Portable North Pole is back

Portable North Pole is back. But don’t worry, this has nothing to do with magnets and compasses, so your GPS isn’t going to struggle and the sun is still going to set off Camps Bay for convenient sundowners behind the palm trees photo opportunities from Café Caprice.

Cape Agulhas will still be at the bottom of Africa.

No, Portable North Pole is a very nifty little site where you can quickly and easily make a personalised video for your kids (or, I guess, your adults should you happen to have any) which is purportedly sent from Santa Claus himself. And, having seen the reactions from my kids last year, I can safely say that it works. Really well.

You don’t have to share anything too revealing about your offspring. They’re not looking for telephone numbers, school pick up times or inside leg measurements here. Just a first name, an age, a couple of photos and what country they live in. If you’re still feeling a bit paranoid, do a mock up and see how innocuous it really is.

Best of all, it’s free for the basic video, although there are some pay options for stickers, books, certificates and letters. I’ve not used them, but they start at $2.99, including a charity donation to a children’s hospital.

Here’s the link – go and have some fun and please share this post with any parents, so they can go and have some fun too.

The 5 Best Toys Of All Time

At a time when parents start panicking about Christmas gifts for the young ones, please enjoy this review of “The 5 Best Toys Of All Time” on Wired.com.

Here at GeekDad we review a lot of products — books, toys, gadgets, software — and I know it’s impossible for most parents to actually afford all of the cool stuff that gets written up. Heck, most of us can’t afford it either, and we’re envious of the person who scored a review copy of a cool board game or awesome gizmo. (Disclosure: that person is probably me.) So while we love telling you about all the cool stuff that’s out there, I understand that as parents we all have limited budgets and we sometimes need help narrowing down our wishlists.

So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.

I went into the article, ready to disagree with some American subjective approach. I came out understanding and concurring with just about every word he wrote. “GeekDad” Jonathan Liu brings us a sobering reminder that childhood doesn’t have to be all about PS3, LeapPads and Wii.

His list – complete with reasoned argument for each entry – reads as follows:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard tube
  5. Dirt

And yes, he’s correct, although I’d also possibly have ball, bucketriver, vuvuzela & rubber chicken on standby.

He’s even followed it up with another article, in which he rates water as the Sixth Best Toy Of All Time, pipping “rock”, “bubble-wrap”, “ball” and “tape” to the post. It’s worth a read.

SA Xmas

While many may say that there’s nothing like a traditional UK Christmas – dark nights, snow on the ground, roasted chestnuts and a local pub or seven – I’m very much getting used to Christmas in summer. We spent most of yesterday sitting around the pool, braaiing crayfish and drinking beer. And as today seems to be turning into an absolute scorcher as well, I would imagine that more of the same is in order.

Christmas means many things to many people, but since becoming a dad, it’s really all about the kids for me. Not that that means I don’t enjoy giving and receiving gifts as well. After last year’s amazing present from my wife (and even though it all ended in tears), I had high hopes for something extraordinary and had been dropping hints about viticulture for the past few months: I have always dreamed of owning my own vineyard. Things seemed to be going well, as Mrs 6000 kept dropping hints about my dropping hints – a sure sign that my hint droppage had not gone unnoticed.

It was only when I opened the gifts on Christmas morning that I realised that there had been a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line. I had said “viticulture”, she had heard “vermiculture”. And as those of you well versed in Latin will already have realised, that means that I now own my own little worm farm. It does produce a liquid product, but you really don’t want to be drinking it. However, my veggies will love it and I can always get a wine farm next year, can’t I darling? Darling?

Hello?

Anyway, the kids loved their presents – a motorised crane for the boy, a stereotypically intricate German doll’s house for the girl – and the wife will be running and gymming to her new mp3 player.
While I’m not tending to my worms, I will be mostly reading this gift from my parents. Bittersweet stuff.

But for now, it’s back to the original plan: pool, beer, braai.

It’s all over

It’s obvious that the holiday season is coming to an end, as the malls are filled with dishevelled whities wearing poorly-ironed clothes, desperate for the return of Mabel, their domestic, who spent the festive period back with her family in the Eastern Cape. They’re even willing to overlook the embarrassment of that phone call they made two weeks into her leave, to ask her where the iron is kept. And the one half an hour after that to ask how it works. Two scorched t-shirts and a burnt sock later, they gave up.
They ran out of clean plates just after Christmas and Mr Delivery is getting expensive. The carpets are ankle deep in beach sand and dirt.
Never in the field of human cleaning was so much owed by so many to so few.

Not so here, of course. I was trained in the art of domestic warfare back in the UK and I’ve been putting my skills to the fore. Having a happy milk-recycling unit which happily recycles milk all over the furniture, carpets and whatever she and you are wearing has driven this domiciliary activity. While others were still trawling the depths of their wardrobes until the 27th, I developed an acute shortage of trouser garments after just two days of family “quality time”, thanks to my little lactose-regurgitation factory, which is instantly forgiven as soon as it smiles through the milky residue. Damn you, Mother Nature.

As Christmasses go, it was pretty laid back. Too hot to be hectic. And the kids always make that festive period a bit special. Back in my childhood days, the time between the 25th and New Year was always a bit empty: the excitement of Christmas over, but everything held in limbo until the end of the year. This time around, in order to avoid that boredom, I contracted viral meningitis and lay hurting in bed for three days. As a microbiologist, I do actually find it interesting to experience the diseases and illnesses that I used to diagnose on a daily basis, but I can put this one alongside Salmonella gastroenteritis and malaria in the category labelled Never Again, Please.  Gonorrhea was over-rated too, if I’m honest. Anyway, I’m happy to say that my meninges are much improved and it’s had absolutely no effect on my brain function. Pink Panther. St Bernard. Picture frame.  

And now, to complete the holiday period, we have been invaded by bees. I have removed around 50 of them from the house this morning alone, using a combination of insecticide spray, A4 paper, a tea towel and the cunning ploy of opening windows. I have no idea what sort of bees they are. In the UK, it’s easy enough: bumble (Bombus terrestis) or honey (Apis mellifera), and you can kill them by using your cell phone. Here, it’s more complicated and there’s always the danger of the Africanized Killer Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata), which can, like, kill you and stuff. Add to that the worrying oversight that the otherwise superb SE X1 doesn’t seem to have a bee killing function and the warning signs are there for all to see. 
They’ve moved into our roof and they’re staying put. Until the bee-killer comes this evening with his bee-killing stuff and kills them, that is. Sorry, my little band of environmentally-inclined readers, but they are going to die a slow, horrible, painful death. Possibly, anyway. I have absolutely no idea what methods he is going to employ. Just that he’s going to employ them this evening. On the bees. In our roof.
You have less than 6 hours to save them and I’m not telling you where I live.

Yes, it’s different here

“Proper Christmas” just doesn’t work in South Africa. I tried to point this fact out in the article I wrote for the December issue of Emigrate2 magazine. There are plenty of reasons for this, but here’s the biggie: it’s the middle of bloody summer.

So: no chance of snow, it’s hot, it’s light, it’s bright and therefore it’s about as festive as genital herpes. (Obviously, I didn’t put that analogy in the emigrate2 thing: it’s a classy publication, not like this dross.)

Chicken. Safe and traditional.   Pwawns in garlic butter - adventurous

Hence, at Christmas in SA, you get to take pictures of regular readers of 6000 miles… (both of you) slaving over hot braais. Christmas parties take place around swimming pools rather than around roaring log fires; mulled wine is entirely inappropriate and replaced by cold beers (in evidence in both those pics above – you can tell those guys are experts) and you head for the beach instead of watching the James Bond film* on Boxing Day morning.

 Pool party   Building

All well and good, but not ever so atmospheric. Not in a “Proper Christmassy” way, anyway. So if you want to enjoy Christmas here, it’s very much a case of adapting to local conditions and not trying to make it like a Christmas back home. Embrace the change, enjoy the differences. It’s taken me a while, but this has been by far my best Christmas over here, simply because I’ve finally given up trying to fight the system**.

I have a friend who moved over here 2 months ago and who came for breakfast at Chez 6000 on Christmas Day. Seeing her looking so homesick brought back a lot of memories for me. Moving countries is a brave thing to do at any time, but I think that this time of year is definitely the toughest if you’ve done a UK to SA move. I know a lot of expats read this blog and if you’re finding it difficult, my advice to you is just to hang in there. It does get easier. And while you might be desperate for a cold and dark Christmas, try sms’ing your friends and family back in the UK from the beach. Mention the soft white sand and the gentle rolling waves. Hint at the soft, warm breeze that’s blowing and the sun beating down on your bikini-clad body***. Then ask them where they’d rather be right now.

Be prepared for some coarse language when they reply though.

(More Christmas pics are available for fans and family on the 6000 flickr page.)

* “Never say we’ve never seen this one before”.
**  OK, watching 0.6 open his presents probably helped a bit too.
*** Probably best to leave this bit out if you’re a bloke.