learn and try to make sense of the world around her. She is a bright, confident, curious and happy child. Of late I've been particularly struck by how well she verbally expresses herself. When younger, she would sometimes get frustrated if we did not understand what she was trying to tell us; now she tries different words and ideas if we don't get it. That said, we increasingly do get it - her saying "I want the song that makes my heart sing" was soon correctly interpreted as a request to listen to 'Wild Thing' by The Troggs!

On reflection, much of what I read to prepare me for impending fatherhood focussed on "milestones". This makes sense as these are the one-off, life-changing moments that most fledgling humans need to go through at some time or another; first steps, first word, first solid food etc. But, once they've done them, there over with. They are really a way of checking your child is developing 'normally'. Subsequently, they are really a way of reassuring sleep-deprived parents that it's all worth it!

Now, I read a fair bit in anticipation of Ellie's arrival - not as much as I meant to, I admit, but more than I think I needed. But I don't remember life's transitions getting much print area.

I've realised in recent months that Ellie has changed in subtle ways and I don't have a clue when the changes happened: she now uses grown-up cutlery, she chooses her own clothes, she requests to go to bed when she's tired, she dresses herself, she goes to the toilet by herself, she uses scissors and glue without assistance, she requests playing certain games, she problem-solves, she makes up stories, she describes her dreams (so beautiful!), she swims properly etc etc etc.....

I would say that these transitions and changes are far more enjoyable for me than the milestones were. They show less of how 'normal' she is and more of what a 'person' she is and how she is constantly changing. So I would say to any potential parents not to be too sad if they miss being around for a milestone - the transitions, which happen all the time, they won't miss. They won't spot them whilst they're happening, but you can certainly notice the difference.....

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

sad news...

Do you find that sometimes news articles just make you despair? The scale of man's inhumanity to man often seems limitless. Reading this article had this affect upon me.

The burning of witches is nothing new of course. But it's not something you expect to read about in our modern, enlightened world. I found it particularly poignant/harrowing as Lisa and I support Plan UK and are linked to a girl living in Kenya. She lives in the east of the country and so, hopefully, has avoided this event. However, the area in which she lives was a recognised 'hotspot' during the recent unrest.

When we receive her letters, they tell of the life of a child, much as Ellie would describe. Her living conditions are basic; she has to walk to collect water and has to travel some distance to go to school. She had malaria when younger which nearly killed her. She and her brother live with her grandparents as her parents work in Nairobi. Her life is undoubtedly somewhat harder than Ellie's and yet, she describes the pleasure of going to school, of singing, of playing with her friends, of being with her family. She loves drawing and the pictures we've received show a child's view of perspective and the world around her - they are magically innocent.

Our experience of writing to her and, even more, of her replies has made me realise how similar people are; in every culture children are loved; children the world over love to sing, dance, play and make sense of their world. For their parents putting food on the table and having water to drink are universal needs. So I was unprepared for the barbarity, prejudice and sheer medievalness of this act. If I was racist I could think that "they" don't know any better. However, I am NOT a racist and I know that ALL humans know better. Fear, mistrust, superstition and the mentality of a mob may explain this atrocity, but nothing can justify it. We cannot radically alter the world that she and Ellie grow up in but I hope that the way they see the world grows with them.

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I'm back in the land of blogging

You may have noticed that I have not updated the Games Cupboard for sometime - about six months in fact! I don't know why this happened; I left it for awhile and so the habit of writing waned - it then semed a monumental task to return. However, I find I have been missing blogging of late and so, here I am.

Sadly, there's not much news. I'm still experiencing some neurological problems and so I'm still a stay-at-home dad. I'm enjoying this and making the most of it as Ellie starts school next January (where have the years gone?). Lisa continues to work hard and is striving to get her head around an increase in her repsonsibility and accountability. We both still enjoy boardgames....

I don't know how often I'll be posting but, hopefully more than every six months! Please feel free to leave comments if the mood takes you.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me!

Yes, today's the day I turn 34! I'm a little worried about the inexorable marching on of time but, on the whole, I like who I am, when I am and where I am, so things could be a lot worse.

I was thinking recently how quickly the last year has gone. I know that everyone always says that, particularly around birthdays but, for me, it really has gone by fast. I can't actually remember my last birthday as it occurred during the early stages of my neurological problems when I lost virtually all memories of each day. I can't remember much about Christmas, although I think my memory had improved slightly by then. Until around Easter I was forgetting about two thirds of each day; since then about half. So, I reckon, at best, I can remember between half and two thirds of the last year..... so it's not surprising that it feels as if it has flown past!

The good thing is that I'm sure that most of what I have forgotten is all that boring, mundane, day-to-day stuff, so my memories of the past year are actually rather pleasant. Lucky me!

Thought from the day comes from Mr Pratchett: 'Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.' How true.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007


Oops.... it's been nearly 5 months since my last post. Sorry everyone! I'm afraid there isn't a good reason for my bloggy absence; to start with we lost broadband for about 6 weeks (our modem was fried during an amazing thunderstorm and the Royal Mail conspired with Talk Talk to delay us getting a replacement), then I just didn't seem to have the time. I kept putting it off thinking I would find the time and, finally, I have! Five months later than anticipated but still....

So much has happened in the missing months - I don't know where to start. My recovery continues slowly. I think I am having fewer absences per day but I am still forgetting a lot of stuff day to day. I've just about given up reading new novels as it was getting increasingly frustrating having to double back to see what had happened previously. Instead I'm rereading Terry Pratchett novels with which I feel fairly familiar and therefore less traumatised if I forget an evening's worth of reading.

We sold my car as it was surplus to requirement as I still am unable to drive due to the absences. Kitty vanished but a nice couple took her in and looked aftrer her for 4 days before spotting the Lost posters we had put up. Ellie and I have a packed social calendar; she's taken up trampolining (quite talented apparently - for a 3 year old) and she goes to active games and parachute games now as well as the special gym (where she's awesome on the rings and beams!). We had a lovely Halloween party for Ellie and her little friends. I was particularly proud of the icing on my gingerbread skeletons! I enjoyed a lovely autumn day at the seaside with Mal a few weeks ago which helped me recover from an awful cold. We have spent time with friends of course, including playing boardgames! We also helped a friend celebrate turning 40 - a momentous occasion!

Now I've found my way back to the keyboard I will try to post more frequently I promise.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The Day of the Triffids

I recently spent a great afternoon at Mal's house watching the whole of the 1980's BBC adaptation of John Wyndham's 'The Day of the Triffids'. Despite my youth (!) I remember watching this with my mother (I think she quite liked John Duttine!) and bering terrified. Shortly after I read the novel, which my father had an old Penguin edition of. I've bought a new copy in recent years as his fell apart from subsequent rereadings! I love this story. The TV show really captured the sense of isolation and menace. I particularly liked how no one seems to think that the triffids constitute a threat to the survivors until it's too late....

However, something about walking, talking, killing plants hits me on a 'primal fear' level - yes, I find them really scary; hiding behind the sofa as well as a cushion scary. After watching it I had to walk home through some overgrown grassland.... I walked considerably faster than usual! Mal, bless him, keeps phoning me and making that triffid noise down the phone....at least I think it's Mal....

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Father's Day

As you may know, last Sunday was Father's Day. In recent years this has been a quietly sad day for me as I tend to think about my father who passed away far too early. Having Ellie and becoming a father myself somehow intensified this sadness; I think because my father didn't get to meet Ellie.

However, this year Ellie was completely aware that there is a special day for daddies. For some reason this excited her tremendously and her excitement was incredibly infectious! Mummy helped her make a beautiful card and she was part of an ever-widening conspiracy to give me a boardgame as a gift. For the days leading up to the special day she could barely contain her excitement. She revealed to me that I was getting a game called "number five". (It turned out it was copy 5 of 300 of the game Jack has just published, It's Alive!)

Ellie was really excited about bringing me breakfast in bed... and she insisted on helping me eat it! She gave me hugs and kisses frequently throughout the day unprompted! All in all we had a lovely, relaxed, loving day.

I toasteds my father quietly and privately and I still lament his much too early deaparture. But this year it was a day of gladness, not sadness; a day for me and my daughter, who my father would have adored.

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T- shirts

My favourite slogans on T-shirts seen recently are-

"I'm blogging this!"

"I'm only wearing black until they invent something darker!"

"Wood for sheep?" (not as strange as it sounds if you are familiar with the boardgame Settlers of Catan!)



Hello everyone!
I'm sorry but I've had a bit of a break from blogging. I can't explain why really - I just haven't fancied sitting down at the keyboard for the last two months. However, that has now changed.

My "illness" continues to be a minor inconvenience (well, major if you factor in not driving or earning money!). On a day to day level I am completely used to it now. The absences rarely annoy (only when I'm showering, shaving or doing anything with boiling water are they problematic, oh or walking!). The memory loss is hard to quantify but if I remember more than 50% of the previous day then I'm doing well. The big frustration here is that rather than 'losing' huge swathes of time I seem to forget little bits here and there. This makes following TV shows, novels, knitting patterns etc rather interesting. (Reading a novel recently I couldn't understand why the main character didn't appear for a hundred pages.... I backtracked and discovered he had died in the twenty pages I read the previous day!). The cognitive changes I still find hardest to deal with, mainly because most of the time they are hard to spot. Retaining and managing new information is still an uphill struggle. Thinking through problems and processes is still harder than it once was - although I can follow recipes again relatively easily.

Lisa is still being really supportive (as is Ellie!). I'm sure she must feel frustrated some of the time but she doesn't show it. We've imlemented all the coping mechanisms that we seem to need and we are merrily getting on with life!


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The problem with fantasy literature....

My favourite novel is undoubtedly The Lord of the Rings. I greatly admire what Tolkien achieved in conceiving and writing it. However, he also sort of created the genre oft referred to as "epic fantasy". Over the years I've read many novels falling into this category, I guess in the hope of finding something that hits me in the same way as LOTR does. As a genre fantasy writing has become phenomenally cliched and rarely displays much originality. Tolkien is not really to blame, however, but his imitators should maybe try to do things differently!

Here is a list of the most common epic fantasy cliches that I can remember:

  1. You can't contain an epic fantasy in one novel. Oh no... you need three. It's almost always three. Often you could have cut out the crap and have had one good novel (well, often a novella).
  2. There's always a map at the front. It will often contain every type of landscape found on earth but compressed into a small area. How would that climate work?!? Geographic and geological features often occur in unlikely or impossible places. There is rarely any truly origianl landscape; you have to shift genres to Sci-fi to find 1000' tall trees or mountains floating on seas of gas....
  3. The 'world' of the novel is almost always 'quasi-medieval'. That makes it easy for any twit who's seen an Orlando Bloom movie to be able to picture the landscape. Unless they've only seen that crap one where he's a boxer. Quasi - medieval means there will be knights, lords, a feudal system, swords, bow and arrows, small villages, larger market towns, and impressive cities often with big boats in them (to transport our hero to a new life of course). Things you'll remember from school basically, just like the author did.
  4. There will usually be elves, dwarves, men and some sort of goblinoids... who are "evil". Elves are always smug, arrogant gits who are superhumanly strong and are usually immortal... so that they can't be arsed to recreate. Therefore elves are usually diminshing in numbers. Dwarves tend to live under mountain ranges and have Welsh accents (okay maybe that's just me and Pratchett!). They usually don't get on with elves due to something someone once said about our Sharon or something similar. Dwarf women rarely make an appearance. The hero will usually come from the newest race - man. How man has survived when he is so cloddishly dense and physically puny is a mystery; sometimes it's their strength of numbers (elves take note!) or their adaptability.
  5. Men will usually exist in geographic groups whose appearance/manner/ mode of warfare/ love of drinking will feel strangely familiar. To make us feel at ease in this new fantasy world the writer (and I use this term generously) has plundered history to give us stereotypes we feel familiar with, and that he could remember from school. Vikings therefore crop up a fair bit (well they're such good fun), Romans and Greeks make a few appearances as do Machiavellian style traders and politicians. There's sometimes some plains indians and orientals thrown in for variety. That people with technology's separated by centuries can co-exist (not to mention the elves and dwarves) truly is a work of fantasy.
  6. The aforementioned hero is usually a lowly farm boy, baker's apprentice, peasant, whatever. He usually follows one of two paths; he may discover he has strange magical powers, for which he is ridiculed by the bumpkins, and so has to flee the only life he has known (which has been fairly crap up until this point) or he accidentally gets thrust into the path of great events and turns out to be a diamond in the rough.
  7. The hero will always encounter a stranger, be he a storyteller, wandering peddler or deranged loony. He will smooth the rough diamond or tutor the lad in how to use his powers discretely and safely depending on which plot we're following.
  8. This stranger will inevitably turn out not to be a wandering popcorn salesman but either a great wizard or a great warrior. He will usually have a beard (symbol of wisdom, except for dwarves for whom it is a symbol of... well... being a dwarf). He may also carry a hidden artefact of great power - a staff or suspiciously unadorned sword, or a moustache comb.
  9. A lot of epic fantasy contains magic. This is usually less fun and more irritating than it sounds. Few writers have employed magic that doesn't come with consequences (to my mind that would be the only fun sort). Oh no. In fact most magic users seem to spend most of their time rigorously not using magic. This is because with great power comes great responsibility. Or a need to remember a shed load of complex spells (a bit much for our lowly bumpkin hero). Often it requires jsut as much effort to do something with magic as to do it manually. Who thought that one up? Or, using magic alerts other magically-sentient beings to your precise location - a bit like a mental flare gun. Sometimes characters are allowed to use magic for safe, mundane tasks, but that's hardly fun.
  10. Religion sometimes makes an appearance, but a lot of writers choose to give it a wide birth. The best ones practice human sacrifice, often on a grand scale, but most are more nature-loving and are based on sound Christian morals. How sad is that? Come on, it's fantasy, live a little. Why isn't there a race in just one novel who worship ferrets, or frogs or have banned underpants as they are offensive unto their God?
  11. Languages. Tolkien's world was created from its languages upwards. He was a very clever man and so his languages had their own history and evolution which prompted him to create the history of their speakers. Oh, and it was so detailed you can believe it is real quite easily. Everyone else pretty much just copies this a bit. It's often just embarrassing. You get far more accents in epic fantasy than in any other form of fiction (apart from French language novels I expect). There are usually more acutes, graves and circumflexes than you'd find in a dictionary. Inever know how to pronounce them but it doesn't really matter as the bits written in a made up language are usually outstandingly crap.
  12. Fantasy writers mst spend ages dreaming up unearthly sounding names for all their myriad characters. But every so often one slips through the net; however you spell it it's still Kolyn, and its still Ny-gel!
  13. There might be dragons. They can usually talk, are very clever and often quite decent sorts. They tend to have been misunderstood and thus virtually wiped out. If there is a dragon there's a 95% chance he's the last one. He'll probably make friends with our hero. After a misunderstanding in which he comically almost roasdts him alive.
  14. There is usually an evil advisor stood near a good, benign monarch. He usually has spies which strikes me as quite sensible. He may have dabbled in magic, but not being a bumpkin from Clodsville he has been drawn to the powers of evil - it has better PR than the forces of good.
  15. War is usually looming. This was often true of the medieval world (not much for knights to do before TV came along) so it's hardly surprising that everyone can't get along when you add in the dwarves, elves, goblinoids and the dragon.
  16. If there are battles they are usually brutally described. Two months after first holding a sword, our hero will be wielding it like a battle-hardened war veteran. But that's usually because he isn't really a bumpkin at all! He will probably have royal blood coursing through his veins (which make his indecent thoughts about the inevitable feisty princess okay.... unless she turns out to be his sister). Of course, he is rarely welcomed with open arms (he still has the odour of the farm clinging to his peasant rags) but has to demonstrate his nobility .
  17. Most of these novels are aimed at teenage boys/young men. That means they have girls in... and sometimes even sex...or the suggestion that there might be some sex somewhere between the pages. It's not really necessary but it makes a change....
  18. Women are usually poorly written. Tolkien just didn't bother and countless others should have followed his example. Instead we have a host of identical elven princesses - cold and aloof; strong, independent women who no man dare marry (or buy depending on the culture - well, borrowed culture); seething, beautiful but twisted-inside queens locked in a loveless marriage made for strategic/dynastic reasons. She usually poisons someone. Or sleeps with her brother.
  19. Kings always go hunting and something untoward will often happen. Sometimes this will involve a wild boar.
  20. There will always be one nobleman who is harshly moral, another who is strict but fair, and one who has gluttonous tastes in all things.

When you have finished reading all three volumes you will have not a sense of achievemnt, satisfaction or even wonder. Instead you will be left feeling as if you've read it all before. Don't worry, you have!


Chronicles of a Stay at Home Dad #7

Ellie finally got to go on a dragon hunt! I made a giant dragon head without her knowing and placed it on top of the garden shed. I placed the dragon we had made together in Ellie's wendy house. Her toy green plastic dragon sat on a garden step, whilst the similar red one hid by the trampoline. I hid my Nazgul's Winged Beast model (!) in her pop-up castle tent. I drew a map of the garden with strange names for features such as "the Geranium Jungle" and "the Trampoline of Terror". The wendy house became a mountain cave and the back step became "the Step of Mystery". The dragons were marked with red crosses. Ellie donned her armour and, with me for protection, she ventured into the garden. It took her nearly forty minutes to find all 5 dragons. She was great at "hitting" them with her sword. The one on the shed initially terrified her (boy, did I feel like a bad parent!) but then she asked me to lift her up. She prodded it with her sword to establish that it wasn't real and then proceeded to whack it repeatedly with her "sword" whilst laughing. Great fun.

At the weekend we managed to attend the York Carnival. Ellie really enjoyed Chris the Magician and a man walking on stilts. She particularly loved the company of friends and had a great afternoon. My favourite moment came with the Mayor's Balloon Launch.... when many of the red balloons became trapped in the grasping branches of the nearby trees.... it was quite funny really!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Morris Dancing

In the last few days I have twice endured Morris dancing. I have never particularly enjoyed the spectacle of gentlemen wearing short trousers and bells prancing about with hankies or hitting sticks together, all to the accompaniment of that most horrendous of instruments - the accordion. No, I'm not a fan. I've never really seen the point of it. I know it's a refined version of old fertility dances common in agrarian cultures etc but still... it seems a bit daft! It has also always made me feel uncomfortable. I thought this was because if you take away the bells, sticks, hankies, hats and garlands then you're left with how most men look when dancing. But yesterday I realised what actually made me uncomfortable. Most men engaged in any form of dancing look vaguely idiotic (apart from the gifted few and those who have shelled out for lessons) but they do it in the, often misplaced, hope of attracting members of the opposite sex. A mating ritual if you will. But there is absolutely no way on our beautiful, resplendent planet, that any female can find Morris dancers even remotely sexy/ appealing/ likely to be good mates. Therefore they must do it simply because they enjoy it (and the beer). Now, how scary is that? They live amongst us.....


French For Fidgets

Ellie and I have recently started attending 'French for Fidgets' with her best friend, Elen, and her dad, Jason. It is great fun. Lucy, the organiser/teacher, puts an incredible amount of effort into the classes. Every week she has baked biscuits (shaped like animals) which the kids love. Many of her props are beautifully homemade - I particularly like the happy and sad wooden spoons! She has printed out and laminated all the song lrics in French and English. Every week there is a structured art/craft activity which goes down well after the singing and games.

I think Ellie was initially a little shy around the new people but seemed to understand that most of the speaking was in French; Lucy says something in French first, then in English, then in French a few more times. But after a few weeks Ellie is tentatively saying, bonjour, au revoir, merci, s'il vous plait, oui, non, j'ai trois ans, je m'appelle Ellie, ca va bien and I've heard her singing "cinq fromages dans le fromagerie..." and "sur ma bicyclette..."! She's even tried teaching her peers at nursery to count in French and say bonjour.

Lucy has put a lot of effort into promoting the classes. She firmly (and correctly) believes that the approach to learning languages within our education system is all wrong. Young children below 5 can learn several languages as easily as they can learn one. This ability decreases as the child grows. By ages 10-11 its an upward struggle but this is traditionally when children first start formally learning other languages. It's crazy when you think about it! The saddest thing is though, as Lucy says, she encounters much resistance from parents of 2 or 3 year olds who think their child will fail to master English if they are confused by the presence of a second language. This simply is not the case. It is noticeable that the 2 year olds at the class pick up new words in French quicker than Ellie and Elen, and yet their Englsih is about where you would expect.

We are not expecting that Ellie will be fluent in French by the time she's five or anything, but at least she is starting out appreciating that their are other languages and cultures with their own songs to sing. She enjoys the company and the activities and therefore it is a good thing.

I strongly recommend language courses of this type to toddlers everywhere! It's good for parents to brush up on their skills to!

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Definition of 'sad'

Imagine..... a quiet road.... a pedestrian crossing.....both sides lined with parents with pushchairs or holding the hands of eager toddlers.... everyone is waiting for the green man to appear...... he doesn't...... time passes...... toddlers become restless....... nobody moves - no parent wants to be the first to imply that it's okay to cross when the red man is still lit up..... the road is clear but still no parent wants to be the first to yield and traumatise a horde of kids instilled with a Pavlovian sense of safety.... the road still clear.... no one yet moves.... did anyone actually press the button? Apparently not.


Top tip for parents

I have found a fantastic site for kids who like Disney movies (I suppose that's most kids!). Here you can print off cards and calendars featuring all your favourite Disney characters. You can even print them out in black and white to colour in yourself. There's even dress up characters you can print and cut out..... which I'm sure Ellie will love in a year or so. Great fun and it's all free!

Go on, go and have a look.... you know you want to:http://disney.go.com/magicartist/coloring/index.html

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