13 April 2014

Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #10

MK Dons Football Club

Yesterday we took the boys to their first live football match, at our local club in Milton Keynes, MK Dons.

Presley, 6, and Cash, 5, have suddenly got into football. They play on a Saturday (and in the garden and at school and any chance they get) and watch as many matches as they can on television and collect football cards. Presley pours over league tables, reads the sport pages in the paper and reads the live text commentary on the BBC Sport website. Our junior Statto can tell you pretty much every scoreline in every match this season, and not just in the Premier League.

The boys follow many football clubs for many reasons. One of the teams we follow is our local team, MK Dons. From controversial beginnings, MK Dons are doing well in SkyBet League One (the equivalent of the old Division 3, if you're as old as me).

We were prompted to visit yesterday by an advert in the local paper about a free family day at the club. We also bought tickets for the match that day, for a bargain £20 for all four of us. Under 12's were free, as they will be with 2014/15 season tickets. I found the website difficult to navigate and ended up buying the wrong tickets. Luckily I phoned the box office and the woman on the phone sorted everything out for me there and then. Two days later the correct tickets arrived. She couldn't have been more helpful.

We also paid £7 to park, as we hadn't been before and wanted to get close to the stadium. The match day programme was £3 (which Presley held throughout the game to see the team listings). We also bought t-shirts for the boys at £5 each. Unfortunately the shop had sold out of replica home shirts in the boys' sizes, which is a shame as the shop were offering to add a free name and number on the back, to collect after the match.

We also paid for the boys to go on rides and bouncy castles, and we had burgers, so we probably had an afternoon out for £50, but what an afternoon. There were many stalls at the family fun day, in aid of both local and national charities and organisations. The boys played Fruit Ninja on a big screen, met Mickey Mouse and Gully Mouse from Gullivers, visited the many stalls giving away lollies, entered tombolas and ate chocolate brownies. There was also free live music. This kept us busy and entertained for a couple of hours.

Walking through the very modern turnstiles into the very modern stadium, I was impressed by how smart it looked. MK Dons is a small club, but thanks to the vision (and cash) of Chairman, Pete Winkleman, it is impressive and professional. The area around the club has been regenerated and is now in the middle of a large retail park, MK1. I have agreed with Andy that the next time he takes the boys to the match while I go shopping...

There is a 'ring of steel' art installation around the stadium to celebrate 40 years of Milton Keynes. n 2012 every school child in Milton Keynes was photographed by the club and their images, tens of thousands of them, form a circle around the interior of the oval stadium. We didn't see Presley and Cash, but I suspect there is a way to find out where they are.

The seats are spacious and comfortable, although the seat numbers aren't that easy to see. We were in the family corner and felt welcomed at every turn. I couldn't get over how family-friendly it was. I didn't hear a single swear word all day. The coffee was okay and the toilets were clean.

As it was the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster there was a minute's silence before the match. 8,877 people stood in respectful silence between the blows of the referee's whistle. This was incredibly moving and completely quiet. I held my son's hand and felt the tears falling down my cheeks.

At half time was the thing I had been looking forward to, the mascot race. Hello Donny and Mooie...

The boys loved the match, and the atmosphere was sporting and good-natured. Unfortunately the result didn't go our way and Crawley won 2:0.

As we left we were handed a free World Cup wall chart (with information about the MK Dons 2014/15 season on the back), another lovely touch. Stewards outside directed the traffic and ensured that we got out of the car park  and on our way home easily.

The women's FA Cup final is being held at Stadium MK on 1st June. The cup was on display yesterday too. 'Citing.

We had a wonderful day at a wonderful local club. COME ON YOU DONS!

Other reasons to love living in Milton Keynes:

The sausage and cider festival
The Stables at Wavendon
Milton Keynes Museum
The wildlife
The well-planned new city
Furzton Lake
The Concrete Cows
The 'Beach'
The green open spaces



11 April 2014

What is Kalixa Pay?

This is a sponsored post.

I am regularly contacted by agencies asking me to write about their clients. Every now and then the product or service that I have been asked to write about actually sounds pretty good.

Friends, have you heard about Kalixa Pay?

Kalixa Pay is a prepaid Mastercard. You simply transfer money to your card weekly, or monthly, and once you've spent it, that's it. There's no overdraft, no interest and no late payment fees, no stress.

What a great idea to help you budget. I attempted a Frugal February earlier this year. I tried to only spend money on essentials, but found that tight a budget too difficult to stick to. I would have been better budgeting to spend a little something. With Kalixa Pay I could do just that.

I can see me loading my card with an allowance for clothes, shoes, make up and so on, at the beginning of the month. Then I'd use it instead of my usual bottomless credit card, the one with the ridiculous credit limit, and spend away. It's like taking cash out at the beginning of the month and only spending that, but with the flexibility and security of using a Mastercard.

The account includes an online portal called eWallet. You can keep an eye on where your money is going – and perhaps more importantly, how much is left. You a free email or text message every time you use your card (for purchases over £5) detailing what you have spent and your updated account balance, ensuring you always keep on track of your spending.

Another benefit of Kalixa Pay that I can see is that you can use it on holiday abroad. Unlike other travel money cards you will not be charged any foreign exchange fees, transaction charges or commission on any purchases you make while abroad. Once your trip is over, unlike other prepaid travel money cards, if there is money left on your card you won’t be charged for spending and you do not have to worry about the exchange rates involved in converting your money back to Pounds Sterling again. You can simply continue using your card to withdraw cash and make purchases on your card at over 36 million sales points. No fees, no hassle.

What a great alternative to converting a load of cash into currency. I was tidying a drawer the other day and found a wad of Euros. I think I decided after out last holiday to France that we would be going back. I didn't want to pay commission changing it back, so I hung onto it. We haven't needed it, and - to be completely honest - I had completely forgotten about it. What a shameful admission.

The Kalixa Pay prepaid MasterCard, including the eWallet service, is available for a one-off payment of £6.95.


8 April 2014

So, I recorded two songs at Abbey Road Studios

No, you shut up.

I really did.

Look, here I am in Studio 1:

I'm wearing cans and everything.

I'm lucky to be a member of the Milton Keynes Rock Choir. Last year I sang at the O2. This year our choir leader, Lottie, arranged for us to record two songs at Abbey Road Studios.

We recorded True Colours by Cyndi Lauper and You're the Voice by John Farnham. You can listen to our recordings on Soundcloud. I think we sound pretty good.

The walls of Abbey Road Studios are covered with photographs of the artists who have recorded there. We were able to see and touch pianos and mixing desks used by artists including The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Gary Barlow.

Our engineer has worked with Adele and he used the same mixing desk when they recorded Skyfall in Studio 1.

I don't think I've ever seen a happier bunch of people getting on a double decker bus to go back to Milton Keynes.

Of course I used the zebra crossing...

It would have been rude not to.



8 March 2014

My Digital Postcard From Tanzania for #IWD2014

The three bloggers (A Residence, Mammasaurus and Mummy Barrow) behind the phenomenon that is Team Honk are currently in Tanzania with Comic Relief. They are looking at the lasting change made by the charity, seeing where and how our donations are making a massive difference to lives. They are focusing on female entrepreneurs building business that benefit both their families and the wider community.

T from Mummy Barrow sent me this postcard about a woman she met called Lucy.

T writes:
"Through mentoring and training the Gatsby Trust gave Lucy the confidence to develop her business and to network after moving from the countryside to the city, She is an inspirational creative who brought out so many beautiful, imaginative handcrafted items to show us. More than that she is a teacher and looks forward expanding her business by training other women who want to start up craft and textile businesses."

What has really struck me, from following Team Honk in Tanzania, is how these women are just like us. They work from home, for themselves, starting their businesses from scratch, eventually supporting their families. They just need a bit of support, from charities like Comic Relief, to build their businesses. Then they share their knowledge with others. Just like us.

If you would like to contribute to this empowering charity, here's how:

You can help create #lastingchange by sponsoring #teamhonkrelay for Sport Relief

Join up for your local Sport Relief event here.


4 March 2014

World Book Day Roald Dahl Easy Fancy Dress Ideas

Image: The Book People

My heart sank when the World Book day letters arrived in the boys' book bags.

It's not that I don't like books. On the contrary, I love books. I'm always reading. It makes me happy to see the boys' reading improving rapidly as they make their way through Year 1.

World Book Day is all very well, but the focus is not where it should be, on the books themselves. The focus is on the costumes. The school tell you not to spend any money, but not all of us have a fully-stocked craft and costume cupboard. I don't really do sewing - my sewing machine hasn't made it out of the box yet - and I don't want to let my children down. Last week we had Victorian Day, this week it's World Book Day. There's always something. The school gate is swarming with stressed parents, wondering whether Polly's Disney Snow White costume will do.

There are ways to make it easy on yourself though. We've been working our way through the Roald Dahl collection at bedtime and there are plenty of characters that require only normal clothes and the odd prop to make them instantly recognisable. My boys, miraculously, both chose easy costumes.

George from George's Marvellous Medicine

5 year old Cash chose to be George from George's Marvellous Medicine. I remember Rik Mayall reading this on Jackanory in the 80's. George wears jeans and a red top. He just needs to carry a bottle of medicine and a spoon. For the medicine bottle I used an empty ginger beer bottle, took the label off and scratched off the logo on the lid. I attached a label with 'Grandma' written on it. I filled the bottle with a mixture of gravy and glitter, and screwed the lid on tightly.

Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

6 year old Presley chose to be Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie wears old clothes, so we will dig out an old jumper and some of Cash's trousers for Presley to wear at half mast. He just needs to carry a Wonka bar containing a golden ticket. I bought a Wonka bar before I realised it's a Nestle product. Grrr. I took out the chocolate (to save it from melting in his hands) and replaced it with cardboard wrapped in tissue paper. My first attempt at a golden ticket left me crying with laughter and shame. Art is not my strong point...

Don't laugh.

Okay, you can laugh. After all, I think the 'Saw this on Pinterest... Nailed it' montages are the funniest thing on the internet.

Luckily my friend, Jennifer, suggested printing a ticket from the internet and attaching it to some gold card, and this saved the day.

Other super easy Roald Dahl costume ideas include:

Grandpa Joe

Pyjamas, and talc in the hair

Veruca Salt

Posh outfit and carry a Wonka bar and a golden ticket

Danny Champion of the World

Normal clothes and carry a bag of raisins


Normal clothes and carry a book

The Twits

Stick on a dirty beard, borrow a walking stick

James and the Giant Peach

Normal clothes and carry toy insects. You could even push the boat out on this one and make a giant peach from cardboard.

Have you made an easy costume for World Book Day?

Damson Lane

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