* Prices may differ from that shown
Regular readers may have noticed that my reviews have recently taken on a slight bus bias (and just try saying that five times quickly after a snifter or two. Not that I'm speaking from experience, or anything...). This is entirely down to the 'obsessed with anything with wheels' phase that my two-year-old is currently working through, to the extent that sometimes I wonder if I am, in fact, living in a scaled-down version of the London Transport Museum. I'm not looking forward to the Serious Trains stage of this kicking in; we'll be knee-deep in turntables and signal-boxes before you can say 'Fat Controller'.
But we'll cross that bridge (groan) when we come to it. Today, we are looking at bendy buses. Love them or hate them - actually, scratch that, everyone hates them except Ken Livingstone - now that Boris Johnson is wielding the axe, they won't be around for long. Soon, they will be remembered only in the Penalty Fare Notice appeals of a thousand hacked off Oyster cardholders who thought they'd paid when they hadn't - and this.
Of course, this toy - being orange and white - isn't a London bus. Actually I don't know where it's from... somewhere with a North, a South and a Central apparently, which doesn't really narrow it down. In any case, the stickers on the side say '24/7' so if it is a real place, it's certainly not anywhere I know well. Clearly, this is also a Bus Of The Future, since it appears to have Wi-Fi* (I'm not kidding. The stickers also say 'City Express - Unlimited Internet Access'). How good is that?
It's a 40cm-long friction-powered toy with an eyebrow-raising range. A good energetic short push sent it three metres on a wooden floor, and I think it would have gone a little further if it hadn't been stopped by the skirting board**. It did this in six seconds, which works out at about one mile per hour. I've travelled on real buses that were slower than that. It does work on carpet, although not brilliantly, and it does go backwards as well as forwards although I suspect this may be more by accident than design as it doesn't go very far. It's also not very loud, so it scores highly in my book for that.
As well as being pretty speedy, it also has some nifty features. There are three doors - these are all on one side - which open and close by means of a winder (like a watch crown). They will open if they are pushed, which is advantageous, as this happens quite often and it stops them being broken off. There is also a winder to change the destination which is on a roller on the side; it has three settings - North, South and Central. The interior is fully kitted out with seating and a non-removable driver at the wheel. You can also move the windscreen wipers, although I'm not sure whether this is a feature or just the way they are attached.
This is a very popular toy in our house, and it is standing up well to the rigours of being taken out in the car, chewed on, slept on and generally bashed about. There is a crack in one of the windows but I think this may be from my toddler standing on it, which would actually be a point in its favour in terms of hardiness as he is no lightweight. It is missing one of its rabbit-ear wing mirrors (see 'chewed on'), but otherwise it's doing well. My first thought when I saw it was "that concertina's not going to last five minutes", but I have to admit that it's showing no signs of wear at all. This is partly because the bus does not bend very much - it will bend if you force it, but the back end doesn't move around when it is in motion, so the everyday stresses on the concertina are minimal. It isn't easy to keep clean though, as dust does accumulate in the folds, so an old toothbrush is a good thing to have handy.
I love this toy, despite not being a fan of the real-life version. It is a lot of fun, and in the three months that we've had it, it's been constantly out of the toy box. It costs around £10 from Amazon, so it's a good price for a simple but clever toy. It loses one star for the dust build-up problem and the lost wing mirror - as these are spindly little things which could have been better designed, and I'm quite surprised that it still has both windscreen wipers as well - but I would recommend it wholeheartedly all the same.
* spell-check suggestion: Wife. I'm good, but I'm not that good.
** I don't have more than a three-metre clear run in the house, and I'm afraid my dedication does not extend to shifting furniture. Sorry.