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I have been a member of Greasypalm.co.uk for about two years now. It is a website which offers a small percentage of cashback from online purchases. In addition, you can also earn cashback without spending anything, for example for signing up to various websites or doing internet searches for 2p per search. I don't bother with these any more, and I prefer to use Quidco (another cash back site) for getting money back on my purchases, as they offer better rates. These days, I use Greasypalm exclusively for signing up to gambling sites, and get as much as double my initial deposits back.
I have to state here that I'm not a gambler and I would never put my own money at stake. If you gamble the way I gamble, you'll always win in the long run. Here's how it works: First, you need to sign up as a new user to one of the numerous gambling sites through Greasypalm.co.uk. Second, you need to deposit and play through a minimum amount of your own money, usually £10. Look at it as an investment. Once you have cleaned out your account (i.e. lost everything) leave the gambling site! Do not under any circumstances be tempted to deposit any more of your own money - chances are you'll lose it. Third, wait for up to three months for your cashback to be credited to your Greasypalm account. You usually get £20 back for a £10 deposit. Some deals may be better or less good than this. Just make sure your cashback amount is more than your initial deposit. I have made about £60 pounds cashback this way, with £30 profit, just by using three gambling sites. Easy money and I even had fun playing.
Where's the catch? Well, there's no catch if you're clever. Don't get sucked in! Take the money and run! Greasypalm will transfer your cashback within 30 days once you have acquired a minimum of £25 in your account. I'm awaiting my second payout within a couple of months. Do keep an eye on your account thought, as once they failed to credit my cashback from one of their partners. I sent them an inquiry and they sorted it out, although it did take a while. This is the only reason I gave them four stars instead of five. Otherwise, they're excellent. You even get £2.50 credited to your account when you first sign up and £7 if you refer a friend when they have reached their first payout threshold of £25. Please note, you need to be over 18 years of age to gamble in the UK.
A few years ago we did most of our shopping at Tesco's. Then, during the credit crunch, we started shopping at cheaper supermarkets, like Asda and Morrisons. While the total of our weekly shopping bill did drop slightly, often at the cost of quality, I'm not entirely convinced that the supposedly cheaper supermarkets are actually that much cheaper, especially if you take Tesco's big ace, the Clubcard, into consideration.
In the past, I think we ignored many of the benefits the Tesco Clubcard has to offer. We just used our Clubcard vouchers at face value once a quarter to save a few pounds on our regular shopping, which didn't really make that much of a difference overall. We didn't even bother using the additional Extra Points vouchers that came with the regular money-off coupons, dismissing them as "not worth the bother". I have only just recently discovered the Clubcard voucher deals, where your vouchers are worth up to four times their face value. This essentially means that a £5 voucher is worth as much as £20 for partner rewards, including days out, cinema tickets, restaurants, and air miles from participating partners. You can also double up the value of your vouchers to purchase goods from Tesco Direct. These offers are simply too good to ignore any longer!
My only criticism, and the reason I'm writing this review, is that I've found the process of converting my Clubcard vouchers into money-off tokens unnecessarily tedious. In order to convert your vouchers for days out tokens, for example, you first have to order them from the Tesco.com website. You can convert your vouchers in multiples of £5 denominations for specific attractions. If you have a voucher for £7.50, for example, you can only use £5 of that amount and the change will be credited back to your Clubcard account and will only be available with your next Clubcard statement. After ordering your tokens, you have to wait up to five working days for them to arrive in the post. The days-out tokens are valid for only six months. It seems to me, you need to be pretty well-organised to know exactly where you want to go and when so you can order your tokens well in advance. Sadly, we tend to do things on the spur of the moment, so this system doesn't work for us. It would be far better, if we could convert the vouchers into general tokens to be used at any participating partner attractions for at least a year for more flexibility.
You can also convert your vouchers for money-off tokens for specific departments at Tesco Direct, doubling their face value. I have recently converted £15 worth of vouchers into £30 worth of toy tokens. The danger here is that by the time you receive your tokens in the post, the item you were saving for goes out of stock, which is exactly what happened to me. Luckily, I was able to find a suitable replacement item, but not what I originally intended to buy. If you find you can't spend your tokens, I think you can call Customer Services and ask them to reverse the tokens and credit the original value back to your Clubcard account. But doesn't this all seem way too complicated? While I understand the need to use tokens for partner transactions for administrative purposes, I really don't see why we can't use the Clubcard vouchers online at Tesco Direct? I should be able to use my voucher codes directly during checkout at double value. Plain and simple. Why complicate it?
Despite these complications, the Tesco Clubcard is definitely worth having. The benefits for us are enough to make us shop at Tesco's more often now. I just wish they would make the conversion process a bit more straightforward and customer-friendly.
The Eden Project is probably the most famous man-made attraction in Cornwall. I heard quite a lot about it in recent years and I was very eager to see it for myself this summer, even though I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew it was going to be rather expensive, but I was still shocked to discover that standard tickets cost £16 per adult. Luckily, we came across a deal on the Internet, which offered a reduced entry fee of "just" £10 and free entry for children after 3 pm until 8 pm during extended opening hours on certain days in the summer. This seemed like a good deal, especially that we would do anything to avoid big crowds.
When we arrived at around half past four, we were surprised to see the scale of the car parks. There are several sizable car parks scattered around the site. They are marked with the images of fruits instead of the usual letters and numbers. Some of them are located at a considerable distance from the entrance, so there's a shuttle service to transport visitors back and forth. We were first directed into a car park by an attendant that had no spaces available! We finally found a spot in the Plum section and we were able to walk to the entrance from there. It was about five o'clock by the time we got to the entrance. Many visitors were leaving by then, so we didn't have to wait too long to get in, only about ten minutes. I don't think we could have put up with the long queues during peak periods. Knowing ourselves, we would have probably turned around and drove away fuming that we wasted our time and petrol to get there. I can imagine that many visitors who wait for a long time to get in will end up very disappointed with what the site has to offer. It quite simply doesn't live up to the expectations. It must be the most over-hyped and under-developed attraction in the UK!
So what is there to see at the Eden Project? Two giant greenhouses, and that's it. Undoubtedly, the constructions are impressive from the outside and offer a great photo op. The domes contain an imitation rain forest and a Mediterranean biome. The rain forest biome is a lot bigger and far more impressive than the Mediterranean landscape.
Inside the rain forest dome, the climate was extremely hot and humid. Visitors are advised to drink plenty of water from drinking fountains and you should be careful if you have a heart condition. Also, look out for your camera lenses misting up! We spent about a good half hour in the rain forest dome, looking at the giant trees, plants, ponds, and the waterfall. We discovered some strange looking ants that, I assume, were imported along with the plants. It was interesting but it didn't really wow us that much, to be honest.
We were quite eager to quit the rain forest after a while as the heat and humidity were getting to us and entered the adjacent greenhouse, connected by a large cafeteria in the middle. The Mediterranean dome is arguably less exciting, as many of us will have seen similar sceneries for real in Greece, Spain or Italy, for example. It was pleasant, but nothing special. We spent only about 15-20 minutes in there. I was quite eager to explore some more sceneries, when to my disappointment, I came to the realisation, that that was it.
After visiting the greenhouses, we wondered around outside aimlessly, had an ice-cream, took some photos and looked at a sculpture made out of junk. I couldn't help wondering that the whole place had seen better days and it looked as if it could do with a face-lift. We came across an educational exhibition with some animated compositions that lit up and started moving periodically on a timer. It failed to impress even our four-year-old, who would have preferred to push some buttons to bring the animations to life. The wall made out of old fridges where children could play with letter magnets is hardly worth mentioning. There was also a separate area with some sort of raft and tent builing activities going on inside, but they failed to inspire our four-year-old as they were aimed at older children. Our son was more interested in the gift shop, where he bought a wind-up torch with his pocket money. It was a good purchase for just £2.50 and he's been playing with it ever since.
In my opinion, the Eden Project is over-hyped and grossly over-priced. It was just about worth visiting but only because we got a discount and we managed to avoid the crowds during the extended opening hours - although it was still rather busy. The rain forest dome was interesting, but if we had had to queue for hours and pay the full £16 to see it - I would have been very very disappointed.
If you would like to find out more about the Eden project, please visit their website: http://www.edenproject.com/
We visited Lanhydrock House near Bodmin in Cornwall on a rainy day while we were on holiday in August 2009. It is owned by the National Trust and the admission fee was a hefty £10.40 for adults. Luckily, we had a 2 for 1 voucher through M&S, plus under-fives go free, otherwise I'm not sure we would have been willing to pay the full £26 entry fee for just the three of us! I always feel these places are way overpriced, but that's just the way it is, I guess.
We found the place quite easily with the help of our GPS (postcode: PL30 5AD). We had no problem with parking, although the car park filled up very quickly just after we arrived at around 11 am. The National Trust staff in the ticket office seemed rather friendly and approachable. (Little did we know what was in store inside the house!) They accepted our money-off voucher without any fuss and didn't scrutinise our son to make sure he was within the age limit to get free entry. We received a free map of the grounds, which was useful to find our way around the gardens.
The house and the grounds are a bit of a walk away from the car park. You can immediately see the house in the distance at the end of a sloping road, surrounded by the formal gardens. I must say, it does look very impressive, and the fact that it was raining only made it appear more atmospheric and maybe a little bit mysterious too. Apparently, the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers was filmed on these premises!
At the gatehouse we had to show our tickets and were asked whether our son wanted to do a quiz trail. We weren't sure what it was all about but said yes, anyway. Later, it turned out it was a very good idea, as it kept our child occupied while we were in the house. He was given a clipboard and a pencil with the task to spot a number of toy trains hidden around the house. This really got his attention and with a little help from us, he spotted all the trains. We managed to walk through the house in about an hour and a bit without any - "I'm tired" and "I want to go home" and "It's boring". If you visit with children, make sure you take part in this activity, as it really makes the time pass more quickly for them.
When we entered the house, we had to show our tickets yet again. Having read two other reviews, I must agree with the reviewers that the volunteers in the house - a bunch of overzealous old ladies - seemed a bit austere. Not a smiling face in sight! They asked us again how old our son was and when I told them five in September - which is the truth! - they gave me this "I-don't-believe-you-but-there's-nothing-I-can-do-about-it" sort of look. They then quite sternly, told me to put my bag in the lockers - a polite request would have been more welcome. Also, they practically shouted at one of the foreign tourists in the entrance hall for taking photos, who didn't even seem to understand what they were talking about. Later, during the tour, yet another foreigner was literally told off for taking photos, as if they were stupid kids doing something very naughty. I must add here, that we were not warned beforehand about this restriction, so if you missed the signs on the wall, how would you know?
The house itself is quite extensive and there are some 50 rooms to explore. According to one of the brochures, you get the whole "upstairs-downstairs" experience of the Victorian era, and that's exactly what this house is all about. You get to explore the humble servants' quarters, the kitchen and the food preparation areas in sharp contrast to the grand dining room, drawing room, library, nursery and numerous bedrooms. All the rooms are fully furnished with objects scattered everywhere to demonstrate the use of each area. There were even real cakes and fruit on the dining room table and in the kitchen - or at least they looked real to me.
The house was a little overcrowded with tourists during our visit, probably because of the rain. The gift shop was particularly bad as you could hardly move. There were lots of books, toys and souvenirs for sale at the usual inflated prices. Outside the house, in a separate building, there is a snack bar, which looked overcrowded as well, so we didn't venture in. We did go into the small play barn, however, which looked like they'd only just recently set it up. There were various Victorian-type toys in the barn for the children to play with.
At the end of our visit we walked around the grounds a little bit, which include a church, the formal gardens, as well as a more extensive woodland walk. Unfortunately, it was still raining, so we couldn't get the maximum out of the outdoor experience, but I can say that the formal gardens were truly amazing. Manicured to absolute perfection and not a gardener in sight, perhaps because of the rain?
On the way back to the car park we wanted to take a look at the adventure playground marked on the map, but we couldn't find it, so we gave up in the end. There's also supposed to be a picnic area right next to it. On a sunny day we would have been more determined to find it, but it was still raining and we were getting tired so we headed back to our holiday accommodation.
Both the house and the gardens are well worth a visit, I would say. There's a lot to see inside and outside the house. If you would like to find out more about Lanhydrock House, here's a link to the information on the National Trust website, including opening times and current admission charges:
There's also an amateur video here (not mine!) on youtube with images of the building and the gardens, which can help you decide whether it's worth visiting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oTMcb4Rp60
Transferring your toddler into their own big boy/girl bed for the first time can be quite daunting for parents. We first attempted this when our son was two years old and was getting too big for his cot. Then, we simply converted his cot into a bed. This didn't go down very well with him, and from then on he kept coming into our bedroom and no one in the family was able to have a good night's sleep. As an emergency measure, we put a double bed in his room, so I could stay with him if necessary. What was supposed to be just a temporary solution, quickly turned into a regular habit. It wasn't ideal, but at least it solved our problem for a while.
It wasn't until recently that I started feeling uncomfortable with this arrangement. My son's starting school this September and I thought the other kids might make fun of him if they found out he was still sleeping with his mummy. I figured, if we got him a fun new bed, he would be less likely to rebel against sleeping on his own. First, I thought along the lines of a bed in the form of a racing car or something similar, but I quickly ruled it out because it didn't seem very practical. The concept of a mid-sleeper (a.k.a. midi-sleeper or cabin bed) seemed just what we were looking for. A mid-sleeper is much lower than a bunk bed and it doesn't have another bed underneath, just floor space with a hanging tent, which can be used as a play den or for storage. This seemed the perfect solution to our problem, so I set out to find the best deal available.
The antique pine mid-sleeper with tent sold by Argos looked quite nice in the photo and was priced at a very reasonable £245, including the mattress. I read a few reviews about it and they all seemed favourable. One reviewer mentioned that these were the same frames made by the Danish company, Thuka. I was a bit sceptical, as the Thuka beds sold on the Internet all seemed a lot more expensive. How could Argos sell them so much cheaper? But it is true! These beds are indeed made by Thuka.
The bed arrived from Argos within three weeks. I must say the delivery service was top-notch. They called us to see which day would be suitable and gave us a timeframe of just two hours in which the delivery would take place. In addition, the truck driver also called half an hour before delivery to confirm that they were on their way. We didn't need to sit around all day waiting for a delivery that may or may not come!
The wooden parts came really well-packed in a long, flat box. The mattress and the tent were each packed separately. It took my husband about two hours to assemble the bed with a little help from me. The instructions were easy to follow, except for the tent, which was a bit more fiddly to fit. The wood is solid pine and once assembled, the frame is quite stable. The mattress that came with the bed is a so-called budget mattress. I didn't have high expectations about it, but it's actually OK for what it is. The truth is, buying this bed with the mattress from Argos was still cheaper than buying just the bed frame from other retailers, so I thought we could always replace the mattress if we had to, but it will be fine for the next couple of years at least.
My son was very excited to sleep in his new bed for the first time. He absolutely loves it and happily sleeps through the night all by himself now. Even when we were away on holiday he kept saying that he was missing his new bunk bed. He loves hiding and playing under the bed and there's some space for storage too. I would have given this bed a 5-star rating if I didn't have a few niggles regarding safety.
So, what am I worried about? Well, I would just feel a bit more relaxed if the side boards on the bed were a few inches higher. The space between the top of the mattress and the top of the side board is less than 6 inches. I think there should be at least two boards above the mattress to ensure safety. It could be just me being paranoid, but I'm worried enough to put a few old duvets and pillows around the bed each night as a "safety net" just in case my child falls out it in his sleep. This hasn't happened yet, but I'm not entirely convinced that it can't or it won't happen in the future. There's a mark on the ladder showing the maximum recommended height for the mattress and the top of the mattress is actually a little bit (a centimetre or two) above this level! I'm not sure what to think about this, other than the bed is only borderline safe.
I must add that the manufacturer's age recommendation is 6+. However, if you read the reviews on the Argos website, you'll see that many parents buy this bed for children as young as 3 or 4. My son is soon 5. I'm not sure I would let him sleep in this bed if he was any younger, but I guess all children are different. He's only just mature enough to understand that he mustn't stand up in this bed and that he has to be very careful climbing the ladder. Anyone planning to buy this bed should consider the safety aspects first.
Apart from my safety concerns, we really love the bed. My son would never let me send it back, so we're definitely keeping it. It's a lot of fun and a great space saver - just what we needed. Hopefully, it will prove to be safe in the long run as well.
When our old Bosch vacuum cleaner finally packed up a few weeks ago, we knew that our next one was going to be a Dyson. When we decided to buy the Bosch Extraxx 17 some six years ago, we were also considering a Dyson but eventually chose German over British engineering, but from time to time we were wondering whether we should have bought a Dyson instead. Not that we weren't satisfied with the Bosch, I hasten to add. It was a fairly good machine, however, we would have expected more than six years of service from something of its calibre. When it first broke down a few months ago, we even bought a replacement part for it, but when it broke down again with another unrelated problem, we knew it had had it and it was time to replace it.
My husband put me in charge of finding a good deal on a Dyson, so I got online in search of special offers. The best deal I could find was the Dyson DC14 all floors from Argos for £189.00, originally priced at £239.00. There might have been some better deals available from independent online retailers, but it was important for us to find something that was available for immediate pick-up as we had some urgent vacuuming to do around the house and we couldn't have waited for weeks until delivery. I quickly checked the online reviews about this model and found that the vast majority of consumers were satisfied with the product. Nearly all reviews praised the DC14 for having good suction, but there were some concerns about noise and weight. Some people thought that the noise was unbearable and the unit was too heavy to carry up and down the stairs. Though I didn't like the sound of this, years of experience of making purchasing decisions based on reading product reviews have taught me that people can have different perceptions about certain aspects. What might be unbearable for some, may not bother others. Reading negative reviews have not stopped me from buying a product in the past, as long as the positive opinions were in majority. It's all about making informed decisions. Luckily, you can always take the products back if they're not what you expected. So, despite the possibility that the DC14 may be too noisy and heavy to use, I reserved a unit for my husband to pick up on the way home from work and anxiously waited his return so that we could test the Dyson in action and see if it was all it is cracked up to be.
I was actually out when my husband got home, and he had just finished assembling the unit when I got back. I assume it was easy to assemble, otherwise he would have been on about it all evening. The first thing I noticed when I lifted the DC14 was that it actually weighed less than our old Bosch, so the concerns about its weight turned out to be irrelevant to us, however, I can imagine that people who have been used to handling a lighter unit might find it a bit heavy at first. It weighs about 8 kilos, compared to 9 kilos of the Bosch. I was also eager to find out about the noise it made, so we turned on the machine and I braced myself against the "unbearably loud high-pitched noise" some people mentioned in their reviews. Frankly, I couldn't see - or rather hear - what all the fuss was about. It is a vacuum cleaner after all and it's bound to be noisy. It is no noisier than any other vacuum I have had the chance to work with. So, with the two main concerns out of the way, we tested the new machine to see what else was different compared to our old Bosch.
ADVANTAGES OF THE BOSCH
According to my husband, who's an engineer, the Bosch seemed better made - more robust, less plastic and better designed - but let's not forget that it only had a six-year lifespan, which shouldn't be too difficult for the Dyson to beat. Only time will tell.
Unlike the Bosch, the Dyson hasn't got a recoil function to retract the power lead. Instead, it has the conventional lead "storage" where you manually wind up the cable around two pegs. Having got used to the retract function on the Bosch for years, I will definitely miss this.
With the Bosch, using the wand around the skirting and in narrow spaces was a matter of pulling it out and putting it back in a flash. With the Dyson, this manoeuvre is a lot more complicated and troublesome. You have to complete at least three actions to take it out and another three to put it back in. This will be difficult for me to get used to, and I can imagine I will start skipping doing the skirting altogether as I haven't got the patience to get the wand in and out as I go around vacuuming.
The suction on the Bosch was more powerful at 1700W compared to 1400W on the Dyson. The difference is quite noticeable in that the Bosch was more difficult to push around when it was sucking. The Dyson glides easier, but I wonder if it produces the same results. It doesn't seem to leave the same depth of suction marks in the carpet as the Bosch used to. Whether the Dyson will be more successful at not losing suction over time is yet to be seen. The Bosch did lose some suction when the filter became clogged up and my husband used to remove the fluff from the filter manually once in a while, which made it work efficiently again. Emptying of the dust bin is as easy on the Dyson as it was on the Bosch as they both seem to operate with a similar mechanism.
The Bosch also had the all floors function, which lets you choose between carpeted and hard surfaces. The idea is that the brush is disengaged when vacuuming hard floors, so as not to scratch the surface. The switch to operate this was close at hand on the Bosch, while on the Dyson you have to bend all the way down to reach it.
ADVANTAGES OF THE DYSON
Unlike the Bosch, the filter on the Dyson is washable, which should make the procedure of cleaning it easier, but without regular maintenance, the filter will clog as I can already see signs of this after just a few weeks' use. It is recommended that you clean the filter every six months, but at this rate, I think it will have to be done more often than that, perhaps every two or three months or so.
By far the best feature of the Dyson is the long telescopic function, which can reach all the way up to the top of the stairs without having to balance the whole machine on the stairs like I used to with the Bosch. This is not only more convenient, but a whole lot safer too. Big thumbs up for that!
The extra attachments are housed on the unit, so they're always at hand when you need them. However, you may find that these drop off from time to time, so I only carry around the ones I actually use.
The power lead is long enough to reach anywhere in the house without having to change power points, except when going upstairs or downstairs, obviously. With the Bosch I used to find the cable was just a bit too short to reach everywhere.
The Dyson has a 5-year manufacturer's guarantee, which is quite generous, I think, considering that our Bosch didn't last much beyond that. I can imagine that some people would want to change their vacuum cleaner after 5 years anyway, so it's almost like a lifetime guarantee in that respect.
All in all, my first impressions of the Dyson DC14 are quite favourable, even though it had to live up to the Bosch standards. But we've only had it for a few weeks, so it's early days to assess its durability. If anything happens to change my perceptions, I promise to come back to update this review. The Dyson DC14 is not perfect, but neither was the Bosch extraxx 17. Maybe if they took the best features of both, they could build a vacuum cleaner as close to perfect as possible.
I remember when I first came across Hama beads in the shops, I thoughtlessly dismissed them as something we wouldn't be interested in. Beads are for girls after all, and I only have a boy. Frankly, I didn't even know what they were all about and I was too ignorant to find out at the time. It wasn't until recently, when two young girls in our neighbourhood were selling fridge magnets made out of Hama beads to raise money for charity that my son expressed interest in them and I too became curious about these tiny plastic beads and the things you can do with them.
I thought it might be worth a try so I ordered a tub of 3000 beads and a multi-pack of 5 small peg boards off Amazon, all for under £10 with free delivery. I was filled with excitement waiting for the order to arrive, more so than my son, whom - I might as well admit it - I tend to use as an excuse for buying toys for myself! I was already imagining all the wonderful patterns I would create with these beads. The idea is that you place the colourful beads in various patterns on the pegboards, and then using a sheet of special ironing paper you melt the beads with a hot iron to fuse them together. As I didn't have any Hama branded ironing paper, I just used ordinary greaseproof paper (a.k.a. baking parchment) which seems to work just as well.
Most Hama themed sets include the beads and the pegboards together, but they are also available separately. The beads come in bags of 1000 or tubs of 3000 as well as jars of 10000 and 15000 for the more ambitious crafter in different colour schemes: primary, pastel, neon, fluorescent, translucent but you can also buy individual colours if you need lots of beads of the same colour. My favourites are the glow-in-the-dark variety, which really take your creations to the next level. The glow-in-the-dark beads come in red or blue and they really do glow in the dark all through the night. I haven't seen these types of beads elsewhere other than on eBay, but they might be available from specialist craft shops as well. They cost around £1.50 per a bag of 1000 beads. You can also buy individual pegboards on eBay, so you can pick and choose according to your needs. I've bought 5 large pegboards for £5 plus p&p from eBay. The pegboards come in different shapes and sizes, such as animals, people, vehicles, flowers, butterflies, hearts or just simple geometrical shapes like circles and squares.
So what can you create with Hama beads? Well, lots of things, really - you're only limited by your imagination! You can make photo frames, fridge magnets, hanging mobiles, jewellery, coasters, door signs, pictures or other ornaments and decorations. Some of the pegboards are large enough to create place mats as you can also link them together. I've found lots of ideas of Flickr, where people post photos of their creations. Some of them are truly striking. You can see them here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/beadmerrily/pool/
The age recommendation for the regular sized Hama beads is 5+. There's also a maxi version, in which the beads are slightly bigger and thus suitable from age 3, while the mini beads allow for more detail and are recommended from age 8-10 onwards. Obviously, none of these versions are suitable for children under 3 years of age as they can easily be swallowed or inhaled.
Much as I like Hama beads myself, I can't help noticing that my son, soon to be 5 years old, doesn't really have the patience to complete even a small pegboard. He will start out with lots of enthusiasm, but halfway through he normally gives up. That's not the fault of the product, obviously. I'm glad that he is at least interested enough to sit down with me to give it a go and he is always very appreciative of my own creations. He loves the glow in the dark ornaments I've made for his bedroom. I hope he will develop more patience and concentration as he gets older and will soon discover the joy of completing a project for himself.
I'm sure most consumers, whether they have kids of their own or not, are familiar with the Kinder Surprise eggs. They are usually strategically positioned in supermarkets and corner shops close to the check-out, at eye level for small children, so that they are practically unavoidable. Pester power is the most powerful marketing tool, after all. A couple of Easters ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life and VOLUNTARILY bought a six-pack of these chocolate eggs for my then three-year-old son. I didn't realise at the time that this would lead to a serious addiction. Since then, I wouldn't dare count, but we must have bought many dozens of these eggs, and we have a box full of useless tiny plastic toys to prove it.
Just in case you've been lucky enough to escape the Kinder egg craze, you may not know that each of these eggs contains a small toy inside a yellow plastic case thinly covered in Kinder chocolate, which consists of a white milky layer inside and a milk chocolate layer outside. The chocolate actually tastes quite nice, but there's not a whole lot of it. My son usually scoffs the chocolate in a single mouthful in order to get access to the toy as quickly as possible. The quality of the toys tends to vary - some of them are complete rubbish, while others are actually quite good. There are a number of different series of toys available at any given time with 6-12 different toys in each series to collect. For example, our most recent collection includes the Little Lambs series, with characters like Motorcycle Michael, Snoozy Suzie, Silly Billy and others. Other themes currently on the market include: pirates, dinosaurs, animals, transformers, dodgems, and racing cars to name but a few and I also remember some weird character lines consisting of some type of unidentifiable creatures. The most useful of these toys so far, in my opinion, has been the pencil topper series with various funny faces that you can put at the end of your pens or pencils.
I hate to admit it, but even I get a little excited about finding out what's inside the egg. Sometimes you do get an interesting toy, but quite often there's disappointment, especially if you get the same toy you already have, which can easily happen if you buy as many as we do. Some of the toys in the same series are very similar to each other, which is a bit of a let-down as you're only getting the same toy in a different colour. Many of the toys need assembling and there's always a diagram showing you how to do this, along with a picture of all the other toys available in the same series to collect.
Collecting the Kinder Surprise toys is an expensive habit, as they can cost up to 80p per egg if bought individually. You can also buy them in multi-packs at the supermarket, but even then they cost at least 50p each, so not really good value considering the amount of chocolate you get. You're basically paying for the plastic toy inside, which can't be worth more than a few pence. Whenever I let my son choose his own treat (for being good), I always feel ripped off when he triumphantly marches to the till with a Kinder egg in hand, making me shell out nearly a pound for a piece of plastic. But at least it makes him happy and to be fair, none of the other treat-sized chocolates are much cheaper either.
Despite my annoyance as a parent, I can't help but admire the genius behind the concept of the Kinder Surprise eggs. What could be more irresistible to a child than a surprise toy encased in chocolate? What a brilliant idea for a bestseller product. It doesn't even need any advertising - it practically sells itself. I just wish I had thought of it first!
We bought a Raleigh Mini X 14" bike from Halfords almost a year ago for our son's fourth birthday. It is recommended for children between the ages 4-6. We thought the size of the bike was spot on for a four-year-old child with plenty of room to grow with both the handlebar and the seat height being adjustable. Apart from the fact that this bike looks cool, it is also quite well made. It was easy to assemble and with the stabilisers fitted, it is quite stable even when riding around sharp corners.
It has both front and back calliper brakes, which work quite well. The chain guard is fully enclosed to prevent accidents. It has a plastic mudguard at the back, which is a bit wobbly and you constantly have to reposition it. Perhaps it's better not to bother with it and just leave it off as it is not an essential part of the bike. The bike came with a front plate and letter stickers, so you can spell your child's name or any other word, like 'champion' for example. There's no bell or basket on it, which my son is a bit disappointed about, but then again it's a boy's bike, so it's not supposed to have those girly accessories! It is a nice red colour and we bought a Cars Lightening McQueen cycling helmet with it, which matches it perfectly.
The bike is a bit heavy to carry around and there's no comfortable way of holding it. I really miss a parent handle, but I know these types of bikes don't normally have one. My back aches when trying to push my son uphill, or making sure he doesn't roll too fast downhill. (He's only just getting to grips with using the brakes.) A parent handle would also be nice when learning to cycle without the stabilisers. We removed the stabilisers once to see how we could get on without them, but it didn't go very well. My son got upset and my back was killing me, so we had to put the stabilisers back on. I feel we would have been more successful with the help of a parent handle. That's how I learned to ride a bike when I was a kid.
All in all, the bike is good and definitely worth the price we paid for it. It was on a half price offer for £60 at the time. I'm not sure we would have bought it at full price, though. It is currently available for £114.99 from Halfords, but do look out for special offers.
You don't realise just how useful kitchen towels are until you run out, which is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago, so it was a priority to get some more on my next shopping trip to Tesco's. I'm always surprised at how expensive these things can be and look for the best value options in the supermarket. I normally stick to brands like Bounty (recently renamed Plenty) or Thirst Pockets as long as they are on offer. As there didn't seem to be any good offers available at the time, I opted for an industrial sized roll of Nicky super absorbent household towels at £1.36. The cost per sheet seemed a lot cheaper than any other brands, even Tesco's own.
The Nicky household towels are a perfect example of false economy. They are NOT super absorbent as claimed. They are thin and flimsy with very little substance to them. You can't even tear off a sheet without ripping it in half. They are useless at soaking up spills and you always have to throw them away after just one use. I usually try to reuse kitchen towels as many times as possible. Instead, I needed three sheets of these just to do a job that a single sheet of Bounty/Plenty could have easily handled.
If you have seen any of the Bounty/Plenty adverts recently, you'll remember Audrey - one of the "ladies" - struggling with an inferior quality kitchen towel, while Brenda gets the job done in a flash with the help of Bounty/Plenty. I felt just like Audrey (though I must add I don't look anything like him/her!) Isn't it funny how this poor value product reinforces the marketing message of a competitor's brand? Compared to this product, I no longer think Bounty/Plenty is too expensive any more. In fact, they're much better value for money.
Hotukdeals.com is a website for bargain hunters where members can post the latest deals they've found in shops or online. This is a fantastic idea and the website is worth visiting regularly, so as not to miss out on a deal. Posting a deal can also be quite rewarding, as the messages of thanks make you feel good about yourself! You don't need to be a member to see all the deals available, but if you want to leave feedback about a deal or post one yourself, you need to get registered and sign in first. Out of courtesy, if I find a deal that leads to a successful purchase on my part, I always vote it 'hot' and leave a note of thanks to show my appreciation to the person who took the time to post it. When you post an online deal yourself, it is important to include a valid link, so other people can easily find it. Also, before posting a deal, it's a good idea to check to see if it hasn't already been posted by somebody else.
Apart from the deals section, there's also a separate 'vouchers' tab where you can find current voucher codes for free delivery and other discounts. It's worth checking this section before you make an online purchase from retailers like M&S or Next, for example, as there are voucher codes available for them regularly. In case there are no valid codes available when you need them, you might choose to put off your purchase until later if it's not urgent. Potentially, you can save quite a few pounds by waiting for a code to appear, normally within a few weeks. I never pay for my Next deliveries, for example. I always wait until I find a free delivery code, saving £3.95 each time.
Other sections of the hotukdeals.com website include links to freebies (such as product samples or free entries to various attractions) as well as competitions you can enter to win prizes. There's also a deals request section where you can ask for voucher codes or other money saving information and let's not forget about the sale/trade section that lets you advertise your unwanted stuff to sell or swap for free, although I haven't tried this yet.
The danger with this website is that you might make the mistake of buying things on impulse just because you can't resist a good deal. A product is only worth buying if you really need it, otherwise it's just money down the drain. Been there, done that - quite a few times, actually. Remember, the best money saving tip is to not buy anything. However, if you are looking for something in particular, this site will help you find the best deals around.
Medised is an over-the-counter pain and fever relief medicine for children in a liquid form. Another mum recommended it to me years ago when my son was only a baby. I told her how I had to struggle every time I gave him Calpol to ease his teething, as he didn't like the taste and I always had to force it down his throat, which used to upset both of us. She told me her daughter was the same with Calpol but that she really liked the taste of Medised and would eagerly take it as if it was a treat. I was a bit sceptical, but had nothing to lose except for a few quid, so I headed for the pharmacy and bought a bottle of the stuff. To my complete amazement, my son readily accepted Medised without any fuss. I've been giving it to him ever since whenever he had a fever or a cold. It works wonders putting him to sleep and always seems to give him a good night's sleep even when he's all blocked up with a cold. It has been very effective lowering his temperature as well on the few occasions this was necessary, as he is otherwise a very healthy child. Usually, just one dose does the job.
A single dose of 5 ml Medised contains 120 mg paracetamol and 12.5 mg diphenhydramine hydrochlorine. This latter ingredient is a type of antihistamine, which helps open airways to ease breathing and also causes drowsiness, which makes it ideal for bedtime. The solution is colour-free, sugar-free and contains artificial sweeteners. I can't say it tastes nice, but my son seems to like it. It smells all right, a bit like strawberries and tastes sweet but leaves a rather bitter aftertaste. It is available in 200ml and 100ml bottles. The larger bottle costs around £5 and the smaller £3. It used to be available from supermarkets, but due to some changes in guidelines, you can only get it from pharmacies now as it is no longer recommended for children under six years of age since March 2009, although the packaging still says suitable from 3 months onwards.
I've only just found out about this the other day when I walked into my local pharmacy to get a new bottle as we were running low following a boat of fever my son went through recently, and was surprised to find that I was advised against giving Medised to him, as he's not yet six. I started to worry a little because I've been giving this medicine to him pretty much since he was six months old. I looked on the internet to find out more about this change of guidelines. It seems that along with Medised, a few other cough and cold medications have been restricted because "there is no evidence that they work in this age group, and they can potentially cause side effects such as allergic reactions, effects on sleep or hallucinations." You can find the full article here: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/medicines/100001597.html. Well, all I know, from my own personal experience, is that Medised is very effective and we've never had any adverse reactions to it. Still, I can't argue with the research findings, so I'm going to keep my son off Medised until he's six years old in about a year's time. Until then, we'll try to get by on Calpol.
Admittedly, I'm not a wine expert. I'm not even a big wine drinker, for that matter, but I do like a glass of nectar of the gods now and again, especially while cooking as it makes the ordeal a bit more bearable. Just kidding! I actually quite like cooking, I just don't want my husband to know it. But where was I? Oh, yeah, I was talking about wines. Forgive me for blabbering, I've been sampling Blossom Hill's Crisp and Fruity Californian for this review and it's made me a bit tipsy (giggle). OK, now, pull yourself together, woman!
This is my one of my favourite wines as it is relatively cheap and, in my opinion, tastes nice too. It is indeed crisp, light, not too dry but not sickeningly sweet either. It's got a sparkly, almost tangy taste to it, which I find refreshing. Let me just have another sip. Oh, yeah, very nice. It needs to be served ice cold. It is an easy-to-drink, everyday wine. The bottle has a screw top, which, these days is quite acceptable and no longer a stigma. If I remember correctly, it used to have a synthetic cork and a different shaped bottle just a few years ago, so they must have changed it quite recently. I find the screw top a bit hard to open and I always need to use a knife to cut through the perforation of the cap first. If you try this at home, mind your fingers!
The Crisp and Fruity Californian is a no frills, simple, straightforward, honest, likeable table wine, which doesn't pretend to be anything else than what it is. A bit like me, really! It's perfect with savoury nibbles or chicken and fish dishes. It contains 11.5% alcohol, which is pretty standard. It contains sulphites, like most wines. Calories 91 kcal per 125 ml serving, not too bad. 1.5 units of alcohol per serving. It costs around £4.49 per bottle from any supermarket or corner shop.
Always enjoy wine responsibly! (hiccup)
I didn't know much about Playmobil before I bought the Amphibious Vehicle with Dinosaur set (4175) as a present for my 4-year-old son last Christmas. I was familiar with the name and I knew it was meant to be on par with Lego in terms of quality, but I didn't really know what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised when I had a chance to take a closer look at this toy.
I could instantly tell that the quality was superb by the feel of the plastic material. Some plastic toys are so flimsy, they break within five minutes. Try to break a Playmobil toy - I don't think you can unless you use a hammer! If you're not familiar with Playmobil, you may not know that the sets usually come in pieces. Part of the fun is to assemble the bits to make up the play sets. It's not a construction toy, though, as once assembled you wouldn't normally take it apart again, except for the small detachable accessories. Parental help is needed with the assembly, which is a perfect chance for parents (dads in particular) to spend some quality time with their children putting this toy together. It took my husband a good half an hour to assemble the set with the eager assistance of our little boy. The set consists of the following parts: amphibious vehicle, trailer, cage, explorer figure, dinosaur with moving limbs and jaws, tree, and lots of accessories, including lights, weapons, tools, ropes, hooks and there's even a bait for the dinosaur in the form of a joint of meat.
When it was ready, my son instantly knew how to play with it and it was such joy for us to see how much he enjoyed "brumming" the vehicle, attaching the trailer, capturing the dinosaur and making up other imaginative little scenes. The cage can be opened and locked, and one of the panels pops out so that the dinosaur can escape. The vehicle can float on water, as it is amphibious, so it makes a great bath toy as well. These types of toys are great for developing imagination. Six months on, my son still plays with this toy almost every day, in fact, he's playing with it right now as I'm writing this review!
I can honestly say, I can not fault the quality of this Playmobil set in any way. The only thing I would change about it is the tree. I would get rid of, as it has very little play value, and I would include another character or dinosaur instead. Another little niggle perhaps is that some of the accessories are quite tiny and they are easy to lose - some went down the drain in the bath! - but that's just the nature of these toys, I guess. It's a good idea to store all the bits and bobs in a separate small box to minimise the chances of them getting lost around the house.
The Playmobil Amphibious Vehicle set retails at around £17-£18, but you may be able to find it cheaper on sale. I paid £12.50 + p&p for it on eBay and I think it was money well spent. I'll definitely be buying another Playmobil set for next Christmas as I think it is good value for money, even at the RRP.
Not suitable for children under 3 years of age due to small parts. The manufacturer's recommended age is 4+.
BzzAgent.co.uk is the UK version of BzzAgent.com, which was founded in 2001 in Boston, USA. The British website was launched in March 2007. The whole idea of BzzAgent is built on the concept of Word of Mouth (WoM) marketing. Word of mouth can be a powerful marketing tool, ultimately defining market trends. For example, the mobile phone that everybody's talking about has the potential of becoming the must-have gadget of the year. My understanding is that a BzzAgent is supposed to help create this "buzz" around certain products amongst their friends, family and acquaintances, making it familiar to them and ultimately building a favourable image about it. Also, through the BzzAgent's reports, the marketers receive valuable information about consumer opinions, which gives them a chance to improve their products and/or use the information in future marketing campaigns.
So, who can become a BzzAgent? Well, anybody, really. All you have to do is sign up on their website. They'll send you a welcome pack, which includes an information leaflet and a copy of the BzzAgent Code of Conduct, which says you always have to disclose yourself as a BzzAgent and be open and honest about your opinions, even if negative. All Bzz is good Bzz, apparently. Then you have to wait until a suitable campaign comes along that matches your profile. This can take weeks or months. Hopefully, you'll receive an email inviting you to take part in a campaign within a reasonable amount of time, and you can also check your account to see if there are any current campaigns that you're eligible for. It's up to you to decide whether you want to accept the invitation to join a campaign or not. If you don't want to take part in a particular campaign, there's nothing to do, just wait for your next invitation, although you might ruin your chances for getting further invitations. If you wish to take part in a campaign, you have to sign up for it online.
I signed up for my first campaign about a year ago and I received a product sample in the post within a week or so. It was a self-foaming wet shaver for women. I was supposed to try the product myself and then tell my friends, family and acquaintances about it, find out what they thought and if they would be interested in purchasing a similar product. I also received some money-off vouchers to hand out to them. In about five or six weeks' time I had to file my BzzReport online giving specific details about each of my conversations about the product. You're supposed to talk to as many people as you can. The more people you talk to, the better ratings you receive for your BzzReport. Your ratings will determine your level and the higher your level, the better your chances of being invited to other campaigns. You have to work your way up the ladder to get invited to campaigns with more valuable products, I think. The idea is that you can keep the products you try, but there's no other financial incentive whatsoever. So, you might wonder whether it's worth the bother.
In my opinion, no, it isn't worth the bother. This whole BzzAgent thing didn't come naturally to me. I felt really uncomfortable about bringing up the subject of feminine shaving, as it's such a personal matter. I did complete my BzzReport in the end, but it felt like an unpleasant chore, something I had to do by the deadline. I signed up for another campaign a few months later, which gave me a voucher for £2.78 off Danone Activia yoghurt, but I didn't even bother to file a report this time. Sure enough, they didn't send me any more invitations until just a few weeks ago when they wanted me to take part in trialling a new tampon. Yeah, like I would go around having conversations about tampons. They clearly couldn't find enough people to sign up so they obviously went to the BzzAgents who were on the scrapheap, just in case they might be interested. Why would I? So that I would get to keep a box of tampons? Oh, please!
Perhaps other people have had more success with being a BzzAgent, but for me, it's just not worth the hassle. On the other hand, now that I think about it, writing reviews on Dooyoo isn't all that different from "Bzzing". However, here I get to choose the products I review, I do it in my own time without any deadlines, I can do it in writing giving people the choice to read it instead of forcing myself onto them with awkward face-to-face conversations, I don't feel obliged to promote anything and there's a financial incentive as well. Why would you want to Bzz when you can Dooyoo?