Water Play: Safe, Summer Fun

It might feel a little late in the year to be discussing all the fun that you can have with water…

…but it’s still worth mentioning in case there are any international readers out there who are stuck for things to do in the summer heat.

When I was a kid, I remember wistfully looking out of the window during the summer at the other kids in the neighbourhood, racing around in their front gardens with water guns or jumping into the car with beach balls and towels, ready for a day at the beach or the pool.

My grandparents were a little too old to frolic with me in the back garden and they were always a little worried about letting me run out into the great unknown with neighbours – I guess they’d read some horror stories in the tabloids about kids going missing and couldn’t bear the thought of the same happening to me.

Thankfully I managed to catch up on years of water play this summer with my family and I thought I’d share some of the things we got up to, in case you were thinking about buying a swimming pool for next summer or simply planning out your next big holiday abroad.

Water Fights

Although they sound rather violent, a good water fight can be just the thing to cool off on a hot summer’s day and it can be a great way of exercising too! I found that there are a few key components necessary to making a good water fight. As much as you can have a lot of fun with just the two of you, there’s a lot to be said for getting a big group together.

To make the chaos that much more fun you can also consider buying a wide variety of weapons such as water guns, balloons and even sponges to mix things up!

Safety Tip: Make sure that there are towels on hand, that you’re outside and everyone has grippy shoes on to avoid slips.

Casual Pool Games

Swimming pools present a great opportunity to fool around and have a laugh with your family. Thanks to my job in property management, I managed to score a few days in private pools this year and got to try out a few games that I’d heard of. Marco Polo is a classic game that can be played with two people. If you have more people in your party then you can think about playing Shark and Minnows (a simple game of tag). Older kids and adults can also exercise caution and carry each other on their shoulders, this is known as a Chicken Fight.

Safety Tip: Make sure that all swimming pool covers are removed before get the kids in the area, jumping onto these can be dangerous.

Water Sports

There are a number of more competitive sports that you can play in a medium-sized pool, these usually require a few bits of kits but can prove to be a great way of passing some time and creating some friendly rivalries between friends. Games like water polo require goals and, if possible, a level swimming pool. If you don’t have the resources for these then you can always by a cheap waterproof projectile like a Waboba ball, Nerf Vortex or beach ball and play a simple game of catch!

Safety Tip: It’s important that players are matched physically in these games, if not then younger players are at risk of getting injured.

Extreme Water Fun

There are certain water-based activities that you simply can’t do in the comfort of your own back garden – should you wish to take your water based play to the next level, you can take your family to a water park or indoor water adventure centre. Huge slides, fountain jets, wave machines, rubber dinghy rapids – the variety of activities are endless and I’ve not even mentioned the likes of kayaking, rafting or sailing!

Safety Tip: Whenever you take your kids to a public place make sure they know where the life guards are and where to meet you if they get lost.…

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Playing Music: How To Get Going

My family have never really been that musical. At least that’s what I used to think.

Music was never really a focus when I was growing up. My grandparents played the radio, but it was mostly just Radio 4, so the small snippets of music I heard throughout the day were courtesy of the Archers and Desert Island Discs.

Growing up in the eighties, a period of history that I’m now fully aware was synonymous with bad hair cuts and very cheesy pop music, I know that I wasn’t really missing out on anything of great cultural importance – that is, unless you value the music of Clarence Clemons, Midnight Oil or the L.A. Guns.

I don’t begrudge my grandparents having deprived me of popular music during my youth, however I’ve always kind of regretted never having the chance to learn a musical instrument. Just like learning foreign languages, or riding a bike; learning how to play a musical instrument is one of those things that just comes easier to younger kids, which is something that I’ve learnt watching my son take his first shaky steps into the word of music.

He started out, as most kids do, with the recorder when he was 5 years old. His enthusiasm for his new hobby could be heard each and everyday which was both a blessing and a curse. I loved hearing him improve every day, but it’s debatable whether the very first days of him playing could really constitute music…

Regardless of your age or perceived musical ability, it’s never too late to pick up an instrument. Here’s my quick guide on how to get started:

Choose your instrument

The instrument you choose will depend largely on the sound you want to make! If you’re a classical fan then why not pick one of the many instruments that make up an orchestra? If you’re a pop music fan then singing or playing a guitar might be the right choice for you. Either way, you’ll want to consider your budget, the space you have to store the instrument and the potential noise that it could create for neighbours, before you make any purchases.

Tip: If you want to keep costs low, go to a music shop and talk to the staff there for a recommendation.

Find a way to learn

Once you have your instrument, you’ll need to find a way to learn. If you have a natural affinity for music then you might find that you need very little instruction, however, if you’re like me, you’ll need someone to at least take you through the basics, before you can go your own way. Hiring a musical tutor for an hour a week can be expensive, but worth the money, as you can get moment to moment feedback from a person, as opposed to learning for free from a tutor on YouTube.

Tip: You can pick up teach-yourself books on eBay to get yourself started for very little money.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice really does make perfect. Learning an instrument is often described as an addictive process, as each day you can literally hear yourself improve. The important thing is to not get disheartened early on in the process – with time and patience you’ll be able to get better, just make sure that you practice as often as you can, so that you can make as much progress as possible.

Tip: Make sure you have a dedicated practice space that is free of distractions and a little noise-proof, so that you don’t aggravate your neighbours too much.

Perform

Although many people practice and play musical instruments in their spare time, one of the best parts of learning a musical instrument is sharing your talent with others, whether that’s playing at an open mic night or even joining a group of musicians in a band or orchestra. If you’re not quite up for performing in public then why not record a YouTube video of your own or entertain your friends at a dinner party?

Tip: Start out by just performing one piece and then build up your ‘repertoire’ once your comfortable.

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Getting Outside: Extreme Family Activities

Outdoor pursuits have never been more popular and for good reason.

When once derring dos such as scaling cliff edges or cycling down rough forest trails were reserved for adventurous Indiana Jones-types, today, thanks to numerous adventure companies, anyone can have a crack at them.

In the last 20 years or so the nature of the outdoors holiday has changed completely. The tents and sited caravans have got more spacious and comfortable, the equipment that we cook on has got more efficient and it feels like every year there’s a new kind of fun activity that you can try your hand at.

Holidays, when I was a sprog, consisted of our odd little family trundling up the road to a campsite with my Granddad’s old battered Force 10 canvas tent, struggling to heat up a can of beans and then struggling even harder to go to sleep as both my Grandparents competed to out-snore each other. Thankfully my camping holidays have improved somewhat since then!

With so many fun activities that you can get involved with these days, it can be hard to make your mind up as to what you should try. As with all outdoor play activities, you’ll need to make sure that your entire party is comfortable with taking part and that they meet whatever height restrictions that the instructors set.

Mountain Biking

Britain is home to some great mountain biking trails that offer a healthy mix of challenging inclines, varied terrain and fun downhill sprees. Your party will need to all be proficient cyclists and you should thoroughly research your route before you embark on it, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s also imperative that you’re wearing the correct protection gear. Falls can be quite common place on these trails so you should wear knee pads and elbow pads on top of the standard helmet – just to be safe.

Safety Tip: Always carry lights, pump and repair kits on you – just in case!

Kayaking & Canoeing

I’ve already mentioned how much fun playing in water can be, but have you considered taking your water play out onto the open water? Kayaking or canoeing can be just the thing to spice up your family holiday. You can usually rent them from vendors at the beach for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, or you ca book a half day session with an instructor who will take you through the basics and then guide you on your very own aquatic adventure!

Safety Tip: The boat vendor should always include life jackets with your vessel, don’t go on the water without one.

Archery

A sport that is often overlooked by many, archery is a fun hobby that can be easy to pick up in the space of just a couple of hours. You can purchase archery sets online through popular vendors, though it’s always a good idea to get instruction before you try your hand at it. There are loads of places that you can grab a bow and arrow at across the UK, but it’s always best to get some form of instruction before you try attempting to hunt any rabbits…

Safety Tip: It’s vital that you follow the instructor’s commands, the tips of the arrows might be blunt but they can still deal great damage to people.

Rock Climbing

There’s a vibrant rock climbing scene in the UK, supported by a network of thousands of climbers who constantly share their climbs through sites like UKClimbing.com. Once more, this is the kind of activity where an instructor is absolutely essential. There are loads of indoor climbing centres where you can take your family to get to grips with the basics before heading outdoors to tackle a real cliff face – equipment hire is usually cheap, just make sure that all your gear is thoroughly tested and in good nick before you do anything!

Safety Tip: Make sure your instructor is properly licensed and certified before you head out on your excursion.…

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Video Games Explained

The world of video games can be rather bewildering…

As a man in his mid-thirties, I’ve seen the rise of video games from simple arcade attractions to clunky handhelds, to the high-powered behemoths that exist today. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to stop being a spectator of these things and start becoming an active participant.

There used to be a stigma against ‘grown men’ (as I’m begrudgingly referred to) playing video games. In the 80s and 90s simply the phrase ‘video games’ conjured up images of brightly coloured mascots such as Nintendo’s Mario or spotty teenagers feverishly mashing a sweaty control pad: not entirely cool or respectable.

Over the last few years the industry has grown up, alongside the people playing them, leading us into a brave new world of video game entertainment that offers people of all ages a chance to ‘play’ without having to deal with the old stigmas that might have previously put them off.

Having never touched  a video game in my life, I decided it was high to time to step into this world but that turned out to be a lot easier said than done.

I turned to the internet first for guidance, as we’re all trained to do now. However, I wasn’t presented with a simple guide on how to get started or what was best for me, so I thought I’d start out by trying to make sense of this brave new world and give beginners (like me) a chance to understand what games are right for them.

Mobile Video Games

This format of video games are far and away the most accessible for most people, despite the fact that they are a relatively recent development. In the UK, 71% of all adults own a smart phone. Whether these phones run the popular Android operating system or they’re an iPhone (running iOS), they will have access to a store where they can download applications (‘apps’ for short).

Some of these apps may be functional programs, but the majority of them will be games, many of which are free to download. Mobile games are a great starting point for beginners because of their accessibility and affordability, however it’s worth remembering that they are often very simple and some even have hidden costs that might lead to you accidentally spending money.

Try: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft – A simple digital card game with surprising depth. You can buy more cards should you wish, but the game is perfectly enjoyable without this and the game  will also educate you in the lore of the popular Warcraft gaming world.

Consoles

If you’re thinking of taking a more concerted step into the world of video games then you should consider buying a dedicated console. This will allow you to play on your television and use a controller, a more traditional style of video gaming. They range greatly in price, so it’s worth considering your budget before stepping in.

A top of the range Playstation 4 Pro, for example, will cost you £349.99, however you can find an older iteration of this console for as cheap as £200 if you look around. If this is still too much, then you can buy a console from a previous generation for around £75, the games will be cheaper but you’ll struggle to find people to play online with.

Try: Hunting eBay for used or refurbished current generation consoles or buy from exchange shops like CEX to get the best bargains.

PC/Mac Games

If you already own a PC or a Mac then you’ve already got a machine that you can play video games on! The first thing you’ll need to do is research how powerful your system is by checking your ‘System Properties’. Then you can download Steam and peruse the online store for a game you’re interested in that will run on your machine. You can either buy a controller that will connect to your computer or play using a mouse and keyboard, depending on what kind of game you’re playing. Games sold on Steam vary greatly, but can often be cheaper than traditional console games.

Try: Typing the game title into YouTube first to get a preview of what it looks like, you can also use the site Can I Run It, to find out if your system is powerful enough for your chosen game.

There are many more types of video games that you can play including handheld consoles, arcades and flash games. If you’d like to get started right away then you can play loads of nifty little games at Miniclip.com

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