Wednesday 31 March 2010

Fancy hosting a Fundraising Twinings Tea Party in aid of Save the Children during Save the Children Week (25th April – 1st May 2010) ?

Go on, do your good deed for the day ... and give yourself the best ever excuse for scoffing cupcakes with a guilt-free conscience !!

Twinings, proud supporter of the world’s independent children’s charity, Save the Children, challenges you to help make a difference by hosting your own afternoon tea party to raise money for the charity during Save the Children Week (25th April – 1st May 2010). Whether it’s a typically British afternoon tea, an extravagant Alice in Wonderland style Mad Hatter’s tea party, or even a picnic blanket on the living room floor, put the kettle on and get brewing for a great cause!

Over the past six years Twinings has supported Save the Children, helping over 500,000 children and training over 10,000 teachers within China's rural tea growing communities. Twinings has donated £1,000,000 to date, enabling Save the Children to provide improved quality education to children and ensuring those with disabilities receive the support they need. Over the coming years the donation will fund projects that will improve health and nutrition, education and services, reducing the unnecessary illness and deaths of children from preventable and treatable diseases.

Help Save the Children to improve the lives of more vulnerable children by hosting your own fundraising afternoon tea party. You’ve been set the challenge, now all that’s left to do is polish your favourite teapot, set the table with your best china and gather your nearest and dearest… go on, throw a party, pour a cup, save a life!

For a pour-perfect tea party, Twinings recommend the Tea Deli range – seven indulgent and eclectic teas sure to take you on a journey of delicious flavours from around the world. Perhaps try the delicate oriental flavours of Twinings Chinese Oolong Tea, or for those who favour a more minty taste, Twinings Gunpowder and Mint Green Tea is the ideal choice. If you prefer something a little more traditional, then why not indulge with Twinings English Breakfast.

Visit to download a Save the Children tea party pack and to find out more information about Twinings Tea Deli. Alternatively, visit your nearest Waitrose branch to try out the delicious Twinings Tea Deli range.

For more information about Save the Children visit

Book review : The Ice Cream Girls - Dorothy Koomson

I know by now that you can't judge a book by its cover, but when you've never heard of the author or the book that you have been sent for review, the front cover and the title are always what mould your initial expectations. In this case, due to the title and the picture on the cover of two girls in flimsy summer dresses vaguely touching arms, I was expecting light-hearted tales of fun and frolics in the summer sun, carefree high jinks, friendship and youthful innocence. I presumed it would be an enjoyable but overly fluffy and frivolous read, especially as the write-up on the back of the book mentions it being a perfect gift for mothers' day. But I was pleasantly surprised. Although I like chicklit, especially as a welcome relief from some of the darker crime novels I've been reading lately, I often find the genre overly superficial and prefer something that I can really get my teeth into. While this book will certainly appeal to women, it goes so much further than the usual tales of romance and girlie dilemmas of the shopping and/or career kind.

Dorothy Koomson certainly doesn't pull any punches, evoking with grim realism the harrowing themes of sexual, physical and mental abuse, as well as domestic violence. I've read a huge number of crime novels, describing evil mass murderers and psycopathic serial killers, but none of them have had me squirming in my seat and condemning their actions as much as the downright nasty, twisted character in this novel. His calculating, manipulative nature and the sadistic pleasure he gets from playing his two teenage victims off against each other are sickening. Even if the events that unfold for the girls are sad, I would not call his death "a tragic event" as the blurb on the back of the book does.

In the book, the Ice Cream Girls was the name given by the press to teenagers Poppy and Serena, who fell prey to their sadistic teacher Marcus, who set about breaking their hearts, spirits and - on several occasions - bones. Although they were undeniably his victims, they are perceived by the press and the public at large as heartless murderesses when he is found stabbed to death, especially when compromising photos come to light, showing them kissing each other or posing in revealing swimsuits eating ice cream. It doesn't matter that they were forced into posing for these snapshops by their abuser. Their reputations are ruined forever. Poppy is imprisoned for a life sentence while Serena tries to get on with life as a wife and mum. When Poppy is released from prison and tracks down Serena, their lives go into meltdown and the women can no longer hide from the skeletons in their closets.

The book is narrated alternately by Serena and Poppy, as adults but with numerous flashbacks to the 80's, so we really empathise with both girls and understand their viewpoints. Both girls blame each other for the death and struggle to deal with the mixed emotions they still have for the man they loved and hated in equal measures and for each other.

Both girls are strong characters, dealing with everything life can throw at them and struggling to keep their heads (and those of their loved ones) above water. It examines the sometimes complicated bonds between parents and children, sisters, husbands and wives and fellow victims and, despite the harrowing subject matter, is a very uplifting and positive book. I did actually guess the end but still enjoyed the little twist at the end - it was great to finish with a little literary flourish !

I may not agree with everything that is written on the back of the book but I do agree wholeheartedly with the bit that says : "Thought-provoking, gripping and heart-warming - commercial fiction gold".

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £12.99

Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Sphere; First Edition edition (18 Feb 2010)
ISBN-10: 1847443648
ISBN-13: 978-1847443649

Sunday 28 March 2010

Skin MD Natural - Shielding Lotion

A little while ago, I got a lovely email from "Carlo at 21st Century Formulations in Beverly Hills", asking me if I'd like to receive a bottle of Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion to review, because he liked the refreshing honesty in my reviews. (Yes, I know he says that to everyone !) Well, I was immediately impressed by the location - wow, someone in Beverly Hills had found and read my humble little blog ! But I was also impressed and intrigued by his description of the product.

As he says in his email, Skin MD Shielding Lotion doesn't work like most other moisturisers. He explains, "I think you'll like using Skin MD Natural because unlike other moisturizers, our lotion works with skin to keep it silky smooth. Most lotions just add moisture to the top of the skin using either lanolin or petroleum. These are fine in the short run but they easily become ineffective after they have dried. Over time, the body can become dependent on artificial moisturizers leaving the skin less able to handle stress and cracking. I remember many years ago when I first tried Chapstick. It was great. But since then I've always carried a lip balm with me. My lips had become so accustomed to the artificial moisture that they stopped producing their own natural oils. Our solution is simple. Protect the outer layer of the skin so that moisture is retained and irritants are blocked out. This way the skin is able to keep its natural oils. Our lotion forms a breathable barrier over the stratum corneum, giving it the protection it needs to shield against pollutants and irritants in the environment."

I was grabbed by his story about lip balm, because I'd said the same thing myself in the past but put it down to getting older ! I was intrigued to see how the product would work - and above all feel - on the skin, because the description sounded good in theory but made me worry that it would be overly thick or greasy like the barrier creams you'd apply to babies' bottoms !

Well, my fears were unfounded. The lotion is light and absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving no greasy or unpleasant residue. It has a very light fragrance that reminded me slightly of baby products (but maybe that's just because the word barrier in the description automatically made me think of barrier cream !). It immediately eradicated any feelings of tightness or dryness that I had on the skin on my face, due to the cold weather and the dryness of my skin.

What I absolutely love is that it is hypoallergenic, fragrance, colorant and paraben free and is dermatologically tested so that children and adults of all ages can use it. 8-year-old Sophie has a few problems with dry skin and eczema and it's hard to find a product to suit her skin type that appeals to children so we'll definitely give this a go. As it claims on the website to be "focused on urging the skin to be active, and to use its own moisture to effectively heal itself", it might even sort the dryness issue out for good, which would be fantastic. In the short term, I can certainly vouch for its efficiency already.

The complete list of ingredients on the website contains some bizarre and vaguely sinister-sounding names - have you ever heard of Caprylyl Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Aminomethyl Propanol or Phenoxyethanol ?! - but each individual ingredient is fully described in a detailed and informative paragraph below. I love this transparency and honesty. I also love the diversity of plant extracts in the product - deionized water and aloe vera are the primary ingredients, but further down the list we find Arnica Montana Flower Extract (Arnica), Symphytum Officinale Leaf Extract (Comfrey), Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract (Chamomile) and Achillea Millefolium Extract (Yarrow).

The website quotes a dermatologist, Dr Brian Zogg, as describing Shielding Lotions as "a hydrating invisible shield ... many times more effective than mere protective lotions and moisturizing creams". So it's a kind of Superman cape for your skin, combining the best of ancient herbalist remedies and scientific technology !

You only need to apply a small amount each time too, so a bottle will last a long time. For even better value for money, I can offer readers of this blog an exclusive 20% discount with the code MHFR, thanks to the kind people at Skin MD. Alternatively, if you like to try before you buy, you can order a free sample on the website, by clicking here.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £14.99 for 120ml

For more information :

Saturday 27 March 2010

Soother Savvy - Did you know dummies can help prevent Cot Death ?

As a third-time mum, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about childcare and child safety but it appears not. I always thought dummies were bad for babies - there's the whole thing about nipple confusion for breastfed babies, which suggests they might not feed properly. When they get older, they can stop their teeth growing properly. Then they're forever falling on the floor so they're totally germ-ridden. Not to mention all the social pressure that looks down on babies with dummies as the lazy parents' option, using a soother as a "gobstopper" for a crying baby instead of trying to find out what's really causing the problem, in the same way as "TV babysitting" is looked down on.

Well, all of my babies have had dummies - but I did always feel like it was some deep dark secret and they weren't allowed to take them out of the house ! I remember feeling guilty the first time I gave them dummies, and first time around, I was planning on avoiding the temptation of using them at all. But, as a friend pointed out, some babies need the reassurance of sucking to manage to sleep so why deprive your baby of something that makes them feel calm and safe and happy ?
I was shocked today to discover there is a very big reason why parents should be ENCOURAGED to give dummies to their babies - research has shown that it can reduce the risk of cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome as it's now known. I'm not the only one who is uninformed though. "A recent survey by soother experts MAM and parenting website found that 33 per cent of parents didn't know that a soother can help to reduce the risk." Yes, I know - I can see you rolling your eyes at quoting a dummy manufacturer as proof that they really are good but there's more : "FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) includes information about soothers in its advice on safe sleep following research by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies who use them are more protected in their sleep."

How To Train Your Dragon video game (Wii version)

If you haven't already seen it, I'm currently hosting a competition where you can win three copies of this game for Nintendo DS so head on over here and try your luck.

The How To Train Your Dragon video game was released in the UK yesterday which, funnily enough, was when my review copy plopped on to the doormat. 8-year-old Sophie happily ripped off the wrapper and fired up the Wii. Reassured by the 7+ age rating, I told her to get on with it while I tended to baby Pierre and I'd come and show her what to do in a few minutes.

Well, five minutes later, when I wandered into the living room (with a freshly-changed baby !), she was leaping around like a loony, quite successfully fighting a dragon and telling me all about HER dragon that she'd just created and customised. No need to pull out the instruction manual then !

Having seen the write-up for the game, I thought it would actually be a bit boring, but it's much better than I expected. In the past, Sophie's played a few games where she has to be a babysitter, look after a puppy or groom a horse, and I assumed this would be a similar idea but with dragons. But it's more than that. It's more like an adventure game, where you have to run around, interacting with people and finding and using objects to open up new areas and features, even if a big part of the game is customising and improving your dragon by winning more and more dragon fights.

I had a great laugh watching Sophie jumping around fighting dragons - it's got to burn off a few calories doing that, who needs a Wii fit ?! - and I love the little touches of humour, like when you attack the sheep and chickens strolling around and they turn into roast chickens and legs of lamb (that you apparently need to feed your dragon).

Fans of the film will recognise many of the locations and characters. You choose to take on the role of "Hiccup" or "Astrid" and travel around the Island of Berk, where you will recognise many settings from the film, including the Vikings' Village, the Wild Zone, the Training Zone and the Fight Arena.
But even if you haven't watched the film, it's still an enjoyable game with simple playability and impressive graphics that the whole family can enjoy, especially as you have the option of going head to head with your friends in a multi-player combat.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £39.99

for more information :

Milkybar Cow

Call me a big kid but I genuinely got all excited about seeing the retro range of Easter eggs from the 1980's that Nestlé have brought back and that remind me of my childhood. Well, they've done it again ! They've created some ultra-cute and unique Easter confectionery that really leaps out at you when you scour the supermarket shelves looking for sweet treats for your kids.

OK, so Milka may have a lilac cow but this is the only WHITE chocolate cow on the market. And Milkybar is another one of those tastes I remember nostalgically from childhood. It tastes delicious, seems totally different to any other white chocolate I ever eat and is so creamy and unctuous, it's like the white chocolate version of Galaxy. Yummm my mouth is now watering just from writing that and remembering the taste !

Andy McQuade, Brand Manager at Nestlé Confectionery, says that "MILKYBAR is one of our best loved chocolates and Mums, Dads and even Grandparents can feel good about giving the MILKYBAR Cow to youngsters at Easter knowing it is made from 100% natural ingredients”. Well, never one to take comments like that at face value, I went off to check ! The list of ingredients is clearly listed on the Milkybar website : sugar, dried whole cow's milk, cocoa butter, whey powder, vegetable fat, emulsifier, lecithin, natural vanilla flavouring. Not an E number or artificial additive in sight (and they even explain the origins of most of those ingredients on the site and they're mainly from plants). I'm impressed.

Little kids will love the cute cow shape and mums and dads will love the fact that little hands covered in melted white chocolate make less of a mess than little hands covered in brown chocolate ! It even comes with a gift-tagged collar, so you can write who it's to and from.

It's top of my list for Easter choccies with serious Cow-factor !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £1.99

Thursday 25 March 2010

Retro Nestle Easter Eggs from the 80s !

I love Easter ! Now that I've got kids of my own, we go round the house and patio hiding sweets and eggs so that the girls can go and discover what the Easter bunny has brought and we go to a local park for a big Easter egg hunt too. France being a Catholic country, their story for Easter is that it's the church bells that go off to Rome and when they come back, they bring the eggs with them. (They can't do anything like everybody else - they don't have a Tooth Fairy either, it's a little mouse who takes the teeth !)

When I think back to Easters of my childhood, I can still remember some of the Easter eggs I used to get. They were as much a part of the tradition as selection boxes at Christmas and I can remember one year, when my Nan decided it would be better value to buy bars of chocolate instead of an egg ("you get loads more chocolate for the same price because you're not forking out on the box" !!), it was a huge letdown to not get the fun of unwrapping the egg !

I was really eggs-cited (groooan !!) this week to get a press release about a range of retro Easter eggs from Nestle - they have those Easter eggs I remember from my childhood ! The opening line of the press release did make me feel really old though : "For the very first time Nestlé is offering chocolate-lovers some nostalgia-filled fun by re-launching a selection of Easter Eggs which replicate some of its classic packaging from the last century." Eeeek, I'm not that past-it, am I ?! I do totally fit the bill as a child of the 80's though, and I'm proud of it ! I wore my legwarmers and mismatched fluorescent socks with pride !

As the press release says, "Harking back to an era when New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice were flying high in the charts, Top of the Pops was still on the box and Timmy Mallet was cool, the Easter gifts are an ‘eggs-act’ replica of how they were twenty years ago. The classic styles not only appeal to those who remembered the eggs this way the first time round, but also those who appreciate all things cool from a past era." The Smarties one with a mug was THE classic Easter gift for when you were a bit older and more grown up than your younger brothers and sisters who just got the normal Smarties egg without the mug "because they'd just break it" ! Talk about a trip down memory lane !

And look, remember these ? If you want to offer the ultimate romantic gift to your fellow-child-of-the-80's other half, you can get them a Rolo's egg, complete with a "last Rolo" ! Who could not remember the "Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo ?" adverts ! When I was feeling particularly nice, I used to offer mine to my mum or dad !

Speaking of Dads, you can get the ultimate "macho chocolate" in a retro Yorkie truck box ! I never had one of these, because they were just for the boys, but I remember seeing them on the shelves ! My feminist streak tells me I should go out and buy one now but I have to admit, I'm still more tempted by the Rolo and Smartie ones !

Kids of any age will love the Nestle eggs - you can't go far wrong with a combination of chocolate and funky packaging - but anyone who grew up in the 1980's will get all nostalgic and leap around the room excitedly going "oooh ooooh I used to have one of these mugs at breakfast time, next to my Pop Tarts" - now, whatever happened to those ?!

star rating : 5/5

SMARTIES® Mug Egg – RRP: £5.49
Last ROLO® Egg – RRP: £5.49
YORKIE® Truck Egg – RRP: £5.49 (NB: Yorkie egg available exclusively to Tesco)

Hotter Shoes

I wasn't too sure about how well it would work ordering shoes online. After all, even when you're in a shoe shop trying them on, it's hard to find a pair that fit perfectly as some shoes are wider than others and some brands seem to use bigger sizes than others. But when I was given the opportunity of receiving a pair of Hotter Shoes for review, I jumped at the chance. First of all, I had a good look around on their website to choose a pair. When I saw the terms "extra wide fitting" and "comfort concept", I was expecting to find a very limted range of styles that would appeal to me, assuming that they were catering mainly for the sensible little old lady market. But I was amazed at how many lovely styles there are, including funky brightly coloured trainer-type shoes and lovely pastel flat-shoes, heeled-shoes and sandals for the warmer months.

The website is really easy to navigate around, especially using the "quick links" (Women's Shoes, Women's Boots, Gifts & Accessories, Men's Shoes) and "popular searches" (Comfortable Shoes, Women's Sandals, Wide Fitting Shoes, Comfy Men's Shoes) at the bottom of the screen. I eventually opted for the Penny model, which is perfect for work and goes just as well with skirts as jeans or trousers.

Fast forward a few weeks (I'm sure normal service is faster, don't forget this had to go via a PR person, plus on their facebook page, they mention having had a few technical problems that delayed deliveries, but that normal service should have been resumed now) and the postie knocked at the door with a box. I already smiled to myself before I even opened it, seeing the "delivering happy feet" message that made me imagine a hyperactive penguin hiding in the box ! They're very well packaged, with the normal shoebox inside a sturdy cardboard box, and as soon as I took the lid off, I could SMELL the quality - they're definitely real leather !

The shoes look exactly as they do in the picture - no airbrushing here ! They're very well-made and remind me of the high-quality shoes my mum and dad always used to buy me for school at Clark's ! I prodded the squishy cushion insole and realised what they meant when they talked about "walking on air". They looked seriously comfortable but, wincing in advance, I pulled them on with a pair of thin nylon tights to give them a test drive. However comfy shoes are in the long run, I always find I have to go through the painful breaking-in period for the first few days, suffering at worst nasty blisters on my heels and at best painful red welts on the skin. Well, I was amazed - right from the first step, they were as comfortable as a pair of slippers with absolutely no rubbing at all. I even checked my feet at one point on the school run, convinced that I must have forgotten to change out of my slippers ! I think this is the first pair of shoes I've ever worn that haven't needed breaking in.

The comfort is also unlike anything I've ever experienced before. The cushioned insole supports you in all the right places and feels just like when you finally hit on a bra that is exactly the right size, that lifts and supports in all the right places without cutting in or rubbing, and you suddenly realise how uncomfortable you've been up until then ! I haven't taken them off once since I got up this morning, whether indoors or outdoors, and I've been running around with the kids on the way to school, running up and down stairs, sitting aroun in front of the computer ... They're totally versatile and really do suit all occasions. They are also the perfect fit - I didn't even have to touch the buckle to adjust the width - so my fears about buying shoes online without trying them on were totally unfounded. The fact that they offer half-sizes is also a great bonus and is something many high-street shoe shops don't offer.

Hotter Shoes also offer a 100% Happy Guarantee, whereby you can return or exchange shoes that don't fit or that you decide you don't like. As they say on the website, "The first step towards happy feet is having confidence in our service to you and I can assure you that everyone at Hotter is focused on delivering a happy and comfortable shopping experience that will leave you 100% happy – guaranteed! ". That sounds like a lot to live up to, but they really do deliver. The shoes aren't the cheapest that you can buy (£59) but they are absolutely worth every penny (no pun intended !). I don't know how I'll ever bear to wear any of my other shoes ever again now !

star rating : 5/5 (I'd give more if I could !)

RRP : £59, depending on the model

for more information :
Other reviews you may be interested in :

Giveaway #7 - 3 x How to Train your Dragon Nintendo DS games - CLOSED winners : LizUK, Laura Mcintyre & Victoriaplum953

How to Train your Dragon, the video game, is about to hit the shelves tomorrow. I haven't got my mitts on a copy yet so you'll have to wait a little while for the review (update : forget that, the review is now here) but I can offer you the chance to win your own copy. Here's what the press release says :

"Activision is bringing the ultimate dragon-training experience to kids with the release of How To Train Your Dragon(TM), the video game, based on the highly anticipated 3-D animated feature film from DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. Players are the ultimate dragon hero, launched into an epic quest to train the world's fiercest creatures. As gamers explore dynamic environments on and around the Island of Berk, they'll customize their very own dragons with over 100,000 possible combinations. Along the way, gamers will collect valuable upgrades for speed, strength and fire, giving them powerful tools to battle for Viking victory.

"The How To Train Your Dragon video game allows kids to live the fantasy of creating their very own dragons and engaging in epic battles against other fire breathing foes," said Rob Kostich, head of marketing for licensed properties, Activision Publishing, Inc. "Whether they are playing on their own or against family and friends, kids will have a blast in this high energy epic adventure."

To win one of three copies of How To Train Your Dragon for the Nintendo DS, tell me in the comments box what you would call your pet dragon, if you had one. Bonus entries for RT's on twitter, for following this blog and for leaving me a comment on one of my reviews - don't forget to come back and tell me (either on a separate comment or all in one comment, it won't make any difference). Please make sure you're contacable - twitter name or "coded" email (for example, joebloggs at yahoo dot co dot uk) in the comments box works best - I can't contact most of the people who use the "signing into your blogger account" method for some reason ??? )

UK only. Closing date Thursday 8th April 2010.

Good luck !

Wednesday 24 March 2010


On my recent review about Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser, I said that it was one of those products that our grannies used to love that has become trendy again. Well, the same is true for Brylcreem, except it was a cult product for our grandads (and even great-grandads) instead of our grannies. Believe it or not, it was first created in 1928 and was so popular with RAF pilots in the Second World War that they were given the nickname The Brylcreem Boys !

Looking at the funky, stylish, very modern-looking red and black tub, you'd be forgiven for thinking I'm making this all up, but the brand does like to keep in touch with its heritage, stamping "since 1928" on the lid. If you look at the vintage adverts for Brylcreem (and there are some real crackers on their facebook page - I absolutely love the "not sexy - sexy" one from the 1970's !!), you might be put off by the old-fashioned styles showing men with very greasy looking hair plastered to their heads, but the new generation of Brylcreem offers a remouldable, invisible hold. Underneath the tub (yes, underneath ! - if you don't turn the pot upside down you'll miss it !), it says it is "a multipurpose styling product that gives a strong remouldable hold without looking like your hair is overloaded". I don't know if they've changed the formula but it does seem much less greasy than in the early days. According to the label, the more you touch your hair throughout the day, the more natural and remouldable it will be - so when you see that tasty bloke at the bar running his hands through his hair, maybe he isn't trying to give you a subliminal "come hither" message, maybe he's just working his Brylcreem !

If you look on the Brylcreem website, you'll see that there are a whole range of snazzy hair products available, ranging from clay, wax, cream and gel wax to Ultimate Hold Gel, Wet Look Gel and - something that seems like a really good idea to me - the original Brylcreem with added anti-dandruff properties. That's the first time I've seen an anti-dandruff product other than shampoo, so top marks to the people who came up with that idea.

I love the smell of it. It reminds me slightly of aftershave but is unisex enough that girls could easily borrow a quick scoop from their boyfriends too ! It's fresh, smells like you've just washed your hair and "isn't poncy" (genuine male viewpoint, when I did a quick bit of market research !).

I love the eco-friendly packaging. When I reviewed Green People products, I mentioned that the excess packaging bothered me. They countered with the justification that they have to put the tub in a cardboard box because there isn't enough room on the tub to get in all the important (and legally required) smallprint. Brylcreem have cleverly got round this problem by printing their instructions and information on a little adhesive plastic flap that you peel away on the bottom of the tub. That's got to be better for the environment.

The red and black pot is eye-catching and screams virility, just in case your man is still Neanderthal enough to think that using hair and skincare is just for girls ! The red lion, that is a carbon copy of the one on the England football shirts, will cast away any lingering doubts - and you can even keep the kids occupied by doing a "brass rubbing" with the embossed lion on the lid while you grab a few minutes to get yourself ready in the bathroom. Trust me, it works - and that, for me, has to be the biggest selling point for Brylcreem that I bet they've never even thought of !

Oh, a final thought for the men out there - there's also a cool game you might like to try on the website, which apparently gets quite addictive once you’ve got it nailed. It has an amazing prize up for grabs for the best score – a masterclass with Kevin Pietersen (I have no idea who he is but if you're a man, you surely do !) and VIP tickets to an international cricket match in the summer! Have a look at !

star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £3.19 for 75ml

Tuesday 23 March 2010

B-Safe and Kidz Safe Sanitiser Sprays and Wipes

Every decade has its iconic products - the sixties had mini skirts, the seventies had bouncy orange spacehoppers, the eighties had legwarmers and batwing jumpers ... I wouldn't be at all surprised if, in years to come, people look back at the noughties and declare their cult product to be hand sanitisers. Ever since the outbreak of swine flu and MRSA, new brands of hand sanitisers seem to be popping up all over the place. Just on this humble little blog, I've been sent various samples of sanitisers to test and they all have their unique selling point - Radox (well-known company), Bentley Organic (the greener option), Hands First (for really dirty hands) and now this new range from B-Safe.

As with pretty much all hand sanitizers, the B-Safe and Kidz Safe products promise to kill 99.9% of germs, including influenza viruses, e coli, listeria, gastroenteritis and streptococci. So what is their unique selling point ? Well, to quote the press release, "So how are B-Safe and Kidz Safe different to other hand santisers? Its simple …. they offer all the power to protect as their competitors, but don’t contain alcohol so won’t dry the skin and are less likely to irritate skin conditions like eczema. Instead the range contains a powerful detergent that does the job quickly and effectively but won’t sting when applied and is kinder to the skin." Ever since receiving a warning email (and I'm still not sure if it's a hoax or not !) about kids being hospitalised for alcohol poisoning after repeatedly licking their hands after using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, I have been wary about the use of alcohol in this kind of products, so their stance is reassuring. Especially as I just grabbed the bottle of Radox hand sanitizer that is currently next to the computer and was surprised to see that the top ingredient on the list is indeed "Alcohol Denat." - hmmm.

However, I personally would say that the unique selling point for B-Safe and Kidz Safe is the choice of different formats and perfumes available. One of the germ hotspots in our house that I never really know how to clean is the computer keyboard. I've seen all the newspaper and TV reports, like this one from the BBC, that have horror headlines like : "Out of 33 keyboards swabbed, four were regarded as a potential health hazard and one harboured five times more germs than one of the office's toilet seats", but I always think that if I spray liquid hand or surface sanitizer on it, I'll probably make the keys stick or the computer short-circuit or something. Well, the B-Safe anti-bacterial wipes do the job perfectly, clearing away the dirty sticky fingerprints and stuck on gunk or dust but, more importantly, giving me the reassurance that they've killed 99.9% of the invisible harmful bacteria too. The wipes are very resistant and not overly wet, which is what I was worried about when using them on electronic-related devices like computers, DS-Lites, remote controls, etc. I did have to use several wipes to get the whole keyboard totally clean so I would have liked them to be a bit bigger, but the handy resealable pack of 25 wipes is now permanently next to the computer keyboard for a quick wipe every now and then to keep the germs at bay.

I also like the fact that the sanitizer sprays are 2-in-1 products, for hands and surfaces alike. All of the other sanitising products I've had to test have been for one or the other, not both, so I like the fact that you only need to buy one product, which is a kinder option for the planet (less packaging), for your purse and also for the kitchen cupboard which doesn't get so cluttered. The B-Safe Bacterial Cleanser Spray does the job perfectly, totally disappearing with no greasy or unpleasant residue in just a few seconds, leaving a pleasant delicate scent, but it didn't jump out as me as a particularly memorable product. The two child-friendly versions however did strike me as particularly appealing, and not just for kids ! The Kidz Safe products offer the same alcohol-free formula and germ-busting promises and I love the fresh, zingy but not overpowering apple and cherry scents.

As they come in 100ml bottles, which are larger than many of the handbag-sized sanitizers on the market, I would personally say that the sprays are better suited for use around the home than on the move. However, the antibacterial wipes can easily be stashed in a handbag or glovebox for when you're out and about. I wonder if the little old ladies who painstakingly cover public toilet seats in strips of toilet paper so that they "don't catch anything" would now go high-tech and have a quick wipe with a sanitizer instead. I'm sure it would be a lot more efficient anyway !!

star rating : 5/5

Sunday 21 March 2010

Book review : Sleepless - Charlie Huston

I came to this book with absolutely no preconceptions, not having heard of the book or the author, but the title instantly made me think of Sleepless in Seattle. Well, you can forget that right away - this book is anything but a romantic comedy ! From briefly reading the blurb on the back of the book, I was expecting a relatively classic crime thriller - LAPD cop, working undercover posing as a drug dealer in LA - but again, right from the opening pages, I knew this supposition was way off the mark.

The setting may be Los Angeles in 2010 but it is an unrecognisable world, an apocalyptic parallel universe. You could just imagine Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger striding out of the smoke and flames on the big screen and looking around at the chaos. This lawless, anarchic, crumbling city is an image of what is happening the world over, due to a pandemic of SLP, that leaves people unable to sleep, ever, and leads to certain death. We learn that scientists initially thought the Sleeplessness was a mutated form of Mad Cow disease or CJD or BSE so the reader has to uneasily admit that this could happen. One pharmaceutical company has created a drug, cleverly called DR33M3R (dreamer), that is unable to cure the disease but does allow people to actually have something resembling sleep for a few hours or, if taken in large quantities, gives them the opportunity to end their life and avoid the suffering by bringing on a sleep they will never wake from. But there isn't enough to go round and Park, undercover LA cop, is getting deeply involved in the corruption and vicious murders surrounding this black market trade.

A few months ago, I read and reviewed a book by Carla Buckley called The Things That Keep Us Here, which tells the chilling tale of a family's struggle to stay alive in America after the bird flu pandemic turns nasty. The same questions arise of how far will people go to protect their loved ones and how will people react on the streets in times of international disaster and, although Carla Buckley's novel focused on the plight of one family unit, barricaded inside their home, the brief glimpses of life across town and across the state borders remind me very much of the scenes of carnage in Sleepless.

As you'd expect, the main character needs to be personally involved in this disaster and we learn that Park's wife is sleepless and possibly also his infant daughter. Maybe it's because I'm a mum myself but I actually found the scenes of Park's wife unable to care for their baby daughter and not remembering her life with her husband more poignant and unsettling than the bloody murders and hit squads running riot outside their home. I felt that Park's emotional attachment to his family wasn't portrayed enough - he seems detached and distant, calling in a babysitter and going off to work as usual. For me, this prevented me from really empathising with him and caring wholeheartedly about what happened to him and his loved ones.

I thought the whole "virtual world" aspect was very clever. As real life goes to pieces, people seek refuge and solace in an online game called Chasm Tide where the characters they create and control can live out the life that is no longer accessible to them in reality. Virtual artefacts within the game end up with more value than hard cash. Sleepless victims may die but their virtual alter-egos can live on.

Although I loved the basic plotline, I found the book overcomplicated and hard to really get into. In every chapter, we change viewpoint and narrative voice, flipping between Park in the first person, Park in the third person and an ageing hitman called Jasper - although I didn't actually realise this for quite some time until I started looking at a few reviews to see what other people were thinking of the the book. The different voices, and indeed characters, aren't defined enough and it's difficut to keep track of who is talking or to really empathise with any of them.

I did enjoy the final chapters but thought that it was a lot of hard work getting there and, ultimately, I didn't really care about any of the characters enough to be particularly bothered about the final outcome of their lives. I'm sure that if I read it all over again, paying more attention to the different narrative voices, I'd enjoy it more the second time around, but it's too dark, depressing and joyless for me to want to put in the time and effort. I could definitely see the storyline being made into a Hollywood blockbuster though !

star rating : 3/5

RRP : £12.99
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Orion (1 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1409114996
ISBN-13: 978-1409114994

Saturday 20 March 2010

Jackson Reece Herbal Wipes and Flushable Wipes

Baby wet wipes are a bit like toilet paper and tap water and dishwasher detergent. If they do the job properly, you've got nothing much to say about them because you don't even really notice them. It's when they have a design fault that you notice all the bad things - they fall apart at the crucial moment when you're wiping baby's bum or they're too wet or leave a greasy film on the skin or they irritate baby's delicate rear end. Well, I've been using the Jackson Reece wipes for the last week in a variety of situations - wiping up wee and poo, cleaning up Pierre's face after a particularly messy feeding session, wiping little fingers (and walls), wiping projectile vomit off my shoes (oh the joys of being a mum !) - and the wipes are totally unremarkable, they just do the job with no fuss and bother and didn't have me grumbling about any design flaws.

But this wouldn't be a very interesting review if I didn't have a bit more to tell you so I thought I'd better have a good look at the website and the packaging. Well, according to the manufacturers, "Jackson Reece Herbal Wipes offer parents a natural, healthier alternative. Our unique herbal formula soothes and protects against common skin irritations such as nappy rash and eczema and contains none of the harsh ingredients that can potentially damage delicate skin." They are very mild and didn't irritate Pierre's skin at all, even when I used them on his face - but to be honest, neither do the normal wipes I use (Pampers Sensitive).

They did seem lovely and soft though, unlike some other brands that feel slightly rough and abrasive, but despite this softness, they are very resistant. I don't know if this is where the softness comes from but I was surprised to read on the website that they are made from wood pulp ! That makes them a much greener alternative because they are biodegradable and wood is a sustainable resource. The next bit made me chuckle to myself - "Compostable wipes which will degrade in twelve weeks in aerobic conditions". I now have visions of red-faced wipes in sweatbands and leotards jumping along to a pumping workout soundtrack ! It's not just the wipes themselves that are eco-friendly - Jackson Reece have thought about the wrapper too, using "degradable packaging that will degrade in a landfill site more quickly than regular baby wipe packaging". Yet another plus point for the environmentally-conscious shopper is that the wipes are manufactured in Britain, thus minimising the carbon footprint.

I could give you a whole list of chemical nasties that don't appear in the list of ingredients, but instead I'll focus on some of the lovely things that ARE added to them. Certified Organic Aloe Vera, which is naturally hydrating, healing and cooling, Certified Organic Tea Tree Oil, which is naturally antibacterial, and Certified Organic Lavender Essential Oil, which is soothing and calming. So that explains the lovely, refreshing but not at all overpowering scent, and is presumably the reason why, should you pinch one of baby's wipes for removing your make up or giving your face a quick wipe over on a hot day, you feel like you've just applied a gentle face cream to your skin.

With all these added extras - the essential oils, the green factor, the ultimate softness - you'd be justified in thinking that these wipes would be more expensive than the usual brands, but they're about the same as any other premium brands (ie not the dirt cheap supermarket "value" own label ones).

If you have older children, who are learning to use "grown up" toilets but still need a little help wiping their own bottoms, you might also like to try Jackson Reece's new flushable wipes, which will degrade in water within 8 days. They offer all the benefits of the normal herbal wipes (degradable packaging, wipes infused with the natural balm containing organic essential oils, alcohol free) and are equally soft and resistant. They flush away easily but the packaging does warn you not to try to flush more than one wipe at a time ! They come in a pack of ten wipes, costing 99p, so are ideal for stashing in your handbag or glovebox for when you're out and about.

I'm really not surprised by the vast array of awards that Jackson Reece wipes have won - including Mother & Baby best wipes 2009, and best eco-friendly wipes AND best of the best wipes in the TIPS awards (and I've taken part in a couple of their product trials so I know how comprehensive the evaluation sheet is !). Once you've tried them, you'll be unlikely to go back to any other brand.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : herbal wipes £1.99 (for 72 wipes), flushable 99p (for 10)

Friday 19 March 2010

Aveeno Skincare Range with Colloidal Oatmeal

Aveeno is one of those brands that I've often seen on the shelves but have never really tried. There's no particular reason for it, the products have just never really leapt out at me when I've been selecting skincare products, possibly because they have such neutral colours and discreet packaging. I did know that Aveeno is an offshoot of Johnson & Johnson's, which is reassuring because they're such a well-known and reliable brand, but I didn't know that they have been around since 1945, which is equally impressive.

The name Aveeno always annoys me because I imagine a totally sloshed and sunburnt Brit in Tenerife staggering over to a bar slurring "a vino, barman" (!) but, in the name of research, I just went and looked on Wikipedia and it apparently comes from the scientific name for the common oat, Avena sativa. Ahhh oats - oats seem to be big business lately. You would not believe the number of different brands of porridge I've been asked to test and review lately - everybody seems to want to "get their oats" ! But using oats in skincare does make sense. As they explain on the Aveeno website, "Oats have a long history in skin care dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used oat baths to heal skin ailments. We believe finely-milled naturally active Colloidal Oatmeal is a true beauty secret and can be considered to have an unrivalled power for soothing, hydrating and protecting all forms of dry skin." I'm not sure how accurate the Wikipedia entry is but, according to them, "Aveeno is known for its use of "active natural" ingredients and offers products to treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, pruritus ani, chicken pox, hives and sunburn." Sophie is still suffering with her shingles so the name chicken pox leaps out at me there - I'll have to do some research and see if I can use Aveeno to hopefully offer her some relief.

But on to the testing ! I've signed up to become an Aveeno Discoverer so, in return for giving you all my honest opinion on the products, they kindly send out some free products for me to test.

The first product I tried was the Moisturising Creamy Oil with Sweet Almond Oil. It comes in a handy pump dispenser which I always find more convenient and less messy than a tube or pot. The name sounds a bit confusing - is it a cream or an oil ? - but the description below the name explains that it "moisturises like an oil and absorbs like a cream". I squirted some out on to my hand and to me, it was neither a cream nor an oil but rather a lotion ! Well, whatever it is, it's a fairly runny cream/lotion that smells absolutely divinely of marzipan - that'll be the sweet almond oil then. That's supposed to be a good thing for preparing your boobs if you're planning on breastfeeding too, so pregnant women might like to smother themselves in it ! (I seem to remember something about being careful there are no nut allergies in your family though.) But even if you're not pregnant, it smells so gorgeous, you'll want to rub it all over every inch of your skin ! I tried it on my legs just after having a shower and shaving them and the tight, tingly sensation instantly disappeared and the skin felt soothed and cool - I'll definitely use this on any minor sunburn in the summer. The skin was left with a slight sheen but no unpleasant greasiness and a little goes a long way.

Next up is the Hand Cream. The website promises that it will "moisturise dry skin for 24 hours", "form a “protective glove” which lasts through hand washing" and "absorb quickly and leave dry hands looking soft, smooth and healthy". OK, time to see if it lives up to the claims. Well, I initially thought it was going to fail the "can I continue typing this review without feeling the need to run off and wash my hands first?" test - but after a couple of minutes of massaging and rubbing, I have to admit it was totally absorbed and left no greasiness or stickiness at all. It instantly soothed the feelings of tightness on the dry skin on the back of my hands but didn't leave the skin feeling all plump and moisturised, as I was expecting. I think this is one of those products that will work over time, building up a protective layer and improving the feel of your skin after repeated use. I have to admit, I wasn't overly keen on the smell but I think I'd just been spoilt by the gorgeous marzipan smell of the sweet almond oil in the Moisturising Creamy Oil ! The smell does also totally disappear once you've made the cream sink into your skin.

The final product I tried was the Daily Moisturising Lotion. The website says, "AVEENO Lotion with Colloidal Oatmeal moisturises dry and easily irritated skin for 24 hours, while providing a prolonged soothing action. Leaves skin softer and more supple. With regular use, it helps prevent skin irritations caused by dehydration." Funnily enough, that's exactly what I just wrote about the hand cream so the claims seem believable to me. Again, I'm not overly keen on the smell - it's fragrance-free but smells vaguely medicated (I think it reminds me of one of Sophie's eczema creams) with a slight undertone of porridge ! But, exactly like the Hand Cream, once it's sunk into to skin, there is absolutely no greasiness, dampness or scent left at all - it just totally disappears leaving soothed skin.

If you've got sensitive skin, or a skin condition like eczema or very dry skin, you will love the pure unscented creams and lotions as they will minimise risks of flare-ups and effectively soothe your skin. However, if you have normal to dry skin, I would thoroughly recommend the luscious-smelling Moisturising Creamy Oil - it's guaranteed to turn heads and make you keep sniffing your skin all day long !

star rating : 4/5 for the Hand Cream and the Daily Moisturising Lotion, 5/5 for the Moisturising Creamy Oil with Sweet Almond Oil

for more information :

Disclaimer :
"I have been accepted on to the AVEENO® Discoverer Programme, helping to spread the word about AVEENO® products. I get sent free AVEENO® products and have the possibility of being rewarded with additional benefits.”
(... although this review was written before I signed up to the programme ! And as with all my reviews, regardless of whether or not the product was sent for free, I'll still give my honest opinion, good or bad, of whatever I'm testing !)

Thursday 18 March 2010

Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser

Pond's Cold Cream is one of those products that I'd have put in the same category as powdered eggs, loose tea leaves with tea strainers, cod liver oil and lard. Our grandmothers couldn't live without them and put them on their shopping lists week after week but they seem so outdated now and irrelevant to modern women, having been replaced by more scientifically-advanced, effective or convenient products.

But then the lovely Chloe emailed me and asked if I'd like to test some Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser and review it here on my blog and described it as "a 4-in-1 multi-tasking product which saves busy mothers time and money. It can be used as a cleanser, moisturising face mask, eye make-up remover (including waterproof eye makeup) and a softening hand cream. All this for only £3.99." Wow, I never for one minute imagined it could do all that. I have an image in my head of wrinkly old ladies with their hair up in curlers and a hair net, wearing a padded pink satin-look dressing gown, slapping on a thick white layer of cold cream before going off to bed ! But a time-saving, multi-tasking product with a credit-crunching low price does sound exactly the sort of thing that modern mums need, so I came to it with an open mind.

The packaging is discreet, neutral and modern-looking. If it didn't have the name Pond's on it, I would have thought it came from some swish new spa-therapy type of beauty company. It didn't look at all like the old-fashioned product I had in mind. Pond's has obviously kept up with the times, despite having been created in 1918. And a product that has been around for almost a hundred years must surely be good to have stood the test of time.

So why have generations of women opted for Pond's ? According to the website, "Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser is a rich facial cleanser that deep cleanses, leaving skin soft, smooth and radiantly clean. It deep cleanses pores to remove stubborn dirt and make up, even waterproof mascara. Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser should be used everyday for full effect. Smooth the cream onto the face and neck with fingertips in a light massage action and remove with tissue, cotton wool, muslin or face cloth. For an even deeper cleanse, warm the muslin or face cloth in water and pat over the face before wiping off."

Well, I did just that and was left with lovely soft skin on my face AND hands, because I rubbed in the excess as handcream. I have fairly dry skin so the luxuriously thick cream was lovely and soothing and stopped the tight, tingly sensation I had on my cheeks and the backs of my hands from the cold. It's a very rich cream, which I would say is probably better suited to dry or normal skins than greasy skins. A friend of mine said it is also brilliant at removing children's facepaints, which is logical as it's been adopted by actors and actresses for removing thick stage make-up for decades. I was particularly impressed at how easily it removed waterproof mascara.

If you're used to using totally unscented products, it may take you a while to get used to the perfume but I actually found it to be a light, pleasant, not at all overpowering scent. My only very slight niggle is with the ingredients - I've tried and failed to find a list of ingredients online and, although there is a list on the box, it's bizarrely in Spanish by the looks of it !?! "Paraffinum Liquidum" and "Sodium Hydroxide" sound like things I'd be wary of putting on my face in any language, but this stuff has been around for so long that anything untoward would have been outed and disposed of decades ago !

I have to say I'm impressed. It's cheap and cheerful, so if you want high-tech science or organic and fairtrade credentials, you'll have to go and look elsewhere, but if you're after a no-nonsense, multi-purpose face cream that will give you nice soft, clean skin, you could do a lot worse. Put your prejudices to one side and give it a go !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £3.99

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Pom-Bear Potato Snacks and Biscuit Bakes - new "healthier" snacks

New research shows that "whilst concerned about their children’s diets, the majority of parents still believe that they deserve treats and shouldn’t be totally deprived. However, they are becoming more discerning when choosing which treats to give them, favouring lighter, healthier snacks". Yep, sounds about right to me. And while Sophie and Juliette both love chonking on carrot sticks and slices of apple, they do also like to eat sweets and biscuits and crisps every now and then, like all kids, which is fine by me.

They've already tried and loved Pom Bear potato snacks so I was keen to see what they would think of the new, healthier Pom-Bear Bakes, which (as the name suggests) are baked rather than fried. They were on to a winner before I even got them out of the cupboard - the girls had recognised the bright colours and cute teddy bear character from the usual Pom-Bear Potato Snacks and were really happy to see that the little biscuits had the same teddy-bear shape as the original snacks. So, before they had even put one in their mouths, they declared that they loved them - well done to the marketing department !

The outer wrapping of the multipack highlights its "healthier snacks" positioning from the offset - there are three big squares declaring "baked not fried", "no artificial colours and flavours" and "no artificial preservatives". They are labelled as "cheddar cheese flavoured" but, being a bit cynical of all the small print and misleading claims on a lot of food packaging, I presumed the word "flavour" meant that they hadn't even stood next to a piece of cheese ! Well, in this instance, I was wrong - the back of the pack says that they are in fact made with real cheese (although a closer look at the list of ingredients reveals that it's 1.6% cheese powder, of which 16% cheddar cheese powder. 16%% of 1.6% suddenly doesn't sound like a lot of cheddar, so maybe they were right to leave the word "flavour" after all !)

But on to the important bit, the taste testing. The girls both loved them and said they tasted really cheesy and yummy. I had a quick nibble too and they reminded me of the small cheesy Ritz-cracker type biscuits you can get. I love the fact that my fingers stayed clean - no greasy or salty residue, as is usually the case with crisps or potato snacks. Could that be a sign that they are indeed a healthier alternative, at least on that score ?

Each child-sized 25g bag contains 110 calories, 4.5g of fat (of which 1.3g saturates), 14.8g of carbohydrate (of which 2g sugars) and 0.2g of sodium, which is the equivalent of 0.6g of salt. That equates to 6% of a child's recommended daily calorie intake, 2% of sugars, 6% of fat and 7% of saturates. As this information is emblazoned across the front of the packaging, I would assume it's a lot lower than other comparable products. I love the transparency and detail given in the data - for once, it's all there in front of your eyes and you don't have to go searching with a magnifying glass to find hard facts. Having checked on the Pom Bear website, the new bakes are described as "a lighter, healthier treat with 40% less fat than the leading cheese snack biscuit and 56% less saturated fat".

While looking around for information about the new Bakes, I noticed that the original Pom-Bear Potato Snacks have had an overhaul too. "Pom-Bear potato snacks have also been re-formulated so all its recipes are cooked with 100% Pure Sunflower oil – making them an even ‘better for you’ snack choice. Sunflower oil is light in taste and appearance, has a high Vitamin E content and is naturally low in saturated fats – the fats that nutritionists agree we should make a conscious effort to lower across our overall diets. By cooking in sunflower oil, Pom-Bear has further reduced the saturated fat in its potato snack range. Pom-Bear Original, for example, now has only 3% saturated fat (compared to 7% prior to August 2009 and 15% prior to August 2007). Pom-Bear is still deliciously crisp and light, and melts in the mouth to give kids the unique taste they love." Each pack contains less than 100 calories, which is actually less than the Bakes.

Whichever option you choose, the teddy bear shapes will make them an instant hit with the kids (Annabel Karmel based her whole career on the "making kids' food attractive" concept after all !) and it's great to see a snack food company taking the healthier eating aspect into serious consideration. The little bags are the perfect size for lunch boxes or snacks on the go too.

star rating : 5/5 (at Sophie and Juliette's request !)


New Pom-Bear Bakes Handy packs (39p rrp) and x6 Multipacks (£1.59 rrp).

Pom-Bear potato snacks (available in Original, Cheese & Onion, Salt & Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail and New Pickled Onion flavour) typically retail at 30p (rrp) for Handy packs, £1.39 (rrp) for Multipacks

for more information :

Saturday 13 March 2010

Method Bathroom Surface Cleaner Flushable Wipes

Having grown up in a seaside town, I've done more than my fair share of window-shopping in tacky souvenir shops selling kitsch accessories for the home. One that sticks in my mind is a little ceramic plaque for the toilet that said "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie, wipe the seatie" ! Well, I may not have bought the plaque but I do share the sentiment !

I had a little smile reading the packaging of Method's Bathroom Surface Cleaner Flushable Wipes. They say :"Ever feel like certain people using your toilet could use a little coaching? Practice? Aim? What about some handy-dandy toilet wipes ? Thats where method comes in. Set this hardworking little package of wipes near the bowl, and you (or ahem, he) can wipe and flush at any moment for an instant clean. Even better, these wipes are biodegradable and without toxic fumes to pollute your bathroom. Also great for clean-ups all over the bathroom including sinks, countertops, faucets and all types of tile. And, with the eucalyptus mint scent, they smell like spa. Yes, like spa."

Well, being a busy overstretced working mum-of-3, I couldn't tell you if they smell like a spa or not because I've never been to one ! However, I am (sadly) familiar with a vast array of toilet cleaner fragrances, and I have to say, these wipes do get the usual method seal of approval for offering surprisingly different and pleasant cleaning product smells. Still not quite as amazing as the cinnamon bark scent of the countertop cleaner but nice nonetheless and perfectly adapted for bathroom/toilet cleaning. When I saw the word eucalyptus, I was expecting something eye-watering and nose-clearing but it's not at all harsh - it's a delicate, fresh scent that smells vaguely minty but also a bit citrussy to me.

The name of the product confused me a bit. The label says "bathroom surface cleaner" but the write-up focuses on toilets - although judging by the word faucet, this is American English so maybe they mean bathroom as in toilet ? Either way, I used them to clean the toilet in place of my usual bleach and toilet brush and they got the toilets sparkling clean, removing limescale and (ahem) "other stains" (we have kids !) with no need for scrubbing at all. It's much easier to focus on the dirty bits with a small wipe as opposed to a cumbersome brush, so I actually found they got the toilet cleaner than usual. And they were resistant enough to not disintegrate mid-job and large enough not to leave my fingers coming into contact with the toilet bowl which was a relief !A quick read didn't mention them being anti-bacterial though, so I still gave a quick squirt of bleach at the end to be on the safe side and kill of any nasty germs lurking about.

I also used the wipes for cleaning all the other surfaces - the door handle, sinks, back of the toilet, little shelf under the mirror - and they all came up sparkling clean too. I love the fact that you can use the same product for cleaning everything, even the toilet, so you don't get clashing smells and it's a great timesaver. I often put off cleaning because I know I won't have time to get the whole job done before running off to work or to pick up the girls from school, so the fact that I can grab a wipe, have a quick swish and swipe and have the job finished in seconds is brilliant.

I do have a bit of a problem with wipes, because I always feel guilty about them being really bad for the environment, but I love the fact that these ones are biodegradable. You can also flush one wipe at a time in the toilet but I preferred to throw them in the bin and save on water.

I love the fact that method products are kind to the skin and don't contain any nasty chemicals, so I didn't have the usual sore, red hands reeking of bleach that normally mark the end of my bathroom-cleaning sessions. It's also great that the kids can wipe up any little accidents without handling nasty chemicals - they might actually be allowed to clear up after themselves from time to time now ! I wonder if I can convince hubby to do the same ?!

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £3.50

Thursday 11 March 2010

Harry Hill's Nuts !

Harry Hill's nuts ! Yes, he is ... but he's funny too. No, I'm not telling you he IS nuts, I'm telling you about a new product to hit the shelves called Harry's Nuts - Fairtrade salted peanuts and Fairtrade salted cashews.

I have to admit to being a bit dubious when I initially saw these bags of nuts with Harry's face emblazoned all over them, groaning inwardly and thinking it was just another celeb moneyspinner, but it's actually all for a good cause. Harry makes no money at all from sales of these nuts. He's lending his fame and face to Liberation Nuts, the Fairtrade company backed by Comic Relief which supplies the UK with most of its Fairtrade nuts and which is co-owned by farming groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to help smallholder farmers in Malawi, Mozambique and other very poor countries to make a living for their families.

According to the press release, "Harry launched the nuts after travelling to Malawi and meeting some of the peanut farmers, many of whom are women looking after AIDS orphans. He heard that the benefits which come with Fairtrade are a huge help to them. [...] Joshua Varela of the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi explains: "A big motivation for the farmers is to earn enough money to send their children to secondary school. There are no pensions in Malawi apart from for civil servants. Farmers are on their own out there with no support for the future. So knowing that your child has a job is a more secure future for them. They know their child will take care of them if they are lucky enough to reach an old age."
OK, so some celebs make themselves look ridiculous on charity dance shows and others sell nuts. Whatever they do, it's got to be a good thing if they use their name and popularity to raise funds for those who most need them.

The nuts themselves come in bags that are just the right size to share out to the whole family in front of the telly - 120g for the peanuts and 90g for the cashews - but there are also individual 50g-sized bags of peanuts available in vending machines. They're not mindblowingly different to other nuts on the market but they are tasty. I found that they had just the right degree of crunch and saltiness and, compared to other nuts, they seemed to leave my fingers less greasy.

But let's be honest, you'll be buying these for the people behind them more than the contents of the pack, whether that be because you're a big fan of Harry Hill and love the packaging or because you want to do your bit to help the Fairtrade farmers.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : 99p for the big bags, 59p for the small bags

Harry's Nuts! are available in Sainsbury's and Waitrose stores and smaller outlets.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Speekee - complete fun programme for kids to learn Spanish

5-year-old Juliette and 8-year-old Sophie (and 8-month-old Pierre, once he actually starts talking !) are French/English bilingual. I'm fluent in French and did German up to A-level (even if I've forgotten most of it !). But none of us have ever learnt a word of Spanish, apart from the odd word the girls have picked up from watching Dora the Explorer and Diego on TV, so I was interested to see how we'd get on with the Speekee DVDs. As it's aimed at 2-9 year olds, the girls are right in the target audience.

I was initially surprised as there isn't a single word of English - you're thrown straight in at the deep end and start off with 100% Spanish. I'm a French teacher so I know that immersion is a great way to learn but I wasn't sure how young children, used to being spoonfed and told exactly what to repeat and what it means on Dora, would get on with this method. Well, they loved it and took to it like ducks to water !

The central character Speekee is very cute and is really appealing to the CBeebies generation of pre-schoolers. He introduces a whole group of Spanish children who talk real Spanish, not badly pronounced or dumbed-down Spanish, and show common situations that even the youngest of viewers will be familiar with. The first two episodes are set in a park and a cafe so despite the language being unknown, the situations are familiar and reassuring. The basic framework reminded me a bit of Sesame Street - you have mini films of real kids, amazingly catchy songs, glove puppets, repetitions ... there's so much going on that kids never get bored and will happily watch it several times over, thereby committing it to memory so much easier.

The first time I pulled out the box set, I called over the girls to watch one episode with me and see what they thought. They watched all three episodes on the first DVD in one go and wanted to watch some more the next day (luckily it was a weekend !). I asked if they wanted to watch the next episodes or the same ones again to see what they remembered and could answer now, and they opted for a repeat viewing. I was amazed at how much they had already memorised, just from one viewing ! As a language teacher, it surprised - and if I'm honest, disappointed - me slightly that we never see any written words on the screen. I know how important it is to associate the written word with the sounds, once it's been learned orally - but we cheated and put the subtitles on for the second viewing ! As an adult, it reassured me to know that I was repeating things correctly and I enjoyed seeing the spellings of the words. Sophie liked seeing the written words too, but as 5-year-old Juliette can't read yet, she proved that the method does work without the subtitles because - even if she was slightly slower - she still picked up the answers and learned the songs. Once I'd put down baby Pierre and had a chance to have a thorough look, I realised that the parents' guide that accompanies the DVDs contains all the lyrics to the songs, a Spanish dictionary and a whole host of ideas for follow-on activities so I stand corrected, we could have done without the subtitles after all !

Their Dad's face was priceless when they ran downstairs to greet him home from work babbling away in Spanish ! Especially as he does speak a bit of Spanish and could actually understand the words they were saying ! I really knew that they were learning, not just repeating sounds without understanding them, when Sophie pointed at little brother Pierre and said "me gusta le leche" when he was feeding ! If she could take the words out of context and use them in different situations, she was actually speaking Spanish, not just repeating sounds - fantastic ! And the fact that I understood what she wanted to say too meant that I'd been picking it up as well - even bigger bonus !

It's not cheap (£95) but it is a very complete programme with 10 episodes on three DVDs - a total of three hours of easy Spanish learning – a bonus DVD of all the songs, a 34 track song CD for in car-use and a comprehensive parent guide book, so if you break it down into individual components, it's actually reasonable value, especially if you compare it to some of the other language-learning programmes out there (that are much less entertaining and efficient). It's appealing to kids but also enjoyable for parents and I absolutely love getting to spend quality time with the kids and learning a new skill at the same time as them. They love the fact that Mum doesn't have all the answers all the time and that sometimes they know more than me ! I wish the kids in the classes I teach had as much fun learning languages as the girls ! It would actually be great to see Speekee expand and offer other languages. It really is Muy bien. Me gusta Speekee !

RRP : £95

star rating : cinco / cinco (5/5 if you were wondering !)

for more information :

Vacufresh Food Storage Boxes

If you open our fridge, you will invariably find a variety of ice cream tubs, mostly with mismatched lids, all filled with various bits of leftovers, some of which have been shoved to the back and forgotten about so long that they've turned into science projects ! I have bought proper food storage boxes before but they don't seem much better - the plastic often "soaks up" the orange colour of things like spaghetti sauce so they never look really clean or the lids get all warped and don't fit properly after they've been through the dishwasher a few times. Unsurprisingly, the leftovers look less than appetising when you come back to them (which is why they sometimes turn into science projects at the back of the fridge !).

Well, Vacufresh promise to "keep your food fresher for longer", so when they offered me a storage box for review, I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. The main difference leaps straight out at you - it's got a big green button that you press repeatedly to get all the air out. Obvious really with a name like Vacufresh but I hadn't given it much thought - after all, who knows where the name Tupperware comes from ?!

OK, time to look at the instructions - yes, really ! It may only be a food storage box but it's a bit high-tech and is a bit confusing the first time you use it ! Right, what do they say ? "The patented vacuum pump system removes up to 30% of the air in the container reducing the ability of some bacteria to breed whilst also slowing down the oxidisation process, keeping your food fresher for longer." Well, I gaily pumped the green button up and down a few times but wasn't really sure if I was getting anywhere ! Ah, there's a little green pressure valve just next to the big green pump-button and if you pull it up, you hear a big hiss as all the air rushes back in - that's a bit clever ! Shows it really works too.

Another really clever bit is that you can twist around the day and month dials to mark the date you put the container in the fridge. No more pulling out a random tub and trying to remember, with a tentative sniff, when you ate it and how long it has been sitting in the fridge ! That's got to be better for your health.

Every time I've used my Vacufresh container, the food has come out in perfect condition - even for things like cooked rice or pasta that have a tendency to dry out a bit when they sit in the fridge for a day or two. It's also great for storing smelly things like stinky cheese, if you don't want a pongy fridge. I used it for taking a packed lunch to work the other day and my sandwiches seemed so much fresher than usual - no curly edges to the bread and no soggy bits ! So yes, I have to say, I am impressed and they do seem to live up to their claims.

My one minor criticism is that you don't really know how long you can safely store food for. The website claims that "food stored in a Vacufresh container will stay fresh for a dramatically extended time period" but knowing just how long that is is a bit haphazard. It would be good to have a rough guide of how long different cooked or raw foods can be safely stored in the low-pressure containers.

The containers are very kitchen-friendly too, coming in a choice or round or rectangular tubs in a variety of sizes. They are stackable, microwavable and dishwasher-safe. They certainly work a lot better than recycled ice cream tubs anyway !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : from £11.99 for a 1 litre round box (the one that I tested)

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