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pandapaws

pandapaws
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Member since: 01.02.2009

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      01.08.2010 15:17
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      Worth £10-£15 if you can get it in a sale, but no way worth the £30 RRP.

      ...he could probably do as good a job of this as Disney have!

      I bought this on a whim the yesterday as I was in Sainsbury's and noticed that it was half price - £14.99 instead of £29.99. There was only one left and my 2yr old loves Handy Manny and is always trying to play with dad's tools, so into the trolley it went.

      When we got it home, there was the usual annoyance of trying to get all the bits out of the packaging - scissors required. Once you get all the bits out of the box, it seems slightly smaller than I had expected - the toolbox itself is only about 22cm across, 12cm deep and 18cm high (including the handle). The individual tools are also quite small - even my son's tiny hands are too big to fit in the handle of the saw.

      There are 7 tools as featured in the show: Pat (lightweight hammer), Rusty (monkeywrench, but with no moving parts), Dusty (saw - hollow plastic), Philippe & Turner (screwdrivers), Stretch (measuring tape, with one inch of retactable tape) and Squeeze (pliers - these open and close but not spring loaded). There is no sign of Fix-it the robotic dog (what is that thing meant to be anyway?!) and no Flicker the torch, who is a fairly new addition to the show.

      When you press button on the front of the toolbox, you are treated to the theme tune from the show which is quite cute as 4 of the tools move up and down in time with the music (the little holders they sit in move, so anything you were to put in those slots would bounce around). The song is quite distorted and quite tinny sounding, and there's a lot of background noise from the mechanics that are doing the moving. It's noisier and more distorted in my opinion than it should be, which shows lack of quality - I'm sure they could have made this better if they really tried. On other occasions when you press the button you get a little catchphrase from one of the tools which sounds much clearer, but because it's just random there's no way of associating the voice with the tool, so it's entirely down to your knowledge of the program and voice recognition!

      My main problem with this toy is that there seem to be such wasted opportunities. The tools themselves are just bits of moulded plastic, and with the exception of Stretch and Squeeze (who do very little) they do absolutely nothing. When you consider that McDonalds can afford to put voices, sounds and lights into the toys they give away free in Happy Meals, I think it's a bit tight that the manufacturer hasn't done anything at all with these tools. A simple push button on each one to make them say or do something would have made a world of difference. Or even some basic function to the tools - I've got a play tool set that was £2 in Poundstretcher that has a functioning monkey wrench in it, so surely on an item supposedly worth £30 they could afford to throw in a few more features?

      I also feel that the design of the tool box is less than pefect. A couple of the tool slots would benefit from being deeper, and the handle would be better if it was a couple of inches higher. Rusty face to the side rather than forwards, and Stretch slides out of his space as it's very shallow. Again is seems a little tight to me that only the front 4 tools move in time with the music - surely it couldn't have cost much more to make them all bounce up and down?

      That said though, my 2yr old son absolutely loves it and hasn't put it down yet! I was awakened this morning by Pat hitting my toes. Unfortunately Pat hasn't been seen since, so I suspect he's hiding under my duvet somewhere - I'll have to investigate. However apart from the hammer and saw he hasn't really played with the other individual tools much beyond taking them out and putting them back in the box.

      It all seems to be quite sturdy and I expect it will last quite a while. Already some of the paint has scratched off the surfaces of the tools, so it's no something that's going to look pristine for long, but I think it should hold together fairly well.

      Overall, I'd say that the £15 I paid wasn't terrible, and it was average value for money at that price. The £30 that it normally costs is just far too expensive for the features offered though, and on that basis I'd rate this only 3 out of 5 - a good toy, but overpriced and too many missed opportunities.

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      • More +
        13.06.2010 16:11
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        Good wholesome fun.

        Rose Cottage is a small-ish plastic dolls' house from the Early Learning Centre's 'Happyland' range - a series of buildings and characters that make up a typical storybook town, similar to the Fisher Price Little People range but nicer in my opinion. As far as I'm aware this is the only house in the series.

        We bought this for my son's 2nd birthday, mainly because it wasn't pink like so many similar products. It is, however, still pretty girly but my little boy doesn't seem to mind, and 5yr old big brother has even been spotted playing with it too!

        What you get
        --------------
        A two storey cottage with open back and various moulded fittings
        4 figures: mummy, daddy, son and daughter if you take the stereotypical approach, plus 'ooftie', as my son calls the dog.
        One car, which only one person can ride in at a time. Presumably this was with great foresight on daddy's part so as to avoid having to take the kids to discos when they get older.

        As with all these type of toys, the packaging is somewhat excessive and you'll likely need a degree in wire de-tangling to unpack it all. A real pain on Christmas/birthday morning.

        What does it do?
        -----------------------
        Not a great deal really. It's designed for imaginative play, therefore the
        amount of fun that little ones get out of it depends very much on how much they (or you) put into it.

        There is a doorbell that rings, a musical TV than operates when you press down on the seat, a telephone (far too loud and realistic!) and a noisy cooker. The door and windows open, but beyond that there isn't much interactivity with the toy. On the plus side, this means there are less things to break. On the minus side it seems like there are quite a few missed opportunities.

        My son enjoys putting all the people to bed (the family have slightly unconventional sleeping arrangements) which is a bit awkward due to the shaping of both people and hard plastic beds - it would have been nice if the design had been a bit more thoughtful. Similarly the toilet and bath aren't brilliantly designed - not quite fit for purpose really! But that doesn't stop it from being great fun.

        Education
        --------------

        The educational value is fairly limited to that which you would gain from any 'housey' toy, but my son does enjoy pointing out the familiar household furnishings and objects and naming them. As kids get a bit older this aspect would diminish and it would be a play toy rather than a learning one, and I reckon there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that, not every toy needs to teach, it's good just to play.

        Durability
        -------------
        Made from sturdy plastic, this is of excellent construction and built to last.
        We've had Rose Cottage for about 6 months and it isn't showing any sign of wear. I was worried the batteries would be an annoyance but with Duracells in it, it is still going strong (annoyingly!). Because of the little electronic components unfortunately it can't go in the dishwasher like most of the other plastic toys I have, so if the inside gets grubby it can be a bit of work to clean it, but a packet of wipes and a bit of patience did the job for me.

        Like the rest of the Happyland range, the characters are made from slightly softer plastic than similar other ranges - they're not quite as soft as bath toys, but somewhere in between. I really like this aspect, as toddlers will be toddlers, and Mr Happy (or whatever alias he is using) will undoubtedly end up in toddler's mouth at some point or another.

        Value for money
        ---------------------
        I think this normally retails at about £25 (we got ours as part of a larger package) in the ELC, but discounts are often available. It's not cheap, but comparable to other alternatives, and if you can get a decent discount off this, of pick one up second-hand then it'd be well worth the money. You can also generally get a fair re-sale price on Ebay for ELC toys, and as far as I know Happyland is no different.

        So, overall I'd definitely recommend this toy for both boys and girls, but it's just a pity that the manufacturers didn't put just a little more thought into it, as it could have been made even better with more moving parts, buttons etc. And a car that the whole family can fit in as well!

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        • More +
          13.06.2010 12:18
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          Nice toy, worth picking up if your kid likes that sort of thing.

          This little set is part of the Early Learning Centre's 'Happyland' range, which comprises of buildings, vehicles and people which together make up a storybook style town. The beauty of this is that you can pick and choose the bits that you want (or that happen to be on promotion at the time!) and the bits that you think will particularly interest your child.

          The market set is one of the smaller 'buildings' in the range, and works well alongside some of the larger shops, although depending on how interested your child is in playing with these sort of toys, it could be used on it's own.

          What do you get?
          ------------------
          This comes in an attractive but slightly oversized box with the usual assortment of Krypton Factor wires and tapes holding it all together for display purposes. Once you've finally managed to get all the bits and pieces out, you have:

          2 market stalls (which are not joined together despite the picture)
          1 little truck with space for a driver and one box of fruit/flowers at the back
          1 greengrocer figure (stereotypical old bloke. Which is good, I like stereotypes. They're stereotypes for a reason!!)
          1 lady who can be either a shopper or the florist. Nice pink dress and hat!
          3 crates of fruit/veg which fit on the slots on the greengrocery stall
          3 pots of flowers/plants which fit in the slots on the flower stall.

          All of these are made of sturdy plastic with lots of bright colors. The fruit boxes have a slightly squidgier texture than many other similar ranges, therefore slightly gentler on the gums should your little one decide to take a bite!

          Play value
          -----------
          The amount of fun your child will get out of this depends very much on the individual child, their age and level of concentration. My 2yr old son enjoys putting the man in the truck which he then crashes into the Market stall/furniture/cat with great hilarity. He likes pointing to the fruit and veg that he recognises and telling me the names and colours, and loading these onto the back of the truck. We also have a bakery store and the fruit boxes and cake boxes are interchangeable, which makes it even more interesting for him.

          To be honest, the market-stalls and people are probably the pieces that get the least attention from my son, he'd rather play with the vehicle and boxes. Perhaps that's a 'boy' thing. Overall, it's definitely not one of his favourite toys, and he probably wouldn't notice if it disappeared but as part of the larger Happyland set it's a nice addition and something that he does enjoy playing with.

          Parental annoyance factor
          ---------------------------
          I think a lot of the benefit kids get from toys depends on how much the parents themselves like the toys and therefore actually play with them (or even get them out - we've got so many things hidden in cupboards because they're just too much hassle! Bad mother.)

          This toy, alongside most other pieces of Happyland that we have, scores quite well: it doesn't need any assembly, it doesn't take up much room to store, there's no mess to tidy up afterwards, it doesn't continually break or need re-assembled during play, it doesn't need batteries or make annoying noises (although other items in the set do) and it's pretty safe to leave unattended with kids in the recommended agegroup (which I think is 18mths+). However it's not something that's going to keep a 2yr old engaged in lone play for hours on end, there simply isn't enough of it to do that, so be prepared for lots of parental involvement and to have to invent little scenarios to engage your child's imagination. Which we should be doing anyway really!

          Value for money
          -----------------
          I got this toy as part of a larger set which included several other larger buildings, but I think the individual price is £10 (although there are often ELC discounts available - just read in another review that you can join their birthday club for 20% off). I wouldn't say this is outstanding value as it works out at about a quid per piece that you're getting, but that's not the worst in the world and it is very durable and would easily last it's way through countless children as a hand-me-down or for a bit of re-sale cash on Ebay.

          All in, it's a bit of plastic that your kids may or may not take a liking to. Perhaps slightly more appropriate for girls if your child conforms to traditional preferences, but definitely suitable for both. Worth a tenner if you've got the patience to play with it alongside your toddler, otherwise likely to be another bit of plastic that doesn't get much attention. 4* from me as it IS a nice toy, but perhaps could have a little bit more interactivity.

          This is my first review in absolutely ages...thanks for reading!

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          28.05.2009 00:25
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          Wonder what it would be like dipped in chocolate and deep fried???

          I wasn't planning on writing this (or any) review this evening. But having just scoffed an entire bag of Thorntons Special Toffee for no good reason other than 'it was there', I thought I'd briefly share my opinions, and thereby slightly lessen my gluttonous guilt by pretending to my other half that I did it in the interests of consumer research.

          I like toffee. Not a lot, but it's ok. I prefer chocolate though. This is therefore the reason that I spent a tenner yesterday on short-dated Easter eggs in the Thorntons outlet shop: 6 simple ones for a quid each, and one enormous toffee-choc egg complete with two bags of Original Special Toffee, reduced from (allegedly) £11.75 to £4. Having stuffed quite a large amount of the chocolate in my face already since the purchase, I made the sub-conscious decision to break into one of these bags this evening.

          According to the text on the back of the somewhat forlorn looking empty packet beside me:
          "The secret to Thornton's Special Toffee is the combination of finest quality ingredients, sourced from around the globe and the timing of adding them to the toffee as it cooks. The toffee is cooked slowly in small, individual pans, to develop the unique flavour."
          Sounds pretty darn tempting to me.

          ~~~ CONTENTS OF THE BAG ~~~

          I have a 125g bag of toffee here (well, actually I have a 'bag'; I 'had' toffee) and when I opened it, I found a variety of different shaped and sized pieces. Most of these were stuck together in large clumps but quite easy to prise apart. At a very rough guesstimate, I'd say there were a couple of dozen bits of toffee in the bag before I pillaged it. According to the wrapper, the clumping occurs because of the lack of emulsifiers or stabilisers in the recipe which improves the taste, texture and flavour (flavour is different to taste?). You're therefore advised to tap it firmly prior to opening to separate the pieces. Or as I did, just eat the clumps whole.

          ~~~ THE EATING EXPERIENCE ~~~

          The toffee is honey-brown in colour and quite soft and chewy. Not so soft that it's like fudge, but soft enough that when you bite into it your teeth slowly sink into it. Unless you deliberately bite it into smaller pieces, it will remain in one large lump in your mouth and gradually shrink as you chew it. Don't un-bite too quickly, or you may find yourself with a few less fillings, or even teeth: my dad directly attributes the loss of two of his teeth to Thorntons brazil nut toffee. But it's not brittle like some toffees - I suppose if you stored it in the fridge it may be, but at room temperature it's soft enough to bite into.

          I'm not particularly good at describing taste (a bit like describing a pain to the doctor:"it hurts"), but I'll have a go. It tastes like toffee. It's got a creamy, caramelly, fudgey flavour. For anyone Scottish enough to know what 'tablet' is...it tastes just like that but not quite as sickly. So I'm struggling with the flavour, but trust me: it tastes very, very nice. So very nice that as I mentioned, I ate the entire bag in about 45 minutes and I now have a very satisfying ache in my jaw muscles.

          ~~~ INGREDIENTS ~~~

          As mentioned above, this stuff is free from emulsifiers and stabilisers. I don't know what they are, but they don't sound good so thumbs-up to that. Additionally, they state that they do not use hydrogenated veg oils in ANY Thorntons products. I know enough about those to say that this is an even bigger thumbs-up. Further down the pack, we're also told that although the recipe may contain nuts, it is suitable for vegetarians, gluten-free, and alcohol-free (can't win 'em all I suppose).

          On the list of things that it does contain, the No 1 ingredient is... Sugar. D'oh. No 2 is...Glucose Syrup. Is that not another name for sugar? No 3: Vegetable oil (i.e. fat). No 4: Butter (i.e. more fat). Further down the short list, we find 'partially inverted sugar syrup'...they may turn it almost-upside-down, but it's still More Sugar in my book.

          Each 100g contains 510kcal, 58.5g carb which sugars and 29.7g fat (21.4g saturated). And now the shocking realisation: the bag that I've just eaten in it's entirity (about the same size as a standard packet of crisps) contained an almighty, diet-desecrating, gut-busting, bulemia-invoking 640 calories. 640!!! Oh s**t. Shall we work out how many Weight Watchers points there are in a bag? Shall we heck.

          ~~~ AHEM... MOVING ON... ~~~

          In the same way as most Class A drugs, this toffee is very moreish. I could eat another bag right now, although I may well die of instant-onset morbid obesity if I did. It's a lovely, sweet, tasty, creamy, smooth luxurious treat. But for those (me) who are watching (trying to re-discover) the waistline, avoid it like the plague as it is just far too full of the stuff that made you (me) fat in the first place. If you're one of those sickeningly lucky people who don't have a problem with their weight, then go ahead and scoff your trough.

          I'm tempted to drop it a star for the immensely fattening content, but it's not that much worse than chocolate, and it's not Mr Thornton's fault that I have a similar self-restraint/self-destruction balance to a lemming on a cliff-edge. So on account of the taste and the fact that all the badness is actually fairly wholesome, it's a full 5/5.

          Available from Thorntons shops, Sainsburys and other supermarkets in varying sized packs from £1-ish upwards. Also see:
          www.thorntons.co.uk
          Thorntons Direct: 0845 121 1911

          Enjoy!

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          • More +
            25.05.2009 22:30
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            The best nappies available!

            There are so many different types of disposable nappies on the market these days. But do they not all do exactly the same thing? The basic principle is surely the same: to prevent any of your little darling's unmentionables soiling the carpets. I like to think of myself as a nappy-tart, and I'll buy just about any brand as long as the price is right. But whilst I don't really mind what my youngest poos in through the day as they get changed so often, I've learned from experience to make sure he's always securely installed in a Baby Dry at bed time.

            ~~~ The Brand ~~~

            Pampers are made by Proctor & Gamble who are the enormous multi-national responsible for brands as diverse as Tampax, Old Spice, Pringles, Fairy, Max Factor, Olay and Gilette. Pampers is, however, one of their most famous brands and known the world over. Within the Pampers brand, there are a number of sub-brands including many different varieties of nappies, wipes and disposable mats. Although the different types of nappies all have their own benefits, the most famous and readily available by far is Baby Dry.

            ~~~ Nappy sizes ~~~

            Baby Dry nappies are designed to be a follow-on from the New Baby range, and therefore are not sold in a newborn size. The size guide is therefore as follows:

            Mini: Size 2 (3-6kg, 7-13lbs)
            Midi: Size 3 (4-9kg, 9-20lbs)
            Maxi/Size 4 (7-18kg, 15-40lbs)
            Maxi Plus/Size 4+ (9-20kg, 20-44lbs)
            Junior/Size 5 (11-25kg, 24-55lbs)
            Junior Plus: Size 5+ (13-27kg, 28-60lbs)
            Extra-Large/Size 6 (16+kg, 35lbs+)

            As you can see from the above, there's a huge range in each of the sizes, especially in the larger sizes. A baby weighing 40lbs could therefore use 4, 4+, 5, 5+, or 6. Conversely, a Size 4 nappy is designed to fit a baby weighing anything from 15lbs up to 40lbs - healthy kids of within that weight bracket can vary from as little as 4 months up to 7 years (though hopefully not wearing nappies by that stage!). So as you can see, selecting the correct size is not exactly an exact science.

            As a guide, you tend to move up the smaller sizes quite quickly, but stay in the larger ones for longer. And once you're in 4+ territory and above, you can pretty much use any of the sizes, which helps if the one you've been using is out of stock as there's a very good chance that one larger or smaller will fit just as well. I was using Size 4 by about 6 months, and now at 15 months we're using a mixture of Size 4+ and 5.

            It's also worth noting that the sizes vary from country to country, so if you're travelling abroad it's worth checking the weight band to make sure you're buying the correct size.

            ~~~ Pack sizes and prices ~~~

            As if the sizing wasn't enough to confuddle us, they then have to go and make a right meal of the pack sizes. I reckon this is a cleverly designed way of making sure that we have absolutely no idea how much we're paying per nappy, but perhaps I'm a cynic.

            There are several types of pack whichever size nappy you choose. Carry-packs are the smallest and generally cost approx £6 although they're often on 2 for £10 or 1/3 off promotions. These contain between 45 (size 2) and 20 (size 6) nappies per pack. Occasionally it can actually work out cheaper to buy these packs than the larger ones simply because of the promotions on them. If you've got a lot of money-off or extra loyalty point vouchers then it often does make better sense to buy these.

            Beyond the carry-packs, it's basically a case wave-a-damp-finger-in-the-air-and-hope-for-the-best in terms of selecting a pack. There are packs called Economy, Jumbo and Giga. Because there are so many different quantities in each of the different sizes, it would take forever to try and work out exactly how many you're getting in each, but thankfully most supermarkets now display on the shelf-edge label the actual price per nappy - these don't necessarily take multi-buys or % extra free into consideration though, so it's well worth taking a calculator or a 7yr old with you to try and work out the best price.

            ~~~ Packaging ~~~

            Pampers Baby Dry are quite distinct in their bold aqua-green wrapper with the large white 'Pampers' logo on the front. The size is displayed on the front in a coloured band which should in theory make it easier to find the one you need, however you move up the sizes so quickly that you'll just get used to one and it's time to move on to the next! The actual number of nappies is a much smaller number below the size. There's a load of info about how great the nappy is, shown in detail with lots of sciencey bits involving arrows, and the obligatory photo of a gorgeous, happy baby wearing said nappy. Sadly, the rear of the packet fails completely to provide instructions on how to put a nappy on - not everyone is an expert...when my mum changed my son's nappy for the first time (she used cloth nappies with me, so had never experienced a disposable before) she managed to put it on perfectly back-to-front.

            There is also a small logo on the side of the packet which I'm sure most people would miss (I certainly hadn't seen it until now) which signifies that once the packet has been opened, the contents should be used within 12 months. I have no idea why, and I recently used nappies that have been in the drawer for nearly 3 years when I came across them, with no apparent ill-effects, but I'm sure there must be a reason for it.

            ~~~ The nappy ~~~

            Once you get into the pack, the nappies are packed in REALLY tightly together so they're really flat when you take them out. They're basically white with pastel coloured cloud motifs all over them and a multicoloured picture to the waistband. You can tell the front from the rear as the front has a picture, the back just has a Pampers logo.

            Open the nappy out and you find that these have lots of stretchy bits in them in strategic places. There are two green tabs to the rear section which stretch around when the nappy is in place and attach themselves Velcro-style to the waistband on the front. You can then peel and re-stick these pads as often as you like to get the best fit or check whether you need to change, and they never seem to lose their stickiness. It can stick to the baby's skin when you're taking it off, but not so much that it causes any discomfort when you remove it. I've noticed on cheaper nappies that there isn't as much stretch, which I can only imagine is less comfortable for the baby. The materials used for the front and rear of the nappy vary: there is green stuff at the front and white at the back, presumably each designed to soak up different types of nappy-fill.

            The picture on the waistband looks lovely, but is something that I've heard many mums, myself included, moan about. The nappies I've got in front of me at the moment are size 5 and have Fisher Price Little People characters on them, but I have seen other characters in the past. I think this is pointless, and creates more problems than it solves...when my first baby was about 2 and throwing regular tantrums, he would go wild if we tried to put a caterpillar nappy on him, and screamed blue murder until we could find a zebra or giraffe. Of course, you can't give in to all these demands, but if the nappies were just plain nappies, or all the same, then it would be just one less thing for those of us with difficult toddlers to worry about at bedtime.

            ~~~ 12 hours skin protection: it's true! ~~~

            The manufacturer has trademarked their 'Extra Sleep Layer' which they claim helps lock wetness away for up to 12 hours to help your baby sleep. And I can honestly say that I believe them on this one, as neither of my sons (4yrs, long out of nappies, and 15mths in Size 4-5) have ever experienced a leaking nappy through the night in Baby Dry. Both have, however, had nappy leaks in Huggies and Tesco's own brand through the night, which is a real pain when you're sound asleep and have to do a full bedding and clothing change because of a nappy leak. I therefore now always make sure that my baby is in a Baby Dry at bedtime.

            I've also used Active Fit nappies at bedtime simply because it was all I had to hand, and although these didn't leak, I've found that my baby woke a couple of hours earlier in the morning whenever he was in one of these. So in my opinion, the stuff about the extra-dryness IS actually true, and it DOES actually help my baby sleep for longer. Jackpot!

            The claim that they're keeping skin dry also seems to be pretty accurate. When I remove cheaper nappies, I often find that my son's skin is damp, but with these it does feel much drier.

            ~~~ Don't lob them down the stairs in the morning! ~~~

            (The nappy or the baby)...as my husband discovered when he was being lazy one day. The nappy hit the floor at the bottom and promptly exploded. They're full of what looks like the little balls of silica gel you get in sachets in new handbags etc, which is full of the absorbed moisture, and dropping it from a great height if it's full to bursting point can make the seams give way, showering your hallway in little balls of baby-wee. Lovely. Oh, how we laughed that morning.

            A friend told me that her son used to wee loads through the night and on a couple of occasions the nappy actually burst while he was wearing it. She did some research into the stuff inside as she was worried that it might be poisonous if he was to eat any of it, but apparently apart from being rather unpleasant, it is quite harmless so nothing to worry about.

            ~~~ The environment ~~~

            There are loads of debates about the negative effects on the environment of disposable nappies, and Pampers Baby Dry are no different. Although bio-degradable disposables are now available (Molotex, for example), Pampers have not yet cornered that market. While I personally do consider it to be a problem, I'm more concerned about keeping my son's skin healthy and dry whilst making life as easy and convenient for myself as possible, so I'm afraid that for me it'll always be disposables. Plus there's the debate about the amount of water and electricity used to clean cloth nappies. If they could make something as good and as cheap as Baby Dry that was better for the planet it would be perfect.

            ~~~ Pampers Village ~~~

            Pampers, like Huggies, are keen to develop brand loyalty and have developed a website that goes way beyond the scope of their nappies. You can find information about all aspects of parenthood and baby care and there are forums where you can chat to other carers. The website for this is simply www.pampers.com. The main benefit is that when you sign up, you usually receive a welcome pack in the post which includes money-off coupons against their products...if I'm honest, I joined up just for that and haven't been back again until today.

            ~~~ To sum up ~~~

            * They DO actually keep my baby's skin much drier than other brands
            * They definitely DO help my baby sleep longer in the morning
            * I've never had one leak, but other brands have done regularly
            * You need to change them less often, so you use less of them
            * Stock up when they're on offer, especially of sizes 4 and above as you get through the smaller ones quickly and the larger ones are quite versatile in the sizing.
            * They're a bit dearer, but soooooooo worth it for a better night's sleep!
            * Despite a few small niggles, they deserve 5 stars from me for these reasons.

            Happy nappy changing!

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            • More +
              20.05.2009 18:44
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              Definitely try before you buy. Or just don't buy at all.

              ~~WHY WOULD I WANT ONE OF THESE?~~

              My second son (who will be my last without question) was born when my first was already 3-and-a-bit years old and well and truly finished with his pushchair. This meant that we managed to entirely escape the whole concept of the double buggy, and buggy boards were something that I'd only ever heard of in 'Wanted' ads on Freecycle. Or so I thought...

              We've decided to blow the budget this year and actually go on a proper holiday, rather than the kind that you collect tokens out of the tabloids for, so we're off to France for a fortnight next month, which will include 3 days at Eurodisney. I've done a little research, and one comment that keeps cropping up is that young children - even those who have been out of a pram for several years - will probably struggle with all the walking they'll be doing at Disney. My eldest is now 4-and-a-half, and therefore fits into that category like a glove. I don't want the experience spoiled for him and us with him moaning about sore feet the whole time, so we had a think. The possible solutions included:
              1) Tough, he'll just have to whinge about it, it'll be character building.
              2) Take/lug around a second buggy which can double as lunchbag holder
              3) Carry younger son (15mths) for a while every so often so No 1 can use his buggy for a rest, or
              4) Invest in a buggy board.
              You've probably guessed by way of the fact that I'm reviewing this product, that we decided to try option 4.

              ~~COST~~

              So, armed with absolutely no clue whatsoever about the rather odd contraptions known as Buggy Boards, I set off for Mothercare. And promptly came home empty-handed. Seventy-nine-friggin-ninety-nine!!! Not on your nelly-sodding-duff. Fleabay, here we come...

              Which began my brief relationship with the Litaf 'Seat 2 Go' Buggy Hitchhiker.

              For £25 (local collection, so I saved the tenner postage), I took possession of a slightly scratched but perfectly serviceable Seat 2 Go. I was really chuffed with this: the ones I'd seen in Mothercare were just 'buggy boards' that the child could stand on...this didn't seem to make much sense, as their feet and legs would still hurt. But this one was really clever: it had a seat AND a footrest, so could be used either way. Looking on Amazon and Ebay, the 'new' price for these varied between £39 and £65 depending on the individual model, although I couldn't really see much difference apart from the colour, so as far as I was concerned, £25=bargain.

              ~~FIRST IMPRESSIONS~~

              I was disappointed at first in the colour - navy - as it wouldn't match my sleek black Quinny Zapp, but hey, it's only for 3 days use, so what does it matter? There is also something about it that looks a bit like an elderly person's mobility aid. I'm sure I've seem people with blue hair pushing these around with tartan baskets attached. But hey, it's only for 3 days use - I don't give a toss how cack it looks. But there's no denying it...this is one ugly bit of kit. Click on the picture above and tell me honestly that I'm lying...you can't, can you?!

              Unfortunately, my £25 didn't stretch to a set of instructions for it, but the lady I bought it from helpfully explained that all I had to do was unscrew a couple of knobs, place the clamp around the side bars on the pushchair and tighten. Then the extendable bar thing attaches to the bottom bar of the pushchair with an elasticated cord and we're ready to go. The board can also be quickly released by pressing on two large red buttons to release the struts from the clamps and unhooking the elastic, so you can easily take it off to fold down the pushchair. I lobbed it in the back of the car with the Quinny, and took it home excitedly to set it all up.

              ~~PUTTING IT TOGETHER~~

              As promised, I found it really simple to unscrew/clamp the bits onto the sides of my buggy. However I came slightly unstuck with the central 'probe'. My 3-wheeler pushchair has quite an unusual design at the back, with the confluence of many pieces of aluminium in exactly the position that this piece should strap on to. Not one to fall at the first hurdle, I decided just to push it to the side slightly and hope for the best. Perhaps if I'd had the instructions, there would have been further information on what you're actually supposed to do in these circumstances, or at least something to say 'don't do this', but ignorance is bliss, and it seemed to be sturdy enough my bodged way.

              ~~PLONKING THE CHILD ON IT~~

              Quite chuffed with myself that I had everything in order, I managed to prize my son away from the TV for 2 minutes, and plonk his back-side on the seat. Except that's where the trouble began: he didn't fit. The seat is so high up that his head was much higher than the back of the pushchair, and he had to lean really far forward - almost bent double - to sit on it. Oh dear. Perhaps this is because he's older/bigger than a 'toddler'? So I grabbed 14-month old baby brother and plonked him on it instead. But he also was too big. Although he could almost sit up straight, the back of the buggy was pushing his head forward as well, and his head was almost level with the bottom of the buggy handles. Admittedly the Quinny Zapp is a rather unconventionally shaped buggy, but it's handles are some of the highest around...that was the reason we bought it in the first place, as my husband is 6'4". So if the board is too high for the Quinny, then I don't know how it would cope on a lower buggy.

              ~~ROAD TEST: APPROX 12 METRES~~

              I was extremely disappointed with the results thus far, but decided that I'd come this far, so it would be daft not to give it a proper go. So both sons were dragged out to the garden and placed in their appropriate positions. Baby was fine in his comfortable buggy as normal, until big brother sat on the Litaf and bumped into baby's back...I suppose it would be a bit like the annoying feeling you get when someone is kicking the back of your seat on a bus. But with both disgruntled children now in the correct (or as near to correct as we were going to get) positions, I cautiously started to push along the garden path.

              The first thing I noticed (apart from 4yr old's whinging that he was uncomfortable and was missing Ben 10) was the fact that I had to stand about 2 paces behind my normal pram-pushing position. My buggy has got a fair slope on it anyway, so this should have been minimized compared to more upright buggies, and I'm quite tall which should help as well, but it was a very uncomfortable pushing position. When stepping forward, I had to stop my steps short or my ankles would have kicked against the board's footrest, and my knees against my son's knees. The buggy in the manufacturer's picture above is unnaturally upright - I don't know how anyone shorter than approx 8 feet would manage to push something that shape.

              The next thing that became apparent was the fact that my elder son could quite easily fall off the sides! And in fact he almost did when I turned the corner. The seat is flat with a slightly rough surface which provides a little friction, but there is nothing at the side to stop the child from leaning over. I feel that some little plastic armrests would definitely be an improvement here, particularly for the toddler-aged children this is designed for who may not have perfect balance anyway.

              About 10 metres into our expedition, we encountered our first obstacle: a 2-inch high step up. Not a chance. The pushchair managed without any effort, but the Seat 2 Go wasn't having any of it. With some effort I did manage to get it over the step, but the resulting bump was just too much for my son who said something I'm sure he didn't learn on cBeebies, and legged it. I can't say I was upset either...I'd had enough of this piece of tat. No wonder Mrs Ebay had such a smile on her face...£25 for this old piece of junk, ha ha ha. Anyone seen the episode of The Simpsons, where Homer gets a free trampoline?

              ~~REMOVAL OF CONTRAPTION~~

              Back inside, with children safely engaged in much safer activities such as twiddling the knobs on the gas fire and seeing if they could fit knitting needles into the electrical sockets, I removed the board. And in it's defence, the removal was as easy as was promised. Just press on the red buttons and the two side connectors slid out (which struck me at this stage as looking very flimsy: they're very similar in size and appearance to aerials you pull out the back of a portable radio). Did the untwisting of the elastic clip thingy, and unscrewed the knobs. Gone, never to return.

              The ease of the removal unearthed another design flaw...the red bits you press are on the underneath of the knobbly bits on the side of the seat (the bits that look like bug-eyes on the picture above). A child who was hanging on to the side of the seat for dear life could - not easily, but quite possibly - press on these buttons and inadvertently release them. If this happened at both sides at the same time, as the buggy pushes forwards, the seat would lean backwards and toddler'schild would end up one way or another falling backwards into the buggy or onto the ground.

              Had I been out and about somewhere, I wonder where I would now have put the released board? It's a fairly unweildy item. It doesn't fold down, and you're not going to fit it in the under-buggy basket or even a very large rucksack. You would therefore be stuck with it attached to the buggy (and the certain back pain from leaning forwards this would cause) whether the toddler wanted to sit in it or not.

              ~~HOW COULD THIS BE IMPROVED?~~

              Scrap the idea altogether. No, sorry, that's not constructive criticism. I think that they have made both the footrest and the seat far too high off the ground - if the footrest was much lower, and the seat at the approx height the footrest currently is, then children would be able to sit up straight. Better still, turn it around, so that the child is facing forwards and leaning the right way, and mum's feet can walk underneath it lessening the back pain. Also, I think the armrests are vital to stop kiddies falling off the side if you go over a bump. And make it look less like a zimmer frame.

              ~~WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS TO A FRIEND?~~

              I wouldn't even recommend this to a traffic warden.

              ~~ANYTHING GOOD TO SAY ABOUT IT?~~

              Not a lot. But the play on words in the title 'Seat 2 Go' is almost verging on mildly clever. It's a 'seat' to put your kid on if you need 'to go' somewhere. And it's a 'sea't for when 'two' kids need to 'go'. Genius. If only they'd put as much energy and inspiration into the design...

              ~~WANT MORE INFO?~~

              Are you mad?! But if so, the manufacturer's website (which is very European in appearance and severely lacking in content) is www.litaf.com. They can be contacted at their Israel office on +972-8-8694455. This might be a good idea if you're considering one... I only tried this with a Quinny Zapp so perhaps some of the problems wouldn't be so apparent if you had a different pushchair. I did search for compatibility information, but other than 'universal fit' and 'fits most pushchairs' I couldn't find any sort of list anywhere on t'interweb.

              ~~WHAT NEXT~~

              It's currently listed on Ebay, where I have deliberately avoided providing any descriptive information. Perhaps I should have held this review until the auction had ended...

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              • More +
                18.05.2009 23:51
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                Doncaster's greatest asset

                So, we all know where this airport is. We know that the terminal has a few bars, duty free shopping, car hire and car parking. Most of us probably also know that the main operator at the airport is Thomson, with Wizzair, Ryanair and FlyBe operating regular flights to Eurpoean destinations. But if you're flying from Robin Hood Airport, here's some stuff you probably didn't know that you can amaze your travelling companions with while the hostie demonstrates how to blow a whistle...

                ~So who owns the place then?~

                Ever flown from Liverpool? If so, the terminal might look rather familiar! That's because the same company that own and run Robin Hood (Peel) also own Liverpool John Lennon Airport and they used the same basic design for both terminals. Peel also own Durham Tees Valley (aka Teesside Airport) and City Airport Manchester (aka Barton airfield - not to be confused with Manchester 'proper' airport!). Peel Airports are part of the larger Peel Holdings, who are the bucks behind the Trafford Centre in Manchester as well as several seaports and numerous other smaller ventures.

                ~Everything's shiny and new, isn't it?~

                Sort of. Although the airport opened its doors to the commercial public for the first time in April 2005, there has been an airport in Finningley since 1936. It had many uses over the years, but was finally closed by the MOD in 1996. Peel bought the place in '99 (conveniently just 10 years after some mega-mega-bucks runway resurfacing had taken place) and spent the following six years developing it into the first commercial airport to open in the UK since the post-war aviation boom of the 1950's. So all the 'front of house' type stuff is brand new: the terminal building, car parking, hotel and apron (the aeroplane parking lot). But if you look around you'll see 5 enormous hangars which have been there for many years. The runway and taxiways are largely the same as they were during the war. Even the air traffic control tower is the same one that was used by the RAF.

                ~So what am I looking at while I'm sitting in Wetherspoons?~

                Once you're airside (i.e. after security control) you can take advantage of the expanse of glass that the terminal is made of, and watch the world fly by while you enjoy your pint. As you stand in front of this large window, you're facing east. Immediately in front of you is the main apron (nothing to do with cookery or masons) which has 8 main stands for aircraft to park 'nose-in' to the terminal. Beyond this is the link taxiway which leads onto the parallel taxiway and the runway.

                Looking straight out across the field you'll see several smaller buildings. The most recognisable is the Air Traffic Control tower with it's 360 degree glass visual control room. To the right of this is the Airport Fire Station. Also housed in this area is the engineering department (the guys who'll mend things that break, like baggage belts or runway lights) and Air Traffic Engineering (who tinker with radios and beacons and things).

                ~What's the big red and white thing that's spinning around?~

                The radar. This is located between the ATC tower and the Fire Section. It was installed in 2006, but as yet still hasn't been fully commissioned for use. The radar does some cool technical stuff (way beyond the scope of this review!) which plots a picture on the controller's display. This provides the controller with position information so they can keep everyone out of each other's way. Bizarrely, the information that is displayed on the Doncaster radar controller's display isn't at all realted to the machine spinning on the airfield...it is piped out from a combination of RAF Waddington and RAF Scampton (both near Lincoln). Even more bizarrely, Doncaster's radar control is actually done by a bunch of people sitting in a room underneath the ATC tower in Liverpool, thanks to some clever wiring and a lot of telephone conversations between them and the guys waving to you from the tower, who are the only ones who can see the info the airfield radar is providing, but only use it for very basic position info. It sounds a bit odd, but works really well in practice.

                ~Which way will we point when we eventually take off?~

                There's only one strip of tarmac, but that's actually classed as two runways. There's Rwy 20 (southerly, from left to right as you see it from the terminal), and Rwy 02 (northerly). Selection of runway depends on many factors, but mainly the wind direction. So if you look over at the windsock and treat it like an arrow, if it is pointing to the left, you'll start at the left and take off towards the right (Rwy 20) and vice-versa. If it's pointing to neither end or is totally flaccid, you won't be able to guess.

                ~The windsock pointed one way, but we went another!~

                If the wind is only very light, Doncaster operate a policy of noise abatement for local residents. That means that whenever possible, aircraft take off from Rwy 02 and land on Rwy 20. This can only be done when it's quiet though, otherwise you'd have things taking off into the teeth of things on approach, which generallly isn't a good thing!

                ~So I've made it onto the aircraft. Where next?~

                Once everything is ready, the captain will call ATC for permission to 'push and start'. The aircraft will be pushed back by a tug under the pilot's nose in a manoeuvre that's akin to a 3-point-turn, and the engines will be started. Once that's been done, the aircraft will taxi out towards whichever runway is in use.

                ~It's dark. How does the pilot know where to go?!~

                There's a complex system of lighting, that's standardised at every airport throughout the world, so you can relax in the knowledge that your pilot should find his way to and from the runway without too much of a problem. The yellow signs you see with 'C1', 'A4' etc on them are holding boards, and you'll stop at one of these if you're waiting for another aircraft to pass or land. Other similar boards mention 'CAT I' and 'CAT III' - these refer to holds appropriate to the level of landing system (ILS category) that will be in use depending on the weather. By day in good weather you can expect to hold at A1 or A7 before take-off. At night or in poor weather, it's more likely to be A2 or A6 as these are slightly further from the runway so offer greater protection, and have better lighting.

                ~We went onto the runway, taxied for ages to the end, then turned around for take off. Why?~

                The parallel taxiway is only wide enough for aircraft up to as big as a Boeing 757, so anything bigger has to taxi along the runway and then turn at the end instead. Or sometimes there might be a blockage on the taxiway and it's closed. Or sometimes ATC might just feel like sending you that way!

                ~We're flying to Spain, but I swear we're heading north!~

                You probably are! There are two main routes out of Doncaster for commercial flights - one heads northwest initially to join the Airways (motorways in the sky) structure at a point called UPTON (over Wakefield way), the other at ROGAG (out towards the east coast). So although you want to go south, you've got to go north initially, then out to the west to get on the correct airway before you're heading towards the sun.

                ~So will my bags make it to Alicante with me?~

                Yeah, of course they will!

                ~So, after all that...~

                I know this review won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to give a bit of a glimpse into some of the operational aspects of Robin Hood Airport rather than just another description of the shopping and food (which I don't know too much about anyway if I'm honest). A lot of it is relevant to other airports, but much will apply solely to Doncaster. The info here has obviously been greatly simplified as it would be impossible to describe the entire airport operation in a few paragraphs, but if there's anything that you think I've missed out, please ask in the 'comments' box and I'll do my best to find the answer out if I don't know it and add it to the review.

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                • More +
                  17.05.2009 21:22
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                  Makes me hate doing the jobs I hate even more!

                  I'm a bit of a price tart with cleaning products - I never buy the uber-cheap stuff, but I generally buy whatever brand is the cheapest but looks as though it will do the job. That was how I discovered Mr Muscle Kitchen Spray.

                  In my local Asda a few months ago, there was a fab deal with loads of top branded cleaning products on 2 for £1. Needless to say, I spent about £20 and stocked up on all sorts of necessities including 8 bottles of this stuff. I'm on my third now, so I've given it a fair go.

                  ~The Brand~
                  Everyone must be familiar with the Mr Muscle brand...the weedy little guy in specs (who for some reason doesn't wear a t-shirt?) who can get the house spotless in an instant with help from his great cleaning products. Well, on looking properly on the bottle of this new spray, I'm guessing they've decided to have a bit of an image re-vamp as it shows a large bloke with loads of muscles wearing orange spandex. The jury is still out on whether that's an improvement or not!

                  ~The bottle~
                  Quite unmissable, the actual container is bright yellow and the trigger spray is orange and white. There is a large green label with aforementioned 'hunk' on the front and the usual small (very small) print on the back. The nozzle has a square twist cap to it, which you can swivel around between 'ON' and 'OFF'. Slight complaint there in that it is very difficult to read which one you've selected as they are only very faintly embossed. Not a problem if you want to select 'ON' as you just move on if you've got the wrong one, but if you're looking for 'OFF' and you get 'ON'...

                  ~The smell~
                  Within a few seconds of spraying this, I find the smell really overwhelming. So much so that I have to open the windows if I'm cleaning more than a very small area. I won't use it if the kids are in the kitchen as I don't like the idea of then breathing in such potent fumes. I find that if I'm having a thorough kitchen clean then it is just too strong - it doesn't stop me from using it, but it would be much better if it did have the nice lemon scent promised on the bottle rather than the 'bleach with a hint of chemical' aroma that it does have. It says on the back of the bottle: "Do not breathe spray. Use only in well-ventilated areas", so I suppose they're giving some warning, but I feel a headache starting if I'm working with it for a while even with the windows open, which surely can't be good. It sounds trivial, but it really does affect my use of the product as I feel that the headache must be telling me something, such as 'don't breathe in those fumes'!

                  ~Anti-bacterial~
                  This is the essential word that I look for on the packaging of kitchen sprays, as I have two young kids and a husband who thinks that looking in the direction of the sink constitutes washing his hands. However, the manufactuerer doesn't make too much of a deal about this on the packaging, so I don't know whether or not it compares to other brands such as Dettol for the ability to kill the very worst germs.

                  ~Does it work?~
                  Yes. It doesn't really do much different from other kitchen cleaner sprays that I've used, but it certainly does the job. I find it particularly good at removing greasy mess which some other cleaners can smear around, but Mr Muscle lifts it right off into the sponge. For normal mess it's sufficient just to spray and wipe, whereas dried in mess takes a little longer. I usually spray all the worktops at once (trying to avoid breathing for the duration!) then start wiping over the cleanest part first, giving the dirtiest areas around the cooker longer for the chemicals to penetrate the stains. It's also not too bad on the stainless steel dishwasher door, which some cleaners leave really nasty streaks on.

                  ~What about on cooker hobs?~
                  Not so good on this front in my house. We inherited a halogen hob in this house, which combined with my rather poor cooking skills leave us with a lot of thoroughly baked on messy, crusty lumps on the hob. I spray whichever cleaner I'm using on on and leave it for a while, and this product does lift some of it off with the help of the scouring side of the sponge, but it rarely cleans it off fully so I tend to just wipe over and give a periodical thorough clean with Astonish gunk to get the heavy stuff off.

                  ~Quantity~
                  As I said earlier, I bought 8 bottles several months ago and I have used just over 2 of these in 3 months although I have used other cleaning products as well as I keep finding half-used bottles around the house! Each bottle is 500ml which is a nice size to hold without being too heavy but not so small that you have to replace it every five minutes.

                  ~Environmental~
                  This probably isn't going to win many green points. For those who understand such things, the list of ingredients includes:

                  Quaternary ammonium compounds, benzyl-C12-18-alkyldimethyl, chlorides (0.025%), Quaternary ammonium compounds C12-14-alkyl [(ethylphenyl) methyl] dimethyl, chlorides (0.025%). Also <5% non-ionic surfactants, perfume (they didn't pick a very nice one...maybe they should try the fragrance counter at Boots next time), Linalool, Citronellol and Disinfectants.

                  I haven't got a clue what most of that means, but it sounds like a bucket load of chemicals which are going to end up one way or another going down the plughole. I'm no tree-hugger, but I do sometimes wonder if quite as many un-pronouncables are really necessary in an everyday product like this. Furthermore, it seems a little wasteful to have a spray bottle that just gets thrown away after a few weeks - it would be more responsible if they could sell the bottles separately and then sell cheaper refill cartons.

                  ~Skin~
                  As you'd expect of anything with so many non-organic ingredients in it, this doesn't exactly do wonders for your skin. I'm too lazy to wear rubber gloves every time I want to wipe the worktop down, but I always wash my hands after I've used this stuff as I find it does dry the skin out and leave a bit of a residue. In their defence, it does say on the bottle that you should avoid prolonged contact with the skin and wash and dry hands after use.

                  ~Would I buy it again?~
                  At normal price, no way. If it was on 2-for-a-quid again, probably. The smell is by far the worst aspect for me, but other than that it does a good enough job and I'd buy it if it was cheap enough. Saying that, I can't wait to finish the remaining 5.5 bottles that I've got in the cupboard so I can get something a bit less pongy.

                  ~Overall rating~
                  I've given this 2/5 stars. That might seem harsh for something that does the job adequately, and if it wasn't for the smell I'd have given it 4/5 as the only thing it doesn't do well enough is the hob. But the fumes are just too much for me to bear, so I'm knocking it down a couple of pegs on that basis. If other manufacturers can make things less potent, why can't Mr Muscle in his orange spandex?!

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                  • More +
                    03.03.2009 15:43
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                    If you've not tried this and you like toffee - DO!

                    There seems to be a bit of confusion over the actual name of these yogurts, which can be a bit of a pain if you're trying to do an online shop! On the lid, it gives the full title of Alabama Chocolate Fudge Cake, but the label on the side calls it only 'Chocolate Fudge Cake' (probably because they couldn't fit the ridiculously long title on the small label!), and it's a bit confusing if you're looking for one thing on the shelf but it's actually another. Also, not all of the supermarkets actually sell it online. My local Asda and Tesco don't even though it is available in the store.

                    Anyway, all that's not important in the slightest once you actually get hold of one, take it home and get the lid off it...IT'S GORGEOUS!!!

                    Most people are familiar with the concept of 'corner' yogurts so I won't elaborate on that, suffice to say there are two sections inside. The large section contains the yogurt. This can sometimes have a little watery stuff on top, but when you mix it in, it'a absolutely fine. When you stir up the yogurt, you discover the toffee sauce. I don't know where or how they manage to hide this, but they do! In all honesty, this sauce is probably for effect rather than anything else as they could easily have pre-mixed it, but it works - it gives a really luxurious feel to the whole dessert. On its own, the yogurt and sauce combined are very nice - like toffee yogurt but sweeter.

                    The best bit for me, though, is what's in the other triangle...sweeties! There are little chocolate covered biscuit balls (I think these are the same as the ones in the Muller 'Chocolate Digestive' yogurt, though I wouldn't like to say for sure) which add some crunch, as well as the obvious chocolate, to the dessert. And then there are the little chunks of fudge - these are the highlight of the whole thing for me. They're chewy and sweet, and it is these that turn this dessert into something special.

                    So unless you are one of these highly restrained people who eat the sections separately, the overall result is a very sweet (but not sickeningly so in my opinion), creamy yogurt with crunch bits, a little chocolate, and some chewy toffee. Yum!

                    Like all good things, there's a negative aspect: this is NOT going to make you thin. I really wish they could make something that tasted this good in their Light range, but at a smidgen under 250 calories per pot, it's not the one to choose if you're on a diet. But if you just want an absolutely gorgeous yogurt then you've got to try one of these.

                    Normally sold at around 54p in Supermarkets, look out for these when they're doing the ever-returning Muller special offers. You generally get about a month on the Best Before, so you can stock up on them safe in the knowledge that you'll certainly get through a couple of dozen of them in that time.

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                    • Fisher Price Royal Potty / Baby Care / 38 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                      04.02.2009 16:00
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                      Good, but lose the musical feature.

                      I'll be honest - I own two of these, but have never used either myself :)

                      Got the first one for my son when we started potty training when he was about 2. When it started in earnest, we picked another up as it was much easier to keep one in the car for 'out and about' trips, gran's house etc.

                      We were initially drawn to the Royal Potty because of the shape of it. It's throne like, but without the frilly embellishments that make many similar items seem girly. This would be suitable for a girl or boy, but is especially good for boys because there is a detachable green section at the front to prevent anything sprouting out over the top. We've tried a few other potties, and this was by far the best for keeping all liquids pointing firmly downwards.

                      This potty has good sturdy legs which don't wobble or slide around. I've seen others which aren't as secure, but this one is quite solid. The little arms are a nice touch as well, and may help some children feel secure in the seat, and less likely to fall off the edge. There's no lid, which is a disadvantage as you can't just shut it over to keep the stench inside if you can't empty it immediately for any reason! But it's also a good thing as it's one less thing for the child to forget to do, thereby preventing 'cling-film toilet rim' type incidents.

                      Underneath the white seat, there is a removeable green bowl which slides in and out like a drawer. Handy, as you just need to pull it out and take it to the loo to dispose of the contents without having to take the entire potty, but it can sometimes stick on the runners slightly, causing a little bit of a jerk as you pull it out. On any other item, you probably wouldn't notice, however if there's rather a lot of sloppy mess inside the bowl, that little judder can be enough to cause a bit of a splash...and when junior tries to be helpful and empty it himself...say no more!

                      The bowl is a good enough size (sorry, TMI alert here...) for holding two or three wees and a poo or two, but when my son was out of nappies at night but still not using the bathroom toilet, we kept the potty in his room. On a couple of occasions, we would return in the morning to find it very close to overflowing, and the annoying little catch on the slider when you pull it out meant that we used rather a lot of anti-bacterial spray on the floor during those months. I'm sure this could be avoided, and we ended up standing it on a plastic sheet just in case, but it's worth thinking about if you've got a child who produces more than the average amount.

                      One of the main features of the Royal Potty is that it plays a little tune to reward the child every time they 'do' something. I can't really say too much about the merits of this feature as we removed the batteries after the first week. For some reason, our potty would just play the little ditty at random throughout the day and night, and didn't always respond to something being dropped into the bowl. If my littl'un was fidgeting around while sitting on the potty waiting for something to happen, the movement would also set if off which defeated the object of the supposed 'reward', so we decided against this altogether. To be honest, I think it's a bit of a gimmick. Perhaps some children would be pleased to have a tune played for them every time they used the toilet, but for most the novelty would wear off quite quickly, and it may even get a bit annoying. Certainly for their parents!

                      The main drawback of the potty is that the rear of the seat-hole doesn't extend quite far enough back. My son has fairly average toilet habits, but every time he did a Number 2, it managed to smear itself all over the back of the bowl. To make this worse, there's a little ridged sensor for the tune-playing device, which is right in the firing line! This needs cleaning often (almost ever poo) as it gets very dirty, and unlike the smooth seat, the little ridges do trap mess and make it much more difficult to keep clean.

                      The potty is lightweight and sits quite well on the seat of a car (handy if you're out and about and have an awkward child who won't use public toilets!). The models I have are identical to that shown in this picture, except that where there's a large sticker on the back, mine are hollow so there's a handle for carrying it about. I'm not sure what they've replaced it with, but it would be far more difficult to carry without the handle.

                      In the box, you also get a reward chart and some stickers - again a bit of a gimmick, but maybe handy for some people. We never used it.

                      All in all, I still think it's the best that was available in this price range (I paid about £20 each for them in Argos) but there are a few drawbacks that prevent it from being absolutely perfect. If you're really efficient then it's probably ideal, but if you think there's any chance that it might overflow, or the cleaning of the sensor on the back will annoy you, then forget it!

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                      • Philips GC7220 / Iron / 33 Readings / 31 Ratings
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                        01.02.2009 23:46
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                        Honestly, get one of these if you want to reduce ironing time.

                        I'm yet another person who only got this iron as it was going for £20 through the Bzz Agent campaign. I'd previously bought a £150 Tefal steam generator, but took it back to the shop unopened when I came to my senses.

                        Until recently, I have paid someone else to do the ironing for me. Lazy? Yes. Did I care? No. But then Eva moved back to Poland, and I found the ironing pile taking over. I had a lightbulb moment: I could use the iron I'd got for £20 to iron some of the clothes that were taking over my house.

                        So I did. And then I did some more. And I almost started to enjoy it. This iron totally revolutionises the ironing experience. I began to realise why Eva had been so happy to use it. It wasn't just for the free cup of tea I let her make herself when she was finished, it was because it really did give a sense of achievement to watch the creases vanishing.

                        It makes some rather peculiar noises, and seems to cough and splutter quite a bit throughout. It also produces a LOT of steam, and drinks a lot of water, so it's a good idea to get a large jug or 2litre bottle of the stuff beside you, or you'll be back and forth to the sink every 5 minutes. It's definitely not safe to use if there are kids running about as they could quite easily be scalded when it has one of it's hissy-fits. But all that misses the point: it does the ironing quickly.

                        I enjoyed using it so much that I haven't yet found someone else to do the ironing for me. Now, that's partly because I haven't managed to find anyone daft enough, but I really have nothing like the phobia that I had Pre-GC7220, and I may even do some more ironing with it again. If not, I know that I'll be getting twice as much done for the hourly rate as I would with a traditional iron, so it's a win-win situation.

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                        • More +
                          01.02.2009 23:18
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                          Nice toy if you can pick one up cheap.

                          I received one of these as a 'hand-me-down' from a friend when I had my first baby 4 years ago. I wouldn't say that it was one of his favourite toys, but he certainly gave it some attention.

                          The most notable thing about the one that I had was that instead of saying 'Five' you pushed the final shape in, it said 'Zwei'! I have no idea why, and haven't seen anyone else talk about one of these speaking German, so perhaps it was a complete oddity.

                          The pot itself has a really nice friendly face on it, that instantly seems to appeal to babies. It is activated by pushing little buttons on the five shaped holes around the side, which the shapes do if you insert them into the correct place. There's a lid to keep it all inside when not in use, although ours fell off a few times and it took some effort to keep it all together (it's so easy to lose bits of kids toys).

                          As well as speaking the numbers, the pot giggled which is quite cute. The only problem with this was that it had a habit of giggling at random, especially in the dead of night, and a giggling pot in the middle of the night sounds slightly sinister. Almost as sinister as one that speaks German to you. I think the vibrations from a nearby railway line may have caused this, as several of our toys seemed to make noises at random and we had no other reason to suspect the work of a poltergeist, so something to be wary of if you have experienced this with other toys.

                          I would say that this is definitely a toy that most little kids like, way beyond the advertised 6 months, but perhaps a little overpriced at the RRP of £12ish. If you can pick one up at a boot sale for a quid or two, then it's money very well spent.

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                          • Dualit Bread 6 Colours / Toaster / 20 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                            01.02.2009 23:00
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                            The ultimate kitchen style accessory with substance.

                            This really is the mother of all toasters. I've got it in red, and it is quite a beast.

                            I bought it because I've got a bit of a fetish for expensive designer kitchen appliances. Especially red ones. And I have not been disappointed in any way with this one.

                            ~~Style~~

                            This toaster IS style. It's chunky, funky, sleek and stylish all in one. It has a mirror finish front with red enamelled end panels, two black dials to the right hand side and a satisfyingly bulbous large black lever on the front. There's absolutely no mistaking that it's a Dualit - the large embossed letters are there for anyone who doesn't recognise the distinctive styling. There's something about the 6-slice version of this that the smaller ones just don't have - it really says 'I mean business. I'm not just here to look pretty.' and it's quite right, but it does look extremely pretty into the bargain.

                            ~~Toasting~~

                            Until you've got used to the way this works, it's quite easy to set your toaster running for a couple of minutes, and return to find totally uncooked bread. That's because you have to remember 4 different things if you want to succeed. Miss any of them, and you've failed - but it's really not rocket science, it's toast, so 99% of the population should just about get the hang of it. My mum managed, so perhaps even 100% could.

                            Firstly, set the dial to the number of slices you've got. Pick too many and you're wasting power. Too few and only some of them will toast. Secondly, lower the bread by raising the large black lever on the front. Thirdly turn the mechanical dial to the required number of minutes. It toasts quite quickly, so you may need to experiment to get the required level of black/whiteness. Finally, and most importantly, don't forget to turn the socket on at the wall! Because the timer is mechanical rather than electric, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that the whirring noise signifies toasting. It doesn't!

                            Once you've managed all of those highly scientific steps (which, incidentally, you can do in just about any order...the permutations are endless), you can return to check your toast as many times as you like, and this has the advantage of being pop-able at any point without having to stop or reset the timer - just push down on that lever again and the bread pops up. Back down again and it toasts some more.

                            ~~Cleaning~~

                            When you've got something as special as this in your kitchen, you want to keep it clean. There's an integral crumb tray which just slides out, and you can do the old 'hold it upside down over the sink and shake' trick to clear anything loose that's rattling around inside.

                            The body of the toaster is surprisingly easy to keep fingerprint free as there's very little need to touch the shiny silver part - to move it around I generally use the red part, which doesn't mark. The silver part can be brought up to a shine with a quick squirt and buff with some glass cleaner.

                            ~~Overall~~

                            I can't really say anything bad about this. Perhaps if I was being picky, they'd make it slightly easier for simple folk to use, but simple folk probably wouldn't spend £150+ on one of these anyway. It is a lot to pay, but in my opinion it's worth every penny. There are few toasters that have the WOW factor - this is most definitely one of them.

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                            • More +
                              01.02.2009 22:08
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                              The original, and probably the best.

                              I bought myself and husband this iPod for our Christmas with some vouchers that we had, and it is our first venture into the world of MP3. Does anyone know what MP3 stands for anyway?!

                              So far, I have been delighted with it. For those of us who are really not too good with anything more complicated than a lightswitch, it's very user friendly. After I had discovered that you can spin the wheel around to navigate the menu (no joke - for three days I thought you could only select the top item) and that iTunes was actually quite a simple concept, me and t'ipod started to get on together quite well.

                              I've started the task of 'ripping' my CD collection on to the iPod - not as painful or labour intensive as it may sound. Takes a little while to get started (if you're thick like me) but once you're going, it's a really simple process.

                              I tried to put some photos onto it, but apparently these are in the wrong format (they're JPG) and I've not worked out what I'm doing wrong there yet. The user manual is fairly basic which is good on one hand, but a little irritating if you want to read up on something in a little more depth. You can get it online - I'm just lazy.

                              The iPod classic is much bigger than a lot of other MP3 players, but that's probably because it stores about 100 times more stuff than those do, which is fair enough really. I was a little disappointed that the 'silver' finish really is that - it reminds me of the legs on an Ikea table, rather than the swish bit of kit that it is. But hey, if that's the only thing wrong with it, who am I to complain?!

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                              • Bumbo Baby Seat / Nursing / 18 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                                01.02.2009 21:45
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                                Try before you buy if you can.

                                I bought my first Bumbo 3 years ago, and my second a week later. As soon as I plonked my chubby little cherub into it, I realised that I really was Onto Something Good. I could dump him in the Bumbo, plonk it in front of some Teletubbies, and do all the things that are so difficult if you've got 15lbs of baby sitting on your hip. So one lived in the lounge, the other in the kitchen for easy baby-plonking at every opportunity.

                                I then discovered that I could stick the Bimbo in the dishwasher, and it became the highchair as well. Well, lowchair really, as you're not supposed to use it on a raised surface in case the baby climbs out. But that was the third massive advantage: he couldn't get out! Until he was 11 months old, my little boy was well and truly wedged in his Bumbo (we let him out occasionally, obviously, as we didn't want Social Services calling). Then he started to get a bit whingy, so one was passed onto a friend, and the other was stowed away for baby No. 2.

                                Unfortunately Baby No 2 was put in the Bumbo, and promptly climbed straight out of it. So we tried again. And he climbed straight out again. Which is no mean feat for a 4 month old who is barely learning to crawl. We've tried several times, but each time we put him anywhere near it, he's out like a rocket. It looks like the Bumbo is destined for the online auction along with all the other hand-me-downs that were fab for No 1 but useless for No 2.

                                So I suppose the Bumbo is, like many other things, baby specific. But if you've got one of those babies that it works for, it's absolutely the very best thing you could ever buy to reduce the stress of parenthood. Apart from wine and chocolate.

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