Amazing Machines

Amazing books about Amazing Machines

Amazing books about Amazing Machines

When we arrived in the UK for our recent holiday Nana had been out shopping to get her favourite (and only) grandchild some presents to make him feel at home.  One of the things she bought was a collection of 10 books called Amazing Machines by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker.

She knew that Thomas has a thing about cars and busses and lorries and stuff, so she was fairly certain she was on to a winner.  She could not have possibly known how popular the books have become, though, to the extent that they are now among the favourite books in our house.

There isn’t a story in the books, instead the writer tries to explain what the different machines do as well as showing the differences between for examples a diesel train and a steam engine.  And all of this s done through rhymes which have a great, catchy but simple rhythm.  Occasionally the rhymes are a bit forced, but that is probably to be expected when you are limiting yourself to this extent.  At the moment I am reading them aloud, but there is enough in these books that I can see them being read by a kid of 5 or 6 on their own.

All of the books are illustrated with bold pictures and vivid colours.  There is a collection of animals that drive the trucks, put out the fires and fly the rockets.  There is enough going on in each of the pictures to be able to ask questions about them, for example ‘who’s driving the red tractor?’ or ‘where’s the sheep?’  but they aren’t too busy to be a distraction.

The last page of each book has a mini picture dictionary with some of the items introduced in the book and a brief description of what they are used for.  The books also come with a CD with the stories read aloud, but I haven’t used this yet.

The 10 titles are Terrific Trains, Dazzling Diggers, Cool Cars, Tremendous Tractors, Tough Trucks, Super Submarines, Roaring Rockets, Brilliant Boats, Flashing Fire Engines and Amazing Aeroplanes.  At the moment our favourites are the ones about the fire engines, the trains and the tractors.

If you have a kid who is interested in machines and cars I cannot think of a better set of books to get them.

Age 2-6

Amazing Machines by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker.  Published by MacMillan Books.

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Learning to Fly Solo

Plane taking off

Here we go (Wikipedia)

The thing I was least looking forward to from our recent trip to the UK was coming home again.  The problem was that my wife had to come home a week early because of work commitments, which meant I was going to be doing a 24-hour journey with our 22-month old.  This journey included 2 flights, one of 11 hours and the other a measly 1 hour.  Both of the flights would consist of Thomas (now about 13 kilos) sitting on my lap for the duration.  What was I thinking? Here are some of the things I learned.

1. Don’t do it

Is there any way you can avoid flying with your little one on your lap?  Could you drive?  Pay for somebody else to accompany you?  Stay at home?  Believe me, even if everything goes well, you are not going to have a good time.  Everything went as well as it possible could for me, but I swear I would never do it again.  If you can find any alternative, grasp it with both hands.

2. Leg space

When I was booking my flight I decided to pay a bit more and get the front row so that I had a bit more leg space.  i think I paid $50 for it (about 15% of the total) and it was worth every penny.  It meant I could leave some stuff in front of me instead of having to get it from the overhead baggage space.  It gave me a bit of freedom and I could even pop Thomas on the floor for a few minutes to let him stretch his legs while I prepared some food or had a mini-breakdown.

3. Be very, very nice at check-in

English: Dublin International Airport, Ireland...

Find a real person to talk to (Wikipedia)

When I got to the airport I was asked to check in via one of the computerised stands that many companies have.  I made it look like a hassle to juggle my son and find the papers and everything so I was directed to a real person behind the desk.  This is what I wanted all along because I wanted to see if it was possible to get a free seat next to me.  I was all smiles and very polite to the man who was doing the check in.  Towards the end I asked if the flight was busy, which it was, and then I wondered if it might be possible to leave the seat next to me vacant so I could use it for Thomas.  The man smiled back and said it wasn’t possible, but he would see what he could do (this type of answer is very common in Brazil).  It turned out that there were half a dozen empty seats on the plane, and one of them was next to me.  I don’t know what the name of the man was who did my check in, but I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart as this was a lifesaver.

4. Be prepared

If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need it or not, put it in your hand luggage.  I had a fully charged tablet with games and videos on it.  Lots of nappies.  Plenty of food and snacks and drinks (I had 8 different drinks cartons but I still had to stock up again in Sao Paulo).  Some favourite toys.  A thermometer.  Two drinks bottles. Spare clothes.  A blanket.  Crayons and paper.  A Peppa Pig Sticker book.  And probably lots of other stuff as well.  It means you won’t have any space for your own books or anything, but then this isn’t about you.

5. Aisle or window?

Plane Flight to Singapore

The same view for 11 hours (Amy Dianna)

Aisle.  A thousand times.  You may get a view which will keep your child happy for the few moments during take off and landing, but the rest of the flight will be a nightmare as you look at the never-changing sky or the wing of the plane.  If you have an aisle seat you have just that little be extra leg room and you can put your kid there for a minute while you find his favourite toy.  It also makes it easier to get to the toilet quickly in case of emergencies.

6. Make friends

I let Thomas charm as many people as possible when we first got on the plane.  My thinking was that if they like him at the start they will be more forgiving later when he wakes them with his piercing scream at 3 in the morning because he can’t sleep properly.  I needn’t have worried as this never happened, but it did provide a certain amount of entertainment later in the trip when he was able to play peekaboo with the other passengers.

7. How small is that changing tray?

The changing tray for babies in the toilets was designed for the smallest baby ever to be born.  It was just impossible to get a slightly-above-average-height two-year-old onto it and change his nappy without doing some serious damage either to the plane or Thomas.  My wife told me about this before so I had pull-up nappies instead of the more conventional ones.  it still wasn’t exactly easy, but a lot less hassle than it could have been.

8. Food and drink


Your two-year-old will love it (Scoobyfoo)

It isn’t exactly news to tell you that the food you get on a place is crap.  Utter filth, usually.  Don’t rely on the food they serve to satisfy your child.  Bring lots of snacks and easy to prepare food that you know your kid will enjoy.

9. Take your time

Everything takes longer with a two-year old in tow.  This is true in life generally, but especially true when trying to get through customs, do security, find your seat on the plane, etc.  Give yourself plenty of time because you don’t want to be rushing to the gate in order to board.

10. Plan the other end

Make sure you have a plan for when you finally arrive at your destination.  My wife was coming to pick us up so we had decided beforehand exactly where she would be standing outside the door so that I could quickly slip out, hand Thomas over to her and then go back in for the bags.  This was one of the best things I did as my suitcase was the last to appear.

To be honest, the flights couldn’t have gone any better.  Thomas was as good as gold and slept, if fitfully, for most of the first flight.  The TAM staff were courteous and helpful, although there are never tested that much.  It was, however, a long and exhausting journey and while I would do it again I would definitely pay to get an extra seat for Thomas and not even contemplate having him on my lap again.

Round and Round the Garden


Shaking  Hands Black and White

Shaking hands (Zeevveez)

While on holiday my folks taught Thomas, and reminded me, of two nursery rhymes that I had completely forgotten.  He loves both of them because they are accompanied by physical movements.  This means that not only do they meet a need for physical touch and action, but he can ask other people to say them to him very easily by miming the actions.

Round and Round the Garden

The first one goes like this:

Round and round the garden

Like a teddy bear

One step, two step

And tickle him under there.

As you say the first two lines you hold the child’s hand palm up and trace circles around his palm with your index finger.  During this part Thomas invented his own step which was to close his hand so that we couldn’t continue with the rhyme.  We had to ask him to open it before we could go on.  For the third line you touch the inside of the child’s wrist when you say ‘one step’ and then the crook of the arm for ‘two step’.  Finally, on ‘tickle him under there’ you tickle him under the armpit.

The problem with this nursery rhyme is that Thomas doesn’t seem to get bored of it.  If you do it once you have to do it a hundred times.  He decides which hand he wants you to do it on and holds it out for you. Alternatively, he will take your hand and, while you say the rhyme, he will do the actions.

Shake Hands Brother

The second rhyme is a bit more sinister.  It comes from Ireland and goes a bit like this.

Shake hands brother

(You’re a rogue and I’m another)

You stole a cow and I stole another.

You’ll be hung in Ballinalime

And I’ll be hung in Ballinatother.

As you say this rhyme you have to shake the child’s hand to the beat.  The second line (in brackets) is optional; my mother uses it but my dad doesn’t.  The two place names are approximations because I was never actually sure of what was being said.  ‘Ballin’ is a common prefix for towns in Ireland and can either mean ‘town’ or ‘mouth of a river’ depending on the original gaelic meaning.

Thomas loves both of these rhymes and I do to.  I remember hearing them as a kid so I am determined to keep them alive with Thomas now.  Not only do they help with language learning but they also provide a link to my childhood as well.

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Language learning on holiday


You wanna be where everybody knows your name (Wikipedia)

Just before we went on holiday to the UK and Ireland for the best part of 4 weeks I wrote about how I thought Thomas was on the verge of stepping up his language skills.  I wasn’t sure how the trip would affect this because it would be throwing him into a whole new language environment.

Before we left he was saying mais  whenever he wanted more of something.  After a couple of weeks’ holiday this had morphed into a combination of the English word and the Portuguese word and he would say ‘mais more’.  Lots of people, including this hardened cynic, thought this was one of the cutest things ever.  In the last week, when my wife came back to Brazil and we stayed on in Birmingham, he seemed to drop the ‘mais‘ and started to only say ‘more’.

He created a new name for my dad.  The last time we were there he never called him anything and we tried to get him to say ‘gog gog’ as this was the word that I used for my granddad when I was the same age, but it never really caught on.  This time around he started calling him ‘doe doe’ and we have absolutely no idea why.  This caused a problem for a while as Thomas would be shouting ‘doe doe’ but my dad was totally unaware that he was being shouted at.  After a few days of his one and only grandson yelling at him he soon learned.


Raising a glass (Auburn Skies)

Whenever we had a meal together we raised our classes and said ‘cheers’ to each other.  Thomas thought this was a brilliant game and insisted on doing the same with his bottle.  The only problem was that he forgot to take a drink from it afterwards.

One new word that he seems to be experimenting with is ‘nice’.  I am not sure he knows exactly what it means yet as it is almost as if it slips out without him realising it when he is excited about something.  I will be looking out for how this word progresses in the future.

Other than that, he didn’t really pick up any new words.  There was the hint of him saying my brother’s girlfriend’s name, but this was never confirmed.  Most people also thought that his pronunciation became clearer over the course of the three weeks.  This might be true but it might also be the fact that everyone else got more used to his language and he got more comfortable around them.  It is true, though, that he had no problems understanding what people wanted him to do by the end so that his passive understanding was probably on a par with that of Portuguese.

So all in all, the trip didn’t see the surge in Thomas’ language ability that I might have been hoping for.  However, I am convinced that it did he bilingual skills the world of good and that, sooner or later, it is going to start paying off in both languages.

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Great British Food


Bangers (Another Pint Please…)

Thomas tried some new food while he was in the UK.  Some were more of a success than others.


This was the biggest success of the whole holiday.  By the end he could very easily wolf down three sausages without even blinking.  The biggest problem with sausages is that he had to wait for them to cool down before he could scoff them.  We soon found out that we had to give him other food before showing him the sausages, because as soon as he saw them he wouldn’t eat anything else.  While we have linguiça here in Brazil they aren’t the same so I don’t know what we are going to do now we are back.


Not a particularly British type of food, but one thing I noticed this time around was the different marketing for healthier foods aimed at kids.  One company that seems to be doing very well is Organix which has lots of healthy food alternatives aimed at kids with bright packaging and decent advertising.  It still isn’t as sophisticated as Coke or McDonald’s, but it is at least a start.  Their raisins were particularly well-received by Thomas, but he also liked some of their other stuff as well such as carrot cake, gingerbread men and juices.

A better snack than some

A better snack than some

Potato Bread

When I was a kid my granny used to make potato bread for us.  Basically it is made out of potatoes and flour, is an Irish recipe and is amazing when fried for breakfast.  After a couple of years of experiments, my mum now makes her own mean potato bread, although she never seems to make enough of it.  Thomas took a bit of time to decide he liked potato bread, but after a few attempts he decided it wasn’t too bad after all.


We took Thomas to a couple of curry houses in Birmingham.  At the first one, called Masalla Merchant in Stirchley, we asked the waiter for a lamb shish kebab which he assured us wasn’t spicy.  As soon as Thomas tried it his eyes watered up and his cheeks turned red.  He couldn’t get the meat out quick enough.  He then tried some chicken that had come with the kebab and this went down a treat.  A few days later he went to Kababish in Moseley and was very happy with the naan bread and the pilau rice.

Salt and Vinegar Crisps

These were a huge hit.  When he got his hands on a packet he treated it like a job of work.  He sat there and slowly munched through them one by one and would have kept doing so all afternoon until he had finished the bag.  Unfortunately for him the salt content is way high so I had to take them off him after a while.

Salt and vinegar should always have a green packet.

Salt and vinegar should always have a green packet.


I wasn’t in the room at the time, but apparently a packet of bite-sized twirls was opened in front of Thomas and he wanted to try them.  Once he had one in his mouth he couldn’t stop eating them.  Much hilarity ensued and I made sure I wasn’t the one who had to clean his nappy the next morning.

Ice cream

Thomas has had ice cream on a couple of occasions in Brazil, but this was the first time he had whipped ice cream in a cone with a flake, also known as a 99.  He was  a bit suspicious at first, but he soon got the hang of it and lapped it up.

English: 99 Ice cream

99 Ice cream (Wikipedia)


Ribena is basically a blackcurrant squash that you add water to.  I used to drink it as a kid and especially liked it with hot water on cold winter nights.  Unfortunately we had a few cold summer nights so Thomas got to try it out both hot and cold; the cold version was appreciated more.

Looking at this list of different foods that Thomas tried it looks as if he ate most unhealthily.  I would like to stress that we did give him decent food as well; he still loves his broccoli and he had plenty of fruit and other vegetables.  And compared to me, he had a very healthy diet as I ate practically nothing but junk.

The Fields of Athenry


Feeding the Donkeys

On our recent holiday we went to Ireland for a few days.  It is about 10 years since I was last there and my wife hadn’t been since she was a kid.  We stayed in just outside the town of Athenry, the biggest town close the village of Attymon where my dad comes from.  We stayed in a hotel called Caheroyan House & Farm, which is literally in The Fields of Athenry.

The place could do with a bit of TLC, but it was the right place to stay because of Thomas.  It gave him the chance to get out an about and see donkeys, cows, dogs and horses.  There was plenty of space for him to play without us having to worry too much.  He was in awe of the donkeys: at first we fed them with grass but when we got some carrots for them he was beside himself.  He kept trying to tell us that he had fed the donkeys but just couldn’t get his words out.

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. ...

A Blue Tractor (Wikipedia)

No matter how great the donkeys were, though, nothing could compare with the tractors.  There were some toy tractors that he could sit on and play with, but once my brother took him up onto the big blue working tractor that was it.  Every morning he wanted to go and sit on it and drive it.  I think we could have just left him there in the morning, gone away for the day and come back in the evening and he probably wouldn’t have noticed.

We can now add tractors to the list of things he is obsessed with, to go along side busses planes and trains.

We did a bit of drinking in the town as well.  One of the pubs, the Square Inn, is owned by the husband of one my dad’s Square Inncousins so we spent a couple of nights there.  I heard one of the greatest stories ever about a photograph in which practically everyone was dead, including one man who was killed by a horse in a medieval themed hurling match.  I haven’t laughed so much in years.

Irish cottageOne thing that I really wanted to do was to show my wife my grandparents’ old house where my dad grew up and I spent a couple of weeks every summer.  It has been abandoned since he died and is now in a sorry state.  As we drove around Ireland it was noticeable how many ruins of old cottages there are and this one might soon be another ruin to add to them.

We also did a bit of sightseeing, including going to Connemara and The Burren.  While we were on the way to the Burren we stopped off at a small beach for a walk around.  unfortunately my wife hadn’t been able to come with us because she had some work to do and my Thomas had fallen asleep.  This meant that they missed out on a very rare ting in Ireland: a visit to the beach when it is sunny.  This photo is the only proof that it actually happened and I swear it isn’t doctored.

It's a beach, it's sunny, and it's in Ireland!

It’s a beach, it’s sunny, and it’s in Ireland!

While it was sunny it was also bitterly cold.  There was a very sharp wind and one night it got dow to about 3C.  With my beer jacket on this wasn’t a problem and it even gave us an excuse to burn some peat and create the smell that I remember from many a wet and cold summer holiday.

Back in Brazil

Stone Roses Lemon

After nearly 4 weeks in the summer of the UK and Ireland we are now back in the winter of southern Brazil.  This means more sunshine and hotter days as a British summer isn’t much to be proud of and winter hasn’t arrived yet in Curitiba.

I am going to be writing more about our trip over the coming weeks, but for now I just wanted to write something to get back into the swing of things.  We had a great time in Ireland visiting family and driving around the beautiful west of the country.  We took Thomas to Drayton Manor Park and Zoo to see Thomas Land and enjoy a few of the rides there.  We went down to London for a couple of days to meet friends and had the wettest two days of the journey.

We had a brilliant barbecue with lots of kids playing in my parents’ garden.  Lots of good talk and decent food.  What more can you ask for?

For the last week my wife came back to Brazil because she has to teach at university and I stayed with Thomas and my parents.  I gave them some quality bonding time for a great trip to London to see one of my all time favourite bands, The Stone Roses, with my brother and then I took all his money off him at a poker session the following night.

I ate far too much and drank even more.  Stayed up too late some nights and got up far too early on  more than a few mornings.

Last, and by no means least, the two of us we survived the 23-hour trip back from Britain without any serious mishaps.

So now it is back to teaching and writing.  I would like to say that I have fully re-charged my batteries and I am raring to go. As usual, I am almost as tired as before I went and could do with another few weeks sitting around doing nothing except listening to the cricket.

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