Kiri and


An ode to Schoko Musli

November 27th, 2016 (by Steve)

So I’m going to let you in on a little secret today. I fell in love on our travels around Europe in Bertha. Before I get anyone worried on Kiri’s behalf, she was well aware of my illicit love, for the subject of my love shared the breakfast table with us most mornings. Yes people, I fell in love with a cereal.

Now I’ve always liked a bit of chocolate in my cereal, having grown up with Weetos and Coco Pops as a treat. However, there’s that goldilocks balance to strike between a chocolately breakfast cereal and one that will properly fill me up until lunchtime. Don’t get me wrong, Coco Shreddies work, but, well they’re out of the question because they’re Nestlé. Sadly no supermarket has stepped forward with an own brand equivalent. So that just left chocolate granola, which is a bit too sweet for my liking or normal fruity muesli, which obviously contains no chocolate. But that all changed on the first day of our trip.

We woke in the little town of Bavay in France, ventured to Lidl and I’ll admit – it was love at first sight. Oats, pieces of chocolate, a few bits of puffed chocolate rice, a few bits of nut. Master Crumble Schoko Müsli. The perfect combination – the perfect balance – the perfect cereal.


Some people think that it was petrol that fueled us around Europe. They would be right. But equally as important was the daily bowl of Schoko Müsli. On our return to the UK I was eager to see whether it had hit our shores, so checked the nearest Lidl… nope. So I checked another Lidl… nope. My quest took me all over the country and… actually, that’s a lie – I just asked them straight out on Twitter:


Little (or should that be “Lidl”…? You see now I’m a Dad I have an excuse for the Dad jokes!) did I know that in the same month in 2015, a fine, upstanding gentleman named Christopher Young (OK, I’ll admit I don’t know the fella and I’m basing this purely on two public Facebook posts!) was making exactly the same request on Facebook:


He’s a motorhomer too. Good chap.

What did it achieve? Well, I got a virtual hug from Lidl – I can’t complain at that, but I’m still waiting for the real thing to be stocked.

When my parents went to Belgium, I asked for them to bring me some back from there. They returned with some lovely Schoko Knusper Müsli; it was close… but it just wasn’t the same

So when I went to France this summer, I made sure I was reunited with my lost love. I even introduced it to my wider family (who agreed that it’s really quite nice). Some people load up the car with French wine on their return. Me? Schoko Müsli.

But that was the summer. The nights have been drawing in. Our ties with the EU are no doubt going to be cut. The country has spoken. Is this the end of Schoko Müsli for me?

People, you can make a different. I beseech you, in a world where hope seems to be failing, where everyone (apart from Leicester City) are asking “what has happened in 2016?”, to stand up and say “I want to try something new – I am ready for Chocolate Muesli”. All you need to do is retweet this:

And one final note. Lidl, I know you will read this. You believe in great customer service. I trust that you will do the right thing. For the sake of international relations. Thank you.

Posted in KIST 2EU, Life | No Comments »

Europe – a new chapter

September 5th, 2016 (by Steve)

Just under two years since we departed mainland Europe in Bertha, we were back in France. Not in a motorhome. Not just the two of us. Nope, with our little one and Kiri’s parents, we squeezed into a family hatchback (with a roof box) with our destination set to be a campsite near a little village north of Bordeaux, where we were to meet up with Kiri’s sister’s family too. Turns out it’s quite a long drive from Calais to near St. Gilles

Having nearly been defeated by the headlight deflectors (those things require a degree to be able to understand the instructions!) we realised less than a kilometre out of Calais that we’d left the sippy cup upside down in the wee one’s car seat. Although there was no complaining, we decided that if it were us, we wouldn’t particularly want a bidet experience on a long car journey, so we stopped at the first aire we came to, unpacked the roof box, got a change of clothes and patted down the car seat. Stopping and starting was to be the order of the day and therefore progress was slow, even though we were on toll roads (a luxury that we decided never to waste on Bertha, with her top speed of 90 km/h). It was a novel experience overtaking slower moving vehicles, although a little disheartening to overtake the same vehicle again after another stop for a nappy change or something to munch. It almost would have been easier to travel in a motorhome, with all facilities on board.


We eventually arrived at the campsite and disembarked into a chalet with a construction reminiscent of Bertha (although a little more modern). And there started our beautiful cycle of hearty meals outside – dinner with local wine, breakfasts of fresh bread, pain au chocolat and Schoko Müsli (more on that in a later blog post… when I next find time to write a blog post!), lunches of bread, olives and a fine array of cheeses. I seem to recall that a few other things happened between these mealtimes, but sharing food together was central to this holiday. I can almost still taste the tartiflette, the boeuf bourguignon and the risotto “with curly meat” (as described by my nephew – “prawns” to you and I). Ah yes, there were other things that happened – icecreams! Most were swiftly eaten and rescued before the hot sun plastered them all over our clothes (although in the case of my nephew his clothes got a pretty good deal), but the decadent flavours of tiramisu, coffee and creme brûlée linger in my memory.



So what was this place that we were staying at? Well it wasn’t just a campsite – it’s a place run by Spring Harvest Holidays and their website describes it as “a setting in which you can be refreshed and renewed: spiritually, mentally and physically”. Sounds too much like organised fun? The great thing was that all activities were optional, so we could dip in and out of things as we wanted. For the first time in, well, a long time, Kiri and I were able to get fully immersed in a bible study, knowing that our little one was having a whale of a time with the grandparents. And what an appropriate time and place to be studying Acts 2 – a chapter in the bible in uncertain times where people were looking for a message of hope in a divided land. Soon after we arrived, our screens were bloodied by yet another inevitable and horrific Godless act of terror near Rouen. We joined together as a campsite to pray for France and all other countries affected by these acts. It’s amazing how much a continent can change in just two years – when we were travelling in Bertha, Schengen was still strong, an EU referendum wasn’t even on the cards and terrorist attacks were few and far between. What will the next two years hold for Europe?

Hmmm, I seem to have digressed a little. Where were we? Ah yes. Kiri and I made it along to a few of the organised sessions, but the rest of the mornings I was based in the 0-3 year old group, mainly being chased around a bouncy castle by boisterous 3 year olds, punctuated by occasionally being hit around the face by a spiderman toy. I thought it would be exhausting going on holiday with 3 children under 6 and I was right (“Why do I need to be quiet? Its 7 o’clock”), but it was so much fun too! With 6 adults, we were able to share the load of childcare and catering (although Kiri and I had the lightest load by far in the latter category) and have a lot of fun playing in the chalet and going to pool together. The incredible weather resulted in me trying to find a hat to wear in the pool (oh, the joys of having thinning hair) which I eventually found in the nearest Super-U next to the meat. Obviously. Mais oui… les chapeaux sont à proximité de la viande! And I even had time to read a whole book. Holidaying with family is definitely a win-win.


This was very much a holiday focussed on family time rather than “doing” stuff, or having adventures. But that’s not to say we didn’t have a few adventures – the two younger generations (bar the youngest member of the family) hired canoes and we had an exciting, if slightly uncoordinated, paddle up and down the local river. In my defence it was my first time in a canoe… I think the same could be said about our niece, but she seemed to pick it up faster than me!


We also had a day trip to Noirmoutier in the rain, planning on driving across the causeway on the way back that separates it from the mainland. Sadly, the sea’s timings were a little off (it definitely wasn’t our timings) and as we didn’t fancy the “risque de noyade”, we took the bridge instead.


Evenings were a time to play board games as the sky slowly darkened around us. I blame my increasing level of relaxation for my fall from grace that took me from winner of Carcassonne in the first game to definite loser by the last. My father-in-law has asked that his 3rd place on the final night be noted for posterity. On the two Fridays we were there, we took part in the pub quiz – unfairly robbed in the first one (we blame a miscount) despite acing a round on identifying European countries on a map (methinks we had an unfair advantage following our travels). The second one was better (4th out of 40 teams) and I am not ashamed to say we aced a round on 90s pop music. You can’t beat a bit of Hanson! Kiri and I even managed a date night where we sat in the bar at an open mic night; taking the opportunity to dream together about what our future might hold.


Suddenly our 10 days were up and we were off, back up the toll roads towards Calais. With our motorhome mindset very much alive, we asked our sat-nav for directions to the nearest supermarket petrol station (1.03 per litre rather than the 1.26 available on the motorway!) when we were running low. It was sobering to end up in the very suburb where the priest had been murdered a week previously. A quiet suburb where the supermarket wasn’t open on a Monday. With a ferry to catch and a young child to entertain in the car we didn’t have much time for reflection as we motored on up towards Cite L’Europe, where we had dinner and popped into Carrefour to grab four of our favourite beers from our trip in Bertha (for those of you who were wondering – Kwak, Westmalle Trappist, Chimay Blue and Kasteel Donker).

And then back to our little London flat with an ever growing and developing child. What a great holiday. Same again next year? Who knows what situation we’ll be in by then.

Posted in Children, KIST 2EU | 1 Comment »

Be kind to yourself #MHAW16

May 15th, 2016 (by Steve)

“How do you feel?”. Four words. One question. But a hard question that leaves me stumped for a couple of minutes as I go through a process of replaying the last few minutes of thoughts and actions, then analysing my response to those thoughts and actions. It’s therefore fairly rare for me to talk about feelings, but mental health awareness is a really important topic for me as mental health problems have affected some people very close to me through my life. As 16-22 May is Mental Health Awareness week, what better time to open up.

I want to share my experiences following the birth of our little one – not in any comparison to what Kiri went through (incidentally, massive kudos to her – she is such a strong woman), not for sympathy, but hopefully to encourage others to talk and share. Especially men. Generally (although there are obviously exceptions), women are better at sharing than men.

When I was told that the process of labour is a bit like a race, I assumed it would probably be most like the 60m hurdles, or maybe even the 100m hurdles… at a stretch possibly the steeplechase. I wasn’t expecting Tough Mudder. 3 days. 72 hours. As I said, massive kudos to Kiri. It was punctuated with amusing moments; a birthing ball kept rolling around our room with a mind of its own, very much like the sphere in The Prisoner, Kiri stopped to have a contraction at one point and leaned against a wall before seeing a sign that said “wet paint”, and then there was one no-nonsense midwife (we got through 12 in total!) who, in a very interrogatorial (yes, that is a word) way said “your pulse is high. Why is your pulse high?” – and it obviously wasn’t because we were scared of her! And the view – wow – this was the view from the delivery room:


But against this backdrop it was so difficult to see Kiri in such pain. This was coupled with the fear of things potentially going wrong and just overall helplessness. I was watching the person I love more than anyone else in the world, knowing that she had to do this on her own. Knowing that I couldn’t take any of the pain or exhaustion away from her. And I felt so, so tired too by the third day on hardly any sleep, but alongside this came guilt that I was struggling, when Kiri was obviously going through something much harder. When we both look back on that 72 hours now, the word “traumatic” would come into both of our descriptions of the experience.

And then in those last few hours, the adrenaline kicked in as we welcomed into the world our bundle of perfection and gloop. For someone who doesn’t pay much attention to their feelings on a day to day basis, there were such intense emotions in those moments spanning the gap between concern for Kiri and boundless love for this new life. Despite this rollercoaster of emotions, I was somehow together enough to respond in a flash to a nurse asking “is it ok to put baby in the corner?” with the classic line from Dirty Dancing – “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”.

Within a few hours, Kiri had been moved to recovery ward and I had been sent home to get sleep until visiting hours the next day. Internally I was torn as I was so happy to be able to get some sleep, but alongside this I was harbouring a massive guilt about being happy, as I knew Kiri was paying the price for me getting some sleep. The next day, the recovery ward was a muddle of conflicting advice, tests, noise and deadlines – a really overwhelming place to be and that’s when the fear started. If I was finding it tough in hospital, surrounded by medical professionals, how would it be when we got home? Normally I’m solid in stressful situations (playing through the emotions post-event), but in this situation I was just a mess. And how was Kiri coping in all of this? Well, she was steadfast and strong, focusing on the job in hand. Surely that should have been my role. I was failing her. My biggest fear in life is failure.

Once we were all home, the struggles continued for me. Despite loads of support from friends and family (for example church friends preparing meals for us) I was aware that there were so many new things to think about and do, but I had no motivation to do them. Surely it couldn’t be right that people were cooking for me when all I was doing was sitting on a sofa – I had time to be doing the cooking too – why was I failing? I dreaded the nights when it was just the three of us. That sounds like a terrible thing to say. In no way did I doubt Kiri’s abilities – it was that I doubted my abilities to support her and the baby. There was so much to learn, and I was acutely aware that there was another human’s life depending on us getting it right. I felt like I was letting my family down; I felt like I was an additional burden on Kiri with her having to look after me too.


And where was God in this? My faith is the rock on which my life is built upon. I would love to say that I relied on God and that got me through, but that doesn’t seem to be how it always works. When you’re struggling, it’s sometimes hard to see where God is – it’s only afterwards that you see the touch of His hand. But I had His promise from Isaiah 40:30-31:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

It would have been so easy to keep quiet and try to soldier on without people noticing (well, actually I was off my food, so people were noticing that something wasn’t right). But the most important thing that I’ve learned through watching people close to me overcoming mental health struggles is that it is really important to talk. Although part of me wanted to protect Kiri from having the extra burden, our marriage is built upon complete openness, so I shared my struggles with her. I shared my struggles with family and close friends. Then I got in touch with other Dads from church to find out – was I normal?

That chat around a kitchen table with three other Dads, drinking cups of tea and munching chocolates was incredible. There we were, having honest, open conversations about struggles of fatherhood. Each shared their “war” stories and talked about their own “failures” – the stuff that happens in families behind closed doors. There was one key phrase from one of the Dads that stuck with me:

Be kind to yourself

I had been beating myself up about not meeting my own expectations. I needed to accept that I was going to fail, accept that I’d make mistakes – I needed to be kind to myself. Not rocket science, but I needed to hear that from someone I look up to (yes, I know I look up to most people due to my height…).


Many months have passed and that rough patch seems like a distant memory. I know that it’s small in comparison to what a lot of people go through and it would have been so easy to have compared myself to others and therefore self-censored. But had I not shared, if I had tried to carry that burden on my own, it may have escalated – who knows?

My one plea to anyone reading this is if you’re going through a rough patch, no matter how small it might seem in comparison to what other people are going through, I urge you to share it with someone. A friend, a family member, a medical professional – it doesn’t matter.

And fatherhood now? Well just this morning the wee one face-planted onto the floor and started crying. I have accepted that even though I’m going to try my best, I can’t be a perfect Dad – I will make mistakes and fail my child. But this morning, the thought of failure as a father didn’t cross my mind as I threw the little one onto my shoulder and squawked like a chicken. Tears replaced by giggles. Happy times.

Posted in Children, Life | 2 Comments »

Reusable versus disposable nappies

December 31st, 2015 (by Steve)

Until humans evolve enough to be potty trained from birth, changing nappies will be an inevitable part of a parent’s life. As will talking about changing nappies. We’ve had very mixed reactions from people when we’ve told them we’re going down the reusable route, ranging from “Fantastic, they’re great, aren’t they” to “I bet in 6 months time you’ll have shares in Pampers”. So why did we do it, and now we’re several months into it, have we any regrets?

You might have guessed from our previous blog post about our use of Cheeky Wipes that environmental sustainability and cost are two big factors in decisions we make in our lives (as well as obviously listening to God). There are all sorts of figures and stories online (without trustworthy citations) about how long disposable nappies take to bio-degrade and what proportion of landfill they make up. Equally though, there are figures and stories about all of the extra water and electricity used to clean reusable nappies. So, it’s a little bewildering on the environmental front, but as we mentioned previously with regards to baby wipes, it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin. And as for cost, well, we’d been given a full set of reusable nappies (thanks J + J!), so it was a no-brainer to at least give them a go and we were of the mindset that as we had them, we’d make them work.


Reusable nappies or “real” nappies come in many varieties – we’ve got the Bambino Mio two-piece sets. The way these work is that you have a folded cotton core nappy, which you then wrap in a liner, which in turn fits inside a wipe-able/washable nappy cover. You then have the fun game of trying to (often with one hand) fasten it securely to a squirming octopus who may squirt ink at you at any time… or so it sometimes seems. The idea is that the liner catches solids, but lets liquids through to the folded cotton core. You can then flush the liner (it’s biodegradable), and pop the cotton core into the washing machine.

Even though we’d got all of the stuff for reusable nappies, we decided to stick to biodegradable, disposable nappies for the first 3 weeks as there were plenty of other things to learn in those early days of parenthood. We then took the plunge at the 3 week mark and to be honest, for the first few hours… maybe even days… we found it hard work. Our little one has dainty legs and the elastic on the “newborn” covers wasn’t forming a good seal, so we had many liquid leaks. We tried different folds of the cotton liner, but to no avail. We then discovered Bambino Mio’s #nappycoverexchange, where if we sent back old-style covers (which came in different sizes up to a 9kg baby), we’d get money off the new-style covers (which come in one size up to 9kg). The new-style covers were a success. Yes, we still had the occasional liquid leaks, but far fewer than with the old covers and actually, those leaks could probably be attributed to tired parents not putting the nappies on properly!

Have we any regrets? Well, let’s weigh up our experience of the pros and cons of reusable nappies versus disposables.

Pro: Day to day cost
Once you’ve got the gear, the day to day costs of reusable nappies are much lower than that of disposables:

Moltex biodegradable disposable nappies 23p per nappy (inc p+p)
Boots Superdry disposable nappies 12p per nappy
Reusable nappies 8p per nappy

So how did I get that last figure? The flushable nappy liners come in at just under 3p each, then there’s the cost of washing and drying. For this illustration we’ve assumed that we have 20 nappies per wash (it’s regularly more than that, and we have cheeky wipes in there too):

  • 46p – 3.25Kwh for the washing machine (2.5 hours at 60 degrees)
  • 38p – 2.3Kwh for the tumble drier (an hour, but we try to dry nappies outside as much as possible)
  • 14p – Bio-D nappy fresh (assuming 500g box does 20 loads)
  • 4p – Lidl non-bio washing liquid (which lasts for 56 loads as we use it in conjunction with eco balls)
  • 0p – water (we’re not on a meter)

So that’s £1.02 for 20 nappies, which comes out at just over 5p per nappy for washing and drying. Add on the 3p per liner, which gives us conservative estimate of 8p per reusable nappy.


Con: Initial outlay
BUT, that was a big caveat I started with; “once you’ve got the gear”. With regards to the initial outlay, if you were buying what we have brand new, it would probably cost you about £250 (two sets of miosoft birth to potty). Using the figures of 12p for a disposable and 8p for a reusable nappy, it would take 6250 nappies for the cost of both to even out (£250 / £0.04 difference – do correct me if my maths is wrong by the way). Apparently the average baby gets through about 5000 nappies from birth to potty… so if you bought the kit brand new, it might only be for your second child that you would start making a saving. However, once you’ve finished with the kit, you’ve got all of the stuff that you can then sell on…

Pro: Less nappy rash
Now this one surprised us – we thought that as reusables don’t have the moisture wicking properties of disposables, there would be more nappy rash, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. We use barrier cream for both disposables and reusables, yet our little one has only had nappy rash with disposables.

Con: Time
I would say that this is the biggest thing that works against re-usable nappies – they do take a lot of time. We end up doing an extra wash load every other day, which takes time. You’ve got to fold up the cloth nappies and wrap them in a liner (we do this in batches to save time when changing the nappy), which takes time. We found the actual nappy changes take a little longer, as you have to assemble the full nappy, then keep it assembled whilst putting it on your child. We also found there are more nappy changes to do, as there isn’t the same moisture wicking that you get with disposables – our little one lets us know when the nappy change is due!

Pro/Con: Environmental impact
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, this isn’t clear cut. However, as our reusable nappies are onto at least their third child, it feels as though it’s a less wasteful way of doing things. Yes, we’re using more water and electricity, but surely water and electricity are used in the manufacture of disposable nappies, which then take tens / hundreds of years to bio-degrade (depending on what you read)? Then again, a lot of waste these days is burned to generate electricity, rather than going to landfill, so is biodegradability (is that even a word?) a valid factor in the debate? As we have no hard facts, we just have to go with gut instinct on this one, which tells us that reusable nappies may be better for the environment.

To be honest, there are arguments for using disposables and arguments for using reusables. For the first couple of months we tried to exclusively use reusables to give them a good go and they worked for us. As an aside, I hadn’t quite realised the power of UV light when it came to bleaching clothes – check out a nappy that was left on the line for 6.5 hours on a cloudy day – the stain almost entirely gone:


We still primarily use reusable nappies, including in our changing bag when we go out anywhere. When we’ve visited family, we’ve taken reusables with us, then commandeered the use of the washing machine for our stay. But in the interests of getting a good night’s sleep (both for us and our little one), we have reverted to using biodegradable disposables at night. For now this works for us. Will this be the pattern until potty training? Who knows.

We have heard a rumour though that children using reusable nappies are, in general, potty-trained earlier than those in disposables. We’ll see!

Posted in Children | 1 Comment »

A little bit cheeky?

October 17th, 2015 (by Steve)

Bertha is on the move once again. It was only this time last year that we sold her on for £5300 (a fair price considering the potential damp rear under the bathroom), then we saw she was on Gumtree in April for around £7000 (we assume the new owner fixed the potential damp rear under the bathroom), and now she’s on Gumtree again, listed by someone else for an cheeky £9000! We’re also intrigued that she now averages 25mpg – we travelled 11878 miles in her and she averaged just over 20 miles per gallon. And this is what she’s looking like now:


WARNING: The rest of this blog post is mainly about baby wipes. For those of you looking forward to reading a blog post about motorhoming, we suggest you head in the direction of, as Julie + Jason have just set out again on exciting travels. We won’t be offended if you unsubscribe from this blog!

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, we can get properly started. We’re parents. You know when you enter a foreign land for the first time, you don’t really understand the culture or language? Well it feels like a bit like that… only when we were travelling, we had the luxury of being able to observe a little before participating. So we’re very much in the stage of looking like tourists, being culturally insensitive, talking slowly and loudly when we’re not understood and generally blundering about the place, probably insulting people’s Mums. But hey, there has been some progress over the last few weeks – at least we’re doing it all with confidence now rather than tentatively and filled with fear like we were at the start.


Once I acknowledged that we were undergoing a recalibration of our lives to a new baseline of existence, it all kind of became easier. Our lives were flipped from being at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to right at the bottom, where life revolves around bodily fluids (input and output) and sleep (or lack thereof), with a little bit of work for added distraction. We are very much indebted to friends and family for their support and a big shout out goes to our church family who provided hot meals for us in the very early days – we felt extravagantly blessed.

“But what about the baby wipes?”, I hear you ask (my hearing has become very keen since having a child, you see!). “You said this blog post was mainly about baby wipes”. It’s ok – here it is.

We’re learning fast that baby wipes form a crucial part of parenthood. At the moment, their usage is solely in the context of nappy changes, but we know from parents with slightly older children that they’re essential for mucky hands and faces too. Now we’re trying to carry through our “green” living into family life and chucking wipes away regularly doesn’t sit well with us. We’re aware that you can get biodegradable wipes, but as we’d inherited some Cheeky Wipes (thanks J+J) we thought we’d start with those.

Basically, they’re reusable baby wipes. You’ve got one tupperware with water (infused with lavender for freshness) containing fresh flannels and another tupperware with water (infused with tea tree oil which has antibacterial qualities) for the used flannels. Once the second tupperware is full, you bung all of the Cheeky Wipes in the washing machine, then start over again. Such a simple system and it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin.


Even from a cost point of view we’re winning. At the time of writing, you can get a 12 pack of 64 baby wipes for £7 from Boots – that’s 768 wipes at just under a penny each (0.91p). The Cheeky Wipes kit is currently available online for £40. With a very conservative estimate of using 10 wipes per day (as I type we have more than that on the washing line from one day), after 440 days the Cheeky Wipes will have paid for themselves and we will have saved 4400 baby wipes from going in the bin and ending up in an incinerator or landfill. I call that a win.

I haven’t been paid to spread the word about re-usable baby wipes – in fact I don’t see why you couldn’t replicate the system with some cheap towels that you’ve cut up and spare tupperware. However, they’ve been such a success for us that I’m keen to spread the word. Saying that though, if you are inspired to buy some, you can get 15% off your first order by buying Cheeky Wipes via this link, and we get £5 off our next order. Oh wait, I’ve just read the small print, and you’ve got to spend over £40. Maybe not the good offer I thought it was.

In any case, cheekiness awaits!

Posted in Bertha, Children | 3 Comments »

Hobby or business?

September 18th, 2015 (by Steve)

Over the years, I seem to have plumped for hobbies that have paid me, rather than me having to pay for them. It’s not been a conscious thought; it’s just kind of happened. First it was bell-ringing as a teenager (getting paid to ring for weddings), then it was barbershop (busking and paid gigs), then it was photography as people asked me to photograph their weddings. It’s only the latter that actually grew into a business, and since I set up my sole trader account in 2006 I’ve photographed over 30 weddings. All the money I’ve earned then went straight back into investing in better equipment (apart from a slightly digression into experimentations with 3D photography… but that’s a different story!)


It therefore seemed natural when Kiri and I got together to combine my photography and web development skills with Kiri’s design skills and to add graphic design and web design to the business. And this is where I should probably say that I use the term “business” very lightly. You see we’ve never really attacked either the photography or design work full on as a business. We’ve always charged mates rates as we built up a portfolio of work and improved our skills and have never properly got stuck into marketing our work.

Soon after we got married, we decided that the wedding photography side of things would be retired. After a full week at work, I don’t want to have the whole weekend taken up with a wedding (plus the mandatory few evenings of preparation beforehand). The web design and development stayed, as that’s something we were happy to work on together in evenings and at weekends – Kiri on the design side and me on the coding.

And then our big trip around Europe happened, which was basically a bit of a sabbatical from work for us both, although we did hole ourselves up in a campsite near Prague for a few days for some focussed web design. This time when I went back to work full-time though we realised that something had to go. With a child on the way, we would have to prioritise family time in evenings and weekends. We had hoped to get version 2 of the Pig & Porter website live before we moved on, but as they were undergoing a further re-branding, we were unable to do that before we bade them a reluctant goodbye. It wouldn’t have been fair on them to remain as their web designers as they’re a growing business and we wouldn’t be able to give them the support that a full time web design company could. We’ll just have to support them by drinking their beer instead!


And we’ve just put the finishing touches to the Compass Maths Workshops website that we started several months ago.


So that leaves us with some big decisions. With the “business” as just graphic design currently and Kiri as a full time Mum, we’re contemplating whether it’s worth keeping it as a business. We’re not entirely sure that the freelance model works for us; you’ve got to be driven and hungry for sales as that’s what clients normally expect and deserve… isn’t it? But we’ve got other priorities now – there’s family and we’ve still got photos and video footage from our Europe trip that remain unprocessed.

If we’re serious with the “business”, we’ll need to invest in a new Mac for Kiri and start paying out for the latest Adobe Creative Suite software which is sold on a subscription basis these days. And what about the camera equipment that’s just sitting there? How can we justify that? Should we start selling photos from our trip? Should we get into baby photography?

And in all of this, our “business” website remains in the temporary state we put it in back in 2012. So watch this space – there may be exciting things on the horizon for Lightbulb Head, or we may just quietly switch the light off. Who knows.

Posted in Photography, Web Design | 4 Comments »

The Tom + Barbara test

June 22nd, 2015 (by Steve)

We concluded on our travels that motorhome living was the simple life, but it was also the good life. We also concluded that it was a fairly “green” way of living. Sadly though, we don’t live in a motorhome any more, so we’re throwing away everything we learned about living a simple, good and green life. Nah, not really, but it turns out to be actually a lot harder to live simply, goodly and greenly (hmmm, I thought I was making up those last two words; turns out they exist already and mean something totally different!) when you’re not forced to by circumstance.

We’ve been living a fixed lifestyle (as opposed to nomadic) now for nearly 10 months again and the biggest change is that we have everything we want at our fingertips. Limitless water from the tap. Limitless electricity from the wall. Limitless internet data from the little box in the corner with flashy lights. Limitless gas to cook on. With the regular bills being the only limitation on usage, it’s so much easier to waste stuff. And waste we do. I’ve stopped brushing my teeth out of a mug. I’ve stopped boiling exactly the amount of water I need. I leave my laptop plugged in sometimes. None of these are massive crimes obviously, but as an evil giant (I jest) once said, “Every little helps”. In other ways I have changed my ways – I no longer feel the need to shower every day (and only occasionally does Kiri look at me, hold her nose and point to the bathroom), but we’re still a long way from the composting toilet and solar panels that we eventually plan to have.


There are other ways that we’re trying to live a green life. Our plastic consumption isn’t quite at our Lenten levels of 2 years ago, but we always use rucksacks when doing our supermarket shop instead of plastic bags and we’re overjoyed (you can tell we don’t get out much!) that we can even recycle plastic bags and plastic film now. Recycling in this country is pretty amazing compared to some places in mainland Europe. Alas, we can’t currently recycle food waste, but we’re moving shortly to a place that has a garden, so we’ll get a compost bin on the go there, then use the results on our home-grown veg; we’ll start with chard, potatoes and herbs. Our dream is still to one day emulate Tom + Barbara, but we need to find a Jerry + Margo to balance us first… and a bigger garden.

Now the “simple” bit is more complicated. Obviously. The clue’s in the word… or something like that. We’re learning that to live a simple life you’ve got to be intentional. Life tends to get full of stuff if you let it happen around you. We’re trying very hard not to accumulate things now we’re no longer living in a tin box on wheels, but it’s necessary with a child on the way. We’re trying really hard to keep to the bare essentials and had (for example) agreed that we wouldn’t get a baby monitor, but when we were offered one, we realised that we could use it as a walkie talkie and found ourselves saying “thank you, yes please, we’d love a baby monitor”. If we were in a different season of our lives, the “tiny living” that Julie and Jason are doing would seem very attractive. But we’re not… and it’s still attractive. Could we make it work?

Whilst I’m musing on whether it would be practical (it wouldn’t) or fun (probably) to live full time in a motorhome with a small child, I’ll end this stream of consciousness that has found itself recorded in the form of a blog post by briefly talking about one other area of simplicity in our lives. Technology.

When we were living off-grid in Bertha, we could only use our laptops when they were charged. We didn’t have a smartphone. We didn’t have a TV. We weren’t constantly connected to the internet and when we were, usage was capped. And you know what? It rocked. We read books, we played games, we talked, we went for evening strolls. Since returning we haven’t gone to the other extreme, but it’s amazing how easily the distraction of constant connectivity nibbles away at other, more edifying, activities we could be doing. It seems almost too much of a co-incidence that as I’m musing about possibly introducing a digital Sabbath to my life, I find out that this Sunday (28th June) is National Unplugging Day. It’s aimed at parents, but I think that it’s a good exercise for anyone.

We’ve still got a long way to go until we’ve reached the dizzying heights of the “proper” good, simple and green life. But we’re on the path.

Posted in Life | 4 Comments »

London from above

May 24th, 2015 (by Steve)

It’s probably because we’re short that tall places are very appealing. When we were travelling, the first thing we’d do when arriving in a new city was try to find something to climb to help us get the lie of the land. Yet for some reason when we previously lived in London, we were like sheep and followed everyone underground. Now we’re back in London, we’ve decided to make amends, so we’ve been taking every opportunity to see the city from above, including taking the bus more; it’s not only toddlers who like sitting on the top deck!

Our first port of call was The Shard. You can’t get much taller than that (well, at least not in Western Europe). We’d watched the weather forecast like hawks and as the booked evening approached, it wasn’t looking good (unless you like thunderstorms… which actually could have been very cool to witness from the Shard). As it was, once we’d taken the two lifts up to the 68th floor, we emerged to see a mottled city with some parts in bright sunshine and other parts shrouded in cloud. Photographs don’t do the view justice; with stabilising devices banned (don’t try to ask a member of staff why… you’ll regret asking!), dirty glass and lots of reflections, the best you can aim for is a series of snapshots of an ever-changing city. From that height, London is a just a detailed model, reminding us very much of the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.


Allow me to indulge in a bit of technology admiration though. Ever since a computer vision module at university, I’ve been dreaming about being able to look out of an aeroplane window and have a map overlaid on the landscape to show me what I’m looking at. This dream is a reality from the top of the Shard. Dotted around the viewing platform on the 68th floor are devices that look like giant computer game controllers, with a screen at the back, a camera at the front and the option to zoom in on points of interest. With an augmented reality overlay you can read bits of information about, for instance, the Olympic park. Even better, you can switch from “live view” to see what it looks like at night, at sunrise, and what it looked like in 2012; all retaining the option to pan around. And don’t even get me started on the Dyson Airblade Taps in the toilets at the bottom of the Shard (so that’s how they spend the entrance fee money!)!


South London view done, we decided to take the cable car at Greenwich over the river a week later. This time we didn’t need to book; we just rocked up with the requisite £3.80 on our Oyster cards and queued next to the O2, reminiscing over our visits when it was the Millennium Dome. Once packed into the cable car with 6 other passengers, the 10 minute journey was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it was quite a novelty, but it wasn’t anything particularly special. We were afforded views of Canary Wharf, the dome and London City Airport, which, whilst interesting aren’t the most iconic of views in London. Once at the other side we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves; if it hadn’t been a Monday, we probably would have looked around The Crystal (an exhibition focusing on urban sustainability), but as it was we just hopped on the DLR back to Lewisham.


So, we’d “done” south London and travelled over the river. Time for north London – more specifically the “car-melting walkie talkie of doom” (well, the Sky Garden on the 35th floor). Now we’re aware this is a controversial building and in fact one of the reviews for visiting said that the best thing about it was that once you’re at the top, you can’t see the building itself. Whilst we agree that it’s not the most pleasant building to look at, it’s lovely once you’re inside. It almost feels like you’re slung under an airship in a 1950s vision of what a “futuristic” London might look like. The “garden” isn’t particularly mature and the plants are fairly sparse, but maybe that will improve with age. As for the view though, it’s every bit as good as the Shard, even though you’re at half the altitude. From the lower perspective you feel more connected with the city (sorry to sound a bit hippy-ish) and some of the lines of sight are cracking. And you know what? It’s all for free (unless you choose to take out a small mortgage and buy a drink).


One question remains though; what should we climb next?

Posted in London | 1 Comment »

New life

April 6th, 2015 (by Steve)

Easter. The day that we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and try to get our heads around the fact that he conquered death, so that we might have eternal life with Him. Awesome stuff. Also, this year it was the day that we heard that Bertha has been given a facelift and is on the market once again. We have to say we’re a little surprised that her new owners have decided to sell her on so soon, but she’s looking good.

Photo credits: top two are ours, bottom two are taken from the advert

When we were Bertha’s caretakers we were wary of making to many changes to the outside of her; mainly because we were cautious about damaging her seals. However, we also didn’t want to make her look too attractive to thieves on our travels (which worked out well for us, as we had no break-ins!). However, her new owners look to have done a great job on her; from the photos on the advert we’ve spotted new panelling, a re-painted cab, the rear ladder having been removed and what looks like a new rear bumper (the previous one had damage when we bought her; we think she’d probably had a rear impact prior to our ownership). With the addition of a couple of new vents to help to deal with condensation issues, she’s looking really smart.

But it’s not just the outside they’ve focussed on; Bertha’s now got a new carpet inside and new upholstery (we’ll admit that 8 months of permanent living in her had maybe left her looking a little tired). Under the bonnet she’s apparently also been given a new clutch (it was always a “fun” game to try to get her in reverse!) and the mud and snow tyres that carried us on our 12000 mile jaunt around Europe are listed as having been replaced too.

We found out this February via that our Gaslow (refillable gas system) installation didn’t meet regulations. Although we’d ordered a “normal” gas bottle to start with from Gaslow, for which a single strap is an acceptable fitting, we were sent an R67 cylinder (because the normal bottle was out of stock), for which there are specific regulations. To quote the person on the Talbot forum who raised it:

…the mounting and securing of the R67 cylinder needs to comply with N1/M1, which is a proven mounting system of 20G forward and 8G side to side in case of accident. as you strap is screwed in and a basic fiber strap its not mounted with proven 20g and so forth, and as such vehicle insurances are void

We let the new owners know as soon as we found out and we’re repeating it here, just in case the “new” new owners end up reading this, as we would hate for something to happen and them not be suitably protected.

Anyhow, it sounds like an exciting time for Bertha as she begins her new life full of new adventures. And as for us? Well, we’re settling back into life in London and we’re expecting another “new life”. Now that’s going to be a new adventure!

Posted in Bertha, KIST 2EU | 1 Comment »

Why I’m leaving Facebook

February 12th, 2015 (by Steve)

About 9 years ago I was a member of a few social networks… I’d picked a username and I was spending a few minutes a day chatting to random people about random stuff and playing online games. I then received an invitation for the newest kid on the social media block, Facebook; a site where some of my “real life” friends were members. And there started my journey with Facebook which is ending imminently. Apparently I’d just bought a new car.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:30:25

There are a couple of reasons why I’m leaving and I’ll start with the weaker reasoning first. I aim to live as simple a life as possible without too much extra stuff or gadgets and I’m pretty happy with my current position with regards to de-cluttering physical “stuff”. I don’t do so well though with digital “stuff”. We live in an information age where we can access almost anything from almost anywhere (apart from if you live rurally!). There’s so much information out there and I think I probably binge a bit too much on it and over-consume. Social media is great for seeing what other people are doing, updating others on what I’m doing… but I sometimes wonder if I’m so busy reading what other people are doing remotely, or planning how I’m going to document what I’m doing that I don’t live fully in each moment. So if I close one social media door, I should be able to reduce my daily information consumption.

Now, onto the main reason why I’m saying goodbye to Facebook. Control.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:28:51

I’m not blinkered when it comes to internet companies making money out of me and it really is fair enough. When I browse through Amazon’s store, they are providing me a shopping service for free, whilst having to pay for all sorts of overheads such as hosting, staff etc. It’s fair enough that they’re going to track my browsing through the use of cookies to try to suggest products that I’m likely to buy. In fact, that can be quite helpful. It’s the online equivalent of a Nectar card; collecting data on their consumers’ habits then using it to improve services and make suggestions. I’m even OK with Google tracking my moves through the web and showing adverts based on my search habits and the sites I’m visiting. It’s part of the online economy and if I’m not happy about it, then I can (and do) disable third party cookies and have my browser clear cookies when I shut it. If I really want to avoid the tracking then I can choose a totally different search provider.

When we move into the realm of online communications (as opposed to simple browsing), there’s a minor paradigm shift. I’m no longer just consuming content, I’m also producing my own content. Taking emails for example, if I were to use Google’s Gmail through a desktop web browser, relevant adverts would appear next to emails. How do I feel about that? Well, I’m not entirely happy, but I’m easily placated by the thought that it’s an algorithm that’s selecting the adverts based on keywords in the emails. Before we’d publicly announced our engagement, there were a few emails floating around with marriage-related keywords in there… which invariably led to marriage-related adverts. Once again though, if I don’t want the adverts or the tracking, then I can choose a totally different email provider.

And then we get to social media. It’s only when I came to download my Facebook data archive that I realised how much of my life is in that 70Mb zip file. The Facebook help page about categories of data they hold makes for interesting reading. From the very beginning I’ve been wary about putting my whole life online, I mean why would anyone care about films that I like? But, as a lot of my friends have been using Facebook too, over the years there have been countless events, messages, pictures and life events shared. Worth lots of money to advertisers. When I was doing wedding photography, through Facebook I was able to show an advert for my services to anyone who had shared their location as within a 10 mile radius of my home address who had just changed their relationship status to “engaged”. That’s very specific targeting, which advertisers will pay for… and it’s kind of still fair enough.

But then we get to the bit that makes me uneasy. If I don’t want the adverts or the tracking, then I could choose a totally different social media platform… but all of my friends would have to do the same. I was attracted to Facebook in the first place because that’s where there were people that I knew. What keeps me loyal to Facebook is the same thing. I can’t just move to another social media platform, such as diaspora* unless enough people move with me. And so I’ve stuck with Facebook because that’s where my friends are.

But I’ve never appreciated the way that they treat me as a supplier of my information. Over the years I’ve had to fight for privacy; I’ve regularly had to check and change privacy and security settings. Every time they’ve added a new sharing option (such as location), the default has been “on”. You can understand their business reasoning; their business is information, so sharing is good. But it doesn’t respect me as a data owner.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:34:34

The first time I considered leaving Facebook was 6 years ago, when I read the following in their terms and conditions about their data retention:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorise and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicence) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorise sublicences of the foregoing.

Now I’m not a lawyer, but in essence that seemed to be saying that I had to be willing to give up the copyright that I as a photographer own. In theory, Facebook were gathering a lot of images that they could potentially sell on in future, without giving any credit to the photographer. Hmmm. But, I convinced myself that I must have misunderstood the wording so I stayed and besides, all of my friends were still staying, so maybe I was just being overly cautious.

So for the last 6 years I’ve been using Facebook, with the knowledge that I don’t actually understand how Facebook might be using my data. I was a little surprised to find in my Facebook archive a list of every IP address that I’ve logged into Facebook from, a list of all of my previous friends and a list of previous email addresses.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:36:00

One of the principles of the 1998 Data Protection Act is that:

Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes

Even if I understood what purpose they were originally holding that information for, surely they shouldn’t be retaining it indefinitely? But then again I guess the Data Protection Act doesn’t apply to Facebook as an American company.

And then a week ago I read a pretty damning article about Facebook (it’s worth a read) where I learned that my name might be being used next to promoted posts, which could be misconstrued by other people as me endorsing something that I might not ever have read. Woah. Hang on a minute, I’m not ok with that. I don’t use Facebook on my phone, so there are some things such as GPS tracking that are mentioned in the article that don’t apply to me.

The crux of the matter is that I no longer feel in control of my profile on Facebook. For the last 6 years I’ve told myself that it’s fine as I’m aware of what Facebook is doing with my data and I can set privacy controls accordingly. But now I realise that I don’t know how this private company is making money out of me. And I don’t like it. So, as Duncan Bannatyne would say, “count me out”.

If you’re reading this via a link on Facebook (which I’m sure many of you are), don’t take my exit personally. Email me, text me, write me a letter or pop round for a cup of tea. I want to maintain the friendships, but not in a territory where I don’t know the rules.

Posted in Life | 3 Comments »