Category Archives: Daily life musings



A group of local residents has joined forces in a new fundraising initiative to turn a dilapidated playground in St Albans into a fantastic new play facility.

The Friends of Victoria Playing Field (FVPF), who organise the annual Larks in the Parks on the site, have launched a fundraising appeal via crowdfunding platform Spacehive to raise £20,000 to help fund a new playground for children of all ages.

FVPF are working in partnership with St Albans District Council who have already pledged £44,000 which will replace current equipment in the playground. The additional £20,000 will be used to improve the playground even more, including using sustainable materials on the playground.

The Friends’ aim is to extend the range and type of play equipment. This will include new features such as a multi-play activity circuit with tower, slide, climbing, balancing and interactive elements. There will also be the more traditional swings, seesaws and climbing frame.

Local dad and Friends’ member Tim Leicester says, “We are hugely enthusiastic about installing equipment which will help children develop their physical skills and fitness in a fun environment. We understand that raising this amount of money will require a major effort but we have had an excellent early response with pledges ranging from £2 to £50 in the first few days. There is a long way to go and we hope the people of St Albans and maybe further afield will support us by giving their contributions – small or large – and be part of providing an improved play facility for current and future generations.”

For more information and to donate to the project visit:

Follow the activities of the Friends on Facebook: or on Twitter: @friendsvpf

Project contact details:

Tim Leicester


mobile 07771811986


The Great Screen Time Debate : How Much Damage is Really Caused? 

* Full year spent in front of screens by age 7

* Internet creates ‘Butterfly mentality’

* Screen time for kids has damaging effect in class

* Extended screen time leads to negativity

* Children develop anxiety and ‘FOBO’

* Committed Reading replaced with skimming

* Internet cause for higher dopamine levels

With a generation that is almost completely digital and screen time being a huge debate among parents, teachers and experts, research has now shown exactly how damaging too much screen time can have. And it’s rather scary.

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman states that, by the time they are seven years old, most children born today will have spent the equivalent of a full year glued to screens, whilst the average ten-year-old has access to up to five screens at home.(1)

“By it’s very nature, the internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to actually focus for very long,” says Martina Barrett, Co-Founder of VAKS, the Hertfordshire-based Tuition company that prides itself on bringing educational support back to real people and real learning. “When children are constantly on iPads and smartphones, it’s no surprise they find it increasingly difficult to sit in a classroom and concentrate for up to an hour at a time. We are finding that children become tired quicker, their engagement with printed texts is not as great and even their motor skills are suffering from the constant use of touch screens as opposed to toys and tools that require manual manipulation.”

In response to this, VAKS has a strict No-Screen policy in all their centres – children are taught to focus on printed text, white boards and their own books. There is a heavy emphasis placed on handwriting practice, clean and formatted presentation in books and class discussion about methods and ideas, all aimed at giving young people the skills needed to interact and be effective during face-to-face interaction.

However, it’s not just children’s ability to focus that is being impacted. Research from the BBC shows that British teenagers are clocking up to six hours of screen time a day with the negative impacts starting after two hours’ viewing time. (2)

“From what we have seen, there is an unprecedented level of anxiety present in young children and teenagers today, that we believe stems from the amount of internet they use,” says Jacqui Querns, VAKS Co-Founder.

Experts in both social psychology and technological development have spoken about the phenomenon of FOBO (Fear of Being Offline) and its direct correlation with anxiety symptoms; where sufferers are compelled to constantly check their devices in order to reassure themselves that they have not somehow missed out on something. (3)

“Getting teenagers and young people off their devices is one of our main struggles. Many find it hard to concentrate for their hour-long session due to being preoccupied about their phones and if a notification goes off accidently – the whole class is derailed,” says VAKS English teacher, Louise Davidson. “The irony is that, due to online formats, children are technically reading more often these days but it’s not Committed Reading, where they sit down and properly focus on a book. They’re skimming short blocks of text and most of their information is given in the form of videos, Vines and games.”

So what is it about our devices and screens that is so compelling? Experts believe that the reason could be chemical. According to research, our reduced attention spans could be due to the effects of dopamine released in our brains as we browse the internet.

Dopamine is the chemical responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and is activated when something good happens unexpectedly. Usually linked with rewards and addictive behaviour, it is no surprise that browsing the internet often leads to a spike in our dopamine levels and therefore, spurs us on to seek another immediate high. (4)

“Constant exposure to screens is not just affecting children’s ability to learn, it is affecting their ability to process information and apply it in a meaningful way,” says Martina. “Technology is definitely the forefront of the modern world but there are still many events that require young people to focus and work methodically – whether that’s in an exam, when writing a personal statement or setting up a science experiment.”

Possibly this is why some of the Digital world’s top flyers are taking a more guarded approach when it comes to exposing their own children to technology. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs revealed in an interview in 2011 that he was a “low-tech parent” who tried to limit the amount of technology his children used at home (5) whilst Chris Anderson, the chief executive of 3D Robotics, purposefully limits his children’s exposure to devices because, “we have seen the dangers of technology first-hand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”(6)

However, many have said that, when it comes to technology, the keywords are moderation and communication. O2’s CEO Ronan Dunne has said that, “when [my daughter] was growing up, I used to talk to her regularly about what she was doing online…the digital world can be brilliant, exciting and inspirational but it’s important to encourage offline learning and activities too.”(7)

“Our recommendation would always be to limit the amount of time children spend on screens, especially before bed or after school,” says Jacqui. “In today’s world, our devices have become an immediate source of entertainment rather than tools to be used when needed. Children need to learn that their iPad is no substitute for their own brain!”

For more information on VAKS Tuition visit or call 0800 404 8172 to speak to a member of the team.



2 Ibid

3 What Obsessive Compulsive Phone Checking…, Barbara McMahon, The Times, Saturday July 18th 2015



6 Ibid


Hertfordshire’s Top-Ten (okay, 11) Favourite Half-Term Activities

kids running-2

Half-term begins this weekend and, as always, it can be a wonderful, but difficult time for families. There’s so much time at home together and it’s tough keeping the kids interested and away from the screens…and heaven forbid it rains! This said, included are several half-term ideas for kids of all ages as well as the tag-along parents. Have a look through and email me on if you have any questions or if there’s anything I’ve missed.

Holiday Travel Simplified 290415

We’ve also got a special half-term competition going to win a Sit-N-Stroll valued £289.99, so email me on with the answer to the question asked, here:



This May half term The Galleria, Hatfield’s outlet shopping centre, has plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained during the holidays.

Kids can enjoy the centre’s enormous jungle-themed adventure play area, Get Wild!, with its eclectic assortment of slides, tunnels, rope walks and climbing frames right in the heart of the shopping centre, it is the perfect place for children between the ages of 1-12 years to play and explore, there’s also a dedicated area for toddlers! Adults can keep watch from the side lines with a delicious cuppa and cake from Costa.

The Galleria is also hosting a pirate-themed indoor golf course, a challenging nine-hole mini course ruled by pirates, talking skeletons and pirate ships. Golfers of all ages can test their skills with the island greens and pre-historic cave challenges.

2. May Half Term Activities @ the Kids Village


Our holiday activities and courses are back for May 2015! The full programme kicks off on Tuesday 26 May and runs through until Friday 29 May. We offer a range of holiday activities for children aged 0 – 17 years old.

  • Family Fun Swim Sessions
  • Learn to Swim
  • Mini Boots
  • Archery
  • Stroke Improvement
  • Multi Activity Day Camps
  • Arsenal Ladies Football
  • Climbing
  • Teen Gym

3. Awesome Engineers LEGO Whitsun Workshop


Awesome Engineers workshops allow primary school age children to build an Awesome Engineers LEGO model. Each class has a maximum of 15 pupils, along with supporting adults (optional). The sessions start with a short presentation on the model; then each child gets hands-on with a set to build, play with and modify the model. Once the model is complete, each child has a worksheet to fill in (KS1, KS2 lower or KS2 higher), asking questions about maths or science ideas seen in the model, which is aligned to the primary school curriculum. Each session lasts approximately 60 minutes.

In addition to the workshop, there will be a free-play area where children can build their own creations in LEGO or Duplo. Finally there will be a few interesting LEGO models on show, along with information on future Awesome Engineer activities, Fairy Bricks (see our charities page) and Bright Bricks Ltd.

4. Drop-in Badge Making


Just pop-in to Verulamium Museum and design and colour a badge of your favourite Roman object. Suitable for children aged 3-11 years. All children must be accompanied by an adult. £1 per badge. Entry charge to the Museum for non residents applies.

5. Meet Shaun the Sheep 


Shoppers are invited to meet and greet Shaun the Sheep when he will be visiting the Marlowes Shopping Centre in Hemel Hempstead on Wednesday 27th May.

This popular children’s TV characters will be appearing at intervals throughout the day from 11am to 4pm, and children will be able to meet and have their photos taken with him. Meet and Greet appearances will take place at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm & 3.30pm.

6. Magnificent Masks and Marvellous Mosaics


Create your own decorative masks and marvellous mosaic pictures. Then use the museum collections as inspiration to create your own individual artwork using the wide variety of craft materials on offer.

7. Rickmansworth Craftbomb 


Come and join the fun in Rickmansworth this half term at an exciting outdoor Craftbomb event, in continued celebration of Voluntary Arts Week 2015.

The Rickmansworth Craftbomb is a family friendly drop-in event
run by the Three Rivers District Council’s Leisure Team with Artistsmeet, and is open to people of all ages! We will be making colourful artworks from textiles and recycled materials to decorate one of the nearby trees.
No booking is required, just turn up on the day outside Watersmeet and get ready to make, whatever the weather! You are also very welcome to bring along your own craft!

All details are on the Artistsmeet Facebook page:
For more information call 01923 776611 or email

8. Kid’s Spring Gardening Clubs


For children aged between 4 and 10 years, book a space to join our Head Gardener for a morning of fun in the Luton Hoo Walled Garden!

Thursday 28th May – Sow a salad!

Children must be accompanied by an adult. Places are limited and must be pre-booked.

For all details please visit us at or call 01582 721 443

9. Hatfield House Garden Show


This year’s Garden Show will include the garden, trade stands and entertainment for all ages.

10. Kenbworth House Dinosaur Trail & Adventure playground


Dinosaur Trail: 

Our famous Dinosaur Trail in the Wilderness Garden is very popular with younger visitors. The 70 life-sized dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures can be found grazing amongst the shrubbery. Exploring the woodland paths, children can learn about the T-Rex, the Woolly Mammoth and other fascinating pre-historic creatures. There are information boards throughout the Dinosaur Trail and a huge chalk board for creating your own ‘cave-man drawings’. Look out for the wind-up sound box and make some dinosaur roars.

Adventure Playground:
The Adventure Playground is a favourite destination for our young visitors. Children can play all day one the swings, slides and play equipment. There is also a zip wire and a new bouncy castle, plus a trim trail for grow-ups. Have fun with the new interactive splash-play water features.

11. Hertfordshire County Show


Join us for the 129th Annual Hertfordshire County Show, The Showground, Redbourn (Junction 9 – M1). AL3 7PT
Gates open 8.30am to 5.30pm each day. Free public car parking.

To hear more from Mumsnet Hertfordshire:

twitter: @MNHertfordshire

GUEST POST: Insight into the Dad’s Perspective

“Pasta Way to Do It,” by Andrew Males

I didn’t want to turn this blog into a diary of a dad, because I planned that it was to be all about my writing. I’ve been told that blogs should focus on one topic – that’s how you’ll get followers to stick around. However, I’m not one-dimensional. This blog is really about me, and has always contained entries about the important things that have happened in my life. Oh, and football. So here’s the final part of the baby trilogy that so far seems to have amused a few of you out there…

Great expectations
I’m home from work. I’ve sent Shell upstairs to get some sleep. Amber is asleep in the car seat in the living room. The cat has been fed. All I need to do is hang up the washing, cook some pasta and then sit down and listen to a webinar on crowdfunding for books at 8pm. What could possibly be simpler?


Amber-Mat-09-07-2014As I start hanging up my socks on the airer in the kitchen, I hear Amber stirring. In the five seconds it takes me to reach her, she’s gearing up for the next level. I quickly get her out of the car seat and cuddle her. Eruption avoided. She even looks happy. However…holding her I can do nothing else. I could use the sling, but I haven’t tried that yet and have visions of cooking dinner and setting her bum alight with the stove. I know – her activity mat! I lay her down, pull the cord on the musical octopus (or is it a jellyfish? She may grow up quite confused), stay with her a few minutes and then go back in the kitchen.

I get everything out to make the pasta. When I say make, I mean undo the packet of fresh 3-minute pasta and take off the lid of the microwaveable sauce. I’m about to start boiling the water when I begin to feel guilty about not supervising Amber in the other room. Nah, nothing will happen to her. She’s on a soft play mat and cannot roll over yet. Still… I pop back and check. She’s fine.

I go back to the kitchen and try to ignite one of the large gas hob rings. It sparks, it lights but then goes out. I try again, but to no avail. Time for the daddy centre ring then. Hang on – is that a murmur from Amber? I only checked on her twenty seconds ago but part of my brain has just given me the image of her choking on some object previously unseen by me. Or even worse – dribbling on the Sky remote control. No, she’s fine, surely. I light the gas and at the same time she starts to cry. Dammit. The instinctive part of me tells me to go to her, to comfort her, to stop her from reaching a level that would wake my wife who so dearly needs her sleep. I start walking to the living room. It was then that the non-baby part of my brain woke up to process the fact that whilst my current course of action was admirable, given that the gas was now on and unlit, the likely result of said action was the total destruction of everything around me, and that such an explosion might just ruin my number one objective and wake up Shell. Shoot! What the hell am I thinking of? It was only one second but my mind obviously isn’t used to processing such primal thoughts with modern realities and always coming up with the best initial action. Gas off, I go to Amber.

Oh come on! I’m still bouncing Amber in my arms hoping she’ll go to sleep. The cat’s meowing, wanting attention. The pasta begs me to cook and eat it. My iPhone reminds me that the webinar is about to start. I begin to wish I was that octopus.

The pram! The pram can be my saviour. Why didn’t I consider that before? Let’s lie Amber in the pram and cook my pasta. She’s looking a little sleepy, but I’ve fallen for that before. The transition from sleepy baby in arms to wriggling screaming monster can occur from about 2mm from your current position. It’s a risk I’m willing to take…and she’s down! She looks a little miffed, but seems to be quiet. Time for the pasta.

Meow. Meow. Meeeeeeoooooowww! Oh good grief. Getting the pram meant releasing the cat upstairs, and now he’s doing a good impression of an alarm clock outside the bedroom door. Time to rescue him before he undoes all my work.

Pasta cooked. Sauce done and mixed in. I’m nearly there!

Ok, so the pasta’s still in the saucepan and could be staying there for some time – Amber’s now in full-on screaming mode.
Sleep! C’mon Amber. All I want is a few minutes. C’mon!

Amber’s in meltdown mode. We’re talking screeching until I’m convinced my ears are bleeding. I’m holding and rocking her in the kitchen but I may as well not be here for all the good it’s doing. Just stop! Please stop! What do you want? You can’t be hungry. You’re nappy’s fine. JUST STOP CRYING!!!

That’s it. I’ve had enough. All I bloody well wanted was to eat dinner and some time to myself. I’ve worked all day and looked forward to seeing my lovely daughter, not a crying machine with no off switch. I can’t stand the noise, can’t stand not being able to do anything to get even close to reducing it. Ammmmmmberrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Oh sod it. Shell can deal with it. Off you go upstairs. I’m sorry, but that’s it – I’ve simply had enough…

And then it hits me. An inner voice pipes up. All of this…it’s nothing. Nothing what my wife probably goes through twenty times a day. Nothing that men, women and probably even some older children go through around the world with babies. Every day. Are you really trying, Andy? I mean REALLY trying? Imagine if you had no other choice…what would you do? I bet Shell would have coped with this. Sure, there may have been tears, but she would have probably cooked dinner, worked out the finance for our new car and chosen Amber’s university whilst holding her. What have you got, Daddy?

Jees, way to go all new-age dad. Back in the day I wouldn’t even be in this situation. I’d be watching football or asleep or something while the mother dealt with it. But you’re right. I’m not trying my best. Maybe I can do this. Don’t be such a wuss and TRY. Time to up my game…

Amber-Andy-BW1Ramp up the lunges and sways to factor 9!

Deploy the shooshing and random white noise tune generator within you!

This baby is getting settled…


Oh yes. I’ve only gone and done it! She’s now miraculously asleep thanks to my daddy cuddling skills. I’ve got the moves like Jagger, I’ve got the moves like Jagger, I’ve got the moo-ooo-ooo-ooooooo…. anyway…
I then perform the task of putting her back into the pram with no less skill, patience and precision than a bomb disposal expert disarming a 10-megaton nuke. Everyone knows the tricky bit is the removal of your hand from behind the head once they’re down – slow and careful versus tablecloth whip action – but I manage it with barely a whimper.

I’m eating pasta with two hands! Ok, so not literally with two hands, but you know what I mean. I’m free. She’s quiet and actually looks like she’s gone to asleep. I’ve even started my webinar, seemingly just in time for the good bits. All is well. Peace reigns.

I have triumphed over adversity, and all it took was a bit of extra effort, a touch of luck and the best damn moves this side of Strictly.

So there you have it. A microcosm of life with a baby, played over many times in millions of homes throughout the world with far more challenging situations than the one described. But as small as it seems, I’ll take this little victory for Team Dad.

You can read more from Andrew on his blog, here: 

Andrew also has a potential book deal. Read more about his campaign, here:

For more fun in Hertfordshire, check out the Mumsnet Herts site, here:

Halloween: It’s Not Pagan, it’s Fun; and it’s a Herts Good Thing

Halloween pumpkin, hat, corn, broom, leaf and pot isolated over

Ok, I know everyone thinks it’s just one more insidious American tradition brought over from the ‘land of the free’ to infiltrate the British culture (I mean, wasn’t the Grey Squirrel enough?!). I, however, have always loved Halloween. For me it was always about the time of year; the pumpkins, the apple-picking, Autumnal weather, jumping in fallen, brightly-coloured leaves, and then ultimately, the challenge of coming up with a creative and possibly cute (not ghoulish) costume. The British love fancy dress, so why is it that Halloween has had such a bad rap?

Is it because of it’s pagan roots? Is it because it’s like some unwanted and undesirable cold caller ceaselessly knocking at your door until you reluctantly open to placate and go back to your television? Or is it because of the last thing the British want is one more American influence? Maybe? Well whatever the reason, it’s not winning. Halloween is catching-on and it’s catching fast.

Last year alone we handed out two big baskets of chocolates. Children of all ages covered our neighbourhood disguised in everything from ghosts, to princesses, to frogs, to pirates. Each one with a smile on their face, having a blast walking the streets with their mummies and daddies, getting fresh air and receiving yummy treats. It was lovely to see because? Well,  it was fun! Family memories in the making; and that’s a good thing.

This said, here are some of Hertfordshire’s hottest Halloween happenings:


Every time I wake up on the 11th of September I can’t help but think of one thing. One thing I wish I could forget. The evil that occurred 13 years ago, but seems like yesterday. The day the World Trade Centre twin towers, the people working inside, and the Americans were attacked.

Over 3000 people got up that morning, as they probably did every morning, expecting to get their coffee, maybe run some errands, catch the train, and ultimately finding themselves sitting at their desks or chatting by the water cooler. But this wasn’t that day. It was a day over 3000 people wouldn’t make it to lunchtime, wouldn’t make it to the next meeting, and wouldn’t make it home to their families that evening.

I don’t know about many of you, but I will always remember the moment it happened, where I was, who told me it happened, and spending the remaining part of the day and week contacting people I know who either lived in NYC or actually worked in the World Trade Centre. I knew two people that perished that day and had many friends directly affected as well.

13 years later I’m not sure the world is much safer from this threat, but I for one, will always remember…

Photo credit:

Good news, right?

OK, monarchist or not, I think the anticipation of another royal baby is wonderful news. A baby is great news in itself, but one with all the pomp and circumstance following, even better. Especially when there is just so much evil going on in the world at the moment. It just something positive to think about. 

In between my days of caring for my kiddos and trying to work efficiently, I worry. Yes, I worry. I worry about the Ukraine. I worry about Iraq, Israel, Syria. I worry about Ebola. Worry, worry, worry. What kind of world are we bringing our children into? It scares me a little at times. We’re so lucky to be sitting here in little Britain, right? We could be one of those families in the Middle East…but then time passes, life happens, and we get back into the daily grind and forget about how great we have it and how thankful we should be every single day we rise.

So, remember, it’s a great day today. Today is all we’ve got. Make the best of it. The sun is shining and there are new beginnings; and there’s a new baby on the way! 

photo: courtesy of Daily Mail