Let's rock: Summer music festival camping essentials

With the annual summer music festivals underway this month, there's a feast of major hard rock and pop events coming up: 'Glastonbury Festival' (25th June), 'Sonisphere' & 'Wireless Festivals' (4th July), 'V Festivals' (16th August) and 'Reading & Leeds Festivals' (22nd August) so here are some really great and useful pieces of kit that will make outdoor survival a little more comfortable and enjoyable having not to worry about anything apart from which band to see next ...and don't to forget to check out these websites for 1'000's more super festival and camping ideas!

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Vango Ark 300

3 Person Tent - £100

The main qualities you need for a festival tent is something light to carry and easy to put up. You need to find that premium space quickly otherwise you'll end up pitching by a walkway or even worse by the toilets! As the Vango Ark 300 has only 2 poles it can be put up in less than 5 minutes but has all the usual high spec that you'd expect from Vango tents, plus helpful extras such as colour coded poles and reflective webbing picks if you're erecting your tent in poor light. The Gothic arch styling not only looks cool but gives this 3 man tent a little extra height and the large 2 metre wide window at the front gives you ease of access and plenty of social interaction when chilling out with friends.For full specifications of this compact, but spacious tent, please visit: www.vango.co.uk 

Craghoppers Mantua

Packaway Jacket - £50

The 'Mantua' packaway jacket from Craghoppers is a perfect example of what type of waterproof coat is necessary for our very changeable British festival weather. Stored neatly in a stuff sack until required, this breathable jacket can be simply thrown on with cuffs, hems and peaked hood fully adjustable tight to your body to keep out the wind and rain. The Velcro fastening storm flap makes for a tight seal on the main zip and with additional zips on the pockets makes it more secure for valuables not to be pinched by busy hands!

These handy packaway jackets are available in black or pink, for more information, please visit: www.craghoppers.com 

Feetz

Pocket Wellies - £9.99

If you want to risk not taking wellies as you've got far too much to carry then theseingenious 'Feetz' pocket overshoe wellies are just perfect for you. Launched at the end of last year with the idea that sometimes when you're out and about for a long time and caught out by the weather, you can just reach into your bag and slip these lightweight (350g), water and mud-proof wellies over your shoes. These aren't just carrier bags you shove over your feet, but well designed reusable footwear with hard non-slip soles and drawstring tops to give you maximum protection from the wet stuff.

These handy (feety) pocket wellies are available 4 colours and various sizes, for more information, please visit: www.feetz.co.uk 

iWalk Extreme 10'000 Duo

Back-Up Battery - £59.99

The 'iWalk Extreme' rechargeable back-up battery was designed for the iPod, iPhone and iPad but is compatible with all USB smartphones and devices. With two charging points and big on power you may want to keep this charger a secret from your friends otherwise they'll be wanting to share! The '10'000 Duo' (10'000mAh) has handy charging lights to show you how much percentage of power you have left and an LED flashlight to help you out in the dark. Finding the right cables isn't a problem either as this sleek looking battery comes complete with Apple and mini USB charging cables.

Fore more information and other great products please visit: www.iwalkuk.com 

OnePiece

Camouflage Onesie - £129

OnePiece onesie's are simply awesome and you may excused thinking they're not particularly cheap, but you're paying for high end fashion and superior quality! I tried out the 'Camouflage' Onesie and it just made me smile, thinking this is categorically perfect for lounging and chilling out in and I even look pretty cool too! OnePiece Onesie's are unisex and made from premium supersoft cotton with attention to nice details such as embroidered branding which is also included on the strong canvas zip pulls on the pockets. The front 2-way zipper is a must especially if you're a man and having a few festival drinkies (you don't need to be a genius to work it out) and it even zips the hood shut tight - great for getting some early shut eye on bright lazy summer mornings. These onesie's of course aren't just stylish and practical but very warm and comfortable too, take a look and treat yourself from the great range available at: www.onepiece.co.uk

Pacsafe Walletsafe

Travel Wallet - £34.99

Outfox the pickpocket with the cunning 'Pacsafe Walletsafe'. This brilliant tri-fold travel wallet can be attatched to an item of your clothing such as a belt loop via a sturdy metal chain connected to a twist lock dog-clip. There's plenty of compartments for your credit cards, paper money and concert tickets, plus a window for your photo ID so you can get served at the beer tent! There's even a zipped compartment on the outside for all your loose change, so for that extra piece of mind this seems to be a no brainer at a busy outdoor festival.

The Pacsafe Walletsafe is available with 100's of other great outdoor products from: www.safariquip.co.uk

Kelty LumaPivot

360-degree Directional Lantern - £55

I you need light and lots of it, this 'LumaPivot' 360-degree directional lantern by Kelty will give you 60 lumens for 12hrs or 110 lumens for 6hrs and it's not just the power from the rotating LED panels that makes this lamp special but the adjustability of the light output. Lightweight enough to pack easily this lantern can be placed stable on a surface or be hung by the handle with each panel pivoting 180° and rotating 360° for customised illumination. Not only is this lamp useful for your personal needs, but if you have a gazeebo, great for social gatherings.

The LumaPivot requires 6AA cell batteries, for more information please visit: www.smgeurope.com 

Veho 360 Degrees

M4 Bluetooth Speaker - £35.99

I must say I'm impressed by this amazing little bluetooth speaker from 'Veho', when I first saw it I thought it couldn't possibly sound any good due to it's size but how wrong was I? This ultra small 360 rechargeable 2 x 2.2 watt speaker is absolutely ideal for travel or camping and plays music either by line-in, micro SD card or blutooth up to a 20 metre range! Smart looking and well designed, the simple volume and track controls make it easy enough for any technophobe to use. Sound quality isn't just loud, but crisp on all levels of music, I should know as first tested it on Pink Floyd then Iron Maiden!

Fore more information and other great products from Viking please visit: www.viking-direct.co.uk

Coleman Pathfinder

Lightweight Sleeping Bag - £59.99

Another slightly bulky item to carry are sleeping bags, but the 'Coleman Pathfinder' has been developed with this in mind when it comes to storage and travel. Firstly this lightweight mummy style sleeping bag comes in a clever dry bag with compression valve, so you can push all the air out when repacking and keeps it dry in the wettest conditions. The sleeping bag itself has ample room but feels cosy - the large size fits me well and I'm 6ft and a tad overweight! Made from 3 different layers of Coletherm® hypoallergenic micro insulation it offers great protection from the elements and with the pull strings around inner body and hood, you will really fill snug as a bug!

For more information on this and other Coleman camping products please visit: www.coleman.eu 

Olpro

Beach Hut - £99

Now you've got your main sleeping tent but what about this 'Beach Hut' from Olpro for a good festival idea? If you're going to a festival with a group of friends and you've only got small tents then why not club together and invest in this funky 'pop-up' hut to get changed or washed in for that extra privacy (especially the ladies). This lightweight hut transforms from an 80cm disc in it's carry bag into a 2m² cube and can be erected in seconds! Fully waterproof with an attached ground sheet, this attractive panel effect beach hut comes with a roll up front door and rear window, plus being UV 35+ will protect you from the sun when you're hanging out back at the tents with your mates.

The Olpro Beach Hut comes in red, blue or yellow. For more information and pictures please visit: www.olproshop.com

VARTA Indestructible Torch and Portable Power range

£9.99-£29.99

For a powerful, reliable torch that's not too bulky the 'Indestructible Torch' from VARTA is just the light source to carry in your back pack for when you return to where you thought your tent might be! Being water and shock resistant this robust torch won't let you down when you most need it; rummaging around between guy ropes when you've had a few festival drinks. Two power modes, 140 lumins and 40 lumins for power saving means you you've got the power when you need it and when it's time to chill out in the tent you're battery won't be zapped.

VARTA also offer a wide range of powerpacks ideal for instant charging for your mobiles and tablets. These are great because their so small, you can pack them and forget about them until needed in an emergency. The Mini Powerpack for example which is compatible with all micro USB and Apple (30-pin) can give you 1hr of extra talktime whilst the 'AlkalinePowerpack' is slightly more heavy duty and can give you 7hrs extra talktime with 100% phone charge.

For more information on these and other VARTA power products please visit: www.varta-consumer.co.uk

Follow mark on twitter: twitter.com/OurFamilyLifeUK

Father's Day: A trip down memory lane.. my dad's love of rubbish cars

As Fathers Day is fast approaching, it got me thinking of all my dear dad's sub-standard family automobiles we had to endure as kids, if you're a child of the seventies and eighties this may relate to you, so please read on...

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Foreword by Mark Jennings

Along with my younger brother and older sister we had a good education and a nice house, but the family budget would never allow for an expensive brand new shiny car. To be honest, even if my dad could afford one he'd still probably elect to get a bargain basement banger to run us all around in. His attraction with pretty British sports cars such as the Jaguar XK series or Austin Healey, definitely didn't rub off when choosing the latest family car. I'm probably being a little harsh, but when you're a pubescent young man pushing your dad's clapped out jalopy around a major roundabout just as the local secondary school kicks out for the day, was just one of many experiences any teenager would want the earth to swallow them whole!

The family holiday was always an experience. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the actual holiday, but getting there was always stressful especially for the poor man driving with three argumentative kids in the back and nagging wife in the front, not knowing whether the car would actually make it there, let alone back.

Living on the south coast it was always a cheaper alternative to drive to southern France rather than flying. So we'd jam pack the car full of mainly my mothers clothes, neatly stuffing toilet rolls in places that would easily fall out on the road as soon as the boot was opened in an emergency, then head off to the nearest port just about making it off the drive without pulling the rear axle off with all the weight!

Anyway, that's enough from me. I'll now leave you with the humorous but audacious history of my dad's rubbish car collection in his own words (some names and local places have been censored to protect the innocent, or guilty). Happy Father's Day dad!

By Byron Jennings (aka Dad)

"I will try to remember all the cars I’ve owned and cherished, but some details, inevitably, are veiled in the mists of antiquity, and the chronology may not be exactly correct, but here goes...

The first was in about 1973, a 1959 Austin Cambridge, which cost £50. It was listed as the A55 Mk ll, with a 1489cc engine and large tail fins. They were good old cars – comfortable, easy to maintain and with a cavernous boot. It wouldn’t do much more than 65mph, but there were many fewer motorways in those days anyway.

Doing all my own servicing (which was easy on cars like that – all the engine parts were instantly recognisable, all your tools fitted, and so on) and buying spares – even including an entire exhaust system - from the scrappy, I managed to keep it running for a few years. Eventually, the underbody rot became uneconomical to repair and I sold it to a British Rail porter at the Docks for banger racing. (He did the banger racing at a rally cross track, not at the Docks).

I think my next foray into automotive whimsy was the royal blue 2-door Mk l Ford Cortina. This cost the princely sum of £25 and was acquired from a copper I knew who lived in a nearby town – his son had been using it, but had moved on to something more modern. I can’t remember how long this lasted, but not all that long.

I remember, one morning on my way to work, I was driving through the town Square when I was stopped by a rather pretty young WPC who informed me that the offside front wing was hanging off, and that it was dangerous. I was able to reply – in complete honesty – ‘It was ok when I left home a few minutes ago, officer. I’ll fix it in a minute.’ When I got to work, I borrowed a drill from the marine workshop and duly secured the wing with a few self-tapping screws. Shortly afterwards, the engine started to burn oil at a horrendous rate, and, rather than go to the expense of buying the expensive, new stuff from Halfords, I got the workshop manager at the local Renault garage to allow me to help myself to the contents of the ‘used oil’ barrel in the corner of the workshop, which I was getting through at the rate of about a gallon a week.

One morning when you were at school, I told your brother that I would take him for a ride (this must have been about 1980, when he would have been 4). We got about 2 miles when the engine blew up, and we had to walk home. I think I arranged a tow and sold it for a fiver. When I spoke later to one of the mechanics at Renault, and asked him exactly what went into the ‘used oil’ barrel, he replied, ‘Oh, everything goes in there, mate. Engine oil, brake fluid, diesel, the lot.’ Not exactly Castrol GTX, then.

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You’ve forgotten the bronze FD Vauxhall Victor SL200! I bought this for £495 as a part-exchange clearance bargain from a dealer (long since gone). This was by far the fastest car I’d owned up until then – it would do a ton (just) and had quite decent acceleration. My colleagues (especially the younger, female ones) quite enjoyed being given a lift in this, as they said it reminded them of Starsky and Hutch. Unfortunately, one very icy evening whilst on detached duty at Birmingham Airport, I managed to wrap it around a lamp-post on the A45 at Sheldon. This must have been very early 80’s, as Birmingham Airport was then still operating out of the former site at Elmdon, near Solihull, not near the NEC, as we now know it.

I think next came the pale blue Ford Zephyr Mark lV 2,495 cc V6. This was bought from one of your Uncle's colleagues in the navy at Portsmouth for £150. Sitting inside was like sitting at home on a luxurious armchair, but, despite its engine size, the performance was absolutely hopeless. It was also unfeasibly long, and you virtually had to find two parking spaces together if you wanted to park it anywhere. The bonnet was about as long as a snooker table. Also, it was the first car I had known with an automatic choke: I was blissfully unaware of the fuel being used when the engine was cold until, one sub-zero morning on my way to work for an early shift, I ran out of petrol whilst reversing out of the drive. I had a gallon of fuel in a can in the boot, and put this in the tank, thinking that it would be enough to last me a couple of days. I ran out of petrol again 3 miles away! That meant, when the engine was cold and the automatic choke was fully operational, I was getting about 4mpg (about the same as a F1 car, but without the g-force). The realisation of this, allied to (once again) the dreaded underbody rot, as well as a slipping clutch, made me decide that it was time to move on.

All the while, I had a friend called Andy McBride, a heavily-bearded Dundonian (who, sadly, died in his forties), who lived in the same town. Although he had no driving licence, he had bought a Simca 1100 Special for £450 from a work colleague. This had a tuned 1300 engine and was very sporty. Andy’s idea was, that I should keep the car at home, service it and use it while I was looking for a replacement for the Zephyr; I was supposed to give him driving lessons whenever we were both free. Unfortunately, Andy was a (functioning) alcoholic, and he was always far too drunk to get behind a wheel – I never did get to give him a lesson. After a few months, I had been using the car for so long, I felt guilty, and offered to buy it from him for the price that he had paid. He accepted, and insisted on cash – not because he was afraid that a cheque might bounce, but because a cheque payment into his bank account would simply get absorbed by his overdraft, and needed cash to pay his bills. I saw him at the end of that week, and asked him if he had managed to pay all his bills. He had been so unused to having so much dosh on him, he had p***** the lot up against the wall, poor sod.

I ran the Simca for quite a while, and it was fairly decent. The water pump gave up on one occasion, and I managed to find another on an upside-down vehicle in a farmyard a mile away. I never did find out who it belonged to. Also, the gearbox gave up once on the way back from Tenterden – I had to drive in 3rd all the way home, slipping the clutch, and it took an entire weekend to fit a replacement. I found one at a scrap yard (long-since closed) up a lane near the ambulance station for £10: I had to remove the nearside front wing and drop the front suspension to access it! Do you remember Raj? He, too, had a Simca 1100, which he left outside Chris's (another work colleague) garage while he was working on a 3-month posting at the British High Commission in Delhi. It was rotting away by the hour – Chris had to go out with a dustpan and brush every day to sweep up the rust that had fallen from it during the night – but it had quite new tyres on it. I borrowed these to put on my car so that it would pass its MOT, and never did get round to putting them back again. Raj never seemed to wonder how his tyres had become so bald whilst the car was sitting in a driveway for three months. I took this car on another spell of detached duty at Birmingham Airport (spring 1984 – the new terminal opened while I was there), but it was, by now, getting well past its sell-by date. Those Simcas were made of notoriously rubbish metal, and the mechanicals were starting to play up as well.

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On the motorway to Brum, I started to lose power – only slightly, at first, but gradually more and more until I was forced to pull in on the hard shoulder. I looked under the bonnet to be greeted by a strong smell of petrol and the sight of a fuel pipe with a large hole half-way along its length. Luckily, the windscreen washer used piping of the same calibre, which I was able to adapt and fit (after all, you can still drive with a dirty windscreen).

Whilst in Birmingham, the alternator packed up, and I had to put the battery on charge every night (I had had the foresight to take a battery charger with me). And, on one of my frequent visits to Ludlow on my days off, the c/v joints on the steering decided to give up the ghost. That was when I bought the Escort estate – for £150, from a garage in Sandpits Road. It had been used as a delivery hack, and was indescribably filthy, but it cleaned up ok. It had a very noisy gearbox and the speedo didn’t work; I found another gearbox at a scrap yard near Corve Bridge - I persuaded the owner to accept the Simca as payment in lieu of cash, but only after assuring him that it had a fully working radio! I managed to swap the gearbox over (at Woofferton, with the use of an inspection pit) in exactly one hour. Contrast that with the same job on the Simca! As you know, the Escort served us very well for many months – we went to St Jean de Monts and back, for example, as well as to Ilfracombe with your Uncle and his family, if you remember.

Eventually, the dreaded tinworm set in with a vengeance around the top of the MacPherson struts, and I sold it for spares for £25 to a colleague. I then bought the Avenger estate (£175, I think) from some shyster in the next town. It never was much cop, really, although it did get us to Ludlow and back at least once: I remember the thermostat on the electric fan packed up, so I wired it up so that the fan was blowing all the time. I did it so that there was a connection outside the car, just under the front bumper, so that you could disconnect it when it was parked! Once, whilst driving back home a Nickolls truck, passing the other way, dropped a stone from its load and shattered the driver’s window. It made a noise like a bullet – scared the sh*t out of me! I thought I’d been shot by a sniper. Such was the condition of the car by then, I never bothered to fix it. To avoid the (highly unlikely) possibility of theft, whenever shopping in town, I used to park with the driver’s door tight up against the wall in the car park at the shopping centre, and exit by the passenger door. I sold this for £25 as well, to the yard that there used to be in the town centre.

The Peugeot you’re thinking of was, in fact, a white Toyota Corolla E30 Wagon, which cost £500, from an old couple near the local hospital (the old chap had got beyond driving, I’m afraid). I can’t remember too much about this little beauty except that the engine blew up when I was driving to the docks for a nightshift, having dropped off Aunt Dot in Sevenoaks. Btw, I think it was the Toyota which we took to St Tropez and back, which was a fair hike!

Then it was the turn of the Burgundy Morris Oxford Series Vl, (£190) which was similar to the Cambridge but had smaller tail fins and a 1622cc engine. It was an automatic – Paul McKenna (my colleague, not the illusionist) had bought it so that he could still drive after breaking his left leg playing football. As with the Cambridge (they were practically identical, mechanically) it was very easy to work on. The only slight problem was, being an automatic, you couldn’t bump-start it; and, although there was a starting handle, someone had replaced the front cross-member with one from a later model – it had no hole for the starting handle to go through! I once had a slight altercation with a pick-up truck at the village roundabout – nothing serious, but when I examined the front wing, I observed that the slight bump had caused a large hole to appear, and that, lying in the road, was a piece of chicken wire surrounded by a pile of burgundy-coloured dust, that had once been filler. One Arthur Daley-type MOT later, this, too, was sold for banger-racing, for £40.

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We then had the Volvo 244, another automatic. Also very comfortable, very thirsty, and not much performance. I bought this from friends of your mothers religious friends for £900, and only later discovered that the heater didn’t work. I didn’t dare complain, as they’d have probably set some God on me. It was during the ownership of this car that I managed to lose my licence, but we won’t dwell on that here.

On resumption of normal service, I noticed that the Volvo was starting to overheat badly, and as another French holiday was imminent, something else was needed, pronto. (I later sold the Volvo for £50 to a taxi driver who lived in a caravan next to the local pub). Enter the Renault 18 estate, bought from a guy not too far away for £125. This went quite fast but didn’t have very good brakes (I don’t know whether you were ever aware of that). It got us all the way to les Sables d’Olonne, but not, as you will remember only too well, back again. I don’t know whether we were weighed down with excess baggage (I still maintain that high heels and two evening dresses are not must-have items to take on a camping holiday) but it’s probably still rotting away quietly in that scrap yard near la Rochelle. All I know is, that whoever sold me that AA 5* breakdown insurance probably got the sack when the bills started rolling in..."

So as you can see your honour, I have a pretty strong case against our father. Although we love him dearly, he did absolutely nothing for our street cred when it came to the family car. However, it's these occasions that make our childhood memories; the smell of musty leather seats, cheap n' nasty lemon air freshners and Swarfega after a trip to the scrapyard in the drizzling rain. The rubbish cassette player that chewed up my new Mötley Crüe tape in 1987 and the time on holiday when the car was running so hot that when my Dad turned off the ignition the engine kept running ...but I wouldn't change it for the world!

'Good Morning?'

Have you ever had one of those mornings where everything seems to be going wrong for you, like you've done something horrendous in your past life?

Or is it just one of those things parents go through everyday? Yes of course there's far worse things happening to people all over the world, but I just had one of those mornings today that made me want to scream "Why me!"

I've had a bad back for over six weeks now - went to the doctors after four weeks and he fobbed me off with some ibuprofen. This morning I was in so much pain my wife nearly had to help me out of bed. I shuffled around getting my daughters packed lunch ready and managed to pull myself ito the shower whilst the wife rang the doctors. It's a walk in surgery first thing in the morning as it ridiculously takes weeks if you make an appointment! 10am my wife said, great, thanks I replied. I was trying to ring my mother so I didn't have to take our youngest with me (as the wife works full-time) - the probable cause of my back woes lifting him in and out of the car but couldn't get an answer.

I got to the doctors about 15mins early and checked myself in on their hi-tech computer screen fixed to the wall, and waited with my little boy who was being very well behaved at this point. 15mins went by, then 30mins, then 45mins, by this time the room was getting quite full. Why do I always get to sit next to the overly chatty person? Pleasant enough chap I suppose, but far too enthusiastic chatting away to my little boy and engaging him in 'high fives' Two young chavs, sorry.. young gentlemen strolled in wearing bobble hats demanding to see a doctor as soon as possible because he's a got a court hearing later on that day!

After an hour and Jacob now trying to escape from his pushchair and with background music from two screaming children, I noticed patients that arrived after me going in before me! I calmly walked up to reception and politely said that I'd been here an hour now and people arriving after me were being seen first. She looked at her screen and said "oh I'm sorry, you don't seem to have been checked in, I'll do that now but you'll have to wait for everyone else to go first"

My blood beginning to boil I said "you're joking aren't you", you're making me wait longer because of your mistake, I'm going next! I think she realised that wouldn't really be fair and let me go next.

After seeing the doctor and being prescribed muscle relaxants and diazepam I made my way to Hospital for some X-Rays. I walked our son back to the car and had slightly parked to the right of the parking bay deliberately so there was plenty of room for me to lift Jacob into the car, but some imbecile parked right on the line so I had to squeeze Jacob in whilst twisting my painful back in the process. I glum-fully slumped into the car seat thinking Jacob won't be able to put up with waiting again whilst I'm waiting for an X-ray so luckily by that time my mother had contacted me, she was off into town so I asked her to keep Jacob entertained whilst I go in.

After another 30mins waiting I was seen by which what I thought was a girl too young to be doing x-rays, the truth being I'm becoming an old git and everyone's starting to look younger in places of work!

She breezed through doing my x-rays seemingly knowing exactly what she was doing, bending me painfully in weird and wonderful positions with her senior x-rayologist looking on. They went around the back whilst I sat with my coat waiting for the nod for me to go. After a while the chap in charge said sorry sir we're going to have to do those all again as the junior had placed me wrong in front of the plates!

Jacob, whilst all this was going on was being treated to quavers and a kit-kat washed down with litres of squash, so he was quite happy. Dropping mother off into town, I proceeded towards Tesco to get my drugs with Jacob ...it was packed and there was a lengthy queue. "Have you any shopping to do sir?" Meaning it's going to take ages for your prescription! I made myself useful by searching for reduced meat n' veg when Jacob shouted at the top of his voice "Daddy, I'm wet!" pointing to the area so the whole shop could understand just that little bit clearer! Bugger he obviously drank too much, but I'd have to wait to change him, we were only 5mins from home and my back couldn't take going back to the car, back into baby changing etc....

On the way home, picking up a huge parcel from two doors away, I got into the house with two more blooming 'Whilst you were out..' tickets from Royal Mail! So clambering Jacob back into the car, I tried to drive up to the Post Office (60 seconds away, but I'm lazy ...and hey I've a bad back!) but there was a refuse lorry slowly making it's way past with a backlog of traffic. I eventually drove up to the Post Office and I couldn't find anywhere to park so had to drive around the block until one appeared.

No queue, hooray! The lady at the counter said to me "sorry sir, but one of these is for the main office in town" by that time I didn't care, I'd had enough of that morning and wanted the afternoon to come. I began to set off home and no word of a lie my car wouldn't start, I didn't understand why the battery wasn't flat but I was pushing the start button and nothing happened? I eventually got going and put our son into a nice dry nappy and bed, made myself a sandwich and sat down to rumble off this mornings endeavours onto the PC, but guess what? The PC wouldn't boot up! ...I hate some mornings!

Packed lunches may be off the menu: A healthier education is needed

As the stay at home dad in our family, I have the wonderful job of staggering down the stairs at 7.30am every morning to make our daughter Amber's packed lunch.

Not only does the bar have to be set high by her expectations for something awe-inspiring every single day, I also have to make sure she's getting the right amount for a balanced healthy diet.

With the news today that schools have been 'urged' to ban packed lunches by a government-commissioned school food review, I can't help feeling like we, the responsible parents are being treated like school children ourselves!

My daughter has a cooked meal every evening, anything from a Sunday roast style dinner to spaghetti on toast, but I make sure it's a balance of food she likes and something I know is healthier than just chips and nuggets every evening.

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Yes, I agree I'm not perfect, but at least I'm in control. Does having a cooked meal at school mean she'll be having two cooked meals a day, or do I have to give her sandwiches for tea?

Another reason why I'm slightly at unease with this idea is apart from not knowing what my child is eating everyday, how will I know if she's eating what we're paying for?

The teachers can't possibly observe every child to make sure they're eating their greens, not that a school child would choose vegetables if they had the chance.

And on a matter of cost, there's mention of actually lowering the prices to boost take-up. Healthy food is far too expensive to implement this and I can see cost just going up and up OR the standard of food going down and down!

Beyond doubt contracts for school dinners will go to companies that can provide the cheapest competitive prices, but at what real cost in the long run?

Surely as a responsible adult, we the parents need to be accountable for the health of our beloved children. It's just another case of the feckless spoiling it for everyone else.

If they choose to put fatty crisps, sugary fizzy drinks and chocolate bars into their kid's lunch box, that's their nonchalant decision and we should educate those parents.

Why should I have the control of what I think is best for my children taken away by the uncaring parent and totally out of touch government?

A 6th Sense from Whirlpool

"..hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face..erm, not for me they don't!"

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

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Upon choosing a new machine, we wanted to try out a reliable, energy efficient model and when you think of quality kitchen appliances, Whirlpool are among the best in the world. The ADP 8693 is a part of the Whirlpool Green Generation that's not only energy efficient, but water efficient too using just 11 litres of water in a typical wash giving it an A++ rating.

This large capacity appliance holds up to 13 place settings and I was surprised when I overloaded it with my Sunday dinner remains how crisp and clean the results were. You can adjust both racks so you can arrange your crockery to suit your needs, I particularly liked the adjustable flaps in the top rack for my wine glasses that were always too tall and kept falling over or breaking in my previous washer.

Whirlpool prides itself on their exclusive 6th SENSE PowerClean technology which senses and then adapts to measure how dirty the water is, saving you up to 50% on energy and time.

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Having our last dishwasher for such a long time, I was very stuck in my ways - probably out of repetition, so I was slightly apprehensive on re-educating myself on something I used automatically. I was instantly put at ease by the uncomplicated control panel and features and was glad of the LED wash time display with digital countdown indicator for that all important advice on the 8 different wash programs.

For an extra thorough clean for really baked on food (eg: a shepherds pie), there's the option for Whirpool's unique PowerClean jet system which uses 28 water jets at the back of the lower rack to blast away any stubborn dried-on food without using any extra water.

As well as being intelligent and super efficient, this Whirlpool is very hygienic for your family too, it's antibacterial hygiene wash and rinse kills 99.9% of all bacteria and even has a self cleaning wash filter for continuous optimum performance. I found this a very quiet (about 42dB, so ideal for open plan living) and a low energy machine that doesn't compromise on cleaning and drying even on the rapid 30 minute wash and I couldn't believe the intensive wash, my glasses came out looking brand new and have never been so clean!

Priced at £449. For full product specifications and information, please visit: www.whirlpool.co.uk

 

Kids love cycling: Get on your bike this summer

Need help choosing the right kids bikes? Save £££'s online and instore from Halfords. Stay at Home dad, Mark Jennings, reviews 2 children's bikes.

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

As it seems that finally the British weather is starting to warm up, there's no greater way to get the kids fit having fun in the garden by updating their old cycles with the latest great models and fantastic offers at Halfords. Our 9 year old daughter, Amber, is growing up fast and our 2 year old son, Jacob, is getting more and more boisterous and mobile. So when I checked on the bike situation in the shed, Amber's was far too small and rusty, plus this would be our sons 1st proper bike. When it comes to piece-of-mind, you can always trust Halfords to deliver quality, safe products.

The cycle recommended for our maturing pre-teen was the cool looking Apollo 'Krypt' Girls Mountain Bike. Our daughter's into 'Green Day' and 'Blink-182' at the moment so she loves the Gothic-Style decals which perfectly harmonize with the metallic silver/purple paintwork. With a good spec for a childs bike the 'Krypt' boasts front suspension for a smoother ride, 18-speed 'Shimano' gears, front disc breaks for complete but careful breaking all housed on a solid steel frame with 24" wheels!

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Our daughter found this very easy to ride and with a change of gear for the grass, was whizzing around the garden in no time at all and this well made bike gave her total confidence immediately. Now when she comes home from school after her homework she asks if she can go out and play on her bike instead of her games console, so that makes us very happy!

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www.halfords.com

Our little boy's choice of bike was the adorable Apollo 'Firechief'. What budding trainee wouldn't be thrilled to get straight into the action on his wicked bright red Fire and Rescue wheels complete with with siren, megaphone and emergency tool box!

With safety in mind, there's full chain and mudguards so busy fingers don't get dirty or trapped, front and rear brakes for extra confidence and detachable stabilisers for eventually when your little one has enough firmness to try two wheels only! Our son was fearlessly straight onto this bike encouraged by the brightness and interest in the extra gadgets. It's recommended for ages 3-5 so when his little legs get a bit stronger I'm sure he'll be off in no time at all!

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Apollo Firechief Boys Bike - 12" WAS £159.99 NOW £69.99 SAVE £90.00 www.halfords.com

Helmets have become a necessity especially when it comes to the safety of our children and Halfords have got a range to suit every age and style. For our daughters bike the MET Crackerjack 'Pink Hearts' Bike Helmet goes well and is very in tune with her age group. Well fitting, It features an anti-pinch buckle, a safe-t-twist retention system for easy adjustment and an LED rear flashing light! And for our sons bike the Apollo 'Firechief & Police Patrol' Bike Helmet, with it's action and emergency scene decals makes it the perfect match. It has a dial-a-fit system so is easy to adjust without stress, adjustable straps under the chin and plenty of ventilation holes to keep them cool. He loved it so much he screamed his head of when i was time to take it off! Both helmets of course conform to EN1078 safety regulations.

 

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MET Crackerjack Bike Helmet - Pink Hearts (52-57cm) WAS £34.99 NOW £27.99 SAVE £7 www.halfords.com

Apollo Firechief & Police Patrol Bike Helmet (48-52cm) WAS £17.99 NOW £14.39 SAVE £3.60 www.halfords.com

Halfords also offer a FREE 'Bike Build & Safety Inspection' on all new bikes which you can see all about this in this short video, so you really don't need to worry about all those nuts & bolts, seat heights and tricky gear adjustments.

Prices are web exclusive - Save While You Shop on All Bikes* ?*Spend £100 save £10, Spend £200 save £20, Spend £400 save £40, Spend £600 save £60. Discount Applied in Basket. Offer ends Tuesday June 11 2013.

Kärcher puts on the pressure...

When you think of big brand names for certain products, you think of Sony for Walkman, Dyson for bag-less vacuums and Kindle for e-book readers. But even I have to admit Kärcher wasn't yet in my limited vocabulary when it came to choosing pressure washers. Don't get me wrong, I'd always new those bright yellow machines existed, but I always forgot that name!

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Alfred Kärcher invented the high-pressure cleaner in 1950, with the introduction of the 1st portable devices in the early 1980's. Kärcher originally set up his business in 1935 and in 1939 the company moved to Winnenden, Germany, where the family still has its headquarters to this day!

 

The job in hand was to clean a very large stone patio, pathway, steps and parking area, so it really would put the 'Kärcher K5.800' that was recommended for us through it's paces. With our area recently being made a drought free zone, I had piece of mind that this model features an Eco switch which reduces energy and water by 20% and with the wettest drought on record, you even have the option to source water from you garden water butt!

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Minimal set-up is required out of the box, a simple click of the wheels and handle. The only screwing required is the dosage regulator (the unit comes with detergent if you so wish to use) and once you've attached the pressure hose and spray gun you're ready to plug in, attach the water supply and off you go.

You have a choice of 3 high pressure nozzle attachments depending on your cleaning needs. The 'Vario-power spray lance' which adjusts from low to to high pressure jet with just a twist at the end is ideal for all types of cleaning. The 'Dirt-blaster lance' is a rotary nozzle lance for seriously embedded dirt which uses a more precise and powerful blast (up to 50%). And finally the 'T300 T-Racer lance', which is an extended 'broom like' lance that works like a hovercraft, with 2 rotary fan jet nozzles and encloses the water so you don't get wet! This is recommended for patios and areas you don't want splash-back, but I personally preferred the 'Dirt-blaster lance' for the majority of the work.

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Immediately on start-up, I was slightly taken back how powerful the 'K5.800' was compared to the cheaper DIY shop branded pressure washers that I've had before, maximum pressure from this unit is powerful 140 bar. The 14.5kg unit weight doesn't feel particularly heavy as it's on wheels an you don't really have to move it much as the high-pressure hose is a very generous 9 metres in length. As I mentioned you have the option for detergent with the simple 'Plug & Clean' system.

Depending on your task there's 6 detergents available that can be placed easily into the visible chamber for cleaning use on either wood or washing & waxing your car. I didn't need to use the detergent this time as the 'Dirt-blaster lance' effortlessly cut through the black embedded dirt with ease and in one afternoon I was left with a gleaming white path!

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When thinking of those bright yellow pressure washers you see in the shops, think Kärcher, the 'Rolls Royce' of cleaning systems. For all types of cleaning jobs big and small, take a look at the fantastic range of Kärcher pressure washers on-line at www.karcher.co.uk and available from all good DIY stockists. 

Pump 'n' Pitch with Vango Tents

It's been nearly 30 years since I had my first tent and was allowed to camp in my back garden. I remember emptying all the tightly packed bits and laying all the separate poles out eagerly ready for construction. Over the years, tents have become overly complicated, with their incomprehensible instructions and bendy fibre-glass poles! Not anymore so it seems with the Vango AirBeam® range of tents, which offers an advanced 'no poles' structure. I was slightly sceptical that it was so quick and easy to erect a tent in under 5 minutes, but now you can.

 

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

I tested the 2 man tent, the 'Vango AirBeam® Velocity 200' and what better place than the Hop Farm Festival at Paddock Wood, Kent. The bag that it comes in seems on the larger size for a 2 man tent (as it also houses the excellent quality hand pump), but only weighs 7.5kg and can comfortably worn over your shoulder or as I found across your back.

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Once you've pegged the four corners of the all-in-one tent (groundsheet already attached) you attach the pump to the base of each AirBeam® and inflate with only a few effortless pumps. The beauty of this apart from the speed is that if it's raining you can quickly jump in straight away before you have to complete the construction. After you've pegged the rest of the tent and guy ropes, you attach the inner tent with easy colour coded clips which takes seconds and hey presto, you're done, it's as easy as that!

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In complete honesty it probably took me about 10 minutes to erect, only because is was the first time, but would easily take less than 5 minutes now that I know what I'm doing. The only draw back to this is you've got to wait around for everyone else to put their tents up! One of the first things I noticed once the tent was up was the rigidity compared to all of the other tents around me, it was a windy day and it hardly moved. There's double entry doors for ease of access and extra ventilation on warm days that lead into a very ample porch space (enough room to even sleep 2 children) - the actual sleeping area being a large 210x140cm.

For more information and pricing of these remarkable tents, please visit vango.co.uk

Check out this cool video...