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historywitch
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Member since: 20.03.2007

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    • Nippers / Transport / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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      05.08.2013 23:22
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      Go elsewhere, message me if you want a recommendation.

      I have some major life changes going on at the moment, one of which is finally getting around to learning to drive. At 31 I knew I needed to just hurry up and do it or I never would, but I was incredibly nervous, having never even sat in the drivers seat of the car before.

      After passing my theory test in April I headed to the Internet to look for driving schools in my area that would do an intensive course. I start university again in September so was hoping to have it all done and dusted by then. I called the first company but they had no spaces but suggested Nippers. I looked on the Internet and saw a professional website and prices that looked competitive. Then I made my first mistake. I didn't bother to check online reviews, which is ridiculous as I have been on dooyoo for over half a decade. What an idiot. Now a cursory online check reveals mixed reviews and several seriously unhappy customers (one of which is me, since I added my own experience recently).

      Anyway, I emphasised on the phone that a) I was a complete novice and b) really quite nervous. The man assigned me 'Steve' and my course started on the 27th May, with my test booked 8 days later. Steve rang and arranged to pick up the cheque (£771) and then I made my second mistake. He didn't come across as very professional and I had immediate misgivings, but with the test booked very soon I ploughed on and started the course.

      My first day was long, within twenty minutes we were driving forty minutes away to Clacton. Steve said I was competent to drive the car but we had done no cockpit drill, I had no idea if my mirrors were set right, had received no paperwork (and indeed never did, not even a booking card) and he hadn't even bothered to check my eyesight. I was given a break half way through my five and a half hours but it was begrudged, Steve complained he had nothing to do for an hour. There was very little feedback or input, we just drove around and around the main Colchester roundabouts. Over the forty hours he did not prompt me on the MSM routine, or explain any of the tricky bits or dangerous bits of the area. There is a particular part which you approach down a narrow winding hill, at the bottom there is a blind bend and a very narrow bridge. If you go even slightly over the line and a car is coming from the opposite direction you are highly likely to have a head on collision, especially as oncoming traffic tend to cut the tight corner. The first time I came to this area was on a test.

      Only about forty percent of Colchester was covered, mainly the main roundabouts and only from certain directions, so I was wholly unprepared for the test. Colchester has a one way system, a complicated gyratory systems, five roundabouts in a ring, several double roundabouts and with heavily potholed roads and poor road markings its a nightmare for learners, but I was even less prepared than most.

      Just a couple of hours in total were spent in manoevres, despite my pleas. Once I had completed a manoevre successfully once, that was it, no more practice needed. I had no reference points, no special mirrors, limited explanations and plenty of irritation from Steve. I entered my test having only parallel parked successfully once, likewise bay parking. I failed a test on moving out but somehow he always 'forgot' to practice it in our lessons, just making me drive around and around Colchester in this massive loop, never getting above 40. I spent every evening desperately trying to fill in gaps in my knowledge with YouTube and driving instructors websites, whilst Steve was telling me everyday how amazing I was, which just didn't ring true. I felt like I was being swept along and the repeat tests just ramped up the pressure. Steve kept telling me I would never pass with another instructor so close to the test, that I was definitely going to pass the next time etc etc. I have some gastric issues that began to flare under the stress so I was unable to eat much or sleep well which really began to affect my judgement.

      On the Saturday after I started my course, twenty hours in, Steve decided to suggest going to London. I start university there in Sept, so he offered to take me there. He said I was the right level to go, first pupil he had taken in 6 years there, blah blah. So we went which was extremely nervewracking for several reasons a) I was terrified, b) my mirrors were still badly set so I struggled to change lanes on the A12 and c) Steve scheduled no breaks so I drove for 6 hours around London with no food/drink breaks. I also drove on two further occasions for 4.5 hours and 5.5 hours with no breaks, as Steve kept putting it off, getting me to wait and wait until it was too late in the lesson to stop. I am not a very confident person and I put my trust in his experience but unfortunately it looks like this has caused some serious damage to my leg and knee on particular.

      All lessons were shortened by at least five minutes, usually more. Steve took regular ten minute toilet breaks in our two hour lessons, where I was encouraged to stay in the car. I reckon I lost over two hours of tuition in total.

      Steve is a big man and he was verbally abusive to other drivers, furiously gesticulating out of the window as well. He happily used language like 'poofs' and I found him quite unsettling. Whilst I was wasn't getting any feedback I was getting lots of gossip about his other pupils and their lives, lots of information about his life. He admitted he hated it when pupils didn't talk to him 'nothing worse than having a quiet car' so even whilst I was trying to concentrate he never stopped talking. There was constant pressure to change my test to Clacton (Steve's home town) and though I did at first for one of my subsequent tests, I found of a 120minute lesson, 80 minutes were taken up just driving there and back, so to Steve's disappointment I switched back to Colchester.

      I failed my first test on mirrors and changing lanes (surprise, surprise), but I was encouraged to book another test two weeks later. I failed that one on meeting other cars (another gap in my instruction, my examiner called me 'dangerous' as Steve had told me to just keep going and push through no matter what) and on moving off. A third test was booked two weeks after that despite me being obviously shattered and a nervous wreck. I failed that one on changes of speed (unfamiliar country road) and a tricky roundabout that we hadn't covered.

      Steve kept telling me I was a brilliant driver, fantastic etc but never helped me rectify my mistakes and never suggested postponing tests for more practice, we went right back to going in loops around Colchester. At this point I had had enough (three tests in 6 weeks) as I really didn't feel I was up to standard ( and my husband started taking me out in our car and was shocked at how little I knew). I had had 56 hours of tuition. I found a older female instructor who was so reassuring on the phone I almost cried. She was happy to take me in my own car, happy to have my children in the back. She turned up with a big book of laminated roundabouts, she took notes of everything, she explained and critiqued everything I was doing and taught me to parallel park in my unfamiliar car ( to her) in twenty minutes flat. I can now do it every time, no panic, no worries, no constant gossip, just patient explanation and kindness. I got none if these things from Steve.

      I complained to Nippers but they said there was nothing they could do etc etc, no refunds, just that they would keep an eye on him. So I wasted two months and over £1000, despite assurances I would get up to test standard by the end of the forty hour course. There was no way I was even close and even after 8 hours with a competent instructor there were still many many gaps in my knowledge. There was a small chance I could have passed my fourth test but all the accumulated nerves and repeat failures got to me and I failed again. I have not scheduled another test and am taking it easy, practicing and taking instruction but being relaxed about it and trying not to put pressure on myself. I am however incandescent at the poor service I received from Nippers and their piss poor instructor.

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      • More +
        07.01.2013 21:25
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        Excellent first 'proper' scooter

        Every weekday in the school playground my three year old watches his friends glide and swoop around the playground on their scooters. His scooter is an old metal thing that belonged to his older sister and is too heavy for me to take to school and back (it also is astonishingly painful when it swings around and belts me on the ankle as I carry it across the road). So for Christmas he was delighted to receive this Mookie scooter like his friends. Its RRP is £44 but Amazon usually have them for around £30 in a range of colours (his is blue and yellow and cost £28). This is the Mini version from 36 months to approx. 5-6 years, after that the Maxi with its adjustable handlebars is probably the one to get.


        Assembly is very simple. The handlebar piece slots into the base piece with a click. Done. Ready to ride. If you want to take it apart for transport you just turn the scooter upside down and press the two little sticking out bits and the handlebar piece pops off again.


        This is a lovely scooter, the cheap version of the £100 Micro scooters. It is very very light but well made. The base has ridges so children don't slip off, the handlebars have thick rubber handholds, the brake is good and wide so its easy to find with a foot and the wheels are good quality and show little sign of wear after three weeks of ferocious daily scooting.

        I was delighted to discover that when my son got tired it was no effort at all to get him home. He put both feet on the board and I grabbed the handlebar nearest to me. The scooter is so light and easy to propel that I only needed two fingers and hardly any effort to get him coasting along next to me, rather than yanking and dragging the thing behind me.


        The best bit about this scooter is the steering mechanism. The handlebars don't turn, instead you shift your body weight on the base which tilts slightly and moves the wheels in the direction you lean in. It creates an incredibly graceful fluid movement of the scooter and really helps children develop an awareness of their whole body. Both of my children have inherited my lack of co-ordination but these scooters (my daughter has the Maxi Micro) are helping them with their balance whilst they have a load of fun. It is so much easier to get them out of the house, to get them moving and to keep them active with these scooters. Now I am the one lagging behind rather than my three year old and he no longer asks for his buggy!

        Some of the mechanisms underneath are plastic (unlike the Micro scooters where they are metal), but so far it has proved itself to be very robust. I do wonder if it will last as long as the more expensive Micro scooter but at the price this is less of a worry. In a few years we will upgrade him or he will inherit his sister's Micro .


        This is an excellent scooter for younger children, its light, easy to assemble and easy to steer. My three year old has embraced this form of transport and begs to use it everyday. The steering mechanism is fantastic and I wish I had had one when I was a child, I think I'm a bit jealous!

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        11.11.2012 23:58
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        Useful little creative toy

        I'm always on the look out for toys to keep my noisy and active children quiet, to give me those blissful and elusive few minutes of peace that I crave. My oldest child is 7 and very imaginative, but sometimes she struggles with story telling and writing. When I saw these Story Cubes on Amazon I thought they would be an ideal little gift for her.


        So far I have only spotted the cubes on Amazon where they sell for around £7. You can get these original Story Cubes in the orange box as well as Actions in the blue box and Voyages in the green box (all the same price of £7).


        For your £7 you get a sturdy little box with nine dice in. Each die (yes that is the singular of dice, yes I am a pedant when it comes to these things) is just over one centimetre across and instead of dots has a picture indented into each side. Each die feels solid and as the pictures aren't printed on then there is no chance that they can rub off - a quality product.

        The nine dice fit snugly into a removable plastic inner so they don't rattle around. The box itself has a magnetic closure too so chances of dropping and losing the dice are greatly decreased. I keep these dice in my handbag when we are going out, they are excellent for the car and for restaurants. The box has survived these regular bashings over the last six months and looks (almost) as good as new.


        As I said, each die has six pictures instead of dots. Each one is a simple black and white line drawing. A few of them need a little bit of turning and interpreting - several can be interpreted in several different ways e. g the 'theatrical mask' that could also be an alien, the fire that could also be a dragon and a few of them need explaining to younger children -the identity card, the scarab and the compass points.

        The box gives you three suggested ways to use them:

        1. Roll the dice and make up a story that uses all of the images
        2. Think up a theme, roll the dice and then use the dice to tell the story
        3. Divide the cubes between people, roll the dice one at a time with each person adding to the story with their turn.

        It also says its good to use them as a party game/icebreaker, for creative inspiration, as a mental workout and also to develop problem solving, speaking and listening skills.


        My daughter took to these cubes immediately and uses them independently a lot to create her own stories. They have lived next to her bed for months (barring the occasional weekend trip out in my handbag) and she uses them most nights. She has played with me, with her dad, with her friends and once, very unsuccessfully with her younger brother. Just today she brought them down to play with her grandparents, making up a story with my MIL about a man who lost all his clothes and had to use L plates to cover his bottom. Much hilarity was had on both sides. They are not sophisticated enough perhaps for serious adult creative writing inspiration, but they are a useful little tool to get the creative juices flowing and breaking a short dry spell.


        These little cubes are quite unassuming, but really are loads of fun. I am very old-fashioned when it comes to entertaining kids, I would really much rather that they used their imagination. In addition I would rather they used their imagination without too much input from me. These cubes fulfil all my top toy criteria and more, so its easy to see why they have won awards. These cubes would be great for a child who needs a little structured help with creative writing or developing their imagination and are also a nice tool to encourage discussion and conversation as well.

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          27.10.2012 01:27
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          Nice set to have

          A year or so ago both my children (boy and girl aged 7 and 3) became really obsessed with playing with their toy kitchen. They especially liked to pretend that they were running a restaurant or take away shop. Wanting to add to their fun I bought this Casdon set for £7 in a closing down sale. Currently it sells on Amazon for around £11 and the RRP is £12.


          Once you have extricated the toy from the box you can have a good look at the replica kettle and toaster for about ten seconds before they have been snatched out of your hands. Unlike some other toy kettles and toasters the emphasis here is on realism, right down to the fake on/off button on the kettle (which really moves) and the replica water gauge which of course bears no relation to the level of liquid in the kettle. The kettle, despite its precarious looking handle is actually surprisingly sturdy and it has put up with being flung around the garden all summer - and then flung back into the playhouse/shed at the end of the day. Its one weakness has to be its tiny little lid which is around four centimetres across. We lost it within a week of opening the box, which is pretty good going for this household, but a little disappointing. In addition the lid was a bit tricky for my youngest child to put on and take off as he had to negotiate the handle over the top of the hole each time. The lid doesn't click on either, it just rests on the top so a vigorous swing can mean it flies across the room. I suspect this is when we lost ours.


          The toaster is similarly realistic and it comes with two slices of rather unappetizing plastic toast. Even better it comes with a little mechanism which pops the toast up into the air which caused my children a great deal of excitement as they waited and watched the toaster. However to do it you need to push down hard on a lever and then turn a slippery, hard to grasp dial. I struggled with it and neither of my children are able to do it, so I am regularly called to make the toast pop. For a toy that I was hoping would buy me a bit of piece and quiet this is very disappointing, but to be fair the warning does say that an adult should supervise. The toast does go satisfactorily high though and there is a good solid pop at the same time.


          The recommended age for this toy is 36 months to four years which seems rather limited. Certainly at 7 my daughter still happily plays with this toy and my son shows no sign of becoming bored with it. My children have mentioned that they would love the kettle to make a noise or do an action too but I am actually quite glad that it does not. No doubt I would have to be called into action to make it work, or change the batteries, or remove it from them once it started driving me mad!

          I'm not sure how much longer this toy with last. Repeated bashings have meant that both the toaster and the kettle are looking really rather battered and scratched, although sadly the mechanism on the toaster STILL works and hasn't become any looser or easier to do. It's a nice inexpensive addition to a toy kitchen and I have no regrets about buying it. I do however wish I had spent less of my life pretending to eat lots of slices of plastic toast under the threat of a tantrum.

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        • Beko DSFN6830S / Dishwasher / 31 Readings / 31 Ratings
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          26.10.2012 22:44
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          I love you dishwasher

          When our dishwasher died with a pathetic little fizzle then my husband got straight into the car to buy another one, knowing how essential an item it is for me. I left the decision making in his hands and he came back with this dishwasher which he bought for £349. We got it in black but it can also come with a stainless steel front and its guaranteed for two years.

          ***Installation***

          Very quick and easy. We had the required cold water feed and drain, plus a space under the worktop that measured 850mm x 598mm x 598mm. Oh and electricity!

          Like most dishwashers this one has adjustable feet and it was very simple to connect it all up and slide it into place.

          Before you use it you have to test the hardness of your water, they include test strips for this. The instruction manual explains everything and walks you through how to set up the dishwasher for your first wash.


          ***Features***

          This is a nice mid-range dishwasher with plenty of useful features.

          The little display on the front accurately counts down to the end of the cycle, it will also tell you what stage the machine is at in the cycle. There is a button to start/pause/cancel the current cycle which is very useful when you find that lonely fork on the worksurface (or in a shoe which is where my toddler likes to hide them). There is a button to press if you only want to run half a load or use a combi tablet. I was particularly pleased with this feature which turns off the salt and rinse aid release mechanism if you want to use a dishwasher tablet with salt and rinse aid in as well as detergent (a 2 in 1, or 3 in 1 tablet). Not only does this save you from having to replenish the salt and rinse aid so regularly, but it also means that the dishes dry better without a double dose of salt/rinse aid. Another useful function is the ability to delay the start of the cycle for up to 9 hours, should you want to make use of cheaper evening electricity or don't want to run the dishwasher at night (but don't want to forget in the morning!). There is also a little icon that lights up when you are low on salt or rinse aid, so you don't have to guess.

          The on/off button is located on the top of the door which makes it impossible to turn on accidentally (lots of little fingers in this house) although I was disappointed that the machine doesn't have a child lock like the washing machine, as the machine can still be started if its left on at the end of a cycle. Next to the on/off button is a comprehensive and detailed list of all of the difference programmes and when it would be best to use them - very easy to check before you close the door on the load. In the booklet that comes with the machine there is a more detailed chart that gives the cycle pattern (i.e. Prewash-Cold Rinse-Hot Rinse-Dry), water used, electricity used and time taken for each programme. For the paranoid amongst us there is a 'Toddler Hygiene' cycle which gives bottles and dishes an extra rinse. Other programmes are Prewash, Rapid, Economy, Quick and Clean, Intensive, Active Wash and Auto Sensing (which apparently works out how soiled your dishes are and adjusts everything accordingly).

          Inside the machine is well laid out with two shelves and a movable cutlery basket, which offers an extra bit of flexibility. Both shelves have a fixed set of supports and a folding set which are easy to move and fix into place. The cutlery basket is designed to fit over these supports and can be moved along them which is much more convenient than our old dishwasher where it was limited to one spot. At the back of the bottom shelf is an extra removable and height adjustable insert with two small folding shelves which stick out about ten centimetres. They are super for spatulas and long kitchen knives, as well as small cups and glasses (they have little ridges to hold things in place. The upper shelf also has small folding shelves on either side which are brilliant for things like sippy cup lids and small Tupperware boxes.

          Other little clever and practical details are a deep drawer that holds all the different types of tablets and a rinse aid access panel that opens with a little lever - rather than the slippery little twisty wheel which we had on the old dishwasher. The only irritants are the fact that you still have to virtually climb into the dishwasher to load the salt and also there is supposed to be a little viewing window so you can check the levels of rinse aid - impossible to read in most lights (but then the machine will tell you when it is running out so this is spectacularly minor!).

          ***Performance and Capacity***

          In terms of capacity it can fit a lot in. We are a family of four, two of whom are at home all day (and one of whom likes to have a new dish for every snack and meal). I can usually easily get all of our days dishes in with very little faff. Other sites say capacity 13 for those who really want to know. It is rated as an A+ in energy efficiency and an A for washing and drying. It certainly gets all of our dishes clean, even incredibly soiled and mucky dishes with caked on and baked on dirt. Even when I wash the lasagne pan with wine glasses there is no residue or lurking bits of herbs or tomatoes in any crevices. I usually use the Intensive programme which takes about 2 hours and uses about 1 kWh and 16 l of water. There are two cycles which use more electricity and water and four which use significantly less. It is a very very quiet machine at 44 decibels. The dishwasher is only two or three metres from the sofa where I am writing this and all I can hear is a gentle swishing sound, even when I concentrate.


          I am very fond of our dishwasher, I am very aware of how much time and energy it saves me every day. This is a very quiet and efficient dishwasher that works very well, even on the most soiled of items. I can thoroughly recommend it.

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          • Playmobil 4240 Pyramid / Playmobil / 32 Readings / 32 Ratings
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            23.10.2012 23:19
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            Not my favourite toy.

            We've had this Playmobil pyramid for about two years, it was bought for a five year old and cost around £59 (it is currently available on Amazon for around that price). It is recommended for children over the age of four and is a large toy which is the centre of the Playmobil Egyptian range. Many additional Egyptian playsets can be bought to complement the pyramid - robbers, camels, chariots, soldiers, a sphinx etc.

            I mentioned it was a large toy and it is. Its base is 52 cm x 52 cm and it is 35 cm tall. Whilst it is possible to disassemble and store the toy, it really isn't ideal (see below) so you need to make sure that you have somewhere to store the thing. We have a small house and it doesn't get played with as much as it could simply because the only space we could find for it was relatively high up.

            Like most Playmobil toys the assembly of this toy is down to you. You get the plastic pieces and the stickers and you are expected to put it together. This is fine for some of the smaller ones but this thing is massive and has lots of intricate bits. It took me about three hours to put it together and there was an awful lot of swearing whilst it went on. The base is four pieces that fit together like a jigsaw, then you have to put the interior together. Hah.

            The interior is complicated. The entrance is a rotating 'concealed' door at the front of the tomb, which works on a cog and ratchet system. Could I get the thing to work....could I <insert expletive here>. Two years on and the door still does not rotate as it should and it's a source of irritation every time I look at the bloody thing. The swinging staircase and various scorpion filled traps were much more successful (and I happily imagined the designer of this pyramid falling into them). In several places in the pyramid there are little blue buttons and switches which make the various bits work - traps, sliding walls and hidden passages etc. Almost all of these worked beautifully, but there was one wall that definitely looked like it should slide or tilt or move or dance or something, but despite all my dedicated reading of the (really unhelpful) instructions I couldn't get that bit to work either. Neither could my husband, or my mother or my brother so I do feel a little vindicated there.

            The pyramid comes with A LOT of very teeny tiny little bits, perfect to be swallowed, appropriated by other Playmobil sets, vacuumed up and generally lost. You get the priests, the canopic jars on their little stretcher thing and a sarcophagus with a mummy inside (and a skeleton inside the mummy in a Russian doll kind of thing). There is a treasure chest full of little tiny 'gems', lots of sceptres and bracelets, headdresses and a number of tiny little plastic scorpions for the traps. Two years later we have two figures, a skeleton and a few lonely looking stones left which is a bit of a shame.

            There was also a little issue with the decoration on the three sides of the pyramid. Essentially you get three flat pieces which semi-lean, semi-slot into the sides of the thing. To decorate the sides they had the brilliant idea to put a pharaoh carving thing. Nice. Then they decided to break the pharaoh figure into seven or eight little panels all stacked delicately on top of each other. The idea is that you press an 'amulet key' at the bottom and the bottom panel pops out to make a secret passage into the pyramid. Oh that's fabulous. What fun. Except every time you want to move the pyramid.... they fall off. Everytime you knock the pyramid.....they fall off. Everytime you fart..... well, you get the idea. We have seven left and I still occasionally find them in other playsets, in shoes, under her bed etc etc. On top of these fiddly bits you have another three pieces of the exterior wall that come off so you can see inside some of the inner chambers. Sadly as they don't clip on to the large side pieces (more pieces that just lean) they also fall off regularly and we have lost one of those too.


            By this point you might be getting the idea that I am not so fond of this toy and you would be right. But I am not the owner - what does she think? Well initially she loved it and played with it a lot. But when it moved up to create some floorspace she pretty much forgot about it even though it was in plain sight all the time. The traps etc are nice but you have to pick all the bits up after each time you sacrifice a tomb robber and all those scorpions get a bit irritating after the third or fourth time. She liked playing with the figures a lot, so they got requested regularly and sparked some really interesting conversations and ideas, but being separated from the main set did mean that they didn't always go back altogether. Her brother who is now three was introduced to it again recently and whilst he happily played with it for half an hour with his sister, when I got it down for him he got frustrated with how long it took me to set up all the traps etc each time. He ended up wandering off after about ten minutes of chuckling every time the robber hit the floor covered in scorpions and hasn't asked for it since.


            For a patient older child (say seven or eight) without younger siblings and with plenty of floor space, this would be a more successful toy I suspect - especially if you manage to crack the code and get the thing together and working 100%. We have a small house, an inquisitive baby/toddler and other toys that appealed much more. We also didn't invest in any more of the Egyptian playsets either which might have made this more fun.

            As far as I can tell (I have an ancient history degree) it is relatively historically accurate and would be excellent for a child who is very interested in the Egyptians. If it was me however I'd opt for one of the smaller playsets first, they are much easier to store and cheaper to buy in the first place. Perhaps my feelings would be different had I managed to get the two fiddly bits working, but I suspect not, its still from my perspective a deeply annoying toy.

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          • ELC Seaside Pour and Play / Baby Toy / 45 Readings / 45 Ratings
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            19.07.2012 14:47
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            Inexpensive bath toy that lasts and lasts

            Seven years ago when my first child was born we bought we bought this Pour and Play set for her bath. We bought it from the Early Learning Centre and paid £10 for it. Even though my daughter is now seven and my son is almost three, this is a toy which is a bathtime favourite still and it is one that has held up well. So when my mother asked what bath toy she should get to entertain my children and her latest grandchild at her house, I had no qualms in recommending this one and letting my children test it and compare.

            **What do you get?**
            Well for starters you get the hanging bar, which has suckers on either end to hold it in place. The suckers on ours are still incredibly strong, even I can't pull the bar off the bath. Instead I have to slide it up over the side or get a fingernail underneath to release the suction. The new one is no different and we had the familiar struggle to get it off at the end of playtime. Ours is more battered (obviously) but with a weekly clean it still looks pretty good, not bad for seven years old.

            The four toys hook on well but they are easy to remove for a child sitting in the bath. They won't fall off if the bar is knocked or jostled but they will move enough to ensure the child won't get badly bruised on them. The four toys are:

            A ladle/cup shape which is a sieve at the bottom

            A two piece waterwheel - the holder and the blade bit that you insert

            A simple tap with a twisting handle

            A boat/scoop shape

            The ladle shape is fun and the boat shape is the most enduring and popular of all of the shapes (very useful for filling jugs and cups). The tap is excellent fun once they learn how to turn the handle to open and close the simple valve. However neither I or the children could get the water wheel going easily on either ours or the new version which was a bit frustrating. Because it isn't fixed in place and can be removed, there is a lot of friction between the holder and the blades. Because of this no matter how much/how little water you pour on you only get a jerky, occasional movement rather than a smooth spin. Disappointing that they didn't fix this on the new version.

            You also get three plastic squirters which can be filled with water and squirted at each other. Our original ones were different-a whale, a starfish and a seahorse, whereas the new ones are a frog, a fish and a duck wearing goggles. They are well-made and easy to squeeze for little fingers. They are also easy to clean - our original ones lasted for a year of almost daily play before the rubber perished and the black gunk took over.

            **Conclusion**
            My children love both sets of this toy and it is still one that they can play with almost nicely together. When my son was little he didn't like the bath at all but he loved this toy so much he almost forgot about his fear. Its well made (apart from the water wheel), brightly coloured and there is a lot of interactive fun to be had here.

            I have bought this set several times as excellent first birthday presents and they have always been well-received, it's a nice inexpensive bath toy set that lasts and lasts and lasts.

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              19.06.2012 22:14
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              Awesome game for children and adults alike

              I have a daughter who is a huge fan of Lego, fantasy books and board games, so when I came across this game from Lego I bought it straight away for her seventh birthday. It was opened with glee and has been played with everyday since.

              **Lego Heroica**
              Lego Heroica is one of Lego's range of games that you build out of the humble Lego brick. There are four games in the series, of varying sizes, length of game play and prices. Castle Fortaan is the largest set at RRP £19.99 and 304 Lego pieces (and 10-20 minutes of gameplay). Also in the range are:

              Waldurk Forest- 225 pieces and £14.99 (10-15 minutes gameplay)
              Caverns of Nathuz - 217 pieces and £14.99 (10-15 minutes gameplay)
              Draida Bay- 101 pieces and £9.99 (5-10 minutes gameplay)

              Each of these games is substantially cheaper on Amazon (i.e. Castle Fortaan was purchased for £15.99).

              Each game can be played individually, or you can buy two or more sets and join them together to extend the game.

              Inside the box are lots of very small Lego pieces, a game booklet with the rules, a construction booklet and a couple of suggested game layouts. It took me 20 minutes to put together all the little rooms and pathways; I found it fun but I suspect my daughter would have taken much longer and got bored half way through as there was quite a bit of repetition, especially with the walkways. Once made, you need a flat surface measuring around 30 cms by 40 cms.

              **Playing the Game**
              There are a selection of four 'heroes' with this game, each with their own special skill. First you select the one that you want to represent you - I generally get what I am given by my daughter! Then you roll the special dice not just to move through the game, but also to find out if you have defeated a monster, lost health points, won gold, or if you can use your special skill. In addition you can collect gold, keys, potions and 'treasure chests' (all little Lego pieces placed on the game board). Each hero comes with a little stand to place these items on and you can buy weapons with extra skills from the 'store'. All of the rules are pretty simple, but are also laid out in the game book which we keep open to remind ourselves of what each potion/symbol does. The aim of the game or the 'quest' is to get the magic helmet from the golden goblin, so you can choose to search for resources first or go straight on and tackle the goblin first before your rival heroes get there. Anything you 'earn' like weapons etc can be kept on your hero's store for the next game if you wish.

              Whilst the game comes with several suggested layouts, there is nothing stopping you from coming up with your own combinations, building more walkways and rooms or adding in other potions or items. My daughter had a rummage in her own Lego and came up with several items that she added in and made up rules for herself. This adds a whole new dimension to the game and really encourages imagination.

              Once a game is finished you can see if you can fit the game back into the box as is, or you can dismantle and set it up again afresh the next time you get it out. We have a plastic food bag that we use to keep all of the pieces together in the box as some of them are very small indeed. At the beginning of each game it can take between 5 and 20 minutes to set up a new layout, depending on whether you use an established one or come up with one of your own.


              **Conclusion**
              This is a simple but highly imaginative game that reminds me of the old Dungeons and Dragons game (only much much easier). Despite it being marked for 8 years and above, my seven year old quickly grasped the concept and enjoys playing it hugely. She is learning to plan ahead, to create strategies, to use her imagination and to beat her parents at a game. She is also immersing herself more deeply into the geekier side of life, something which fills me with joy.

              Out of the four sets this is the best one to start with, not only because it is larger and you have a longer gameplay, but because you have four hero figures to start with and a nice range of goblin enemies. The flexibility of these games is enormous, you can change what you like pretty much and it really is something that can endlessly be updated and refreshed. In addition each different set has different enemies, things to search for and even more variations to add. I cannot recommend this set highly enough, it's the one game I will happily play over and over again with my daughter without getting bored.

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              • More +
                31.05.2012 20:38
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                Nice but not quite Grand

                We have just got back from a weekend wedding at this hotel, so time for a review!

                *Exterior and Location*

                The Grand is situated on Brighton seafront, across the road from the beach and five minutes walk from the Brighton Wheel and Brighton Pier. A large and striking building it is probably most well known for the terrorist attack in the 1980's which destroyed parts of the facade. It sells itself as a premier Victorian hotel with superb service and they say about themselves:

                'More than a hotel; this is an institution, an iconic piece of British history, perched contentedly at the centre of one of the most famous seafronts in the world. Grand by nature, welcome to old world luxury. There is nothing boutique here; this is opulent splendour, style and service from another age. From the smiling (and hatted) MIA award winning concierge Colin, who opens the door on arrival to every one of the intricate 123 steps on the sweeping spiral staircase, the Grand is a lesson in extravagance.'

                The Grand is 12 minutes walk from the train station (according to their website) but we drove. There is a loading bay at the front of the hotel where you can drop off your bags and then you can ask the very nice and polite doorman what to do with the car. The Grand has forty car parking spaces which are unable to be booked or reserved and are pricey at £26-£30 per night. The other option is an NCP car park which is £25 for 24 hours. This was quite inconvenient as it meant we had to leave the hotel earlier than we wanted to (at 9.30am) in order to not get charged another £25. Once the car was out we struggled to find any other parking so had to put it back into the carpark (£5 for two hours) so the kids could play on the beach for a bit.

                *Check-in and first impressions*

                The lobby of the Grand is impressive, fitted out with marble and wood and with an amazingly impressive staircase which is lit from above with light from a massive dome on the roof. On the left is the bar area and on the right is the restaurant/breakfast room. There are bell boys everywhere waiting to assist with the old fashioned tall gold trolleys and never less than three smartly dressed reception staff waiting to check guests in, no matter what time we were passing. Check in is at 3pm, but we asked nicely if we could have our room sooner (wedding was at 2pm) and they managed to get the room turned over in two hours for us. The staff were friendly and chatty and very professional and were very attentive to my small toddler son. The doorman automatically got us a trolley and showed us where the lift was. The lifts are slow to arrive and quick to close; we struggled to get four of us and a trolley in as the lift tried to close on us twice even though we were rushing. Once we had dumped luggage we used the stairs from then on as they are shallow and luxuriously carpeted. Hampers of dirty laundry were also regularly taken down in the guest lifts so I was also pleased I didn't have to share with one of those!

                Overall the lobby area is very Victorian and plush and on first impressions is amazing, but after a few trips up and down the stairs we noticed signs of heavy wear and lots of small niggles that surprised us- dents, flaking paint, poorly patched up areas (with duct tape in some places). The hotel has toilets in the lobby and with a potty training toddler we used them a lot. They were even more worn and were not checked and cleaned regularly. Four 'tissue boxes' of hand towels were used up and not replenished, neither were the toilet rolls. One of the taps was so wobbly it almost twisted off in my hand and all the wood was marked and twisted by water. The powder room area was nice, but I didn't get a chance to examine it in detail, it was somewhere I was dragged through on the way to the toilet!

                *Rooms*
                We had a Traditional room, which was offered as a family room. On the third floor and down a dark corridor it was easy to find and just a short walk from the lifts. Inside was a large room with heavy wood furniture-wardrobe, desk, armchair, side table, TV cabinet, mirror and unit for luggage to go on. Two twin beds had been put together to make a king sized bed (with a very firm mattress and a lump in the middle) and there were two camping beds for the children. Everything was clean but very dated. Tea and coffee making facilities were hidden away under the TV cabinet next to the broken mini-fridge. The windows were large and tilted out from the top which was great for making sure the kids couldn't fall out but did mean I kept them both away from the windows anyway in case they leaned against them and got their fingers trapped. The view was not great, white wall and windows about six feet away. The kids slept OK in their camp beds but I found the lump in the mattress hard to get used to and did not sleep well on the bed at all.

                The bathroom was not great however. It wasn't cramped like other hotel bathrooms but two hot lights above the unit made the whole room incredibly hot and the only window was screwed down and covered with a panel. The bath was not nice, grubby grouting and a ring of rust around the plug hole. The bath didn't hold water very well-it needed topping up regularly as the plug was such a bad fit. The shower came with COLD, TEPID and HOT options and I was almost scalded by the TEPID so I am very glad I didn't go for the hot and just leap in. The worst bit was the floor which was lino tiles. It had a square pattern with little black diamonds in the corner of each square but had been badly laid and was coming up slightly at the edges and corners. The grooves between the tiles were brown and the black diamonds had lifted in several places and were missing in several others; which left an unhygienic surface which I wasn't happy walking on.

                For one night this was £180 (bed and breakfast).

                My Mum was staying in a Feature Deluxe Sea View room at around £450 a night. Unlike our room hers had a doorbell, trouserpress and a built in wardrobe, although it was also smaller. Her bathroom was clean and neat and was well adapted for wheelchair users with alarms, space in the bathroom for wheelchairs and handles. Her room also had big double doors which opened out onto an amazing view from its balcony taking in a huge proportion of the sea front and the sea itself. I was suitably awestruck when I spotted it. However when I turned to go back into the room I noticed a huge threadbare patch in the carpet which was obviously where hundreds of people had stepped out of bed and also used the mirror which was squished awkwardly into a corner. There were also marks on the wall, dents and chips on the door and the bathroom door handle was an ancient push and twist to lock type (same on our bathroom door) which was very hard to work. I told my two children to leave the door unlocked as I was worried they wouldn't be able to get out again without staff help. I assumed as it was an old hotel that there would be no air conditioning but a fellow wedding guest told me her room did have it, but she was told that it was broken that weekend. There was no sign of it in our room at all.

                *Wedding Rooms*

                The wedding took place in a small room off the main lobby which seated about forty people. It had no windows which made for quite a romantic atmosphere (which was somewhat at odds with the warship pictures on the walls) but it was sweltering in the heat. After the ceremony we went off to a small room at the front of the hotel for champagne and canapés before moving through to the conservatory where a pay bar had been set up. There were amazing views of the sea and beach but it was quite tight even with the small number of people there. Part of the room had been partitioned off and there was another reception room there with six large tables laid out with a small dance floor. The staff were friendly and welcoming, the food came in small portions but was well cooked and everything happened as it should.

                *Facilities/Bar/Restaurant*

                Half way through the wedding we made an escape to the bar area to have a sit down and have some more drinks. Its nicely laid out with plenty of sofas and comfortable chairs, a pianist (a good one), views of the beach and exterior seating and table service. We opted for Pimms which came in glasses stuffed with fresh fruit and was delicious. They had a nice range of drinks, including some delicious cocktails (which started at £6) and mocktails (which were all around £4). Our bar bill came to £26 for 2x Pimms, one Peroni beer, two bowls of chips (£2.75 a bowl), a mocktail (£4) and some water plus a 10% addition to the bill. The portion of chunky chips wasn't huge but it came with little jam jars of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup; plus it was obviously freshly cooked and was very tasty. They were a little short on staff and it did take a while to get things brought out to us. Also even though it looked plush on first sight there were lots of nicks and dings out of things, badly painted repairs, some of the wood at the bottom of the amazing columns was warped and even the picture frames had dents and knocks.

                The Grand does have a restaurant which I could see was very busy and looked popular but we unfortunately did not get a chance to try.

                Breakfast was awesome however and I was delighted when we walked in. It was very popular and there was a queue so it is definitely worth getting there early to avoid a wait. There was a carousel of eight or so different fruit juices, jugs of water and smoothies, four different types of toast, a range of cured meat/cheeses with eight different types of crusty bread and comb honey, cereal, yoghurt, a range of different fresh and tasty pastries, domes of freshly cooked black pudding, bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans. There was even a chef in the corner who was whipping up fresh waffles, kippers and eggs benedict for those who fancied it. All of it was lovely.
                My mother is a coeliac and they managed to cater for her very well both at the wedding and at breakfast the next day, making sure she had gluten free bread and a gluten free pudding at the wedding (poached pear).

                *Overall*

                The Grand is very smart and plush, but it is also quite tired and worn which took a lot of the gloss off the experience. The staff were lovely and the service was everything you would expect from a luxury place like this. The rooms however were a slight disappointment and the bathroom in ours verged on a health hazard. Facilities are excellent and the breakfast is to die for, however if I had paid for a deluxe sea view room at that price I would be left a little disappointed at the size and condition of the room. The rooms and the hotel in general were very hot and the beds were not particularly comfortable. Overall I would be happy to give the Grand a firm three stars, but there were some areas I was not impressed with. I can see on the website that the rooms pictured were very different to those we actually experienced so hopefully there is a major refurbishment under way.

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                • Plan Toys 6105 Pirate Ship / Toy Car / 53 Readings / 52 Ratings
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                  18.05.2012 11:58
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                  Shiver me timbers

                  Amusingly the product picture for this listing is a coffee machine, I've contacted Dooyoo to get it changed to the correct product picture.

                  I am a big fan of wooden toys for children, I love the tactile quality of wood and the fact that its much harder to damage. However it is clear from the last seven years of child ownership that my children vehemently disagree and would go for the plastic everytime (especially if it beeps, flashes or whirrs). So when we received this pirate ship as a gift I groaned a little, expecting it to be examined briefly and then abandoned, leaving me the job of storage or disposal. However both of my children (then 6 and 2 years old) played with it, even more surprisingly they played with it nicely together and then again the next day. Its pricey at RRP £37.99 (on Amazon at the moment for slightly less) but worth it.

                  For the money you get a very solid feeling ship, its very well made and would be very difficult to break or damage. We received this second hand and despite regular demanding play it was in excellent condition with no damage at all. Despite its obvious quality it is also quite light and easy to carry around, that would be the 'non toxic, chemically treated' rubberwood its made of I suppose. There are no sharp edges or rough bits and it has a lovely curved quality that invites you to touch it. At the stern is a little flap down door, on the bow is an attached anchor and on the side is a gangplank. All of these are attached with elastic so the gangplank swivels around, the anchor can be stretched slightly towards the sea and the door can flap down and stay down. Again, even though this toy is three years old there is no damage to these components.

                  The mast is removable so you can take it down to put the ship away to store it without the danger of it being broken. However it is only a long piece of dowel so in the event of breakage a relatively handy person would be able to fashion a new one. At the top is a birds nest into which the little wooden figures fit. The sails have not become tangled over time but the mast has become wobbly for some reason, its currently listing badly to one side - or would do were it not for the blue tack anchoring it in place.

                  The upper deck is also removable, so the space underneath can be revealed for extra play. It only rests on three pieces of doweling and has another piece of dowel to hold the steering wheel in place. Over time this has become quite unbalanced and the merest touch is enough to tilt the whole thing forward, which of course brings down the wheel as well. Superglue would fix this no doubt, so its on the list of things to do at some point when I am less busy! Even though this is a weakness I love the fact it is so easy to fix, a major advantage of this sort of toy.
                  As well as the basic ship you get several little crewmembers including a captain, a boat with sweet little oars that move (elastic again), a crocodile, a treasure chest with lid, a rope ladder, a wooden ladder, a barrel of rum and two cannons. All of these are similarly well made and look as good as new. I'm not sure about the abstractness of the people and the crocodile but my children don't seem to mind and have used these pieces to come up with some very exciting scenarios (no-one has escaped the crocodile yet!).

                  So in conclusion I would say that this is an excellent, well made and durable toy with plenty of appeal to children aged between 2 and 7 years old. Any little problems are easy to fix, it comes with lots of great bits and pieces that allow children to really use their imagination. It is quite pricey but for the quality this is very good. It would be an excellent toy to buy for a first child knowing that you could pass it down for any subsequent children. The information that came with it says for children over 36 months (or three years old), but my son has been happily and safely playing with it since he was 28 months old under my supervision. This toy has the added benefit of fitting in with other toys from the Plan Toys range. As a parent the best bit about this toy are the magic words 'No assembly required' and 'No batteries'!

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                  • More +
                    19.04.2012 13:28
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                    Excellent toy

                    When my toddler was about six months old he started to get really frustrated and grumpy. He was desperate to move and run around like his older sister and his friends but his movement was restricted. Whilst out in town I spotted these balls in ELC and bought the bag of 100 coloured balls for £8 in the sale (usual RRP is £10). The recommended age is 9 months plus, but not for safety reasons-this is the age when most children will begin to be interested in this toy.

                    At home I realised I tipped them out on the floor and watched him pick them up with glee, rolling, throwing and trying desperately to move after them on the floor. The balls were slightly too big for his hands so they slipped out and 'popped' out of his fingers which made him chuckle. It was also impossible for him to bite them (sadly the same could not be said for his family members who were regular recipients of his sharp little mouth) but he did his best to give them a jolly good lick.

                    When it came time to clear them up it became clear that they would not all fit back into the plastic bag they came from, perhaps it was just my tiredness (my boy saw sleep as something for the weak) but I struggled and ended up substituting a blue IKEA bag. The next day I simply added the baby to the bag which delighted him and kept the balls mostly contained. On his first birthday he got a paddling pool which doubled up as a very enjoyable ball pool as his interest in the balls had continued. His sister also loved sitting in there or next to him at four years old, although her interest waned much faster than his did. Some of the balls made it into the bath where they bobbed along whilst he tried to grab them and dunk them-something he very much enjoyed.

                    Now my little boy is two and a half and sadly the paddling pool no more. Despite their sturdiness many of the balls have joined the paddling pool in the great dump in the sky. Very few balls can maintain their shape under the foot or bottom of an adult, or even a small child. Once squished they don't reform easily and in many cases they split or holes formed. However out of the original 100 I reckon we have about twenty left, lurking in toyboxes and in the garden and playhouse. They aren't played with very often now, occasionally they are picked up to be quickly thrown again, or are pretend treasure for pirates, collected by children in buckets as eggs or 'shopping', thrown in the air and hit with spades but in general they have been replaced by other toys.

                    For the initial outlay of £8 we got a year or so of a toy that my baby/toddler absolutely loved playing with and which kept him quiet and entertained. He learned to throw, to kick, to grab, to colour match, to roll balls to other people and loved the sensation of sitting in the ball pool. As he started to move he chased the balls around the house and garden. Now he is older most of them have not survived but they are still attractive to him and his sister and are still a part of some of their games. Most children love balls and this is a great toy for children up to the age of five or six, few would be disappointed with 100 brightly coloured plastic balls. Ours are looking tired, dirty and quite scratched but they are still wanted and enjoyed. If there is a negative then it is that they are hard to clean. My daughter spilt a cup of orange juice on them and despite repeated washings in the bath some of the balls, even now are still sticky!

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                    • Clippasafe Wrist Link / Child Safety / 53 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                      30.03.2012 15:34
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                      Great in theory but it didn't work for us

                      When my little girl was born I was an extremely nervous parent and as soon as she started walking I bought a set of reins. 'Hooray' I thought 'Now my daughter will never be lost, squished or stolen by scary men with bushy eyebrows'. However my daughter had very different ideas and displayed a stubborn streak that she could only have inherited from me...sigh. On putting on the reins I found that she would drop to the floor on her knees, then would walk nicely for two or three steps before letting her legs go floppy. Luckily she was a biddable child who rarely ran off in shops so we ditched the reins.

                      My second child is much like his sister and usually happily holds my hand and stays close. However there have been occasions when he wants to do something and I have had my attention distracted by his sister - occasions on which I have caught sight of a small pair of feet disappearing at speed around a corner. If I owned a monkey I would definitely be nowhere near as stressed! The reins produced the same result as his sister so I invested in a Clippasafe wrist link at £3.99 from Amazon. As well as the blue colour depicted on the image above it comes in a multi-coloured pattern of blue, green, red and yellow.

                      What you get is a long thin piece of webbing and elastic about one metre long. The length of the strap can be adjusted by a sliding buckle (like on a bra strap) half way along the wrist link. At one end is a fixed loop for the parent to hold or put their hand through; as it is a fixed loop there is no leeway to expand it for bigger hands or wrists, fine for me and my husband but if you have larger than average hands you might struggle to get in on comfortably. The adult handle and the child's handle are joined onto the main strap with a small loop of plastic, which means the material is less likely to twist or fold in on itself when it is being used by an active toddler - so no trapping, pinching or tightening of the strap when it is in use.

                      The child's handle is attached to a length of strong elastic so when the child inevitably falls over then the jerking to yourself or the child is slightly minimised. The handle itself is made of webbing and has another sliding buckle to adjust. This means that the child can't get it off very easily, but also that it can take some time to adjust it compared to Velcro - which when you are dealing with a small Tasmanian devil can be inconvenient. The loop is big enough to fit my small adult hand in so I expect you could use it for older children as well (oh how tempted I have been to leash my 6 year old to a post when she is being grumpy). However the webbing is quite rough against the skin and even though I secured it to my son's wrist lightly he still complained. When I removed it after a short trip there was a red mark on his wrist which made me feel awful, even though it wasn't tight against his skin. I really struggled to get it over the sleeve of his coat, it added extra precious seconds to the whole 'toddler taming' process.

                      On the first couple of expeditions my son was prepared to wear it for about ten minutes before he tried to take it off. Then he began pulling and pulling against it until I was frightened he was going to hurt his wrist or shoulder. Then he sat down on the floor and screamed until I took it off, pulling at it and rubbing his skin. Perhaps at 2 and a half years old I have missed the opportunity to get him used to using one of these wrist links but he hasn't tolerated it again yet. It does work as an effective threat so I keep it in my handbag anyway. Also sometimes he wants me to wear the child loop whilst he holds the adult handle and he pretends that I am a dog. At least then he is close to me.

                      If you have a 'runner' then its worth considering some sort of simple restraint for their safety and for your sanity. At £3.99 this is the next logical step from reins and its easier to put on than reins. However if this doesn't work for your child I have only heard good things about the backpacks with the attached parent strap, which are however proportionately more expensive than the wrist link. I like the idea of the wrist link in theory but in practice my son resented the limiting of his freedom so it remains as a threat only. I would have preferred it if they had made the child and adult loops from a different material or lined it with something softer as its hard on the parent's hands and the child's wrist, especially when skin is slightly sweaty or damp.

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                    • More +
                      22.02.2012 13:30
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                      Nice petite cooker toy

                      Both of my children love imaginary play, especially when they are mimicking something that I or their dad do. We have a large plastic kitchen but due to its size it lives outside in the playhouse, which means its inaccessible during the winter behind bikes and slides and balls. My 2 year old son in particular loves to pretend to cook so for last Christmas I suggested that my brother buy him this little cooker - which firmly cemented him as BEST UNCLE EVER. It retails at £25 but it is currently £14.99 on Amazon and is part of a range from Casdon that includes a sink unit and a washing machine of the same size and a similar price.

                      The first thing I noticed about it was its size. At 30 centimetres high and 25 centimetres wide and deep it is not very big at all and I had visions of my children getting fed up of crouching on the floor to use it. In design it does look very similar to our current cooker, with buttons instead of knobs and halogen hobs rather than gas but generally very realistic rather than an obvious toy. There is a small amount of assembly to do before playing can commence- the cooker requires three C batteries (the big round cylinders) in the compartment in the back, which of course needs a screwdriver to undo. Stickers come with the toy too, but of course the children took charge of these so they are on the side of the toy rather than in their correct places on the front.

                      At 2.5 kg the toy is quite light, my two year old manages to carry it around easily, but the quality feels good at first. However the two doors are flimsy, not just the plastic doors themselves but also the way they are fixed onto the oven. We have already had to slot the doors back on four or five times since Christmas, luckily they go in fairly easily. The instructions say that they are designed to come off easily so they don't get broken irretrievably, but the plastic is so flimsy that every time I have to put them on I am terrified that I will snap off a crucial piece.

                      The seven buttons on the top are better quality and I have just taken the opportunity to have a play and work out their function (review writing is a hard old job). Four buttons on the left work the hobs on top, each button corresponding to a hob. When you press a button the hob lights up for about ten seconds and a static noise is heard, which I assume is supposed to sound like cooking. You can only have one hob lit at a time which is a shame, although you don't have to wait for one hob to finish before pressing another, you can just press another button.

                      The middle button is a mystery button. I pressed it and it made a tiny static noise and stopped. I assume it is either broken.......mystery solved, whilst I was typing the cooker went ding ding ding randomly, so I'm guessing it's a pretend food timer. The final two buttons make LED lights in either the top or bottom oven light up with more of the static scary cooking noise.

                      Also the cooker comes with two oven shelves (when there are three spaces for shelves inside), pans with lids (four pans, three lids), a grill pan, a baking tray and a selection of plastic play food . All of these are mediocre quality, they wouldn't stand up for regularly being stood on and dropped but they aren't flimsy enough to fall apart instantly.

                      When my son opened this on Christmas day he wouldn't open any more of his presents until he had played with this for at least an hour. The thrill of having a cooker like the grown-ups has faded slightly but this is still a toy that he will play with every day for at least twenty minutes. It is also a lovely toy for him to play with his older sister with, she is much more willing to play cooking than do puzzles or read him stories. They play very nicely with this together. I can't see why this is a toy recommended for 3+ as my two year old gets so much pleasure out of it and there is nothing to hurt him or to be swallowed. I can see his interest in it growing even bigger as he gets older and into even more imaginative games. I like this cooker as it is not particularly loud, the noises do not last very long and it is very easy to store, so it is a toy that can live in my son's small bedroom or be brought down to the lounge very easily. If you only have a small house then this is an ideal toy as it allows a child to play imaginative games without taking up huge amounts of space.

                      The size doesn't seem to faze either of my children either, the six year old crouches and the two year old kneels and sometimes they put it on a chair or table to allow them more access. The only negative with this oven is the flimsy plastic doors but it wouldn't prevent me from buying it again, especially at its current £14.99 price on Amazon which makes it a bargain.

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                      • More +
                        14.02.2012 18:12
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                        great first puzzles

                        Galt will be a familiar name to most of us, especially those of us who come in contact with children regularly. I grew up with Galt products and I have bought many of their craft activities both for my children and as presents for other people's. My daughter loved puzzles when she was a toddler so I was delighted when my son received the transport version of these puzzles for his first birthday. Transport is not the only theme you can buy (Jungle, Farm and Pets are also available) but is the one I own and will be reviewing. Average prices for these puzzles range from between £3.99 and £4.99 depending on where you buy from. The puzzles are recommended for children from 18 months and up.

                        The cardboard box has a carrying handle made of plastic which makes it easier both for a small child to carry the puzzle easily, and for a weary parent to scoop it up quickly from the floor. Inside are 6 sturdy little cardboard puzzles, each of which have two pieces and measure approx. 10-15 centimetres across. The images are brightly coloured with a friendly person and a purple dog travelling on each form of transport- helicopter, car, plane, tractor, train and boat. Each puzzle has two pieces and has been designed out of chunky cardboard with smooth edges; they are all very easy for little hands to complete.

                        My son got these puzzles when he was one and that was exactly the right time for him. He is now two and a half and lost interest in these puzzles six months ago in favour of bigger and more interesting jigsaws (like the Orchard big bus puzzle). When he was playing with them they were one of his favourite toys, we had to complete them several times a day. After a couple of months of parental help he was perfectly able to spot the matching pieces and then put them together by himself which really improved his confidence with puzzles. Once the puzzles had been made he had a lot of fun talking about the different forms of transport, making the noises and pushing them gently across the floor (and then crying when they fell apart).

                        These are some of the best puzzles that we have had for our children. They are chunky and easy to join, they are bright and colourful, they give lots to talk about, they are ideal first puzzles and they are easy to contain and store unlike flat wooden puzzles. For the price it couldn't be better really, any cheaper and you get that easily bent cardboard which is quickly ruined. The only negative is how long they last- unless you are planning to have more children these don't really have a very long lifespan - six months to a year, maybe more if you don't buy very many puzzles. Having said that these are in excellent condition and will be passed on to a family member, so they just don't have a long lifespan with us!

                        Galt baby puzzles make super gifts and I have bought them as new baby gifts for several new parents. They are very good at fostering a love of puzzles in small children and provide an awful lot of cheap, good quality entertainment.

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                      • Lego Star Wars Brickmaster / Lego / 39 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                        07.01.2012 23:03
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                        Not for me or my daughter

                        There can't be anyone unaware of Lego or its popularity amongst both adults and children. We are huge fans of it in our house and our children play with not only my childhood Lego, but my husband's and my cousins' too. This year my daughter (6) has become a huge Star Wars fan and we are inundated in Jedi talk and requests for anything Star Wars. So this Brickmaster set seemed like the ideal present for Christmas this year-especially as I picked it up as part of a special Star Wars bundle with three other books for £17. Usually retailing at between £15.99 and its RRP of £18.99 its currently (Jan 2012) at £11 on Amazon.

                        So for the best part of £19 you get a hardback book which opens up to reveal a box of 240 Lego bricks on the left and a book of instructions on the right. At this point you are going to need a box or container to put the bricks into. Don't choose a plastic bowl for this job as 1) your child will knock it over and you will lose at least one vital part and be forced to rake through all your existing Lego for an acceptable substitute and 2) any younger child in the house will be drawn to it like a magnet and be found gleefully running bits through their fingers (and clothing) leading to you searching through your existing Lego for an acceptable substitute. So yes...something with a lid. All the bits are tiny, there are no chunky bits here and whilst not all bits are required for each model, you are going to need them all at least once. The container that comes with the book is just a cardboard flap and once the Lego pieces are freed from the plastic bags then they will just fall out all over the place, leading to another 1) and 2) scenario.

                        The two minifigures are a Clone Trooper and a droid which are nice, but we have approximately 8 million of these already so not a significant addition to ou....her Lego collection. Once they have been assembled you can start on the 8 Lego models. We began at the beginning and it quickly became clear that my daughter wouldn't be able to do this on her own. There are lots of fiddly bits and the instructions aren't quite as good as normal Lego instructions. My daughter is experienced with Lego and so am I but even I struggled a little and made a few mistakes (and I'm 30). After making the first one my daughter wanted to make the next one but the number of bricks supplied means you have to do some disassembling before you can make the next. I managed to make two models by fiddling a bit, but then my daughter wanted to play with them, bits fell off, got mixed in with the normal Lego and that was that, we couldn't make any more of the models in the book without doing some serious searching for the original pieces (did I mention we have gallons of Lego here).

                        The models themselves are ones that I don't recognise, they aren't the most famous ones so no AT-ST, AT-AT, no speeder, no mini Millenium Falcon or X-wing, Y-Wing, Tie Fighter, Boba Fett Slave 1, Jabba the Hut barge, none of those. There is a mini walking gun thing, a transport ship, a blue gun turret thing that's on the front cover of the Brickmaster and some other little ship things. None of them are particularly interesting or scream Star Wars (cynically I suppose that's what the Clone Trooper and droid are for). The book has lots of little bits of information in boxes explaining where the ships appeared and about Star Wars, but they were either very simple or very random and uninteresting (like the models then). To be fair there are some cool bits, the gun swivels and the wings on the red ship I made fold up. They do look very good but they also use some very specialised and tiny bits which are hard to find and replicate. My daughter is very happy with the two models she had briefly and has happily incorporated the recognisable remains into a bizarre amalgamation thing, which I suppose is the true purpose of Lego.


                        I wouldn't buy it again for my daughter or indeed any of her friends. The individual sets like the Speeders and the Mandalorian Battle Pack are excellent for adding a bit of Star Wars into ordinary Lego play and you can get both of those sets for the same price as the RRP of the Brickmaster. This would suit a child who would faithfully put the bits into the box, would play nicely with the models and likes disassembling things neatly and carefully. My daughter is none of those things so this was a short lived novelty that has merely added to the mass of tiny Lego pieces on the floor that seem to exist merely to cripple me when I stand on them.

                        But if you live to create a minor transport ship that once dropped someone off at a battle one time...in a galaxy far far away, then this is the set for zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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