Category Archives: Uncategorized

UNICEF UK presents "No Place Like Home" with Ewan McGregor, Rita Ora and more…

The Middle East is suffering its worst weather for over fifty years. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, the Pyramids in Egypt covered in snow:

But that means there are hundreds of thousands of refugees suffering too. We like cold on our Christmas cards; we love to sing of bleak mid-winters and frosty winds but the reality for those without a home this Christmas is well and truly bleak.

Text WARM to 70111 to donate £3 to UNICEF UK’s Syria Winter Appeal. Donate by credit card at (including viewers from outside the UK).

In this short film Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Emma Bunton, Rita Ora and Tinie Tempah join UNICEF UK in support of our Syria Winter Appeal for the children of Syria.

Thank you – your help really makes a difference to children’s lives in Syria.


Waitrose Christmas: Dessert

Discover Heston’s fantastic new party food range and delicious desserts, available in store and online:

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Guesting on the Love All Dads Podcast

You know what they say: one door opens and another… opens too. (Don’t they say that?)

Or maybe it’s buses – you wait all year for something interesting to come along and then three things happen at once.

The first (and probably progenitor of the other two) was my invitation to The House of Lords a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of the Fatherhood Institute. Next, a little later that same week, came an invitation to cross swords once more with the Daily Mail, this time in the person of Quentin Letts and with Jeremy Vine acting as referee.

Then finally, last week, came a wonderful invitation to spend an evening chatting with a fabulous group of chaps – a couple of whom I’ve met – via the medium of Skype. It was just like an evening down the pub, really. Except there was no beer. Not here, anyway. And I was alone on my sofa. Oh, and the technical wizard that is John Arnold recorded and edited it all and miracle dictu transformed it into episode 16 of the Love All Dads podcast. The other participants were Tom Diary of the Dad Briggs, OneDad3Girls‘ Darren, Lewis – DadWhoBlogs and of course John.

It was great craic. Here’s the podcast…

Boston Floods!

It’s not every day you step outside your front door and find the street has turned into a river…

We’d been warned. We knew it could happen. By late afternoon we knew it would happen. And we knew – roughly – when was likely to happen.

What you can’t ever know is how quickly it all starts to happen. One minute you’re thinking about perhaps unplugging the telly and moving it upstairs, the next you’re dashing about taping up your front door and your elderly neighbour’s air-bricks and frantically moving everything you can as high as you can, using any and every possible vantage point…

Then, all you can do is go upstairs and watch and wait…

… and hope, of course, that the waters don’t rise any higher. And thankfully – for us – they didn’t. Although we were surrounded, front and back, by a couple of inches it didn’t quite reach the height of the front or back doors. We stayed dry. Many didn’t. And having come so very close I can only extend my heartfelt sympathy to those unfortunate few who found their defences breached.

Floods happen and on the grand, global scale of things this was relatively minor. Heck, at times as the sun rose over the park this morning it even looked pretty:

Although what it left behind wasn’t always very pleasant…

Thankfully, now, the threat has subsided and normal service is slowly being resumed. Teams of volunteers and council workers are clearing up and householders are doing their best to restore a semblance of normality to their lives as they return home.

I’ve only ever seen picture of floods and flooded houses, factories and shops on TV news reports before. When it happens to you and – literally – on your doorstep things look very, very different.

We were lucky.

But many weren’t.

And as you watch the news, think of being them.

I nearly was.

Happy Christmas… Card

Yes, the humble folded cardboard greeting with a picture of (in most cases) a robin or (in a few) snow-covered churches, fresh-cheeked choirboys or comic Santas is 170 years old this year.

But will it reach its double century?

Three of these quaint anachronistic greetings have already reached me here at Dotterel HQ, though I’ve no idea who they’re from as I can’t quite bring myself to open them. Not until I’ve at least got my head around who I’m going to be sending my own season’s greetings to this year. And the way things are going, that won’t be until Christmas Eve.

I remember one Christmas, singing in a choir (as I still do) and in the pub (as is traditional) between Christmas Eve Nine Lessons and Carols and Midnight Mass a few hours (and a few pints) later one senior lay-clerk sitting at the table with a box of cards and writing them to all and sundry and asking anyone in the vicinity if they’d like a card. It was like a book-signing.

‘Name?’ he’d bellow.

‘Er… Tim. Of course. You know.’

‘Very well then,’ he’d growl as his teeth clenched the remains of a cigarette, scribbling with a flourish and then handing me a card.

‘Merry Christmas!’

I hope that won’t be me this year.

In fact, I know it won’t because one thing I have (slowly) managed to wean myself away from is the habit of sending a written card to those I’ll see over the festive season – those I’ll therefore be able to wish a ‘Happy Christmas!’ to in person.

Writing a card, handing it to somebody and then telling them some variant of the printed greeting inside the envelope they’re holding seems rather pointless, like handing somebody a postcard when you’ve come back from your holiday.

But perhaps that’s just me? (Bah, humbug!)

In fact I could even happily hasten the demise of the traditional card by using social media (Facebook, Twitter, even You Tube) as a substitute for sending greetings to those far flung friends and relations I won’t be seeing. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. I love Christmas. Always have. And everything that goes with it. Well, almost everything.

Am I alone in my antipathy towards these venerable pieces of printed paper? Surely not.

The fact is, I do like receiving cards but really only from those I haven’t heard from since, well… last Christmas.

Oh, and one other thing. If you are sending cards, and you’re in the habit of including one of those round robin letter might I humbly and modestly steer you towards this advice?

Honestly, it’ll make everybody happy.

Cyber Monday Christmas Gift Guide

I confess I hadn’t heard of cyber Monday until last week but it coincides very nicely with this year’s Christmas Gift Guide, which I’ve brought forward just in case today any of these items might be available as an online bargain.

First, the awkward squad – those friends and relations it proves almost impossible to buy for either because they’ve already got everything or because they have such demanding tastes. Something that might just meet both criteria without breaking the bank comes from the Ashleigh and Burwood range which includes this rather stylish (and very fragrant) Mercury Decadent Vase Diffuser Set (£24.49 on the Ashleigh & Burwood site but only £20.39 on Amazon).

But there are some people who wouldn’t thank you for anything as frivolous as this, and for them why not combine practicality with luxury with the Thane H20 X5 Steam mop? I say ‘mop’ but this new addition to the Thane steam-cleaning range is actually a floor cleaner, fabric steamer, window cleaner, handheld steamer and carpet cleaner all in one and turns ordinary tap water into super charged and continuous steam meaning you can dispense with detergents.

I confess I’m quite excited by this (I know, sad…) and can’t wait to try it out so there’ll be a full review to follow. Meantime, if you’re interested, it can be had for £89.99 (a £10 reduction on the RRP) courtesy of a voucher code available for use at Robert Dyas which can be had via the Idealo price-comparison website. More of them later.

Of course, all parents (along with a great many aunts, uncles, grandparents and godparents) will at some point be buying toys as part of their Christmas shopping. That can be a bit of a nightmare as not only can they carry an eye-watering price tag but – safely wrapped in plastic and cardboard – their durability and ability to withstand hours of heavy-handed playing can be impossible to assess accurately. Tonka (whom I well remember from my own youth) recently launched a new Tonka Town range and every bit as robust as the old tin Tonka toys I used to play with of old and The Tonka Town Fire Station playset is just £21.33 on Amazon (rrp. £39.99).

What we all need, if course, especially when buying toys is an open, honest an trustworthy opinion from the experts – the kids who are actually going to play with them and Charlie was selected earlier in the year to be part of the Tesco toy team… a day playing with toys and being filmed talking about them. And, of course, giving an honest opinion…

Toys, of course, can vary in price enormously and it can be a lifetime’s work seeking out the best deals.  Sites like Ideolo, however, can do the hard work for you and present an easy way to save a fortune. And with the new Ideolo iPad app the searching and price-matching just got a whole lot easier. I gave it a try searching for something on Charlie’s (extended) Santa wish-list and here are the results:

The app’s home-page… just touch a pic to begin a search

Narrowed down to all-things ‘Lego’…
 Just add words…

 and ‘bingo’… the product I’m looking for with a range of discount buying options

Of course, shopping online isn’t without it’s risks and there are a few simple precautions you can take to help cover yourself if there are any problems.

Most important, for anything costing over £100, is to use a credit card as your means of payment. That way – under the Consumer Credit Act – should anything go wrong (the company go bust, the goods not arrive) the credit card company will be jointly liable and you may get all your money back. But beware when entering your credit card details online and make sure you’re on your own computer, that the wifi is protected and that your anti-virus software is up-to-date.

Right, so that’s toys and gifts for the hard-to-please but what about, well… you know, that special person, that certain someone, that deserving, er… dad who works so hard all-year-round and deserves something special to unwrap on Christmas Day?

Well, ahem, far be it from me to put ideas into anyone’s heads but speaking as someone who – since the advent of smartphones – has stopped using cameras completely (in favour of the increasingly high-resolution lenses available on those gadgets we still quaintly call a mobile) the New Nokia Lumia 1020 (which I had the good fortune to have a play with on Saturday) ticks a great many boxes, especially with its stonking 41MP camera as well as dual capture facility and features like manual exposure level, white balance, shutter speed and ISO normally only seen on DSLRs.

All this and it makes ‘phone calls, too!

Mind you, not everyone is as as avid a phone-snapper as I am, but we all need a little ‘me-time’ now and again, and that can be hard to find during the festive season. So why not create your own with something like these urBeats DRE earbuds from DrDre, shutting out all around you while listening to something soothing on your iPod or smartphone. With Precision-machined single-billet metal housing to prevent vibrations and unwelcome sound from tainting your listening experience to ultra-flexible and tangle-free cabling these are the headphones for a dad who might be woken from his Christmas afternoon nap by a toddler crawling all over him… or worse.

Heck, with a built-in mic you can even take calls without taking them out of your ears or holding your phone like a walkie-talkie.

Perfect for all those Christmas Day phone calls you’ll be taking from all the grateful recipients of your thoughtful present-buying!

Beats by DRE

Addis Beza: Helping Prevent HIV Through Dance

Today is World AIDS Day and I’ve been sent this remarkable story from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. They write:

Today’s young people are the first generation that has never known a world without HIV and AIDS. In Ethiopia, where more than half of the population is under the age of 24, cultural attitudes among the older generation towards sexual health issues are making it difficult for young people to arm themselves with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe.

But one enterprising group of youngsters in Addis Ababa, the BEZA Anti-AIDS youth group, are determined to use their combined talents for music and dance to get messages about HIV prevention across to the public and their peers. Members of the youth group, all aged between 15 and 20, have founded a dance troupe called Addis Beza, meaning “to live for others”. The troupe perform regularly in popular public spots around Addis Ababa, using the occasion to hand out information leaflets and to encourage people to get tested for HIV free of charge so that they know their status and can be treated accordingly.

The mobile testing clinics are organised by the Organization for Social Services for AIDS (OSSA), Ethiopia’s largest NGO working on HIV, and attract up to a thousand people over the course of five days. If somebody is found to be HIV positive, they are then referred on to a local health facility for access to treatment, care and support.

At the youth club centre, as well as training long hours to learn dance moves, members take it in turns to offer a drop in counselling service for young people and to give out free condoms. 

Habtegoregies Hailu, better known as Habte, is the club’s chairman, and is determined to help them navigate through their teenage years.

“We’re going to save ourselves first, and then become a shelter for others who need protection,” he says. “This is the start not the end for us, helping protect young people from HIV.”

The Youth Group’s Debates

The club’s regular debate session is always well attended by members and this month’s topic – what is the right age to start having sex – drew quite a crowd. At these debates, opinion is often fiercely divided, but everybody gets the chance to express their view.

Club chairman Habte’s offering sees him open up the floor to personal opinion and thought. “How much control we do we have over ourselves, over our bodies? Marriage is not necessarily a timetable for having sex. It’s ok to experience, but we must be careful. It’s ok to jump in and enjoy life but do we take responsibility for our actions? Enjoy life but go and get information on how to enjoy it responsibly and carefully.” 

Charismatic troupe leader Samson, 17, had this to say: “We have to have sex, we strongly have to. Because the Bible says to be reproductive – so we have to fulfil God’s word and use our body. What is it for otherwise?”

Wendimagegne is more hesitant: “I’m waiting until marriage, because otherwise we won’t be able to handle the consequences. We’re not knowledgeable enough at 16.”

Samson and his story

Samson is typical of the kind of young person that the club aims to attract. Now a model student taking an evening class in hotel management, he was once branded a troublemaker and had a history of petty stealing. Brought up by his grandmother, his father died when he was a baby and he has no real knowledge of his mother. Remembering when he was younger, he says: “We got into fights with gangs from other villages and had problems with the police.”

“I feel I have benefitted greatly from joining Addis Beza,” he continues. “The main benefit is a change in my life. Although I joined for the dance troupe, I’ve learnt lots of things. I did not have self-awareness until now and it has helped me to teach other people what I have learned. There is a big difference between the old me and the new me.”

Samson has seen first hand the tragedy that HIV can hold for young people if they do not have the knowledge they need to understand how to manage the virus. His friend Abel took his own life on discovering that he was positive, too frightened to reveal his diagnosis to his family for fear of being rejected.

“If you catch HIV it means that everyone will discriminate against you,” Samson says. “People will think that you can’t live with anyone, that it is an alien disease. [Before joining the youth group] the opinion I had is that it’s not even possible to eat together. Our families used to say that it’s a punishment from God.”

“I did not have any knowledge and didn’t know its methods of transmission, but I have learned to practise safe sex, when I should start having sex, what I need to do after sex if a woman gets pregnant.”

With young people aged 15-24 accounting for 40% of new HIV infections globally, Samson and his fellow dancers are playing their part as duty bearing citizens. “I want to make Ethiopian culture known to the world,” he says proudly. “Here we say that we want to be the light for others.” 

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance and Link Up

Ethiopia is one of five countries currently being targeted by the Alliance and its partners through Link Up, an initiative that aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people living with and affected by HIV.

Over the course of the next three years, Link Up will reach more than one million young people aged 15-24 by implementing tailored HIV and sexual and reproductive health interventions to increase uptake and access to services and reduce unintended pregnancies, new HIV infections and HIV-related maternal mortality. In Ethiopia the initiative aims to reach 140,000 young people to improve their sexual health.

What can you do to help?

Show your support to Addis Beza, the Link Up programme and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance by:

Sharing the dance troupe’s story (Click to Tweet) (Share on Facebook) #LinkUp
Keeping up to date with the work being carried out through Link Up at
Follow the International HIV/AIDS Alliance on Twitter @theaidsalliance and on Facebook

Discussing changes to parental leave on The Jeremy Vine Show

I’ve done it again. Crossed swords with The Daily Fail, in the person of their parliamentary sketch writer Quentin Letts. At one point he is heard to say, ‘there’s rather a lot of rubbish being talked here’ – meaning, I think, what I’d just been saying (although he did go on to refer to Nick Clegg so perhaps he was talking about him. Or maybe us both?)

Who knows?

But if you missed it and you’d like to, you can hear it here.

EON Energy Saving Toolkit

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The recent energy price increase has again highlighted the importance of using our power wisely. Quite apart from the environmental benefits (reducing carbon emissions, helping to control global warming) being energy smart is becoming a fact of life for everyone, and living in a climate like ours here in the UK can mean never really knowing what the elements are going to throw at you.

So even a night in, especially in winter, isn’t always going to be as cheap as it sounds!

The really bad news is that an awful lot of the energy we all use is actually going to waste. The good news is that there’s something we can do about it.

E.ON’s “No More Than You Need” campaign is all about helping you pinpoint energy wastage in your home, so that you get the benefit of absolutely everything you’re paying for, putting money back in your pocket.

The campaign includes a number of ways that you can begin to improve energy efficiency.

First of all, it offers you the chance to host an energy efficiency expert. Comparing your home with others in the area, he or she will assess your home’s energy performance, work out where wastage is occurring and recommend the next steps to take.

Secondly, you will be made aware of a number of energy-related discounts and loans that you are free to take advantage of, such as the “Green Deal”: a government scheme which provides loans to any energy-saving home improvement, such as double glazing, cavity wall insulation or an energy efficient boiler.

Thirdly, you have the option of exploring and making use of a vast array of helpful tips to improve energy efficiency in the home. These will make you aware of the ways in which you are currently wasting energy and subsequent steps to take to rectify waste.

It really is that easy. Use the EON Energy Saving Toolkit to put money back in your pocket and reduce energy waste today.

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Lewis Hamilton does the School Run…

I always said that the daily race to get the kids out of the house and to school on-time would test the skills of the best, so when insurers Allianz invited former Formula One™World Champion racing driver Lewis Hamilton to give it a go I was more than a little intrigued.

The partnership between the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team and Allianz Insurance dates from 2010 and concentrates on car safety (they explicitly choose to position their branding not on the car, but on key safety devices like seat belts, race overalls and the Head and Neck Device (HANS) instead). In addition, team members, including drivers, provide exclusive F1 insights as well as their personal safe driving advice through the Allianz Drive Safely website and communications programme.

So with Lauren and Jessica ready and waiting, Lewis got a taste of ‘school run stress’. The journey was captured on video and throughout the two excited primary schoolgirls make it as authentic as possible, quizzing Lewis on a wide array of topics and even at one point breaking into a song they wrote especially for him!

And it was raining.

Talk about distracting…