Pink! It’s my favourite colour

Me in a fetching pink vest

Fetching, non?

Hey, remember me? I’m that guy who writes stuff round these parts, although there’s not been much of that going on lately.

And it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of things to write about. Quite the opposite in fact, there’s been loads: the end of one school year for one, the start of a new one for another (including Megan’s first day at nursery)and that’s before considering summer holidays in France, Lincolnshire and Buckinghamshire or the Commonwealth Games right here in Glasgow.

All of those things deserve posts, and maybe I’ll actually get round to writing them at some point, but there’s something else that’s taken up a fair chunk of my time recently that absolutely needs mentioning first.

12 days ago, I competed in my first duathlon – that’s a triathlon where the swimming part is replaced by an extra run. As if one run isn’t enough! I managed to complete the two 5km runs, with a 20km cycle in between, in a fairly respectable (I think) time of 1:35:17. And this Sunday I’ll be running my first half marathon in 20 years at the Great Scottish Run. Exciting times!

Duathlon finish line

The end is in sight :)

Either of these events would be a test on their own. Taking on both is even more of a challenge, and one I did think long and hard about – especially 15 days apart. So why am I doing this to myself?

Back in July we learned that a good friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which was quite a shock, not least because she’s younger than me. Fortunately, things are looking good for our friend, and it looks like things have been caught early enough. But many other women (and men) aren’t so lucky, and with 1 in 8 women expected to be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives, finding new cures and improving survival rates is imperative.

Which is why I’m taking part in these events – to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign, a UK based charity funding world-class breast cancer research projects. I’ve set myself a fundraising target of £600, and at the time of writing have raised a total of £440. And that’s where you come in – I’d love to smash my target and you could be the person who helps me to do that.

You can donate via JustGiving by clicking on the following link - https://www.justgiving.com/Richard-Black3/ - and any donation, no matter how small, will be very much appreciated. Not least because it will make the blisters, the sore legs and the early starts for training runs/bike rides all the more worthwhile.

And who knows, smashing that target might even encourage me to write more on this here blog! Actually, maybe that’s not an incentive to sponsor me. Yeah, ignore that bit. As you were…

But thanks for reading. And if you decide you can spare a few pounds, thanks for that too. I really appreciate it, and I guess the folks whose lives it saves in future will too.

Review: Barbie and the Secret Door

Barbie and the Secret DoorIf you’ve read my last review of a Barbie movie, you’ll know that I’m not the greatest fan of the series, although my girls most certainly are. And since they, not I, are the target audience for these animated tales, I guess my opinion doesn’t really count for that much – far less than theirs anyway.

It was with a little trepidation, then, that I sat down to watch the latest movie, Barbie and the Secret Door. Released on DVD on September 1st, the movie sees Barbie cast as a princess (but of course!) called Alexa, who lacks confidence in herself, and avoids as much social interaction as she can get away with. Things change, though, when her grandmother gives her a special book which reveals and unlocks a secret door, leading to another, more magical kingdom.

And it’s in this second kingdom that the bulk of the action takes place, as Alexa battles to free it from Malucia, a mean and nasty princess who’s stealing magic from fairies, mermaids and even unicorns to make herself more powerful. Throw in no fewer than seven all-new songs, and it was almost inevitable that the girls would enjoy it. Heather gave it 11 out of 11 which, unknowing Spinal Tap reference aside, is as good as it could get, and Megan loved it too. Every time they’ve watched it.

Here’s the strange thing though - I enjoyed it too! Yes, the story was a bit predictable, but to adult eyes most films aimed at kids are, so it would be unfair to knock it for that. Predictability aside though, this actually had a lot going for it.

The songs, although not in the same league as those from Frozen, were catchy, and fitted well within the structure of the movie. They were also spread fairly evenly throughout, unlike Frozen which seemed determined to get the musical numbers out of the way as soon as possible.

The animation – something I’ve very hit and miss in previous Barbie movies – was pretty good, and had more than a nod to Dr Seuss in the magical kingdom, both in the characters and its landscape. Not a bad thing in my book.

I also really liked the “villainous” Malucia, particularly the scene where we are first introduced to her – that got an actual out loud laugh from me!

All in all, this is definitely one of the better Barbie movies I’ve seen, and not one I’d try desperately to dissuade the kids from watching again. Which, if you’ve seen some of the older ones, you’ll know is high praise indeed!

Barbie and the Secret Door is available to buy on DVD from 1st September 2014.

As part of the DVD launch, Razzamatazz Theatre Schools are putting on special FREE Barbie Singing Academy events where kids aged 3-8 will learn some of the songs for the movie, and improve their singing technique in the process, before putting on a performance for parents and family. The Barbie Singing Academy takes place on Saturday 30th August, with times depending on which Razzamatazz school you attend. More details can be found at 

http://www.razzamataz.co.uk/barbie-and-the-secret-door.

When the glory fades

Kelvingrove Park

Kelvingrove Park, part of Glasgow 2014′s cycling road race

Today marks one year since my first bike ride to work. Since then I’ve covered over 3,700 miles, wearing out an entire drive-train in the process, and “enjoyed” pretty much every kind of weather Glasgow had to throw at me. I’m also a good bit fitter than I was 12 months ago, evidenced by the fact that today’s journey took almost 10 minutes less than that first one a year ago, despite being longer thanks to a few diversions.

And yet, instead of celebrating what I’ve been able to do over the past year, my journey today had a very melancholy feeling about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud to have come so far (no pun intended… well, maybe a little bit) but my journey across the city passes by – and through – several of the Commonwealth Games venues, and it’s just not the same as it was last week.

Take Glasgow Green for example. The pathways I normally use are still closed (hence the diversions) so instead of hugging the river I had to take the long way round, which took me past the entrance to what was the Live Zone, now sadly closed. The Ferris wheel, which we never rode on in the end, is still there, but it’s stationary, waiting to be dismantled and moved on to the next big event. I even caught a glimpse of the road events’ finish line, deserted and nothing like it was at the weekend.

It was the same story along the Clydeside – what was bustling just a week ago was now virtually empty, returned back to normal just like the rest of the city. Even the buzz of riding the same Kelvingrove paths that the likes of Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, David Millar and Scott Thwaites did on Sunday was fleeting.

I don’t think I’m alone in having the post-Games blues. I’m pretty sure loads of folk across the city are feeling the same way. There’s even a petition to have the official mascot, Clyde, adopted by the city, and made a permanent mascot, which I’ve signed. I almost shed a tear last night when I showed his farewell video to the kids. They absolutely loved him, and hearing Heather ask “where’s he going?” and “he’ll be back next year though, won’t he?” tugged on the old heartstrings even more than the video itself.

More positively, I think Glasgow has put on a great show for the world, and showed itself off as the fantastic city it is, and I’m sure the benefits of that will reaped for years to come – decades even.

I’ve no idea what the next big event will be, but I’m confident that there will be one. And I, for one, can’t wait to do it all over again.

Review and giveaway: River Cottage EPA/Burt’s Crisps

image

One of my favourite things about summer is how much sport there is to enjoy – and what a summer this is turning out to be! We’ve already had one of the best World Cups I can remember, Wimbledon (boo!), the Tour de France, and now, for the next two weeks or so Glasgow is going to be buzzing with the Commonwealth Games. It’s going to be ace, and despite some travel disruption (it took me an extra 15 minutes to get into work today, with all the road closures and diversions) I’m really looking forward to both the events we’re going to (gymnastics, rugby 7s, athletics, road cycling and probably the marathon) and the ones I’ll be watching on TV.

It’s hard work watching all this sport, so I was thrilled to receive a sports fan pack from River Cottage EPA and Burts Chips – just the refreshment I needed!

River Cottage English Pale Ale is a new beer developed by Skinner’s Brewery and the lovely people at River Cottage, and one I thoroughly enjoyed, although not as strongly flavoured as the IPAs, red ales and porters I tend to go for these days.

Burts Chips were some of the nicest handcooked potato chips I think I’ve ever had. I tried 3 flavours

  • sea salt, which was everything you’d expect
  • vintage cheddar and onion which, as someone who doesn’t normally like cheese and onion crisps, were a revelation
  • Guinness rich beef chilli. These ones disappeared very quickly indeed, thanks to my Guinness loving father-in-law. We all agreed they could have done with a bit more spice, but they were still delicious

The only problem with the chips being so good is they were gone in no time, and now I’ve none left for the rest of the summer. Oh well, guess I’ll have to buy some more.

Now for the best bit – I’ve got another one of these packs to give away to one lucky reader! To enter, just leave a comment below saying what your sporting highlight of summer 2014 is/will be. I’ll be picking a winner at 12 noon next Monday (July 28th 2014) so make sure you get your entries in by then. And good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Alister Pullen, whose comment (#4) was picked at random by the random number generator at www.random.org.