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Never has the title of a book been more apt - this is indeed THE Sewing Book and it is the most useful and comprehensive book I have in my collection (and that's saying an awful lot.) I am a self taught seamstress, and with the help of this book, I was able to learn all of the basics and beyond, and turn my hobby into a steady income. The author, Alison Smith, trained as an art and fashion textiles teacher and now owns her own store and sewing school, so she is well qualified to instruct us, and her background as a teacher shows in her clear tutorials in this book. The Sewing Book is a large hardback book, though not unwieldy, and the large pages mean that there is plenty of room for clear photgraphs and diagrams, which are a godsend in sewing book. It is 400 pages long and is essentially a text book for any serious sewer and amounts to nothing less than a bible for beginners. It covers techniques for everything from home furnishings and accessories, to couture. It has three sections - Tools, Techniques and Projects. Tools - This section is as you would expect, a comprehensive list of the tools you'll need to start sewing. Starting with the basic sewing kit, and moving on through all the gadgets, with whole double pages dedicated to scissors, pins and needles and threads, you'll be in no doubt as to what you might need for any project. Each page has clear, full colour photographs, so you can find out just what that weird thing that you never use in your sewing kit is, or walk confidently into a haberdashery and know what it is you're looking at. It then moves on to fabric, and I still find these pages invaluable, as it takes you through wools, cottons, silks and even interfacing, detailing the thread and needle choice, pressing instructions, seam suggestions and uses, all accompanied by a picture. The final part is patterns, and again, this is something I come back to constantly. Beginning by teaching you how to read and understand patterns, it then introduces you to how to properly measure a body and then how to alter patterns in all the different areas possible. Techniques - This is the largest section of the book, over 200 pages, and my word is it thorough! To mention every single technique covered would make this review enormous! The parts that make up the techniques section are: - Stitch Essentials - Darts, tucks, pleats and gathers - Facings and necklines - Collars - Waistlines, belts and tie-backs - Sleeves and sleeve finishes - Pockets - Hems and edges - Fasteners - Linings and interfacings - Professional techniques - Mending I don't think there is anything you could hope to learn about sewing that isn't in this section. It is simply indispensible, and while other books cover similar material, none is as precise, as well thought out and as detailed as The Sewing Book. Every technique is accompanied by photos for each step, so even if the wording confuses you, the pictures make it clear what needs to be done. My only gripe, and it is small, is that sometimes it is not always clear which side is the right side and which is the wrong side in the photos, but the accompanying text usually clears up any doubts. The author almost takes you by the hand and leads you through each technique carefully and slowly, so as you always know exactly what you're doing. I never once felt lost while using this section. If you ever do get a bit overwhelmed by the terminology, there is a clear and concise glossary in the back to help you out. Starting out, I was nowhere near able to attempt some of the techniques but as I progressed as a dressmaker, I was able to tackle more and more of them. In a rather handy touch, each part of this section is colour coded at the top of the page, and all the fabric used in the tutorials is the same colour - so the headings in the belts section are orange, and all the belts are made using orange fabric. So over time using it, you come to be familiar with these colourings and can navigate this huge section a little better! Projects - This is the weakest section of the book. It is clearly here so as you can build on what you've learned in the book right away, without having to buy additional patterns or books, but the projects lack flair, in my opinion, and are rather generic. Luckily though, there is plenty of scope for you to personalise and adapt them. There are 18 projects in here, some of which seem a bit dated, and none are so terribly original that you couldn't find them elsewhere, but don't discount them completely, even if you don't like the look of them immediately. The quilted book cover, apron, placemats and kimono dressing gown are perfectly lovely in their own right, and could be even better in pretty printed fabrics. There is also a few baby projects, a man's tie, and a great couple of pages on sewing aids, such as a scissor case, needle case and pin cushion. Again, the patterns feature the same combination of clear, precise instructions and helpful photographs and I feel that they'd be suitable for most beginners. Following all of this is a really helpful illustrated section on clothing and home decor terms. If you've ever wondered what an empire line dress is, or a wing collared dress shirt or an oxford style cushion, this will clear everything up for you. The book finishes with the glossary I mentioned before and an index. To sum up, this is a valuable, essential book for anyone who is just starting to sew, aiming to improve their technique, or perhaps a quilter who is moving onto dressmaking - everyone really! It is exhaustive and I have never encountered any instruction in a pattern or problem with a design that this book hasn't helped me out of. It comes with a dust cover, which I discarded, and is quite heavy. Sometimes I have problems getting it to stay open at the page I'm using, but that is such a minor concern. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in sewing, and in sewing your own clothes in particular. it is well worth the money spent and continues to be a fantastic guide to the world of sewing.
Knights and castles are pretty popular among young boys, and CBeebies has clearly hopped on board with their show, Mike the Knight, which is relatively new. As the title suggests, it's about a young knight-in-training named Mike, and it's actually a lot of fun. So, when I was looking for a treat for my son after a stay in hospital and two surgeries, I thought what better way to reward his bravery than this castle playset featuring brave Mike the Knight! I bought it during the summer, and it had only been available for a few weeks, so I paid full price for it in Argos (£29.99) but it is currently available on Amazon for £18.00. The set is approx. 10 inches tall and 12 inches wides. It is designed to look like Mike's bedroom in the show, and his horse, Galahad's stable underneath. The backside of the playset is disappointingly not a convincing facade of the outside of a castle, as I expected. There is brick work detail, and the Mike the Knight logo but all the visible screw heads would suggest that this set is only to be played with on one side. It didn't need much in the way of construction, with only the staircase needing clipped on. This comes off for easy storage, and, I assume, to stop it getting snapped off. Likewise, Mike's bedroom door can come off rather easily, but it simply clipped back in place. This is useful as I'd rather it came off the odd time than be snapped off beyond repair. In the show, Mike pulls a cord on his canopy bed and it flips up, allowing him to get into his armour and slide down the slide concealed under his bed, to land on his horse's back. The playset mimics this to a certain extent. The bed is lifted up manually, but stays in the upright position well untill it is put back down. Mike doesn't actually have any armour to put on - there is a sticker on the underside of the bed depicting his armour, but you can slide the little figure down the slide and into the stable. If it is possible to land the figure on the horse, we have yet to acheive it! The figure has a small square of plastic attached to his feet to help him stand, and this is inserted into a square hole on the horse's back to give the impression that Mike is riding it. The Mike figure is made of a slightly rubbery plastic, and only his arm can move. He is in his normal clothes in this set, not his armour. (It's worth noting that we also got a Mike figure in his armour separately, though he can't use the slide as he has a lance permanently fixed to his hand.) The set came with several accessories. Galahad the horse is fixed by his back legs to a black plastic base, and is hinged so he can rear up like he does in the show. As mentioned, he has a sizeable hole in his back, though a horse blanket accessory was included, probably to cover this up. It's made of the same rubbery plastic, and was pretty swiftly lost in our house. The set also included a treasure chest and two hay bales and a feeder to put them in. The stable area of the set has some pretty nifty features, like a swivelling trophy cabinet, a trap door hiding more treasure and a mirror. It also has four points on the base where other Mike the Knight sets can be attached to it. We bought the jousting arena set later, and it came with a piece of road that let us attach it to the castle. Overall, the quality of this set is very good. Although the castle is made with lightweight plastic, it hasn't cracked or chipped at all. The figures and accessories are all great quality too, though the horse blanket was a bit misshapen. Everything looks very much like the TV show, especially the figures. My son loves this set, and was thrilled to get it, and he spends a fair amount fo time playing with it. At the price I paid, I felt that it wasn't particularly great value, and that I was paying extra for the Mike the Knight brand. I took one star off for this reason. There's no denying that it's great for kids who love Mike the Knight and there are other sets to add to it to create a really fun play environment. I would suggest you shop around to get the best deal (Amazon seems to be the cheapest at the moment) though if your child is more into knights and castles in general rather than this particular TV show, you can get much more for your money.
Like any little boys of their age, my four year old sons love Transformers. However, they are not keen on the recent live action movies (declaring them 'a bit noisy and stupid' - out of the mouths of babes!) Instead, they adore the 1980's animated movie, in all its ridiculous technicolour glory, and so were drawn to these Transformers Bot Shots as they were just about the only Transformers toy that didn't seem to be a movie tie-in! Bot Shots are basically little cars or planes or other vehicles that when bashed together, transform via a spring loaded mechanism into a pretty simple robot. My sons have quite a collection of these now, including this Thundercracker one (or as my son calls it, Undercrackers, unintentionally causing hillarity!) Thundercracker is a bad guy (or Decepticon) and is a blue jet. However, he has four wheels and looks a lot like a car. When the front of the jet's nose is pressed (or bashed into another botshot) he transforms. The nose part of the jet flips back to reveal a head, the sides spread open as arms, and feet flip out at the end. The robot part is basically the underside of the vehicle. In comparison to other Transformers toys, this is the most basic of transforming actions, and yet, I find it the most satisfying. The kids can do it themselves, and they seem to be happy enough with the quality of both the jet and the robot. When it's time to transform him back, the part are simply flipped back and seem to be held in place by magnets inside the body of the toy. No need for me to spend hours with instructions trying to transform him. He also has a spinning section in his chest, which can be spun round to display sword, fist or blaster. This is another of those products (like the Star Wars fighter pods I've also reviewed) that is apparently also a game, the details and mechanics of which are slightly vague. As far as I can work out, players bash their Bot Shots together, causing them to transform. They then compare the images on the chests of their bots, which is decided much like rock, paper, scissors (Blaster beats Fist, Fist beats Sword and Sword beats Blaster - I had to go to the official website for this info.) However, my sons never play with them in this way, and unlike the Star Wars pods, they are enjoyable little toys in their own right. In fact, their little brother, who is two, is the biggest fan of these Transformers, and spends hours bashing them together while making transforming noises. Sometimes fights can break out over who gets to play with which bot, and I can safely say that they are more popular than any of their other Transformer toys. They are all great quality, and as of yet we have had no broken parts at all. Some characters, like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, are instantly recognisable, but others, and Thundercracker is one of these, seem to be recolourings of other Bot Shots. We also have a white and red jet that are basically identical but are ostensibly different characters. The robot version of each character often has different coloured detailing, to tell them apart, and while they are quite small, there is an impressive amount of detail put into the robot's faces. They are actually pretty cute. We bought all of our Bot Shots from Smyths, where they sell for £3.99 in single packs and are frequently on a buy one get one half price' deal. We recently bought a three pack for £4.99, so do shop around. I think they are great value for any young Transformers fans who aren't quite ready for the complex action figures. The box states that they are suitable for ages 5 and up, though as I've said, my two year old plays with them with no problems at all. Probably the game aspect would be better suited to older children, but perhaps the cute look and simple transforming action might put them off a bit. Overall though, these are really great toys, perfectly suited for young children who are often neglected when it comes to the toy tie-ins to huge franchises. I would definitely recommend them.
My other half is a massive Star Wars fan and on a recent trip to the toy store to get some 'Santa' gifts for our kids, he picked up one of these Star Wars fighter pods four packs. They were reduced in Smyths to £4.99 and my hubby wanted one with an R2 D2 figure in it. Luckily, they come in clear plastic domes, so he was able to find the exact one he wanted pretty easily. The figures available seem to come from all 6 of the Star Wars live action movies, as well as from the Clone Wars animated TV series. Inside the box are four tiny rubber figures and two plastic balls, that come apart in half so as you can put the figures inside. The figures have little holes on the bottom so they attach to a little spur inside the ball to hold them in place. I understand from the packaging that they are used in some sort of game, that seems to involve using the balls to knock down opposing figures. Kind of like an intergalactic version of marbles or skittles. The box is pretty vague on the details of how the game is played. To be honest, nobody in my house uses them in this way. My husband kept the R2 D2 figure he wanted, which he can now display on one half of the little pods, by attaching it to the little spur. The other figures in the pack were given to our four year olds - I feel that they are suitable for my sons to play with, though with younger children they would be a choking hazard, as they are very, very small. My sons play with them in much the same way they play with any action figures, and I'm quite pleased with this as it encourages imaginative play and they are happy enough acting out scenes from the movies with the help of some other Star Wars toys they own. The sculpt on the figures is very good, and the attention to detail was impressive enough to pass muster with my husband, who has been buying and collecting Star Wars figures for years and has spent a lot more than this on them. They are cute versions of the characters rather than realistic. I don't think I would have necessarily bought this set for my sons, but I was surprised at how much enjoyment they got out of the little figures - it turns out that they don't always need lights and sounds to keep them engaged! However, they seem expensive for what they are, even at the reduced price, and appear to be more of a collectible than anything else. The 'game' aspect is pretty poorly thought out, with little in the way of details on the packaging about how to play. I had to go to the website to find out how to do it, and I don't think that's something I should have to do when I buy a new toy! My husband would have me give them 4 stars as he is pretty pleased with the purchase (but agrees the game is rubbish.) I, however, not being blinded by a love of Star Wars, can't really justify that fourth star. Maybe if they were cheaper I'd feel more positive about them, but as it is, I feel like I'm paying for the Star Wars branding more than anything else.
Both my twins love Ben 10, but oddly enough, they don't have a particular favourite alien. So when we saw this Ultimate Echo Echo figure greatly reduced in Tesco, they were happy enough to have him, despite him not being one of the more popular characters. In fact, poor Echo Echo and NRG were the only figures left, and had been reduced to £3.00, so we got ourselves a bit of bargain. He is usually priced at around £7 and is for ages 4 and up. Ultimate Echo Echo is 15cm tall, and is a robotic looking blue alien. Although described as an action figure, he actually has very limited movement, wih only three points of articulation (his arms and neck) and even then, they don't move a great deal. His legs and waist are fixed, and his right arm is also fixed into a certain pose, that is with the palm held up facing forward, as he has some kind of weapon on his palm. His left arm features a disc launcher, and the figure comes with three discs. This feature was very popular in our house untill all the discs went mysteriously missing, as small parts are prone to do in any house with children. Because of the discs, this toy wouldn't be suitable for small children who put things in their mouths. The disc launcher is operated by pulling back a lever on his shoulder, and was easy for my four year olds to manage. The colours on the figure are very bright and the paint is of good quality. Despite being chucked around a fair bit, he hasn't suffered any scratches or fading detail. He is made of good quality lightweight plastic, and the parts of him that don't move are sturdy and durable. The arms, however, are a different matter. After only a few weeks of playing with him, Echo Echo lost both his arms. At first I thought the kids had been overly rough with him, but they don't generally break a lot og toys, and I've seen other reviews online where parents said the same thing. In fact, this is a problem we have had with other Ben 10 products, that they break very easily, and frankly, has put me off buying Ben 10 toys for my sons this Christmas. So, even though the rest of him is good quality and he is very true to the TV show in appearance, I can't really give him any more than 3 stars. If I had paid full price for this, I would have been very disappointed. I think toys aimed at little boys of this age should be able withstand a little bit of rough play without breaking.
I have terrible hair. There's no other way to put it. I have always had limp, thin hair that gets greasy very quickly, so although I've given up looking for a product that will magically make my hair thick and bouncy, I do switch shampoos quite often looking for one which will allow me to go two days before needing to wash it again as my scalp has been getting quite dry due to daily washing. This, however, caused another problem. I started developing spots on my neck and upper back. A little bit of research suggested that this might be caused by ingredients in the shampoo - namely Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. So I specifically sought out a shampoo with low or no sulfates, and thie Tresemme Naturals shampoo was one of the more affordable brands I came across. I've used Tresemme in the past, and never been particularly blown away by it but I wanted to see if the lower sulfate shampoo would clear up my back problems, and as long as it got my hair clean, I wasn't too bother about miracles. I went for the Nourishing Moisture shampoo (rather than the Vibrantly smooth version) as I also can't use conditioner very regularly, so I was hoping the shampoo alone would help retain moisture and sort out my dry scalp. I bought a 500ml bottle in Boots for around £4.00 which I felt was a good price as I was paying around the same for half as much Aussie shampoo before this. It comes it the typical black Tresemme bottle and smells lovely, kind of similar to other salon brands. It also lathered up really easily, and I found a little went a long way, especially on my fine hair. As for the results? My hair felt genuinely clarified and after about two weeks of using this shampoo alone, with no conditioner, I did notice that my hair seemed healthier, smoother and in great condition. My scalp also seems to be getting a lot better, as it isn't as dry and there are fewer flakes. I can also manage to go two days before having to wash my hair, though if I have a special occasion, I err on the side of caution and wash it again that morning anyway. The difference is that my hair and scalp aren't so damaged by all the washing anymore! And the breakouts on my back and neck are clearing up, which is probably the best result for me from using this product! Who knew that the right shampoo could actually take care of spots?! I suspect the low sulfate formula actually does have an effect on the skin, and I couldn't be happier that I finally found the cause of the problem and solved it. For this reason alone, Tresemme Naturals is now my go to shampoo! If you have problems with spots on your back or shoulders, I would really urge you to at least give this shampoo a try for a few weeks to see if it helps. You won't be compromising on your hair care and it could just be the solution. In the past, I've often had problems with shampoo becoming less effective the longer I use it, so I hope I don't have the same problem again with this, as it definitely makes my hair feel lighter, healthier and less weighed down by product than before, so it's a perfect all round hit!
My four year old sons are dinosaur mad. They have declared themselves dinosaur experts and have all manner of books on the subject. Unfortunately, while this is great in terms of their learning and vocabulary, it has made them a little bit more difficult to please when it comes to buying dinosaur figures. Good sized, good quality dinosaur figures are surprisingly hard to come by, with most toy shops, including our local Smyths, offering only Schleich figures. As a result, we have quite a number of Schleich dinos, including this Brachiosaurus. Schleich figures are always fantastic quality and their dinos are no exception. The detail is amazing, with scales and textured skin and even teeth rendered realistically, and the paint work looks as true to life as we can expect. My sons are often put off by dino figures that are crazily coloured and which can't be identified as any particular animal. This is far from the case with Schleich models. They all have the name of the dinosaur stamped onto the underside of their bellies (as well as the company name and trademarks) which is really handy when my sons forget the name of a particular dino and ask for my help! The Brachiosaurus doesn't come in any packaging, with the exception of a sticky tag around one leg, which means it can be played with right away by enthusiaistic little boys who have had to wait far too long on other ocassions while I struggle with over zealous packaging! It is made with thick rubber/plastic which is reassuringly heavy and that is flexible enough that it won't snap if my sons try to move the heads or tails around a bit. That being said, it's not so flexible that they can raise and lower the Brachiosaurus' head or move his legs. In that regard, it really is more of a model. This doesn't seem to deter their enthusiasm while playing with it though. It has been treated quite roughly - there have been quite a few epic dino battles in my living room, and it has spent some time carelessly flung into the toy box, but there has been no visible wear to the paint or any damage whatsoever. The Brachiosaurus is about 6.5 inches tall and he stands firmly on all four feet which is great as some cheaper dinos we have can't stand up. That brings me to the downside of this dino, and Schleich dinos in general - they can be rather expensive. While I understand that you get what you pay for, and hopefully my sons will still be interested in them for a good few years yet, it's not exactly pocket money friendly and isn't the kind of thing I feel happy about picking up as a treat when they've been extra well behaved. It cost about £5.50 (and other models can cost much more), and as I have twins, and automatically have to buy two dinos, the cost adds up quickly. A very generous auntie gave them a box full of Schleich dinos for Christmas last year, which has greatly boosted their collection, but I feel that these are toys for special occasions or to be saved up for. Overall, my sons adore their dinos and they really do get played with an awful lot. I suppose in that respect, they do represent good value for money, especially for the quality involved, but it's hard for me to not feel as though they are over priced. If you have children who are dinosaur mad, and perhaps even a little picky about whether their dino toys are realistic looking enough, Schleich dinos certainly fit the bill.
My twins sons were desperate for a play kitchen at Christmas last year, and Santa was very obliging and brought them one, complete with pots and pans. The only thing missing was the food, so my mother-in-law bought this basket of fruit and vegetables for them. There were two main reasons I asked her to buy this particular set rather than any of the other similar play food sets available. The first was the low price - she found it in a local shop reduced to £3.50. The second reason is that one of my sons has a real problem with eating paper and card that we are trying to help him get over. Most reasonably priced food sets comes with little card boxes that are printed to look like fish fingers or cereal or the like. I knew this would be a complete waste of money in our household, as even though I keep a close eye on him when he is playing with these sorts of toys, I knew it would end up eaten or a soggy mess. The hard plastic food meant it was safe if he or his little brother decided to chew on it. There are 21 good quality plastic fruit and vegetables in this set, and as of yet, none of them have ended up crushed or 'burst' as some cheap plastic toys of this nature tend to do. The variety of food has also meant that they have learned a lot about fruit and veg, as well as colours, as we sometimes play games where I ask them to indentify items in the basket. After learning about asparagus from this set, they then asked for me to buy asparagus when they spotted it in the supermarket (they didn't end up eating it though!) The little shopping basket has also proven to be quite tough, and hasn't cracked anywhere. The yellow handles do sometimes come off, but they are easy to put back on again. Overall, this basket has been a hit! They use the fruit in their kitchen (boiled lemon anyone?!) and also sometimes set up a little shop. It is perhaps not as interactive as other food sets - I have seen some where the carrots are velcroed together so as the child can 'cut' it up - but as a basic set of play food for young children, it's fantastic value for money.
I work from home as a seamstress and have gone through more than my fair share of sewing machines. I bought the FS40 earlier this year when my much beloved Brother Innov-is died. It was slightly more expensive than my previous machine, costing me around £250, which I think is a fair price for this kind of computer controlled machine from a well known and trusted brand. For those who don't know, a computer controlled sewing machine is one which sets the stitch length and style for you, rather than using control knobs to do it yourself, and this often results in more uniform stitching. As someone who uses a sewing machine a lot, a computerised machine is a must, and so the FS40 was perfect. It has 39 stitch settings, some of which are utility stitching, and others are decorative, which is ideal when top stitching a garment. It even has button hole settings, and the button hole foot for the machine is included. The machine method of creating buttonholes is quick and easy, and an absolute godsend for anyone who hates creating buttonholes, like me! Not every machine has this function. There are 5 different buttonhole styles to choose from on this machine. It also has setting for reinforced stitching, taking a lot of the work out of sewing. If you want to adjust the length or width of the pre-programmed stitches, there are two buttons on the light up display that allow you to do so easily. The machine can be controlled by either a foot pedal (which is included) or by a button on the front. I prefer the foot pedal, but I know some people don't and it is great to have this choice. There is also a speed regulator on the front. It has three settings, low, medium and high, and basically contols how fast the machine sews. So, on the low setting, you can press the pedal right down and it still only stitches slowly. I usually use the medium setting, unless I'm using a slippery fabric, like silk or satin, in which case a set it to low. There is also a needle up/down button on the front, which allows you to lift or lower the needle without using the wheel on the end. The wheel is still useful, however, as I use it to check that the needle will fall in the right place, particularly when I'm inserting zippers. The machine is cased in plastic, which may put some people off, however, all my sewing machines have been plastic cased, and I never had any problems with them. What's great about this is that it is lightweight enough that you can carry it around. So if you don't have a designated sewing room, you can easily lift it onto the kitchen table and then put it away again when you're finished. I would advise that you invest in a good case though, if you are going to be storing it, just to be on the safe side. Mine sits on my desk in my sewing room with a fabric cover on it to keep the dust off, and it seems quite happy! It also has automatic bobbin winding on the top, and when full, the bobbin just pops into a compartment on the machine's table. The cover is clear plastic and comes off with minimum hassle. It comes with the usual range of extra feet - buttonhole foot, overcasting foot, monogramming foot, zipper foot, zigzag foot, blind stitch foot and button fitting foot. The feet simply clip on and off, meaning that switching between them is easy. It also came with extra needles, though in my opinion, they aren't very good, and I use slightly higher quality ones. The needles are inserted and removed with the help of a chunky screwdriver that is also included, and is simple to do. It also has the capacity to have a double needle. The only downside of this machine is that there is no automatic needle threader, which is a bit of a pain. If you have trouble with your eyesight or trembling hands, you might find it next to impossible to thread the needle. I would advise trying this machine out in a shop to see how you get on threading it before you commit to buy. While I manage okay with threading it, I can't deny that it is a bit of a pain, especially if a sewing job isn't going well and I'm already grumpy and frustrated! Overall though, this is a great all rounder for people who do even a moderate amount of sewing. It came with an instruction manual and a DVD so there is plenty of help getting aquainted with it. It is perfectly suited to sewing clothes, accessories and home furnishings, and would suit beginners and more experienced dressmakers. Unless you want loads of fancy embroidery stitches, you really can't do much better than the FS40.
Our previous computer speakers were pretty ancient, and when the power plug got cracked and all the pins fell out, we knew it was time for a new set. However, we don't watch a great deal of movies or TV shows on our PC and while we do listen to music a little bit, it's not enough for us to be concerned about high powered speakers with crystal clear sound quality. What we needed was a cheap set of speakers to replace our old ones, and that is exactly what we got. These speakers cost £6.99 in Argos. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the sound quality from these speakers. I'm no expert on these things, but when I play music through them, the sound is clear and definitely loud enough. I keep the volume turned quite low on the speakers, and it's set at a medium level on my computer, but it can definitely be turned up higher if you were having a party or needed sound for a presentation. Each speaker has a power level of 5W giving 10W peak power. They don't need to be plugged into the mains, as they are power by USB connection to your computer, which is a great bonus for us as in the past we would have to switch between the printer and speakers on our power strip - now we can have both! They are wired, and come with a built in USB and audio cable. They are black and silver plastic, and complement our computer nicely. They are about 18.5 cm high, 7.5cm wide and 9.5cm deep, so are quite compact too. Another bonus is the headphone socket on the front of one of the speakers, which make it easy and convenient to plug in headphones. There is also a large on/off button, which you simply push to use, a volume dial (which doesn't have any markings on it) and a blue LED power light. There was no need to install any drivers - I simply plugged them in and started using them straight away. Overall they are a great value set of speakers, with no downside as far as I can see, and are perfectly suitable for most average PC users who watch movies or use their computer for music.
Blind packs of single toys are now common at the till area of most toy shops, and come in many varieties including Lego and Playmobil. My sons love watching Power Rangers Samurai on TV, and often beg me for one of these packs. So, for their most recent birthday, I got them one pack each to add to their present, since they clearly wanted them so badly. They cost £1.99 and come in simple foil bags which have pictures on the front of all the different characters you could possibly get when you open the bag. Of course, you won't know who you're getting until you pay for it and open it. With some ranges of these types of blind packs, Lego in particular, you can usually give the bags a little feel and get a general sense of who you might be getting. Not so with Power Rangers Megabloks, mainly because all Power Rangers look (and feel) much the same. Inside the pack you'll find one character, a base block and a few acessories, which can be swords, helmets or shoulder pads depending on the character. They are very similar to Lego, as you can see from the picture above, the base block looks like a generic Lego block and the figures fit together in much the same way. To be honest, I can't really tell the difference between Megabloks and Lego. My sons are 4 and just getting into Lego, though for younger children these wouldn't be suitable, as there are too many small parts. The quality of the figures is very good though, and we haven't had any problems with them breaking, or the paint detail getting scratched. As is always the case with these blinds packs, the more popular characters are usually the most rare and in this case, the Red, Gold and Pink Rangers are very rare, while the training mode form of the rangers (in that they aren't wearing their distinctive costumes) are pretty common and not as sought after. We were lucky and my sons got a blue ranger and a red ranger, though one of them had wanted a pink ranger and got a little bit upset. At 4, they are still a bit young to fully understand the concept of luck of the draw, so while they may be old enough to play safely with the toys, I don't think they're mature enough to deal with the randomness of it. This may vary from child to child, but bear in mind that a child might get very upset if they get a generic figure rather than their favourite character. For the price, it was a bit of fun and didn't feel overly expensive for what we got. My sons enjoy playing with them, and have added them into their box of Lego figures - the fact that Megabloks figures are compatible with Lego is a major bonus in my opinion. The figures themselves are great for Power Ranger fans, but the element of surprise might be too much for some.
My youngest son was given this toy as a gift when he was about 6months. The box states it is suitable from 6 months to 3 years, but in reality, my son got very little proper use out of it until he was about one. The toy consists of a pink plastic piggy bank, with a slot in the top and a clear door which opens in the side, and ten coloured plastic coins with animals on them. At first, the coins were the main thing he was interested in, as they are large enough for his little hands to grip and he liked chewing on them when he was teething. I don't think this toy is really suited for children under one, not because it is dangerous, but simply because I don't think a 6 month old has anywhere close to the co-ordination needed to post the coins in the slot. The pig has two modes of play - counting and music. The counting mode does as you would expect, counting the coins as the child puts them in the slot. This is where we encountered the first short coming. While the pig can count to ten, and there are ten coins, it is next to impossible for a child to fit all ten coins into the pig's belly. Even I had trouble getting them all in, and, more often than not, the side door would simply pop open, leaving my son very frustrated as all the coins fell out again. The music mode simply plays little tunes, which are quite catchy, but in our house, with three children under five being rather noisy, the songs weren't loud enough (I never thought I would say that about a child's toy!). You press the nose to start the songs, which is easy enough for any child to manage. Mercifully, it also has an off setting, so it's not constantly singing in the toy box all night. I know a lot of childrens toys these days don't actually have off buttons anymore, so this is always important to me when choosing toys for my kids. It is lovely and bright and has no small parts at all - perfect for small children in that regard. My son quickly learned how to open the door and insert the coins, so it certainly does help with co-ordination, but he tired of it quite early on. It seemed a bit too babyish once he'd hit his second birthday, perhaps because he has older brothers and has always been drawn to their toys instead of his own. That being said, it is so well made, so durable and sturdy, that I am happy to pass it on to a friend (if I can find all the coins!) and I am certain that it will last years. I would recommend it for a first child, as it could be kept for future children, and that way you'd get most use and value out of it. I have only given it three stars as I feel that Fisher Price have better, more interactive toys than this in their range. The claims that it helps fine motor skills and counting are true enough, but the further claims that it helps children learn colours and animals, while also being true to an extent, could also be similarly achieved using simple building blocks or picture books. I didn't feel like there was anything specific about it which encouraged a child to choose a coin of a certain colour, or a coin with a certain animal on it. And as for the claims on the box that it helps to learn about size .... well, all our coins were exactly the same size, so I have no idea where that comes into it. It felt like Fisher Price was slightly misleading in these claims, as while the piggy bank does help with these concepts to a certain extent, there are other toys more suited to do so.
When my son came down with chicken pox recently, I was advised by my mum to stay away from chamomile lotion as it only dries out the spots and makes them itchier. Instead, she advised me to try Eurax, as she uses it for insect bites and stings (she has very bad allergies to most bites) and absolutely swears by it. So, when the first pox appeared, I bought a 30g tube from my local Tesco for £3.50, just to give it a go. The box states that it works to relieve itching for 6-10 hours and that you can apply it 2-3 times a day. It also mentions that it is for use on chicken pox (as well as a myriad of other skin conditions, such as itchy dermatitis, dry eczema, allergic rash, nettle stings and insect bites) which was reassuring in our case as I wanted a product specifically designed for dealing with the pox. The cream is thick and white, and has no really strong smell about it, just a faint, clean scent. I applied it liberally to my son's chicken pox, and it was absorbed into the skin fairly rapidly, which was helpful, as since I made him stand around with no clothes on to avoid rubbing it off, he wasn't chilly for too long. While I don't have personal experience of the effectiveness of this cream to relieve itching, I can say that it helped my son no end. When he woke in the night, unable to sleep because of the itching, I simply applied this cream and within five minutes, he was off to sleep again. I used it on him in the morning, before bed and once during the night for about four days. I definitely noticed the difference, as without Eurax, he complained about being itchy and kept rubbing his face and back on the carpets to relieve it. With the cream applied, he was able to play quite happily (aside from feeling generally unwell.) While the cream doesn't heal the chicken pox, the fact that he didn't have the urge to scratch meant the outbreak was less vicious and prolonged than it could have been. I'm confident that he won't have given himself any scars through scratching at the spots (which is something I did when I was little.) The 30g tube ran out after about three days of applying it to all his spots, so we bought the 100g tube for £5.00, again in Tesco (which works out at better value). Our other two sons have so far managed to avoid the chicken pox, though it's only a matter of time before they come down with it too, and I'm sure Eurax will be as successful for them as it was for their brother. This cream is simply a must for any family dealing with the dreaded pox! Update: Since I wrote this review, my other two sons have also come down with the chicken pox, one of whom is a bit of a drama queen and a difficult patient. And even on him, Eurax appears to be easing his itching within five to ten minutes of being applied - I would heartily recommend it!
Like any house with small boys, we have an extensive collection of Hot Wheels cars. When these Toy Story 3 themed vehicles were spotted on a trip to Smyths, we decided to treat our kids to one each. We got this Rex car, as well as Buzz and Woody themed version. They were priced at around £3.00, which is usually more than I'd be willing to pay for die cast cars, but as they are themed, and as a once off purchase, it seemed an acceptable price to pay. They come in traditional Hot Wheels packaging, with a clear plastic front and simple card back. There were no problems getting them out of the packaging. The front of the pack has a picture of the character the cars are based on, so you get some idea of how the design was achieved. The Rex car is really nice, and of the quality you'd expect from Hot Wheels. It is a yellowy green colour, with a scaly textured finish and it has dino teeth on the front. It has shiny metallic details and is designed like a sports car. It moves very easily on hard surfaces (we haven't tired it on carpet), and while it isn't friction powered and doesn't have any kind of bells or whistles, it's a really nice addition to my sons' Hot Wheels collection. There are plenty of others in this range, including little green alien, Lotso the bear and army men styled vehicles. They are definitely eye-catching and unique and my sons certainly favour them over some of their more basic cars. However, the price is a little much for simple cars, which is the only reason it doesn't get five stars.
I haven't bought Hot Wheels tracks in a long time, and in my experience, they've always been a bit rickety and prone to collapsing, so I've not been in any rush to buy any others. However, while in Tesco recently, I found this Gator Escape set in their clearance section, priced at £3.49, and thought I'd give it a go. The set includes several pieces of track, a clamp and other components needed to put it together, a plastic alligator head and one Hot Wheels car. The box states that it is for ages 5+, probably because there are small pieces included, but my two year old son and four year old twins all played with it with no problems, as long as I or their Dad set it up first. I was fairly surprised at how well it held together. The plastic clamp goes on to a table edge, or other flat surface (it just about fit our standard issue Ikea coffee table) and the track clips together with the help of some rectangular pieces of plastic. The track itself is pretty flexible, and as of yet, it hasn't cracked or split, despite being used for various other games that I don't think the creators had in mind! I can't say that it held together 100% of the time, but you can tell when track pieces were coming apart, and simply fix them by pushing them back together. It didn't suddenly collapse at any stage. At the end of the track in a plastic alligator head, which is weighted so as it hangs open. The point is that sometimes cars will make the jump through the gator's mouth and fly off the ramp on his tail, and sometimes the gator will snap his mouth shut to trap the cars. The gator is nowhere near as big as the box suggests, but large enough for cars to move through easily. I'd say that the cars made the jump about 30% of the time and my sons all loved the uncertainty of the whole thing. There were plenty of squeals and triumphant shouts while they played with it. Once or twice the car actually hit the gator's lower jaw rather than entering the mouth, which it clearly isn't meant to do, but this was a rare occurance. The gator seemed properly weighted for the track to work well. The box also states that this track is not for use with all Hot Wheels cars. We have a pretty big collection of Hot Wheels and all of them, including colour changers and Toy Story themed cars, fit on the track and through the gator's mouth perfectly fine. Overall, this is a pretty decent track, that made me a little more confident of the quality of Hot Wheels tracks these days. My young children loved it, and had hours of fun, though older children may tire of it quickly. The only reason I marked it down to 4 stars is that the RRP is around £10-£12 which I feel is excessive for such a simple track. We obviously got it at a rock bottom price and were very happy with it, but I think if we had paid much more, I would have been disappointed at the simplicity of it.