Here in Bicester, we are lucky enough to have our own old-fashioned independent toy shop. The kids love it. Not only do they stock a huge range of goods, but they also have various things for the kids to play with. For example, both my boys love the Brio style wooden train sets. They have a couple of them set up in store and they always head straight for them.
Another recent addition is a large and quite realistic dinosaur. This moves about, shows it's teeth and roars! For a two year old like Jamie this is quite frightening, but Ollie being the hardened old cynical five year old he now is sees straight through it.
We came away from our latest trip from the toy shop with a board game, that old classic Snakes and Ladders. Now I think this is a brilliant game for younger children to play. The rules are pretty simple to follow, even Jamie can grasp them. The outcome is completely random so anyone can win. This is quite unlike games such as Monopoly where my fiendish tactics and constantly calculating statistical brain mean that I win most of the time. In the case of Snakes and Ladders, I'm completely at the whim of the dice, and the fact is that so far, Jamie has won more games than me.
Not only does the game teach basic skills such as counting, but it also provides a basic rehearsal for real life. Because life really is like a giant game of Snakes and Ladders. We roll the dice and we move along through life and no matter how hard you work, how good you are, you cannot avoid those snakes.
Some of us undoubtedly are dealt better cards than others to begin with, but anyone can make it up those ladders with a bit of foresight and a large slice of luck.
As far as teaching Ollie, well playing this game has been really good for him. When we first started playing I think he expected he would only ever go up the ladders, and got quite upset when he started landing on the snakes. There was a fair bit of misery and crying when I won the first game. But we talked about it and I explained how we cannot win every time in life no matter how hard we try, and bit by bit he came round to understanding. Now when I win he says something like, "well done, Daddy, maybe it will be my turn to win next time", and he doesn't even get upset when he goes down the snakes now, there's more a rolling of the eyes and a "oh, no, not that big snake again".
So Snakes and Ladders - if you have not got a set, I would say, get one and give your little ones an excellent preparation for real life.
It's time for another one of my money-saving tips. It's all to do with mobile phones, but the advice applies to anything you may be locked into a long term contract with.
As of today, my 12 year long association with Orange has come to an end. They didn't do anything wrong particularly, other than they were unable to match a more competitive price from a rival.
This surprised me really. Every time my contract has come to an end in the past I have rung them up and threatened to leave and they have dutifully gone out of their way to keep me, but not this time. To give you the detail, I wanted to get the new Samsung Galaxy S4, which Orange wanted £37 per month for, plus £99 for the handset. Vodafone on the other hand offered the same phone for £33 a month and the handset free. I rang Orange and asked them to match it but they refused. Bye bye Orange.
They were quite nice about it, thanked me and gave me my PAC code, and then I rang up Vodafone. And here is where my money saving tip comes in. For some time, my wife and I have had our phones linked on the same contract through one monthly bill. We each have individual phones obviously and although I have the bill I can't see any of her messages or information, but the good news is that you get a loyalty discount.
So I am paying £33 a month for my phone and £28.50 for Claire's. That's £4.50 a month saving and it's easier to keep track of one bill than two. So overall we are getting our new S4's for £30.75 a month each, I defy anyone to find a better deal on the market than that.
I'm sitting here quite excited at the moment as I have got the sales screen open on Amazon where the sales of my book for June stand at 99. I am just waiting for it to click over to 100 which will be cause for celebration.
Around this time last week, sales ground to a halt and I didn't sell any at all for a few days. I thought, well that's it, the dream is over. Then suddenly sales came flying in at the weekend. I can only assume that people are reading the "Look Inside", like what they are seeing and picking up a copy. I've managed to stay in the top 2000 books now since Sunday and have been in the Top 5 in my categories all that time including some spells at #1.
Now that I have got a bit of "critical mass" hopefully I can maintain it. I have not had any new reviews for a few days but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. The last two were not good at all but do not seem to have put people off, the reverse if anything. I think people like to make up their own minds, and if someone slags off a book they are more likely to "Look Inside" and see if it is true.
I can confirm that volume 2 is definitely in the pipeline and I hope to have it on sale by the Autumn. I've learned a lot from this first foray into publishing and don't mind admitting I made a few mistakes. Hopefully I can learn from them and when the next one comes out there will be more ladders than snakes.
I've just clicked back over to my sales page and I'm there! 100 sales in June! Amazing! 100 people liked the look of my book enough to buy it!
By the way, a few people asked if my blog would stop now I've got my book, well don't worry it won't. I'll just keep going on and on and on. As long as my brain wants to continue its random outpourings, I'll be here!
If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.