Partnering with Tearfund

Mutual Linkage II

Yep, it's that time again - time to reflect on the strangeness of the internet and to return some links that has had from other sites.

Last time, I mentioned a few of the phrases that have led anonymous web searchers to DadsDinner. Since then, the peculiar selection of information requested has only got more bizarre. A few people have definitely ended up at the right place, though - people needing a list of stuff to buy in order to prepare for parenthood, people wondering whether housedads should get pocket money and people wanting to know about cuddly Mario toys.

Others have had relevant questions that may not have been entirely answered.

For instance, someone asked 'Does an epidural really work?' To which the answer is 'Yes, it really, really does.' Someone else asked 'Can I get a mortgage during maternity leave?' To which the answer should be 'Yes, you can,' but is, in fact, 'Yes, but best not to mention it just in case.' As for 'Is there life after children?' - I can only say that I hope so. 'Numberjacks kids hate it', meanwhile, may be a question, statement or a desperate cry for help. Unfortunately, there is no help. Sorry.

Then, of course, there are the people who did not come to the right place. Whoever was interested in a 'pot-bellied orangutan' went away disappointed. So did the person who was 'looking for photos of very large women in plastic rainwear'. (I don't know how high up Google placed DadsDinner in the results from that search and, quite frankly, I don't dare investigate). Someone was trying to find out how to 'keep birds from getting hurt by immersion heater in bird bath'. That person was seriously lost... I did get excited when someone arrived searching for 'Jesus and physics' but it turns out that that was just my wife winding me up. A couple of people were after 'acrobatic sex' and someone else was enquiring about 'hygiene while using a toaster.' I'm pretty sure these weren't linked queries, however.

Most of the random Googlers in the last couple of months have been looking to buy a Nintendo Wii console and have found their way to my review. Sorry, all of you who've made it this far, but you're not having mine.

Someone has even started sending me riddles by Google query. They did a search on this:

'i have 6 coins laid out in 2 straight lines with one coin joining them. ie there are 4 coins in one line and 3 in the other. move only one coin and make 2 straight lines of 4 coins. you may not introduce any new coins.'

That's just vicious. I wasted a good fifteen minutes trying to work that out before I gave up and stuck it back into Google. Maybe it's a conspiracy or maybe it's just a clever way to get me to send you all to the Jokes Database.

Once you've wasted an hour or two there, you might as well give up on getting any work done and go and visit some of these nice people:

Still the best place to chat with other housedads.

at home dad

Housedad news and views. Peter, the editor, recently gave this site a plug, describing it as 'fabulously retro'. Little does he realise that I'm really living in 1998 and this is totally cutting edge...

The Road Less Traveled

Housemom turns breadwinner in rural California. See things from a different point of view.

Men at Home

Australian site for homedads. Lots of useful links.

Stay at Home

The UK based website for dads everywhere. News, articles, money advice, gadget reviews and places to share and rant. Definitely worth checking out. The article on the pros and cons of being a housedad is particularly informative.

Time for dads

Blogs, reviews, news and a layout that isn't from 1998. I feel inadequate now...

Did I miss anyone?

Want to get in on the act? Then put a link on your own site, click through and I'll do another one of these... when I get round to it.

As always, welcome to everyone, however you got here (even if it's from that dodgy looking Chinese favorstar place). Hope you find the site fun and useful.

All the best,


Halo 3 (Xbox 360)

Rated: 15

Story: Alien Covenant forces have landed on Earth in search of an ancient artifact and the swarm-like Flood aren't far behind. You are Master Chief, the last of humanity's elite SPARTAN warriors, and, aided by some renegade aliens and a large number of soon-to-be dead marines, you must save the world both from destruction and from assimilation.

Luckily, you have some big guns.

Gameplay: Shoot things. Hide behind a wall. Shoot some more things. Drive a little. Watch a cutscene. Shoot even more things.

Yep, the only complicated thing here is the plot. You run around in first person perspective and shoot a lot. Get shot yourself and your shields take damage. If your shields go down and you take several hits in quick succession then you die. Don't get hit for a few seconds and your shields replenish. There are no health packs to collect. There are no puzzles to solve. The only thought required is in how best to outflank enemies and in which combination of weapons to carry. For instance, it's possible to dual-wield, holding a gun in each hand, but this only works with less powerful weapons and means you can't throw grenades.

Occasionally, you get to drive a jeep or blow things up with a tank.

Save System: Frequent check-pointing but the game only saves when you quit. This could go badly if there's a power cut.

Comments: I can only assume that all the fuss over the Halo series has to do with the multiplayer. The first one was very pretty but hugely repetitive. The second had more variety and a bit more depth but ended half way through. This feels like a re-mix of the best bits from the first two with marginally better graphics.

The initial levels are disturbingly linear even compared to Far Cry Instincts. Unfortunately, it can still be quite hard working out where to go thanks to lots of little dead ends and decorative doorways, etc. The level design often seems like a succession of glorified corridors. Things pick up in the more open, vehicle-based areas as you speed around like a maniac in a warthog jeep but the lack of significant new weapons and enemies means it all feels very familiar.

Whenever the game does try something different, there's a lack of self-control. What's the point of mixing up the pace with a stretch of dark, creepy organic corridors when they seem to go on forever? The final escape shows what the finale of Halo would have been like without the twitchy vehicle controls and horrendous slow-down but, again, it drags on for far too long.

In fact, Halo 3 seems something of a backwards step from Halo 2. The second playable character, the Arbiter, is reduced to recurring sidekick status, removing much of the gameplay variation. Some of the depth has gone as well because the relative power of the weapons seems to have been tweaked for the worse. Previously, there were pros and cons to every combination; now, there's much more of a hierarchy of usefulness. What to carry involves less tactical choice than Halo 2 and simply becomes a case of hunting out the stonkiest weapons available.

Which is all quite negative...

Halo 3 isn't a bad game, though. It's generally fun, has high production values and the exceptional cutscenes make you want to see it through to the end. It's just that every other first person shooter has long-since nicked Halo's ideas and the series itself hasn't progressed much since 2001.

Essentially, if you've played Halo 2, then you'll know exactly what to expect. If you haven't, however, then you won't have a clue what's going on - go and play BioShock or The Orange Box instead.

Conclusion: It's Halo 2 in hi-res but not quite as much fun. At least the story reaches a conclusion, though. Good for a weekend rental if you've got a cold and don't feel up to much.

Graphics: Everything's quite pretty and there's a proper non-widescreen mode which is unusual these days. Much of the game feels too familiar to really make an impact, however. Occasionally descends into a succession of repetitive corridors. Parts of the last two or three levels are visually lacking.

Length: Short.

Rating: 3/5.

Die Hard 4.0 (DVD)

Starring: Bruce Willis

Rated: 15

Story: All the other Die Hard movies shaken together with a touch of cyber terrorism, a different national holiday and less hair.

Comments: The first thing I knew about a new Die Hard film was Bruce Willis in the middle of an explosion staring down at me from the side of a bus. My initial reaction was 'Yippee-ki-yay!' This was pretty quickly replaced by suspicion, however. Could I really have missed all the hype? Or had there been no hype because the film was dreadful?

I wasn't reassured by the title. Die Hard 4.0? That's a bit lame. I felt a shameless, nostalgia-destroying cash-in coming on.

Then I discovered that this is just the European title. In America it's called Live Free or Die Hard. That's much more like it. I was still concerned that Bruce Willis was too old, the plot would be a mess and everything would be cobbled together around a couple of outlandish action sequences but I was hopeful it would be OK. When the time came, I crossed my fingers as I put the disc in the DVD player...

Fortunately, I was grinning like a loon within minutes. It's a new Die Hard film and it's great!

Sure, it's a far cry from the original but it's a valid continuation of a series which has steadily expanded in scale from one sequel to the next. At heart, it's still the same. There are no pointless plot twists for the sake of it. This is one guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, cracking one-liners and kicking butt. Everything flows together extremely well and there's a steady stream of action. It's more over the top than it used to be but that's just down to a couple of decades of action film inflation. Blame The Matrix for altering our expectations.

As for Bruce Willis, if anything, he looks more the part than he did twenty years ago. It's now odd to think that he had hair in the previous movies. If you don't believe me, check out the music DVD hidden amongst the special features. It covers all four movies in five minutes and is very amusing (although it contains ten times more bad language than the film itself).

Some Die Hard fans may be offended that the swearing and gore have been toned down. This was almost certainly done to lower the age rating and let more teenage boys into the cinema to see the film. It does sanitise things a bit but, ironically, it's probably the teenage boys who will be most disappointed. Overall, it's really only a minor quibble against a movie that makes most other action blockbusters look poorly planned and uninspired.

Conclusion: Let's just hope that the new Indiana Jones film is this good.

Explosions: Frequent.
Plot: Slim.
Believability: Low.
Bruce Willis: Bald.
My grin: Very big.

Rating: 5/5.

Premonition (DVD)

Starring: Sandra Bullock

Rated: 12

Story: Linda, a housemom, lives a week in the wrong order, experiencing the days before and after a family tragedy out of sequence.

Comments: This is slick and tense but doesn't make much sense. In fact, it may even make less sense than Deja Vu but Premonition gets away with it better because it seldom pretends to make sense. The weakest scene is where a priest is drafted in to try and explain things.

There simply isn't a way to trace a convincing timeline from any perspective. Sometimes Linda's attempts to alter events she has already experienced succeed but then, on other occasions, these attempts cause the events. Maybe a point is being made that some things are pre-determined and that our free will is limited. Or maybe it's just a mess. Who knows? It's not awfully satisfying, though.

The cast are good (especially Bullock) and the cinematography is great but the script is broken.

Conclusion: There are worse ways to spend an hour and a half than staring at Sandra Bullock (unless you're watching Hope Floats, of course. That's worth battering yourself senseless with a frying pan to avoid).

Explosions: One very silly one.
Questions: Plenty.
Answers: Few.
Creepiness: Some.
Sandra Bullock: Lots.

Rating: 3/5.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (DVD)

Starring: The usual suspects but even Jessica Alba can't save it this time.

Rated: PG

Story: The Fantastic Four come to terms with their new-found fame while attempting to stop the Earth being eaten.

Comments: The Fantastic Four is turning into the archetypal modern superhero franchise. The first film was OK but took ages to get going and had too much angst and not enough smashing. This second film builds on that by taking ages to get going and adding more angst. Great. Rather than increasing the frequency of action scenes, it has more complex, CGI-heavy action scenes.

No, no , no , no, NO!

Less nonsense, please. More smashing.

Expect a third and final installment in a year or so. It will feature less angst, even more CGI and at least one of the main characters being turned evil. Someone will probably die.

None of us will care, though.

Conclusion: Watch Die Hard 4.0 again rather than this.

Explosions: Not enough.
The Human Torch: Irritating.
Invisible Girl: Bored.
Mr Fantastic: Ropey.
The Thing: All but forgotten.
Consuming question: What did they do to Jessica Alba's hair?
Note to makers of future superhero films: Faster pace, better plot, less angst, more smashing. Still. Thank you.

Rating: 2/5.

Nintendo DS Console (& DS Lite)

Price: £100 for the DS Lite. (The older, chunkier version is £90 but isn't widely available any more). You should be able to pick up the console with a bundled game for an extra £10 or so.

  • MP3 player cartridge - £20 (requires an SD memory card which isn't included).
  • Web browser - £30.
  • All kinds of other bits and bobs like carry bags, stylus spares, screen protectors, in-car chargers and cartridge cases - a few pounds each. (Screen protectors are a bit of a waste of time, though).
Comments: There was a conspiracy theory going around when the DS first came out that it was really just something Nintendo had cobbled together in a bit of a hurry to distract some attention from the fast-approaching PlayStation Portable and give them a little breathing space to design a machine that out-classed Sony's offering. Where were the multi-media capabilities and the cutting-edge graphics? Why did the games come on expensive cartridges rather than cheap discs? What was the point of downloading stuff over wi-fi if there was no way of storing it?

Sure, the touchscreen interface was a good idea but why two screens? Nintendo said it would encourage innovation. Great gaming minds considered the possibilities. They pondered wonderful new gameplay. They thought long and hard, and then, as one, developers around the globe hesitantly murmured, 'Well, you know, you could play the game on one screen and have a map on the other.'

And thus it was so...

Sony executives must have been pretty pleased. Their machine was obviously technically superior, could play music and movies and had all kinds of games from Wipeout to Grand Theft Auto lined up. What did Nintendo have? A gimmick-laden oddity with Mario, a brain training non-game and a dog-owning simulator. Sony must have thought they'd have an unassailable lead in the handheld console war by the time the proper Game Boy Advance 2 turned up...

An original DS, charger, stylus and game cartridge. DVD box for scale. (I would have used an original DS for scale, like I normally do, but I only have the one...)
Funny old world, isn't it?

Hardcore gamers and gadget freaks bought PSPs but their mums all bought DSs. And so did everybody else. If there ever was a GBA2 being secretly prepared in Nintendo HQ, then it's been indefinitely shelved. The DS has easily beaten the PSP in terms of sales, and soundly thumped it in terms of profit.

By keeping things simple, the DS reaches out to people who haven't played games before and to those who haven't played games in years. Its software line-up is laden with fun, colourful platformers, puzzle games, turn-based strategy games and tongue-in-cheek cooking simulators. These are supported by familiar franchises such as pokemon, Mario and Zelda which lure in the traditional Nintendo fans.

If you like the kind of game where you use big guns to shoot terrorists or you want a decent racing game which doesn't involve Mario in a kart, then the DS isn't for you. Indeed, even if you just like games with three dimensions, you're going to be fairly disappointed. The graphical capabilities of the DS would struggle to compete with the PSOne, let alone the PSP.

The appeal of the DS is the control system, however. It has plenty of buttons but the lower of the two screens is touch sensitive and can be worked using a stylus or a thumb strap. A few games miss the point, requiring the use of all the buttons and the touchscreen which really only works for those people with three hands but there are other games which are controlled almost entirely with the stylus. Chess pieces can be moved round the board with a couple of taps, for instance. In Trauma Centre, the stylus is used to perform surgery, lending itself to cutting, stitching and injecting. In general, though, games utilise the stylus to make control easier rather than to add significantly to the gameplay. Being able to use a pen rather than having to get to grips with a load of buttons is very appealing to gaming newcomers.

The DS has a few other nifty features. Closing the lid puts the machine into battery-saving sleep mode. In normal use, the rechargeable battery lasts eight hours or so but the DS can maintain itself in sleep mode for days. This means it's perfect for a quick go on the bus - there's no need to worry about finding a saving point before reaching your stop. Close the lid and it can go straight in a pocket. (The screens are also much easier to see clearly in sunny weather conditions than the PSP screen).

Some games (notably Mario Kart Super Circuit and Metroid Prime: Hunters) feature online play over a wi-fi internet connection. Metroid even has an option for voice chat. Other games allow local wireless multiplayer, so you can play with other DS owners in close range. In some cases, only one player actually needs to have a copy of the game.

The DS is backwardly compatible with the Game Boy Advance, providing access to a vast catalogue of old games. (Sleep mode doesn't work with GBA games, however).

The newer version of the DS, the DS Lite, is smaller, lighter and has adjustable screen brightness. It's slightly more expensive but is definitely the version to get. The only disadvantage of this version is that GBA cartridges don't fit snugly and protrude slightly from the bottom edge of the console. To make up for this, the DS Lite has a built-in cover for the GBA slot when it's not in use.

All in all, the DS is a great little machine. Whether you should get one, though, depends on whether you like the sound of the games. You really need to be a fan of cute platformers and puzzle games to get the most from it.

It's also worth pointing out that the decent games have maintained their price over time so don't expect to hoover up a load of old games at a bargain price. Mario games still typically cost £25 new - and that's online. It's £25 for a second-hand copy in the high street.

The best games include:
  • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time - A witty RPG with entertaining turn-based combat.
  • Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - Exploring and adventuring in a semi-sequel to the GameCube's Wind Waker. Good use of the stylus.
  • Dr Kawashima's Brain Training - Simple language, memory and maths games tarted up as exercise for your brain. It's addictive and also includes sudoku.
  • Pokemon Diamond/Pearl - Sprog1 got Pearl the day it came out and we didn't see him again for a week.
  • Wario Ware: Touched - A huge selection of frantic microgames designed to use all the features of the DS. Blow out candles, wipe off dirt and unroll toilet paper as fast as you can!
Other good games include: Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, Advance wars: Dual Strike, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Tetris, Nintendogs and a zillion platformers, such as Yoshi's Island and New Super Mario Bros. There's a startling lack of games developed by western studios, though. The DS would be perfect for real-time strategy, point-and-click adventures and some Tolkien-esque role-playing action but has almost no software in these genres.

Conclusion: The DS is great but it's not for everyone. If you want to play movies, music and portable versions of PS2 games, then you should get a PSP. The DS is about less adrenaline-fuelled games - the kind of games where you train a puppy. It's also cheaper, more rugged and has a much wider range of titles suitable for children.

  • Touchscreen provides an intuitive means of control.
  • Plenty of good games available.
  • Lots of games suitable for kids.
  • Lots of games suitable for your mum.
  • Plays all Game Boy Advance games.
  • Clamshell design protects the screens when not in use.
  • Lite version is particularly small and portable.
  • Lacks graphical power.
  • Unique features (second screen, touchscreen, etc) are often under-utilised.
  • Games are relatively expensive.
  • The volume control switch is a bit fiddly.
  • Poor support from western developers.
  • The game cartridges are small enough to be mistaken for chocolate mints.
  • My seven-year-old won't give mine back.
Rating: 4/5.

Scooby-Doo! Cyber Chase Board Game

Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game.

Price: £5-£15

  • Game board.
  • 5 plastic playing pieces in the rough shape of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Fred & Daphne.
  • 18 cards (3 snacks for each player, 2 samurai cards, 1 magnet card).
  • Flimsy spinner.
Gameplay: Players take it in turns to spin the spinner and move round the board the indicated number of spaces. They must stop at the corners of the board to complete challenges in order to collect snacks. If the spinner lands on the magnet rather than a number, the player doesn't move but receives the magnet card from whoever currently has it.

The not-very-challenging challenges are:
  1. Guess whether the spinner will land on yellow or orange.
  2. Spin a higher number than the player on your left.
  3. Pick one of the samurai cards at random and hope it's the one with the picture of the unbroken sword.
Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game contents.

Object: To be the first player to make their way back round the board to the start with all three of their snacks and the magnet.

Game length: Fifteen minutes.

Number of players: 2-5.

Age: 6+ officially but that's probably because most of the squares have written instructions on them. To be honest, though, even if you can read, the directions don't make much sense. There's no skill or strategy involved, so a three-year-old can play, given a little supervision.

Comments: There's the basis of a good game here somewhere. The idea of going round the board taking part in challenges to win prizes is great. Unfortunately, the realisation of that idea is somewhat lacking...

The instructions are unclear and confusing, the design is dreadful and the challenges are desperate and dependent on luck. The best thing in Cyber Chase is the picture of the Scooby Gang in the middle of the board. Everything else about the game looks and feels cheap. The board itself is sturdy but covered in dreadful artwork (most of which has little to do with Scooby-Doo!). The 'cards' are thin, basic and a little pointless. Even the playing pieces are moulded from such shiny, garish plastic, it's difficult to make out the lumpy detail. This is probably for the best, though - Velma looks like the granny in Tweety and Sylvester.

All in all, this would be a worthwhile bonus if it came free in a box of Cornflakes but, even if you see it somewhere for a fiver, think carefully before paying for it.

Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game cards.
That white thing on a blue background - that's a magnet...

Conclusion: If you have any creative talent whatsoever, you could make a better Scooby-Doo! board game than this (particularly if you already have the 3D game and re-use some of the pieces). You could even have proper Scooby-Doo! challenges like hiding in a barrel, gargling the original theme tune or eating a fifteen layer sandwich in one mouthful. Failing that, you could just get the kids to throw beanbags into a bucket while watching a Scooby DVD. It would still be better than Cyber Chase.

  • Mercifully quick.
  • Vague references to Scooby-Doo!.
  • Largely biodegradable.
  • The kids enjoyed the challenges.
  • Cheap construction and design.
  • Confusing and frustrating.
  • Doesn't include a free packet of Cornflakes.
Rating: 2/5.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales (DVD)

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins & Peter Woodward.

Rated: 12

Story: Some Warner Brothers executives agree to a cash-in movie to mark the tenth anniversary of the end of the original Babylon 5 show. Then they spend all the money on a wild weekend in Vegas. We're left with a couple of short B5 episodes that take place almost entirely in three corridors. Fans sigh.

Comments: Babylon 5 is one of the finest science fiction series ever made. It has complex characters who develop and change allegiance over time, an epic plot spanning five seasons and story-lines that favour cunning and communication, rather than invented technology, for solving problems. Babylon 5 is funny, dramatic and thought-provoking.

For those of you who don't know, Babylon 5 is an enormous space station in neutral territory which serves as a diplomatic and trade hub. It's run by humans but houses ambassadors from various alien races. Of course, half the ambassadors hate each other and, as the main story arc develops, their petty squabbles turn into a galactic war. The humans must steer their way through cultural differences and political situations in order to build a lasting peace.

It's great.

Unfortunately, everything set in the Babylon 5 universe since the original ended has been a bit rubbish. In the ten years up until now, we've had four tie-in movies, half a season of Crusade and the pilot episode of Legend of the Rangers. In the Beginning is an OK prequel movie but it only really re-tells lots of backstory already mentioned in the main series. The rest of the spin-offs seem to miss the point of Babylon 5 entirely. Its strength is in the characters, the diplomacy and the interaction of the different alien races. Taking these out just leaves Star Trek and there's more than enough Star Trek for anyone already.

The Lost Tales makes similar mistakes. It's set on and around Babylon 5 but there are only two and a half characters from the original show - Sheridan, Lochley and Galen. As for aliens, there's one Centauri character we've never met before and a passing shot of a couple of Minbari.

The first of the two episodes involves a demon, an exorcism and a priest with wavering faith. It mainly entails a lot of sitting around chatting about religion and is strangely confused. Lochley comes across as having more 'faith' than the priest but there's little understanding of what faith actually is. Faith is not about believing things which are against reason, it's a relationship based on reason and experience (both personal experience of God and what we've been told of the experiences of others). Without this understanding of the subject matter, the whole thing comes across as a little pointless.

The second episode is much more standard Babylon 5. President Sheridan is presented with a prophecy and must make a difficult moral choice between the good of the many and that of the few. There's some CGI space combat, some flying about in Starfuries and occasional touches of humour. The best bits, however, are the fond references to all the other old characters who aren't present. It's a reasonably good episode but the low budget is crippling. One of the sets consists entirely of two swivel chairs. I mean, honestly...

There are plenty of DVD extras but they're mainly interviews recorded on set. The memorials to Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs are worth watching, though.

The whole thing is essentially a bone to throw at desperate fans. It's not awful (unlike River of Souls) but it doesn't come close to satisfying the craving for some more 'proper' Babylon 5. I just have an urge to go watch the real thing again. Newcomers should, most definitely, not start here - rent the feature-length pilot, The Gathering.

Conclusion: Fans of the original series will feel a renewed pang of sadness at its passing.

Explosions: A few.
CGI: Shiny.
Sets: Not really.
Babylon 5?: Sort of.
Fond memories: Stirred.

Rating: 3/5.

Dear other Daves and non-Daves, has been up and running for over nine months now. You've had the chance to go all the way from the Making Babies section of The Housedad's Handbook to out the other side of the Maternity entry. (Tired yet?) In the meantime, the site's gone from twenty visitors a day to two hundred plus and I'd like to say thanks to all of you who drop by regularly.

I'm pretty happy with the way things are going but I was wondering what you guys want. Would a forum be good, for instance? Somewhere to discuss computer games without the fanboys, to swap gamertags and to reminisce about Spectrums?

I've had a suggestion for a dating service to link career women with housedad wannabes. I can't really see that happening but what features would you like to see on DadsDinner? What's great? What's annoying? What creaks?

I'm not promising to get round to changing things quickly. Let's face it, with three small children, nothing ever gets done quickly, but please leave comments below. (Don't feel you have to be a housedad to take part - everyone's welcome).

Speaking of comments, I don't normally get very many. One of my aims in setting up DadsDinner was to create some community but, so far, it's mainly just been me spouting about whatever springs to mind. I know from emails and conversations that some of you have a lot to say. Some feedback and on-topic comments would be great.

Posting comments is easy. Just click on the text at the bottom of any Stuff or Dear Dave entry. You'll need to choose an identity. If you've got a Google account you can use that. 'Other' lets you invent a name to appear next to your comment. You could leave an anonymous comment but why would you want to do that when you could call yourself KosmicKommentKing73? Also, if you make a habit of saying sensible/humorous things on a regular basis and always use the same name, everyone will know to pay attention.

One last thing, I've been contacted by a fellow housedad who's researching a PhD exploring 'the motivations and experiences of men who take on the role of carer for their children'. He's very keen to talk with other housedads (before February 2008!) to discuss their lives and views on parenthood. You can contact him at

Yours in a woman's world,


PS I was going to put this notice in Dear Dave but then I couldn't decide if I was fictional or not.

PPS Special thanks to the handful of people who've clicked through and bought items from Amazon and the other sponsors in the last couple of weeks. It's rekindled my hope that I'll recoup my costs some day.

Pixar's Ratatouille

Starring: Some stunning computer generated animation, a rat and Paris but not Mrs Incredible. (Drat).

Rated: U

Story: Remy has a special talent for cooking and dreams of creating new culinary delights. Only problem is, he's a rat. After a series of mishaps, however, he finds himself separated from his clan and loitering around the kitchens of a famous Parisian restaurant.

Alfredo Linguini works as a garbage boy in the restaurant. He's not a rat. He's just a total klutz who can't cook to save his life.

The pair team up in an unlikely fashion and, erm... do some cooking.

Comments: Yes, we actually went to the pictures and saw a recent release! But don't worry, it's not the end of the world or anything. This improbable event is explained by two facts:
  1. It was a kid's movie.
  2. The grandparents paid.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you're planning to have children but don't have any yet, go to the cinema now, while you still can.

Off you go.

For the rest of you, Ratatouille is a big improvement over Pixar's last effort, Cars, but it's not one of the company's best. Although the artwork and animation are excellent as always, the plot is crazy and revolves around rats and food.

Having had a mouse invasion in the house recently, seeing rodents scurry over kitchen work surfaces was a little too close to home. My mind kept turning to Rentokil and bleach.

On top of this, I'm not a foodie. I have plain cheese sandwiches for lunch every day. If I'm being adventurous, I add mustard but usually I can't be bothered. I'm just not fussed. Remy's obsession with new taste sensations entirely passed me by. This made the film drag occasionally, especially in the middle where the story wanders a little.

As for the moral of the film? Possibly, it's that 'rats are people too', but it was probably meant to be more along the lines of 'anyone can follow their dreams'. Or something. It's hard to tell. The maxim that 'anyone can cook' is held in high esteem by the heroes of the film and yet the events of the story seem to affirm that 'anyone with a special talent for cooking can cook (even if they're a rodent)'. Which isn't quite the same thing. Apparently, the ham-fisted and hopeless amongst us can only cook if they have a particularly talented rat tugging on their hair...

Still, the action sequences are fantastic and the scenery is beautiful. Just a shame about the script.

You might want to wait until it's being shown cheap on a Saturday morning.

Conclusion: Decent but more on a par with A Bug's Life than The Incredibles or Toy Story. Give it an extra point if you're really into food, rats, France or dumb plots.

Explosions: None.
Female characters: Two (and one of those is a short-sighted lunatic with a shotgun).
Food: Plenty.
Rats: Swarms.
Number of times I'm likely to be forced to watch this on DVD: Countless.

Rating: 3/5.

Stuntman: Ignition (Xbox 360)

Rated: 12

Story: You're an up-and-coming stuntman. Drive like a madman round various film sets to increase your reputation and unlock new jobs. Stunt your way through thinly-disguised imitations of James Bond, Batman and The Dukes of Hazzard (amongst others) and then watch the film trailer.

Gameplay: You get to drive all kinds of wheeled vehicles, from bikes to an articulated lorry. You have to follow a preset course round the sets, pulling off stunts, like jumps and handbrake turns, in the correct locations. Wander too far or miss too many key stunts and it's back to the start of the level. A high score requires stringing an exciting sequence together by adding extra stunts of your own.

Save System: Auto-save after every successful run. Since levels are typically only a minute and a half long, this is a game that can be played in quick bursts.

Comments: Videogames everywhere!

We've had Halo 3, Stranglehold, The Darkness, The Orange Box, PGR 4, Metroid Prime 3, Phantom Hourglass and BioShock already. Mario Galaxy, Kane & Lynch, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Ratchet & Clank: Future, Uncharted, Umbrella Chronicles and goodness knows what else are all turning up soon.

And that's before taking into account various revamped sports games, unknowns like Blacksite and decent also-rans like Jericho, Overlord and Eternal Sonata.

This is just crazy. Between the beginning of 2006 and the end of this summer, most of the seven current console formats (PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, GBA, DS, Wii & PSP) barely had a handful of games of real note each. If it weren't for the launch of the Wii, last Christmas might just as well have been cancelled as far as videogames publishers are concerned.

Not this year, though.

Suddenly, shop shelves are crammed with triple-A new releases at forty quid a time (fifty for the collector's edition). The result? Games like Stuntman: Ignition are in the bargain bin after only a few weeks. Six months ago, it would have had no competition whatsoever. Madness.

Stuntman isn't helped by the fact that any attempt to describe it makes it sound infuriating. It's a driving game but you don't race - you're told where to go and what to do and if you get it wrong you get shouted at. Great. What this description fails to cover, however, is the huge adrenaline rush of dodging through traffic, leaping a ravine, pulling a sharp turn and hammering through the ruins of a building that is floating past on a river of lava.

The levels are inventive and most are very short, so it's not a chore to repeat them over and over, learning where the key stunts are and working out the best ways to string them together. A small drift here or there is enough to alter your line and make each run different from the last. Unlike some games, it seldom feels like you're constantly having to re-do trivial challenges in order to practice the tricky bits. There's always room for improvement in every part of a level and only a couple throw in a gnarly, show-stopping situation right at the end.

Stuntman: Ignition is a fun, action-packed, grin-inducing game... most of the time. Unfortunately, the scoring system is broken. A spectacular drive with a couple of seconds where nothing happens in the middle will score less than a sloppy drive that misses key stunts but keeps up a constant stream of near misses and swerves. Although finishing all the levels doesn't involve too much frustration, getting the full five-star rating most certainly does. Even then, however, there's still always the feeling that 'just one more go' will do it and, importantly, restarting a level doesn't involve any loading - mess up and you're back in the action in a few moments.

I'm not a great fan of driving games and I normally hate having to replay sections more than twice. Nonetheless, I found Stuntman addictive and entertaining. It's definitely worth a quick rummage in the bargain bin. Then again, you may be too busy working out when to find time to play a dozen other games.


Conclusion: Old-school gaming, involving quick reflexes and memorisation, brought up-to-date for those of us with short attention spans, aging reactions and a desire to go barrel-rolling over ridiculous explosions while on fire.

Graphics: Competent. Looks great when moving at speed (i.e. most of the time) but can lack texture when examined closely.

Length: Short if you just want to get through all the levels. Much longer if you want to collect all the five-star ratings.

Rating: 4/5.

28 Weeks Later (DVD)

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, a couple of kids, a bigger budget and a horde of rabid zombies.

Rated: 18

Story: Mainland Britain is under quarantine thanks to the Rage virus. Once infected, victims go crazy within thirty seconds and start attacking anyone they can lay their teeth on. Thankfully (kind of), the virus has wiped itself out by killing pretty much the entire population. Rebuilding has begun, the American military has taken over, everything's going to be fine...

Comments: 28 Days Later was a slightly unusual zombie film. The apocalypse had pretty much been and gone before the story started, leaving deserted streets and the occasional fast, vicious zombie running about to leap out unexpectedly. There were no crowds of shuffling undead in sight. This made the film more haunting and scarier than certain other zombie films. It probably also made it a great deal cheaper.

The sequel has obviously had much more money thrown at it. This adds atmosphere on occasion, with characters wandering through vast empty stretches of London. Sometimes, though, it just means visual spectacle replaces inventiveness. 28 Weeks Later resembles Resident Evil - big explosions, hordes of zombies, a touch of moral dilemma and a nemesis that just will not go away. After the first few minutes, you pretty much know where it's going.

The first film unexpectedly changed tack about halfway through for some musings on human nature. Who's really evil? Scary, face-chewing zombies or scary, gun-wielding nutters who'd do anything to survive? The sequel poses the odd ethical question about the greater good but is really more interested in whether you've got enough popcorn.

Ach, it's predictable and a little silly but I liked it. Maybe that's just because it's set in Britain and so all the zombie mayhem feels closer to home. The strength of the first film was in making the viewer identify with ordinary people caught up in madness. It still pops into my head every so often, making me wonder what I would do if the whole world went down the tubes and friends could turn to monsters in a matter of seconds. Where would I go? How would I feel?

28 Weeks Later manages to retain something of that while adding more action. It's just not as original or memorable.

Conclusion: More entertaining to watch than the first one but with less to say.

Explosions: Like zombies. None for ages and then a whole load come along at once.
Gore: Some but I'm not sure how much - I was hiding behind my beer.
Tension: Lots.
Actual scares: Few.
Most important question to ask your double-glazing salesman: Is it zombie-proof?

Rating: 3/5.