30 September 2016

My Boys Tech Club - Bad Piggies

My boys were so happy when they got their own Amazon Fire tablets earlier this year. 

Unsurprisingly they love playing games on them as well as anything vaguely educational. 

So to kick start My Boys Tech Club my nine-year-old wants to tell you why he loves BAD PIGGIES with his top 5 facts.

1. Bad Piggies is a game where you have to do levels with carts to get to the finish line.

2. To do this you have to make your own carts out of boxes, metal, wood, propellers, fans, balloons, wheels, lights, TNT, plunger guns - then you press a tick to make the cart go all the way along to the end of a predefined track.

3. Bad Piggies are characters from Angry Birds and they try to steal eggs from Angry Birds. This is a game just about Bad Piggies and there are lots of different types from a plain pig to a zombie pig, viking and a clown pig. It's funny to play, I found the first levels are easy but then it gets harder.

4. I really like playing it because every day you get three sets of boxes as a bonus and you can get different costumes and pigs. In the boxes if you are lucky you can get bolts - get enough of them and you can get different element levels. The more you play the more elements you can unlock.

5. It does include adverts for other games but they don't bother us - actually, it lets us know about games we don't have.

Cost: Game free to download. 
Time: Endless hours of fun.
Boys Club Rating: 4.5 out of 5

What would you like My Boys to review?

Deb x

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29 September 2016

Belly Laugh Beats Going To The Gym

Having kids definitely, widens your social circle. Much of the time it can seem like my boys have a better social life than me, however, I've been lucky enough to meet lots of mums (and dads) with whom I love spending time, catching up and having fun - both with and without the kids.

On this occasion, it was without the kids. Although the boys are now midway through primary school I still have the occasional night out with a group of mums whose only connection on the surface is that our kids went to the same nursery.

With most of our children now attending different schools, it's the parents who keep in touch, catch up on others comings and going in our lives, have a few drinks and above all else a great time. I like that through the kids I've met new people that have become friends - not just parents.

Yes, we talk about our children but once that is over we never cease to laugh and I mean great big belly laughs, the type that makes you feel like you done 200 crunches! See a night out is a good as a trip to the gym :)

Anyway this month we revisited River Beat. I say revisited as we'd been here to celebrate Christmas 2015, so you can already guess we must have liked it.

We met in The Bridge Tavern for a post work G&Ts. It was bustling with people in for after-work drinks on a sunny Friday afternoon but not so busy that your drink would spill. Just a great atmosphere to start to relax. Then we followed that with drinks at Popolo before crossing the Swing Bridge to River Beat. Popolo was always one of my favourite bars in its old location. However early on a Friday evening there weren't many people in the Quayside bar to create a buzz but that didn't stop us having a great natter.

If you haven't been to River Beat it is nestled on the south bank of the River Tyne, in an old River Police Station, overlooking Newcastle Quayside - which is literally just a couple of minutes walk away.

We hoped for a window seat but they were all reserved but we were just thankful we weren't on a high table - they are comfortable enough but not the easiest to manoeuvre on and off (especially after a drink) we'll leave them for the younger customers!

The food did not disappoint. Last time we had enjoyed (Thai) tapas and we all shared. This time, two picked mains and the other two tapas (but of course we all had a taste of everything anyway).

I deliberated over Prosecco whether to go for the Tapas which I knew was delicious or to try a Far Eastern Curry from the main menu. 

The curry won and I made a brilliant choice - River Beats spicy Thai Kelek ‘yellow boat’ salmon and tempura soft shell crab with Roti Breads. All the food was so tasty. Light but flavoursome, spicy but not burning, and beautifully presented. To read the full food review click here.

The conversation flowed all night with friendly gossip. We were in hoots of laughter about many things I can't honestly remember, but they were soooo funny at the time. Ther are many humorous blogs about how to spot a 'mum's night out' but thankfully I don't think we met any of those categories. Well not in our heads anyway.

We left River Beat very satisfied and ever so slightly full of both food and fizz, and walked back over the Swing Bridge and headed for cocktails at Tiger Hornsby. This is a very stylish bar on the Quayside, with comfy seating and a great cocktail list. Even late at night it still appears clean and fresh. There were a few people in but thankfully a table was free for us to enjoy our last drinks: Expresso Martini, & Cosmopolitans, before heading home.

A great night out :)

Cost: RiverBeat - £25 per headead. Cocktails on Quayside £7.
Time: A full evening of fun.
Equipment: Good chat, good food, plenty of drinks and good company.
Boys Club Rating: Can't come too soon. The next Mums Night Out date is in the diary.

What do you like best about a night out with friends?

Deb x

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27 September 2016

It's Hard to Beat Gateshead's River Beat

This is a place I have now been to three times - never yet with my boys - but that may change once they realise you can get Dippy eggs with chips! 

And I have to say that has nearly tempted me every time ...

In a tranquil location in an old river police station on the Quayside, just a stone's throw or a few steps over the Swing Bridge from the bustling Newcastle Quayside you'll find River Beat. The decor is modern, welcoming and friendly. Tasteful, not overwhelming and with a comfortable feel. It also has an outside terrace with river views, but as yet I've not yet used.

On previous visits, I've shared tapas (amazing) and enjoyed a two-course lunch deal (not currently available). However, on this visit with three other people, I deliberated between the delicious-sounding gourmet tapas and a far eastern curry.

The curry won and I made a brilliant choice - River Beats spicy Thai Kelek ‘Yellow Boat’ Salmon and Tempura Soft Shell Crab (£12.50 served with Thai Steamed Rice) and with it I had a bowl of Roti Breads at £1.20. It was so tasty. Light but flavoursome, spicy but not burning, beautifully presented and just so slightly beat me - I had to leave a little rice and sauce. 

My friend chose a different curry the North Thai Chiang Mai, 24-day Salted Beef Sirloin; while the other two devoured Gourmet Tapas including Indonesian mushroom and pineapple Nasi Goreng egg roll; Pan-fried Scallops and Twice Cooked Belly Pork; Jasmine Smoked Tofu & Mushroom Dumpling; and Quick Seared Duck Breast with Pancakes with Sweet Potato Bravas and Courgette Chips.

It was all delicious. Nothing was left on the plates apart from a little rice. We had asked for a recommendation on how much food to order and it was perfect. The suggested accompaniments were also well chosen.

The service throughout was friendly, chatty, informative and efficient. The only downside is that we had been eyeing up the desserts but sadly were not offered the dessert menu to look at straight after the meal. We had, however, been in deep conversation and generating lots of belly laughter and had plenty of Prosecco to finish off, that by the time we had realised, we were no longer in the mood for pudding and headed off for one last cocktail!

River Beat say that they wanted to create a place where we would love to eat. A place where flavours could be shared and sampled. A relaxed place where you’re as comfortable dining alone as with friends and family. A place where you’d keep coming back too. 

River Beat you have succeeded!

Cost: With drinks £25 per head / without drinks £15 per head
Time: Can honestly say we were nearly the last ones to leave - time flies when you are having fun.
Equipment: Good chat, good food, plenty of drinks and good company.
Boys Club Rating: Again the food was amazing, service friendly, chatty and very helpful - making sure we did not order too much (which was very tempting). We will be back (again).

River Beat will celebrate its 1st birthday next month? Have you been yet?

Deb x

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23 September 2016

Two TV Treats to catch-up on - Sep 23 2016

My regular look at what's good to watch on TV. After the boys have gone to bed, I’m always looking for something to watch on catch-up TV? 

If you are too, then here’s my Top 2 Things to watch from this past fortnight. This week we go back to the 80s and look for love ...


The Paralympics was great TV but I’m very happy that First Dates is back.    

This is the program where a restaurant opens its doors to single people looking for love. And I love this program. 

Yes it's voyeuristic, but at the same time heart-warming, enchanting and entertaining – but above all else demonstrates that most people aren't ultra good-looking, uber-confident and mega-popular, instead we realise most people are just like us - sometimes geeky, sometimes awkward, trying to make the most of ourselves and opportunities in our pursuit of love and happiness.

Boys club rating: Don’t just watch this episode but every episode on 4oD

View on 4oD


I had to be persuaded by my hubby to watch Stranger Things, but with a free month of Netflix on offer, I thought I’d give it a go.

Billed as “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back,” this is where Teen TV meets Science Fiction. An engaging cast helps tell the supernatural story in a small town where peculiar incidents and the disappearance of a child take place, with dark government agencies also in play.

But what makes this really watchable is that it is a step back to the eighties for me. This Netflix hit draws on the work of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King but the best thing about this TV show is that it doesn’t just set itself in the 1980s; it - even for those of us who remember them well - makes it feel like it was actually filmed in the 1980s, from the cast Winona Ryder, to the music Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order and The Clash to the BMX bikes and the fashion (mind I’m not so nostalgic about that).

Boys Club Rating: Can’t wait for Season Two (Netflix renewed the series for a second season of nine episodes, to be released in 2017)

View on Netflix

What have you watched on TV this week that you'd recommend?

Deb x

21 September 2016

Getting Back to Nature on Teesside

 I’d been invited to visit the RSPB nature reserve near Middlesbrough …


“We’re going to see birds?”

“But that sounds boring,” was the cry from my boys when I announced that our family day out was going to be to RSPB Saltholme.

However, a quick follow up with the mention of an adventure playground and cake and they were quickly on the move and getting into the car.

Not to be defeated, I dug out an RSPB children’s book we had inherited for them to read in the car to get their imaginations going. It worked. They discovered that some birds look like punks and they were hooked, they were already talking about going back in May to see a Great Crested Grebe and we hadn’t even been once yet.

RSPB Saltholme Visitor Centre
RSPB Saltholme opened in 2009 and has welcomed in excess of half-a-million people since then. It is located near Middlesbrough, north of the River Tees, between Hartlepool and Billingham, in the sight of the Transporter Bridge, the Temenos sculpture by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and Roseberry Topping, amongst other local landmarks.

Just 30 miles away we drove down the A19 from Newcastle and RSPB Saltholme is clearly signed posted from the A19. Parking was very easy and we found the welcome we received at the entrance friendly, informative and efficient. Kelly told us all about the reserve, which routes to take around, what activities were happening on that day and also how to join the RSPB if we wanted too.

Although it was just about autumn, we had clear blue skies and temperatures reaching 20 degrees. This meant slightly disappointed boys that there wasn’t any mud to squelch in - but a much happier mum!

We started off with a picnic in the adventure playground. With tunnels, swings, slides, obstacles and climbing walls it was so good that the boys could quite happily spent the whole afternoon there, but no, we had more to see!

The pond dipping activity interested the boys and off we went with our nets and box, once we’d received an informative safety chat from Caroline. There are four different areas in the Discovery Zone where you can pond dip – and we had to try them all! The boys loved it. We saw in the water a stickleback fish, water boatman, water beetles, damselfly nymph and water mites ... 

... and numerous dragonflies – the boys counted over 25 in total but it was probably more.

We finished pond dipping – a success in more ways than one – it later turned out to be the boys favourite bit of the day (beating ice-lollies and the adventure playground) and no-one fell in. We then started to follow the trails.

En-route there are wooden characters from Alice in Wonderland to engage the children, as well as the mini-beast hotel and hedgehog campsite.

The Lake Walk took us to the Wildlife Watchpoint hide where a kingfisher had been spotted earlier in the day, but sadly not by us, however, we did see plenty of wildlife including feeding birds, ducks, and the mouse house.

The Lake Walk was followed by The Kestrel Trail, on which you’ll find the Jubilee Viewpoint - a glass compass art piece from where you get a panoramic view over the reedbeds, lakes, pools and grasslands. As it was such a clear day we saw Roseberry Topping amongst the North Yorks Moors, Transporter Bridge, the place where Quorn is made, Middlesbrough Football Ground and lots of cranes, pipes, and chimneys. I really like how this art piece highlights how industry and nature can work together – simple yet effective communication.

Back on The Lake Walk and we reach Paddy’s pool. The view across Paddy’s Pool of the Transporter Bridge from the hide was amazing. 

We didn’t spot much ourselves but there had been lots of sightings earlier in the day as people helpfully write up what they have spotted on a whiteboard.

Other walks we didn’t try this time included the Wilderness Trail; a Dragonfly Path – however when we visited there were Dragonflies everywhere; and a Wildflower Walk – even so, we did walk past these beautiful flowers.

On the way back to the visitor centre we spotted a Kestrel, hovering in the blue sky. Lots of serious photographers followed it to where it ‘posed’ on a fence post but sadly the lens on my camera was not sufficient to get a good snap.

At the end of the walk – a couple of miles – along with an easy path – and it was time for cake. We shared fudge brownies and rocky road from the cafĂ© – both delicious while we took in the panoramic views across the reserve. An ice-lolly and a final trip to the adventure playground including this time the willow maze and it was time to set off home with two tired but very happy boys asking when they could return!

RSPB Saltholme says it has big skies, fantastic wildlife and a friendly welcome in the heart of Teesside – it certainly does. It has to be said we were incredibly lucky with the weather but all in all, it was a lovely family day out – and you don’t have to be big bird watchers to enjoy it.

Cost: £5 per car, but RSPB members get in free. If you are visiting only the cafe and or shop and are staying an hour or less, it is free. Come by bike, public transport or on two feet and it won’t cost you a penny, no matter how long you stay.
Time: Up to a full day and the kids still weren’t bored.
Equipment: Sturdy shoes and wellies when wet. Binoculars (although you can hire them for £3) and a camera.
Boys Club Rating: The boys gave it 9.5 out of 10 for a day out – that’s high praise indeed.

Where is your favourite wildlife attraction?

Deb x

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15 September 2016

Pitmen & Prelates exhibition at Auckland Castle

It has to be said I stumbled across this exhibition. I was visiting Auckland Castle for my day job and was lucky enough to be offered a tour of the 'Pitmen & Prelates' exhibition with the curator.

And I'm so glad I was. 

As a way of celebrating local history, and aiming to build on Auckland Castle's relationships with the local community, this exhibition focuses on how the coalfields of Durham have inspired a wealth of political, social, creative and artistic responses. 

With paintings of the Durham Miners' Gala, at the coalface and scenes from Spennymoor it offers a great insight into the miner's working life and an observation of social activities but so much more as well. The paintings are vibrant, tell a story, are recognisable places and as I discovered, painted by artists who just happened to be miners, rather than Pitmen Painters - that's how they preferred to see it anyway.

I've seen and heard much more about the Pitmen Painters from Ashington, and although I've heard of Norman Cornish and Tom McGuiness I've not seen as much of their stuff and didn't know that at one time Cornish and Lowry exhibited together with Cornish's work being the most well-known and popular at the time!

The link between coal mining and art is an unexplained phenomenon - other heavy industries such as steel and shipbuilding, both as prevalent in the region as coal mining, don't appear to have inspired creative enterprise like that of artists from the coalfield. 

Miners' Gala, 1976, Tom McGuinness on show at Pitmen & Prelates at Auckland Castle

Listening to the curator we heard about Bill Farrell, the sketching club at the Spennymoor Settlement, professional artist and former miner of 33 years, Norman Cornish from Spennymoor, about Tom McGuinness from Bishop Auckland, a self-taught artist and miner from the age of 18 until 57, and also about the part women play in the coal mining art history. Including Tisa Hess, the daughter of an aristocratic German general, who married a Jewish businessman and held her own strong anti-Nazi views, who spent much time teaching drawing and woodcarving in Spennymoor.

This is a small but fascinating exhibition and well worth the trip to Bishop Auckland.

Pitmen and Prelates, until 30 September, Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

Cost: Exhibition is FREE with admission to the castle: Adults £6, Concessions £5, Under 16s free
Time: Open every day except Tuesday, 10am-5pm. 
Where: Pitmen and Prelates, is on until 30 September at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland.
Boys Club Rating: Not only are the paintings great but a fascinating insight into art and coal mining.

Hurry, though. There are just two weeks left to enjoy this engaging exhibition!

Have you seen it? What did you think? 

Deb x