I can see clearly now

Trying my glasses on for size

Trying Daddy’s glasses on for size

When I was 3 or 4 years old – I’m not entirely sure, but I know I was at nursery – something exciting happened. A plastic bag had blown into a tree, and the teachers were lifting us kids up, one by one, so that we could see it. When it was my turn, I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. It’s not that I didn’t find the idea of a bag caught in a tree exciting – after all, who wouldn’t? – I literally couldn’t see the focus of everyone’s attention.

At home time, someone had a word with my mum and suggested I might need to have my eyes tested. Which I did. And have been wearing glassed ever since, which is definitely a good thing, because it turns out I’m blind as a bat.

Gem and I always knew there was a chance our kids would end up with bad eyes. Leaving me aside, the rest of Gem’s family are spec-wearers, and my lot all have glasses too, albeit none of them have eyes as bad as mine. But we’ve never noticed either of the girls having any problems, and when Heather’s eyes were checked out last year at nursery, although she needed a follow-up appointment at the hospital, they told us her eyes were near enough perfect.

So on Sunday, when almost on a whim we took Megan for an eye test (she’d been complaining of a sore eye), we weren’t expecting any different. But we got more than we’d bargained for, as did the poor optician who examined her!

You see, being three, and all this being a brand new experience, Megan wasn’t too keen on sitting still while they looked in her eyes. So the optician gave her some drops to slow her eyes down, and sent us away for 40 minutes while they worked their magic. A cake and a drink later (virtually untouched by Megs, it has to be said) we were back, and the difference in her was very noticeable.

Apparently these drops can cause drowsiness, and in Megan’s case that was certainly true – she was almost sleeping in the examination room. Which made it all the more surprising when she threw up all over herself, Gem, the optician and the floor. It was quite the spectacular expulsion by all accounts!

I (perhaps fortunately) missed it though, as I was in the waiting area with Heather. The first I knew that anything was amiss was overhearing Gem apologising repeatedly before I was despatched to procure some baby wipes, to help with the cleanup.

Look at my new dress!

Look at my new dress!

The staff in Specsavers managed to find Megs a promotional t-shirt to wear in place of her sicky clothes, and it was dressed like this that she picked out her first pairs of glasses. I say “she picked out”… truth is she was (understandably) so traumatised by the whole experience that she just wanted to go home, and it was under much duress that she agreed to go for some pinky/purpley Hello Kitty glasses, and some similarly coloured sunglasses, which we’ll pick up next week.

It turns out Megan’s eyes are about as bad as mine are – we’re both very long-sighted, with very similar prescriptions, and both suffer from astigmatism. The fact that our prescriptions are so similar (Megan is +5.0 in both eyes, I’m +5.0 in one and +4.25 in the other) has meant I’ve been able to let her try out my glasses, which she has done a few times since the weekend. Last night she told me things look “more pointy”, which I’m taking to mean “more in focus”, which is encouraging in terms of getting her to keep them on.

In the meantime, both Gem and I are feeling a bit guilty. I’ve already apologised for giving her my rubbish eyes, while Gem somehow feels responsible for a) not noticing anything was wrong and b) not building her properly in the first place, both of which are ludicrous. Things are what they are, and having to wear glasses is nothing like it was when I was a kid – there’s so much choice now, where in my day we had a choice of blue or brown plastic frames (for the boys, girls got pink or, em, pink).

We have, however, struggled a bit to come up with positive glasses-wearing role models that Megan can relate to, which surprised me a lot. The entertainment industry still seems to view specs as being for old people or geeks, and mainly boy geeks at that. Pretty much the only girl we’ve come up with is Margo from Despicable Me, which is definitely pretty poor. Millions of kids wear glasses, it would be nice to see this reflected a bit more in movies and on TV. Something to keep an eye on (keep an eye on, geddit?)

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my first day in nursery with glasses. I can remember being on a climbing frame, and one of the boys asking me my name, because he hadn’t recognised me and thought I was new – and I don’t think he was the only one. I’m sure it won’t all be plain sailing, but I doubt Megan will have to deal with anything like that as she adapts to her new life. Glasses will be as much a part of her as they are of me, and it won’t be long before, like me, she can barely remember a time when she didn’t wear them. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. (ok, I’ll stop it now…)

 

Holding hands and skimming stones

Like many households across the country, today was the dreaded return to normality after the Easter holidays. For Heather it was back to school, for Gemma it was back to work – both after 2 weeks off – and for me it was a return to the office after two weeks mostly spent at home. I don’t know yet how the others have fared, but I had a successful morning, which included my fastest door-to-door cycle to work yet, tantalisingly close to the hour mark I’m aiming for. One day…. one day…

Our break itself was pretty successful too. We started the process of clearing out and overhauling our bedroom, celebrated Gem’s birthday with an impromptu party and a night out in Glasgow, hung out with friends (including a trip to see Muppets Most Wanted, which I highly recommend), had a new front door fitted, and even found some time to relax. Poor Heather spent a good chunk of her first Easter break ill – possibly with scarlet fever – but even she still found time to get out on her bike and play with her friends.

Possibly the highlight, though, was a trip to Millport with the extended family on the Saturday of Easter weekend, in memory of my Grandma who died last August at the age of 95. Three generations of us, seventeen people in total, made the trip over the water to “Scotland’s most accessible island”, a place that Grandma loved. She spent many a holiday there, especially in the years when her mother, my Great Grandma, ran a boarding house overlooking the sea front, which made it a fitting place in which to say our final goodbyes. And I think she was looking out for us too, as the sun split the heavens all day, with barely a cloud to be seen.

Of course, no trip to Millport would be complete without having a picture taken on the Crocodile Rock. Nothing to do with Elton John, I hasten to add, this one is an actual rock, similar in shape to a crocodile and with painted eyes and teeth. First painted around 100 years ago, it’s one of Scotland’s best-known landmarks, and if our photo collections are anything to go by, one of its most photographed as well.

My dad has been scanning old pictures and slides recently, and compiled a set of Crocodile Rock pictures to share with everyone at the weekend. Obviously we took a few more, meaning we now have four generations of Blacks pictured on top of the Croc – a veritable family tradition!

And one which is likely to continue for some time to come – Gem and the girls enjoyed their first trip to Millport (yes, shame on me for not taking them sooner) so I’m sure there will be plenty more trips – and photo opportunities – in the years ahead. Although I don’t expect the sun to be blazing every time we go :)

Grandma and Grandpa, c.1939

Dad and Aunt Eli, 1950s

Paul, Ali, me, Gill, Rachael and Uncle John c.1992

Rach, Matt, Iain, Me, Gem, Ali and Gill, 2014

Me, Megan and Heather, 2014

Review: Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning

Shaun the Sheep - Spring Cleaning

Somewhat unbelievably, it’s 25 years this coming Christmas since Wallace and Gromit were first beamed into our living rooms, in A Grand Day Out. I’ll just let that sink in for a second… 25 years! A quarter of a century! That’ll be another one of those things that make me feel positively ancient then.

That said, it wasn’t until their second adventure, The Wrong Trousers, was broadcast four years later than I became aware of Nick Park’s creations, and I’ve loved them ever since -who doesn’t?

It was the third Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Close Shave (1995), that introduced us to Shaun the Sheep, a character so popular that he was given his own CBBC series in 2007, and has appeared in over 100 episodes since.

Spring Cleaning is the latest collection of Shaun the Sheep episodes to be released on DVD, and it really is fun for all the family – in fact, I think I might even have enjoyed it more than the girls! Each episode features five minutes of farm-based fun, as Shaun and his woolly friends get up to all sorts of antics involving such things as sheepdog trials, pet rabbits, coconuts, skateboarding, home barn improvements and window cleaning.

I must admit I hadn’t seen any of Shaun’s solo adventures prior to receiving this DVD, and I’m not sure the girls had either, but we’ll definitely be looking out for him in the future – especially with a feature-length film due to arrive in cinemas next year!

Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning is available to buy from today. As well as 10 episodes from the TV series, there are extras including behind-the-scenes features, and a tutorial on how to draw Shaun himself. To celebrate the DVD launch, Studio Canal have provided me with some Shaun activity sheets, which will be ideal for keeping the kids amused over the Easter holidays. Click on the links below to download them

Hey there, Jersey Girl

Gem had a night out last Saturday night, meaning that once the kids were in bed I was on my own, something that doesn’t happen often, and left me with an interesting problem: what to do?

A quick scan through the TV listings revealed there was absolutely nothing on worth watching – it was Saturday night after all – so I raided the DVD cupboard and came up with a Kevin Smith double-bill of Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl. An unusual selection for me, as it barely featured Smith’s most famous creations, Jay and Silent Bob.

Chasing Amy, a story about a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian but ultimately can’t deal with her past, was every bit as good as I remembered it on the numerous occasions I’ve watched it in the past. Highly recommended.

Jersey Girl, released 10 years ago this month, was still in its cellophane wrapper, which tells me the only time I’d watched it was in the cinema. A rather different film for Smith, it’s a sweet tale of fatherhood starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, at the time one of Hollywood’s most high profile couples. This wasn’t a good thing, however, as their previous collaboration, Gigli, was a box office flop and is still regarded as one of the worst movies of all time. Jersey Girl suffered by association, and reviews were rather mixed.

I remember thinking at the time that it was better than I’d expected, though, and I expected to like it ten years later. What I wasn’t expecting was to like it more than I had first time around, and I think that’s down to understanding the subject matter a lot more.

Affleck and Lopez start the movie as a high-flying couple living in New York City. All that changes about fifteen minutes in, when Lopez dies in childbirth, leaving Affleck to raise their daughter single-handed. At first he’s more interested in his career, dumping the baby on his dad (played by the great George Carlin), but an unfortunate incident at a Will Smith press conference changes all that, and slowly he embraces what it means to be a father, ultimately realising that raising his child is the most important thing in his life.

Now that I’m a father myself, I was able to relate to all of that much more. The scenes in the delivery room meant much more, as did those involving smelly babies. In short, I got it far more than I did first time round. And being able to relate more to the characters meant I was rooting for them more, which ultimately meant I enjoyed the movie more. So much so, when Gem got home, we ended up watching it again, together.

More often than not, re-watching something you loved in your youth is a disappointing experience. Dated visual effects, clunky dialogue and poor acting all seem to show up more when compared to old memories. So it was nice to see something that had improved with age.

Which makes me wonder… what else is hiding in the DVD cupboard, waiting to be rediscovered?

Review: Barbie The Pearl Princess

DVD cover for Barbie The Pearl PrincessIt’s probably no great surprise that I’m not a huge fan of the Barbie movie franchise. However, the girls love them, so when we got the chance to review the new Barbie movie, Barbie The Pearl Princess, there was no way I could turn it down.

Barbie appears in this movie as Lumina, a mermaid with special powers that allow her to control pearls, making them dance and glow amongst other things. But Lumina has spent all her life hidden away from the world, living with her aunt on the outer edges of the mermaid kingdom. She dreams of one day visiting the royal palace, and when an opportunity comes up to do just that, Lumina and her seahorse friend Kuda set off on an adventure that brings Lumina more than she bargained for.

The animation in this movie was great, and a real step up from some of the previous Barbie movies I’ve seen. The music was pretty good too, particularly Mermaid Party which managed to sound like a load of recent chart hits without sounding like a rip-off of any of them. The story, though, left me a bit cold – there was no real sense of surprise or danger, and you can probably work out how things end up from the title alone.

That said, I’m not really the target audience, and the girls enjoyed it well enough. Heather gave it a solid 3 out of 5 (although I’m not sure she really understood what I was asking) and Megan has watched it several times, so clearly she enjoyed it too. Also, she got really excited about the posters and trailers we saw in the cinema at the weekend (as well as it’s DVD release, the movie has a limited run at Vue cinemas) which proves how much she liked it. What do I know?

Barbie The Pearl Princess is released on DVD on February 17th. It’s also on at Vue cinemas on February 15th/16th