Saturday 31 October 2009

The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner

I have a bone to pick with the author Lisa Gardner - I haven't got any fingernails left !!

The suspense and tension start right from the first line of the book. The narrator, young mum Sandy Jones, evokes the final hours of her life and says that she always wondered if people foresaw that something terrible was about to happen. My immediate reaction was hmmm, that's a bit strange, a voice from the beyond the grave but hey, if it's good enough for Desperate Housewives, why not ?!

As the police start looking for her, the investigation immediately focuses around the usual suspects, her strangely calm husband Jason and a registered sex offender who happens to live just a few doors away. But in this novel, nothing and nobody is quite what they seem. There are more skeletons coming out of closets than in the world's scariest ghost train ! It is not easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys - partly because nothing is clear cut and there aren't really any totally good guys. Even the police officers seem to have a seedy, callous side. The only totally likeable character is 4-year-old Ree.

With enough red herrings to open a fishmonger's shop, you'll be guessing until the very end and still getting it wrong every time. Behind the image of the perfect couple hide so many deep dark secrets and lies, that are slowly unearthed and pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.

It will have you gripped until the final pages, when, after a few more unexpected twists and surprises, everything finally becomes clear. It will make you look twice at your perfectly normal neighbours and double-check that you've put the deadbolt on the door at night !

star rating : 4.5/5

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Orion (4 Mar 2010) - yep, sorry, you'll have to wait for ages - this was an advanced reading copy !!

ISBN-10: 1409103358
ISBN-13: 978-1409103356

Friday 30 October 2009

Rockin Hood

"Oooh it's a poncho", said my mother-in-law. Well yes, I guess it is - but a Rockin Hood sounds so much funkier ! Whatever you want to call it, it's a brilliant way of keeping baby warm but not overheated, especially while using public transport or doing the xmas shopping, when you're constantly going from stuffy overheated buses or shops to the freezing cold wintry weather outside. It's hard enough (not to mention time-consuming) wiggling uncooperative baby-arms into coats that are usually way too big (so the arms get lost in the folds of material ) or a bit on the small side (and you're worried you'll break baby's arm off before getting it through the hole !!), but when you then end up in a boiling hot indoor-environment five minutes later, it's a real pain in the bum to have to pull it off and start all over again. Especially if you're using a baby carrier, car seat or pushchair and baby is strapped in. And especially when baby gets fed up with all the pulling about and starts wailing loudly, so you get filthy looks from all the other kid-free public transport-users and xmas-shoppers ! I know, I've been there many times !

The Rockin Hood is dead easy to get on - it just plops over baby's head and there's one velcro fastening at the neck. You can put the hood up or leave it down - but it's so snuggly and soft that Pierre actually prefers to have it up (unlike his coat hoods). I can tell because he turns his face sideways so the fleecey-material is against his skin, opens his mouth against it and smiles !! And the dangly tassels at the ears look so cute !

Taking it off is a breeze too, you just undo the velcro and whip it off over baby's head. No fiddly arms to bend and manoeuver and it's so soft and tickly, Pierre thinks it's a good game, however many times I pull it on and off (quite a lot if we're shopping on a busy Saturday).

It's bulkier than a baby coat when folded up but it's very lightweight. It fits easily into the pushchair bag but if you're using a baby carrier, don't forget to take a bag to stash it in while you're shopping.

What I absolutely love is the way it combines perfectly with baby-carrying and breastfeeding. I don't always put a coat on Pierre when he goes in his baby-carrier because the heat of my body sometimes makes him get too hot. But now the weather is turning colder and it rains more often, the Rockin Hood is a fabulous piece of kit. Without taking him out of the baby carrier or even opening the shoulder clips to get more space, I can pop the hood over his head and pull it down the back of the baby-carrier - the front piece stays bunched up around his neck like a scarf, his tummy (which isn't covered by the hood) is kept warm by my body heat and the fleece is long enough to cover his feet. It's showerproof too which is brilliant with baby-carriers, as - unlike prams and pushchairs - they don't come with rainshields !

For discreet breastfeeding in public, you can put the hood on baby and use it to cover yourself up, or you can put it on yourself instead and wrap it around baby - without putting up the hood, if you don't want to look silly (although I put the hood up to make Pierre laugh - and it also made the guy on the next park bench laugh too !! )

It's a one-size-fits-all and is designed to be big enough for a baby or toddler to totally snuggle up in. It can be machine-washed at 40° and can go in the tumble drier, but it dries out so quickly it doesn't actually need to. There are various colours available - pink, blue and green (with a cute sheep pattern) made of 100% spun polyester fleece or, if you want an organic option, ecru, made of 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton. They do tell you on the website that, although they wanted to offer an organic option, they feel it doesn't work as well as the polyester ones, because while polyester is showerproof, hemp is very absorbent. You have been warned ! They also say - but I think this is just for the organic hoodie - "the fleece is likely to shrink on first wash - but the hoodies have been made large to accommodate initial shrinkage."

When you think that it works as a poncho, a pram blanket, a breastfeeding aid, and a "coat" compatible with baby-carriers, it works out at really good value. I take mine everywhere with us now when we're out and about and it's in constant use.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £19.50

available from Mothers Of Innovation

Thursday 29 October 2009

Sock Ons

Once unwrapped (because they do look cute when they arrive), these have to be one of the least impressive-looking things that I have received to review ... but they really work ! Once you take them off the cardboard foot-shaped packaging, they look like tiny scraps of stretchy material. Which, let's be honest, is basically all they are. But they magically fit on to baby's feet, tight enough to stop his socks falling off (Pierre, at 3 & 1/2 months old, hasn't actually started pulling them off on purpose yet, but it won't be long !) but not too tight that they leave red marks on his babysoft skin.

They slip on easily, even over thick socks or thin booties, and hold socks firmly in place. It's unbelievable the number of odd baby socks I've amassed in just a few months, because they are constantly falling off around the house or even in the street - one of the downsides of using a baby carrier is that they get lost, whereas in a pram, they fall off but you can still find them afterwards !

Sock Ons are made from "a softly woven blend of elasticised material with contrasting coloured stitching around the edges". They are one-size-fits-all and although they still have a fair amount of stretch in them, I'm not sure how much longer they'll fit Pierre for (and I can't see any guidelines on the website so I'll have to make a "guesstimate" of about 6-9 months) - but this will also depend on the thickness of the socks.

They work really well for preventing socks from falling off and they would be a deterrent for babies that enjoy kicking off their socks, but with a little bit of perseverence and practice, I'm sure they would eventually manage to get them off !

For the early months, they're a Godsend though - especially in this cold weather. No more lost socks and cold feet in the baby carrier ! As you can see from the photo above, Pierre is quite happy wearing them too !

The new sneaker designs are really cute and they also do baby congratulations cards with sock-ons attached, which would make a really original and useful gift (better than a bunch of flowers any day !!)

They're a great idea for newborns and I hope Pierre won't work out how to get them off for quite some time yet ! Although they're pricey for what they are, you will save a fortune in replacing lost socks !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £4.50 

for more info, including a list of stockists, see

Easy Tasty Italian - Laura Santtini

Glancing at the cover, I thought to myself Laura Santtini, now there's an authentic Italian-sounding name, I bet this book will be full of rustic peasant Italian food. But then she goes on to explain that she's "half Italian, a quarter Persian, a pinch of Sephardic and the rest is English-Irish, the genetic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail" ! So maybe, despite the uninspiring plain black cover, we're in for a few surprises after all !

What I immediately noticed about this book is that the author is very present. Through her funny stories, descriptions and explanations, we get a very real sense of who she is and her personality becomes a vital ingredient in all of the recipes she presents to us. I love her self-deprecating look around her kitchen - "more car boot than Domestic Goddess" ! - and the conclusion that the reader can "be safe in the knowledge that everything in this book can be, and has been, cooked with the sorry collection of tinker's trinkets listed above". The book promises to "transform everyday ingredients into sublime dishes" and this is clear when Laura admits that although she makes her own mayonnaise to go with poached fish and shellfish, she prefers the quicker and lighter alternative of a jar of Hellman's as the basis for several quick and tasty sauces. How refreshing and approachable to find a recipe-book writer that we can relate to !

Then the homely, down-to-earth principles get swept aside as Laura passionately extols "the power of umami, the most recently identified flavour component", which she defines as "the intensely savoury things that make you go 'mmmmm' ". Given the Italian theme, it is rebaptised "U-mamma" in this book ! This is what helps Laura make her "masterly flavour bombs" that "add to the simplest dishes to make them unforgettable". Adding Flavour Bombs is described as "the process of mixing explosive flavours with detonating tastes that ambush the taste buds with dangerously delicious results".

And that defines the recipes in the book - simple dishes with a cheeky twist and quirky added ingredients, such as the surprisingly widely-used edible gold-leaf, guaranteed to give the most basic food a bit of bling-bling wow-factor ! Recipe names like "Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil sauce : hardcore punk version)" and strange mixtures like "Vitello tonnato (cold veal in a tuna sauce)" can't help but have us feeling intrigued.

Desserts are a bit thin on the ground, with only ten pages attributed to Quick & Easy Desserts - but those that are included are very daring. Anyone for parmesan ice cream with balsamic strawberries and black pepper ? How about chilli chocolate orange mousse ? Oh wow, I think I'll go for Great Balls of Fire - watermelon that has been soaked in vodka for a couple of days and sounds absolutely lethal !

The book is divided into two sections, Easy-Tasty Know-How, explaining the basic procedures and preparations, then The Elemental Recipes subdivided into Air (I was raw), Water (I was cooked), Fire (I was burned) and Earth (I am tasty). This new-agey mystical theme is continued in the headings "Elixirs and Potion Notions" and "The Alchemic Larder". So much for Italian peasant food !

Visually, the book offers an eclectic mix of quirky images - lips dusted with gold leaf, French maids and a pink machine gun to name but a few ! The print size of the actual recipes could have done with being slightly larger as it is sometimes a bit hard to read. Many of the recipes do not have photographs of the finished dish - this seems unusual given the current trend for "food porn" books that are as much artistic coffee-table books as actual recipe books for cooking.

It's an interesting collection of tweaked classic dishes with enough humorous tales and unexpected pictures to keep you reading from cover to cover. Laura Santtini seems to be a very likeable, multi-faceted persona and I look forward to seeing what else she will come up with next time !

As she says in a video on Amazon, "learn the rules then break them - become the wizard or the wizardess in your kitchen" so that you can "Jackson Pollock in your kitchen with total confidence". Now there's a challenge and a half !

star rating : 4/5

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Quadrille Publishing Ltd (2 Oct 2009)
ISBN-10: 1844007553
ISBN-13: 978-1844007554

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Dribblebuster - "Bibs for teething and dribbly babies"

"I'm forever blowing bubbles ... pretty bubbles in the air" - Pierre's latest game is blowing spit bubbles, which inevitably results in drool cascading down his chin and on to his top. And he's not even teething yet, it'll be even worse when he is ! At the moment, I'm still at that "new mummy" stage where you get a kick out of carefully choosing which little-man clothes to put on him for the day, so when - an hour later - he's all wet and dribbly on his top half, I don't really want to change him into something different (because the tops and bottoms are usually carefully coordinated !) The alternative solution, keeping him dry with a bib, isn't great either because they're usually so big they cover up his whole top half, so you can't see his clothes anyway, and bibs are invariably a bit manky and covered in stubborn food stains that didn't come out in the wash !

Well, Dribblebusters are the funky solution ! They're small enough to not completely hide him from the waist up and the colours and designs are also pretty enough that they look great as part of the outfit - as you can see in the above photo of Pierre. You can even buy matching Dribblebuster bibs and Tshirts !

The bibs are really absorbent but don't look wet, even when they are. The moisture seems to stay in the bib and doesn't go through on to the clothes underneath so baby stays totally dry and warm. The website describes them as "the fashion dribble bib that whisks away drool before chin, clothes and chest get wet" and explains that this is due to the double layer of cotton. I remember the girls having sore red chins when they were teething and dribbling constantly in the cold weather, so hopefully these Dribblebusters will help prevent that for Pierre.

The material is lovely and soft and the bib is tight enough to catch all the dribbles without being so tight it rubs his neck or annoys him. The velcro fastenings are quite adaptable anyway and make putting it on or taking off a piece of cake.

The girls keep calling him Lucky Luke - a popular French cartoon cowboy whose neckerchief does look surprisingly like a Dribblebuster !

Apparently the Daily Mail listed Dribblebusters as one of the 10 best healthy baby buys 2009 and I can see why. I didn't expect to be particularly impressed by a bib but they are very good quality. I also love the fact that a larger version is available for special needs children, because they look much more grown up and funky than the normal baby bibs.

RRP : £6.50 or PicknMix Multi Pack of 3 - £16.99

star rating : 4.5/5

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Firefly Tonics - natural energy drinks

I am a breastfeeding mum. With a 3 & 1/2 month old son who still doesn't sleep through the night very often. Therefore I could really do with some energy drinks to help me function as a normal human being. But as they're packed full of caffeine and other nasties, that would be a really bad idea as it would filter through to my milk and make him sleep even less ! So I was really excited when I discovered Firefly tonics and their "Natural Energy" claim. Especially as there was nothing on the labels to say it was not recommended for pregnant women or breastfeeding mums. To be on the safe side, I doublechecked on the website and it does say to check with your doctor before taking anything herbal if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, but I had a good look at the list of ingredients and couldn't see anything dodgy - just to be on the safe side, I waited until just after a feed before drinking one, so that it would have a few hours to work through my system. Pierre had no strange reactions to anything - but do be careful and ask your doctor if you're concerned.

As they explain on their facebook page : "We started making our natural energy tonics back in 2003 : fed up with sugar-laden, radioactive-looking energy drinks, we asked two herbal experts to create the same effect with natural (and legal) ingredients. They're fabulous, of course. And 5 years on, you can now buy Firefly in 40 countries. And we just sold our 11 millionth bottle. Fireflies all round. Mission: Get the most out of life, naturally. " Sounds brilliant !

There are currently four Firefly tonics available : Wake up (red bottle - Peach & Green Tea with Ginseng & Damiana), Detox (orange bottle - Lemon, Lime & Ginger with Sarsaparilla & Angelica), Sharpen up (green bottle - Grapefruit & Passionfruit with Yerba Mat & Guarana) and Recharge (silver bottle - Pomegranate, Lime & Elderflower with Rosehip & Ginseng). And I got to taste all of them !

Feeling slightly dubious about some of the more exotic-sounding ingredients, I started with the green one. A tentative first sniff made me think of a less-sweet version of Lilt. And a less-tentative first sip told me that it tasted very natural like freshly-squeezed juice. It was sweet enough but not too sweet and above all, very refreshing. I went from falling asleep in front of the TV (at 8pm !!) to feeling more awake and alert - but not buzzing around the room on caffeine so I wouldn't be able to sleep later ! The other flavours were just as nice too - the orange one reminded of a fruity, less fiery version of ginger beer and the others were like interesting, expensive fresh-fruit juices (the ones you find in the chilled juice aisle, not the cheapie ones made from concentrate !).

Each 330ml bottle contains 100-120 calories, but as they say on their website, " Firefly's to help you feel your best so you can do more - and burn heaps of calories in the process !" There are no artificial sweeteners or refined sugar added, all the sweetness comes from the natural fruit juices. "Each drink has about 8 grams of fruit sugar per 100ml of drink (compared to 10 to 15 grams in a typical fruit juice or soft drink)."

I'll give the last word to the wacky people at Firefly, because they say it so well and I totally agree with them : "What's unique about Firefly ? Oh where to start... We feel there are lots of "healthy" drinks out there. And there are lots of "effective" drinks out there. But we want both.
So our Firefly tonics have 2½ grams of herbal extracts in every bottle - and they're healthy, natural and surprisingly delicious. (And obviously our drinks are unique-tasting, unique-looking and made by a unique team of unique people who wear uniqlo and dream of unicorns.)" What more could I possibly say ?!

RRP : between £1.39 and £1.95 in the UK, between €2.49 & €3.99 in Europe, and between $2.49 and $3.49 in the US

star rating : 4.5/5

Baby Aid Compact First Aid Kit

When I saw the Baby Aid Compact baby-and-child first aid kit, I looked at the funky flowery waterproof pouch and said to my daughter, "Oooh that's pretty. Let's see if we can guess what's inside". So we started listing all the usual suspects : plasters - bandages - scissors - gauze dressings - maybe some antiseptic wipes ? Ummm .... errrr ... can't think of anything else much. OK, let's have a look and see if it's all there ! Well it was ... but along with a whole host of other things I'd never have even thought of !

The impressively long entire contents list is :

3 x Burnshield Burnblott Sachets
1 x Non adherent absorbent dressing 10cm x 10cm
1 x Conforming bandage 5cm x 4m
1 x Blunt first aid scissors
1 x Adhesive tape 1,25cm x 5m
1 x Sterile Eyewash/Woundwash pod 20ml
3 x Disposable Traxit children's thermometers
4 x Alcohol free cleansing wipes
2 x 4cm x 4cm hypoallergenic plasters
1 x 6cm x 7cm hypoallergenic plasters
8 x Children's fun hypoallergenic plasters
6 x Brave Little Star Stickers
1 x How to make it better-Guidance leaflet
1 x What is it all for-Directions for use leaflet

It's amazing that all that is stuffed into a pocket-sized pouch measuring 15cm x 10cm x 5cm. It's small enough to fit into a handbag or the glovebox of a car and would be a very useful addition to a change bag too, just in case. The two mesh pockets hold everything in place so you can quickly and easily locate everything, saving you precious seconds when you may need them most.

My favourite items are the little added extras that you don't find in most first aid kits. The Brave Little Star stickers are arguably the most useful item in there, right up there with Magic Mummy Kisses at the top of the pain-easing efficiency stakes ! The "How to make it better" and "What's it all for ?" little guides are packed with simple to understand and useful information to help you keep your head in most everyday emergencies and accidents.

The Disposable Traxit children's thermometers are ingenious and I've never seen them before. You stick the adhesive side to the skin deep in the armpit and it will give you the temperature within 2-3 minutes. The really clever part is that you can leave it in place and it will work for up to 2 days - really handy for checking temperatures regularly when your child has a fever and is feeling groggy and doesn't want to keep being pulled about.

Other handy additions are the round-ended scissors, which are blunt enough to be allowed on planes in hand luggage, and the Burnshield Burn Blott Satchets. When you read the chilling statistics that over 500 under 5's attend A&E every week with burns and scalds and that a hot drink can scald a child up to 15 minutes after being poured, you can see why it is a good idea to have some at hand.

This product goes along with my theory that all the really good and useful baby and child products are designed by parents ! The website tells us that "Baby Aid was conceived by mumtrepreneur, Lorna Smith. Being a mum herself, and knowing first hand the reality of the accidents that can occur, from babies being burnt in coffee shops to toddler tumbles, Lorna was inspired to create something compact and stylish that every mum can carry with her at all times. With Baby Aid, mums have everything they will need for common emergencies. New mums meet up in parks and coffee shops with their new babies and toddlers to catch up (and have some caffeine) and even the most vigilant mum can’t prevent all accidents. "One of the most serious accidents is scalding with hot liquids, and I wanted mums to be aware and prepared if they were ever in this situation. This is why the Burnshield is in all of our kits." We specialise in First Aid Kits for babies and children and are passionate about child safety and preparedness."

Mission accomplished ! It's a must-have for any home (or car) with small children and the really handy, not to mention penny-saving, thing is that you can replace individual items in the online store. I'm really not at all surprised that Baby Aid won Highly Commended in the Best Debut category at the BPA Baby and Child Fair a few weeks ago, it's thoroughly deserved.

RRP : £ 14.95

star rating : 5/5

Bambino Merino Baby Sleeping Bag

On their website, they say : "Our bestselling baby sleeping bags fit from 2-3 months right through to 2 years of age and are designed to be worn all year round. Breathable natural fibres regulate body temperature to keep baby safe and warm - but never too hot - in all seasons. You'll never have to worry if baby is too hot or cold again. There's no need to buy numerous sizes and TOGs which means they're great value too. " I tend to take everything I read on websites with a pinch of salt, but I have to say I was immediately very impressed with the sleeping bag.

First and foremostly, as soon as I pulled it out of the little drawstring bag (very handy for rolling it up so it's tiny for travelling or storage), I was amazed at how lovely and soft it felt. I couldn't help rubbing it against my cheek to feel how snuggly it felt, and judging by Pierre's big smile when it touched his skin, he felt the same !

I also love the funky stripy pattern - the sand/ivory and sage/ivory options are totally unisex or you can go for pink (petal) or blue (sky) if you prefer. Great if you don't want anything too kitsch, as is often the case with baby bedding !

Baby Merino products use "the finest New Zealand merino wool" but it doesn't feel at all as I was expecting - I find wool is sometimes a bit rough and scratchy on bare skin but this feels like very thick, good-quality Tshirt material. It's also fire-resistant, which is reassuring if you've ever seen the Watchdog or (going back a bit) That's Life reports of children's nightwear going up in flames in seconds. Other appreciable qualities of merino wool are that it can be tumble-dried on a low heat and it resists the build-up of odours. Definitely a good thing if baby likes doing middle-of-the-night pongy nappies !

Quality-wise, it can't be faulted. The press-studs and zip all feel very sturdy and high-quality and these are usually the first things to break on baby sleeping bags. Once closed, the press-studs don't keep popping open and the extra press-studs at the neck allow a wide neck-opening. The very long zip opens right to the bottom so you can do a nappy change without even taking baby out of the sleeping bag. The one-size-fits-all is fine for Pierre, who is 3 & 1/2 months old - I was a bit worried about him being lost in it or it being dangerously baggy with the risk of him slipping down inside. No chance, it's the perfect fit - and according to the labels, should last until he's 24 months old. I was a bit surprised there wasn't a press-stud on the back to fold over and shorten it in the early months (as there is on his old model, which has now been relegated to the cast-offs cupboard because it is nowhere near as soft !!). I'm sure I'll get used used to it but it does seem awkwardly long at the moment - it does come in handy when doing a night feed though, as I can snuggle under the left over bottom bit so I don't get cold !!

On the website, they claim : "Every day we hear from more delighted parents telling us how well their babies are sleeping in their merino baby clothing and sleep bags. A merino sleeping bag will help your baby sleep through the night, be more rested and grow faster too!" I smiled to myself when I read that and thought it was just another exaggerated advertising claim, but I have to admit that Pierre - who up to now has given us about four or five complete nights of sleep in total, by which I mean waking up around 5.30 instead of 3am for a feed - wore his new sleeping bag last night for the first time and slept right through from 10.30pm to 7.45am ! Maybe it's just a coincidence or maybe it's that ultra-soft material that makes him think I'm gently nuzzling his face all night !!

My one regret is that they don't make these in adult sizes !!!

star rating : 5/5
RRP : £49.95


This has to be the ultimate toy for creative, imaginative play. It is so versatile, it can be adapted to appeal to a range of age groups - younger children will enjoy sticking them to pieces of paper to make pictures or patterns (an adult just needs to draw little squares on the paper to show where to stick them) whereas older children will love the challenge of making the 3d models. You can copy the ideas on the box or on internet or just let your imagination run free !

It is a totally natural product - made from cornstarch and water, and
coloured with food colouring - so it is environmentally-friendly, biodegradable and totally harmless if your child or dog decides to eat it !

All you need is a little bit of water to stick the blocks together and there is even a little sticking sponge-mat to make this easier. They can be cut, squished, shaped, held together with toothpicks for the more complicated designs ... It's like an easy version of lego and a clean alternative to glueing.

You do tend to end up with brightly coloured fingers as little bits of Playmais stick to your damp hands as you work, but this washes off very easily with just plain water. If it gets on your clothes, it washes out at 30° according to the manufacturers - I can vouch for the fact that it washes out of jeans with no special treatment !
Once they're stuck, they're stuck forever - unless you've used the window-art option in which case you just need lots of water to wash them off the glass ! I was worried about the elaborate models falling apart once they dried out but they don't, they hold their shape perfectly.

The possibilities really are endless, which is presumably why kids love them so much. Grab a big boxful on a rainy Saturday and you'll wonder where the afternoon went ! It's great for kids of all ages - and for mums too because there is no mess to clear up afterwards !

star rating : 5/5

Available from John Lewis

RRP : starting at £6.95 for a medium pack up to £20ish for an XL pack with book

Monday 26 October 2009

A Quarter Of - all the old retro sweeties !

"A Quarter Of sells over 700 varieties of sweets including traditional favourites like Wham Bars, Anglo Bubbly, Black Jacks, Chelsea Whoppers, Fizzy Cola Bottles and Flying Saucers. The website instantly transports you back to your childhood with its treasure trove of sweet delights, reminiscences from memory lane and good, old-fashioned service. " Awww it all takes me back to the days when you could get a bag full of sweets at the school tuckshop with the 5p left over from your dinner money !!

Needless to say the girls were very excited when I told them their job for the morning was being sweet taste-testers ! Unlike when it's time to tidy their rooms, I didn't need to ask them twice - funny that ! As it's almost Halloween, we were trying out all the spooky-themed sweets.

The girls loved everything, and their feedback for every single item was "lovely - tastes nice" ! The long jelly skeletons went down well with the girls, and I loved the fact that despite being mega-stretchy, they didn't make your fingers all sticky. That means less tears at hairbrushing time !! Having never seen the jelly fangs before, I had to show them how to use them to maximum effect (cue lots of giggling ! ) but as you can see from the photo, they soon got the hang of them ! The white chocolate mice were delicious - but I was slightly disappointed that they didn't have the gruesome red insides that they used to have when I was a kid ! The girls loved the "terror eyes" gobstoppers but I have to admit, I'm showing my age now, I came out with that classic parent-line that always used to make me roll my eyes and go "Yes, Mum !" - "You be careful you don't swallow it whole or you'll choke !" I was just slightly concerned about the size of them, so maybe not one for really small children. The popping candy was, as always, a huge hit - I remember the urban legends about that one ! (If you're too young to know what I'm talking about, playground rumours had it that if you ate popping candy, drank coke and didn't burp or fart, your stomach would explode !!! )

They say everything seems smaller than you remembered as a child - well, I was actually amazed at how many sweets you get in a quarter. Then, after scrutinising the packaging, I worked it out. We've gone metric so you're buying a quarter of a kilo (250g), whereas in the olden days, it was a quarter of a pound, less than half that ! But that's ok because I'm a grown-up now so my mum can't tell me off for eating too many sweets any more anyway !!

As an adult, I guarantee that you'll find all your old favourites on there - sweets that have long since disappeared off the shelves and probably out of your memory until you see them in the online store ! For me, it was traffic light lollipops and foam shrimps ! They also have some fantastic ideas for wedding favours - personalised sweets or individual dinky retro jars. Definitely much more funky than the usual sugared almonds ! The bumper "boxes and jars of nostalgia" in the gifts section are also great for Christmas - they even sell sweets by decade, with the classic sweets from the 60s, 70s or 80s ! Love it !!

As it's geared to the adult sweets market, they take their labelling seriously, and you can search for gelatine-free, gluten-free or even sugar-free varieties. So there really is something to tickle everyone's taste buds.

Even if you don't like sweets (and who doesn't ?), you can go here just to have a chuckle at their list of "child of the 80s" memories ! I'll definitely be back and I'll be spending more than my old 50p pocket money, that's for sure !! (The prices are very reasonable though and start at £1.83 for 250g.)

star rating : 5/5

A Beginner's Guide To Acting English - Shappi Khorsandi

"When you're young, just growing up seems hard enough. But if you've been shipped to a new country and you don't speak a word of the language, it's even harder. And if the Ayatollah wants you and your family dead, then that's when it gets really tricky ...". It sounds like a cracking plot for a novel, but this is the tale of Shappi Khorsandi's real life !

I was born in 1972, just a year before Shappi, so we share many of the same childhood memories. I smiled nostalgically many times as she recalled things I'd forgotten, like kiss chase, two-ball, Dangermouse, Saturday morning kids TV and the little bottles of school milk with their foil tops and blue straws. But in other ways, our childhoods were very different - her parents maintained some of their "Irooni" ways and Shappi, and her brother, had to convince their mum to give them spongy white bread triangles with yellow cheese instead of elaborate rice dishes in their lunchboxes so they could be like everyone else ! As a mum of bilingual kids, it was interesting to see the mixed-race child's viewpoint, although our family's English/French dual nationality is a lot less "culturally schizophrenic" than Shappi's Iranian/English mish-mash !

When the Islamic Revolution blows up and Shappi's father, a famous Iranian writer, continues to write satirical jokes about the new regime, he ends up on the Ayatollah Khomeini's hit-list and the family are warned to check their car for car-bombs on a daily basis. The wide-eyed innocence and charmingly naive viewpoint of the child narrator are very poignant, as she relates tales of war, torture and terror back home in Iran. When she learns of her young uncle being tortured so badly that his hair turns white, she discusses with her brother the worst possible form of torture they can think of - having someone wave their arm covered in snails in your face when you're scared of snails. You can't help but crack a wry smile.

I was only young at the time, so although the name of the Ayatollah is familiar to me, I was totally unaware of the events in Iran. Tales of a 9-year-old girl being flogged for showing her hair and a woman being given acid-soaked tissues by the moral police to remove her lipstick are chilling.

Despite the horrors in Iran and the terror of being on the wanted list in England, the book is light-hearted and positive. Shappi's dad refuses to stop writing and life goes on so the central themes are survival and keeping together as a family. It's heart-warming and endearing.

Shappi Khorsandi is now famous in her own right as a stand-up comedian and appears regularly on TV and the radio. I was unaware of this when reading the book so my enjoyment is based on its own merit, not the media "celeb book" hype !

star rating : 5/5

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Ebury Press (2 Jul 2009)
ISBN-10: 0091922925
ISBN-13: 978-0091922924

Saturday 24 October 2009

Bravado Allure Underwire Nursing Bra

Having tested (and been very impressed by) a number of other Bravado nursing bras over the past few weeks, I confidently gave my size when asked to try out their latest creation. So when it arrived, I fell on the floor laughing because the cups looked HUGE ! They're only a B-C size but I would have said they're about a D-E if I saw them in a shop. So I thought there was no way it would fit, it would be miles too big. I decided to try it on anyway, to try to get a feel for the material at least and write some kind of review ... and I was absolutely amazed to see it fitted perfectly. Totally 100% perfectly. How can a bra company who has never even seen my boobs know my size so much better than me ?!!

I even lined up two Bravado bras on the bed and asked Mike to look and tell me which one was the biggest size - he looked at me like I was a lunatic and pointed to the Allure saying "that one's miles bigger, it's obvious". So he was as amazed as I was when I showed him the labels to prove they were the exact same size !! So I've learnt my lesson - Bravado know all about bra sizing, trust them !!

The innovative thing about this bra is the underwiring. Up until now, all lactation experts have warned pregnant and breastfeeding mums to avoid underwired bras because it could provoke blocked milk ducts and interfere with your milkflow. But Bravado's Supple-Fit design promises to "blend style with good breast health". The technical qualities of the bra sound impressive - "Premium spacer fabric", "Three-dimensional stretch", "A round, wide wire to subtly distribute weight, which is slightly shorter than the wire channel, to avoid pinch or constriction of breast tissue". That all sounds slightly confusing but all I can say is, it is so so comfortable.

Before pregnancy and breastfeeding, I always wore underwired bras. So most of the nursing bras I've worn since have been very comfortable but slightly saggy. I hadn't really noticed until I put this one on and realised how pert everything suddenly looked - the underwire certainly adds some oomph and lift !! I guess that's how I manage to fill those cups that looked enormous !!

But after admiring my new buoyant bosom in the mirror (!), I sighed to myself, knowing that I would have to sacrifice a bit of comfort for this extra support. And that's where I was totally wrong (again). Despite sensing the definite lift offered by the wire, it is impossible to feel it otherwise. I even tried to push it to dig it into my skin or make it pinch (all in the name of research, I don't have masochistic tendencies !!) and it is so soft and supple, it is impossible to make it dig in, pinch or squash anywhere, however hard you try.

Functionality-wise, Pierre got grizzly and hungry in McDonalds and I had to do the subtle feeding-in-public thing. It was all so easy - it is really easy to open and close the clips with one hand and it has a very wide opening offering easy access to the breast. Perfect and discreet !

Every time I try a new Bravado bra it seems better than the last one. This one really has got the lot - great lift but extreme comfort, and it makes for really simple feeding. It's even got some lovely feminine touches like lace and a little bow. I wasn't at all sure about an underwired nursing bra but they've totally risen to the challenge. The only problem is, I don't see how they can ever improve on this one !

star rating : 6/5 (LOL I gave the last one 5/5 and this one is even better, which I didn't think was possible !)

RRP : $54 (on the US site - where it's available already)

RRP : £35 ("coming soon" to Europe)

Friday 23 October 2009

Kids' Rooms - Children's Furniture and Accessories

A PR company asked me to take a look at a website specialising in children's furniture - - and tell them what I thought and having had a look, I decided to share it with you. It's very rare that I look at a website and want to buy absolutely everything they stock but this is one of those cases. The last time was when I browsed on the Aspace site looking for inspiration for Sophie's bedroom in the new loft conversion and this site really reminds me of Aspace.

They stock everything for tots to teens. "Kids Rooms is an online store selling children's furniture and accessories for children's bedrooms, nurseries, playrooms, schools, day care nurseries, play groups and waiting rooms. Our range includes children's beds, wardrobes, chests of drawers, bedside cabinets, children's tables & chairs, toy boxes, wooden toys, bedding, bookends, height charts, pictures, seating and much more. "

I absolutely love their range of traditional wooden toys that remind me of the toys I had as a child ! It's so retro, I'm sure mums and dads would enjoy playing with them probably even more than the kids - I know I would. Especially the Noah's Ark !!

Their bedrooms are unbelievably beautiful and look just like something out of an episode of Changing Rooms. The four-poster bed tents must be every child's dream - even I'd like one but I don't think Mike would be too keen, especially as they only come in singles !! If you come looking for inspiration without any precise ideas of colour schemes or themes, you'll find loads of cute and practical ideas. The feature-wall wall coverings would instantly jazz up the dullest of rooms and have the ultimate wow-factor.

The products aren't cheap but you can see from the pictures that you're paying for quality. Their slogan is "Furniture to last a lifetime ...Or at least until your child has left their teens !" and they do look very hard-wearing. It's a case of getting what you pay for, or rather paying for what you get.
They do free delivery over £200 (and you'd reach that sum very quickly - every time I click on a new page, I see something else I'd like to buy !!). And - in view of the ongoing postal strikes - you'll be pleased to know that they don't use Royal Mail for deliveries !!

I'd recommend you go and have a look, even if it's just for some window-shopping for ideas. I just wish I had an unlimited budget and I'd buy the lot !

Sandie Shaw and the The Millionth Marvell Cooker - Wendy Robertson

Behind this intriguing title lies the tale of the women of Grafton, hard-working and generally hard-done-by girls who spend their days working their fingers to the bone at the Marvell cooker factory. Like in the film The Full Monty, we see the gritty reality of the tough life of these working-class heroes - or rather heroines. This is the mid-1960's and the men may be the ones with all the power but the women are the ones holding things together and getting things done. Despite the advent of the contraceptive pill, as we step behind the scenes - and the front doors - of the factory girls, tales of unwanted pregnancies, backstreet abortionists and extra-marital affairs abound. But in spite of the hardships and difficulties that life throws at them, they are survivors and "keep on keeping on", singing along to the hits of the sixties on the factory tannoy system as they work and taking comfort in the friendships that spring up with their co-workers.

A publicity visit from Sandie Shaw, chart-topper of the time, invited to present the millionth cooker made by the factory to a lucky customer, provides a moment of excitement and agitation, but the working routine continues and for some of the workers, more worried about losing their bonus than slacking off to see a popstar, the media circus is more an inconvenience than a cause for celebration.

The constant shifting of the narrative voice gives us a real insight into a large number of Grafton women, from the lowly factory girl on her holiday job to the boss's wife. Wendy Robertson is a great story-teller and the lives of the main characters, Cassandra, Patsy and Karen, are revealed secret by secret. There are no great dramas - even the Sandie Shaw visit turns out to be a bit of an anti-climax as her arrival is delayed - but the daily ups-and-downs provide more than enough content to keep us interested.

My one little niggle is the front cover, showing a bunch of smiling bathing belles in swimming hats and the words "Heady times in the summer of 1965". The carefree, light-hearted, holiday atmosphere that this suggests has nothing to do with the lifestyle portrayed in the book, where the girls' life revolves around work and they have to make do with the odd trip to the pictures or down to the Gaiety for a dance on a Saturday night.

But you can't judge a book by its cover and this trip down memory lane, with its numerous references to the historical goings-on in the world and the musical soundtrack that accompanied them, shows us an intriguing and endearing slice of real life in the sixties for the working classes.

star rating : 4/5

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Headline (30 April 2009)
ISBN-10: 0755333799
ISBN-13: 978-0755333790
Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 3.2 cm

Thursday 22 October 2009

Full Marks Headlice Treatments

Just from typing "headlice", I now have an itchy head - it's psychological !! But every time the girls come home from school and I see them scratching their heads, I'm sure it isn't psychological and pounce on them with a nit comb just to be on the safe side ! Fingers crossed, they haven't brought home any unwanted visitors yet - and I really don't know how they've managed it, with the number of times the teachers have put up little "headlice alert - please check your child's head" signs in their classroom windows.

Just in case, I always like to keep some headlice treatment on hand in the bathroom. So when I was offered some Full Marks solution and solution spray to test, I jumped at the chance. It's been in my drawers (chest of drawers, not knickers !!) for the past few weeks and I haven't had the need to test it so far. Therefore I can't tell you how effective it is at treating the little critters.

According to the manufacturers, it's clinically proven to kill headlice in ten minutes. Gone are the days, when I was a kid, of having to go to bed with foul-smelling treatment in your hair overnight ! It's really simple to use : "Apply to dry hair, leave for 10 minutes. Comb through hair with comb provided to remove the remains of lice and eggs. Finally wash out using non- conditioning shampoo." Ten minutes later, you should be able to go mwa-ha-ha, bye bye evil little monsters - but just to be sure, it's recommended to redo a treatment after seven days.

What I really like is the fact that it doesn't contain traditional pesticides. Unlike normal headlice treatments that poison the lice (and presumably don't do much good for humans either), Full Marks Solution has a physical action on them that makes them dehydrate and die. Yuck, it sounds like putting salt on slugs and watching them shrivel up (which always used to fascinate me as a child but makes me feel sick now !!)

The treatment can be bought in two forms, as the traditional solution in a squeezy bottle, or as a handy spray, which is much easier to control. Either way, it's an oily liquid that, to my surprise, doesn't smell of anything much (at least in the bottle, I haven't used it on hair yet). The Full Marks Solution (100ml) contains enough for two treatments, and although this isn't indicated on the packaging, the Full Marks Solution Spray must contain at least two treatments, as it contains 150ml. Whichever version you buy, it comes with a really handy nit comb for eliminating eggs and dead lice.

Due to its lack of pesticides, it's suitable for anyone over the age of two, even for children who suffer from eczema or asthma.

If your children have got headlice, the chances are they're feeling sorry for themselves and/or embarrassed. They might like the games on the Full Marks website - there's a wordsearch, a quiz and a dot-to-dot to download which should take them about ten minutes, just time for the treatment to work !


FULL MARKS solution with comb 100ml : £5.99 (other sizes available)

Full Marks Solution Spray with comb 150ml : £11.73

star rating : 4.5/5 (for lack of smell, presentation and lack of traditional pesticides but I haven't tested it for efficiency yet)

Sterimar Isotonic Nasal Hygiene Spray

Question : What do bidets, stinky cheese, horsemeat and frogs' legs have in common ? Answer : You don't have to be French to appreciate them but it helps ! And squirting sea water up your nose to help prevent and cure runny or stuffy noses is another French thing ! When it comes to dealing with their health, French people are willing to put up with whatever it takes - quite literally "put up" when it comes to suppositories !! So using Sterimar is widespread and has been so for generations. My French in-laws fell on the floor laughing at my strange Britishness when I said "eeuurgghhh that's disgusting" the first time they offered me a bottle when I had a cold !

The science behind the product is perfectly simple : "Sterimar Isotonic Seawater-based Nasal Microspray is ideal for ENT (ear, nose and throat) disorders and daily nasal hygiene. It acts as a nasal cleanser, removing dirt, excess mucus and irritants. Sterimar Isotonic contains a dilution of 31.8% of seawater in purified water containing approximately: 959mg of Sodium Chloride in 100ml solution. Sterimar Isotonic comes in a pressurised aerosol which delivers a micro-fine spray, which gently and safely clears out the nasal passage. Its unique patented nozzle fits all nostril sizes, safely and comfortably, from babies to adults. An automatic sealing valve prevents contamination of the remaining solution so that each spray is aseptic. "

My French hubby and his parents swear by it and start gaily squirting at the first sign of a sniffle. I still see it as a warped version of colonic irrigation of the nasal passages and keep up my "résistance" - although I have to admit, I did use it when suffering from hayfever while pregnant. Unable to take any antihistamines, I was really suffering but the nasal spray - perfectly safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women as it's just purified seawater - dampened down and washed out all the pollen, giving instant relief.

My French doctor grins every time one of the kids has a cold and puts it on the prescription, saying "I know you won't use it because you think it's disgusting but you should, it really works !" I can never bring myself to squirt it up baby Pierre's nose as, judging by his screams and squirms, he thinks it's some new kind of torture - but then again, the alternatives (using a nasal aspirator or watching him struggle to feed with a bunged up nose) aren't much better.

From looking on the website, I've just noticed that it can also help to alleviate snoring so I might have to try and convince Mike to squirt some up his nose before going to bed !!

If you can get past the idea of squirting water up your nose, it's a good product - "prevention is better than cure" so you can either wait to get a stuffy nose or just integrate it into your daily hygiene routine.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.49 (for 100ml)

available at Boots, Lloyds Chemists and independent pharmacies

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Seven Seas Femibion Energetic Mum supplement

Do you remember Lynette in the first couple of seasons of Desperate Housewives, forever running around after her kids, who were always getting into trouble, trying to keep her house in order and hold down a job ? Well, that's about how I feel most of the time !! So this product sounds like it is targetted specifically at me : "Running around looking after a growing baby and infant in the first few years of motherhood can really take it out of you. It may be rewarding, but it can also be tiring. And it never stops! Being a busy mum can place huge demands on body and mind, which is why it’s important to take good care of yourself and follow a nutritious and well balanced diet. And there can be other pressures which may get in the way, which is when a supplement may be a useful choice."

OK, I'm convinced I need it - but what is it exactly ? Let's look on the website. It's "the first multi-nutrient probiotic specifically formulated for busy mums" - ummmm ok. It contains " a combination of probiotics, CoQ10 and further necessary nutrients like iron and zinc." OK, still not really any the wiser though. "Independent research has shown that the specially selected probiotics help support the body’s natural defence system while CoQ10 helps the body to release energy." Ah, that makes more sense - so it should help stop me getting sick and also get me a bit more energy. Sounds good.

As I'm still breastfeeding, the first thing I now do is scour the packaging to see if it's safe (you'd be surprised what isn't) - and yes, it's perfectly ok to take it while breastfeeding. Maybe it'll even filter through and boost Pierre's immune system too - two for the price of one !!

The tablets are quite large but I was amazed at how easy they are to swallow. You just need to take one a day with a cold drink - none of that faffing around of having to take them at mealtimes, when you've got other things to think about (like getting food plated up and into kids while it's still hot !). They don't really taste of anything and don't have the horrible "musty ferns" after-taste that some supplements have.

They cover 100% of your recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc and Coenzyme Q10. There are also 10 million Tribion Harmonis Probiotic Cultures in each tablet, which sounds pretty impressive.

So do they work ? Well, despite the name, they won't turn you into The Bionic Woman (remember her ? she could run faster than a speeding car, now that would have impressed the kids !!) but so far (touch wood) I haven't come down with the sniffles that seem to be doing the rounds. I took one the other day after crawling out of bed for the school run after a practically sleep-free night (note to self - if Pierre falls asleep too early straight after his bath, do not let him sleep through, wake him up !!) and although I didn't start doing cartwheels around the room, I think it did slightly take the edge off my exhaustion. After pregnancy and possibly breastfeeding, your body could probably do with recharging its depleted stocks of vitamins too, so it's got to be a good idea.

RRP: £9.99 (for 30 tablets)

star rating : 4/5

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Anorak children's magazine

When I was a teenager, calling somebody an anorak was insulting - it was basically like calling them a trainspotter (no offence to any trainspotters who might be reading this !) or a Norman-no-mates (no offence to anyone called Norman reading this either !!). So I wasn't sure how appealing this magazine would be. The answer is ... extremely ! And what I love is that it is appealing to parents just as much as kids. (Unless it's just me because I'm a big kid at heart ! )

It doesn't look anything like other kids' magazines. Firstly the paper is thick and luxurious and hardwearing, so it's a magazine you can read and thumb through over and over again - unlike most other children's magazines that immediately get ripped when the inevitable plastic free toy on the front cover is pulled off and whose staples fall out scattering flimsy pages everywhere, which then get screwed up and ripped and end up fit for the bin before half of them have even been read !

Secondly, the colours and artwork are very funky and almost psychedelic. It's called "The Happy Mag for Kids", which immediately sounded like it had hippy-overtones to me ! Unlike most children's magazines, the artwork and illustrations all the way through look "homemade", and they inspired Sophie to sit down and copy them.

It looks to me like a children's mag modelled on grown-up magazines. Partly because of the size and number of pages, but also the full page adverts. At first, this put me off, but Sophie actually loved them - the cheeky children modelling the H&M clothes do fit in nicely with the "happy kids" theme and she hadn't actually realised they were adverts ! The tone of the magazine is very grown-up too, dealing - in a very kid-friendly way - with complex themes like Darwin's theory of evolution.

Each issue has a central theme and this time it was insects - something that the girls would usually be put off by - but they sat down and read it cover to cover, hoovering up information. I have read dozens of magazines with the girls over the years, seeing it as one of my mum duties, but this is the first time I've actually really enjoyed the experience for myself, not just for seeing the pleasure it gave them but also because it had me intrigued, interested and giggling too !

As a mum, I loved the Munkie & Horace photo-story that reminded me of reading Jackie and Just 17 photo-stories in the 1980's ! I also love the Make a Bug and Build your own Astro-gnome pages that are reminiscent of "sticky-backed plastic"-fuelled Blue Peter projects of my youth ! The girls thought the tales of Sidney the Silly Splinge were "really really funny", Harold the Hiccup was "very very funny when he hiccupped and his hair flew off and a bit rude when he talks about Billy the Burp" (cue fits of giggles) and the close-up photos and facts about insects were "eurrggghh disgusting" (cue "wow, look at this mum"!)

There are lots of short stories that would appeal to young children, but also some longer ones for more advanced readers (or for mum or dad to read out loud). Each issue really packs it all in, also offering activity pages (colouring, maze, spot the difference, ...), poems and a beetle game (more nostalgia for mum !!)

When I first saw the RRP of £3.50 on the front cover, I thought it was overpriced but having spent a whole week dipping in with the kids and having them in fits of giggles each time, I have to say it is worth every penny. Especially as I've been reading it when they're in bed as well !!

for more info see

(If you go to, you could even have a sneaky peek at several of the pages, including the Sidney the Silly Splinge story that made Juliette laugh so much, she almost wet her knickers !!!)

RRP £3.50

star rating : 5/5

Monday 19 October 2009

Jangneus Design eco-cleaning cloths - Swedish Kitchen Culture !

I love stuff that is funky AND functional and these environmentally-friendly cleaning cloths certainly tick both boxes. Made from natural materials (cellulose, which is a by-product from paper making, and recycled cotton), they are washable (up to 60°) - which means you can use them for longer, sticking them in the washing machine rather than the bin when they start getting a bit slimy or pongy ! - and when they've reached the point of no return, they are 100% biodegradable so you can fling them on the compost heap, feeling smug and happy that you haven't added to the growing landfill problem.

They arrived nicely wrapped in green ribbon, looking so much more impressive than the usual plastic-wrapped dishcloths you buy in the supermarket. I love the cute designs on them - it put a smile on my face whenever I went to the kitchen to do the washing-up and wipe down the surfaces, and that's no mean feat !

The funky designs are available in a choice of colours - blue, green, purple, black, yellow and red - and ten different designs : a heart, flowers, leaves, flower doodles, stars, stripes, spots, fish and a bird, so you can grab a selection and give your kitchen a mini-makeover whenever you feel like a change . You also have the option of colour-coding your cloths for optimising hygiene, using for example yellow for the worktops, green for the washing up, black for the doggy paw prints, blue for the toilet ! This would avoid nasty mix-ups and contamination when someone inevitably uses the wrong cloth !

They are very absorbent but also dry out quickly in between uses. They seem to be quite hard-wearing and look like they should last for quite a while. I love the exotic aspect - "made in Sweden and printed by hand in the Cotswolds". Ikea, eat your heart out !!

For something a bit different, you can buy a "cloth gift subscription" on their website and get a fresh clean cloth delivered to the person of your choice (or yourself) every month. That could be good for that hard-to-buy-for person at Christmas !

Delivery is free within the UK and prices range from £1.75 - £2.50, depending on the number of cloths ordered.

star rating : 4.5/5

Sunday 18 October 2009

Colour Buddy

At first glance, if I'm totally honest, I must admit I wasn't overly impressed by these large colouring sheets. But they kind of suck you in ! Do you remember the Magic Eye pictures, where you had to stare at a graphic mess until your eyes started watering and going blurry and then suddenly, miraculously, just as you thought you'd have to blink or your eyeballs would dry out, a totally invisible picture suddenly appeared out of nowhere and made you go "oooh oooh I can see it, I can see it ... can you ?"! Well, this is similar. The more you look at it - especially if you step back and look from a couple of feet away - the more you can see because the pictures sort of merge into each other and make new pictures and shapes. Also, different people see different things so it's fun to compare notes and explain what you see as you gaze into the picture !

According to the website, "Colour Buddy can help with concentration, behaviour, memory skills, hand-eye co-ordination and team building." The designer, Michael Harman, says : "Teachers have been amazed how engrossed children become when given Colour Buddy to do and how well they interact with their peers and siblings". And that is what totally amazed me. Juliette (aged 4) and Sophie (aged 8) spent a whole rainy Sunday afternoon colouring in together, whereas they would normally lose interest after a couple of pages of a normal colouring book.

We started off with the Imagination Poster game, a hectic A1 sized black and white poster made up of hundreds of small drawings in which you have to find 58 small pictures. It's just like a Where's Wally book - it'll drive you insane but it's strangely addictive, for children and adults alike ! It was good as a family game, with no complicated rules so even the youngest children could join in, and making it a bit competitive by seeing who could find the most pictures. (A simple way of keeping score is one coloured pencil per person and you colour in the little picture you've found in the big picture and also around the edge.)

When tempers started fraying (because Juliette kept colouring in things that weren't in the 58 things to find !) and Sophie started looking seriously boggled-eyed whenever she looked up (!), I decided it was time to move on to the gentler, slightly less crazy Fashion Garden. This time, there were no items to find so no competitive element - it was just time for some nice friendly colouring-in together as a family. It was lovely to all sit down together around the table and work together as a team with no bickering ! And as with the Imagination Poster game, different people see different things and images sort of emerge as you're colouring, so it keeps everyone interested for ages. The final piece of artwork can be hung up on the fridge door as a reminder of how lovely things can be when we all work together as a team and make a combined effort (I can dream !!)

They're quite pricey but for a peaceful afternoon of nice playing together as a family, it's a small price to pay !

star rating : 4/5


Colour Buddy®™: The Imagination Poster game - Poster Size A1 £7.99

Colour Buddy®™: Fashion Garden - Poster Size A2 £5.99

Snack Trap - Anti-Spill Snack Cup

To quote the website : "A unique cup and lid design that allows little hands in and out to get to their snacks but keeps snacks from spilling out when cup is turned over. Use at home, in the car and when out and about !" How's that for a genius idea ?!! Another one that has got to have been devised by a mum, I'm sure of it !

My first thought (after wow, what a fabulous idea, why didn't I think of that ?) was that the lid would end up getting split or lost or forced open too wide by over-eager little hands. But replacements are available to buy separately, along with other handly little add-ons like tether straps to attach it to a pushchair. It just gets better and better ! My favourite optional extra has to be the Snack-Trap Accessory Lid Pack - one snack-trap lid, one stay-fresh lid (for an air-tight seal) and one sip lid, to transform it into a sippy cup. That makes it a fantastic space-saver for shoving in your handbag or changing bag for mess-free snacks AND drinks on the go - brilliant !

The opening works just like the holes on tea-towel holders that you put on the kitchen wall ! They are perfectly sized for little hands but too big to stop mummy-sized hands reaching over and pinching toddler-snacks - so it was a big hit with Juliette who said "ha ha, you can't pinch my Poppets any more Mummy" !!

The claim that there will be no spills, even when turned upside down, sounds like a challenge that definitely needs putting to the test - so we did ! With the aforementioned Poppets (which, if you don't know, are about the size of small Maltesers), there were no spills, even when I jiggled it about TRYING to make them fall out !! Obviously, if you use tiny-sized snacks like coco pops, a few will probably slip through the holes, but it works much better than I expected.

The cute animal pictures appeal to toddlers and with the wide base, it's not easy to knock easy. The two handles make it easy to hold so most of the time, they'll be eating on the run anyway ! Brilliant for mums, who will have less messy spills to tidy up, and also for young children, who love the extra responsibility of being allowed to eat their snacks in peace without constant yells of "careful you don't spill it" and "mind ! it's on the edge of the table, it'll get knocked over" !!

RRP £3.99

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