Children and power

superman and the flash duke it outWhy is it so important to be the ‘fastest’, the ‘strongest’, etc. etc.? It’s a question I’m asking myself more and more now that my two are hitting that wonderful ‘isn’t it fun to hit my brother’ stage. I understand that competitiveness is to be encouraged but sometimes it seems genuinely nonsensical. I’ve had squabbles over who can fly the highest (basically bound by the laws of imagination; i.e. infinite) and other utter insanity that I just can’t get my head around. So again (and again) I find myself asking myself, why is it so important to them?

Ordinarily I can get myself into my kids’ shoes fairly easily, despite the fact that so much of their play makes no ‘real-world’ sense, there’s normally some internal logic to it. However, this imaginary one-upmanship looks like nothing more than an exercise in futility to me.

At the start of Toy Story, Andy has the toys duke it out in this kind of competition but the key thing is that his imaginings stop after about two rounds (basically because there’s only one child playing):

“I brought my attack dog with the built-in force field.
Well, I brought my dinosaur who eats force-field dogs.”

The story is alarmingly, brain-achingly, different with two children in the mix. Thankfully I’ve had a dry spell of this for the past few weeks but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the spectre of the debate over ‘strongest’/ ‘fastest’/’furthest’/’most immune to damage’ etc. etc. returns.

It will no doubt start along the lines of “well I’m lava proof!…well I’m as hot as the sun!…”well I’m sun-proof!…” and it will degenerate (along with my sanity) from there.

Is it just me that get’s utterly sick to the back teeth of this or are there others out there with a similar dread for what I call the pretend-power arms-race? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

We are what we do

SCH SM Boss Smurf (W)“Papa smurf has really taken his CES (Chief Executive Smurf) job to heart, round the office the smurfs have started calling him ‘Alan Smurfer’ (though none of them say it to his face, they don’t want to be told ‘you’re smurfered’).”

I write product descriptions, it’s not my only job (not by a long shot) but some days it takes up most of my work hours. Recently I had a couple of pretty mammoth sessions and as I got more tired I unintentionally got a bit more creative (as you can see above). With this in mind I’d like to share some of my favourite product descriptions that I’ve written in the past few days.


schleich dragon hunter gremlin ankylosaurusSchleich, Dragon Hunter

“If you threw a Gremlin, Battle-cat from He-Man, a dragon and an Ankylosaurus in a blender…well you’d have a broken blender for starters…but if they somehow converged into one creature then THIS would be it (and if you don’t get the references in this sentence we now feel very old).” You can buy him here.


Sometimes you look at a group of linked toys and a story just emerges spontaneously. That’s what happened with business Smurfs. It started with ‘Marketing Smurf’:

SCH SM Marketing Smurf (W)Schleich, Marketing Smurf

“Last month’s smurf numbers are smurfing smurfable, if we keep up the smurfle media campeign and really push our bricks and mortar smurfs we’ll be in for a smurfer of a year!”

But once he was on-board the others all seemed to find their own place in the office, next came ‘Accountant Smurf’:

schleich accountant smurf figurineSchleich, Accountant Smurf

“We’re going to have to switch to generic coffee in the break room if we want to get our smurfspenditure down to smurfable levels but I don’t want to be the one to tell lazy smurf, it’s the only thing that smurfs him smurfing.”

After these I wrote Alan Smurfer or ‘Boss Smurf’ up (you can see his description above) and couldn’t help but feel that the middle management in this place would feel a little strained. This is where Manager Smurfette stepped in:

schleich smurfette manager figure figurineSchleich, Manager Smurfette

Smurfette is at her smurf’s end, why did she ever agree to manage this team of smurfless smurfs? The CES (Chief Operating Smurf) is demanding increased performance, while the accountant keeps smurferring on about lazy smurf’s coffee consumption, and the marketing team keeps telling her “It’s all smurf! We’re building smurfial media presence’ but that doesn’t translate into cold, hard smurf!


jack-reusen-cover-front2There are a heap more product descriptions but I don’t want this post to run on and on. Before I finish up I thought I’d do a wee plug. I’ve written a story book for children aged five and up (and for reading age of six or seven and up) called ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame.’ It’s part one of a series and we’ve got a fully fledged website (and blog) about the book and the characters, if you find your way over there I’ll be very grateful. The kindle edition is out now, click here for a list of links for purchase in different countries.

As always thanks for reading, I feel like it’s important to be creative wherever you can and I hope you enjoyed a few of my wee sparks of creativity. How do you express yourself in your workplace? Do you find it easy to let your creative side out for a spin or do you feel as though you have to curb it until you get home? I would love to hear your own experiences in the comments below or even over on Twitter, Cheers, John

Everything’s more exciting when you whisper

treasure-chest‘Shhh keep really quiet and come and see this!’ Even if you’re just getting your kids to head through and eat their tea, somehow it just gets so much more interesting when you treat it like a big secret.

You can’t do this too often or it loses its magic. You also have to make sure that the ‘secret’ is actually something special or your kids are just going to think you’re nuts (‘shh look, I found a chair!!!’). However, this little trick is a handy thing to keep in your back pocket for times when your kids just aren’t doing what you ask. For example, if you get creative with what dinner looks like then you can sneak them to the dinner table and show them the crazy culinary creation.

Whatever you choose to do you get to take them on an adventure. Everything gets more interesting and it’s never a bad thing to look like a guide in the eyes of your children. A lot of the time as a parent your position of authority takes a ‘bossy’ or even ‘disciplinary’ tone. There are times when this is unavoidable and even necessary but being a guide offers parents a chance to retain authority whilst removing feelings of conflict.

Playing at being a ‘guide’ can offer a welcome break from having to be ‘the boss’, whilst at the same time managing to stay in charge. You definitely shouldn’t over-use it but every now and then it’s nice to not be the bad guy when getting your kids to eat their tea, head to bed, or even do their homework.

Have you ever used something similar to this to get your kids on-board with something that ordinarily causes conflict? How well does it work for you? Do you have other tricks that allow you to stay in control without having to be ‘the boss’? As always, I welcome any comments/suggestions, feel free to comment below and you can catch me over on twitter any time by following this link. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

Is it really better to shop local?

pocket money stocking fillersWho wants to shop local nowadays? I work for an independent retailer and we get fairly bombarded with e-mails etc. from local groups promoting independent retail. They’ll often ask us to be part of this or that initiative to encourage people to shop local. There are some brilliant ideas out there including loads of ways to make shopping a fun and personal experience for customers in a unique way. Often we’re asked to participate in a way that only an independent store really can. However, what stores do once we have customers in the door is really what will encourage more local shoppers.

amazon-frownThe real issue for local shops is that they’re fighting a battle on two fronts. On one side you have the reduced prices and convenience of the supermarkets and on the other you’ve got web stores. Although the big supermarkets can cause problems for an independent retailer, the really tricky thing for a lot of retailers is competing with web stores: a web site can get extremely specific in it’s range and expertise or extremely broad (e.g. Amazon). The specific sites can give you access to customer service and expertise that can equal (and in some cases surpass) their high street counterparts. When you consider, on top of this, the range of the ever-present behemoth that is Amazon, you can see how the internet can be a formidable opponent to a ‘good-old-fashioned’ bricks-and-mortar store. So what’s a retailer to do?

I think there’s a market for playing on the idea that there’s something traditional/ quaint about independent stores but it can also be quite limiting (not to mention the fact that visiting ‘ye olde…shop’ can get a bit repetitive if everyone’s doing it) and it has the potential to hinder the creativity of the retailer , and that’s the key skill at the disposal of smaller shops: creativity. Most of the staff that you’ll meet in an independent shop do a lot more than their name-badge might suggest. To be honest, even when we’re just staff we have to have something entrepreneurial about us and also have a slightly artistic eye so that we can create an experience for the customer. Sure, we can play up the ‘old-fashioned’ idea, there’s nothing wrong with that, and if we really put our backs into it we can make it feel authentic instead of a simple contrivance or gimmick, but there are more options than just making people feel like they’ve stepped into yesteryear.

MBL BL RabbitKaren (the owner of Fun Junction) often explains that she likes the shop to feel like you’ve just entered a party. Given the mixture of toys that we have out on display in the shop I tend to agree with her that ‘party’ is a good way to describe the atmosphere. When it comes to younger children coming into the shop I like to think we’ve put together something similar to a mini playgroup as well, where children can feel comfortable playing with open toys on the play table (display toys getting a bit beaten up is par for the course for us).

brio railwy uk fun junction toy shop scotland perth crieff perthshire

Wooden railway train that can actually take passengers, you can get one here.

Overall kids will enjoy coming into any toy shop to look at toys regardless of what a retailer does, so we could have just left it at that. However, if all children saw when they walked into the shop were boxed up products that they recognise from TV adverts they’d get pretty bored pretty quickly. That’s why we try and stock unusual toys and games, and when we get the chance we open up some of these for kids to try (a lot of the time they’ve probably not seen/played with toys like these before).

We want to show off our range of toys and celebrate them, we’ve taken time and energy going through product ranges and picking things because they look fun (we are ‘Fun Junction’ after all) not because they’re TV advertised or linked to the next movie franchise. That said we’re the first to admit that just because a toy is well-known/ popular that doesn’t mean that it won’t be high quality. I’ve personally never subscribed to the idea that rarity/obscurity and quality are synonymous; sometimes something is popular because it’s good, popularity isn’t always just made of hype and hot air (check out my recent post about branded toys to see what I mean).

gordon and durward crieffAnother important aspect of a shop is the theatre of the experience. If that theatrical experience consists of a step back in time then fantastic, especially if it’s done well (this sweet shop from Crieff is a prime example of that). However, there are loads of ways to make someone’s shopping experience fun (and, if a retailer is really good, special too). We’re trying out some new ideas this year at Fun Junction. We started with a mermaid day in our Perth shop (she brought along her friend Jolly Jim the Pirate too). She’s since visited our Crieff shop as well, you can visit this post to find out more about that. We’ve had a ‘Brio Train Day‘ too and there’s lots more in the works (watch this space).

Is there anything that really draws you to return to any of your local shops? Do you think there’s still a place for independent shops alongside the world of web-stores and giant supermarkets? As always I love to hear what you have to say either in the comments below or over on twitter. Thank you for reading, all the best, John

Getting Creative

scottish mersAs I write this we have a real live mermaid waving to passers-by from our shop window. As is probably the case with many largish towns (i.e. nowhere near city size but a lot of people about) we have a very diverse and vibrant community here in Crieff and this weekend is something of a celebration of that, it’s the Crieff Arts Festival.

I’ve mentioned Crieff’s creative side a few times on here, whether talking about ‘Mole’s House‘, random forts and dens or just the generally interesting things you can come across here (check out #awesomecrieff over on twitter to see a wee selection of what our population of 6000 can do).

real live mermaidSo back to today, guilty as I am that we’ve pinched the living mermaid (Clan Dragon had her on display at last year’s festival) it’s a great match for the toy shop and kids are loving getting a chance to talk to her (some are little shy so they’re opting for waving behind their parents’ knees).

This is just a wee short one today. What creative town events etc. do you feel particularly proud of? I love how surprising it can be to be involved in these kind of events, if I’d known how fun it was as a teenager (back when I had some of that mythical ‘free time’ that I hear people talking about) I’d definitely have been more involved. What’s the most rewarding community project you’ve been involved in?

As always, thanks for reading and don’t be a stranger, if you’re an actual human being I’ll happily follow back over on twitter, Cheers, John

War Games!

wpid-imag0743_burst002_1.jpgI know for a fact that there must be 10s (possibly 100s) of people playing/modelling with Games Workshop (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000) figures in Crieff so it definitely has an active presence in the local area but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any centrally organised group set up for those wanting to arrange games-days/nights or even just to talk about the hobby with one another.

I’ve had a lot of kids in recently asking about local groups and seeing if there is anywhere that they can play locally and unfortunately I’m completely in the dark. In an effort to get something organised and simple together I put up a local wahammer/40K group on facebook but other than that I have nothing to point them towards. If you’d like to know more about the hobby and/or would like to be able to meet up with others who enjoy the hobby then feel free to pop over to the page. I used to play, a long time ago, and the shop is lucky enough to have a really hands-on Games Workshop agent so I can usually find the kind of answers you might need fairly easily.

wpid-imag0746_burst002_1.jpgGames Workshop produce an amazing array of assemble-your-own figurines which you then use to play war games. There’s a degree of customiseability that you just won’t find in ordinary board games etc. and because of this it’s a hobby that can be extremely personal, creative and expressive. You can turn up for a game with friends and show off your latest regiment and all the fiddly little customisations you’ve spent the past few weeks doing to it. Judging by the questions I’ve had in the shop there are rakes of children (and teens) who want to get involved but who are reluctant to start because they don’t know anyone else who’s involved in the hobby.

Possibly the saddest thing for me is this lack of support locally for younger hobbyists who seem really enthusiastic about both the painting and gaming side of the hobby. I’ve had boys and girls in the shop buying models, paints and other peripherals who haven’t been able to find people to play against. I’ve suggested they join their school’s games workshop groups only to be met with blank stares, either their school doesn’t have one or whatever group they do have at school isn’t very well known (or isn’t, strictly speaking, ‘official’).

wpid-imag0745_burst002_1.jpgConsidering the rise of interest there has been in fantasy over the past few years I’m surprised that games workshop/warhammer/40K groups haven’t seen a booming growth in members. I’ve been assured by Yan (our rep) that we could easily manage to provide support for local groups and there are resources there that could allow us to provide some resources free of charge to any local group who thinks to ask us for it. Sadly we’ve been in the position to help for months and, as yet, no one has taken us up on it.

If you live in the Crieff area and want to join a group (or better still if you run, or you want to set up, a group) then pop on over to the Crieff Warhammer/40,000 group on facebook to ask for advice and other information.

Just going for a nice short post this time, as always thanks for reading and comments are always more than welcome, Cheers, John

Everything you know will change!

the knock crieff den wooden structures forestIt gets pretty repetitive hearing people tell you that having children makes you look at the world around you in a different way, to be honest this is so well recognised that it’s hardly worth saying. However, one thing you don’t expect is for your children to change the way you look at the town you live in. For those of you who don’t know, I live in a medium sized town in Perthshire, in Scotland, called Crieff.

Having kids has made this whole familiar town change before my eyes. It’s not so much seeing the town through the eyes of a child, I’ve lived here since I was seven years old (with a break of about four years when I left for Uni) so I’ve already seen it through the eyes of a child and an adolescent. I don’t think any teenager is able to find redeeming qualities in the place they grew up, to be honest when I was that age I never wanted to see the place again. I think the main difference in the way I look at Crieff now is that things that I’ve grown accustomed to are surprisingly exciting to my kids, whilst things that I find unusual and different sometimes have no effect on them. And then there’s little things that surprise and entertain us all.

Not all that long ago I started using the hashtag #awesomecrieff on Twitter to highlight things that I was doing with the kids or things that just stood out as highlights of Crieff. Trust me the teenaged John would have been shocked and appalled that I could ever find anything ‘awesome’ about this little town. Nonetheless, the more time I spend looking for positive things about this little place the easier it’s becoming for me to find them.

Mole's house Lady Mary's walk Crieff PerthshireThe first thing that comes to mind is the creativity and slight rebelliousness of the people that live here. I’ve posted about ‘Mole’s House’ before (a tree which has been customised and decorated to provide a perfect home for ‘Mole’ down in Crieff’s Lady Mary’s Walk). However, this is by no means the full extent of creativity to be found, I’ve lost count of the amount of small dens that we’ve found in various wooded areas around the town, but by far the most impressive so far is one that Hazel and the boys found up the Knock (the name given to the big hill upon which a large portion of Crieff is built). Apparently there was room for the three of them to sit in the den’s provided seating fairly comfortably (you can find a picture at the start of this post). There’s no way of knowing who creates these little houses but this one really stands out, so far they win the prize of Crieff’s best den (I’m not sure what the prize is but whatever it is they win it).

wpid-imag0578_1.jpgThere’s plenty of ‘official’ creativity to come across too, we’ve had June McEwen’s Highland Cow installation (now replaced by a Highland Calf) which the boys liked to pretend was going to charge after us when we passed it on our way home from the shops (was always a good way to hurry them home anyway). The cow is only June’s most recent addition, she also provided the driving force behind the ‘Crieff Arts Festival’ which was on last week, and a number of years ago she also painted some bustling barflies on the boarded up windows of an old pub at the far end of the high street, the boys were intrigued by these strange characters but probably (thankfully) didn’t get what they were all up to. We have a whole host of local artists in Crieff but along with June one of our art institutions has to be Pedro, who is an artist/photographer/caricaturist who often turns up at local events and draws caricatures of kids and adults (we’ve even seen him up at Crieff Hydro a couple of times).

wpid-imag0615.jpgIt’s probably part of being a parent that you start looking for things that will entertain your children, some of the things scattered around our little town might not have stood out to the boys if Hazel and I didn’t spot them first and the same goes the other way. Maybe the transformation in the way I look at things now comes from not just looking at what the world has to offer me (as I think we all do as children, to an extent) but what it has to offer my children. This occurs through almost everything I do but it’s perhaps most unusual and most noticeable when this ‘parent’s eye’ is aimed at the domestic, the familiar and the everyday of the town where I grew up.

Have you had any familiar places change before your eyes since becoming a parent? Is there anything you miss from before you developed ‘parent eyes’? (e.g. seeing a fancy restaurant and not immediately imagining restless children and temper tantrums, or looking into a lovely open fireplace, watching the flames dance and the logs glow and not thinking ‘Oh my God! Hazard! Where’s the fire-guard? Dow we even need a fire on?’) As always comments are more than welcome and I love to catch up with anyone who reads my blog over on twitter. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John